Chapter Sixty Nine: Interlude

A couple of days after I’d been to see mum, Thomas, and Elisabeth Ann, Fergus and I went to see Angel and the Razorblades play at Retro Bar. When the gig finished we walked over to Scubar on Oxford Road for Girl Night.  Nat’s been banned from holding it at Juvenile Hell because of the infamous Valentines Day party, which seems very unfair… “It’s not what I would call a satisfactory solution,” she said, as we fought our way through the crowds to the bar, “I love Scubar, and they seem to like having me here, but it’s too small really, I need somewhere bigger.”

  “Did you try the village?” asked Fergus as we joined The Girls From Mars at their table by the bar.

  Violet snorted in disgust, “Yes, she’s tried the village, she’s tried around Piccadilly too, she’s tried everywhere; it basically comes down to politics…”

  “Vee,” murmured Nat, “keep the politics out of it; it’s incredibly tedious and boring…”

  “I don’t care,” snapped Violet, furiously, she turned back to Fergus, “The situation is basically this: The straight venues think Girl Night attracts too gay a crowd, the gay venues think it attracts too straight a crowd, and they’d all rather do something different, something that brings in more money, basically.”

  “But you always packed out Juvenile Hell…” I protested.

  Nat turned to me, “The thing is, we queer girls here,” she gestured to herself and Violet, “and our absent friends,” a reference to Fliss, “are effectively caught between a straight music scene which, particularly in Manchester, still thrives on male bravado, and a conservative, again, male dominated, gay scene, and neither scene has ever given much of a welcome to young keyed up punk girls, who don’t have a lot of money to spend, who don’t wear designer clothes, and who insist on dancing to un-commercial, un-familiar records.”

  “And Scubar does?” asked Fergus, sceptically.  The last time we had been there, we’d witnessed the tail end of a freshers week skool disco night, and had seen an overgrown schoolgirl dragging an overgrown schoolboy off behind the club by the tie, hell-bent on having her wicked way with him.

  “Scubar,” explained Nat, tersely, “is a student club and, as such, whilst not necessarily being pro queer, is used to a younger crowd, and is ostensibly equal rights.”

  She confessed that she was considering leaving Juvenile Hell in order to start her own club, “But no one has that kind of money, least of all me.  At least Ladyfest Brighton’s coming up, that’s something, and there’s always Kaffequeeria, but I’d like more.” She sighed, “I’m going to try and track down those girls who do Shake-O-Rama; I hear they’re having venue trouble too, maybe we can work together.”

  As much as I love Girl Night, Nat’s right; Scubar is too small for it.  It seemed as though you’d just start to lose yourself to a particularly great record, only to get trod on or elbowed by someone else, and you’d be distracted and have to start again.  In the shadows against the red brick walls, and amidst the pillars, I saw most of the old Girl Night regulars, including Meelan and her mates from Clinch, also Dew and Angel and the Razorblades.  Kit has started doing some Djing for Nat, along with Sabine, and some of Meelan’s mates.  “But I wish Fliss would come home,” sighed Nat, “I miss her so much…”

  “We all do.”

  “I know,” she raised a glass, “we shall never see her like again,” she drank.

  Thursday nights seem to be getting more and more like Friday nights, I thought, as we walked along Portland Street at half two.  The pavements had been furred with vomit by 8pm, and there was a dangerous atmosphere in the air as we walked; the pubs and clubs had emptied, but no one seemed to have gone home yet.  Fergus had his arm around me, and in front of us, Nat and Violet were talking quietly.  By the turning for Chorlton Street, some guy with a bottle leered from a bench and roared, “LESBIANS!”

  I heard Nat sigh as we continued walking; she took Violet’s hand as she murmured, “Do I have it tattooed on my forehead or something?”

  Violet proceeded to check, “No,” she said, neutrally, “nor are you wearing a necklace that says ‘Queer As Fuck’ I notice.”

  Somewhere behind us, the guy was still shouting, and people were gazing in our direction, curiously, and in a not entirely friendly way, as Nat said, “Do you think I should?” in anxious tones, “I could shave my head as well.”

  “No,” said Violet, decisively.

  Fergus didn’t find it remotely funny, however, he turned and started to make his way back the way we’d come, until I tugged on his arm, “Don’t,” I murmured, “he’s drunk, it won’t do any good.”

  Violet and Nat, who’d also stopped, nodded in unison, “She’s right, it won’t do any good.”

  Just then, I heard a voice somewhere behind us, “Did you just call us lesbians?” I turned in surprise.  A group of about six twenty something women had gathered around the bloke on the bench.  He stuttered some kind of a response, but it was too late, even as we moved away, they were closing in for the kill.

  Violet sniggered; Nat was content to merely smirk.

 “Aren’t you angry?” demanded Fergus as we waited for taxi’s.

  Violet and Nat shrugged, and Nat said, sardonically, “Que sera sera…”

  “Lairy drunken men are lairy drunken men,” said Violet, philosophically, “and besides, you get the odd good reaction sometimes, and plenty of no reaction at all…” 

  Fergus shook his head sadly.

  “Cheer up, Fergus,” said Nat, with almost forced cheerfulness, “we respect you as a man who will never ask if he can come home with us and watch.”

  He smiled a little, “Ha ha.”

  We got the first taxi, and they waved us off cheerfully, still holding hands, still smiling.

  When we arrived home, there was an ansaphone message from Fliss, “Bonjour mes amis,” it began, “nous retournons en Angleterre…”

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Chapter Fifty Nine: How Bands Fall Apart (in Manchester)

We’ve put off confronting Katy a number of times now; twice because she stalled us with promises to meet up, only to fail to show at the pre-arranged meeting point, and three times because neither Flora nor Katy turned up.  Fliss still refuses to have anything to do with it and, all things considered, we aren’t expecting her to change her mind anytime soon.  “I’m not taking any chances this time,” announced Jenny as we walked along Oxford Road in the late morning sunshine, “If Flora thinks she can get out of it by staying at home, she’s another thing coming.”  The heat was rising as we walked, making the air warm and slightly humid despite the glaring whiteness of the sky.

  Flora and Debbie’s flat was stark and shabby, with an early seventies nostalgic feel, which I can only presume was accidental.  Debbie steered us across the orangey brown carpet to the worn lino of the kitchen, where she made us drinks, and we talked as we waited for Sleeping Beauty to emerge.  “I don’t want to be rude,” began Debbie, hesitantly, after we had been exchanging small talk for over an hour, “But Flora got drunk again last night, and I’ve noticed she only does that when she’s under pressure about the band.”

  “She’s been drunk other times too,” said Jenny, “she got drunk when we last went out, and that was purely social.”

  Debbie shuffled uncomfortably, I could tell that she wanted to disagree, but that she thought it was best not to for the moment.  “I’m only mentioning it because her hangovers cut into work time, and we’ve had a lot of commissions and deadlines lately.  I can deal with the shop side, and the business side of things, but I’m not as good as she is at the creative side of things, so I can’t take much of it off her hands.”  Jenny began to drum her fingers, impatiently, on the top of the table; I could tell that she wanted to get Flora, and get going, before Katy did a flit.  “Jenny,” said Debbie imploringly, “Listen to me… You could get another bassist, I’m sure you could, I don’t want you to sack her, but…”

  She trailed off as Jenny got to her feet, flicking her bright hair out of her eyes as she said, “I can’t wait any longer; I’m going to get her.”

  As we walked up the grimy brown and orange stair carpet, I heard Debbie’s footsteps behind me.

  In Flora’s bedroom, the paint on the walls was peeling, and boxes surrounded the bed.  Knickers and bras had been left all over the floor, and there were empty bottles teetering on the boxes.  A hi-fi, somewhere, was blaring out Marianne Faithful’s ‘The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’ as Flora lay, spread-eagled, across the unmade bed, her hair unwashed and un-brushed, still wearing her clothes, and groaning loudly as Jenny shook her.  It was strangely reminiscent of Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’.  Debbie slipped past me as I stood gawping, and between the two of them, they managed to drag her into an upright position, although her eyes were screwed tight shut against the glare of the daylight.  “Why have you done this?” snapped Jenny, shaking her for emphasis.

  Flora winced as she moaned, “I thought you might leave me alone and not make me go!” the last word emerged as a disgruntled whine.  Her face was distinctly greenish, and her eyes, when she eventually opened them, were bloodshot and slightly unfocused.  “Where are my sunglasses?” she whimpered as she closed her eyes once more.  She would no doubt have flopped back down onto the bed, and gone back to sleep, but Debbie and Jenny held her fast.  Debbie found the sunglasses and propped them up against Flora’s pale, sensitive nose, then she and Jenny hauled her to my feet and dragged her over to a chair.

  “Leave me alone with her for a few minutes,” said Debbie quietly, and we did.

  Outside the bedroom door, Jenny lit a cigarette and inhaled gratefully, “I’ll be glad when this is over,” she muttered.

  The humidity had increased whilst we were inside, and the white sky was glaringly bright as we walked through Hulme, then back down Oxford Road.  Despite the humidity, Flora was shivering.  She made a strange picture in her coat and sunglasses, and her face was a terrible colour. “Fliss thinks we should give Katy the elbow,” I told them both as we walked.

  “I’m all for it,” muttered Flora.

  But Jenny shook her head, “It would mean a long court case over who gets to use the name if you do, and I can’t see Katy giving up without a fight.”

  The Northern Quarter always looks best in summer, the sun makes the streets seem less grey, and the colours seem brighter, the shops fresher, shoppers more cheerful.  The recently built glass and steel apartment block became more and more imposing as we drew nearer, and Flora shivered.

  “I told you I don’t want to talk,” snapped Katy when she, at last, opened the door to us.

  “I know,” said Jenny as she shoved past her and into the flat.

  I found myself comparing the open plan glass and steel of Katy’s apartment to the shabbily carpeted, peeling paint and cramped rooms of Flora’s flat.  Like Flora, Katy shares her flat, but it was easy to see that Katy had a palace, Flora a hovel.

  We didn’t see much of the palace, however, for Katy blocked our path once more.  She stood directly in front of us with her arms folded, defensively, across her chest as she scowled.  Jenny was wavering, I could tell, “All we want to do is talk about the band,” she insisted.

  “You’ve no jurisdiction over me anymore, Jenny,” growled Katy, handing her a letter.  “You’re not my manager anymore.”

  I watched as Jenny read the letter, and I saw her turn pale with rage.  There was a long, long, silence before she said, in tones of purest ice, “I still represent the interests of Maggie, Flora, and Fliss.”

  “I won’t discuss anything without my manager being present,” maintained Katy in that same icy voice.

  “Fine,” said Jenny, “let’s arrange a date.”

  Katy started to close the door on us, “I’ll get my manager to phone the label and arrange a meeting at the London offices.”  The London offices meant RCM International.

  “Fine,” snapped Jenny, her foot in the door, “if I haven’t heard anything by the end of the week, I’ll be talking to your manager to find out why.”

  “Fine,” Katy slammed the door, and Jenny removed her foot just in time.

  We put Flora in a taxi at Piccadilly, and it was as we watched the car disappear along the road that Jenny asked, dryly, “Would it hurt you a lot if Titanium Rose split up?” 

  I shook my head, “No.”

  She shook her head in seeming sadness, “I was afraid you’d say that.”  She turned to face me, and took me by the arm, “Come with me, please,” we walked back towards Oldham Street.

  The Twilight seemed tired in the glare of the afternoon sun.  At night, the dust and grime, the darkness and red velour can be charming, but in daylight it just seems old, and tired, and sad.  The young gothic barmaid served us with a histrionic sigh, and rolled her eyes in boredom as she got our drinks, all the while slouching across the floor, her black lacquered nails raking her red, teased hair as though she’d rather be somewhere else.

  Once we were ensconced at one of the dark wooden tables, sticky with years of spilt beer, Jenny produced a magazine from her bag.  It was bright, thick and glossy, and it looked very new, very different to the usual rock mag fare.  There was a picture of The Girls From Mars on the cover.  Jenny flicked through the pages until she was near the centre before passing the magazine across to me.  There was a feature on new, up and coming, girl bands, including Lolita Complex, Clinch, The Flirts, Rachel Halo And The Princesses, and three bands I hadn’t heard of: The Heimlich Manoeuvre, Kitsune, and the wonderfully named Mad Girls In The Attic.  Lolita Complex are from Chorlton, and are friends of Yan from the Razorblades, Clinch are from Bolton, and Meelan is a friend, The Flirts are based in London, though are from Bolton originally, Rachel Halo And The Princesses are from Leicester, The Heimlich Manoeuvre are from Glasgow, Kitsune are a London band, and Mad Girls In The Attic are from Leeds.

  “Should be Howarth really,” said Jenny, as she read over my shoulder, “and they should wear petticoats on stage…”

  “They sound great,” I grinned.

  Jenny pointed to each band in turn, “Have you noticed the common theme yet?”

  “Um, they’re all girls?” I ventured.

  “They all list Titanium Rose as one of their influences, Mad Girls In The Attic and Rachel Halo And The Princesses especially, and look, Meelan mentions you specifically in the piece on Clinch.”

  “That’s because we’re friends,” I said dismissively.

  “Two of them, the two I’ve already mentioned, cite you as the reason they got together,” Downstairs, we could hear the distant sounds of a band rehearsing, I recognised some of the songs, and realised that it was Angel and the Razorblades practising.  “Another band that owe a lot to Titanium Rose,” said Jenny when I pointed it out.  “What does all of this tell you?” she gazed at me meaningfully.

  I shrugged carelessly, “That the future’s in good hands,” I replied, flippantly.

  It was only as I returned home, and I heard Fliss playing her guitar, and singing her new songs, that I began to really think about what she had been saying, and I began to ask myself, would I miss Titanium Rose if we split up? Then, I thought about the other question she’d raised, I had told her that I believed the future to be in good hands, but I find myself wondering now if Fliss and I are a part of that future or not.

Chapter Eleven: Alias Belle And Malone

We had agreed to meet Jenny Malone (from the ‘NME’) at six p.m tonight, but as it was, things didn’t work out that way.  Jenny and her photographer, Liberty Belle, arrived in Chorlton at six p.m sharp, just as Flora arrived home from work, but Fliss and Katy were both stranded on buses at that time, and I was still traipsing through the snow to the bus stop.  Still, by 7pm, we had all made our weary, convoluted way to Flora and Katy’s snow dusted home.

  Jenny and Liberty, it turns out, are the new girls on the block at ‘NME’.  “It’s a locality thing,” explained Jenny; she spoke quickly, and with a strong scouse accent, but something about her choice of words suggested she wasn’t a Liverpool native. “I was the one who suggested interviewing you, but no one in London wanted to do it, so I got it.”  She had long, wavy and unruly magenta coloured hair that she forever had to shake back when it fell across her face.  Her jeans were tight, stonewashed, and diamante studded, and she was wearing a Red Vinyl Fur t-shirt.  A diamante stud twinkled against her naval, matching the ones on her jeans as she lounged on the floor of Flora and Katy’s living room.  “This is my first full piece.” She said, excitedly. “They usually have me doing local gigs or reviewing the singles.” I decided that I liked her, and I knew that Flora and Katy did too, if only because one of the first things she had done upon entering the house was to congratulate them on their taste in décor.

  There have been some adjustments made to the house in Chorlton following Fliss’ departure.  The landlord has forbidden Flora and Katy to paint the walls, but doesn’t seem to mind drawing pins, blue tack or staples, so the room is covered in posters of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sophie Dahl, Christina Ricci, Thora Birch, Johnny Depp, and Jude Law.  There is also a ‘Xena, Warrior Princess’ shrine, and the beginnings of a Manga shrine, although these are both housed in the room that used to belong to Fliss: Flora is currently using it as her sewing and manufacturing room.

  Of the two ‘NME’ girls, Liberty was the quieter.  I’ve seen her at The Gates a couple of times, as she often does the photos at gigs around Manchester.  She is tall and skinny, with very straight black shoulder length hair, which is parted in the middle, framing a small, delicately featured, heart shaped face.  I got the impression that she could be pretty, but had made a conscious decision not to be, and had, instead, chosen to be as quiet and invisible as possible.  Her movements were small and muted, she rarely spoke, but when she did her voice was low and quiet, and she never smiled.  Her small, snub nose sported a nose ring, and her left eyebrow and tongue were also pierced.  Her eyes were grey and gravely serious.  Both she and Jenny seemed quite young, mid twenties tops I would say, and, like Jenny, Liberty was wearing jeans and a band t-shirt.  But her jeans were scruffier, light and torn, and she was wearing a Hooker t-shirt, not a Red Vinyl Fur one.

  The interview was candid and friendly, with anecdotes extracted easily on both sides.  Whilst we were changing out of our work clothes, Flora showed Jenny and Liberty around the house.  Flora’s bedroom is particularly spectacular these days, she has covered all the walls with red and gold drapes and hung strings of gold stars from the ceiling, and the floor is covered in rag rugs.  The kitchen isn’t bad either, it is adorned with Hollywood stars of old such as Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, along with copies of the Martha Seward ‘White Trash Guides’ that Flora had bought as cards, and then enlarged on a colour photocopier.  As we waited for the others to finish getting ready, I worked my way around the kitchen, reading them all.

  Eventually the others were ready, and we headed into Manchester with Jenny and Liberty, our destination Fab Café on Portland Street where we had agreed to meet Violet and Andrea, who is the new drummer in The Girls From Mars.

  I love Fab Café; it’s quite a little club, and the dance floor is tiny, but the atmosphere and misé-en-scene is fantastic; it’s kitschy sixties chic, pure and simple, right down to the pinball machine and the Darlek.  When Tiger Lounge used to do their thing there on Thursday nights, the pillars were decorated with fake tiger fur, a woman in a Catwoman outfit took your money and gave you a lollipop, and as you descended into the darkness, the T.V monitors would be playing a loop of Andy Warhol, Betty Page, ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’, ‘Gilda’, ‘The Great Rock’N’Roll Swindle’, and ‘Man Who Fell To Earth’ clips as the dance floor heaved to the sounds of Tommy James And The Shondelles ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ or Betty Boo’s ‘Where Are You Baby?’

  Tonight’s atmosphere was more restrained.  We sat our drinks down on top of the old pinball machine, and then set about procuring tiny tins of peanuts, olives and other snacks from the dispenser at the bar.  I had olives, Fliss had sugared almonds, and Flora had salted peanuts.  Violet and Andrea, who had arrived some time before us, were tucking into the Fab Café T.V dinner special of beans and potato waffles.  Fliss took up the seat adjacent to Violet, and Violet shared her meal.  The rest of us picked up chips in Piccadilly later.

  “Who else are you interviewing apart from us and The Girls From Mars?” Flora asked Jenny, over the strains of ‘The Avengers’ theme.

  Jenny exhaled a stream of cigarette smoke, “Fergus from One Way Or Another: We’ve already done the record shops, Afflecks and all that earlier, but if there’s any places people mention that we haven’t done today, then we’ll do them tomorrow.  We’ll do Dew and Clinch tonight, after the gig.”

  The gig in question was at The Twilight Café.  Fergus would be there because both bands are One Way Or Another bands.  He was sitting at a table by the stage when we made our way inside; it was covered with records and fanzines for sale, as well as the One Way Or Another catalogue.  I went over to say hello, and introduced him to Jenny and Liberty in the process.  Liberty took a few photos of his makeshift stall, and I left them to talk.

  Red candles in green wine bottles lit the room, and the sound guy was playing ‘The Best Of Lou Reed And The Velvet Underground.’  All along the bar, groups of people were talking, laughing, drinking, and smoking as they made the most of their respite from the bitter January air.  The tables were less crowded, so Flora and I bagsed our favourite table, tucked away between the bar and the window.  It has nice long wooden benches, which come in handy when there are a lot of you sitting together.

  Clinch played an amazing set.  They’re a band that I haven’t seen before, or heard anything about, and they were a total revelation.  The drummer is particularly good, she is very young, very small and fragile looking with dark hair, light brown skin, and big brown eyes.  She plays with a precision and complexity that I admire so much it hurts.

  I talked to Fergus after the gig, and he told me that the young girls name is Meelan, and that she’s fourteen.  I must have looked astonished, for he added hastily, “She goes to a special music school though.  She’s, like, a scholarship musical genius girl.”  He must have noticed the envy in my eyes because he quickly changed the subject, “You look really good tonight.”

  I laughed; I couldn’t help it, if I had made any effort at all with my outfit I might have been flattered, but I was still wearing my work skirt and shoes. All I’d done to change was remove the decidedly skanky flesh coloured tights that I have to wear for work, and swapped the shirt for my bootleg Siouxsie And The Banshees t-shirt, which had long ago transformed itself from a clean white colour to a dubious greyish green.

  Then it occurred to me, as he placed his hand on my bare knee, that he was probably flirting with me, or trying to: That wiped the smile off my face.  I turned to look at him, and took his hand in mine; my only intention had been to remove it from my knee, but he must have got the wrong idea because he leant towards me and tilted his head as though to kiss me.  I tried to back away from him, but he put his arms around my waist and pulled me closer to him.  As his lips met mine, I panicked and began to struggle with him, only he held onto me, for what seemed like hours.  In reality, it was probably only a few seconds before he let go.  I scrambled away from him; my heart was beating too fast as I got to my feet, and I cried out as he grabbed my hand and pulled me back onto the bench. His eyes told me that he was both worried and hurt as he asked, “What’s the matter?” I couldn’t answer him, but I could sense his grip lessoning, then his thumb, stroking my wrist.  “What are you afraid of?” But I still couldn’t answer him.  My mind wasn’t focused on the present at that point.  I was remembering the past.

  Terry had grabbed my wrists, just as he had, over a year ago now.  He had twisted it and tightened his grip when I tried to run, and had smacked my wrist against the living room wall when I struggled with him.  He had me pressed up against that wall so tightly that I could barely breathe, then, he had kissed me, and it was horrible; his tongue in my mouth, pushing harder and harder against me, had made me gag: There was no love there; it was all force, all violence, and all pain… There was more, much more that he did.

  Violet and Fliss broke the moment; I came to and found them both crouched in front of me, asking me if I was alright, over and over again.  “Yes,” I said, eventually, “I’m O.K” Where was Fergus? I wanted to ask.

  “Was he hurting you?” asked Violet.

  I shook my head, “Nn, no” I stuttered, “he didn’t hurt me, I, I panicked.”

  Then, something clicked in my mind.  He hadn’t hurt me.  He had taken advantage of me, which was bad, but… it was forgivable.  More forgivable than if he had hurt me.  But still… he had taken advantage of me, and he had put me in a position that I couldn’t deal with, and he had kissed me… and suddenly that was all that mattered for a few minutes.

  In my mind, I saw him.  I saw his face when he was talking to me on the bus when we were on tour, I saw his eyes light up as we talked.  We had clicked then, and there had seemed to be so much to talk about.  I saw the way his hair was always falling into his eyes, and the impatient way that he would tuck it behind his ears.  I saw his slow, white teethed smile, and the way he held his cigarettes when he was smoking.  I saw him take my hand that time on the sofa, and in my mind, I kissed him.

  Nat says that I get excited about the little details, not the bigger picture, and maybe she’s right.  A kiss can do a lot of things; a kiss can even change your mind… Nat would never settle for just a kiss, but I would.  Maybe I’ll have to.

  You can’t be in love with him, said a disgusted voice in my mind, he’s the record label guy, you can’t fuck the record label guy, first rule of rock’n’roll girldom.  Who said anything about fucking? Argued my other self.  If you get involved with him, the band will suffer, said the voice again, and people will say you only got a deal through fucking the label guy, do you really want that? But I’m not fucking the label guy, I reasoned.  No, said the voice, knowingly, But you will, won’t you? I might do, one day.  Don’t do it, urged the voice.  Do what? Fall in love with him.  “But I already have.”

  As Fliss and Violet exchanged glances, I realised that I had said it out loud.

  “Already have what?” asked Fliss.  She was clutching my hand and was gazing up at my face in a distinctly worried fashion.

  “Fallen in love with him,” it was almost a whisper, but I could tell that she had heard me, and that she knew who I meant, as well as what it meant.