I wanna be a teenage, TV popstar …
Weekends were a drag. From late Friday afternoon to first thing Monday morning. There were no phone calls and only junk e-mails from companies in America trying to sell Viagra, sleeping aids, weight-loss programmes or penis enlargement pills. This Saturday was typically representative of the last few months. In our living area, Millie was absorbed in some version of Multi-Coloured-Saturday-Going-Kickin’-UK children’s television show. On screen, a pram-faced, golden retriever-haired girl in a ridiculous tutu-leggings ensemble, crop-top and glittery eye make-up was paying needless compliments to an all-dancing, all-miming pop puppet whose latest record had barely scraped into the top thirty.
The presenter’s beaming face, all snow-blitzed white teeth and plum lip gloss, turned dramatically 90 degrees to face another camera, thrusting the microphone close to her succulent lips in fellatio fashion. With burbled, carefully constructed script, peppered with unintelligible pre-teen jargon, she announced the arrival on-stage-with-a-live-world-exclusive-never-been-heard-before-latest-single-from-the-Channel-Four-Popstar-Factory-TV-show-didn’t-quite-win-but-got-a-record-deal-anyway-cos-she-shagged-someone-in-the-record-company, Lou C and her version of The Rubettes’ 1970’s classic, ‘Sugar Baby Love’.
The television cameras circled menacingly, like one of the intimidating creatures in Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’. Spotting their prey, each lens swooped spectacularly down onto the set, then plummeted like a Stukka bomber into the neckline of Lou C, all baubles and bangles and pumped up trainers. Behind the singer, two cute, tight-assed boys plucked from The London School of Generic Dancing writhed and gyrated like embarrassing relatives dancing to ‘Agadoo’ at a town hall wedding reception. At the back of the stage, four trained musicians wrestled as much with their unplugged instruments as they obviously wrestled with their consciousnesses when trying to decide whether or not to take this gig.
Lou C bounded effortlessly across the stage, with each wiggle of her hips or suggestive hand gesture triggering a high frequency, involuntary scream from the pre-pubescent audience. During the ‘quiet bit’ in the song, Lou C stood like a statue while floodlights lit her up in a veil of white light, and a wind machine blew back her shoulder length blonde hair. She looked like a portrait of sanctity and purity. Lou C adjusted her headset microphone mouthpiece in carefully choreographed Michael Jackson style, and a few members of the crowd shrieked in delight. The drummer then kicked in with a quick roll, the bass player’s fingers throbbed the neck of his guitar and Lou C was off again, leaping like a gazelle in fear of its life from a particularly famished lion, stalking the African plains.
When her song had finished, the camera’s rollercoaster ride continued back towards a vacant-stared guest presenter – a curtain-haired, boy band bookend. With glazed expression, desperately trying to focus on the autocue a few feet in front of him, his monotone voice announced the next act.
It’s Nothing, the latest Boy Band to top the charts, sat uniformly on a row of stools, microphones unfailing in synch, legs crossed and uncrossed in harmony, fingers pointing skywards as the high notes approached. It was the kind of accomplished mime show that even Marcel Marceau would have been proud of.
I just work for the weekend …
I left Millie to the futility of shouting at the television and wandered back into the bedroom. On hands and knees I fumbled for the radio that I’d kicked in fury underneath the bed, after hearing one of Coldplay’s dreary songs for the umpteenth time on Centrepoint AM. Calling all university Ents Officers: one of your bands is missing! Despite being a music lover I actually couldn’t stand music radio. Given the choice between some over-excited former holiday camp redcoat spurting street-slang gibberish, or some hideous Ibiza ‘lovin’ it- lovin’ it- lovin’ it’ claptrap, with it’s nonsensical lyrics and drum beats that sounded like someone had fallen over a pile of cardboard boxes, I’d rather stick my fingers into a rotary mower or join David Sneddon’s fan club. Some stations boasted ‘hits only’ radio, where in all honesty you’d struggle to find anything that wasn’t Meat Loaf, Simply Red or Sting.
I had once briefly dabbled with some hip Indie station, only to find myself thoroughly depressed after a quarter of an hour from all the complaining that seemed to be going on. No, I felt that I would rather eat my own sick or chew off my right arm than listen to all that again.
As it was the weekend, the preference lay between sport or Centrepoint AM’s cheery review of this week’s record releases, the television highlights of the week and a look at what’s on at the cinema. I didn’t want to hear rave reviews of the latest Eurythmics’ single, Judy Dench’s BAFTA winning performance of a woman who acted and sounded exactly like Judy Dench, or Tom Cruise’s latest Oscar nomination for his portrayal of an intense person with perfect hair. Instead, I reluctantly tuned the dial and interrupted Radio Argue’s sports phone-in programme.
‘Right, on the line now we have Gary from Newcastle,’ gushed presenter Steve Feeley. ‘Gary, what’s your opinion on the way the manager up there has handled the situation regarding the speculation over the transfer of the Portuguese international Mario de Silva to your club?’
‘Gary, can you turn your radio off?’
‘Hello Steve. It’s Gary here from Newcastle.’
‘Gary. What do you make of the situation? Is it fair?’
‘Uh, Steve, I think the club have only got themselves to blame.’
‘Do you really Gary. Well, thanks for that Gary. Gary there, from Newcastle, who thinks the club have only got themselves to blame over the speculation which has been rife over the past week, up there, in Newcastle. Next on the line, we have Ben from Plymouth. Ben, what’ve you got for us?’
‘Steve. I’ve got a footballer’s big moustache eleven for you. Shall I read it out? In goal – David Seaman. Right back – Kenny Sansom. Left back – Mick Mills. Midfield – Jimmy ……. ‘
‘Thank you Ben. Fascinating. Now we have Dean Collins, the Stockport County midfielder, who today plays against his former teammates at Carlisle United. Good morning Dean, and how are you?’
‘Great stuff. So, are you looking forward to today’s game, Dean?’
‘Er yeah. Well it will be a tough game but hopefully if the lads work hard and we take our chances, hopefully we’ll get a result.’
‘Tell us about your new boss there at Stockport, Clive Evans.’
‘Yeah, basically, no, well, the Gaffa’s come in and he’s done a good job and at the end of the day we’ll hopefully put a good run together which will hopefully pull us up the table, and hopefully …. ‘
Maybe I should seriously consider chewing off my right arm!
The radio suffered physical violence once again, this time being thrown at the wall. I spent the rest of the day reading last night’s newspaper while Millie busied herself with something or other. I never quite understood how she kept herself pre-occupied with seemingly completely useless tasks, like washing her hair or flicking aimlessly through copies of i-D magazine, comparing different shades of eyeliner and lipstick application techniques. Millie didn’t seem to mind the constant bombardment in the papers and on TV of pretty young things who were all style and no substance. To her they were all irrelevant and she could happily gaze at the screen or stare at the videos without feeling resentful of their undeserved star status. Personally, I couldn’t stand it. How dare these people be famous and doing the job I wanted to do, when they hadn’t bothered to learn an instrument or sit down to write some intelligent lyrics. They’d merely entered a talent contest or replied to an ad in The Stage. Of course I knew the answer. It was easy to respond to an ad and let someone else do the work for you. I also knew that Millie and I had chosen the hardest profession in the world to be respected in. If we were successful, it would be put down to Millie’s pretty face and lovely long hair. If not, we would be derided for trying to promote Millie’s looks ahead of our songs.
I remembered reading in the real Richard E. Grant’s book how he hated seeing all the happy and successful faces beaming down at him from the front covers of magazines in newsagents, when he was a struggling actor. I felt the same when I had to endure the latest indie discoveries plastered across the N.M.E., touted as the latest saviours of the ailing British music industry, or watch plastic teen puppets miming away with their perfect teeth, flawless skin and hairless chins. My latest philosophy was to consider what songs teen popstars would be singing in twenty years time when all the classics from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s had been plundered, and no musicians like Phil Collins or Elton John had been signed and therefore given the opportunity to develop their songwriting skills. Would we, I figured, be left with Ronan Keating’s substantial body of work, the classic tunes of Mark Owen or maybe by then an Ade, Jay, Si, Marky or Craigy would have completed a songbook set to rival Paul Simon’s.
Paint it Black …
I decided to amuse myself by desecrating a picture of Jake Beckford with a thick, black marker pen. Over the last few weeks I had begun to build a portfolio of violated pictures of soap and pop stars, actors and musicians, whose computer enhanced faces screamed out to me that they needed alteration of some kind. It started with Dermot McDermott being given the obligatory Hitler moustache and Groucho Marx glasses, then pin-up footballer Harry Coster losing all but one front tooth and having a sweeping Bobby Charlton comb-over hairstyle. More followed: the soap starlet whose name escapes me but plays ‘Catty Carly’ in EastEnders got a set of Devil’s horns and bags under her eyes while all the members of boy band It’s Nothing got the worst acne and set of body piercing this side of Camden Goth night at the Electric Ballroom. I decided that Jake Beckford was too pretty for his own health and was certain that railtrack teeth and a set of facial scars would be an improvement, as would an unfeasible amount of protruding ear and nose hair.
Millie looked over my shoulder to see what I was doing. She initially laughed and then her face broke into a scowl.
‘For God’s sake Dempsey!” she exclaimed, ‘haven’t you got anything else to do?’
‘Oh well let me check with my social secretary!’ I scorned, sarcastically.
The whole day had left me bored to the point of mental numbness and I wasn’t in the mood to be told off by Millie.
‘Relax,’ she said, ‘look, hadn’t you better think about getting ready for tonight?’
I looked at my watch. Six-thirty. I’d been scribbling mindlessly all afternoon, in between bouts of making tea and sandwiches and checking the football scores. We were due to meet Splash at Maryon Park at nine.
‘Yeah, I suppose so,’ I said, wearily getting to my feet, crumpling up Jake’s portrait and aiming a throw into the bin.
After giving up with the television, Millie had spent the best part of the day laying out her entire wardrobe on the bed, almost recreating the famous Richard Gere scene from American Gigolo. After passing up numerous combinations of skirts, tops, tights, boots, jeans and jackets she finally decided upon one outfit – green 80s-style top with black polka dots, grey, military-style blouson jacket, denim mini-skirt and suede boots, laced with orange and pink ribbons. I hunted for a reasonably clean pair of faded blue jeans and a long-sleeved sweatshirt from my favourite shop, Merc, in Carnaby Street. My Converse All-Stars would, with any luck, keep out the rain, as would my thick, navy blue Mike Nesmith jacket.
Millie examined the A to Z, to figure out how we could get to Maryon Park, which was located across town, south of The Thames, in Woolwich. The best bet seemed to be to catch the overground train from Camden Road to North Woolwich, and then head across the river down the Woolwich Road.
We fought over a look in the full-length mirror one final time, each smoothed down our hair, checked for watches, money, keys and mobiles, and shuffled out of the flat, Millie slamming the door behind her. As we hit the street I sniffed the air.
‘I can sense something’s gonna happen tonight,’ I said.
‘Something good, let’s hope,’ replied Millie, taking my hand.
‘I hope so too. I guess we have to trust Withnail on this one.’
‘What sort of party d’you think it’ll be?’ she asked. ‘Did Splash say anymore, like who’s likely to turn up?’
‘Nope. Not a thing.’
‘D’you reckon there’ll be anyone famous there?’ she said. ‘Like Damon Albarn or Morrissey?’
‘Who can tell,’ I replied. ‘Knowing our luck, though, it’ll probably be Jamie Oliver and a selection of Nolan Sisters!’
Millie laughed as we hurried along the road towards the bus stop. For once she seemed in good spirits, which bode well for the evening. We broke into a canter as we saw the bus approaching our stop, and just managed to flag it down in time. We bought two tickets to Camden Road and settled into our seats, breathing deeply and clasping each other tightly by the hand. This was the best part of the journey – when the feeling of optimism and self-assurance buoyed us. I looked at Millie and smiled.
‘It all starts here,’ I predicted, confidently. ‘It all starts here.’