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…”

Chapter Fifty Four: The Brightness Of The Night

Fliss was checking her make-up in the mirror on the landing when I finally crawled out of bed yesterday morning.  She was wearing a dove blue fifties style ballgown with silver kitten heels and silver fishnet tights, and she was singing ‘Busy Line,’ alternated with ‘Together We Are Beautiful.’  As I blearily sat down at the kitchen table with my mug of coffee, she appeared in the doorway, her hair held up with one hand, and a pair of green and silver winged sunglasses balanced on her nose, “What do you think?”

  I frowned, “It’s a little over the top, makes you look older.”

  Unlike Fliss, I was clad in my nightshirt, what with not really needing to be up yet, and a jumper and woolly socks, because the October weather is really starting to bite.

  Fliss let go of her hair, and it cascaded, slowly and luxuriously to her shoulders.  She placed her hand on her hip, and protested, “It’s the video shoot; it’s meant to be over the top!”

  I shrugged indifferently, “Well, have fun anyway…”

  “Sure you don’t want to come?” she asked as she removed the glasses with careful fingers.  She peered at me anxiously as she polished the lenses.

  “No, I’d only be in the way.”

  She had an interview scheduled with ‘City Life’ after the shoot, so I didn’t see her until early evening, and our soundcheck at The Twilight.

  The wind was howling through the early evening darkness as I sidestepped the puddles and over spilling drains of Piccadilly and Oldham Street.  Whilst the darkness of the evening was less black and unforgiving than we frequently endured in the Heatons, the air was cold with the wind, and the commuters travelling home had yet to be replaced by the creatures of the night.  I was soaked to the skin by the time I reached the Twilight and, if it was cold outside, then that was as nothing when set against the chilly atmosphere that awaited me inside.  Katy was evidently in a mood about something, and I watched with a strong sense of ill foreboding as she unloaded amps, leads, and guitars from her car outside the Twilight’s grimy exterior.  “You can do the drums,” she snapped, “you haven’t done any work yet today,” and with a heavy heart, I began to unload my kit onto the rain-drenched pavements: It was evidently going to be a long night.

  Part way through our soundcheck, she climbed down from the flimsy milk crate supported stage and stood in front of it; a solemn figure in black, watching in the relative lightness of The Twilight, with a fierce scowl on her face.  “You’re playing too fast again,” she snapped suddenly, “don’t those pills slow you down at all?”

  I felt the familiar fire of anger spark and climb through me, but I bit my lip and reined in my temper.  Bawling out Katy never worked in the past, and I have no reason to imagine it will work now.

  Meanwhile, she was homing in on Flora, who was, apparently, “standing wrong,” and looking distracted, “like you want to be somewhere else.”

  “I do want to be somewhere else,” muttered Flora, truculently, under her breath.

  But it was Fliss who received the full impact of Katy’s wrath, mainly – I suspect – because Katy hadn’t liked how she’d acted at the video shoot earlier, “You need to spend longer working on your vocals, Fliss, and guitar; I feel like I carry you enough already, and it isn’t fair anymore, you need to put the work in, concentrate on singing well, not just on how you look.”

  Once the soundcheck was over, Katy stormed out, obviously intending to go for tea by herself.  It was still raining, and the wind was still howling, so Fliss, Flora and I joined the other two bands on the bill, The Beeds, and Fly, around a dark wooden table, stained and sticky with beer and spirits, and watched each band soundcheck as a voluptuous brown haired, brown eyed girl in black walked from table to table, her flip flop clad feet and damp, flagging combats flapping and thwacking as she lit pale tea lights and thick red candles in dark green bottles.

  Once they had finished, the three of us left the vivid glow of the Twilight and made our way along the darkly shining wet pavements of Oldham Street towards the damp monuments of Piccadilly.  Turning right, we passed the bouncers starting their shifts outside the bars and clubs, passed the arcades and bus shelters, and turned towards the deserted white buildings of Aytoun Campus.  We cut across the eerie blackness of Minshall Street carpark, heading for the delicatessens and chip shops that fringed Sackville Street and Canal Street, the rainbow coloured flags waved forlornly in the damp wind as we passed them, heads bowed, hands stuffed into pockets as we battled with the cold.  We ate our tea on a wall by Minshall Street carpark, and watched in silence as the last remnants of the sun disappeared overhead.

  Jenny had arrived by the time we arrived back, and was having her ear bent by Katy.  I watched warily from the faded oak and red velour of the bar as she shook her long damp magenta hair away from her face.  Her battered black leather jacket leant her folded arms a defensive air, and her face bore the well-recognised expression of weary laxed interest.  Although the gig itself was fine, and our set well-attended and received, Katy’s mood did not lift.  She ignored Fliss and I entirely, and pulled Flora into a corner almost immediately afterwards, where she proceeded to rant at length.  Whilst this was going on, I quietly slipped out to the taxi rank in Piccadilly and grabbed a cab to come over to The Twilight to pick up my drums, it wasn’t cheap, but God it was worth it.  I was home by eleven, and was just settling down on the sofa with the cat, a hot chocolate, and my battered copy of Stella Gibbons’ ‘Here Be Dragons’, when I heard the door slam downstairs.  Two pairs of feet came clattering up the stairs, and I could hear raised voices: Flora and Fliss.  As they reached the top of the stairs, I heard Flora say: “…And I don’t know how much longer I can put up with this shit!”  As she charged through the doorway, I noticed that she was scowling furiously, “Where did you get to?” she snapped.

  Fliss and I both felt in need of a diversion to take our minds off… everything, so we went out tonight, having arranged to meet Fliss’ friends from Chorlton, Angel and the Razorblades, in town.  We got off the bus in Piccadilly around eight, and made our way along the shadowy lit streets of Piccadilly, turning right once again by Spar, and heading through the traffic and bustling, busy crowds towards Minshall Street.  The band hailed us from atop the same wall as Flora, Fliss and I had so gloomily eaten our tea only twenty hours before.  In the darkness, I spotted Kylie, the singer who had so memorably puked all over our doorstep at Fliss’ seventeenth birthday party, the night she first met Adrienne, I couldn’t help but recall.  She was swinging her short pale legs impatiently, and I could hear the noise made by her black patent leather Doc Martens as she bashed them against the rough red brick wall; thwack, thwack… Her muddy brown hair was up in bunches, and she was shivering as she folded her arms across her chest, pulling the worn black wool cardigan close against the thin scarlet satin of her slip dress.  Next to her was Rosa, a grave, serious girl with dark soulful eyes.  She was wearing thick, scuffed boots like the workmen wear on the roads, and army surplus combat trousers.  Her black t-shirt bore the distinctive red silhouette of four girls; the Red Vinyl Fur logo, and was partially hidden by her green and brown camouflage jacket.  Her thick dark hair hung down her back in untidy waves, and a smouldering cigarette hung from one fingerless glove clad hand as a brown woolly hat restrained her wild hair.  Next to her on the wall was Kit, whose long perfectly straight jet black hair hung loose, frequently falling across her face and into her eyes.  She had a pale, round face, and wide dark eyes.  Her PVC jacket, flame red in colour, was undone, revealing a short Girls From Mars t-shirt and black jeans.  Yan, her cousin, sat next to her; his own jet hair was streaked with golden blonde in places, and hung long and loose to his shoulders.  Like his cousin, he was pale and dark eyed, but with an angular frame disguised by his baggy jeans and Hello Cuca t-shirt.

  Kylie jumped down off the wall as we approached, and started to hop from leg to leg, her arms still wrapped around her chest as her teeth chattered with the cold, “Drinks at Retro Bar first, yeah?” she shivered as the other three retrieved their bikes.

  I nodded.

  As we walked along the badly lit narrow back streets that fringed the village, I noticed Fliss drop back and join Rosa and Kylie as I led the way.  Soon we were heading along Sackville Street, away from the rainbow flags and bright lights and designer clothes, towards the darker, more remote, cheaper delights of Whitworth Street and beyond. We were heading towards the unfashionable end of Sackville Street, the forgotten end, which led us under the rattling grey railway bridge to Spar, and the shabby end of town; a kind of student bohemia in the middle of nowhere, where Retro Bar inexplicably stood.  Kylie and Rosa were giggling like naughty schoolgirls on an illicit visit to the city, and Fliss was wearing her fifties ballgown again, this time with pale blue satin elbow length gloves and her best diamante tiara.  She looked like a debutante on her way to the palace to be presented, one who had been led astray into the rough side of town by the girls from the local estate.

  The band parked their bikes by some railings near the club and, once inside, Fliss gleefully commandeered one of the big corner tables opposite the pool table with Rosa and Kylie, leaving me to get the drinks as Yan and Kit quietly followed them over.  The bar was pretty full tonight and, as usual, the crowd was fairly mixed.  A T.V was suspended, unobtrusively, from the ceiling, largely to the indifference of those present as they chatted and shot pool in the smoky warmth of the bar.  I sank down into the soft worn velour and wood of the seats, and watched as Kylie and Fliss drank strawberry beers, noisily and messily, whilst Rosa brooded over a snakebite and black, and Yan and Kit chatted in cantonese over cheeky vimtos.

  Meelan arrived later, having finished work late at the latté emporium she works at near Saint Anne’s Square, and we headed back through the designer clubs and apartments of Sackville Street towards Portland Street. Here we crossed paths with lagered up weekenders before cutting across Piccadilly to the gentrified Northern Quarter heartland of Oldham Street, humming with the buzz created by those ever multiplying boutiques and apartments, (“Oldham Street,” Flora had deadpanned one day, “Is Carnaby Street for the noughties.”) to Juvenile Hell.

  The giddy hedonism of Girl Night sat uneasily with the chic Northern Quarterness of Juvenile Hell somehow, yet such was the exuberance of the young, largely female, crowd that it simply didn’t matter.  Through the garish pink, orange and green u.v lighting and the crowd of steaming bodies, I was able to observe Nat, clad in black PVC and lycra, undulating to the sound of a fairly faceless post rock ensemble up on stage.  At the sound desk was Emily, clad in her usual baggy jeans and t-shirt, coolly and warily sharing a bench with a couple of young lovers, who were feverishly groping, eating, and all but copulating.  Next to me, Meelan produced a crumpled homemade Valerie t-shirt (bearing the legend, “All My Heroes Hate Me”) from her bag, and pulled it on over her uniform.  Fliss eased her way through the crowd with a confidence borne of practice, and threw herself down on the bench next to Emily, causing her to budge up, and by consequence, causing the young lovers to fall off each other with a supreme lack of grace.  With a shared expression of pure poison, they moved across to the next table, whereupon they continued where they had left off.  I noticed that Emily seemed shy in Fliss’ company, yet quietly pleased to have her there beside her.

  Kylie and Rosa joined Meelan and me under the fairy lights at the bar, whilst Yan and Kit headed down the front to watch the band.  All three girls asked questions about our video, and were disappointed when I told them that I hadn’t been present at the filming.  “Fliss’ll tell you all about it though,” I reassured them.  As the band played, pleasantly enough, in the background, we discussed the Razorblades.  It transpires that Aiden from Dew and his girlfriend, Sophie, have a record label called Sambuca Records, and they want to do a single with the band.  “I mean, it’ll only be one single, if they can get the money together,” said Kylie, a little defensively, “But it’s a start, and it’s how Titanium Rose got started, isn’t it?”

  I nodded.

 I talked to Nat later as she took a breather by the bar.  Amber slung empty bottles into a dump bin at the end of the bar, and frostily served thirsty punters and teenage girls who glowed with the heat of the crowd and shone with excited exuberance.  Nat glanced fondly at one such pair, two very young plump girls who had covered themselves in glitter and eyeshadow and were wearing cheap little nylon dresses in garish prints, their hands were gripped in solidarity and, possibly, love, as they trotted back to the dancefloor with their cokes.  “I love my job,” she sighed contentedly.  Her contentment turned to excitement as she told me of her latest scheme, “I want to do a Juvenile Hell singles club, or Girl Night singles club, it’ll be like the Club Beetroot series Flotsam and Jetsam did with Nice’N’Sleazy in Glasgow,” she enthused, “or like Live At The Roxy in the seventies.  No one records these bands, and when they do occasionally get signed it’s too late and the spirits gone, all polish and no substance.  If I record them now, I get them playing live whilst they’re still experimenting, and that seems so much more worthwhile.  I’m going to talk to Emily about it later, I’d ask Katy only I don’t think I can afford her, plus she’s a bitch to work with, I did consider asking Fergus…” she trailed off, and I sensed the discomfort.  Her eyes were wary, and her voice was thick with caution, as she said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring him up.”

  I shrugged, “Its O.K”

  “Have you seen much of him lately?” she asked cautiously, her eyes worried.

  I shook my head, afraid to commit myself, and especially wary of mentioning his visit to my hotel room whilst we were on tour.  I still get that little lift in my heart whenever I hear his name; it’s what makes it so hard to give him up, well, that and other things…

  The glitter girls were jumping up and down in a frenzy to Le Tigre’s ‘T.K.O’, the Hot Chick Remix, still holding hands, as our conversation turned to the increasingly unstable international situation.  Most days I’m not sure what to think about Iraq, so I try not to think about it at all, it doesn’t stop my feeling things though, mainly a lingering, secret, guilty pain whenever I see the current death figures on the news.  I feel guilty because I didn’t protest strongly enough about Iraq and at the back of my mind the whole time was the knowledge that thousands, millions of people would die.  On top of this feeling is the depressing knowledge, limited perhaps, of the ongoing tit for tat carnage in Israel, and the Beslan massacre in Russia, of which I feel I have seen and heard too much: what links them all is suicide bombers I suppose.

  “There’s no use in worrying about it,” sighed Nat, “what will happen will happen; it isn’t as though we have any control over it.”

  I nodded glumly.

  A number of fanzine writers were hanging around at the other end of the bar, young and feigning boredom, their long hair flapping against their faces.  Some of the girls had adopted the early Courtney Love kinderwhore look of ripped babydolls and slashed red lipstick, and a few of their friends had experimented with fifties and seventies clothes, many more were lounging nonchalantly against the bar in jeans and t-shirts.  I heard them stop talking as I walked past them on my way to the toilets, and I could sense their eyes on me.  As I turned the corner, I heard one of the girls proclaim, “She doesn’t look that bad…”

  When I returned, they had moved away from the bar, and their place had been taken by a group of staff from The Gates, including Sabine, who was neatly glamorous in a black shirt and skirt.  She was leaning over the bar, one pale elbow propping up her head, and her sensitive, intelligent, lovely face was dangerously close to the pale, angular face of Amber.  I watched Amber, and then I noticed Nat at the far end of the bar, she was talking to Kit, but I sensed that she wasn’t really listening to her.  She was gazing past the younger girl, and her eyes were on Amber… on Sabine and Amber.

  Towards the end of the night, as the crowd began to thin and the mood became increasingly tired and emotional, Amber left the bar and slow danced with Sabine.  Across the room, I watched as Fliss looked up from her conversation with Emily and caught sight of them.  Her eyes flicked anxiously from one to the other, and I could tell that she was thinking about Nat.

  But Nat was now intent on the process of clearing up.  I found her in her office in the bowels of the building, sorting out the money for Emily, the bands having already been paid.  From the doorway, I took in the office itself as she sat at her desk, completely absorbed in her work.  There were a number of posters on the walls now, not just our shabby black and white one and the old Girls From Mars one.  I spotted posters for Angel and the Razorblades, alongside Clinch and Dew.  There was a corner of the room reserved for press coverage, with a feature on Girl Night positioned clearly at the centre, and there were photos too, including one of Violet on stage at Juvenile Hell, her expression one of fierce concentration.  The paperwork on her desk was neatly arranged, and a basket full of demos and web links was placed next to a midi hi-fi, waiting to be listened to or followed up.  I knew that she hadn’t noticed that I was there, so I turned to leave, and was nearly knocked over by Dylan.  He nodded curtly to me as I passed him, and as Nat looked up from her paperwork, I saw her expression change, her shoulders tense, and her mouth set in a grim line as she nodded to him.  I closed the door.

  “What was that all about do you think?” breathed Fliss from somewhere behind me.

  I jumped in surprise, and spun round to face her, a glare on my face as I hissed, “I wish you wouldn’t creep up on people like that!”

  “Sorry,” she whispered, “I was looking for Meelan; I wanted to let her know we were going.”

  “I haven’t seen her; we’ll find her on the way out.”

  We made our way up the creaking grey wooden stairs to the near empty venue, where we hooked up with Meelan (who was to spend the night on our sofa) and headed out into the night once more.

Chapter Thirty Seven: Across The Years

 Mum was on the phone when Katy and I burst in, and I paused in the hallway, uncertain as to whether I was intruding; Katy, however, had no such qualms, “You’ve got the Beauty Queens L.P, Rachel, haven’t you?” she called breezily as she ran upstairs, not even waiting for a reply.  Mum raised her eyebrows in the direction Katy had run, and I saw her shake her head slowly in mild irritation as she turned around, and noticed me standing there.  “I’ll have to call you back,” she murmured into the mouthpiece, “I’ve just been invaded…” From upstairs, we could hear the sound of the ladder being put up, and the creak of feet, climbing… “Doesn’t hang about, does she?” remarked mum, in distinctly narked tones. 

  I shook my head; I felt that I should apologise for the behaviour of a friend, so I explained, “She’s not used to asking first.”  She opened her mouth to speak, but I got in first, “Who were you speaking to?”

  “Thomas.”

  My sense of awkwardness returned, as I asked, “How’s it going with him?”

  “Well, I think,” she said, not meeting my eyes.

  An invisible weight seemed to settle on me as I nodded, almost to myself; I hadn’t met him, but I’d heard her mention him a lot lately and, whilst she’s had boyfriends before, this one sounded different; for one thing, he had lasted longer than they usually do.

  There was a long, painfully tense silence before she said, rather quietly, “I would always put you first,” she gazed up at me “you know that, don’t you?”

  But it is no longer right for her to do that, not now.  “You don’t have to do that,” I told her, “not anymore.”

  The conversation ended then because Katy emerged at the top of the stairs, carrying a huge cardboard box full of vinyl.  “Give me a hand!” she yelled down to me, and I ran up the stairs to assist, my mood lightening with each step as I recalled the task at hand.

  As we hauled the last box down to the living room, mum hovered in the doorway, her hands on her hips, an expression of annoyed confusion on her face, as she demanded, rhetorically, “Do you mind telling me what this is all about?”

  “The Beauty Queens have reformed!” called back me and Katy in stereo.

  “They’re going on tour!”  Called Katy

  “…playing Manchester in a fortnight” I added, equally excitedly.

  “Oh,” said Mum, facetiously as she joined us, “is that all…”

  The Beauty Queens haven’t toured since July 1980, they split up five months later when Iona Black, Chantel Jones, Serena Llewellyn and Keeley Myerscough left and formed The Playgirls.  Mum saw them live five times in 1979, supporting various more high profile names, and she’s also the only person I know who happens to own their L.P.

  “Come on, Rachel,” protested Katy as she lifted the L.P out of the second box, “you must be at least a little bit excited; you’re talking one off experience here, it’d be like The Slits reforming…”

  Mum shook her head; she seemed a little dazed as she asked, “Original line-up?”

  “Yes,” confirmed Katy, “all seven of them.”

  She shook her head again, “I’m amazed they’ve agreed to do it; I didn’t think there was any love lost between The Playgirls and the other three when they split… I saw them supporting Rip, Rig and Panic in 1980, just before they split, and you could tell it was all about to go pear shaped…”

  “So, you’re not coming to the gig then?” demanded Katy.

  She shook her head, “As much as I loved them at the time, there are some areas of my past I think its best I not revisit.” Her expression grew thoughtful as she added, “But if they make a new record I might be cautiously interested…”

  Katy handed me the L.P, and I gazed for a few moments at the cheap black and pink sleeve, before flipping it over and gazing at the picture of the band on the back.  As is often the case with reluctant geniuses, Iona Black was hidden away towards the back of the picture, on the right side.  The more obvious charms of Lalita James, Chantel Jones, and Keeley Myserscough were posed in the centre of the picture; pretty punkettes in fishnets and stilettos, with P.V.C mini skirts and ripped t-shirts, naively slutty in their vamping.  Iona was blonde then, but her hair was short, and although she was wearing similarly slutty garb, there was something in her posture, in her expression, that suggested she was different.  She was already a minor legend by then, thanks to a brief, ill advised, marriage to Seth Kent, bassist in The Wars, when she was seventeen; it ended six months later when she woke up next to his corpse, the needle sticking out of his arm still.  Maybe that was what made her appear wary, or maybe the demons were already at work by then…

  Katy snatched the L.P from my hands, and marched over to the Hi-Fi with it. As she placed the L.P down on the deck, I noticed mum slip out through the door, and it wasn’t long before I heard her feet on the stairs, retreating, escaping… maybe she would phone Thomas again.

  Later, the three of us watched the video for our next single, ‘My Heart Is In Your Hands’.  It was shot mainly in a light, luxuriously elegant suite at one of the big Manchester hotels.  Fliss is very much the star of the piece, and is featured sitting on a white windowsill, her feet bare and resting on the sill, her knees pulled up towards her chest.  She is wearing a light sundress, and gazes out of the window wistfully as she lip synchs to the track.  She looks very sad, but very pretty, which I think is the mood that the director was going for.  It was shot in black and white, with lots of grey, lots of dissolves.  Rumour has it that it was shot at the hotel that Girl Trouble stayed in last summer, in the room that Adrienne surreptitiously seduced Fliss in.  Sandra Dee have been keen to encourage the story, but Fliss says it isn’t true.

  “It reminds me of the video to Siouxsie and the Banshees ‘The Last Beat Of My Heart’,” remarked mum.  Her expression was thoughtful and calculating as she added, “Still, she looks very pretty I must say…I only hope that Sandra Dee know what they’re doing.  Is it about Adrienne?”

  “It might be” I conceded, cautiously, as Katy scowled.  I haven’t really discussed the lyrics to ‘My Heart Is In Your Hands’ with Fliss; she’s been too busy working, or else being interviewed, or hanging out with Angel and the Razorblades in Chorlton. 

  “Poor Fliss,” she shook her head.

  Katy had her guitar with her, so we travelled back to Heaton Chapel together and I played her some new drum patterns I’d written.  The neighbours, who live below us, are away on holiday at the moment, and no one seemed inclined to complain about the noise as we played together, trying out ideas, but not jamming: We are not a band who jam.

  It seemed to work well, and the energy flowed through me as we worked, the windows in the room open against the intense summer heat.  Hours passed without us noticing, and it was nearly dark when Fliss joined us, she was humming a melody quietly to herself, but broke off to ask, “Can I join in?” We nodded enthusiastically, and she went off to find her own guitar.  We didn’t stop this informal exchange of ideas until midnight or so, and by then we had two almost complete new songs, plus the beginnings of a third.  Fliss was beaming as she lifted off her guitar; her face was flushed with the heat, and her yellow sundress crumpled and damp.  “That was good,” she said happily, “that was fun,” Something about the way she said it made me smile in turn, for I fear that Fliss hasn’t been having an awful lot of fun lately.

  I went to see ‘Igby Goes Down’ at the Cornerhouse last week, and when I left my mind was racing with thoughts and possibilities in the claustrophobic summer heat.  I was thinking about Iraq, wondering how a war can really be over when the guerrilla warfare seems to be only beginning; I feel guilty about Iraq still, and I have a sensitivity to all that’s going on; I hunger to know everything that is going on in the world, I want to know all the pain and fear, all the truth and violence; I feel as though I’m a sponge, soaking up everything I find out, yet both wanting and needing to know more, about everything: In the intense heat I feel as though my brain is on fast forward, the ideas pouring out of me like sweat… it’s exciting, but it worries me; I’m afraid that I’ll lose the ideas before I can make proper use of them.

  I was anxious about The Beauty Queens gig, but for a different set of reasons.  I spent so long getting ready that night that Katy had arrived to pick me up long before I was ready.  As I stood in front of the mirror, fretting a little as I toyed with my studded wristbands, a kind of fluttery nervous excitement welled up inside me.  From the doorway, I heard Fergus say, “Will you tell her, or shall I? You look fine.”

  “He’s right,” said Katy, truculently, “you look sickeningly fantastic, as always…”

  I pulled at the skin tight plain black t-shirt, which insisted on riding up over my P.V.C mini skirt, “I’m still not sure about this top…”

  “It’s fine…” Katy pulled at my arm, “we’ll be late if we leave it any longer, let’s go”  She averted her eyes as Fergus kissed me, and then pulled at my arm again, “come on…”

  The gig… Oh, the gig, the gig, the gig… How can you describe your fantasy gig? How can you describe your most eagerly anticipated event, the highlight of your life? It was so, so good… it was everything I had hoped for, and yet, it was completely different, both wonderfully familiar and strangely brilliant; a cacophony of noise and jagged guitars, played better, and tighter than on that old L.P… Part of me had half expected to see the audience and the band wearing bondage kecks and P.V.C, like some time transported seventies period piece… I had half expected it, half dreaded it, because it would have been predictable and depressing, yet I needn’t have worried; there were some mohicaned punters in the audience, but less than I expected, and the band were dressed down in black, hair possibly dyed yet only shades of blonde, brown, and black, make-up minimal and muted.  And at the centre of it all, for me anyway, was Iona Black, hiding behind her drum kit and a loose waterfall of jet-black hair.  She seemed largely unaware of her surroundings, or of the audience, and she wore a long brown and black top, with loose flowing sleeves, which hung well below her waist; underneath it she wore black jeans.

  Afterwards, we met up with Nat and, still feverishly excited, made our way towards the backstage area, chatting excitedly.  A tall, stockily built man planted himself in our path, “Passes?” he asked.

  I watched as Katy attempted to spin some blag about us working for ‘NME’, and I could tell by his utterly unmoved expression that he’d heard it all before.  I began to wish that I’d asked Jenny to blag me something I could use.  After a few minutes of stalemate, Nat sighed and produced a piece of paper from her pocket, “I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t have to use this,” she murmured, handing him the paper.  “My name’s Natalie James,” Katy and I frowned; Nat never used her married name, “Lalita’s my sister in law,” he looked up from the piece of paper, nodded, and then handed it back to her. 

  Soon we were flying up the stairs towards the dressing room, chattering and giggling excitedly, without a clue as to what would happen next…  “What the hell was on that piece of paper?” asked Katy, amazed admiration in her voice.

  “Me with no clothes on,” said Nat, cheerfully.

  “Seriously…”

  “Something Dylan got me,” she turned to face us as we reached the top of the stairs, “She really is his sister, you know, well, his half sister anyway… she was at our wedding, you,” she gestured to me, “sat next to her, but I didn’t talk to her until later.”

  Our nerves returned in force once we reached the dressing room.  None of us felt entirely sure as to what we should do, I mean, what do you do? Knock on the door? We couldn’t do it, none of us could, not even Katy, for all her attitude and swagger, not even Nat, for all her family connections.  Katy got down on her knees and peered through the keyhole, “What’s happening?” I half hissed, half whispered.

  “I don’t know,” muttered Katy, “I can’t actually see very much… Oh, hang on, Chantel’s having a fag, and Keeley’s putting nail varnish on a run in her tights…”

  “What’s Iona doing?” I asked.

  “Looking out of the window, she’s got her back to me… Oh, damn, I can’t see…” she trailed off, and then clambered guiltily to her feet as the door swung open, revealing Lalita.

  Lalita James, née Cain, peered down her nose at us, imperiously; there was a touch of amusement in her eyes though, and a smile twitched at the corners of her mouth.  She had been pretty, despite herself, in the picture from 1978, with messy white blonde hair, and angry, piercing blue eyes.  Now the eyes, whilst equally piercing, lacked that disdainful ferocity, and her hair was light brown.  What few lines there were on her face were fairly well disguised, and her hair appeared to be natural, not dyed.  Nat smiled, broadly, “Hello.”

  She and Lalita hugged, and as she emerged from the embrace, Lalita spoke at last, “You didn’t tell me you were coming…” her voice was as it had been at the wedding, largely accentless, but with a faint hint of estuary, eager and interested.  She turned her attention to Katy and me, “Aha, two of the bridesmaids,” she ushered us into the dressing room, “come in, come in…”

  Things moved quite quickly once we were inside, cans of beer were produced and handed around, but when Lalita offered one to me, I shook my head.  “She doesn’t drink,” said Nat, succinctly.  Lalita walked over to the corner where Iona Black stood, still staring out of the window, and gestured to a much smaller stack of smaller cans.  Iona nodded, distractedly, as she handed one to her, and Lalita retraced her steps, “Here you go,” she handed me a can of lemonade.  I reached for it, but my fingers were trembling with nervousness, and I fumbled it, Nat caught it as it fell from my fingers, and passed it back to me.  She has touched this, I thought, reverently, as I pulled back the ring pull.  I slurped the froth from the top of the can, and looked over at her.  She had turned away from the window now, and I was able to see her in profile.  Her dark hair still hung across her face, and as she reached up to brush it out of her eyes, I was able to see that her hands were pale, and that she had long, thin fingers.  My heart began to beat too fast as I was filled with sheer excited joy.  I was so close to her, so close…

  We talked mainly to Lalita, although once she had introduced us, the others began to take a polite interest and became drawn into the conversation.  Only Iona Black stayed in the background, her dark brown eyes seemed wary, her body language defensive.  I found myself staring, openly and blatantly, at her, hoping she would look up, hoping she would meet my eyes with hers, even if only to glare at me, to respond in some way… But she didn’t.  At one point Lalita glanced, quickly, from me to Iona, and I could tell that she had noticed what I was doing, even if she didn’t understand why; it was incredibly rude, I know now, to stare at her like that, but it was like I couldn’t help it.  I don’t know what was with me that night; it was like I was pushing myself, pushing the situation, to see what would happen next.

  The elation didn’t leave me as we left, I still felt very high and emotional, but it was tinged with a kind of vague disappointment, a disappointment that was as tied up with my admiration for Iona Black as my other emotions were.  When I tried to explain how I felt to Katy, she didn’t understand, but when I mentioned it to Nat, her answer was curiously straightforward, “I think she was just shy,” she said, with surprising sensitivity, “she strikes me as someone not entirely comfortable with herself.”

  Katy snorted, “What does she have to be unhappy about?” she made reference to the Renaissance Girls, Iona’s most recent band, “That album was huge! The woman can’t want for money…”

 In the awkward silence that followed, Nat said, rather quietly and pensively, “Has it occurred to you that we put these people on pedestals, and that maybe we shouldn’t?” There was no answer, and in the silence she grew more fierce, “Maybe we shouldn’t make these people our gods, because, one day, inevitably, they come unstuck, and fall off, or reveal themselves to be so breathtakingly ordinary, disappointingly ordinary, that we can’t help but feel utterly disillusioned, disappointed, rejected…”

  Katy giggled, nervously, “God, Nat… lighten up, can’t you?”

  None of us were ready to go home yet, so we headed along Oxford Road until we got to Charles Street, our destination being Retro Bar, and the last few hours of Mass Teens On The Run.  The neon lighting was particularly bright as we made our way out onto the dancefloor, and we threw ourselves into the dancing mêlée as the DJ began to play the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘Date With The Night’.  Katy and Nat were soon tired of the heat, but I kept on going, driven by an inner pool of energy that helped me forget my confusion as I threw myself into the dancing.  After about an hour, I returned to the table Katy and Nat had retired to.  Nat pushed a half pint glass of lemonade towards me, and remarked, wistfully, “You know, it’s a pity you had to give up dancing…”

  My energy and sheer need to dance didn’t abate.  When the club finished at two a.m, I danced my way out, up the stairs, and along the streets to the bus stop.  It felt good, it felt more than good: it felt amazing.

  It was around three a.m when I got back to Fergus’, and the euphoria hadn’t left me by the time I climbed into bed.  He was lying with his back to me, and I was feeling particularly amorous as I kissed his neck, “I’m back,” I whispered, enticingly, and he rolled over, groaning a little as he blinked, sleepily, up at me, “Hello,” he murmured, drowsily.

  I kissed his lips, “Were you asleep?”

 He paused to consider this, before replying, “I think so… I’m awake now though.”

  “I’m not sleepy,” I whispered, huskily, as I touched and stroked him. 

  He yawned, “Work in the morning,” he reminded me.

  “I know,” I replied neutrally.

  His eyes flickered closed again, and it wasn’t long before he was asleep.  With a little disappointed sigh, I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.