He felt her hands slip round his waist, and trembled even through the thick parka. The Vespa started on the first kick which was a miracle. He put it in first and accelerated very gently and steadily away. He knew Caroline’s mum would be watching through the front window.
‘Did he tell you?’ she shouted in his ear.
‘I can’t hear.’
‘It’s at his house.’
‘No, about …’
A car horn honked and Steve swerved in to the side to let it roar by.
‘Better tell me when we get there.’
‘What?’ she shouted back.
‘Better … oh, never mind.’
It wasn’t far from her leafy street of small detached houses to the far grander avenue where Craig’s parents lived in mock-Tudor six-bedroomed splendour. Craig’s father was a surgeon. A brain surgeon, Craig claimed, but if that was true you’d think he’d have done something about Craig by now. There was a big rusting flamingo pink American car outside the house. Steve glanced at it. It didn’t look right for the neighbourhood. He vaguely thought he’d seen it before. He pulled into the drive and parked the scooter next to the dark green Mark 10 Jaguar parked sedately in front of the double garage.
He got off. Caroline giggled as she hitched up her short skirt and jumped off. He took her hand. She flicked her long blonde hair back and glanced at him through eyes surrounded in butterfly blue eye shadow.
‘Are we ready for this?’
‘Ready for what?’
‘Saturday, Steve,’ she frowned, ‘I mean we’ve only played together that one time, and that was only a youth club.’
‘That wasn’t bad …’
‘It wasn’t good either.’
‘I don’t know. It’s better than the last band I was in. And Craig has got an idea.’
A great big idea, Steve reflected. He hadn’t known Craig long. Craig was two years younger than him, and played a red and black Vox Continental organ and sang. Steve had given up playing at the start of the summer when his erstwhile bandmates had left school, abandoned their guitars, and started work in banks, but Craig had somehow persuaded him to dust off his bass guitar and give it another shot. Craig’s big idea was a band with no guitar. Organ, bass, drums … and wait for it … trumpet, and three girl backing singers. Backing Craig, of course. He called it The Slop, a side reference to his favourite song, Hang on Sloopy. And that was the other big idea. All the songs were dead basic loud riffs … Hang On Sloopy, Louie Louie, Let’s Stomp, I Want Candy, Little Latin Lupe Lu, You Really Got Me. There was no light and shade. No R&B. No blues, no Beatles, no soul, no ballads. Not even any Chuck Berry.
And there was yet another big thing looming. The Battle of The Bands at The Sandbourne Gaumont. All the other bands competing were seasoned semi-pro local outfits, playing three or four nights a week for real money. Craig had somehow got The Slop onto the bill, after just the one gig. ‘A friend of my dad’s,’ was all he would say. So tonight was the last rehearsal before the show, literally in the double garage. They only had to do two numbers, and while Steve thought they should be working to build up a playable hour of stuff that they could take out (they’d been hard-pushed at the youth club, and had to repeat the same half hour), Craig was only interested in rehearsing the two songs for Saturday.
Craig was standing in the open doorway, ‘You’re late,’ he muttered.
‘Five minutes,’ said Steve.
‘There’s a lot to do, what with Ray and everything.’
Steve grinned, ‘Are you trying to grow a moustache, Craig? I’d either get a move on, or shave it off before Saturday. It looks like bumfluff. Anyway, who’s Ray?’
Craig looked behind him quickly, and whispered, ‘Ray. I must have told you.’
Steve shook his head.
‘I told Caroline. Didn’t she tell you?’
Steve looked round at Caroline. She looked down at the ground, ‘I forgot.’
‘You’ll like Ray. He’ll lift the band.’
‘He’s joining the band?’ Steve had argued against Craig’s insistence that there be no guitarist. He wondered if he’d actually got through at last.
‘Drummer,’ said Craig.
‘We’re having two drummers?’ said Steve.
‘One. I got rid of Alfie.’
‘You didn’t ask me …’ Caroline was examining a landscape on the wall intently. She must have known. ‘I mean, I brought Alfie in … he’s an old mate of mine from my last band …’
‘Not good enough,’ said Craig, ‘I thought that last time. But we can have him back in after Saturday, if you’re that fussed … unless we win, of course. Then Ray’ll stay, I should think.’
Steve and Caroline followed him into the garage through the side door by the kitchen. There was Ray, sitting behind the biggest drum kit Steve had seen. Twin bass drums, two bass tom-toms, arrays of cymbals. Ray had lank, black, greasy hair, a quiff, and pockmarks, and a filthy leather jacket. He was at least ten years older than Steve and Caroline.
Craig had that ingratiating grin Steve was learning not to trust, ‘Ray, this is Steve, our bass player … and Caroline.’
Ray winked broadly at Caroline, ‘Three gorgeous chicks. Fucking marvellous. Well done, Craig, my son.’ He had two teeth missing at the front.
Steve could sense Caroline bridling beside him. He took her hand again, ‘Where are the others?’
‘In the kitchen. My mum’s making them a sandwich. Simon’s train was late, and Suzy and Diane didn’t finish work till half five.’
Simon was the trumpet player. He was still in the sixth form at his public school, fifteen miles away. He’d been in Craig’s class, until Craig was expelled. That was another tale. According to Craig, he’d been caught screwing the matron, aged thirty-two. Simon had snorted when Steve mentioned it, ‘No way! Matron is fifty-five and weighs twenty-stone.’
‘He told me.’
‘You have stuff to learn about Craig,’ said Simon.
‘You’ll find out.’
‘So how did he get expelled?’
Simon was not a great trumpet player. Simon was not even a good trumpet player, but he could blast out the simple riff as required, and no one ever thought of asking him for a solo.
Steve’s bass was leaning against the wall in the corner. He went to pick it up.
‘No, don’t bother …’ said Craig.
‘I told you about the guitar,’ said Caroline, ‘On the way here. Twice.’
Steve paused. Caroline seemed to know a lot more about it all than he did. Caroline had come into the band as his girlfriend. They’d only been going out for a few weeks. For two years before that Caroline had been going out with Robbie, a boy in Steve’s class. He’d always got on well with Caroline as friends. After she’d ditched Robbie so unceremoniously, she’d just phoned Steve and said, ‘Do you want to take me out tonight?’ Caroline wasn’t a great singer, but she could just about hold a note, and Craig wanted image. Caroline had image. Long blonde hair image.
‘You can’t play an ice-blue Watkins bass guitar,’ said Craig, ‘Not at the Battle of the Bands. I rented you a proper bass guitar, and amp.’
Steve turned round. There was a sunburst finish Fender Precision Bass leaning against a Vox T-60 bass amp. He whistled, ‘Where did you get this stuff?’
‘I rented it. It’s a question of image. And volume with the amp. We’re going to be really loud.’
Steve weighed the Fender in his hands, ‘I’ll need to practise. The frets feel different. Wider. Mind you, the action’s way smoother.’
‘Take it home after. You’ve got tomorrow night too.’
‘Steve frowned, ‘Rented it? Who’s paying for it?’
‘We’ll sort it out later.’
‘I didn’t know you could just rent a guitar … it looks brand new …’
‘I thought it was nice of him, Steve,’ said Caroline, ‘I mean your light blue thingy looks like The Shadows or something.’
‘Yeah … but why not tell me?’
Craig changed the subject, ‘Caroline, can you go and get the others?’
Steve waited for the instant retort (What did your last servant die of?), but she just went.
‘Three chick singers. Fuck me,’ said Ray, ‘One each, eh? Which one’s yours? I’m easy. They all look alright to me.’
Craig sniggered, ‘What about Simon?’
‘Is he the cunt wearing a fucking tie? He looks like a four bob bit to me,’ said Ray, ‘You know, a right bender. No offence meant, like.’
Steve started to speak and stopped. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Caroline’s my girlfriend not only sounded pathetic, it sounded as if he was joining in the supposed share out.
Steve started moving his hands over the frets. It was way easier than the Watkins.
The other two girls came in with Caroline. Craig had found them in a club, based on their looks and dancing ability. ‘Most girls can hold a note,’ he told Steve, ‘All they’ve got to do is squeak and look good.’ Suzy and Diane were slightly intimidating. Steve guessed they were both older than him, and had thick make up, and the shortest minis you could find in Sandbourne. They were both shop assistants in a clothes shop. Steve knew from years of playing at youth club dances that these were the sort of girls who inevitably had big beefy boyfriends with a violent streak who’d be waiting at the bus stop when you dropped them home. As they ignored him most of the time, it didn’t matter.
‘Hello, darlings,’ said Ray, ‘Come and sit on my drum stool, I’ll teach you to play the drums.’
‘Yeh, and cop a crafty tit squeeze,’ said Diane, ‘No chance.’
Ray laughed. So did Diane and Suzy. Caroline came over and stood by Steve, as if defensively he thought. He’d heard her opinion of Suzy and Diane often enough (Dead common, dead thick, tarty pair of scrubbers.) He also knew from Craig that they thought her a stuck-up grammar school bitch with a cork up her arse. There was that moment the week before when Diane and Suzy had pitched to do a girl group song.
‘Why can’t we sing something on our own as well? We could do My Boyfriend’s Black. That’s a great song.’
‘Back,’ Caroline had said.
‘No, the point is he’s tough and strong and big. He’s black.’
‘He’s come home,’ said Caroline, ‘He’s BACK, not BLACK.’
Steve had coughed, ‘That’s what’s written on the record. My Boyfriend’s Back. By The Angels.’
Suzy had sniffed, ‘Both grammar school, Diane. We’ve got to be wrong. We’re STUPID.’
‘Yeah,’ said Diane, ‘SHS-TOO-PID.’
‘Where’s Simon?’ said Craig.
‘Talking to your dad. About medical school or something,’ said Diane, ‘Is he going to be a doctor, then?’
‘Probably,’ said Craig.
‘Doctor in the band? That’s useful if you get caught out in a dodgy situation, eh, girls?’ snorted Ray. Steve’s mild dislike on initial meeting was strengthening.
‘I like your dad,’ said Suzy, ‘Nice hands.’
Diane laughed, ‘And I bet you know where they’ve been often enough.’
Simon wandered in. He was wearing a school tie and tweed jacket.
‘You’re not wearing that on Saturday, are you, Si?’ said Craig.
‘No, didn’t have time to change. You know what they’re like on proper dress outside for prefects.’
Steve watched Craig. This was not cool conversation. His face reddened, ‘Can’t remember,’ he said, ‘But you do. They chucked me out.’
They finally started playing. Ray would have been a loud drummer anywhere. In the garage, he was deafening. He hit the skins harder than anyone Steve had played with. He was in a totally different class to the rest of them too. The repetitive bass part to Hang On Sloopy was dead easy anyway, but with the drums leading it felt even easier. Craig was telling everyone exactly what to do. He wanted the drums on their own before Steve came in with the bass riff. That was just like the record, but Craig wanted three times as long on drums, then three times as long on bass, before Simon came in with trumpet.
‘Everyone knows the tune. We’re building up the anticipation before the girls come in, then they keep going until I come in.’
Steve nodded. It made sense. They must have done it ten times before Craig started working on the ending. He wanted it exact, no typical band fumbling around trying to be the last to stop playing.
They finally called a break. Craig went into a huddle with the three girls.
Ray got up and stretched, ‘I like the bass sound, son,’ he said to Steve, ‘Playing right up by the bridge with a pick. It sounds metallic.’
Steve was surprised, and felt a warm glow at the flattery, ‘Yeah, well, without a six-string guitar in the band, you have to get it cutting through.’
‘I’ve never rehearsed anything this fucking simple for this fucking long though.’
‘Craig’s always like this. It’s like he’s got every little bit of the song fixed in his head.’
‘Yeah, I noticed. You got an earful.’
Steve smiled. He had indeed. That was on the organ solo, which Craig played wild and frenetic, like the guitar on the record. Steve had shifted from the basic riff to follow him, and Craig had stopped dead.
‘Just play the riff,’ he said, ‘It’s got to be totally, totally basic while I’m doing the solo.’
‘Well, I thought I’d go with …’
‘Steve. You’re here because you’re not some blues improvisation arsehole. Please … just plod on with the riff, OK?’
Steve started to speak, and realized everyone was simply waiting for him to comply. Fuck it. Why bother? He nodded.
Ray started doing a thin roll-up, ‘Want a roll-up?’
‘No thanks,’ Steve felt the need to fill the gap, ‘You been in many bands, Ray?’ he said.
‘You name it, son. Dance bands. Skiffle. Rock and roll. Hamburg. Irish fucking showbands. I done it all. I backed Gene Vincent once. Mind you, a lot of cunts can say that. You wouldn’t want to stick with him long. Nasty fucker.’
Steve wondered what he was doing in this suburban garage with a bunch of sixteen to eighteen year olds, ‘What are you doing with us, then?’
‘A job’s a job, mate.’
‘Yeah. I wasn’t doing anything, between the summer season at Butlins and finding a new band. Three days? Yeah, why not.’
‘So you’re just with us for the Battle of The Bands?’
‘Too fucking right. Mind, if Craig gets signed by some smartass fucking poof of an agent, which is what he’s hoping, and there’s some cash gets bunged in, I’d stick a while just in case the little bugger makes it. You never know.’
‘So … he’s paying you?’
‘His old man is.’
‘Shit. I didn’t know.’
‘Yeah. Reckons his nipper’s a useless wanker … not his words, mind, never spoken to him … Craig told me that himself … and that the only thing he’s any good at is singing, and he might as well give him a leg up.’
Steve thought about his own vague motives. Craig was an incredibly powerful singer, and Steve had had this feeling something might just happen with him. Craig was the first guy he’d played with whose horizons were not youth club dances.
Ray looked over his shoulder and leaned in closer, ‘I reckon he’d have to stick to singing, and get another organist in. He’s pretty fucking rudimentary. But it doesn’t matter much with the sort of shit we’re doing, does it?’
‘I suppose not. That’s what he wants to do.’
‘Makes a fucking change from guitar solos, anyway.’
An altercation had broken out at the other end of the garage.
‘A full skirt? And petticoats? Bloody hell, Craig … it’s nineteen sixty-five, not nineteen fifty-five! No! My friends will be there!’ It was Diane.
‘We haven’t got anything like that, anyway,’ wailed Suzy.
‘I told you,’ said Craig patiently, ‘I’m going to hire it at the fancy-dress shop. It’s a costume from Carmen.’
‘I’d look a bloody sight! I’m not dressing up,’ said Diane.
‘It’s not supposed to be new,’ said Craig, ‘The line is Sloopy wears a red dress that’s as old as the hills. That’s the point. It’s classic. Old as the hills. Petticoats.’
‘I’ll wear it,’ said Caroline quietly, ‘I don’t mind, I was in the school play. I played Viola.’
‘Thank Christ for that,’ said Craig.
‘I’ll need to try it on though,’ added Caroline, ‘Only if they’ve got my size. I’m a ten.’
‘Twelve,’ said Suzy, ‘Don’t you think, Diane?’
‘I’d say so.’
‘I am a ten.’
‘Not in our shop, you wouldn’t be,’ Suzy continued, perusing her carefully, ‘Maybe an eight round the tits. Not round the hips. Twelve there.’
‘Anyway, if you can play viola, why didn’t you bring it along?’ said Diane.
Caroline blushed, ‘Viola. In Twelfth Night. It’s a play by Shakespeare,’ then she realized they were taking the piss, and she’d fallen straight into the trap.
‘We’ll have to rehearse the moves all tomorrow,’ said Craig.
‘I can’t do tomorrow, chum,’ said Ray, ‘You said. Thursday and Saturday.’
‘I won’t need the band anyway,’ said Craig, ‘I taped it. We’ll use that for the movements,’ he looked at his impressive gold watch, ‘Anyway, Louie Louie. We’d best get started.’
Ray moved back to the drums, ‘You’re not going to practise Louie fucking Louie for an hour, too, are you?
‘Yes,’ said Craig, ‘We have to get all the moves right.’
Steve parked the scooter a few hundred yards from Caroline’s house. They usually walked from there, with a slight diversion into the alley beside the Congregational Church for ten minutes of impassioned kissing and fumbling. It had never progressed beyond that, though Steve had a fair idea it might have done with Robbie. It was the same tonight.
‘No, Steve … No, I said no … I really don’t want to risk it … I don’t care if you have. They can break. No …’
They walked quietly towards her house, ‘You knew all about Ray and the guitar, then.’
‘Craig phoned me. He wanted to talk about costumes.’
‘Costumes? We’re not all dressing up, are we?’
‘No. But he wants someone to act out the line about the girl with the red dress. That’s what we were arguing about. Diane said she could borrow some red mini-dresses from the shop, and Craig wants someone flouncing about, flourishing petticoats.’
‘It’s turning into a big production.’
‘Too right …’
‘What time shall I pick you up tomorrow?’
‘I’ll see you Saturday, Steve, He only wants to rehearse our stage moves tomorrow.’
‘I might as well watch.’
‘Better not. We’ll be less inhibited without anyone there.’
‘Craig will be there.’
‘He’s directing and participating, not sitting there smirking and putting everyone off.’
‘I won’t smirk.’
The backstage was packed. There were ten bands on the bill, and Steve knew members of three of them from school. They were all vastly more accomplished, and each band had a vociferous following out front. The Slop had no one. And no one had heard of them.
They were on in alphabetical order. Eighth, before Telstar (churning out chiming instrumentals from two years earlier) and When? with their immaculate Beach Boys harmonies. Craig was delighted. The clear favourites, Airborne, a solid R&B band with a couple of singles out already, were on first, well away in judges’ memory from The Slop. As Craig whispered, both bands after them were going to be quieter, and didn’t rock.
They watched from an area at the side. All the bands did. Steve’s stomach was chilled. They were all way, way better than them. Then a thought struck him. Blue Monday had a female singer, a burly girl in a brown frock, and Denaris were a folky ensemble with two singers, one a thin pale girl in black polo neck, the other a bearded bloke, singing Corrina Corrina very gently. Apart from that, it was all male. His mood lightened.
During the interval between band number five and band number six, The Slop gathered backstage. The three girls all had floor length black cloaks with hoods, well, floor length pieces of black nylon. Little attempt had been made to shape them.
‘I asked for six mics out front,’ said Craig. One each for me and the girls, one for Simon, and one for you, Steve.’
‘I don’t sing!’ yelped Steve.
‘No, I’ve asked for it to be turned off, but it’ll look better if you mouth a bit of the chorus, and you can shout out the Yeahs! too.’
‘Isn’t that faking it?’
‘It’ll look better … like we’re all totally involved.’
They were using the house PA, and had been allowed about two minutes to try for vocal levels. Craig had insisted they don’t sound check otherwise.
‘Where’s Simon?’ said Steve.
‘Being sick in the lavvy.’ It was Diane.
When he emerged, Simon was as white as a sheet, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll be fine,’ he said, ‘Hang on … excuse me …’ and he disappeared again.
Craig was in Hitler-mode, ‘After the dance bit, Ray and Steve just keep playing until I signal. Nothing Else. Just bass and drums, and we’ll keep it going as long as we can, then I’ll signal Simon to blast the trumpet part, and we’re back in.’
‘OK,’ said Steve. Ray just flexed his arms, ‘Makes no difference to me. I keep going right through.’
They shuffled on. You couldn’t see a thing past the spotlights. Steve found his amp and plugged in. At the front an echoey voice was saying ‘… present The Slop!’
Ray started playing with a tremendous solid beat, Steve counted four bars, and slid up the bass string to start the riff. Shit, he’d never ever been that loud. He could see Greg to his left, then the three girls in black cloaks, then Simon far right. Simon started the trumpet riff, then the three girls broke into ‘Hang On Sloopy …’ it went on and on and on, Craig just touching the keys, then a spot hit him and he started ‘Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town …’
Steve felt the hairs stand upright on his neck. It felt fucking fantastic.
Then Craig hit ‘Sloopy wears a red dress …’ and all three girls simultaneously shed their black cloaks, letting them slip to the floor. Diane and Suzy were gyrating in red mini dresses. Caroline was flourishing the skirt of a full red dress revealing the petticoats as she strutted across the width of the stage, and back again. Suzy and Diane were wriggling furiously.
There was a huge roar which made Steve rock back on his feet. Then he realized it was the audience. He ploughed on with the riff.
Craig started the organ solo with all three girls going mad to his left, as he ended he signalled Simon to stop and moved forward with the three girls, all four going into a weird Shadows walk, as Ray and Steve played alone. Then they were back into the verse. Steve moved into the mic for the Yeah! Yeah! lines. No concept of being in tune there, just shout it out.
They finished exactly together. Click. The lights went out. The crowd went wild. Steve realized they had had the biggest applause of the night by a mile.
Craig hissed, ‘Just you, Steve, on your own … Start Louie Louie.’
That’s how they’d rehearsed it. Steve started the riff, and then heard Craig yell, ‘Ray!’ and they were into it.
As they crashed to an end, the whole place went wild again.
Craig hissed, ‘No curtain calls … get off.’
They did, leaving the place in uproar. Steve ran into the wings.
‘Fuck … that was total shite,’ he recognized the lead guitarist of Airborne.
‘Well …’ he felt an arm round his shoulder. Ray.
‘Fuck you, sunshine,’ Ray said.
‘What are you doing with these kids, Ray?’ continued the guy, ‘It’s a fucking insult.’
‘Winning,’ said Ray.
‘You won’t. Anyone can get three silly little tarts prancing about the stage, flashing their knickers, and singing out of tune,’
‘Then do it,’ said Ray, ‘It’s more fun than watching you wanking your Les Paul.’
‘I’m a musician.’
‘You’re a cunt,’ said Ray, ‘Come on, Steve, we deserve a fucking drink.’
You could cut the backstage hostility with a knife. Ray was enjoying it. Everyone knew him anyway. He grabbed a bottle of Double Diamond each from a crate, ‘Cheers, son.’
Steve couldn’t see Craig or the girls, ‘I’d better find Caroline.’
He pushed his way through the corridor to the tiny dressing room. There was Craig, three guys elbowing each other to talk to him. One saw him, and turned, ‘Ah! The bass player. Be a love and grab your lovely singer’s attention for me.’
‘Ashley Penn-Harrington. Goldbar Records.’
Steve had heard of him, ‘Goldbar? You mean The Raquets label?’
‘Yes, dear. Wonderful show. The only interesting thing on here. I can do something for you …’
Steve found another arm round his shoulder. It didn’t feel the same manly hug that Ray had given him either. He felt his upper arm being caressed gently.
‘Of course, we’ll need some original material … but I can find that easily enough.’
‘Don’t let your lovely boy spend any more time with Beckstein. He’s old school. Waste of time.’
Steve looked at the middle-aged balding man who was haranguing Craig, poking him in the chest to emphasize his words.
A head poked round the door, ‘They’re announcing the winners. Everyone on stage …’
The bands were all over the place, mixed in with each other. Craig was firm, ‘Keep tight together, keep the girls at the front so they know who we are.’
The announcer started calling out the names of the bands. The Slop got a huge cheer. His heart was thumping. Were they actually going to win?
Then came the judge’s decision. Third … Morning Glory. Second … Paladian. First … ‘ Craig grinned across at him and winked, ‘First … Airborne!’
Steve shook his head. There were boos from out front. Shit. Not even placed. They stumbled off. Penn-Harrington was smiling at them from the wings, ‘Perfect result. The rhythm and blues boys pick up the gold cup … and you sweet things pick up the recording contracts. You’re going to love being hated by the musos.’
Craig was laughing.
‘Let’s go to your dressing room …’
Steve took Caroline’s hand, ‘You looked great.’
‘Thanks,’ she said distractedly, ‘So we didn’t win, but we won?’
‘Looks like it,’ said Steve.
The two men in fawn macs were waiting inside the door. The first flashed a piece of paper, ‘Craig Winstanley?’ he said.
Craig nodded warily.
‘I have to warn you that anything you say may be taken down in evidence and used against you in a court of law.’
‘You’re under arrest, sonny Jim.’
Craig started to push by them. A uniformed policeman appeared right outside the door.
‘Handcuffs, I think.’
Craig was handcuffed and pushed onto a chair.
‘No one move. We’ll need to speak to all of you.’
It took an hour. The charges were legion. Burglary. Theft. Passing fraudulent cheques. Even a taking and driving away from three months earlier. Steve had a personal fifteen minutes in the next room, as he was actually holding the bass guitar. At least Craig said right out that the bass guitar and amp didn’t have anything to do with Steve. Like the Vox Continental organ and accompanying AC30 amplifier, it had been acquired with a dud cheque.
‘If we’d got the contract,’ he explained, ‘I could have paid it all off.’
Caroline was told to take off the red dress. Another item wanted in evidence. She had to change into her jeans.
They waited for a police van. Craig smiled at them, ‘We nearly made it,’ he said, ‘Still, no hard feelings?’
‘Burglary?’ asked Steve.
‘I needed cash too.’
‘I guess it was fun,’ said Steve, ‘until the last bit.’
‘Yeah. At least I got to shag two-thirds of the group!’ Craig started laughing wildly.
Steve started counting … six in the band, so …
Simon sniffed loudly. He saw Steve looking at him, ‘Now you know why he was expelled. They caught him. They never caught me.’
Steve felt his face burn, he stared at the girls.
‘Not at the same time,’ said Diane, ‘We wouldn’t obviously. He asked, mind.’
Caroline was looking away.
‘All of you?’ Silence. He turned to Craig, ‘You cunt.’
Craig was led out. Caroline had changed into jeans, ‘Bye, then, Steve,’ she muttered, ‘I suppose that was it. Sorry.’
‘Right … er, when did …’
‘Last night. And Tuesday. God, did you hear what the policeman said?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Craig’s only sixteen. He’s two years younger than me. I’ll never ever live that down. That’s so embarrassing.’
‘No … well, no one’s going to go round broadcasting that one, anyway.’
‘I swear. Honest.’
Ray and Steve were the last ones left in the dressing room.
‘At least I got paid cash in advance,’ said Ray.
‘We were the only two who didn’t get shafted, then.’
‘Yeah, I suppose so.’
‘Sorry about your chick. Still, it happens with bands.’
‘Good looker. A bit snotty, mind.’
‘I know what you mean.’
‘We were in with a chance, son. On his coat tails, but we could have won it.’
‘Airborne were pretty good.’
‘Nah, I was speaking to Harry … he’s one of the judges. We was disqualified before they even voted.’
‘Yeah. Well, I’m a full professional, that’s one, but we could’ve argued it. Say I gave up last week or something. No, the silly bastard gave them a dud cheque for the admission fee. They realized when the law turned up. That’s when they worked out the letter from Parlophone asking them to squeeze us on the bill was faked too.’
‘He faked a letter from Parlophone? He told me it was his dad.’
‘Yeah. They must be fucking dumb. He signed it George Martin.’
‘So we might have won?’
‘Yeah. Then three fucking agents fighting for us. Top Twenty here we come.’
‘You could have done it. I couldn’t.’
‘Granted. You’re not much of a bass player, but a lot of them aren’t. They just get lucky being in a band with a genius. Anyway, he’d have kept you on, definite.’
‘I don’t reckon. Not for long.’
‘Oh, yeah. I told him I could get my mate Arnie in on bass. Proper musician. Good on guitar too. He said we was too old. I’m OK, hidden at the back, but the bass player’s standing up the front. He needed you for the image. Right age. Moderate to good chick appeal. They’d have used session guys if you’d made a record anyhow. You might not be much cop, but you can play Hang On Sloopy on stage good enough. That’s all he ever wanted. Funny fucker … everything had to be just how he saw it in his head. Stage moves, clothes, the fucking lot. He even knew exactly what bass and amp he wanted you to use. Course, that’s where he went fucking wrong. Meant he had to nick it. He had it all. Voice, looks, ideas … and he was ambi-fucking-dextrous,’ he picked up Steve’s incomprehension, ‘Didn’t mind which side his bread was buttered? We could have done with one like that in my first band. Only reason we didn’t make it. We didn’t have anyone to cosy up to the managers. Nah, you need one in every band. They have to be both ways, else the chicks don’t fancy them. No, Craig was fucking perfect. Still, he’ll only get a year at most. I’ll keep an eye out.’
‘I’ll be gone …’ said Steve, ‘I’m applying to university.’
‘Best thing,’ said Ray, ‘Well, good luck. I’m gonna remember that Hang On Sloopy.’
For years, Steve half-expected to see Craig’s face in New Musical Express or Melody Maker. He never did. Years later he ran into Simon outside HMV in Oxford Street. Craig had absconded from Borstal the second week of his sentence, and had never been heard from again.