Sunday, Sunday here again, a walk in the park …
I eventually curled up on the sofa wrapped in my jacket at around seven thirty and must have quickly dozed off. I awoke shortly after one as Millie clinked my large Scooby Doo mug filled with strong tea down on the coffee table. Ruffled and dishevelled, she was nevertheless a sight for my sore and throbbing eyes. She rubbed my hair and pecked me gently on my cheek. Her breath was still sweet from the remains of last night’s alcohol. She’d changed out of her damp, smoky clothes into a pair of baggy grey tracksuit trousers and a crumpled Romeo & Juliet tee shirt. I sat up slowly and reached for my tea. It steamed hot but I still took a large gulp. I gasped and licked my lips. To me, tea was like heroin flowing through a junkie’s veins. I needed my daily hit of caffeine almost as badly as a smoker needs a drag on the morning’s first cigarette. I put down my mug and gave Millie a hug. She was warm and soft, and I could feel the smooth curve of her breasts against my cheek. Her heart pumped steadily, and she breathed gently in and out as I squeezed her tightly. These moments were precious to us and for once we said nothing. We didn’t need to speak. I had no idea what day it was and for once any thoughts of the band could wait. Eventually, Millie drew back from my bear hug and spoke softly.
‘What do you fancy doing today?’ she asked.
‘What day is it?’
‘Fancy a trip to the River?’
‘Hmm. Yeah, we could get some lunch at The Anchor.’
‘Fine. I’ll have a quick splash in the sink, get changed and then we’ll go. You look as if you could do with a wash as well.’
‘Ok, ok. Let me finish my tea. How’s my hair looking?’
‘Stupid. Stick your head under the shower. Or wear a hat.’
‘Thank you Nicky Clarke!’ I laughed, patting my head. ‘Any chance of some toast?’
‘You know where the bread’s kept,’ said Millie, disappearing into the bathroom. ‘Make me some too while you’re there.’
When we moved from Buckton Heath we discovered plenty of places in London to seek solace and the Thames was one of our symbolic escapes from the real world. We also ran away to Regent’s Park, Highgate or wandered along the Southbank. We bought cheap bread to feed the swans and geese on Regent’s Park boating lake, and in the autumn hand-fed the grey squirrels with peanuts. They were tame enough to climb up your leg and onto your shoulder, and often tourists would stop and take photographs of Millie feeding the furry animals. We supped tea in the café near the open-air theatre and strolled arm in arm through the imposing rose gardens, noting which celebrities had been honoured with a rose named after them. Down by the Thames we rummaged amongst the second-hand books in the market under Waterloo Bridge and watched the young skater- bois under the arches perfecting their tricks. We strolled along the Silver Jubilee Queen’s Walk on Bankside, in the shadow of 1960’s concrete splendour, towards the site of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre and King’s Reach Towers, the home of the enemy. The N.M.E. Arselicking dull, indie moaners with no time for genuine pop bands. If we still had the energy, we crossed Southwark Bridge, gazed at tourists milling around St Paul’s and finally walked all the way up to The Barbican. Here we raided the café, and then sat by the fountains, watching the ducks swimming past on the canal.
In the first few months of living in Kentish Town we went everywhere. Highgate Cemetery to visit the tombstone of Karl Marx, Hampstead Village to catch a glimpse of Noel Gallagher’s Rolls parked outside a pub, or even Richard and Judy shopping in Our Price. We strode up Primrose Hill and wondered at the view of London. We spent a day at the zoo and many afternoons at the National Portrait Gallery. We visited trendy art exhibitions in Hoxton and we enjoyed comedy evenings in Muswell Hill. We shopped amongst the young and the trendy in Camden Market and pressed our noses up against exclusive boutiques in New Bond Street acting out our own Breakfast At Tiffany’s fantasies. We got to know all the mini grid roads around the back of Oxford Street in Soho, avoiding the tourist crush and got used to seeing famous faces wandering through the city streets as if they weren’t well-known at all. We filled our non-college days with activities that cost little more than the price of a daily bus pass, a cup of tea or coffee and maybe a sandwich from the deli. It took our minds off Mervyn Lester, Elliott, his dumb girlfriend, rehearsal fees, uncommunicative venue managers and lazy A&R men.
The day the world turned day-glo …
That Sunday we wandered along the Holloway Road and caught the 43 to London Bridge. Once there we climbed down the narrow steps to Bedale Street that led towards Southwark Market. Just around the corner on Clink Street from Drake’s Golden Hinde we found The Seaman’s Rest, an authentic Elizabethan inn that overlooked the Thames. Millie went inside to get two beers, while I bagged an outside table, next to a family of German tourists, resplendent in matching day-glo anoraks, pouring over a map of London.
‘Wo ist Buckingham Palast?’ the mother asked.
‘Es ist hier, nahe Victoria Station,’ the broad, bearded father replied, prodding with his finger, and then turning the map upside down.
‘Vater, sind wir müde. Können wir eine Eiscreme bitte haben?’ cried one of the children, who looked like the Milky Bar Kid, all ginger freckles and round, Lennon glasses.
‘Nein,’ shouted the mother, donning a pair of huge, red-rimmed spectacles and peering at the map, her face contorted with puzzled confusion.
‘Excuse me,’ the father turned to me. ‘Wo ist Buckingham Palast?’
They were quite a way off, and there weren’t any tubes or buses nearby. I pointed them in the direction of Blackfriars and watched in amusement as they folded away their map, gathered up their belongings and set off stridently down the road, their identical backpacks bobbing up and down in unison.
‘All right Jon?’ said Millie, returning with two cold glasses of lager. ‘Who was that then?’
‘Just some tourists looking for Buckingham Palace.’
‘Did you tell them the way?’
Simon says …
Our conversation had reached monosyllabic proportions. It wasn’t that we didn’t have anything to talk about. Far from it. It’s just neither of us wanted to broach the subject of the band, particularly the problem of dealing with Elliott and Simon. We sipped our beers slowly and deliberately, both of us resisting the temptation to start an exchange on the matter. Finally, Millie broke the silence.
‘That e-mail was a bit of a surprise,’ she said, rubbing the rim of her glass with her little finger and licking a few drops of beer.
‘D’you think he’s got another motive for getting in touch again?’ I asked, shivering slightly from the cold wind blowing off the Thames.
‘I reckon so. He never really forgave you for splitting up the first Detox Cute, and I bet he’s jealous of what we’re up to now.’
‘Oh right. You mean being utterly broke and living in a shithole!’
‘No, carrying on and trying to make it in the business.’
‘Yeah, well, Simon’s a decent enough guitarist, but he’ll never want to put in the hours. I bet he still thinks being a good guitar player is all it takes.’
‘He could stir up trouble though’, said Millie, swirling my beer in her glass and watching it froth. ‘If we do make it, he’ll run straight to the press to tell his side of the story. And there’s a lot of shit in the past which could hurt our careers.’
‘Simon wouldn’t dare,’ I scoffed. ‘And anyway, who’d believe him?’
‘Who knows? But do we want to take that chance?’
‘Fuck him!’ I cursed. ‘Why did this have to happen just as we were getting going again?’
‘Because our fate isn’t planned,’ said Millie, philosophically. ‘Or somehow written in the stars. It’s just a series of big cock-ups!’
She was right. Nothing we’d attempted had gone as intended. If it’d had, we’d be living in large mansions by now, counting our money and inexcusably discovering a taste for Elton John records.
‘We should introduce Simon to Elliott,’ I suggested, taking a large gulp of lager. ‘And see which one is the bigger egotistical maniac.’
‘It’s a thought!’ laughed Millie.
‘Elliott’s a fricking arse,’ I said. ‘I get this feeling that he’ll somehow upset Splash.’
‘Why so negative Dempsey?’
‘Cos every time we call him to say something good’s happened, he goes and pisses on it. Like the time we got offered that cable TV show. He says he can’t do it ‘cos he’s having a beer after work ‘cos some sad muppet is leaving.’
‘He’s just got this weird sense of loyalty,’ mused Millie. ‘Once he’s agreed to do something, he sticks to it, whether or not a hundred other people get pissed off in the process.’
‘I just hate the fact everyone else thinks he’s so wonderful,’ I said. ‘Yeah, so his guitar playing is good, but there’s more to being in the music business than talent. You do have to work at it and not just sit back and wait for people to come to you.’
‘Maybe he’s scared,’ said Millie, squeezing my hand. ‘Small audiences and rent-a-mob crowds made up from your own friends can act like a security blanket.’
‘I don’t think Elliott is frightened,’ I replied. ‘Just arrogant in need of constant ego massaging.’
Millie trembled with both cold and frustration.
‘Remember the one piece of decent advice Lester gave us?’
‘Oh sure, I said, adopting my best Welsh accent. ‘A band is only as good as its weakest link’.’
‘Well, Elliott’s our weakest link,’ she insisted.’ ‘And he’s dragging us down to local band level.’
‘I agree,’ I said, gulping down the last of my beer and slamming the glass on the table. ‘But what can we do?’
‘I don’t know.’ ‘I’d love to tell him to fuck off, but that means we’ll be searching for another guitarist.’
‘Yeah, and I’m not sure I could deal with more auditions.’
‘Life’, mused Millie, ‘would be so much easier without other people.’
I got you, babe …
We were both tired, and fed up with arguing about the merits of band members. In a bizarre way it kept us together for so long. When we did quarrel, it was always about the band. Never about each other. We were the latest in the long line of musician couples: Sonny and Cher, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, Cerys and Mark from Catatonia and all the variable combinations that made up Fleetwood Mac. Then again, in certain circles, having a couple in a band could be frowned upon. When the guitarist’s girlfriend suddenly becomes a backing singer for no apparent reason, sparks are sure to fly. Or in Paul McCartney’s case, employing your non-musical wife on keyboards when you’re about to embark on a mammoth tour would certainly get the knives sharpened. But with us, Millie joined my group, the struggling Stella Tortoise, when we were lacking motivation and in need of impetus. Only then did I discover we shared the same ideals and musical principals. Only then did we become locked together, professionally and personally.
Music became the strongest glue we knew.