An everyday story of Rock 'N' Roll folk
Keva McLuskey craves success. Other bands are making it big. His worst enemy is on MTV.
And time is not on his side. Yet he's certain it's his destiny to be recognised among the great songwriters of our time. Without that approval, Keva can never confront his horrific past. That's why he formed The Grams.
Jamie Love wants to revel in his sexual dark side. He wants all the blowjobs, cocaine and groupies that Fame can bring. That's why he joined The Grams.
Their hapless manager, Wheezer, confesses that keeping the boys together is "like trying to cup water in your hands".
At 23, Guy deBurret is already a rehab survivor, a casualty of the soulless hedonism of the music business. The youngest son in a banking dynasty, he became the most successful talent scout in the music business before he was 20.
Rapidly disenchanted with the immorality of the business, he descended into a slough of low-rent whoring and drug-bingeing around King's Cross. But now he's been there, done that and all he wants is to find Ella, his favourite hooker, and take the pair of them away from all this ... the ethical way.
When he sees The Grams he feels fated to nurture them and protect them from the injustices of the international music business. That's why he formed a record label which prizes morality as highly as platinum discs. But, when he puts his principles into action and signs The Grams, it can only end in tears...
Powder is the most authentic novel about Rock and Roll ever. Outrageously funny, seething with coke-addled sex and paranoia, and yet capturing all the energy and excitement of a band breaking through.
Powder is also a frighteningly accurate low-down on the machinations of the music business, written by a man who - as manager of The Farm - has experienced them from the inside.
|Publisher:||Random House UK|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.28(d)|
About the Author
Kevin Sampson knows the music business from the inside as the manager of the pop group, The Farm. His acclaimed first novel, Awaydays, is also available in Vintage.
Read an Excerpt
Keva had bought his NME twenty-five minutes ago, but only now could he bring himself to look at it. This was not something that'd just go away if he binned the mag. He could leave the cafe, walk back to the flat, walk away from it all, lock himself in, but this awful thing would still be there when he came out again. He was going to have to take his medicine and read the fucking thing.
He'd been all too well aware that Sensira were starting to do it, but this, the scale of it, the sheer bigness, was a total, total shock. From the moment he saw it, it made him ache to the pit of his soul. He'd bent down, half-genuflecting in the usual place on the usual bottom shelf in his newsagent, and there it was. There they were. Nothing could have prepared him for that stunning impact as he twigged who was on the cover. What he was looking at, there, then, in luscious, grinning colour, smiling from the front of the New Musical Express, from the cover, was Sensira.
Sensira! On the cover of the NM-fucking-E! Jesus! Was every fucking journalist and punter in this country a complete mug? Fuck! How could people fall for it? They're shit! They are such shit! Sensira, for fuck's sake!
They'd been cleaning his boots a few months ago. Now, Sensira, the eternal support group, were on the cover, in the middle, in the news. Keva, quite properly, felt his whole spirit sink again as he turned the page and forced himself to take it all in. It was too true. Sensira were news. They were Big. Thank Christ there was no one in there to see him like this. His face, he could feel it, was twitching with envy. He stared at the article vacantly, reading without taking in a word. This was it, then. This was how the end felt. There was no point, no point at all in his carrying on.
He looked at the picture of Helmet. The little twat even had his hair the same as his now. He was shameless. Keva tried to drink his coffee but it tasted of nothing. This creeping realisation, this whole thing was horrible. He had to read on. He had to.
'What's so damn hilarious, handsome?'
Lorraine. One of the girls at Keith's. Gorgeous. Tall and fine-boned, with a bent nose that looked great on her. You couldn't call any of the Keith's girls waitresses or manageresses or whatever. They all seemed to do everything. Lorraine, at various times, had waited-on, cashed-up, grill-chefed, sung 'Kiss Me Honey Honey' for the students and chased out junior hoods trying to make a name for themselves in a soft establishment. She's one of the girls at Keith's.
He'd been potty about Lorraine, once. Plenty enough people had told Keva she liked him, especially since the band started gigging. He knew she liked him. But he knew, too, that if he were ever to ask her out, she'd put him down. No doubt about it and no matter, anyway. He was long past her. He lost interest once he knew he could have her. Suddenly, once the unattainable Lorraine, the object of much delusory masturbation, was within his grasp, there seemed no point to it. She'd end up leaving him.
Besides, the other thing about her, which people seemed to find cute but only made Keva wince, was her range of irritating Hollywood starlet accents, sometimes as many as three in one short enquiry. She could make 'Top up ya coffee, handsome?' start out as Melanie Griffiths and end up as Jean Harlow. Marilyn was never far away, of course, either. She used words like 'handsome'. He couldn't spend too much time with someone who did that.
Keva pushed the NME across the table to her, looking away in disgust as he did it. She clocked the accompanying shot of Helmet and snorted.
'Don't getcha knickers in a twist over him, honey. He's bogus.'
Coming from Lorraine it could've sounded pat, just another of her sayings. But she was dead on. That's exactly what he was. Helmet Horrocks was bogus. Seeing him there, now, the subject of an almost hysterical NME editorial, was actually painful to Keva. He picked up the paper again.
helmetmania! ran the headline. Then:
'Sensira for Arena', and:
'It's all gone bonkers!' - Helmet.
The gist of this news-spread, inside the front page, was that the demand for a show by Helmet's band, Sensira, had been so enormous that they'd had to move it from the Forum to Wembley Arena. Wembleyfuckingarena! Sensira!
'With capacity limited to 8,000 by Brent Council for the show, tickets sold out within four hours of going on sale.'
What? Limited to 8,000. Jeezuz! Fuck! He felt dizzy. Just a couple of good club gigs would do the Grams for now ... bring a few bob in, get a demo together, keep things moving, but ... FUCK! Wembley Arena! For that stunted little get and his phoney strung-out waster hymns. Twat! He flicked a look at the black-and-white of Helmet, saucer-eyed, scared, intense - a sickly child grown big. Keva couldn't help himself. He gobbed on the photo then read the piece again, the bit where Helmet was justifying the switch from the intimate, punter-friendly Forum to the enormous fleeceadromes of the arena circuit.
It's like, the kids've made it clear that they want the big vibe, the tribal gatherings. They want thousands of kindred souls, all together, having the time of their lives. It's all gone a bit bonkers when Sensira go from playing to four men and a dog in Eccles to this - but it's just the way things are going right now. It ain't too big. How can a party be too big?
In how many ways could Keva despise him for this fake, cynical rhetoric? Seven. The seven deadly idiocies of Helmet fucking Horrocks.
1) The affected, and improper use of like. Either the kids have made it clear or they haven't. It is not like anything.
2) Kids? Fuck off.
3) Vibe. See kids.
4) Tribal Gathering with small initials. Pseudo-clever tapping of popular culture, letting the journo know that he's not a pleb, he can come up with the straplines, too, while simultaneously letting the reader see that he's 'out there'. With them. A well-deliberated, fake-spontaneous soundbite. Gobshite.
5) Bonkers. Slipped up there, tithead. Who the fuck says 'bonkers' except you.
6) Four men and a dog. Direct lift from Keva, whose fine band, the Grams, are loved by the grassroot fanzines and are just now starting, with three or four other similarly poetic, melancholic guitar outfits, to be touted by the music press as the New Underground. In the Grams' biggest interview so far, a splash in Chasing Chaos fanzine, Keva pointed to a gig in Carlisle as being epochal, in spite of being attended by 'four men and a dog'. Maybe Helmet was taking a swipe at him. As if he'd have time to, the twat. And that wasn't all he'd nicked. His whole look had gone from scruffy folkie in cord jackets to the cool, smart-casual look favoured by the Grams. Regardless, he still looked a Ted in low-cut trainies with no socks. He just couldn't carry it off.
7) Ain't. Nuff said.
That was just the news page. At the end of the report, readers were directed to an exclusive Helmet interview in the centre spread of the mag. Keva speed-scanned it for mentions of the Grams and the New Underground, but it wasn't so bad. Helmet was looking forward to Sensira's imminent tour of the States, which he expected to be bonkers and stressed, again, his bewilderment at so much happening so fast. He reminded readers that it was only six months since their first, independent single ('Noodledoodled'. Crap. Helmet guessing what it's like to be out of it.) had dented the Top 40, signalling the start of this unplanned stampede to Wembley Arena, Los Angeles and fuck knows where else. It was difficult to keep a critical distance (not half!), difficult to take it seriously. It was bonkers. He only touched upon the New Underground reluctantly, and only then at the journo's behest, hoping that bands like the Grams, The Purple and Macrobe 'get to where they wanna be'. Helmet pointedly excluded Sensira from any 'scene', but it was not a bad interview. Not like last time.
It wasn't even a year ago. The Blackpool gig. Wheezer had cobbled together a mini-tour - Derby, Sheffield, Leeds, York, Manchester, Blackpool, Liverpool, then on to an earner at Bangor University that no one wanted to do. The venues were tiny, mostly, but the gigs were going well, over a hundred at each show, touching two hundred at a couple of them. Sensira were going on first every night, with the Grams and The Purple alternating the headline slot, on the grounds that they'd both had Radio One sessions - the Grams on Peel, The Purple on Lamacq. Helmet was just made up to be there. He'd written to Keva about twenty-five times, said how much he loved the Grams, thought they were the only new group worth bothering about, the only band that made a difference to him. Next thing he'd formed his own band, made a demo - any chance of any gigs, anytime, anywhere? They'd even roadie for the Grams. Be honoured to. Keva didn't much like the tape but, so what? Helmet seemed to have passion. He was a dreamer and he loved the Grams - and praise was something which Keva could always tolerate. So Sensira did a couple of farting little one-off gigs with the Grams, kissed their arses and humped their gear. And then came The Tour.
There'd been a great rapport between the bands, an atmosphere of shared destiny, with the Grams the unspoken topdogs. It was starting to feel like this was going somewhere. Three years of playing in shitholes in front of twelve, twenty, fifty people then suddenly The Wheeze had come on board and started to get the ball rolling. Local press and radio. Bit of a following in Liverpool, then the Peel session and this little tour. Decent PA systems. Soundchecks. Crowds which, though still modest, formed enough of a throng to infiltrate the Bermuda Crescent, that semi-circle of dance floor in front of the stage where no fan dared to tread. There'd been nights not so long ago, nights like Carlisle, when the Grams had been on fire and you could sense that the handful there just wanted to get into it, hurl themselves to the front and dance with the devil. But they were too few to penetrate the Bermuda Crescent and they settled, instead, for earnest head-nodding in the shadows of the bar to let the group know that their efforts were not in vain.
This time, though, the crowds were bigger, drunker and more willing to get into the music, right from the off, swaying, bouncing, punching the air. Each of the bands gained an extra yard of swagger from the headrush of seeing, for the first time, eddying mobs flailing to their music. And then, in Leeds, Keva McCluskey became a Star.
It was the Grams' turn to headline. The crowd was swelled by a boisterous but happy mob of Leeds fans looking for a drink after a midweek game. From the moment Keva took to the little stage, they were into it, identifying with his understated street cool, digging the searing guitars and soaring melodies of the Grams, dancing together in their own little pack. Everything clicked. Keva didn't give a fuck how he came across. He did everything he'd always wanted to do. He stalked the stage like a panther, staring through and beyond the crowd, smouldering, crouching, twisting himself into knots and pumping his little arse, lithe as a mamba, decadent, sexual. A Star. So much so, so obviously was something big happening, that the crowd, at the end of each song, was momentarily silent, just for a beat, just in case there was something to miss. Then they roared their throats raw. Even the ooh-ooh-oohing of the Leeds United crew sounded great. Everyone knew it. They'd just seen the Next Big Thing.
Andy Carmichael, the promoter, thought so too. Next day he phoned his flatmate, Cindy Hogan, a freelance for Melody Maker, who'd been back in Glasgow on the night, and told her to imagine having missed the Stones' first gig. That was enough for Cindy, who convinced her editor to let her run the first national piece on the New Underground. She reckoned that, two years on from uni, still covering the flotsam passing through Leeds, York and Middlesbrough was apprenticeship enough. This thing of Andy's, the Grams, The Purple - this whole scene was something she could get in on from the start. The New Underground. The way ahead. This was Junction 1 on the road to the journo Premier League. The Maker, the Face, the Observer in three cute hops, with a cause to call her own. She could go on The Late Review and The Treatment and be a pundit. Bunny Sawyer, get your arse out the way. Here comes Cindy!
Cindy went for the Blackpool show. She fancied the idea of Friday night in Blackpool as a setting for this new, Northern uprising which she was about to unveil. Far enough away from Leeds to wangle a hotel from the Maker, too. And it just ... it felt good. She didn't warn the bands that she was coming. She never did. So while the Grams and The Purple were out in search of good fish and chips, the ascetic Helmet was driving his band through a second soundcheck. A second hour of soundcheck for a thirty-minute set. Cindy, primed by Carmichael, had reckoned on giving Sensira and The Purple a big picture caption each, maybe a hundred-word resume, with the Grams getting the splash. But what happened instead was that Cindy Hogan fell in love with Sensira from the moment she walked in on their rehearsal at the Jinx Club.
Not that Helmet was to blame for this, except in so far as his band could whip up a fair melange of up-to-date influences. There was nothing original or frightening about Sensira, but they had a likeable, fashionably doped-out sound. They'd studied their masters well, and if the result was a little stage-manufactured, nobody seemed to care.
It wasn't Helmet's fault, either, that Cindy, looking every inch the club chick with her straight black hair, her black plastic jeans and her skinny dancer's frame, loathed and detested dance music. Cindy was a sucker for bands. Bands. Gangs of moody boys with scrawny arses and big dreams. She was into Mansun and Spiritualized. 'Cattle And Cane' by the Go Betweens still got her crying every time, and she still loved the Mary Chain more than any band alive. But what she liked best, the thing that dripped honey through her veins, was a big, classic, atmospheric ballad. Rock bands with acoustic guitars. Neil Young - 'Only Love Will Break Your Heart'. Primal Scream - 'Losing More Than I'll Ever Have'. Echo And the Bunnymen - 'All My Colours'. Aztec Camera - 'We Could Send Letters'. Nirvana - 'All Apologies'. The Grams? Carmichael had told her yes, and she went after them in delirious hope.
Except that Helmet didn't tell her that his band was not the Grams. Not until right at the end of the interview, after she'd sat in on the soundcheck and taken them all out for a drink, and nodded and smiled and jotted down all the stupid, word-perfect quotes Helmet had always wanted to say to the music press. Only when it was no longer avoidable did he make his coy disclaimer:
'That's three times you've asked me about the Grams now. I'm beginning to fear you think we are the Grams!'
By which time Cindy was smitten. And that was his fault.
Keva stared out on to Lark Lane, seeing nothing. His dark eyelashes prickled with a stinging, panicky sweat. His right hand instinctively swooped into his pocket, feeling out Rizlas, grass, lighter. With the other hand taking the weight of his forlorn head, he knocked up a miserly one-skinner and sparked it. Lorraine'd let it go at this time of day. Feeling a deep sense of his own tragedy, Keva sighed out a slipstream of sweet smoke and, with his smoking fingers, lifted a swathe of sleek brown hair from his eyes and tucked it behind his ears. Bastards. This was so wrong. Sensira were taking on the world.
From that initial Melody Maker piece, they'd got a record deal and cracked the outer limits of the hit parade, but Keva had not the faintest indication that they'd become so huge. It should've been him. Those fans, those eight thousand going to Wembley and all the ones who bought 'Noodledoodled' and all the ones who, if the footnote on the news page was confirmed, would see them headline at Reading, next - they'd always been there, ready, just waiting for something to happen. He'd known that from the start. There was a whole mass of fans out there, devotees, real music lovers just waiting for the polarising fashions to be over, waiting for something they could call their own. It should've been him. It should've been the Grams. Something was going to have to be done. He left two quid on the table and headed back to Ivanhoe Road to call Wheezer.
Wheezer was late. Wheezer was always late. It wasn't an act. He had more to do, longer lists of things he had to do than anyone else any of the Grams had ever met. He was even late the night they got into all of this together. Beano had come back to the dressing-room at the Lomax to break the news. There was a pretty good crowd, but the funny lad in the mad cardigans, the one who always came to their shows, who'd been there from the start - he hadn't turned up. He was always there, near the mixing desk, slightly embarrassed at his own presence and never quite sure enough of himself to let on to them. That night he was nowhere to be seen. The Grams were queerly disappointed by this, and felt a little weird, they'd all confessed later, when they went on stage. When James finally spotted him and nudged Keva to let him know, they'd both been ineffably chuffed.
He'd come over at the end, this time, while they were loading out. This chain-smoking, slightly stooped lad, took a deep breath then spoke for the first time. They'd never heard anyone talk like him. He was over-articulate and he betrayed a slight impediment when he was excited, but it was the nervous energy of his speech patterns that took them aback. He introduced himself as Michael Finlay and he came on like Bertie Wooster with twice the bluster and none of the style. He was mad, but he was terrific. He heaped on the praise in tipsy, gabbled ejaculations, and what he said was that he thought the Grams were the best band in the world and that he knew a bit about contracts and business and did they have a manager and would they let him have a crack at it? The combination of stunned surprise and the feeling that maybe he was a bit of a talisman meant that no one said no. Keva liked the bit about the best band in the world. He thought so too.
His knowledge of contracts was yet to be put to the test, but the lateness continued. He lived on the Wirral. He wouldn't drive. All good reasons why nobody expected Wheezer - with his inhaler followed by cigarette routine he'd been Wheezer Finlay from that night on - to hit an appointment within half an hour of the suggested time, and why on those occasions when he was, more or less, punctual he was greeted with a standing ovation. It seemed perverse now to recall the reticent, reclusive fan of old.
Keva tossed his locks and flicked at the NME again. He wasn't that arsed sitting there on his own. With his uncommon dirty straw hair and freckled brown eyes, his gaunt, beautiful face and those big, vulnerable lips he'd long been used to girls sneaking a second look at him. But it was even weirder now. He was becoming enough of a face in Liverpool for students in Ye Cracke to point him out and start talking loudly about the bands they were into. He loved it when that happened.
And he knew everyone in there anyway, he was in the place at least three times a week, so it wasn't so much of a chore to have to wait in the War Office for Wheezer to show. He delved inside for skins and came up against the letter. He should have just sent it. Too late now. Fate, destiny, luck, whatever - it had long since averted its beguiling glance from Keva's coy eyes to favour someone else with its starlight. Not him, now. Or ever.
He could hear the Lovely Girls being adorable in the bar. He hoped they'd spot him and come over for a natter. The Lovely Girls were the twin, nineteen-year-old daughters, Eloise and Madeleine, of Joy. Joy held legendary status in there. She was far beyond being a barmaid to her regulars. Joy was a sage, a cynic, a bit of a hippie and the mainstay of Ye Cracke. Apart from the bags under her eyes, which bore out many a late night, she looked more thirty than forty. The supple figure was still there, fighting for recognition under layers of sobering cheesecloth. But standing next to her girls, now, gently rebuking them for this or that misdemeanour, she could pass as their hip older sister.
They lived, had lived all their lives, in Canning Street, just up from Ye Cracke. Fine houses, big Georgian townhouse affairs, but - and no escaping it - smack bang in the centre of Central Liverpool. A few paces up the road and you're in Liverpool 8. Toxteth. Rogues with accents. But the Lovely Girls could just as well have been brought up in Saffron Walden or Cheltenham. They had no Liverpool accent - just happy, well-spoken voices which, if they had a fault, were a little excitable. The girls talked rather quickly and they loved music. They went to see all the local bands at the Picket and the Lomax. Eloise blushed once when James Love, the Grams' cherubic but perennially randy guitarist, pointed out that both Lovely Girls' names had impeccable rock 'n' roll lineage, even though Joy had already told them many times about all the bands that she and their father had known before the girls were born. Their father died a long long time ago.
'Hey! He's gone into my hole!'
Maddy's favourite joke. The War Office was a little side room in the pub, favoured by would-be bohemians and the Grams. Maddy always called it 'my hole', and liked to ask chaps if they'd care to come into her hole. At one time, Maddy and Eloise used to gigglingly volunteer to be the Grams' groupies.
'We'll be your groupiz,' they'd blush, meaning it. The amateurish, DIY nature of the suggestion - you guys are a band, now, so we'll play your concubines - used to irritate Keva. Music was not a game to him. From the moment that Syd, years ago, years ago, had played him 'Way To Blue' he had known the sound of his own pain and wanted to make a similar, yet different sound. A music that'd make it better. 'Groupiz' didn't even figure.
No reasonable person'd try it on with the Lovely Girls. James, though, had shagged both of them, after a gig at the Picket, on their downstairs couch. Eloise waited her turn. They'd been screwing since they were thirteen, they told him pleasantly, Maddy losing her virginity two minutes before Eloise.
Wheezer burst in, out of breath, sucking on his Ventolin, gesticulating for a pint. His loony Jerryhelmet cut looked more Luke Skywalker than ever, parted down the middle by the breeze as he'd run up the hill from Central. Keva got up to fire them in, pushing the NME at Wheezer.
'Seen it,' gasped Wheezer, smiling his twisted smile. 'Bonkers!'
Keva came back with another Guinness for himself and a pint of Timmy Taylor for The Wheeze. The Grams were fond of the ale in there, deeming it a drinker's pint.
Keva glanced at Wheezer's latest shapeless C&A jumper. He could never fathom, had never asked, what causes a person to choose, to choose to purchase clothing from C&A. Was it some subconscious - or conscious - tribute to his mother? He smiled but made no comment. He waited for the manager to pronounce, knowing that, whatever he said, it'd make him feel better.
'You're not bothered by this potherb, are you?'
Tended not to swear, Wheezer, erred towards quaint Monty Pythonisms and silly grammar school putdowns. Potherb sounded about right for Helmet, though. It suited his silly, poncey, contrivedly 'sensitive' face.
'He's going to LA, Wheeze. It's scary! He's playing to eight fucken thousand on Saturday. Where the fuck are we? No place! In the fucken War Office, planning things ... planning, as usual.'
'Forget him. He's made of sand. There's nothing to back this up. He's got no tunes.'
This was more like it. Keva could listen to a lot of this.
'Doesn't help us, though, does it?'
'Not indirectly. The whole fucken world is into Helmet Horrocks and his band of ... merrily bonkers minstrels. Where does that leave us? No place, is where that leaves us!'
'Wouldn't be so sure about that. Sometimes it's better to be second man through the door.'
'Let Helmet charge ahead. Use him as battering ram. Let him use all his efforts for caving the door in. Then he's barely got the strength left to crawl through. He's got nothing left in the tank. You just coast past him. Second man through the door.'
'You're spooking me, la. What you talking about?'
'It's obvious to a blind man. Sensira are jumping up and down with their hands in the air going 'Miss! Miss! Me, miss!' But when Miss decides to let Helmet answer the question, he can't. He wants the attention, but he doesn't know what to say.'
'Don't see where that helps us ...'
They both slurped at their pints. Wheezer made a big thing of pondering deeply, and right now he was just happy to prolong the silence. He could feel it coming. Keva was building up to having another go at him. He was a fucking good manager, everyone knew that. Things had started to move for the Grams since The Wheeze got involved. Even the little club promoters took time at their shows to tug the band to one side and say, 'You got a good manager, there. Glad I let him talk us into doing this show. Don't forget about us when you're famous, eh?' All the same, flak from the boys came with the territory. Who else could they blame when things weren't going so well?
'Found an office yet?'
It always started with something general, some oblique attack on Wheezer's lack of orthodox professionalism as compared with other, usually anonymous, managers.
'Nope. Got a CD I can send out?'
'You know fucken well that I haven't ... How the fuck are people gonna take us seriously while our postal address is L fucken 60? The tenderloin or what, la? Jeezuz!'
Wheezer held his hands up for calm.
'It's pointless us fighting each other. We're on the same side. If we're going to argue, we should save the fights for stuff that matters.'
Keva stared avidly at the young manager, unsure whether to continue his assault. Wheezer changed tack.
'It's down to money, Keva. That's all it is. How many times have we been down this road? Money to get you in the studio. Money to get the CD cut and manufactured. Money to mail the blighter out. An office comes a poor way down the list, hey?'
Wheezer got up, then stopped in the doorway.
'That's the only difference between Helmet and you. He got that perishing record out. His timing was immaculate, true, but it was the ... it was having got a record out that counted so much. Something ... to have. We can do that, too.'
Wheezer came back in and sat down, leaning his head towards Keva, beckoning him closer. Keva lurched forward.
'We need money quick, right?'
'Will you do ... will you consider anything to get that money?'
Keva grinned for the first time that day.
'Tell me what you have in mind, you fucking oddball ...'
The walk was doing Guy good. Every stride of his well-worn Bass loafers took him further away from the Christian Vermeer clinic - from rehab - and back towards real life. Guy deBurret was determined, this time. His nightmare stay in detox, then the endless rehabilitation had been enough to persuade him there was no point in his coming back to say Hi to the nurses. If there was to be a next time he might as well go the whole hog and snort, slur, piss and vomit himself all the way to the crematorium. He'd spent so much of the past month hallucinating, nightmaring, obsessing about his funeral that he knew for sure that he wanted to burn when the time came. But not just yet.
He wheeled out of Flood Street on to the King's Road and, marvelling at the actual tackiness of cultural mythology's Trendiest Road in the World, set himself on course for the Bluebird. Guy would have liked to believe that his mother had chosen the venue so he could lose himself in its vastness, but no. She was sacrificing him to one of her big, clumsy, bosomy gestures of love. They were meeting in the Bluebird because, far from hiding him away, she wanted to show Guy off to the world, show he was better, show he was back. She wanted to show everyone that not only was she not ashamed - she was wholly devoted to her wayward son. This was to be a baptism of fire, with no end of familiar faces dotted around the place whatever the time of day, each intimately acquainted with the sordid details of the demise of one of the Royal Borough's most gilded youths.
He didn't give a shit. He was quite looking forward to it. It'd mainly be the Sloaney dames, young and old and indeterminate, any one of whom would dig out one of their gold fillings for a date with Guy. Whatever the stigma of rehab, it didn't harm your sex appeal. Not only was Guy rich and beautiful. He was Bad.
He didn't know what he was going to say to Ma. She wouldn't make it easy. Ron Lazarus had written a few times and Billy, Speed and some of the A&R boys had been in to see him. The job at MonoGram Records was still there - of course it was. How could a multinational record company sack someone for taking drugs? They were only less likely to sack you for being gay. He'd be quite Someone to sack, too. Nineteen when he signed Medsin, whose very first album went platinum in the UK and gold in Germany, Japan, Australia and the US. Their third album, Year Zero, had just gone platinum in the States. Platinum. One million sales. One million in the first ten weeks, MTV banging the hell out of the first clip and every prospect of at least another three hits to come from the album. Two at least. Year Zero was going to go five times platinum over there. Fuck Britain. Of course MGR'd have him back. His ears were worth millions.
But he didn't want to go back. In no sense was Guy going back, anywhere. Six weeks was a long time to do nothing but think. He hadn't thought about anything much before. Everything he'd wanted had come to him before he'd really had a chance to plan how he was going to get it. Everything was fast and now and plenty. He was blessed, and he knew it. Even the job at MGR had been set up by a family friend, after Guy had refused to follow his brothers into the Bank. His father had never quite understood why his son would not desire a position at Farquhar deBurret and, taking that as the ultimate rejection, had retreated from his family - all of them - spending more and more time alone. Guy felt bad about his old man, but there was no way he was working in a bank for the rest of his life, even if he did own a chunk of it. So he'd fallen into a job which was not a job, where the criteria for success were an ability to party and an ability simply to survive, to persevere, to still be around. But Guy had gone against the grain. He had talent. He was shit hot, and that was his downfall.
Nineteen years old and shit hot with the world at his feet. What more could he want? Not much. Only ways of expressing his misery. By his twenty-first birthday he was doing methadone with Evie and the girls in St Pancras. The new Medsin album was off to a flying start, and Guy just felt dead. On St Valentine's day this year he'd been found outside the Cross Bar choking on his own vomit. Food for thought.
So he wasn't going back. He wasn't going to be shit hot. He wasn't going to compete. He had vague thoughts of heading off to Deya or Ronda, maybe write or do a little painting. But more than anything he wanted to find Evie. Evie was the constant during his lost months. For the first few weeks he'd asked for her every day, then, when they couldn't find her, he made his plans. It'd work. They'd be great together. Rake-thin Evie, his favourite trick, his closest friend ... He was going to find her and take her off the street and take her away with him. Abroad. Anywhere. Anywhere that was not this, here, now.
He'd thought about little else and the more he thought about it, the more he convinced himself it could work, him and Evie. It was the one real thing in his life. His royalties from Medsin'd pay his way, even if his father saw through his threat to cut him off. Whatever he did from now on, it'd have nothing to do with pressure, sales targets, commerce - and the further he got from the sultry insinuation of rock 'n' roll, the better.
He'd wondered, often, what made him do such things, why he went further and further and closer to the edge. Why did he do that? Why would he destroy himself? Often, too, he thought it was because of the music business. Music. Business. Two words which should never live side by side. Coming to MGR as a wide-eyed romantic, he was, at first, shocked, then quickly disillusioned by the callous disregard of his colleagues for the talent of their bands. In playground terms, it wasn't fair. Only when bands reached lunar earning potential were they given human consideration and even then it was a trade-off. It was all a bid to keep them sweet. At all times, all bands and artists were product and their treatment reflected their marketability. Whether the label sent you to Glastonbury by helicopter or transit van, they were sending you there to do business. He'd seen it all - too graphically. Any notions harboured by Guy of sitting up until dawn smoking and arguing with like minds about the blues were all too swiftly squashed. The music business wasn't fair. He hated it. He wouldn't be going back.
He stopped outside the Bluebird and checked himself in the wing mirror of a crassly-parked Merc. Girls had fancied Guy for ever, but he didn't much care for his own face. His nose was a little pointed, he thought, and in his own mind he lacked character - he looked rich and spoilt. He had good, thick yellow hair and clear blue eyes, but, whatever he wore, no matter how street his clobber, his face gave it away. He was a toff. He smoothed down the Hackett blazer and skipped up the steps. He muttered his mother's name to the blue-shirted greeter and followed him across the endless blank white room. He prayed she'd be there but he knew she'd be late.
'Guy! Darling! Oh, God, I can't believe it ... baby!'
Ticky Turnbull, a flurry of heels and hair, bounced into his path and smothered him with kisses. He could not have been gladder to see anybody.
'Oh, baby, I've missed you! You did get my letters? Sorry I couldn't get along to actually see you in the actual flesh ... you know I've been tutoring? God, tell me about it ... you're coming to the bash, of course ...'
Guy held his hands to his ears and grimaced comically. Ticky stopped herself in full, gushing flow and stooped slightly, giggling.
'Put a sock in it, George,' said Guy, thumping her playfully.
'Oops! Am I terribly loud and embarrassing?'
'You're a trollop. Can we sit down, please? I'm sure Maria'll be delighted that I'm in the company of such a solid influence ...'
Ticky prodded him in the ribs, jutting out her underbite in the way girls do when they're fighting boys.
'Less of the solid, matey. I'm a sex goddess. Can't, anyway. Got bloody Bundles on a leash up there.' She rolled her eyes skywards. 'Birthday treat. I ask you. Like nothing more than to come and rap with you and Maria but I wouldn't inflict Bundles on anybody. Better dash. Do say you'll come tomorrow. Ciao, honey.'
She kissed fresh air and was away, a riot of blondeness. She stopped and half turned.
'Hope he's not going to propose! Shouldn't have minded so much before I saw you, Guido ...'
She rolled her eyes again, and clasped her hands theatrically to her bosom. Guy bowed gallantly. She blew him a kiss and shrank her head down into her shoulders girlishly, backing away to her table. Guy chuckled to himself, continued to his own place with the tutting operative and perused the wine list without taking in a single detail. Ticky was twenty-one already. Cripes! It seemed only weeks since they were shinning up trees together during those endless days in the New Forest.
'Oh! Foolish child!'
Maria deBurret's stentorian baritone brought Guy, and half of the Bluebird's customers, back to the present. Guy stood up to greet her, unexpectedly overcome, tears starting to moisten his eyes. His mum smiled lovingly.
'Come here, you wee eedjit! What are we going to do with you?'
Maria lapsed into her native south Dublin brogue and clasped her youngest and most dearly beloved son to her breast. She held him there, still, for a full minute. Guy was certain her cheeks, too, would be moist when she released him.
Maria and Guy sat and talked for three brief hours, pausing only to order, to say ta-ta to Ticky and her squire, Henry 'Bundles' MacCormack, and to greet other friends and gossips who passed their table. The heat had gone out of the early spring sunshine as they negotiated the last few steps out on to King's Road. Maria turned to Guy again and, clasping his face in her two hands, she pulled him close.
'Don't run away, darling. You think that's what you want, but ... don't go to waste. Your daddy ...'
Guy shushed her with his index finger.
'... your father thinks you're a wrong'un.'
Guy smiled. 'Well, I am, aren't I?'
His mother ran her fingers through his hair, her eyes watering up again. 'You're gorgeous.'
They hugged deeply. Maria stroked his temples with her thumbs. 'If only he'd see that, hmmm? See all the bloody good in you ...'
This hurt Guy more than he'd imagined it could do. He tried to smile at his ma. 'He will do,' he said. He wanted him to.
In a roped-off corner of a grand marquee in the village of Balmerlawn, Hampshire, James Love sucked on his seventh Players since soundcheck. He still refused to tie his cummerbund.
'Fuck are we doing here, Keva? It's like a fucken freakshow ...'
'Five grand, that's what. I don't like it any more than you, Jimbo, but, you know - what can you do? We need the dosh.'
James snorted. 'Fucken Wheezer! Does he think we're a cabaret band?'
He eyed the rest of the band, already dressed in evening attire. He picked up the purple satin ribbon between thumb and forefinger, examining it with disdain. 'I mean, what the fuck is this? A cummerbund! What the fuck's a fucking cummerbund?'
He tossed it on the floor and started to build up with the bumper-sized patchouli skins he'd picked up in Macynlleth.
'Wait till you see the tott, anyway,' grinned Beano, the wiry, always animated drummer. Alan Miles to his mum; tight, harsh white curls, no eyebrows, good smile. 'They're howling for a bit of rough, this lot!'
'State of you, Al,' moaned James, lighting his preposterous reefer and inhaling deeply. 'Hardly out of Das Kapital, that, was it?'
'You. Sid the Sexist.'
'Well, they are. Have you ever seen a crowd like it at soundcheck before? They just kept walking over and catching your eye and, fuckinell, I'm telling you, there is some tott out there! They're just running their eye over us lot to sort out the men from the boys for later. I'm telling you.'
Tony Snow, the laconic bassist, wandered back in, sniffing exaggeratedly. 'What the fuck is that?'
'The hippies've taken over the asylum,' grinned Beano.
'Pot!' spat Tony, managing to invest the word with sinister, deadly implications. 'Yeuch!'
'I'll tell you why they're all here for soundcheck, shall I?' said James, ignoring the jibes and getting himself going. 'Because they've been here all fucken day nibbling roast wood pigeon an' that and sipping fucken Pimms, they're bored of the string quartet playing The Four Seasons, they're pissed, they're privileged and we're a change of fucken scenery. We're a spectacle! We're a fucken sideshow for the idle rich. It's ... it's a grotesque carnival of pomp and privilege.'
He rocked on his heels and took another deep toke, seeming pleased with his diatribe.
'Blimey!' laughed Tony.
'Mr Love in Lexicon Binge,' teased Keva.
'Any more of that wood pigeon an' that?' grinned Beano.
'Don't get funny with me. You know the score. We're fodder. We're the fucken turn!'
Everyone cracked up laughing, making James even madder. He kicked the side of a speaker cabinet in vexation, and walked away stiffly, trying not to let the pain show.
'Look, Hector, why don't you just take the short cut. Apologise to Wheezer and admit that he was right all along. And put your fucken cummerbund on! You know you'll have to.' Tony's voice was deliberately, infuriatingly soothing. 'Hector?'
James winked and pointed at Tony with his roach. 'You don't get me that easy, you know.'
James Love, real name Hector Lovett. Named after Hector Chumpitaz, an undistinguished Peruvian footballer who'd appealed to his father's sense of the absurd around the time of James's birth. To this very day, Mr Lovett called James 'Chump', but he'd been James Love since the day he and Keva formed the Grams. That was a day of destiny, and a day, for James, to be who he wanted to be. From the moment Keva asked him his name, he was James Love. James Love, the Guitarist. The more he indulged himself in this womanising, axe-god fantasy, demanding Remy Martin on the rider in small Northern clubs, the more the band loved to bring him back to reality. He hated, more than anything, to be called Hector, but he hated to let them see it.
'Everything all right, darlings?'
Reality today was a shockingly lucrative, highly embarrassing gig for a load of toffs in a tent in Hampshire. Even James knew it made sense to get their heads down and get it over and done with. No one would ever know - and it'd speed up their response to Sensira's currently unobstructed view of the stars. Even The Purple were supposed to be talking to record companies. Why not the Grams?
'Do we have absolutely everything we need?'
Everybody turned to see who the owner of the cut-glass QE2 voice was. They were met by the radiant face of Victoria Turnbull, twenty-one today, heiress to the Turnbull supermarket millions, aglow in all the simple good fortune of being who she was. Ticky Turnbull. Witty, glamorous, rich, connected, super at games and, while not strictly a heart-stopping beauty, she was pretty and made the most of an impressive bosom, bound high in a voluptuous Wonderbra. The Grams were speechless.
James tore his eyes from her cleavage.
'Couldn't find us a bottle of that bubbly everyone's gassed on? Any old bottle'll do. One of your old fella's'd be sound - Dom Turnbull an' that.'
'HEC - TORRR!'
Ticky giggled enchantingly. 'Anything you want, sweetie.' She went to walk away then stopped and thought aloud. 'But then do we really want to be guzzling naughty champagne so soon before we go on? First set's less than an hour.'
Keva laughed and clapped his hands. Her rejection of James's ridiculous request had been charming and final. James gazed after her, puppy-eyed.
'Bottle of Remy, then? I can handle me Remy an' that. Doesn't do nothing to me ...'
Ticky tossed her golden tresses and glided out of the marquee, smiling back over her shoulder. 'I'll see if I can find you some Guarana!'
James paused for impact. 'You can see your knickers through that, you know!'
'Perfect!' she tinkled, and floated off into the distance.
'Not that you'll have on 'em for long,' muttered James, and settled down to restringing his guitar.
'Knocking up or what, Kee?'
He was starting to look forward to this. Keva pulled out his tin.
'So, Hector, what was that about Sid the Sexist?' smiled Beano.
'What was that about first set, is all I'm worried about?' groaned Tony. 'She did say that, didn't she? Or am I making the whole thing up?'
'I didn't catch it,' said Keva. 'Where's fucken Wheezer?'