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‘Paul King Stole My Haircut’ – The End …

‘Paul King Stole My Haircut’ – The End …

And so … I’m not going to post any more chapters from my failed soggy dishcloth of a novel ‘Paul King Stole My Haircut.’

While it has been fun to re-visit the inner most depths of my brain from a decade and a half ago I realise now, reading the rest of the chapters, that ultimately, my book is sh*t.

All those agents and publishers were correct … it isn’t worthy of re-cycled toilet paper and, to be honest, I don’t share the feelings and thoughts (or bad language) that I had at the turn of the century.

I was immature, bitter, tired and at the end of my tether with music, musicians, managers, promoters, sound engineers and anyone I’d come across in the music business. It had swallowed me up and spat me out and I was exhausted.

Today, I find solace in like-minded, friendly folk who are happy to listen to my songs and even play along sometimes.

The phrase ‘Paul King stle my haircut’ will always remain a memory from my times in a trash/pop band utterly out of its depth with a stoned producer who truly f*cked us up. But, as ABC sung, that was then and this is now …

I’m off to write the memoirs of Uncle George …

‘Paul King Stole My Haircut’ – Chapter 14

‘Paul King Stole My Haircut’ – Chapter 14

We were contemplating buying another beer from The Anchor to share between us, counting out the coppers from Millie’s purse, when her mobile rang. She stared at the facia, but I could tell by the way she screwed up her nose she didn’t recognise the number. As she answered, all I could hear was her end of the conversation.

‘Hello?’

‘It’s Millie?’

‘Yes.’

‘Oh, hi Splash. How are you?

‘What happened?’

‘Did you?’

‘Did they?’

‘Is he?’

‘Right.’

‘No, we’re just taking it easy. Having a lunchtime beer. Where? Muswell Hill? Sure. Yeah hang on, hang on.’

She fumbled in her bag for a biro and bit off the top.

‘About an hour,’ she chewed, hastily scribbling blue ink on the back of her hand. ‘Make it two. Fine. But what about…? All right. If you’re sure? Ok. Bye.’

‘Well?’ I asked.

‘That was Splash.’

‘You don’t say. What does he want?’

‘He’s been released on bail. So he’s ok. Says his brief is whipping up some case against the heavy-handed nature of the police at the party, so he reckons he’ll be let off with a warning.’

‘Great. Anything else?’

‘He wants to know if we’re up to coming to his studio in Muswell Hill.’

‘What now?’

‘Yep. He says he’s got a bit of free time before he has to go to court to sort out last night. He says we may as well get going with a bit of recording.’

‘Fair enough. Haven’t got any gear with us though.’

‘No need. Splash says he’s got everything and more at his place.’

‘Wonderful. Makes a change from bundling stuff up and down stairs and into and out of backs of cars,’ I smiled.

‘Yeah,’ Millie agreed. ‘And how about that for getting things done. Not hanging around I mean. Six months with Lester and we achieved zip. Five minutes with Splash and we’re in the studio already.’

‘That’s Withnail for you and his way of sorting stuff I guess.’

‘He should run for Prime Minister,‘ laughed Millie. ‘Then we’d see results.’

‘Can’t imagine that,’ I retorted. ‘A hippy in number ten!’

‘No, s’pose not,’ she giggled. ‘More’s the pity.’

‘Well, are you fit?’ I asked.

‘And raring to go,’ she said.

We set down our empty beer glasses and set off down Jubilee Walk in the direction of Waterloo Bridge. We were conditioned to doing things on the hoof. The music business never ran like clockwork, so we were always prepared to change our plans at the drop of a hat. Better still, don’t make any plans. This is what undid Elliott, who was always scheduling this, that and the other. Somehow we had to get to Muswell Hill, via a series of buses and a lot of walking. Millie stared at Splash’s address scrawled on the back of her hand. 18 Princes Mews, just off the Broadway. Once over Waterloo Bridge and up to Aldwych, we could catch the 91 to Crouch End. From there, we could hop on a W3 to Muswell Hill. It was hardly rock ‘n’ roll. It may have been adventurous for Cliff Richard, off on his groovy, sixties summer holiday with a bunch of happening chicks and crazy hep cats. But the streets of Athens and Paris couldn’t match a grubby London bus winding around King’s Cross, past the grotty Caledonian Road and squeezing through the choc-a-bloc streets of Hornsey Rise. No, all we had was some overweight mothers with even more obese, burger scoffing children, an old man with more snot on his chin than a two-year-old and a bunch of kids spitting and swearing and talking about the latest Nu Metal band from America.

 Hi Fidelity …

Waiting for the W3 bus in Crouch End, I thought about how much I hated this particular part of London, with its trendy bars, coffee shops and restaurants. It had designs on being the next Islington, but also wanted to retain its leafy, suburban décor. It was ‘C’ list celebrity heaven or hell, depending on which way you looked at it. Cast members of daytime soaps were an easy spot for any visiting tourist, as were low-grade, alternative comedians, first time novelists and one-hit wonder pop stars. This was Nick Hornby territory, a faux province where seemingly anyone could hold down a crappy job and yet still afford the rent of a large, Victorian conversion. In addition, you needed PhD level intelligence to engage in conversation extolling the virtues of a long-lost blue-vinyl b-side twelve-inch gatefold-sleeve copy of some record released on a long since obliterated indie label by an even more obscure New York Greenwich Village eleven-piece blues/jazz ensemble in 1973. Oh, and with a typeset error on the first thousand printed. Only to be found in the record outlets of Uzbekistan. On a Thursday. In July. No wonder Hornby’s characters always had such trouble with women. Perhaps the inside leg measurement of the bass player who holds the record for the largest plectrum collection in the Western civilized world wasn’t actually that interesting? Eh, Nick?

The bus took an age climbing steep Park Road and onto The Broadway. It creaked and groaned and rumbled and farted its way up the sharp and precipitous hill, like an asthmatic struggling for breath. Our knuckles whitened as we tightly grabbed the bus’s handrails and rocked side to side with each twist and turn.

Eventually, we reached the summit and the bus pulled in at the roundabout on Muswell Hill Broadway. Shaken from the ride, we gingerly jumped out and began searching for Splash’s road.

We found Prince’s Mews tucked away behind the main shopping area. The road consisted of a single row of tall, Elizabethan terraced houses that backed onto Alexandra Park. As we walked down, I noted that numbers 2 to 16 were all in immaculate condition, painted pristine white or beige, with flawless topiary and spotless lawns. Many had colourful hanging baskets or flowerbeds marked yellow and green with the early buds of spring daffodils. We gazed through each bay window as we stepped along the cracked pavement: one with an impressive library of leather bound books, another resplendent in wicker furniture, a third minimalist, all chrome and pastel shades, like a branch of Ikea. Gleaming family saloons or top-of-the-range coupes were parked outside each house: Peugeots, Audis, a silver-grey Mini Cooper and even a low-slung, blood-red Daimler.

 Our house, is a very, very, very fine house …

We almost missed number 18. For a start, we’d become phased by the décor in some of the buildings and hadn’t kept count as we passed each door. More incredibly, Splash’s house appeared to be attempting to camouflage itself from the outside world. Like a smaller version of Wimbledon Centre Court, the building was covered head to toe in dark green ivy. A cherry tree, as if praying for Abraham Lincoln to swing his axe put it out of its misery leaned awkwardly at forty-five degrees in the front garden. A rusty, purple Beetle was parked haphazardly outside, with one front wheel up on the kerb. Crazy surfer logo and ‘Keep Music Live’ stickers blanketed its back window. Disregarded parking tickets were wedged unceremoniously under the front windscreen wiper, and at least two of the tyres were flat and bald. Looking back to the house, the low, front garden wall had long since surrendered to neglect and lay crumbled in bits all over the lawn. Millie and I looked at each other apprehensively and simultaneously breathed in deeply. We tightly clasped each other’s hand, hearts thumping audibly, and trod nervously up the front path. I noticed in trepidation a parched notice fixed to a misty glass panel on the door. It read: “Burglers, Salesmen and Religious Cults … We Are Armed And Alarmed … So FUCK OFF!”

I poked my finger at the letterbox and peered inside. Nothing. I leant my ear against the door. Deathly silence.

‘Go on, knock,’ encouraged Millie, prodding me in the back.

‘Are you sure this is the right address?’ I asked. ‘It looks like the house from The Munsters.’

‘Perfectly sure,’ said Millie, checking the blurred biro scrawl on her hand. ‘Number 18.’

I examined the door again, searching for any sign of a bell. I couldn’t see one so reluctantly decided to knock. Once. Twice. A third time.

‘Can’t hear anything,’ I said.

‘Try again’.

I rapped hard, this time ripping a piece of skin from my knuckle.

‘Fuck! Where is the bastard?’ I hissed, sucking the blood from my hand.

‘Call him,’ suggested Millie.

‘Oh yeah, I seethed. ‘Like who wants to look like a dickhead shouting ‘Splash, Splash’ at the top of his voice on a Sunday afternoon?

‘God you’re useless!’ she huffed, picking up a large piece of broken brick from the path and aiming a throw at one of the windows.

She missed and the brick fell harmlessly into the mass of ivy.

‘Crap!’ she cursed, and began searching for another missile.

‘Hey, wait a sec!’ I called. ‘I can hear movement in there. Sounds like someone’s unlocking the door.’

The door slowly creaked open, and Splash poked his head around the side. He looked awful – unshaven and bleary-eyed, and I noticed with some alarm that when he yawned two of his front teeth were missing. His trendy French cut lay flattened against his temple and without his Calvin Klein specs his eyes seemed smaller and less welcoming. He was dressed in a shabby bathrobe, all green and yellow stripes like a redundant deckchair abandoned for the winter on Brighton beach.   I gawped in disbelief, while Millie averted her eyes from the front of his dressing gown, which had flapped open in the breeze and revealed rather more of Splash’s anatomy than she’d expected. He didn’t speak, but gestured we came in. Millie coughed and pointed below.

‘Er, Splash!’ she said, alerting him to his state of undress.

Splash grinned.

‘Oops!’ he said, fumbling with his dressing gown. ‘Better just rearrange the furniture.’

Here’s looking at you …

We trooped inside and Splash slammed the door closed. We were met with the same eerie feeling I imagined the young Pevensie children had got, walking through Professor Kirke’s wardrobe and stumbling out into Narnia. Only in Muswell Hill there was no lamppost, virgin snow or chocolate box landscape. It was more Twilight Zone than rose-tinted children’s fiction. The front hall was dark and murky, as Splash had banished the natural daylight by covering the glass-fronted door with a thick Indian throw. A garish 70’s carpet, designed with swirls of red, purple and diarrhoea brown Millie, threw up clouds of dust as we trod along. A selection of tatty, cult film posters were stapled to the walls: Blow Up, A Clockwork Orange, Betty Blue, Kes and Quadrophenia. Splash saw me staring at each one as we passed.

‘Tried to get Phil Daniels to sign that one,’ he said, pointing at the mod-flick print. ‘But I’ve never been able to get his number. Or his agent’s.’

I gazed at the row of actors on the poster, some now famous, but back in 1979 all young and still wet-behind-the-ears.

‘Look,’ I said to Millie. ‘There’s Toyah. And Leslie Ash. And that bloke out of The Bill.’

‘And Sting?’ she noticed.

Splash scoffed.

‘Don’t talk to me about Sting,’ he snarled.

‘Why not?’

‘Everything that’s wrong with the music business today can be applied to Sting,’ he said.

‘How’s that?’

Splash scratched his hair.

‘Cos he’s perfect.’

‘So?’

‘Every note is played exactly on time, at the right speed, at the right pitch. His songs are played by the best musicians on the highest fees and recorded and mixed to within an inch of their lives.’

‘Yeah?’

Splash waved his hands in annoyance.

‘So where’s the imperfection?’ he asked. ‘Where’s the attitude, the argument? Why isn’t Sting angry?’

‘Cos he’s got billions of pounds in the bank and he can shag for hours on end,’ remarked Millie, dryly.

‘Good point,’ laughed Splash. ‘But what I’m saying is, what happened to all those quirky little mistakes or unpredictable noises that used to make listening to records so enjoyable?’

I didn’t know, and neither did Millie. But it seemed as Splash was intent on finding out and possibly doing something about it.

‘We must put imperfection back into music,’ he announced proudly, as if he’d just delivered a series of measures designed to cut down on street crime.

‘Oh that’ll be easy then,’ teased Millie. ‘What with Dempsey’s keyboard playing!’

‘Hey!’ I protested. ‘I’m not that bad!’

‘Chill folks,’ grinned Splash. ‘Come on. Drink anyone?’

We nodded and Splash led us through a yellowy door hanging delicately by a single, rusty hinge into the kitchen. We were met by a sight lifted directly from the scenes of Withnail And I: a sink piled high with unwashed crockery, a cooker more charcoal black than pillowcase white and a waste bin sprouting the kind of organic material and plant-life that would give Alan Titchmarsh wet dreams for a month. The kitchen was so gut wrenchingly dirty I began to choke.

‘You all right?’ asked Splash, gently thumping me on the back.

‘Yeah, fine,’ I spluttered, wiping water from my eyes.

‘Fancy a cuppa?’ he asked, bravely delving into the pile of crockery without the aid of rubber gloves.

‘Er … ‘

I wanted to say ‘yes please’, but when I saw Splash pulling out a mug stained with matter beggaring description, I quickly shook my head.

‘No thanks, I’m fine,’ I coughed, frantically diving into Millie’s bag for some bottled water.

‘Sure?’ he asked.

‘Sure,’ I said, sipping noisily. ‘Anyway,’ quickly changing the subject. ‘You wanted to see us?’

‘That’s right,’ said Splash, as he creaked open one of the taps to fill his mug with some brown looking water. ‘Come next door and see my studio.’

Like eager puppies we dutifully followed Splash to the next room, relieved to be escaping from the ‘swamp’. The studio door was swathed in sticky, VIP backstage passes. Millie and I had one such precious item of our own: a lime green pass to the Lighthouse Family at Wembley Arena, courtesy of our brief time with Mervyn Lester. We couldn’t stand the Lighthouse Family, with their wishy-washy-housewife-friendly-tank-top-knitting-noodle-eating-wallpaper-paste music, but a chance to soak up the atmosphere backstage at Wembley was too good an opportunity to be missed.

Splash had clearly been around a bit more than us. There were Access All Areas passes to The Manic Street Preachers, Pink Floyd, Coldplay, Lou Reed, Fat Boy Slim, Joe Strummer; R.E.M., Madonna, as well as The Brits, Reading and V2 festivals. When he opened the door and beckoned us forward, we felt we were leaving behind horrible old sepia Kansas and entering the MGM Technicolor land of Oz.

The room was spotless – dirt-free and uncontaminated by anything brown, grey or mucus coloured. The walls were painted clinical white, which gave it the look of a scientific laboratory run by a James Bond villain. In high contrast, jet-black equipment stood piled around the room. Bright yellow, red and green lights flashed intermittently on and off, like a mobile disco in full swing.

In the furthest corner, a silver, flat computer screen glowed proudly in position, primed for action. Splash motioned towards two high-backed, office director’s chairs, suggesting we take a seat. We duly obliged, absorbing the wondrous sight, which bore more of a resemblance to the inside of a spacecraft than a home studio.

I wasn’t particularly technically minded, but even I could recognise that Splash owned all the latest and most impressive gear: compressors, noise gates, delay units, some with flashing green lights, some with flashing red, and panels with an imposing selection of buttons either pushed in or pushed out and knobs pointing in all directions.

‘I’m running Logic off the Mac there,’ he said, pointing at the computer screen. ‘And I’ve got Pro Tools installed with tons and tons of RAM. Believe me, this little lot could set off a nuclear warhead!’

I nodded, nervously, lost for words. For a start I had very little idea how to work any of these things and secondly, I didn’t really care. Millie cared even less. I wrote songs using a crappy Casio keyboard and she scribbled lyrics with a biro on scraps of paper. It was the most we could do to type out chord sheets for the rest of the band on Microsoft Word. All this equipment wouldn’t have seemed out of place on the Starship Enterprise. It was all a bit too much for us to take in. Still, Splash seemed as proud as punch of his collection of toys and started to mess around, pressing as many buttons as he could. Things whirred and things beeped and things lit up. Millie glanced at me with a look of astonishment and bewilderment. I finally found my voice and plucked up the courage to ask Splash a question.

‘All this gear must have cost a bomb,’ I suggested.

‘Well,’ said Splash, slowly and deliberately. ‘Remember that big bullion raid in the City a couple of years ago, on the day of the London Marathon. The one where the gang tried to escape by disguising themselves as athletes but ran into trouble when one of them tripped up Jimmy Saville and they were all set upon by angry runners and a bloke dressed as a giant lobster?’

‘Mmmm, kind of. But they never found the money did they?’

‘No,’ said Splash, with a big grin all over his face.

I felt the hand of fear rubbing the back of my neck. Oh shit. I knew it. Splash was somehow connected with the criminal fraternity and his studio had been financed out of the proceeds of an armed robbery, albeit by improbably attired joggers. Splash saw my face turn grey and gave a huge belly laugh.

‘You think I had something to do with it?’ he asked, still chuckling.

‘Nnnnno,’ I stammered. ‘Not at all.’

‘Well in a round about way I did.’

‘What? You drove the getaway car?’

‘In a running race!’

‘All right then. You pretended you were one of those people who hand out bottles of water and Mars Bars?’

‘No, stupid. I did the music for the film that Channel Four made of the incident last year!’

I was hit by a wave of relief, the kind you get when you find there’s a substitute teacher for the afternoon’s maths lesson when know you haven’t done your homework.

‘Oh, well, you know, I didn’t think you were the bank robber type,’ I blustered, trying my best to act nonchalantly.

‘No,’ replied Splash, sarcastically, prodding furiously at his keyboard.

All of a sudden things started to whir and buzz and flash their little lights even faster and Splash was off, like Captain Kirk, in full command of the operation.

‘Here,’ he said. ‘I’ve got to defrag the Mac. It’s going to take a while, so let me go off and get dressed and then I’ll play you a few bits my of work.’

Splash disappeared into another room and closed the door behind him. Millie and I were speechless. I gazed at all the flashing lights in a transcendental state. If Splash had been inclined to start his own religion or cult and make a million dollars, he could have started right there and then. I’d certainly have been one of his first disciples. Oh worship the god of Akai and blessed are the children of Apple Macintosh.   Millie was about to whisper something in my ear when Splash reappeared, thankfully dressed in Levi’s, Gola trainers and a khaki sweatshirt. He smiled. Good. He’d put his teeth in. Suddenly, he didn’t seem quite so threatening. We began to relax and sat further back in our chairs. Splash reached into a small drawer by his desk and pulled out a selection of cds. He fed the first one into his Playstation, picked up the handset and selected ‘play’.

‘This one’s Phillipe Muscadet,’ he said. Not his real name obviously. He’s a Belgian songwriter. Good little tunes but a strange accent.’

‘Great. Let’s hear it.’

We listened intently to the track, nodding politely. Muscadet sang in a low, gravelly voice, reminiscent of Serge Gainsbourg but without the wit or sentiment. He sang about ‘lurve’ and ‘oh girrrl’ and I noticed Millie’s eyes glaze over with boredom. Splash caught her expression and grinned.

‘I know,’ he said, removing Muscadet’s disc from the machine and replacing it with another. ‘But hey, I got paid!’

‘Fair enough,’ Millie shrugged.

‘This next one’s an indie band from Liverpool, called The Stairs. They’re a bit retro, not really my cup of tea, all haircuts and accents, but I got the chance to use my new B4 Hammond plug-in.’

‘Your what?’

‘B4 Hammond plug-in.’

‘And that would be what, exactly?’ asked Millie.

‘It’s a replica Hammond Organ,’ explained Splash. ‘Only instead of having to wheel in a huge great cabinet and speaker you use a simulated programme on the computer. It does the job perfectly and doesn’t take up any space.’

‘Wonderful idea,’ I said, listening intently to the wailings of The Stairs, who also seemed to share Muscadet’s vernacular of loving, missing and losing girls.

‘So what d’you think?’ beamed Splash proudly.

‘What strikes me,’ I said, ‘is the clarity. Our demos always sound muffled, like they’d been recorded inside a marshmallow and then dragged through a puddle of mud. On your stuff you can hear everything.’

‘I agree,’ said Millie. ‘Sounds fantastic, but what d’you think you can do to our songs?’

‘Well, Withnail played me one of your cds,’ he said, scratching his stubble and consigning The Stairs back into the drawer. ‘Nice tunes but there’s no edge, no grit.’

‘Oh,’ she said, slightly deflated.

‘Yeah,’ he continued, waving his hands demonstratively like an over-enthusiastic university lecturer. ‘Your lyrics say to me sex, drugs and rebellion, but your recordings give off this vibe of sugary, fluffy plum cakes.’

We laughed. Splash certainly had a strange turn of phrase.

‘Hey!’ he said. ‘That’s more like it. At least the songs don’t need to sound more ‘square’ or ‘orange’.’

Now we were totally confused, but beginning to enjoy ourselves.

‘Look,’ he said. ‘Let’s try something.’

Splash flicked the ‘on’ switch to one of his keyboards lying on the desk next to the computer and ran his fingers over the keys. It gave off a lovely, warm piano sound, not like the tinny resonance of even my best Casio.

‘Play one of your songs,’ he instructed, looking at me. ‘I’ll look for a rhythm and work out the b.p.m.’

‘Which one?’ I asked Millie.

‘Not ‘You Thrill Me To Death’, she said. ‘I’m sick of recording that one. How about ‘Pop Trash’ or ‘Colourburst’?’

‘Ok. ‘Pop Trash’ it is.’

I plonked away at the chords in my rudimentary fashion: C, F and G major while Splash fired up his programme and tapped out a time signature.

‘120 b.p.m.’, he called out. Good. Nice and steady. Bit of a disco tempo but we’ll sort that out. Don’t want to come over all Sophie Ellis Bextor.’

He laughed a dirty laugh. Millie scowled at the sexual innuendo.

‘Do you want to try singing along to that, Millie?’ he asked. ‘There’s a mic plugged in just there. Don’t worry about the background noise. I’ll just use this track as a guide.’

Millie turned to see a microphone placed on a stand in the corner of the room. She nodded and set up position just in front of the pop screen, picking up a pair of headphones hanging on a hook on the wall. Splash ran a sixteen-bar drum loop, which I continued to play along to.

‘How are your levels?’ Splash called into the talk-back mic. Under her headphones Millie counted one-two, one two and gave him the thumbs up.

‘Ok, let’s just run through it, he instructed. ‘I won’t be recording this. Just get you warmed up. Four bar intro. Relax. Big breasts! Ha ha! I mean deep breaths. Here we go. And a-one, two, one, two, three, four…’

‘”…A jukebox noise calling outside … it’s got no reason to come in … it could be yours, it could be mine … watch it scratch under my skin!…”’

‘Good,’ said Splash, frantically hitting the computer keyboard and adjusting knobs on the effects rack. ‘Keep playing that Jon. And Millie, take a couple of steps nearer the mic. Good. Fine. And again, this time with feeling.’

Solid Gold Easy Action …

Splash was in his element, and like a mad scientist scurried around his laboratory looking for the next button to press while click-clicking his mouse into near submission. Splash worked hard and he worked fast. He kept going on raw adrenalin and a constant supply of Marlboro cigarettes; strong, black coffee and American donuts. In between takes Millie or I ran into Muswell Hill to grab takeaway coffee and snacks from one of the countless delis and cafés on The Broadway. By the time we returned, armed with sugary goodies, Splash had copied, pasted, sampled and looped what we’d recorded, sculpting the track into shape. While we scoffed and slurped and the computer did its thing, we listened to Splash deliver acerbic monologues on the state of the music business.

By the end of the day, our heads spinning from the extreme intake of caffeine and sugar, we’d recorded the basic bed of the song – synth bass, two keyboard parts, a simple one-note melody solo in the middle eight and a complete lead vocal, all accompanied by a mosaic of drum loops and samples. For such a short length of time in the studio we had produced a tremendous amount of work. It wasn’t lazy, it wasn’t safe and we weren’t yet tired of hearing the track over and over again.

‘Good stuff, people,’ said Splash, relaxing lazily back in his chair, rubbing his hands with delight and licking remnants of sugary donut from his lips.

‘What you’ve done so far is amazing,’ said Millie, pecking him on the cheek in thanks.

‘Not a problem,’ purred Splash. ‘Once you get the basics done, the rest should follow, like flies follow a cow’s arse waiting for it to shit.’

‘Nice,’ I said, gathering up our amassed assortment of cardboard coffee cups and donut cartons.

‘Give us a few days to sort out the loops and do a bit of vocal editing,’ Splash continued. ‘And then we’ll think about getting your guitarist and bass player in.’

‘What about drums?’

‘No need. Live drums sound shit unless you spend pot loads of cash. Save for being in an expensive studio you’ve only got two chances of getting a decent drum sound.’

‘Two? What are they?’

‘Slim and fuck all!’

Typical Splash.

‘Right. I’m not sure how Lucas will take the news,’ I said.

‘Don’t worry. I’ll find some decent samples to play around with. When he hears them he’ll know. In any case, he could always come up and direct me on how he plays.’’

‘Ok. Week after next sometime?’

‘Yeah, next Wednesday’s good. Around midday. Don’t want to start too early, do we?’

‘No,’ I agreed.

‘Looks like you should be getting off home,’ said Splash, winking at me and pointing at Millie. She was sat in her chair, eyelids drooping, despite the coffee. She’d sung her heart out that afternoon, as well as danced about the studio. This was good news. When Millie danced it proved the track was good. It was our secret litmus test.

‘Cheers Splash,’ I said, shaking him warmly by the hand as I led Millie out of the front door.

‘No worries my boy,’ he grinned. ‘I’ll see you next week. And you, Missy.’

Millie smiled and shivered. The Muswell Hill air was cold, which with any luck would keep us awake long enough to stagger home on the bus. Splash slammed the door closed and we wandered back in the direction of The Broadway roundabout to search for a nightbus. As we sat huddled in the shelter, our bottoms freezing on the cold, red wiry seats, we chatted idly about the day’s events.

‘Splash’s great, isn’t he?’ said Millie, sleepily.

‘Yeah. I thought so. Never heard sounds like it. I could hardly believe it was us playing there.’

‘All it needs now is bass and guitar,’ she said.

‘And that’s where thinks go down Fuckup Alley,’ I mused.

‘How’d you mean?’

‘I mean Elliott. I’m sure Greg will be fine, and Lucas will understand the drum sample situation, but Elliott? Elliott’ll no doubt find some excuse for not coming. Like he’s working or something, the cretin.’

‘Maybe he’ll take the day off?’ suggested Millie, with a half-yawn, half-shiver.

‘Elliot! Take a day off? You jest! Oh yeah, and maybe Elton John will fuck off to Outer Mongolia and leave us poor music lovers alone. Not a chance!’

‘You can’t be sure,’ said Millie.

‘Oh can’t I,’ I scoffed. ‘Has he shown any inkling of wanting to be part of this band for the past six months?’

‘Well, no. Not exactly,’ she thought aloud.

‘Has he bought any new gear. Has he written any songs, or suggested rehearsals or come up with a better idea of how we get a deal rather than sending out crappy demos willy nilly?’

‘Ok, you’re right,’ she agreed. ‘But what do you want to do? We can’t fire him. We’d be right up shit creek if we suddenly got a deal and had to do some gigs. Especially if all this stuff with Splash pays off.’

Just then the nightbus approached and I held out my arm to catch the driver’s eye. The bus swerved in to the stop and screeched to a halt. I dragged Millie off the seat and we stepped onto the bus, waving our passes at the disinterested driver. As we took our places I looked at Millie and sighed.

‘Oh I don’t know. I hate this. Everything goes really well for a while and just as we’re beginning to look forwards we have to stop and sort out Elliott, knowing full well he’ll put a dampener on things.’

‘Just like Simon,’ Millie said.

‘Yeah. Just like frickin’ Simon.’

‘I could do without all this hassle again,’ she said. ‘It was bad enough last time.’

‘Tell me about it. At least Elliott can’t blackmail us.’

‘True. Still doesn’t make him any less of a tosser though, does it?’

I didn’t answer, but stared out of the greasy bus window as we climbed Hornsey Rise on our way to Archway. Of all the musicians in London why did we have to end up with Elliott. Why couldn’t he have joined Oasis and fucked up their career, thus saving the planet from interminable boredom? Or Coldplay?

As we passed the rows of Victorian conversions and cornershop businesses still open at twelve-thirty at night, I wondered how many bands there were out there who were equally or even more talented than those in the charts, who had been denied success because their drummer or singer preferred a few beers with their mates or their regular Thursday evening shag rather then rehearsing a new tune. Or how many bands wouldn’t have got as far as they did if they’d had a member with Elliott’s attitude. ‘Sorry lads, I’d love to record ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ but Doreen’s up for it tonight and I promised to take her down the chippy for a bit of fish and finger pie.’

‘Paul King Stole My Haircut’ – Chapter 9

‘Paul King Stole My Haircut’ – Chapter 9

You have to have a party, when you’re in a state like this …

It was quite a walk from North Woolwich station, and Millie and I shuddered every few steps as we scurried along the Woolwich Road. Happily, the rain had eased off, although cars and buses still splashed through isolated puddles of icy cold water lying dormant on the road. I repeatedly checked my inside jacket pocket for the copy of our CD that I had brought along to impress Splash. Failing that, Millie looked every inch a popstar-in-waiting. She nervously squeezed my arm as we turned into Cleveley Close and walked past the White Horse pub, just outside the entrance to Maryon Park.

‘We’re here, aren’t we?’ she whispered.

‘Yeah, looks like it,’ I said.

‘Which way’s the party?’

‘Splash mentioned something about it being on the south side,’ I replied. ‘Let’s have a look at the A to Z.’

‘Here,’ she said, running her finger across page 82. ‘That’s where we came in. If we go up this way, we’ll go past the tennis courts and then carry on straight to the south side.’

‘Good,’ I said, tucking the A to Z safely away and leading Millie by the hand into the park. ‘Let’s go.’

We walked along the narrow gravel path, our feet crunching in harmony beneath us. Once past the tennis courts we climbed up Cox`s Mount, we paused to take in the view over South East London, looking down on the Thames Barrier, Charlton Athletic’s football ground and the sight of the once depressing and desolate Millennium Dome, now transformed into a fantastic arena to rival Wembley and the NEC. One day, I kept telling myself, one day.

The cold February north wind blew through the naked tree branches, with the same eerie effect as in Blow Up, ethereal and ghostly. Over the hill we could make out some lights and shadowy silhouettes against the translucent canvass of a large, billowing marquee. I tugged on Millie’s sleeve and we bravely strode forward across the damp grass, eager to investigate. As we walked closer the sound of ambient dance music filled the air and we identified the lights as a collection of flame-lit torches, plunged deep into the turf. I figured there must have been at least a hundred people gathered together, all absorbed in their own conversations, drinking, smoking or gyrating on the spot to the haunting, evocative music.

I looked around at the other people at the party, who seemed blissfully unaware of the cold or the strange location. There were plenty who looked like Withnail – longhaired, flowing or tie-dyed clothes, similar to the stragglers from a Woodstock concert. I half expected to see John Sebastian, with his acoustic guitar slung over his back talking to Jimi Hendrix, or Mama Cass enjoying a joke with Barry Maguire and Roger McGuinn. A gaggle of stick-thin women wandered by, wannabe footballer’s wives, with long straight hair, high cheekbones and pert noses. A gang of young guys resembled the stage crew at an Oasis concert from 1996, with baggy, flared jeans and beany hats, doing that swaggered walk which gave the impression they’d just done a load in their pants. A few of the younger-looking girls looked like Hollyoaks’ auditionees with their pot-bellies, iron-flattened hair and over-zealous application of lip-gloss. Their male partners may just as feasibly have completed a photo-shoot for a Gap commercial, dressed in casual jeans and roll-neck sweaters, their floppy, curtain-fringed hair blowing without reserve in the icy wind.

The music being pumped out from a plethora of loudspeakers had a hypnotic quality to it, and for a brief moment I imagined myself on a tropical beach surrounded by swaying palm trees and local fishermen balanced on tall poles in the crashing surf, patiently waiting for a bite. Any minute now, Simon Le Bon would surely come striding through the breaking waves in a pair of white trousers, a young child perched across his shoulders, singing a song while the rest of Duran Duran sat astride elephants, strumming guitars and blowing into pan pipes.

Millie tugged at my sleeve.

‘You all right Jon?’ she asked.

I rubbed my eyes, which were starting to sting with all the smoke.

‘Yeah, fine.’

‘I’m cold,’ she shivered.

‘Let’s move towards one of the torches,’ I suggested, pulling her arm around my waist and pointing with my free hand.

We were drawn towards the light and the warmth of the fires, and advanced confidently up to one of the naked flames. Although still anxious, we intermingled with the other partygoers, the pressing need to thaw out our frozen hands overriding any feelings of apprehension. As we were gratefully rubbing our palms together I felt a tap on my shoulder and a voice interrupting our own excited chatter.

‘Hellooooooo you two. You made it then?’

I recognised the West Country drawl immediately.

‘Hi Withnail,’ replied Millie, turning round and giving him a wide smile. ‘Didn’t know you were coming. How’s it going?’

She gave him a hug and then stood on tiptoe to peck him on the cheek.

‘Great,’ he said, puffing away nonchalantly on a straggly looking cigarette.

He breathed out a stream of white smoke through his long nose. The smell was sweet and comforting.

‘Where’s this Splash character then?’ I asked.

‘Oh you’ll meet him soon,’ smiled Withnail. ‘There’s no hurry. Have a drink and a smoke and then I’ll introduce you.’

‘Ok,’ said Millie. ‘Where can we get a beer?’

‘See. There!’

Withnail waved a bony finger at the entrance of the marquee. We ducked our heads under the door flap and approached a large, elongated table, groaning under the weight of several casks of wine and countless bottles of beer. I grabbed two bottles of Becks and slammed the lids against the table and they flew off. I was proud of my one and only party trick. We chinked bottles, said ‘cheers’ and took a large swig. The beer was cold and hurt my teeth, but nevertheless I took another gulp and screwed up my eyes as the arctic liquid slid down my throat.

When, will I, will I be famous?

Drinks in hand, we wandered out side the marquee and mingled amongst the gathering of ‘beautiful’ people, high on dope, alcohol and the arrogance of youth. The air was citrus sweet with perfumed laughter and alcohol-induced conviviality. It was like no other party either of us had attended. Talk was of this television project and that promotions package and the other record release date. Names such as Melvyn, Angus and Henry were dropped as casually as a Cockney losing their ‘H’s. I was sure I could recognise a few, semi-well-known faces and voices amongst the crowd – an early-evening newscaster, a breakfast telly host, a London radio DJ. Or maybe not.

‘Hey!’ nudged Millie. ‘Spot the famous person.’

‘Who?’ I whispered.

‘That girl from Hollyoaks.’

‘What girl from Hollyoaks?’

‘The blonde one.’

‘Well that doesn’t narrow it down much,’ I hissed. ‘They’re all blonde, aren’t they?’

‘You know,’ said Millie, digging me in the ribs. ‘Kim Munch.’

‘Kim Munch? That her real name or her character’s name?’

‘Her real name!’

I shook my head.

‘No, it just looks like her. Still, ten points for you though.’

Millie looked pleased. Even though it wasn’t the real Kim Munch she’d earned herself ten valuable points in our little game. ‘Spot The Famous Person’ had started back in Buckton Heath, when a group of us had seen a tall, gangly youth coming out of Halfords, looking like Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt. ‘Spot the famous person!’ our mate Darren had cried, pointing excitedly. ‘Nuno Bettencourt. Hello Nuno!’

From then on, anyone with more than a passing resemblance to a celebrity was subject to the rules of the game. In the confines of Buckton Heath, point scoring opportunities were somewhat limited, apart from the glut of Cure fans who thought they looked like Robert Smith. Pretty soon we’d devised an intricate system of allocating points, based on accuracy of look, gender and whether the recipient was dead, alive, real or a cartoon or fictional character. Hence the guy who worked in Woolworth’s on the record counter who might have passed for Ryan Giggs only scored five points, as he was virtually bald. On the other hand, Millie ‘spotted’ a woman looking like comedian Paul Merton, and was consequently awarded fifteen points. If anyone actually ‘spotted’ a real famous person, they lost ten points. In Buckton Heath everyone’s account was in credit.

I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo …

As we warmed ourselves against one of the torches, I sensed someone’s beery breath, right up against the side of my face. I turned to see a red-haired man, with wild, staring eyes and a loud Hawaiian shirt, open to the naval.

‘You in the music business?’ he slurred, his voice grating and rasping like sandpaper.

‘Er, yeah. Sort of,’ I replied, somewhat startled by the unwarranted intrusion.

‘Take my advice son,’ he began. ‘Get out now. It’s not worth it. The music industry will eat you up whole, and then spit you out.’

When he said the word ‘spit’ I literally got an eyeful of phlegm as he gnashed his teeth and pursed his lips violently.

‘Listen son,’ he continued. ‘Are you in a band?’

I nodded.

‘Forget it,’ the stranger spat. ‘Bands are shite. No one wants bands anymore. All they want is a pretty face.’

He paused.

‘Or arse.’

He looked at me carefully, studying my face and shaking his head. I stayed quiet. Then he pointed at Millie.

‘Now that!’ he exclaimed. ‘That’s more like it!’

Who was this bitter and twisted old fart who was pissed off because not only did he not like current music, but it didn’t like him? The stranger started fumbling about in his trouser pocket and pulled out two mobile phones. He thrust one in my face.

‘This,’ he began, ‘holds all the numbers for every restaurant and private club in west London.’

‘Oh!’ I gasped, struggling for air.

‘All I have to do,’ he continued, ‘is call any one I like and say, “I want a table and I want one ready in half an hour”, and no matter how full they are I will get a table.’

‘Great!’ I said, desperately trying to sound impressed. In truth, I was tiring of this annoying little man, lost in another decade when he was relevant.

‘And this phone,’ he said, swapping handsets, ‘will get me any cab to go anywhere and any time.’

I wanted to dare to suggest that he called one, but in his own mind, he was now holding court. This man was King, and I a mere subject: forelock tugging and worshipping at his feet. I wanted to tell him to shut the fuck up, but his eyes glazed with Cocaine fury and his tongue was like a juggernaut careering out of control.

‘Oi Darlin’’, he called to Millie, who was desperately avoiding his gaze by fiddling with the tassels on her belt. ‘Over ‘ere!’

Millie, frightened by his coarse, gravelly voice and belligerent manner, cautiously sidled up to me.

‘Hello’, she whispered, warily offering her hand.

The man took her small palm in his bear-like grip and squeezed it hard. Millie flinched and tried hard to conceal any pain. He leant over across me, to whisper in her ear. Whether deliberately or not, he spoke just loudly enough for me to catch what he said.

‘Listen Babe,’ he began. ‘Lose the boyfriend, lose the band and I’ll take you to America and make you a star.’

Millie shuddered.

‘But don’t tell anyone,’ he continued, lowering his voice slightly. ‘The record labels over here … well, they don’t like me, so don’t say anything. OK?’

Millie nodded, more out of fear than agreement.

‘Here’s my number,’ the man growled, reaching into the pocket of his Hawaiian shirt and slipping Millie a grotty piece of card. ‘Call me.’

He slurped Millie on the side of the face in a parting gesture and staggered off into the crowd of partygoers.

‘Urgh!’ exclaimed Millie, wiping away saliva from her cheek with her jacket sleeve. ‘What a fucking creep!’

‘Who’s a creep?’ a thick, woolly voice said from behind us.

I recognised the accent and turned around.

‘Splash?’ I said.

‘Too fuckin’ right,’ came the reply. ‘Was that arsehole bothering you two?’

He’s no big deal, he’s just a wideboy …

We finally got our chance to look at Splash. He wasn’t like I imagined. On the phone, his gruff, cockney tones conjured up an image of a south London gangster, all black-suited and smart, with a fist full of large, gold sovereign rings and maybe fingers tattoos. Either that, or a wideboy: flashy and cool with bundles of pound notes emerging from every crevice. Instead, he was quite casually dressed; jeans and a zip-up top, with a pair of designer Calvin Klein glasses perched on the ridge of his nose. I guessed he was in his early thirties, but it was hard to tell. All around Soho and the West End, media types in their fifties still dressed like twenty-somethings. He had close-cropped hair, brushed forwards in a French cut and long, sleek sideburns. His jeans were drainpipe straight, leading down to a pair of grey and green Converse Allstars. It was an image far removed from the usual music industry stereotype, as portrayed by the likes of Jimmy Nail – cowboy boots, leather jacket, bootlace tie and a Stetson. For someone so immaculately dressed, it was bizarre to hear such coarse diction.

‘I said, was that wanker bothering you?’

‘Oh you know,’ said Millie, gradually recovering her composure. ‘Just the usual crap and bullshit you get in the music business. Who was he anyway?’

‘Oh no-one you kids would have heard of,’ assured Splash.

‘No, do tell us,’ I insisted. ‘Is he a friend of yours?’

‘Just take my word,’ said Splash. ‘You don’t want to get involved with that bloke.’

Millie looked at the card the stranger had given her. Her face dropped and she hurriedly screwed up the card and threw it on the ground.

‘Fair enough,’ she said brusquely, giving me a look that said ‘change the subject, don’t say anymore.’

I felt we’d better introduce ourselves.

‘I’m Jon,’ I said, ‘and this is Millie.’

‘I guessed, didn’t I?’ said Splash. ‘Withnail told me all about you. Gorgeous chick who pouts for England and a tall, skinny, songwriter geezer who wears flares.’

‘S’pose that’s us,’ I said, not sure whether Splash was entirely accurate. ‘Except the flares. These jeans are bootcut!’

I waved my right foot in the air.

‘See, no flapping.’

Splash screwed up his face.

‘Bootcut my arse,’ he said with derision. ‘As far as I’m concerned, that’s flares. We didn’t go through Punk Rock for nothing, son. People died so subsequent generations wouldn’t have to wear flares. Sid Vicious was a martyr to the cause!’

I had no answer to that. Splash could see I was thinking hard about what he’d just said and decided to change tack.

‘What’s the deal with Joe Matthews then?’ he asked.

‘You know him?’ Millie said.

‘Oh, his handle comes up from time to time,’ said Splash, rubbing his chin. ‘He’s got a bit of a reputation.’

‘What for?’ she asked.

‘Fucking things up, that’s what,’ replied Splash. ‘And then accusing every bastard but himself of making a dog’s dick of it all.’

‘Sounds like Joe,’ I mumbled.

‘Yeah, he takes on projects he can’t handle and then blames the band, the manager, the record label, the price of bread, the Beatles splitting up, the number of fish in the air …’

We laughed again. Splash seemed to warm to our company and continued his rant.

‘Then, when it all goes Pete Tong, he hides behind his friendship with Jake Beckford. The record labels don’t want to piss off Jake, just in case there is one more fuckin’ golden egg up the goose’s arse just waiting to pop out.’

I felt our CD in my pocket and wondered if it was the right time to broach Splash on the subject of helping us. I began tugging at the disc, at the same time beginning a speech about ‘here’s our cd, and can you help?’ but Splash grabbed my hand.

‘Look boy,’ he said, taking off his glasses and pretending to examine them. ‘I don’t need to hear no demos. I take it they’re all crap, right?’

We both nodded. Splash bit into the arm of his glasses.

‘I can do something for you both,’ he chewed. ‘I’ve got my own place in town, and I’ll sort you out a few days and we’ll make some noise, talk some bollocks and see how we get on. OK?’

‘We can’t pay you, though,’ said Millie.

‘No problem,’ replied Splash. ‘If it all works out, we’ll all be fuckin’ rich. Happy as pigs in shit.’

Once again Withnail seemed to have pointed us back in the right direction. Splash seemed a genuine enough character, and in any case, it would be extremely foolish of us in our delicate predicament to turn down the offer of free studio time. Millie and I smiled at each other and I offered my hand to Splash again, this time in thanks. Splash shrugged, modestly and offered to fetch more beer. However, just as we were accepting a low, throbbing sound reverberated around the party. Splash stood frozen to his spot, looking nervously around. Other guests had stopped mid-conversation and there was a chilling stillness, save for the hazy sound of the party’s ambient rhythms. Then unexpectedly, wailing sirens and blue flashing lights interrupted the music and like tribes of Red Indians, a line of white and black cars appeared on the ridge above the park. The main group of party guests started to bleat and howl like frightened sheep caught in a thunderstorm and all of a sudden there was movement everywhere. The noise level rapidly increased as people began shouting indiscriminately and running in all directions.

‘FUCK!’ hollered Splash.

‘What’s up?’ I asked.

‘Fuckin’ old bill!’ he screamed.

‘What’s the matter?’ asked Millie. ‘Aren’t we supposed to be here?’

‘Course not!’ he replied. ‘Public park, innit? All this fire, all this dope and other shit.’

He looked at his watch.

‘Hmmmmm. Nine forty-five. Not bad I s’pose. Thought they’d be here well before now.’

Despite the panic, he seemed strangely pleased.

‘Er, word of advice to you two,’ he said.

‘Yeah,’ I said, expecting some sort of brilliant guidance regarding our music careers.

‘Run like fuck!’

Confusion and flashing lights …

I grabbed Millie by the arm and yanked her off in the direction of the other fleeing partygoers. We raced back up over the top of Cox’s Mount, hearts racing and blood pumping furiously. We both panted like overweight lap dogs on a walk in the heat of the day, totally unfit from our London lifestyle of inhaling bus fumes and travelling around on the tube. As we reached the top of the Mount, I turned, red faced and breathless, to see the remnants of Splash’s party. People were hastily dismantling the sound system and snuffing out the torches. Policemen were busy confiscating as much of the alcohol as they could and loading it into the back of a white van, which had belatedly trundled over the hill. It seemed fairly orderly, as if the people involved seemed quite used to this procedure, and no one looked as if they were being arrested. That is apart from a red-haired man in a loud Hawaiian shirt furiously struggling with two police officers who had grappled him to the ground. His feet were kicking wildly as his face was being pushed into the wet, muddy ground. The unmistakable outline of Splash could be seen gesturing feverishly with his hands to a group of officers, his shoulders shrugging and his head shaking from side to side. One of the officers in a peaked cap stabbed a pointy finger in Splash’s chest and then wagged it about in front of his face, like an old-fashioned schoolteacher ticking off a naughty pupil.

‘I hope Splash isn’t going to be in trouble,’ said Millie.

‘He’ll be fine,’ drawled a low voice next to us.

It was Withnail. Although we’d all been running, he appeared calm and unflustered, and not at all breathless. He coolly lit a rollup and sucked hard.

‘This sort of thing always happens at any gathering Splash organises,’ he explained. ‘It’s a game he plays with the police.’

‘How’s that?’ I asked, as we began walking slowly back to the main road.

‘He used to run a really successful club night, at Cryogenics just over the River.   All he did was hire up-and-coming DJs to play the latest underground tunes. There was never any bother, ‘cos he spent a load of cash on security. Only not the usual meatheads. These people were associates and dug the music scene as much as the punters. Sods Law, though, after eighteen trouble-free months it took one moron to start a fight outside the club and the powers that be were down on Splash like a ton of bricks.’

‘Why?’ Millie asked. ‘When he hadn’t done anything wrong.’

‘Competition from another club whose owner was part of the old funny handshake brigade. All they needed was an excuse. They had all the people in authority they needed in the right places. The police, the magistrates, the local council. They closed Splash down and put some kind of order on him preventing him running any other club within a 30 mile radius.’

‘Shit!’ exclaimed Millie. ‘What bastards!’

‘Exactly,’ said Withnail. ‘So Splash decides to have a little fun. He sets up all these one-nighters at places our brave boys in blue won’t suspect. Sometimes he gets away with it and it goes off all night. Other times he gets caught in the first hour.’

‘Brilliant!’ I said.

‘Yeah. Once he had a party going off just behind Scotland Yard, right under their noses. Boy, did that piss them off. Trouble is, the police have wised up to his ways, and he’s had to move further and further away from central London. Hence, Maryon Park tonight. Next time, we may even be further away. I know he’s thinking of trying something at the new Wembley Stadium site.’

‘What happens when they catch him?’

‘Oh, he gets fined for public order offences, but never anything more. His brief has an uncanny knack of getting Splash the most lenient of punishments. Strange that. Never quite worked it out.’

We reached the edge of the park and looked for the nearest bus stop. Withnail saw us examining our tickets and told us to put them away. As if by magic, a black cab appeared and Withnail waved it down with a flourish of his long sleeve. I couldn’t believe it. A black cab for hire. At this time of night. South of the river! Withnail reminded me of Fonzie in Happy Days. I wondered if he could get a jukebox to play just by banging it?

‘There’s a bit of luck,’ Withnail smiled, as if genuinely surprised. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get the fare.’

Millie gave him a hug and a peck on the cheek.

‘Thanks,’ she whispered in his ear.

You laugh at her in all the cars …

We hopped in the back of cab, and started the long journey back to Kentish Town. As we drove through the Blackwall Tunnel I suddenly realised that Splash hadn’t got our number or anything. I also wasn’t sure whether he’d be locked up indefinitely. I asked Withnail what we should do. He told us not to worry and to be patient. Splash would call us in good time. I nodded wearily. I hated not knowing, and once again we would be left in suspension. Still, it had been an experience and more fun than staying in, in front of the telly, shouting abuse at Justin Lee Collins or having to endure Elton John bleating his way through his latest drivel to a thoroughly bored-looking Jonathon Ross Show audience. As we sped along the East India Dock Road towards Limehouse and the City, I looked at Withnail as his eyelids grew heavy and his head began drooping forwards. Millie lay across my lap most of the way, and seemed to be fast asleep. I stroked her soft, long hair and wound the ends around her ear. The cab’s engine throbbed on and on, as we negotiated the ongoing road works at Liverpool Street station and navigated the one-way system around Shoreditch.

I turned my gaze to the back of the cab driver’s head, bobbing and weaving underneath a brown, corduroy flat cap, as the car weaved around the Old Street roundabout, rapidly changing lanes and heading up towards Angel. We’d be home soon, in the relative sanctity of our flat.

As I stared blankly out of the misty cab window, trying to make out street names to see exactly where we were, I wondered what a ‘normal’ life might be like. One where when you wake up you know exactly what you’re doing that day, that week and even that year. One where things don’t get cancelled at the last minute and promises don’t get broken. I often craved stability, but then that was the last thing I could expect from the music business. Things either happened all at the same time or not at all. We were either totally exalted or thoroughly depressed. Tonight had been a buzz: tomorrow and the rest of the week would probably be mind-numbingly dull. I looked at the taxi driver again and wondered if he was happy, driving around London all day and night, all on his own? Fortunately, we soon arrived in Kentish Town and my thoughts turned to waking Millie up.

We stumbled out of the cab, said our goodbyes and thanked the driver. I slammed the door shut and waved Withnail off, on his way back to Camden. Millie rubbed her eyes and yawned, as I fumbled for my key. We squelched upstairs to the flat, our jeans, trainers and boots still sodden from the wet, park grass. Flopping on the bed in a heap still fully clothed, Millie closed her eyes and snuggled up to her pillow. Her chest rose and fell and she breathed deeply through her nose. It a minute or so she would be fast asleep, dreaming of appearing at Wembley and taking black cabs everywhere. I wished I could curl up next to her and drop off immediately, but my mind wouldn’t shut off. Withnail’s words echoed around my brain, like a squash ball pinging off the court walls in every conceivable angle; ‘…be patient … be patient … be patient…’

Stop of the Pops

Another fine article from Mr Collins …

Telly Addict

TOTP81run2

I love Top of The Pops (BBC Four). I realised how very much I loved it when, a year after Jimmy Savile’s death, the nauseating truth began to unfold and any editions of the nation’s favourite chart show presented by the grim reaper were understandably taken out of circulation. (He hosted around 300 editions between 1964 and 2006, including the first and the last.) In 2012, the year Operation Yewtree began, BBC Four were in full nostalgic swing with real-time repeats of Top of The Pops on Thursday nights, by then most of the way into 1977, a chance for those of a certain age to relive their youth. Sinister, telltale gaps started to appear in what had previously been an unbroken weekly virtual reality experience. Gary Glitter, arrested that October and jailed in February 2013, was already persona non grata in archival terms, and had long since been wiped…

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