Your boyfriend looks like Adam Ant – All I learnt at school – Local radio
This is the sound of the suburbs
I stared intensely at Simon’s e-mail. Thoughts ricocheted around my brain, rebounding off the walls and pinging their way through my subconscious. I didn’t notice Millie emerging from the bathroom; draped in her pink bathrobe with a towel wrapped turban-style around her newly washed hair. I jumped when she spoke.
‘Well, anything?’ she asked impatiently, unravelling the towel and vigorously rubbing her hair dry.
‘Just the usual load of crap!’ I mumbled, slowly recovering from my semi-catatonic state. ‘Except …’
I paused, anxiously.
‘Yes?’ said Millie, flopping her wet towel over the radiator, keen to come and see for herself. Leaning on the back of my chair, her wide, charcoaled eyes searched the screen from over my shoulder. She glowed rosy pink, fresh from her wash, with a hint of geranium and rosewood shower gel emanating from her skin.
‘Um. There’s just this strange one here.’
I pointed at the screen. Millie focused on the message and began to read out loud.
‘The Last Post is celebrating its 500th birthday, blah blah,, it’s looking to find bands who have played there over the years, blah blah. Cheers, Simon.’
Her face froze.
‘Simon?’ she said, her lower lip trembling. ‘Simon Pieman? I thought he was still in New Zealand? Is he back?’
‘Looks like it,’ I said. ‘You obviously remember him, don’t you?’
‘How could I fail to remember,’ she said. ‘When someone doesn’t want you in a band you don’t tend to forget them.’
I nodded. Millie and Simon had never seen eye-to-eye. Their personalities didn’t so much as clash, more smash together with the velocity of a meteorite, hitting planet Earth a billion years ago.
‘Yeah, well, all that’s in the past,’ I said, desperately trying to sound nonchalant, even though my heart was racing and my forehead pounding. ‘Looks like Simon’s been trying to contact everyone again and wants to know if we’re up for doing something? Seems all the successful bands in the area might be up for it.’
‘What successful bands?’ she asked. ‘No-one any good has ever come out of Buckton Heath. Unless you count Rosie-Ann Redgrave who went to my primary school and ended up in that failed girl-band Barbarella?’
‘Well there was Ted Dennison,’ I suggested.
‘What, you mean Blind Lemon Ted and his Rocky Rhythm Mountain Jazz Trio,’ scorned Millie.
I laughed at her contemptuous tones and she slapped me playfully on the back.
‘Oi, pack it in!’ I yelled, rubbing my shoulder in mock hurt. “Look, they want to get Adrian Eves and his lot as well.’
‘Not that shite band who claimed to be big in Canada?’ she asked.
‘What were they called again?’ I quizzed. ‘Was it The Overcoats or something?’
‘No, The Anoraks. The only thing big about them was their shoulder pads and their stupid mullets. They were so out of date at the time they were almost in,’ she remarked, scathingly. ‘My brother used to see them, poncing about in the high street like they were something famous. Just ‘cos they made a record. But did anyone buy it? No!’
‘Your idiot brother did,’ I teased. ‘You told me he was always playing it when you were growing up. Signed as well, wasn’t it?’
‘Yeah, well, he always did have an odd taste in music,’ she said.
‘And an even odder taste in trousers,’ I remembered.
‘Not as odd as that stupid claim Adrian Eves made. Do you remember?’
‘No, what did he say?’
‘He said that Paul King had stolen his haircut!’
‘What? That bloke with the big hair and Doc Martens who was famous for about five minutes in 1984?’
‘Yep. Apparently Eves reckons he came up with the big hair look first and Paul King ripped him off. It seriously harshed his melon.’
‘Well, I can only imagine Paul King had at least one decent tune. What did Eves ever do?’
Paisley thought for a moment, grinned and then burst into ‘Tukka Boot Girl’, the band’s most memorable number, impersonating Adrian Eves rather silly baritone vocals.
‘…When I saw you at the sweet shop baby
I nearly fell off my bike
I tried to buy you some Golden Wonder
But I didn’t know what flavour you’d like…’
I joined her for the chorus.
‘…Cos I’m a New Romantic baby, a
And you’re my Tukka Boot girl,
I’ll be a pirate or highway stranger,
If I can live in your Tukka Boot world...’
We laughed at the ridiculous song and tried to recall other Anoraks’ masterpieces from all those years ago.
‘’Your Boyfriend Looks Like Adam Ant’’, was one, I said, ‘Oh, and then there was ‘The Only Living Boy On my Estate (With A Burgundy Cardigan)’, and ‘I Wanna Be Marco Pirroni’.’
‘Yeah, that’s right,’ answered Millie, thinking hard. ‘Legwarmer Blues’ was a classic though, wasn’t it? Something about oh baby you’ve left me but can I have my purple legwarmers back?’
The Anorak’s had been so proud when the song had been pressed as a limited edition, double A-side single with ‘Tukka Boot Girl’. On the day of release they’d all piled into the local record shop, ‘Backbeat Sounds’ to do a signing. But in true Spinal Tap form, no one turned up, which led to a fight between Adrian and his guitarist Spike, each blaming the other for the spectacular failure of the event.
‘Chopper Squad ‘77’ was definitely my brother’s favourite,’ Millie said. ‘Let’s think, how’d it go now? Er .. yeah … I know. ‘…We are the fastest kids, down our way – Me and Spud and George and Dave – Raced around and around the block – Til The Incredible Hulk comes on at five o’clock – ‘cos we’re the Chopper Squad – Seventy Seven – Yeah the Chopper Squad – Seventy Seven …’
We both collapsed in a heap of giggles. Eves’ record may have been shit but at least the songs brought a smile to the face of the listener. Something Coldplay might consider once in a while. I wiped my eyes and gave a sigh. Millie coughed and went to re-adjust her towel on the radiator. Once our giggling had subsided an awkward silence descended. Millie patted down her towel then turned and looked at me, pensively.
‘Do you think we should do it?’ I asked, tentatively. ‘The reunion gig?’
Millie frowned and stood legs akimbo, hands defiantly on hips.
‘No chance,’ she spat, give that one a big body swerve,’ she insisted, picking up her make-up bag and returning to the sanctity of the bedroom and closing the door behind her firmly. Millie’s actions spoke volumes – that was that, no arguments. I was left to deal with the unwelcome e-mail on my own.
Millie was right of course. I’d felt a buzz when I’d read Simon’s message. It sounded appealing; the idea of getting the old band back together, but so much had happened since our final gig, it would be impossible to go back now. In leaving Buckton Heath, we also left behind the grotty pub gigs, the shoddy equipment and the stupid arguments over who had to drive the bass player’s amp around, because the selfish git had gone and bought himself a two-seater sports car.
The local paper was just as bad. Every week we’d send in photos and press releases letting them know about the gigs, but every week we’d be let down. Instead, we’d read headlines like ‘Boy Crosses Road’ or ‘Brave Granny Eats Cat’ and then frantically race through the paper, for the entertainments section, only to find large, quarter-page adverts for chart acts performing in London or Brighton, when our little gig got a one-line mention, in the tiniest font-face. In the end we gave up with the local rag, vowing that come our imminent stardom, we would have nothing to do with them – even if they did come crawling back, with their notebooks and their Dictaphones. Millie and I were always going to outgrow Buckton Heath and move on, it was just a question of when.
With Simon’s e-mail now festering in the otherwise empty ‘Miscellaneous’ folder, I shut down the computer. The machine hummed and whirred and finally settled itself down to a mid-morning nap. I sipped my tea from the Scooby Doo mug Millie had given me as a birthday present and looked at the calendar again. There was a full moon due, and by sheer coincidence, it was also Waitangi Day in New Zealand. Intrigued by having the country brought into my conscience twice in the same day I reached over for my encyclopaedia and looked up Waitangi Day. ‘Commemorates the signing of a treaty in 1840 at Waitangi between the British Government and a group of Maori chiefs, which was subsequently signed by other Maori chiefs in various locations throughout the country’. I wondered if Simon was aware of what day it was?
I got one for you, Portobello Belle
I stared blankly at my vinyl copy of Altered Images ‘Bite’ which sat on top of my record deck. It had been a birthday present from Mum and Dad when I was a kid; the first ever album I could call my own. On the front cover, Clare Grogan, having shred her pink and blue ribbons and ra-ra skirts, was striking a sophisticated pose, just like Holly Golightly, in a sweeping black dress, long velvet gloves and a diamante bracelet. The more glamorous image had signified a change of direction for the previously happy-go-lucky pop stars. Still, at a tender age, who was I to worry about their mature, studio-created sound, when I had Clare’s enchanting eyes to gaze into and some well-crafted pop songs to listen to. I played that record over and over again. Every evening after school and every weekend were spent discovering the magic etched into the grooves.
But unlike my Van Halen worshipping mates Paul Knight and Ian ‘Buncie’ Evans, I didn’t adopt air-guitar pubescent poses or scrutinise tab charts to learn the widdly solos on an old, battered six-string. Oh no. What appealed to me were the string arrangements. Those smooth synths and hazy chord lines always set the hairs on end on the back of my neck. I wasn’t interested in the macho strutting of leather clad, poodle-permed bands with umpteen guitar players, thrusting their groins in all directions. I sought out groups with moody keyboard players, looking like floppy fringed scientists, hunched over their instruments, sporadically aiming a single finger at a key or wobbling the modulator wheel.
I wanted to surround myself with computers and banks of keyboards, and stare through the wisps of my fringe, defiantly sucking in my cheekbones; just like Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes. I studied the boys from Birmingham whenever they appeared on telly – Simon Le Bon charging across the stage like Errol Flynn, in loose fitting shirt and baggy trousers, whilst swash buckling John Taylor dropped his shoulder, cocked his head and with a sly wink, sent several thousand girls to heaven and back. But Nick was different. He would busy himself in his laboratory – a spiky-haired boffin, engrossed in flashing lights and endless buttons to hit. That was what I wanted. All I needed was to grow my fringe and practice my cherry-red, lip-glossed pout in the mirror.
All I Learnt At School, Was How To Bend Not Break The Rules
When I started secondary school I resolved to get as much music training as I could. Mum and Dad couldn’t afford private tuition, so I placed myself in the precarious hands of Miss Dooley, a twittering elderly spinster who’d been at the school longer than anyone else cared to remember and ran extra curricular classes for the musically inclined. For the first two years I gave up Tuesday and Thursday lunchtime games of football in the playground and dutifully bonged on glockenspiels, bashed drums, thwacked triangles and shook maracas, in the vague hope that I was learning something useful. The music room did have a solitary, upright piano, which was monopolised by Rowena Jonas, a scholarly pupil who took proper music lessons and could play Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ without any mistakes. With my repertoire still based around the work of Depeche Mode, the Human League and the theme tune to Coronation Street I had little chance of persuading Ms Jonas to swap the comfort and warmth of the leather piano stool for the less salubrious xylophone or zither. Still, I welcomed the attention Miss Dooley gave me, as she carefully drew diagrams of more complicated chord shapes with her increasingly shaky handwriting and showed me rudimentary finger exercises I could practise on the Casio at home.
All was going well until my third year, and the final summer term before the all important future exam subjects had to be chosen. I was determined to take Music, and was looking forward to cajoling Miss Dooley into some private lessons on the rare days when Rowena vacated the piano, as well as the regular classes. However, on the first day back I was stunned to learn that Miss Dooley had finally retired and had gone to live with her equally elderly girlfriend in Brighton.
A new teacher, Bill Robinson, joined us in the classroom. Rumours were rife that Robinson had either just been sacked from another school for indecent behaviour with a 6th form girl or that he had only recently been allowed back into the community by the mental health people. He left an indelible mark on me from the moment he strode confidently into the music room, slammed a large ruler down on his desk and then picked up and threw the board rubber at little Frankie Cole, who was messing about on the Marimba.
With a short, stocky stature, plump belly and a ruddy complexion, Robinson was the kind of character you could imagine being beaten to submission by a psychopathic wife at home. He exacted sweet revenge on his defenceless pupils, by marching up and down the classroom like an army drill sergeant, ruler in one hand, stub of chalk in the other, barking his orders to a terrified class. During one lesson, as he himself turning blue in the face with rage, he reduced a girl called Penny Constable to tears as she failed to appreciate the difference between a crotchet and a semi-quaver. On another occasion, he broke several bones in his hand when he smashed his fist hard down on the upright piano, because Bruce Callis, a skinny red-haired lad with irrepressible acne, dared to suggest that Beethoven wrote Greig’s ‘Peer Gynt Suite’.
In the simplest of terms, Robinson shattered my immediate dreams of pop superstardom. Music lessons suddenly became terrifying ordeals, endurance exercises in survival, both physical and mental. Having to participate in icy cross-country runs in a vest and pair of shorts suddenly seemed like seventh heaven compared to Robinson’s torturous classes. School became a drag and I had to find a way to satisfy my lust for all things musical elsewhere.
I was an unexceptional student at most subjects. History bored me rigid. To me, Jethro Tull was a progressive rock group, led by a mad flautist who hopped about on stage on one leg, not a farmer who invented a mechanical drilling machine. In Physics, Quantum Jump meant virtually nothing, save for a novelty hit ‘The Lone Ranger’ in the late 70’s. Even in my favourite English literature class I still thought of Uriah Heap as a 70’s heavy metal band as opposed to the two-faced clerk in Dickens’ David Copperfield. But my finest hour came in Music Appreciation class, when I was given a lunchtime detention for daring to suggest that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote ‘Clair’ and ‘Get Down’, and not ‘The Pirates of Penzance’.
I taught myself social history through the development of music and popular culture, from Jazz in the 20’s to the present day. I learned more about electronics through reading about the evolution of radio, record players and recording technology than in any Physics lesson. I understood more about racial discourse and the changing political landscape through protest songs and Punk then any lesson in Politics or Sociology.
Radio, Video, Boogie With A Suitcase
I knelt down on the floor and scrambled around for the batteries to the radio. Millie poked her head around the bedroom door, saw me fumbling about, and laughed.
‘What’s up Jon?’ she joked. ‘Hit the radio again? What was it this time? Ronan Keating or Sting?’
‘Nah. Nick ‘the effing’’ Net and his stoopid websites.’
‘You shouldn’t get so stressed. It’s only crap local radio.’
‘I know. But these people really wind me up.’
‘You could always listen to a music station,’ she said.
‘Then I really would get annoyed,’ I grimaced. ‘Like I really want to hear some lilly-livered second-hand disco bollocks over and over and over again. What’s the matter with Radio One these days? They only got four records or what?’
‘Three last time I counted,’ Millie laughed.
I fumbled with the volume knob to catch the state of the tubes and buses. 11 o’clock; time for a different presenter, and the dreadfully cheesy hand-over from one disc jockey to another. Presenter Jonty Budd, in his best pseudo Tony Blackburn voice, cheerily announced:
‘So here’s Dave Terry, just popped into the studio to tell us what’s happening in his show, coming up after the news and travel.’
‘Well, thanks Jonty, and what a packed show we’ve got for the listeners today,’ exuded Dave. ‘I can’t believe just how packed the programme is gonna be, there’s so much going on.’
Radio shows were always ‘packed’, I thought. I’d love someone to tell me when one wasn’t.
‘First up, we’ve got Lesley Puckett, from our entertainments desk, giving us the low down on the latest Brad Pitt movie which premiered in Leicester Square last night. And then she’ll be giving us the inside gossip on Victoria Beckham’s new Rod Stewart style haircut, as well as scotching rumours that ‘Catty’ Carly is about to be killed off in EastEnders.’
‘Oh, did you see last night’s episode?” asked Jonty. “You know, that girl who plays Carly just can’t act. I’m sorry. But there it is. And in real life … a complete and utter dullard.’
‘Ooooh, the gossip and scandal!’ exclaimed Dave.
‘What else is on the show?’ queried Jonty.
‘Well, later on I’ll be ‘logging on’ to the internet with our gadgetmeister, Norton Randall, who’ll be discussing the pros and cons of the new Wibble X-Fone.’
I pictured Dave making those quotation mark signs that people do, emphasising the phrase “logging on” with his fingers, as if he’d just said something really clever to do with computers.
‘And if that isn’t enough to whet your appetite this lunchtime,’ continued Dave, ‘we’ll be giving away a signed copy of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s latest book, ‘Old Rope For Money’ in our big, fat, juicy tongue-twister competition. All that plus Frances Crosby reads your horoscopes, gardening guru Harvey Keaton answers your queries on when to start planting a crop of root vegetables, and Dr. Hetty Robbins takes us on a guided tour of Victorian lavatories, in our series, ‘ Toilets for Toffs’.’
‘All that and more, on the Dave Terry show,” proclaimed Jonty, “coming up, after this … ‘
(man’s voice) –‘I’m always falling over, hurting myself in DIY disasters or getting involved in car accidents, June. I just don’t know what to do.’
(woman’s voice) –‘Oh Norman, you used to be so careful, but these days you are as clumsy as a bull in a china shop. You need to try ‘Dial For An Ambulance’.’
(man’s voice) –‘Dial For An Ambulance? Sounds expensive.’
(woman’s voice) –‘No, not really. All you do is sign away your house, your car, the entire contents of your wife’s jewellery box and your children’s Post Office savings account and whenever you are involved in an horrific accident, Dial For An Ambulance will come to your rescue.’
(man’s voice) –‘Terrific. I’ll call straight away!’
(woman’s voice) –‘Yes, and it needn’t cost you an arm and a leg. ho ho ho.’
(man’s voice) –‘ho ho ho.’
(serious, professional voice-over actor’s voice) –‘Dial For An Ambulance are registered with an organisation whose name is too long to read out so I’ll use some initials instead. You won’t have heard of them anyway so it won’t matter. If you don’t keep up the exorbitant monthly premiums we will repossess your house and sell it to a large supermarket chain who will knock it down and build a car park on the site. Terms and conditions apply. See our website or national press for details.’