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November 2008
ME & MICKIE JAMES

Drew Gummerson
Me and Mickie James were moving down to London together. We were both twenty-four. We were going to be pop stars, Mickie James on keyboards and me on lead vocals.
M&MJ336
Extract from the novel ME AND MICKIE JAMES

Mickie James had a hunchback but that didn’t matter. Even I knew it. He was the talented one. We talked about how famous we were going to be on the train on the way down.

‘The world is fed up with manufactured pop,’ I said. I put on my Ronan Keating voice. ‘I’m a talentless Irish twat,’ I said.

Mickie James laughed at this. He likes it when I’m funny. It takes his mind off his own problems.

During the journey people going to the toilet kept tripping over our Korg keyboard. ‘It’s not my fault it’s long, is it?’ I said to this skinny bloke. Then this big bloke tripped over it. I apologised to him. You can’t be too careful these days; there are a lot of nutters about.

When we got off the train at Euston, Mickie James asked me to take his photo. He wanted a souvenir of our arrival. I took the picture on an angle, slicing off his hunchback. It was the sort of thing I’d done before. I’d been at Leeds Art College for two years. I hoped I’d got it right. To be honest, these disposable Kodak cameras are crap.

This guy we knew from a pub in Birmingham had told us to contact his mate who worked at St Pancras Station. He said that he would sort us out for somewhere to stay.

We eventually traced the guy to the station manager’s office. He was wearing trousers that were too small and you could see the outline of his knob. Or it might have been a key chain.

‘What do you want?’ he said.

‘We heard you had a room going,’ I said.

He shook his head. ‘This is a bloody station not a hotel.’

The other guys in the office laughed at this.

‘You want to get some glasses, mate,’ said one of the guys.

He added, ‘What’s in Quasimodo’s case? Is it a banjo?’

‘Come on,’ I said to Mickie James. ‘Let’s go.’

Between us we had over three hundred pounds. I’d been working in HMV at weekends and Mickie James had been doing stuff for the council. He’d worked in this office but eventually they’d sacked him because he wouldn’t take his coat off. He had this coat that he always wore. It had padded shoulders and he thought it made his hunchback less noticeable. It did in a way, but then people were always going on at him for wearing a sheepskin jacket while sitting at his workstation. We were halfway across the St Pancras concourse when the bloke from the station manager’s office caught up with us. He was a bit out of breath.

‘Sorry about that, lads,’ he said. ‘Didn’t want the other guys to know about the room. Come on, this way.’

The guy, Dave, led us through this door that said ‘Janitor’ on it and then through a room stacked with cleaning stuff. At the back of this room was another door.

‘I warn you,’ said Dave, ‘there’s a hell of a lot of stairs.’

‘That’s all right,’ I said. ‘We can do stairs.’

I counted them as we went up. I thought this was one of those facts that we could use in competitions. You know, when we were on MTV in the future they could flash it up on the screen. ‘How many stairs did Down by Law have to climb to get to their room when they first arrived in London?’ Down by Law was the name of our group. It was Mickie James’s idea. Down by Law was the title of his favourite film. It was directed by Jim Jarmusch and it starred the singer Tom Waits. That could be another question. ‘Which singer starred in the film Down by Law?’

After the 256th step Dave came to a stop. The stairs didn’t have any carpet here and wallpaper was peeling off the walls. There were two doors. We were all pretty out of breath and I could smell Mickie James in his jacket.

‘This is it,’ said Dave, and he pushed open one of the doors. ‘The sink works, and also those two sockets. There’s a fan heater knocking around somewhere, that’ll keep the place toasty. I’m not asking much for it. Twenty quid a week. It’s not official, you understand. I’m doing this on the nevernever. I’ll give you both a smock. If you could put them on when you come in or out then people will just assume you’re a cleaner. If anyone does stop you then send them to me. I’ll sort it out.’

But we weren’t listening. On one side of the room was this big window. From it we could see what we assumed was the whole of London. It was all there, roads and parks and trees and cars and shops and it was ours for the taking.

‘So you want it?’ said Dave.

‘Sure,’ I said. I felt this big ball building up and building up in my stomach and it felt great. ‘We’ll definitely take it.’ Then I looked at Mickie James. ‘This is just the start,’ I said. ‘By Christmas, I promise you, we are going to be massive. Down By Law will be the group on everybody’s lips.’

‘Christmas is only five weeks away,’ said Mickie James. He was kind of nodding his head and counting on his fingers at the same time. ‘Maybe six if you include this week as well. It is only Tuesday.’

‘Um,’ said Dave. ‘The twenty if you don’t mind. The 12:17 will be leaving soon and yours truly here is on the barriers.’

The room next to our new home was like this big loft. Actually it was a big loft. There were ladders and old rolls of wire on huge spindles and all these iron girders in there. God knows how anyone had got them up there. They had probably been there for years. It was the perfect place for us to practise in. It was a forgotten urban backdrop to our sophisticated electronic groove. That was what Mickie James said anyway. Although he said he didn’t like the word groove. Pared-down electronic lo-fi hi-fi beat was better he said. That sounded too long for me. And what was lo-fi hi-fi?

Our best song was ‘Manos Sucias’. We got the title from this play by Jean-Paul Sartre, Les Mains sales. Mickie James translated the title into English, Dirty Hands, and then he translated it into Spanish. It had to be in Spanish because the tune we were working on had this whole flamenco section in it. The song is about a crippled Spanish boy. He lives in a tiny hut with his mother and she is dying of cancer. His only companion is a donkey called Manolo. Manolo was a hard word to find a rhyme for.

Jean-Paul Sartre was an existentialist and he wrote stuff about what is the point of life and all that. That is what our song’s about, what is the point of it all when you are different to everyone else. I think it’s about Mickie James himself. ‘Manos Sucias’ is going to be our first number one.

Our room has one bed in it, one sink and a box that we use as a table. We found this old tin bath at the back of the loft and we use that to bath in. I love it when Mickie James has a bath because that is the only time I get to see him naked. When we sleep together he always wears at least a T-shirt even if he has taken off his underpants for sex.

I’d like to take a picture of him when he’s in the bath. He looks so vulnerable there. His hunchback is on the left side. The spine curves dramatically to the left and then forms a loop under his skin. Sometimes when Mickie James is asleep I run my hand over this lump. I say ‘I love you I love you I love you’ over and over again. I wish that he would learn to love it as much as me but I don’t think that he will.

A couple of years ago I read a book about those astronauts who went to the moon. They were the first people to see the Earth from space. They were amazed, full of wonder. Nowadays everyone has seen those images and we don’t think anything of them.

That’s one of the reasons I want us to be famous. I figure that if Mickie James sees his hunchback everywhere, on every magazine cover and billboard, then he will get used to it. He won’t care any more. Of course, it would be nice to have loads of money too. That’s something I’ve always thought about.

• • •

Another friend of ours from that pub in Birmingham had given us the name of this guy who he knew from a friend of a friend.

‘He has this concert hall,’ he said. ‘He’s got a real nose for up-and-coming talent.’

Apparently everyone who was anyone had played there before they were famous: Razorlight, the Killers, the Scissor Sisters and so on. Even Bucks Fizz had played there, but that was a different story.

Having such a good contact was one of the main reasons we had moved down to London in the first place.

‘You do the talking,’ said Mickie James. ‘I don’t know that I can speak.’

‘Come on,’ I said. ‘This way.’

As instructed we took a left and then a right out of the tube and we found ourselves in front of this three-storey pink building. It had a large pink fibreglass breast above the door and the word ‘Knockers’ in pink neon lighting above this.

‘Do you think this is the right place?’ said Mickie James.

‘Knock and we shall find out,’ I said. I was trying to make a joke of it. The place was supposed to be called ‘The Venue’. Going on the evidence before us it looked like it might have changed hands. Mickie James rapped once on the door and it was opened almost immediately by a blonde woman in a tight black negligée.

‘Have you come about the bra fittings?’ she said.

‘We’re Down by Law,’ I said.

‘This is a concert hall, isn’t it?’ said Mickie James, and even to me he didn’t sound confident.

The woman pulled a face. ‘We’re a hooters bar,’ she said. ‘You know, breasts, tits, womanly things?’

I got the picture. ‘Don’t they normally come in twos?’ I said, nodding upwards to where the one breast hung above the door.

The woman glanced up. ‘Oh shit,’ she said, ‘don’t tell me it’s gone again. You haven’t seen a large bosom down the street, have you?’

We both shook our heads.

The woman looked over her shoulder. ‘Ronald!’ she shouted. ‘Ronald!’ and then she slammed the door in our faces.

As we made our way back to the tube station I saw these two sixteen-year-old lads loitering outside a newsagent’s. I beckoned them over.

‘You know that bar around the corner with all the women?’ I said, and they both nodded. ‘Go and knock on the door and tell them you’ve come about the bra fittings. They’ll let you do some measuring, if you know what I mean.’

Both the lads laughed at this and then set off almost at a run.

‘I don’t see why everyone should have a crap day,’ I said.

Mickie James laughed as this. As I said, he likes it when I’m funny and if Mickie James is happy then so am I.

• • •

Those next few weeks on what we called ‘our unstoppable climb to success’ were spent trooping around bars, music venues, concert places. It wasn’t nearly as easy to find gigs as we thought and on top of this London was a very expensive place to live.

We got into an argument one night with this guy who wanted nine pounds for a couple of bags of chips and a pair of hot dogs.

‘You haven’t even put sauce on mine,’ said Mickie James.

‘There’s no discount for the physically disabled,’ said the man, and I would have gone for him only I was hungry and I didn’t want my chips to go everywhere. Besides, you have to rise above such things. That’s one of the things being in Down by Law had taught me. We weren’t just a pop group, we were a way of life.

Mickie James said the problem was that we had the right look but before people would book us they would want to hear us. We came up with the idea of making a demo tape. Only we didn’t have any recording equipment.

We went from music shop to music shop only to find everything was out of our price range. Then I had this lastditch idea.

The woman in Ryman’s had us over a barrel and she knew it. The Sanyo Dictaphone was just what we needed she said and at £49.95 in the pre-Christmas never-to-be-beaten sale it was well within our price range.

Back at the rehearsal studio we tried the Dictaphone in various locations. It sounded crap wherever we put it. Not crap because we were great but more of a sound-quality issue.

Mickie James said that as manager this kind of thing was my responsibility and I said that if he hadn’t got sacked from the council then we would have had more money to buy better equipment. He pulled his sheepskin around him and stormed out. I shouldn’t have said that.

I sat down on one of the spools of cable wire for about half an hour and then I came up with an idea. I remembered this documentary I’d seen about the whole Pop Idol phenomenon. The bit I was thinking of was when Will Young came to record his first song, ‘Evergreen’. In my head I could see him in the recording studio singing into a microphone. What surprised me was how big the microphone was; it had this really big head like an Afro. That must help, I thought, with sound distortion and stuff. It was the kind of thing we needed.

I took off my left shoe and my sock. I wrapped the sock around the Dictaphone and sang a few notes into it. I played it back. It wasn’t recording-studio quality but it was better. There was no doubt about that.





© Drew Gummerson 2008

Win a copy of this book - entries close 6 August 2008
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