Chapter Sixty Four: 185 Miles Away

The searing, humid heat as we travelled through London and along the motorway to home was almost unbearable.  I found myself leaning, listlessly, against the glass of the coach window again as I checked off all the districts of London we passed through once more, in reverse this time, SW something to NW11.  Fliss has her publishing deal now, secured at the eleventh hour with Salva, Alan Mitchelman’s new company.  The paperwork isn’t done yet, but it’s going to happen.

  She and I headed over to Juvenile Hell as soon as we got home.  It was the Angel and the Razorblades single launch tonight, and both Emily and Fergus were there.  He held me tightly as I walked into his arms, he didn’t say ‘How did it go?’ or ‘Are you O.K?’ He knew it had gone badly, and he knew I wasn’t O.K.  But he couldn’t know how I felt about the bombs, about the surreal experience of being caught up, in a very tiny way, in something that is bigger than you or I, something terrible and permanent, something I remain preoccupied with, despite myself.  Not in a nightmares and sleeplessness sense, but in the way I flinch whenever I hear a siren.  The way I watch, warily, whenever a police van goes by.  I feel nervous, yet not afraid.  I feel… something else.

  The evening was marred by Emily and Fliss and an argument that they had towards the end of the night.  I sensed sullenness on both sides throughout the night, but, nonetheless, was surprised to see Fliss erupt so emotionally and publicly.  I gathered that Emily was unwilling to take sides where arguments over Titanium Rose are concerned.

  In bed last night, I lay in Fergus’ arms and tried to take my mind off the band and our situation.  I had told Fergus about the meeting, but it hadn’t helped: Katy was on my mind still.  “I’m afraid she’s turning into a monster,” I confessed.

  He sighed, “Katy’s hard, she always has been… she’s decided that the bigger a bitch she becomes, the better she’ll do… it’s tough for her, very few women produce, even these days, she has to be hard to survive.”

  “Then why is she taking it out on us? Why is she making us her enemies?”

  “I don’t know.”

  Downstairs, the doorbell rang, and with a weary reluctance, I moved out of his arms, “I’ll go.”

  I yawned as I fumbled on a dressing gown, and then walked, slowly, along the corridor, across the landing, and down the stairs.  I could see the blurred outline of the figure before I opened the door: Emily.

  As I watched her spring up the stairs ahead of me, and make her way through to Fliss’ room, I couldn’t help but smile, tired though I was.  I was becoming accustomed to Emily’s visits.  I have watched her relationship with Fliss subtly change over the past few months, yet I am still unsure as to the true nature of their feelings for each other.  They seem closer, and Emily has spent the night, but I don’t know how far things have gone, and I would never ask.  I have never seen them kiss though.

  And as for me, how do I feel? I feel nothing, nothing but a kind of emptiness, sadness now that we have returned from London.  I don’t know where it comes from, or how to stop it, and I don’t know what I want anymore.  I feel afraid, for myself, for my friends, for the future… I feel afraid about things that I can’t understand, but it’s more than that, because I know… I know what is coming.

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Chapter Sixty One: How Bands Fall Apart (in London)

We arrived in London yesterday, and as we meandered through the warm city streets on the coach, I marked off each district we passed through on our way to Victoria Coach Station.  It was sunny outside, and slightly humid on the coach; the city monuments seemed very large and white, very shiny, and slightly intimidating to me.  I watched from the window of the National Express as we passed a forty something punk with an orange mohican sitting on the pavement in Golders Green Bus Station; his face was tanned and lined, and he was wearing dishevelled denim.  I remember wondering if he’d ever posed for a ‘Greetings From London’ postcard in his youth; it seemed likely.

  I found myself feeling strangely queasy as I surveyed the wealth of the West End from the coach window, particularly as we crawled past Selfridges and I saw immaculately dressed women staggering along the pavement, trailing huge, bulging, boutique bags bearing the name of the store.  Everything had the appearance of being so affluent as to be obscene, but I suspect that this response has, at least in part, been generated by Live 8 and G8, which both took place over the weekend: Fliss and I have been watching programmes about poverty all week.

  Carr Saunders Hall, where we’re staying, is on the same street as Saatchi & Saatchi but, despite being in the West End, is reassuringly modest.  Jenny told me a few weeks back that she was booking us into student accommodation for this trip, mainly, she said, because she didn’t want Flora to have access to a hotel bar. I happened to notice as we checked in that there’s a bar directly opposite, so Jenny’s plans to keep Flora off the booze seem doomed to failure.

  There was an element of expectation in the air as we set out for the RMC International offices this morning, “Isn’t the Olympic bid decision announced today?” mused Jenny as we walked along Tottenham Court Road to Goodge Street tube station in the early morning sunshine.

  I shrugged, “Who cares?”

  Fliss and I recalled watching the opening ceremony to the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games on the little T.V above the bar upstairs at Retro Bar whilst waiting for X-Offender to start downstairs.  We could see the planes performing their display on T.V, and would probably have been able to see and hear them live, had we got up from the snug, sofa like seating and stepped outside, but we couldn’t be bothered.

  This story, and related stories, lasted us until we had to change at the Embankment, then we shut up as we negotiated the crowds of commuters on our way to the Circle line.

  Katy had already arrived by the time we were shown into the startlingly white meeting room up on the fourth floor of the RMC offices.  She was talking to Angel Smith as we entered, and her crisp, black, cropped sleeved shirt and black jeans clashed with our altogether more ragged and random ensembles.  Jenny and Fliss had made an effort, but Flora and I had opted for comfort over style.  I saw a sneer flicker across Angel’s face as she looked at us, ‘Yokels’ it seemed to say, or ‘Paupers’.  It had felt safe to jeer at her back in Manchester, because we had been on our own turf, but now we were on her turf, and the tables were turned.  Also present at the meeting was some Australian guy from RMC, called Nathan, who may have been an accountant for all I know, as it was obvious from the start that music wasn’t his strong suit, and Andrew Ryans, from our publishing company, Say, who was interested in negotiating a new contract.

  “But the old contract’s fine,” said Jenny, puzzled, “we went over it six months ago…”

  Katy cleared her throat, and I saw her exchange a look with him.

  Aha, so that’s it… I thought, and as Andrew began to outline what could only be Katy’s proposals, I knew.

  On the way out, Flora had a screaming row with Jenny, “HOW COULD YOU LET THAT BITCH HAVE 75% OF OUR PUBLISHING?”

  “BECAUSE I DIDN’T KNOW!”

  “SOME FUCKING MANAGER!” jeered Flora as she stormed off.

  I saw Jenny sigh.  There were bags under her eyes, and her expression was one of surprise, as though she had just been slapped.

  It hadn’t just been that our share of the royalties had dropped, though that was bad enough; it was the knowledge that Katy had our label and our publisher firmly under her thumb that really stung.  As Fliss said to Jenny on the tube as we travelled back to the West End, “It’s bad enough that she’s had the press under her thumb for the past eighteen months.”

  Jenny laughed, bitterly, “No one has the press under their thumb, believe me…”

  An air of gloom had settled over us, one that contrasted sharply with a London that had just won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics.  Well, at least someone was happy.

  Earlier tonight, I helped Jenny to arrange pre packed salads onto plastic plates in the communal kitchen as Fliss played her guitar alone in a room some way down the corridor.  When we had finished, I made Jenny creep along the corridor towards her and Fliss’ room.  Our floor is mainly home to a group of American economics students, who Jenny immediately sized up and dubbed the “Young Americans.”  We passed a number of them as we tiptoed along the corridor, and they watched our stealthy movements with broadly hostile eyes.  Fliss was playing clear, simple chords slowly and starkly and, as we drew closer, we could hear her pure, girlish voice soar as she sang:

My sins lie like tears on your skin

I want to touch you

But you’re too far away

I have heard Fliss play this song a lot lately, and it’s become one of my favourites.  Jenny stood still as she listened, an intent expression on her face.  Halfway through, Fliss stopped, there was a brief pause, then she began to play again, a different tune this time, with an almost eerie, repetitive series of chords that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, she played it several times before she began to sing and, when she did, it was self conscious and stilted, as though she was trying it out, seeing if it worked.  I drew Jenny back to the kitchen, saying quietly once we were out of earshot, “Can we really let a song like that go?”

  Jenny shook her head sadly, “No,” she sighed, “and if we can’t get Katy to leave, or to start using Fliss’ songs again, I’m afraid I may have to talk Fliss into pursuing a solo career, I can’t afford to let her languish in this Cinderella situation any longer.”

    It was about an hour ago when I was woken up by Flora banging on the door; she was swearing thoroughly, if not entirely distinctly, “Bloody bollocking swipe cards,” she mumbled as she staggered into the room behind me.  I could smell the alcohol as she collapsed onto her bed, the white key card that had proved so tricky to operate slid from her unresisting fingers to the floor as she closed her eyes.  With a shake of the head, I walked back over to the door and locked it once more.  “Is this what you wanted, Flora?” I spat, bitterly, as I walked back over to my own bed, “is this what all the years of band practice and gigs were leading up to? Was it worth all the hard graft?”  A snore emerged from her prone form and in a fit of temper I hit her with my pillow before getting back into bed and trying to get to sleep.

London, Libraries, Fanzines…. Soundtracks

Yesterday I took part in an evening of talks to celebrate the launch of the zine archive at the Stuart Hall Library in London. I wouldn’t normally post about this, but thought some of my readers might be interested, if only in case they were wondering why this weeks chapter was late.

Anyway, I got up at 5am yesterday in order to leave at 6:30 and be at the coach station in Manchester for 8am, but I clearly overestimated the traffic on the A6 at that hour because I was at Chorlton Street for 7am. I texted David, who was coming along for moral support, and to give out handouts, to see if he was on his train yet, and he texted back to say he wasn’t – his wasn’t until 8:30.

The coach came at 8am, and took us on a prolonged (but not too much) trip across the Mancunian Way and through Whalley Range (where someone had painstakingly daubed ‘Vote Labour’ on a wall in gloss paint) and Chorlton (where they hadn’t) before getting on the motorway. An hour later we were travelling through an atmosphericly fog drenched Stoke-On-Trent to the bus station, one of the highlights in what turned out to be a very stop-start journey, compared to the Colne route that is anyway.

Still, we made the North Circular on time, and whilst shuffling through Hampstead I had cause to notice Arkwright Road, home of the Sely’s and the Gaunt’s in Stella Gibbons’ 1956 novel ‘Here Be Dragons’, and the offices of the Hampstead and Highgate Gazette, mentioned in the same novel. I imagine the Hampstead of 1956 may exist in some of the remaining architecture, but not in any other sense. (Actually, I’ve just checked, and it’s Arkwood Road in the novel, but I bet that was artistic licence….)

Got to Victoria at 1:15pm – early, and took until about 2 to get to my hotel. I was glad to be staying somewhere I’d stayed a lot of times before because I only really started to wake up after I’d checked in.

I met David over at Old Street around 4ish, and we headed over to Brick Lane and Rough Trade East, suitably near to Iniva, and suitably diverting for us. We spotted a lot of what he’s started to call ‘Biffy’ people, and what Sara terms ‘Hot Chip people’, both on our way to Rough Trade and in Rough Trade. I’ve never been to Rough Trade East. I went to the old Rough Trade West in Neal’s Yard once when I was fifteen and staying with friends, but otherwise am pretty much a Rough Trade novice. After much agonising over CD’s we can’t afford, but should buy, we left with the third Raincoats album (me) and a Shirley Collins Cd (David) and trundled over to Iniva.

The Stuart Hall Library was upstairs, and turned out to be a strangely comforting venue for the evenings event. We said hello to Librarian’s Sonia Hope and Holly Callaghan, who made us feel very welcome and let us use the photocopier to xerox more copies of my handout. I’d done 15 before I left Manchester, but 35 people were expected, so I printed 20 more. Unfortunately, when it came to putting them together I ran out of  time, and was becoming increasingly tired, so didn’t get very far. We left the remaining piles of pages with Sonia and Holly, who had very kindly offered to put them together and give them out from the library info desk in the coming days and weeks.

Next I was mic’d up, and the sound and powerpoint files were checked by a very understanding and kind techie gentleman, who must have been incredibly patient, given he had three of us to do.

I was first on, which I actually feel very relieved about in retrospect because it meant I couldn’t measure myself against the other speakers – Storm in a teacup, and Hamja Ahsan from the Other Asias collective. As it was, I didn’t feel that the talk itself went down that well – I thought the crowd looked mainly bored – but David, Sonia and Holly reckoned it went down well, and the very nice man next to me said he liked it. I felt people weren’t very interested, though I did feel I delivered it fine, and that it fitted the remit I’d been given. The presentation was fine once I’d got it started. I’d been advised to just start the mp3 off then press F5 to start the presentation, but when I pressed F5 nothing happened, so there was a brief moment of panic as I got it open and playing. Having done the rehearsal for David and Sara (who has PHD deadlines so couldn’t make the actual event) in David’s bedroom in Fallowfield the other week, I had more of an idea of how long it would take people to read each page, so I think I judged it right. It helped that the soundtrack was two songs, so I knew not to let too many pages go through to the first song, as that would mean I was going too fast. David got weaving with the handouts as I put the last page up, and then it was done.

Storm In A Teacup, a London based collective set up to help promote and encourage women in the arts, were up next. They seemed nice, and they talked about their various projects, the biggest of which is Ladyfest ten. They also do a life drawing project, called Swallows and Amazons, centred around the idea of unconventional life drawing models, in unconventional poses.

Hamja from Other Asias  was next, and – as I thought he might be from his blurb – he was very academicky. I think he gets away with it though because he does it in a very irreverent, humourous way. He was good, but I think he may have overrun his time. His projects are art and zine based, and are – as the name suggests – global and radical, mostly around representations of Asia, and Asians, particularly Bangladeshi and Pakistani. He is British Bangladeshi, and runs Other Asias with a Pakistani woman in Lahore.

I think both Storm in a teacup and Other Asias were very London reference-y, and that this went down much better than my Cheshire, Stockport, Manc, Salford refs: It was a young, hip, London crowd at the end of the day, and you win some, you lose some.

The Q&A went O.K. I let the others lead, as I felt that they were of more interest to people (plus more of their friends were there) but if I had something to say, I did say it, I just thought about it very carefully before I said it.

I had some nice conversations with people afterwards, but me and David were utterly exhausted, so we wearily trundled back to Old Street and got the tube to Euston.

We went to the late night M&S at Euston for our tea, and sat slumped in the forecourt of the station (all benches were taken) whilst David wearily ate his sandwich (I took my food back to the hotel as it was too messy for the forecourt) and we waited for the pendolino to decide which platform it was going from. When he was queueing for admittance to said pendolino, I left him and trundled – increasingly weary and laden – to the underground to catch the northern line to Tottenham Court Road and change to the Central line to Lancaster Gate. It’s lucky I know all three stations well, as I was barely functioning by then – I’d been up and on the go for 17 hours by the time I got back to my hotel.

The coach home this dinnertime was the Colne coach, and it was a journey with a fairly farcical beginning (for me personally I mean) and somewhere around the second hour in Cheshire, it descended into a a Kafka esque dark farce. Apparently there was a car overturned in a ditch, but I missed it because I had my walkman on and my eyes closed. It took 6 and a half hours instead of 5 and a half (I got off at Stockport: It would have taken at least 30 minutes more to get to Manchester)but it’s not as bad as last year when I was coming back from London in October and the engine in the coach conked out, leaving us stranded by Bowden Roundabout for ages. Think it was 8 hours on that occasion.

Before travelling, I’d made myself a CD to take with me, as I felt I’d need something to keep me going on the coach on the way down. It’s a mixture of songs that I downloaded for possible use in the presentation, stuff I was listening to anyway, stuff that was more Screaming in Public soundtrack, some punk series soundtrack stuff, and what I like to think of as general courage build up songs…

Clanned – Theme From Harry’s Game

(Acquired from my mum and dad. They always have a lot of Clanned CD’s. They buy a couple and they breed, so every now and then they have a sort out and get rid of the surplus Clanned’s… My aunt and uncle had a similar problem many years ago when they moved to North Wales, only in their case it was LP’s and the songs from ‘Hair’)

Hayley Westenra – She moves through the fair

(A few years ago I was obsessed with ‘Scarborough Fayre’, at the moment it’s ‘She moves through the fair’)

Jesca Hoop – Hunting My Dress

Laura Marling – Rambling Man

Go-Betweens – Streets Of Your Town

Kenickie – Robot Song

Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Duke Spirit – Love is an unfamiliar name

Rip, Rig and Panic – Go, go, go

Bratmobile – Cherry Bomb

Delta 5 – Anticipation

Carmel – More, more, more

(Obviously…)

Neko Case and her boyfriends – Bowling Green

Pauline Murrey and the Invisible Girls – Dream Sequence (One)

(This was the second song I used to soundtrack my presentation)

Heavenly – PUNK girl

(This was the first song I used to soundtrack my presentation)

Metric – Hustle Rose

Rasputina – Brand New Key

Laura Nyro – Eli’s Comin

Florence + The Machine – Howl

Joseph Lo Duca – Tara’s Dance

People reading may wonder why I didn’t get the Pendolino to and from London with David. This is mainly because he is a student, and as such has a young persons railcard that gets him a third off rail fares, and I am not. If he finds a cheap discount ticket online and uses his student card as well, he can afford the Pendolino. Alas, I cannot.

Chapter Thirteen: Intrigue And Arguments

Despite Nat’s concerns, the launch of our second single, ‘Running Wild/Hathor’s Lament’ went off without a hitch.  Fergus even gave us a launch party for it, at The Gates…

  I arrived at about six p.m, having come straight from work, to find him hanging the One Way Or Another banner at the back of the stage with the aid of one of the bar staff.  I watched as the pair of them signalled to each other, stumbled and tripped over the sheet-banner’s edges, which trailed across the stage, and eventually succeeded in aligning both sides.  The sheet itself was fluorescent pink, the writing fluorescent green.

  In between unloading drums, guitars, and amps, I paused to observe the transformation of the normally dank, dark and cold Gates into something altogether more vivid, colourful, warm, welcoming and trashy.  Dew, also on the bill to perform, were to D.J, along with Liberty Belle, our quiet photographer friend who Katy had discovered could mix electro, industrial, E.B.M, punk and goth in a highly slick manner.  A One Way Or Another stall was being set up next to the turntables, which would later dispense catalogues, 7”’s, C.D’s and t-shirts with cheerful exuberance.

  By the time we had returned from our tea of chips, pizza, and stewed tea, Angel and the Razorblades, the third band on the bill, were just finishing their soundcheck.  As we got our first drinks of the evening they retired to the dressing room and emerged a few minutes later, fake fur trimmed parkas having been slung over their stage clothes.  The lurid fabric of the dresses, and fishnet tights, clashed with the everyday practicality of the coats as two pairs of stilettos and two pairs of trainers clattered up the stairs, only to return once their owners had filled up on fast food and, if they could pass for eighteen, cheap booze.

  The doors opened at half eight, and a cheering mixture of friends, relatives, and fans began to trickle down the stairs, through the doors, and into the room.

  I talked to Violet for a while about The Girls From Mars, newly returned from London A&R land.  Apparently Hardpop, the London indie, are the label they like best at the moment.  “They sent us this twenty five year old A&R woman in a Supervixon t-shirt, with a P.V.C mini skirt, fishnets, and knee high kitten heeled boots.  She was like a vision from ‘Rock’n’Roll Babes From Outer Space.’”  She enthused.

  In the darkness, Fliss nudged her, “You can’t sign to them because their A&R woman has nice legs.”

  “Oh, it wasn’t that,” said Violet, defensively, “but you wouldn’t believe how far off the mark a lot of these other record companies have been: They think we’re a bunch of actresses, models and escort girls being svengalied by Jasper, or they think we’re a lesbian heavy metal band.”  She sighed, “They can’t get their heads around the fact that we’re girls, and we play our own instruments and write our own songs, more than competently in both cases, and that we’re serious about doing this, and that we want a long career, not a one track wonder moment on some indie laydeez CD compilation.”  She paused for breath, then added, bitterly, “It’s like riot grrrl never happened.”

  The Razorblades took to the stage and began to plug in their guitars.  Yan, their guitarist, works at the Heaton’s Fryery with Fliss, and she knows Kylie, Rosa, and Kit quite well through him.  I watched as she took Violet by the hand and led her through the crowd, past a contingent of hardened first generation punks with sceptical expressions, past the Hello Kitty contingent, past the school and college kids, right to the front.  As the band tuned up, I saw Violet slip her arms around Fliss’ waist, and watched as Fliss leant back into her arms.

  Nat and Fergus both seemed to be avoiding me, I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect it’s got something to do with Fergus and his financial situation.  I did phone Fergus, incidentally, a few nights ago, but I just got his ansaphone.  I left a message, but he never called me back.  I suppose Nat is mad at me for not speaking to him and that Fergus is still mad at me for rejecting him.  What a mess.

  I did eventually manage to corner him for a brief period tonight, but I never mentioned our kiss: I wasn’t lying when I told Fliss that I wouldn’t do anything about being in love with him.  True to my word to Nat, I instead tried to ask him about the label.  Not that it came to anything.

  “When you become a feeder label for some anonymous corporation,” he slurred bitterly into his pint glass, “when all your bands are tempted by money…” he spat the word, “instead of integrity.”

  Liberty was playing Cervo Boyz as I made my inevitably loud reply, “We haven’t been!”

  “You will be,” he muttered, darkly, as he downed his pint in fast, long gulps.  He was about to lean over the bar from the vantage point of his stool, and order another drink, but I stopped him.  “What?” his bitter mutter was fast becoming an angry slur, “afraid I can’t pay for it?”

  “You shouldn’t be drinking,” I was worried for him, “not when you feel like this…”

  “What do you know about it?” he muttered as he pulled himself to his feet.  He swayed as he continued his tirade, “Un-ilike you, I have non problem holding my drink…” I watched as he stumbled off in the direction of the cigarette machine.

  Later, from the opposite side of the room, I was able to observe a curious series of exchanges between him and Nat.  Over the ear splitting strains of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, it was impossible to hear what they were screaming at each other, but I saw her gesture both to me and to herself, and her face was a mask of anger.  He appeared to be less angry, probably because he was the less sober.  He took her by the shoulders once her tirade was complete, but still angry; she shook him off her, and left.

  I followed her out onto the cold, wet street, but by the time I had reached her, she was in a taxi and on her way home.  As the car drove past me I saw her on the back seat, her head was tilted back, and she was crying.

  Violet, Fliss and I were drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream later, back at home, when Fliss happened to mention the argument that we had both observed between Nat and Fergus, “Did you notice it?” she asked us both.

  I gazed into the froth of my hot chocolate, “No,” I lied, “I didn’t see anything.”

  “Nor me,” said Violet, and I noticed, but chose not to remark on, the speed with which she changed the subject.

  Fliss took the mugs through to the kitchen, and in the minute in which she was out of the room, Violet turned to me, and said, very quietly, “You shouldn’t blame Nat for what happened.”

  I was about to ask her what she meant when Fliss returned.  She and Violet retired to her room, and I was left feeling puzzled, puzzled and vaguely uneasy.