Chapter 10 – Doll Parts
I’d spent the last few days in a dream. I’d seen Penny at every available opportunity. I’d seen her even when she wasn’t by my side just by closing my eyes. I was proper smitten and no mistake. Our second date was the day after that fateful band practice. We went to the park cafe for lunch before looking around an old museum full of taxidermy. That evening we slipped from PG to X rated on the walk back from The Head and landed in my crappy bedsit flat on Palisades Place. The next day we worked the same shift at the pub. Sarah could tell just by looking at us that we’d ascended into a full blown relationship.
My first couple of shifts in The Head had gone better than either Sarah or I could have expected. I’d started on a quiet shift with little to do but clean and organise. When left alone to write up the chalk boards with the upcoming shows I’d recalled my obsession with drawing comic strips as a kid and rendering band logos on my text books in high school. The boards were a work of art even if I do say so myself. In liquid chalk of lime green and bright red each band had their name rendered like a famous comic book or movie logo.
Monday Night : Mountain Of Light
Tuesday Night : Student Night £1 Per Drink
Wednesday Night: Mice R’ Nice
Thursday Night: Prosthetic Elvis
Friday Night: Rasin Kane
Saturday Night: Flying Toasters & Sister Pain
Sunday Lunch: Jukebox Jury
Sunday Night: Black-Current Jam Night
As a week in my little world goes that’s quite a diary. Seeing as the weekend featured My Girlfriend’s band playing their first ever show I was chuffed to be getting as much mileage in as I could between now and then. I wanted to make sure I played my part, kept the drinks flowing, kept the punters happy. Not exactly ‘I’m with the band’ but it was a contribution. I’d met Dan The Man again when we worked the same shift. He’d introduced me to his friend Dan The Van. Dan The Van had introduced himself by comparing his toileting on arriving at the pub to the opening shot of Star Wars. “A giant shape looming out of the darkness and growing in stature until an enormous battle is raging all round.” He was a funny guy. Crude but funny. Dan The Van had the look about him of someone who wasn’t supposed to be there but was chancing his arm. I’d also met some of the regular customers and built up quite the rapport with Dan The Man and Sarah. I liked Uncle Vernon. He knew his stuff on music, he’d traveled the world and he seemed to have irons in fires all over. He conducted his business from the bar in the pub during the day. I wasn’t sure what his business was yet it seemed to involve sending Dan The Van on runs now and again. It was on my Wednesday shift that the phone rang for me at The Head. I was let go from The Majesty. They said they’d been more than patient since my incident. There logic was if I could find it in myself to work elsewhere for quite so many hours then it seemed they didn’t need to hold my position open for me anymore. I couldn’t argue with that. They were right. I don’t know who it was told them I was working at The Head. They’d sort of done me a favour though. So thanks gossip, that saves me the job of quitting. It frees me up to be here full time.
As the jukebox spins Toots And The Maytals Pressure Drop I’ll bring you right up to speed. It’s Friday lunchtime. I’m setting the fridges full of bottled beer and cider. Penny and the band are up in The Pigeon Club fine tuning their set. Dan The Man and Dan The Van have been playing a bizarre game with dart guns and music trivia. They’re pointing their bright yellow guns at one another while doing good cop bad cop voices. “Track one, side two… Spiders From Mars…” Snarls Dan The Man with both hands on his pistol. He’s squinting, one eye closed to peep through a target finder. “Is that The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust or The Spiders From Mars Soundtrack album? You feel lucky Punk?” sneers Dan The Van in a terrible approximation of Dirty Harry. “Why don’t you pull the trigger and find out?” I piped up “Lady Stardust!” from the background and they both turned their weapons on me. “Player 3 has entered the game!” Called out Dan The Van making weird hand gestures to the other Dan like Val Kilmer in Heat. “What if we were talking about the soundtrack, you ever think of that?” Dan The Man’s accent is struggling “Did you think about that before you went blabbing to the cops? Ya Mook!”, “Then I think it would be… Moonage Daydream?” Dan The Man fires his bright yellow gun. A plastic dart with a sucker on the end sticks to the mirror behind me. “HOLD YOUR FIRE!” hollers Dan The Van. “He’s goddamn right you know. Lower your weapon”. They both laugh. Dan The Man put his hand up “Can I have my dart back?” I un-sucker Dan’s dart then hand it over. Dan The Van sits up on the stall and takes a swig of beer “Steve, can I ask you a question?” I shrug “Well Dan, that depends. What would you like to know?” He leans in “Do you know the guys who did you over? Do you know their names or anything like that? Did you report it to the police or anything?” I knew inevitably this would come up in general conversation. Here it was. Me and a guy I’ve known a week talking about the worst night of my life. “That sounds like at least three questions to me.” He was itching to discuss it “Do you know who it was?” Dan persisted “Sorry, I don’t mean to pry.” I got a bit narced “No Dan. I don’t know what the hell happened to be honest. Never seen the bloke before, never want to again.” Dan looked like he was struggling to take this information on board but he rolled his eyes and said “Right”. The conversation mercifully turned right there.
A girl called Trace walked in from the courtyard “They sound fucking amazing. This is going to be a great gig tonight.” I had never met Trace before this moment but I liked her already. She’d just rescued me from an awkward conversation. She likes my Penny’s band. There she stood in battered chucks, stripy stockings and a denim dungaree dress. A leather jacket topping the outfit and welding goggles holding her hair up in bunches. We were going to be friends. I could feel it. Just as I decided I would introduce myself she came up for a drink. “Hello Handsome” She honed in on me right away. Now I suddenly felt awkward. “And who might you be?” I tried to play it cool but My Finley tuned Barman senses got the distinct impression she was flirting with me. “I’m Steve. I’m the new barman here.” She did a little curtsy as she held out her hand. Like the queen of Sheba. I gave her limp wrist something approximating a fist bump. “You like the band out the back?” Trace looked at me deadpan. “I love them. They sound so tight. Really looking forward to tonight. Umm. Are, you going to be here tonight?” I couldn’t lie “I will be here. There’s no way I’m missing this show and you know how it is… I gotta work.” I gestured to my array of beverages. “Speaking of which… Can I get you something?” Trace pouted her lips together as she looked along the bar. “You got any decent rum there sailor?” I was sure she was flirting with me now. This was going to be awkward. I looked at the back bar with her. “Decent like spiced or decent like you can use it to light fires if you need to?” her eyes grew wide. “Ohhh, the second one.” She hopped on the spot with excitement. “Definitely the second one” She gave me a wink and bit her lip when she said it. I think I blushed a little. “One Inlander coming up. You want an ice cube or a paramedic on standby with this thing?”
Trace Took the glass and sipped the incredible tanned liquid inside. “Before I neck this can I check you know CPR?” I looked in on her brazen smile, her button nose, those mischievous eyes. Where was this girl before I fell in love? Something about her made me want to keep her close, but I did not want anyone thinking I would ever get my head turned away from the incredible Penny Black. “I’m like the opposite of a doctor you know. I’m only obliged to provide things that are bad for your health.” Trace looked long and hard at me then downed the shot. “The opposite of a doctor would be like the Grim Reaper or something. I don’t see any black robes Mr Bartender.” I had to get this fish off my hook. “Black robes is more my girls style. She’s in the band playing tonight. Stick around and you’ll get to meet her” Trace smiled a broad toothy smile. She clicked her fingers and pointed at me. “Gotcha!” With that she swung her arms to her sides and walked right back out of the pub towards the rehearsal space. The track on the Jukebox changed. Courtney Love strummed her guitar before singing ‘I am, doll eyes, doll mouth, doll legs, I am doll arms, big veins, dog bait’. I could hear Trace singing it note perfect as she walked away. I watched her go. That did not go the way I thought it would. I looked over at the two Dan’s sat on their bar seats having watched the whole exchange. Dan The Man put up his hand like a child in class. “Yes, Daniel?” I played my role. “How are you so fucking cool?” He asks pointing at the space where Trace had been stood. I shrugged. I didn’t have a response. I didn’t fully understand what Dan was so impressed with. Dan The Van got to his feet. “Boys, I have to go. I will be back by show time. I have to run an errand.”
The afternoon shifted into the evening with an excited buzz in the air. Penny’s band all came in for something to eat. Sarah brought out a bread basket and the chili pot for all present. I could hear the other band out in The Pigeon Club firing up their instruments but I only had eyes and ears for one girl. After we’d all eaten I helped Old Man Myles in with his drum kit from outside. Penny followed me down to the cellar for a smooch. Her kisses were long soft affairs. Each one came with a little hit of serotonin wrapped up around a mild dizzyness. “How’s the nerves?” I asked holding her tight around the waist. “Oh I’m not nervous. I’ve kissed a boy before.” I loved the cheeky Penny the most “You know what I mean Coinage. You ready to hit the stage?” I kissed her again before she could answer me. She nodded as we locked lips and we ground teeth accidentally, serving as an embarrassing reminder of these adolescent feelings we were both currently experiencing at an age we ought to know at least a little better. “I’m ready to rock Cavey. I’m ready to shred. I’m excited.” I had some words of encouragement “The whole time you’re on stage being a rock and roll goddess I’m going to be feeling so smug. That’s my girl right there.” She ran her hand up the inside of my shirt and pinched my nipple hard. It made me wince. I let go of her waist. “Groupie.” She walked off into the cellar to fetch up what she’d pretended to come down for.
The doors opened at six. Lo and behold there were goths waiting outside before we unlocked. By seven the place was heaving. I was rushed off my feet working along side Dan The Man and Sarah. The crowd was a real mix of youngsters going through a phase, hardened Moshers, full blown Goths and scruffy Grungers from their early twenties upwards. I think every top hat in a five mile radius that didn’t belong to a wedding hire place was in attendance for unveiling of this goth girl group (and old man Myles). The lights dimmed at seven thirty. A few puffs from a dry ice machine pretty much obscured any casual drinkers at the stage end of the building. A low bass hum opened the set. A strong solid heavy drum beat marched out from the cloud of smoke. Then it happened. Picked out in the spotlight. Penny Black stepped up to the microphone and became a rock star for real for the very first time. “Creatures kissing in the rain, shapeless in the dark again” Penny’s voice was strong, clear and honeyed with charm. She played a black Les Paul copy along side her band mate Sindy who had something altogether spikier. Kim on bass stalked the stage like Steve Harris in the form of a twenty year old girl. Wielding that plank like a machine gun and mouthing the words with or without a mic. Old Man Myles could play. His beats were solid, his fills were pure rawk. Sister Pain had it in the bag. They looked like they had a hundred gigs under their belts. Throwing shapes, dive bombing solos, flair and tricks left right and center. In half an hour they’d covered The Cure, Blue Oyster Cult and Placebo as well as playing four of their own songs. The room was loving them. I was loving them. The buzz was thrilling. Then Penny said ‘thank you and good night’ as the band tried to leave the stage.
The audience did not let up. She came to the edge of the bar and I kissed her over the counter. “I think you might have to do an encore.” She kissed me again “We don’t have an encore.” Kim and Sin (now going under the name Sin-Dee) were hugging crowd members and jumping up and down with joy. The crowd were still hollering when the girl I’d met earlier, Trace got up on the stage. I was perplexed. She took the mic in a Lemmy stance “Wasn’t that brilliant?” The room roared. “Right I think if we all shout loud enough they should come back on and play one more song. Only one mind, they are the support act.” The cheek of this girl. The room roared again. I looked deep into Penny’s eyes. “What are you going to do?” Sin and Kim took Penny by the hand and pulled her back to the stage. She looked a wonderful mix of embarrassed and elated. “OK everyone. Thank you. If every gig goes like this. Well, then this rock and roll game is easy right?” More cheers and whistling. “We sort of have one more song. I’d like to dedicate it to the barman. He’s a stickler for spelling things correctly so pay attention to the chorus. You ready? Here goes.” Sin-Dee picked out the opening notes of Gloria and Penny purred into the microphone “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” The roar of approval morphed into a singalong. By the time the band had got to the chorus Penny had her guitar slung around the back of her silky black dress and was stood on the monitors using the mike stand to balance herself. “Makes me feel so good, makes me feel alright. I’m GONNA spell it out” The room was right there. “Gee. Elllle. Ohhhh. Arrrr. Eye. Eye. Eyeyeye Eh! Gloooooria!” As the song finished Penny ran from the stage and slid over the counter top of the bar. The place was all noise. She was yelling “You can’t get me back on” from behind the bar. It was safe to say the gig had gone well.
After a couple of minutes of set up I saw Trace on the stage a second time. I figured she’d been back at the rum. “Someone is going to have to talk to that girl” I said out loud to no one in particular. Then I saw she was strapped to a Fender Jaguar. She turned her volume knob up and stepped to the microphone. “One more time for my bad bitches Sister Pain everyone.” There was more applause as Trace put her foot on an effects pedal. “OK. We’re Flying Toasters and we’ve got our work cut out following that.” A skinny bald dude tapped out a 1-2-3-4 on his drum sticks just before some fat fuzzy Sonic Youth flavoured fuzztone guitar filled the room. Turns out Flying Toasters were an excellent post pop punk combo with The Fall, The Wedding Present and Throwing Muses in their sights. Trace the flirty rum girl was an awesome guitar player. Penny slipped over to me during the first song and pointed to the stage. “That’s my good mate Trace. She tells me you passed her test earlier.” I looked confused clearly. “She says you’re not a sleaze bag. That’s a big deal. You got Trace Elements on your side you can’t lose.” Her test? She wasn’t flirting with me. She was seeing if I would stray. How did I get so lucky? How did I end up dating an emerging rock star and working in the Disney-Land of alternative music?