If I don’t get your calls then everything goes wrong
I lazily clicked on the radio again. I needed the noise it omitted even if I didn’t always absorb the content. The radio, or TV sometimes, were there for their companionship as much as their entertainment value, particularly when Millie was at work or out shopping. I fumbled for a talk station or a sports station, a channel that could provide me with the company I craved while I worked out what exactly I was going to do with my life. Or at least, what I was going to do with it while I waited for Joe Matthews.
My high-backed director’s chair was comfortable, the radio presenter’s voice was warm and showing compassion to a woman whose story was being told on a regular feature, ‘Who’s The Daddy?’ where children from sink estates try to figure out their parental lineage. After the adrenalin rush of faking my illness to Neil my heartbeat slowed and I began to relax. The anxiety surrounding Joe, my work situation and my music career began to ease, helped by the distraction of the radio. I started to daydream, imagining Millie and myself being interviewed about our latest chart-topping single and wondering what I would say about why I’d written what I’d written and the deep meaning of it all. Or would I do what John Lennon did with ‘I Am The Walrus’ and deliberately make up a load of old nonsense, just to play with the minds of overly serious music journalists.
Ring, ring, why don’t you give me a call
All of a sudden my mobile phone buzzed into life and awoke me from my semi-conscious dream, dragging me back to reality. ‘Quick!’ it seemed to scream, its neon face beaming impatiently. ‘Someone actually wants to talk to you!’
Even though Joe’s name flashed up on the screen I still had to rub my eyes and double-check that it was indeed his name and number. He called so rarely that for a split-second I thought my mind might be playing tricks. I took a deep breath and pressed to accept the call.
‘Hi. Joe. You ok?’
My voice was staccato and faltering as I found it difficult to breathe, such was my confused state of apprehension and excitement. Gone was my earlier confidence when speaking to Neil.
‘Hi mate, how are you?’ he replied, snuffling away. His permanent cocaine sniff had got considerably worse in the days since we’d last spoken. ‘I got your text. Thanks.’
‘No problem,’ I replied. ‘What you up to?’
The introductory small talk was useful in judging what kind of mood he was going to be in. To say that Joe was somewhat temperamental was an understatement. He had a well-known habit of pissing people off, and I’d never known anyone so precious about his own work. He hated keeping to record company deadlines, believing them to be an unnecessary evil imposed by people in suits who ‘couldn’t spot quality production if it leaped up and bit them on the backside.’ He would also never play to anyone examples of his labours he didn’t consider to be 100% perfect – a control freak to the boiling point of frustration whereby rarely anything he did actually got released on time and within budget. Millie and I often wondered why we were bothering with such a man but always found ourselves answering with the same reply – when it came to production, he did actually know what he was doing.
‘I’m just doing a bit of editing on Pro Tools,’ he said, sniffing deeply. ‘On Jake Beckford’s new stuff.’
I could hear Joe ‘tap tapping’ away on the keys of his laptop as we talked.
‘How’s it coming along?’ I asked, feigning interest in the notorious ex-boyband singer’s latest comeback attempt. ‘Have you finished his new single yet?’
‘Well, it’s nearly there,’ he replied. ‘But I can’t get hold of Jake to re-do part of the backing vocal. It’s awful. Totally out of tune in the choruses.’
‘Where is he then?’
‘Oh, he’s off doing a stupid reality show,’ Joe grumbled. ‘That’s the risk you take working with ex-boy band members. Always jumping at some sort of celebrity nonsense at the drop of a hat. I mean, he’s supposed to be a singer, but he gets paid more if he pretends he’s interested in gardening or cooking or painting houses!”
‘When’s he back?’ I asked, really getting quite fed up with hearing about Jake ‘Golden Boy’ Beckford.
‘A couple of weeks at least,’ Joe sniffed, so I’m stuck here on my tod trying to edit as much as I can without him. I’m thinking of hiring in that girl who did his last single. Don’t ever tell him, but he actually thinks he sang on ‘Weak Without You Girl’.’
‘That wasn’t Jake then?’ I asked incredulously. ‘Sounded like him.’
‘Aah, tricks of the trade Jon boy,’ Joe sighed. ‘A bit of pitch shift here, a little dab of vari-speed there. Bingo. Jake Beckford sings! Only it’s not. It’s a girl from West Hamstead called Abi.’
I tutted and made sounds like ‘yeah’ and ‘cuh’ as if I knew this stuff was going on all along. I’d heard rumours that modern day pop puppets didn’t do a lot of performing on their songs, and here was one of their producers confirming the fact.
The conversation fell silent. I bit on my lip. Dare I ask about the studio time he’d promised us? With Jake Beckford out of the way for the time being it did seem feasible that Joe would have a few hours to spare. I really wanted him to tell me it was all still on, but I could feel in my bones he was going to put it off again. In all the time we’d known Joe, he’d found countless excuses to move the recording until a later date. Eventually, his sniff broke the silence and I couldn’t sense any discerning guilt in his voice.
‘So how’s Millie?’
‘Fine,’ I replied, tersely. ‘She’s gone off to Camden. She’s bored waiting for fame and fortune, so she’s off spending next month’s rent money. Retail therapy, don’t you know?’
I hoped to make him feel responsible for our discontent, which seemed to work, as the ‘tap tap tapping’ momentarily ceased. In its place I heard the uncomfortable buzz of mobile phone static in my ear.
‘What are you up to now?’ he said, expertly avoiding the subject of studio time. ‘Written any more songs?’
Bastard! I hated that question. Ever since I’d got involved in the music industry, people always asked for more songs. Managers, record labels, venue promoters, producers, all of them. ‘I love your stuff,’ they’d say. ‘Have you got any more?’
It didn’t matter how much I protested that I did have some more material, but it wasn’t properly recorded, just on home tape. ‘Oh it doesn’t matter,’ they’d reply. ‘Sing into a Dictaphone for all we care. We just need to hear the idea of a song.’
This was the biggest load of bullshit I’d ever heard, almost a compulsory phrase they must teach people in the business. I used to fall for it and dutifully send off poorly recorded tracks, which of course led nowhere. I finally learnt my lesson when a recognised manager (who had specifically vowed that a guitar and vocal would suffice) came back with the considered reaction ‘What’s with the ‘Everything But The Girl’ vibe?’
‘No I haven’t bothered,’ I said, trying to stay calm. ‘I’ve not really been in the mood for it. Been waiting for the recording sessions to start.’
Damm! No going back now. I’d mentioned studio time.
‘I want to concentrate on the songs we’ve already written,’ I added hastily.
‘Yeah, I understand,’ said Joe. ‘Well, if you do come up with something new, let me know. I’d like to hear it.’
I could tell he wasn’t going to say anything else, and in my experience that meant we were being fobbed off again. Otherwise, he’d be telling me all about the studio and what days we’d go in and what equipment we’d need to bring. My mouth was dry and I looked on my desk for something to quench my thirst. There was still half a mug of tea left over from the night before in my favourite Beatles mug. I took a swig of the cold, milky tea and gulped hard.
‘So we’re still all right for coming round soon then?’ I asked.
There was another theatrical pause while Joe seemed to be inhaling something quite deeply.
‘Ah well it’s a bit tricky,’ he began, sniffing away again. ‘You see as soon as Jake’s back I really want to nail down those vocals. So I might have to look at re-scheduling you guys for sometime later.’
Re-scheduling? We hadn’t even been scheduled!
‘And then Mickey Dunn’s sister wants to come in and do some tracks,’ he continued.
‘Mickey Dunn’s sister!’ I exclaimed in disbelief. ‘What on earth is she doing?’
Mickey Dunn was an infamous wheeler-dealer – a real-life Arthur Daley of the pop industry. Mickey was old school, and by that I don’t mean naff 80’s dance tunes. He conducted his business dealings by shouting loudly, waving his arms around and swearing profusely. Every band he came into contact with ended up getting signed to a record label, whether the label bosses wanted them signed or not. Mickey was far too scary to argue with and the word ‘no’ didn’t exist in his personal vocabulary. Despite this, 99% of Mickey’s acts flopped. But this didn’t stop the signings continuing, as Mickey had once struck gold with The Meglomanics, a noisy, hairy, troglodyte group from Hull. Despite ripping off every decent tune written by other bands they’d incredibly become worldwide superstars, making lots of people very, very rich indeed.
So Mickey was forever living off the possibility that just one day he might stumble upon another Meglomaniacs and the record label bosses pampered him and spoilt him and gave him advances that he squandered on talent-less indie bands while living the life of Riley on fat expense accounts. It was good work, if you could get it.
Needless to say, a band like ours was aware of Mickey Dunn’s failure rate and avoided him like the plague. We didn’t want to be associated with failure at that rate. And apart from the odd set of impressionable Emo kids, so did every other musician trying to get a deal. So Mickey must have well reached the bottom of the barrel when he put forward his own sister as a possible recording artist.
‘Oh Mickey wants me to help her write and record some songs,’ Joe answered my question sheepishly.
‘What for?’ I asked. ‘Has she got a deal or anything? I mean, can she even sing? Has she even got an act?’
‘Oh I don’t know,’ he replied, with some irritation. ‘Who knows with Mickey?’
Joe was truly starting to infuriate me.
‘So that’s preferable over us, is it?’ I said, my voice starting to crack. ‘When our songs are written, rehearsed and ready to go?’
Now it was Joe’s throat that was going dry.
‘It’s just that Mickey has promised me a bit of cash and I really need the money,’ he protested.
‘And I don’t?’
‘Look Jon,’ he tried to reason. ‘Even if we started in the studio tomorrow, you still wouldn’t be any nearer to getting any money.’
He was technically right, because I wouldn’t see any money from my publishing deal until the record had been made, distributed, promoted and sold. But he was patronising me now.
‘Yeah, well, if we’d made a start six weeks ago as you promised, we’d be six weeks closer, wouldn’t we!’ I said, provocatively.
‘You know that I’ve had trouble, what with Jake never being available when I need him and then Mickey asking me to do him this favour.’
‘But that’s got nothing to do with us, has it?’ I objected. ‘Why should somebody like Mickey Dunn’s sister, who I don’t even know, dictate my life?’
Silence. He knew the answer. It shouldn’t.
‘All I can say is be patient,’ he sniffed. ‘I know it’s painful, but we’ll get there in the end.’
I didn’t know what to say or how to react and suddenly felt very tired. Joe didn’t care – he didn’t have to care. He had the Golden Goose that was Jake Beckford, and then every eighteen months or so he’s have another ex-boy or ex-girlband member waving an advances cheque in his face, desperately looking for a producer to help them launch their solo career.
‘Yeah, well, give us a call when you’ve got a better idea of a date then,’ I said wearily, sloshing ‘round the remnants of cold tea in my mug.
‘All right. Stay in touch,’ said Joe, who sounded like he’d resumed his tapping. ‘And ‘hi’ to Millie!’
I slammed the phone down on him – that is, if you can slam down a mobile. I stared furiously at the handset, trying to send some angry thought waves in Joe’s direction. Now I had the thankless task of telling Millie that the recording date was postponed again, and I had no idea when we’d be actually starting the sessions in the future.
Everybody’s on Top Of The Pops
The reality of the music business had hit hard. My teenage dreams of Top of the Pops and touring the world remained just that – teenage dreams, and they seemed as far away now as ever. What made it worse, was that this was my pop industry; the one I had invested my entire youth into, my inspiration, my very reason for being. How can you love something you hate so much? The back stabbing and bitching had become part and parcel of the job, and Millie and I were now as cynical and screwed up as the rest of them. When we signed our first record deal we thought we’d made it, but it didn’t take us long to work out that even with the best legal advise in the world, you still couldn’t stop someone being an arsehole.