Song For The Girl With The Corn Coloured Hair
‘’Swat I call a result,’ said Binji.
‘You call just being in the same fucking room as her a result.’
Binji nodded. ‘Straight.’
Carlo said, ‘League, yours, completely out of.’
‘You don’t know,’ said Binji.
‘Got eyes, haven’ I?’ said Carlo.
They rounded the corner at the top of the hill. In front of them the road swept neatly down to the crisp, white stuccoed, neo-Georgian estate where they had both lived for all of their sixteen years. As they started on the descent Carlo said, ‘You know she won’t come.’
‘Why wouldn’t she come?’
‘Because she’s got better things to do of a Friday night than listen to you murdering Smoke on the Water.’
‘Fuck off. An electric guitar is a fucking aphrodisiac, man. Fucking oysters.’
‘Whatever turns you on.’
‘We’re not doing Smoke on the Water,’ muttered Binji.
‘Smells Like Teen Spirit then.’
‘Fuck off,’ said Binji, going pink.
Binji sat alone on his cleanly duveted bed in his Ikea furnished bedroom and let out a muted moan of distress.
Of course she wouldn’t come. Why would she even contemplate it? What had he been thinking? Coming out of the school gates, him with Carlo and her up ahead with uber-bitch Ashley Cornwell, and Ashley saying to her ‘Coming to Rio’s tonight? It’s electric night, might be a laugh’ and his mouth acting of its own volition and saying ‘Not laughs, darlin’, it’s the real schemozzle tonight, my band’s playing’ and Ashley saying ‘Right, just remembered, I’ve got some paint to watch drying.’ And then she, Hannah Lucy Kelly, she unleashing the WMD of her smile and saying ‘Wossit called, your band’ and Binji saying ‘Nemesis, we’re influenced by bands like Rammstein’ and Hannah Lucy Kelly saying ‘Are they the ones with the masks who did Eurovision?’ and him saying ‘No, but you’re not a million miles off’ and Carlo looking as though Binji had just erected an inverted cross and recited the Lord’s Prayer backwards. And then she, Hannah Lucy Kelly, saying ‘Might see you there’ and going off to get her bus with Ashley and Ashley saying something Binji couldn’t hear and Hannah Lucy Kelly laughing very loudly.
He rewatched it in his mind, over and over again, pausing it to examine certain frames. Her smile. Kind or sarcastic? The comment about Rammstein, shit, she might be a fan and now think he’s every kind of fucking idiot for comparing them with Lordi. (Carlo, on the bus home: ‘Rammstein? As in, my band’s a mini lizard and their band’s a tyrannosaurus rex?’) He hadn’t had her down for liking metal. Certainly hadn’t had Ashley Cornwell down for liking metal.
But of course, Hannah Lucy Kelly used to go out with Ryan Moreland. Who’ll be playing at Rio’s with the fucking Red Jackets of Liberty. What kind of a name is that for a band?
Obvious. Hannah Lucy Kelly is coming to watch Ryan Moreland. You’re a bloody idiot. A bloody bloody idiot.
But if she comes, she’ll still have come. She’ll still be there. She’ll still see Nemesis. Not being Rammstein.
Once a month Rio’s, which was in the basement of the ArtsSpace, held an under eighteen’s Open Nite. It went on a rota: comedy, acoustic, electric, poetry, prose and performance (known as liquorice nite, as in all sorts). The people who ran ArtsSpace got some kind of outreach grant from the council for putting it on. The acts had to audition; Nemesis had auditioned three times before finally getting the nod. ArtsSpace provided non-alcoholic refreshment and techie support. Rumour had it that on one occasion a producer from The Voice had been in and offered one of the solo acoustics a fast track through to the telly auditions, but no-one watched The Voice so no-one was quite sure who that might have been.
Binji phoned Clanger, the bassist. ‘I think we ought to ditch Teen Spirit.’
‘Oh fuck off, man. We agreed. Two originals and a cover. I’m not doing fucking Smoke On The Water.’
‘I think we ought to do all originals.’
Clanger muttered something unintelligible and then said, ‘You and Ratso need to sort this out. You can’t just keep changing the play list so one of you gets an extra credit. Try writing together, for fuck’s sake. Then we might get something really good instead of a bunch of Lemmy sound-alikes.’
‘I do not write like Lemmy.’
‘More’s the fucking pity.’
Binji phoned Ratso, the singer.
‘Bin, we go on in two hours.’
‘I assume you want one of yours.’
‘Not necessarily. I just think it’s our chance to showcase all our stuff.’
‘We agreed. It’s not just about showcasing the songs. It’s about showcasing the band. Give ‘em something to sing along to. If you’re the Rolling Stones they sing along to your back catalogue. If you’re us, give ‘em Teen Spirit.’
‘I’ll see what Ed thinks.’
‘Ed doesn’t give a fuck. As long as he can beat shit out of a drum he’s happy. Fuck’s sake, Bin. It’s our first proper gig. Can we at least leave the artistic differences for the first tour?’
Binji sat on his bed and regarded his phone. Ratso was right. Ed really wouldn’t give a fuck.
But he wanted to show her. He wanted to show Hannah Lucy Kelly that he could write a love song. A sweet song. A song for Hannah. He hadn’t called it Song for Hannah, naturally, he’d called it Song for Ygraine, but she might know. She might guess. Corn coloured hair and eyes like the sky… her hair wasn’t corn coloured any more, of course, but it had been then and if he slipped in when he’d written it…
Clanger’s dad’s plumber’s van picked him up at six. Clanger and Ratso were already in the back, and their self-conscious grins confirmed to Binji they’d been discussing the play list, and probably Binji’s future with the band. But Ratso said, ‘Listen man, if you want to put one of yours at the end, that’s fine.’
‘Oh,’ Binji said. ‘Right.’ He looked at them suspiciously.
‘After all,’ said Ratso lazily. ‘No point falling out over this. If we were doing anything that mattered a shit, it’d be different.’
Binji looked at the floor of the van. He remembered a phrase he’d heard used by Grandad in an old episode of Only Fools And Horses: stitched up like a kipper. He wasn’t sure how, and he wasn’t sure why, but he knew he had been. Clanger had the grace to look embarrassed.
Ed met them in the car park, his mother’s BMW just disappearing out of the gate, his drum kit having been delivered earlier.
‘Change of schedule,’ Ratso said. ‘No Teen Spirit at the end. We’re doing – what are we doing, Bin?’
‘Song for Ygraine,’ mumbled Binji.
‘Sorry, Ed,’ Ratso said. ‘Not much for you to get your teeth into there.’ He turned to Binji. ‘I think we should do that in the middle. No disrespect, mate, but it’s not exactly a rouser to finish with.’
‘That OK with you, Ed?’
Ed shrugged. ‘Just show me the skins, man.’
Ratso smiled at Binji. ‘OK all round then. Mate.’
‘Right,’ Binji said.
The basement was an awkward shape. It was long and not generously wide, with two recessed areas at either end, like a capital E with the middle stroke missing. Three ungainly square pillars obliterated the sight lines from a number of spots. Fire regs kept the audience numbers down, and the low ceiling excluded the even slightly claustrophobic. But it had a small stage and enough power points for all the equipment, and a guy in jeans who leaped up and twisted knobs in the event of feedback.
Nemesis were due on first. The Red Jackets blahdiblah were scheduled last, kind of topping the bill, as they’d played before. In the middle were Sugar Plum Demons, an all-female band. On a professional level, Binji was more worried about them than the Red Jackets. It was wrong of course, and totally unfair, and a complete indictment of society, but an all-girl metal band still had novelty value and was likely to grab all the attention.
Instruments set up, Binji stood by one of the pillars and surveyed the audience straggling in. Ryan Moreland (wearing a fucking red jacket, I mean please) was over the other side of the room, with the rest of the band, his arm round a girl who wasn’t nearly as good looking as Hannah Lucy Kelly. No accounting for it. Binji recognised the girl - she went to Our Lady’s Catholic School and sulked behind the till in Spar on a Saturday.
Carlo’s face appeared from behind the pillar. ‘Like the old song says, Girl Don’t Come.’
‘Sure. Maybe she’s found out the difference between Rammstein and Lordi.’
‘Hi. It’s Binji, isn’t it?’
He had an impression of long corn coloured hair, blue eyes, black leggings, and a Rammstein t-shirt. ‘Yes…yes.’
The girl smiled. ‘I thought it was you. Haven’t seen you since Year Six. Jess Andrews.’
‘Oh, shit, blimey, yeah…how ya doin?’
‘OK, good. You?’
‘Yeah, great. Playing here tonight, in fact. Nemesis.’
She smiled. ‘Sugar Plum Demons. I’m the drummer.’
‘Shit! Really? I mean…I bet that goes down well at Our Lady’s.’
She laughed. ‘The Pope hasn’t banned metal, last time I heard.’ She nodded over at the girl with Ryan Moreland. ‘Siobhan’s our singer. She’s really good.’
‘Hello, Jess,’ said Carlo, leaning further round the pillar.
‘Carlo. Long time.’
‘You haven’t forgiven me, have you?’
‘Nope. It was my favourite of all the My Little Ponies.’
‘I’m a reformed character.’
‘He isn’t,’ said Binji. ‘He really isn’t.’
‘I think you’re on,’ said Jess, looking towards the stage. She smiled at him, and Binji smiled back, and ignored Carlo rolling his eyes over Jess’s head.
Binji thought Nemesis pretty well nailed it. Maybe the simmering undercurrents added an edge they hadn’t had before, but from the first few riffs Binji knew it was going to be a good one. He had been worried that Ratso wouldn’t give Song for Ygraine all he should, but he’d underestimated him. Or maybe Ratso knew a good thing when he heard it – it was a singer’s song, and although they might be Binji’s words, it was Ratso’s voice people would remember. At least Ratso had the decency to introduce it as Binji’s song. Jess Andrews smiled right at him when it ended.
The basement was more or less full by the time they finished with one of Ratso’s barnstorming epics, and to Binji’s surprise even Ryan Moreland was clapping and whooping. Jess Andrews was holding her hands right above her head to clap. This, thought Binji, is the schemozzle. This is what it’s meant to be. He looked across at Ratso and Clanger, but neither of them were looking at him.
He knew then that Nemesis’s debut would also be its swansong, but as Jess Andrews appeared on the stage next to him and said, ‘Brilliant, Binji, fucking brilliant,’ he just didn’t care.
Sugar Plum Demons were good. Jess was right about Siobhan – the voice was strong and swooping, with an eye-widening range. Binji watched entranced as Jess’s corn coloured hair flared around her drums. The opening lines of Song For Jessica were already forming in his head.
He looked vaguely at Hannah Lucy Kelly, as if trying to remember why she was there.
‘Sorry, I missed your bit. Ashley got held up.’
Hannah looked disapprovingly at the stage. ‘Who the fuck are this lot?’
Binji said, ‘Sugar Plum Demons. They’re really good.’
‘Is that Jess Andrews on the drums?’
‘Yes,’ said Binji happily.
‘She always was a bit weird. She’s Ryan’s cousin. I think he introduced her to metal and stuff.’
Binji suddenly felt that he had seriously underestimated Ryan Moreland’s worth as both a musician and a human being.
Hannah said, ‘Can you leave now your bit’s over? We’re going to a party. If you want to come.’
‘Don’t you want to see Ryan’s band?’
‘No,’ said Hannah, as if he were mad. It suddenly occurred to Binji that Hannah Lucy Kelly had come to Rio’s with the sole purpose of inviting him to a party, and he didn’t care.
‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘Got to watch the other bands, it’s kind of rude not to. And we’ve got to get all our stuff back.’ He turned back towards the stage. Jess was looking in his direction, and he took a step away from Hannah Lucy Kelly.
When the song finished and he turned round, Hannah Lucy Kelly had gone.
The Red Jackets of Liberty were good. Really good. He and Jess stood side by side and whooped till they were hoarse. He saw Ratso and Clanger over the other side of the room, heads together, barely paying attention to the stage. He didn’t care. Fuck ‘em. He was standing next to the girl with corn coloured hair and eyes like the sky.
As the audience straggled out he went up to Ryan Moreland. ‘Ace, man. Really ace.’
‘You too, man. Good playing.’
Jess Andrews said, ‘I’ll Facebook you.’
They stood in the car park, waiting for Clanger’s dad.
Ratso said, ‘Can’t believe Ed went off to a fucking party with Hannah Kelly.’
‘Fucking rich twat,’ said Clanger. ‘Just a fucking game to him. Serve him right if his kit gets nicked. They weren’t happy about keeping it overnight.’
‘He should care,’ said Ratso. ‘Mummy’ll buy him a new one.’
‘You’re very quiet,’ Clanger said to Binji.
‘Just knackered,’ he said.
‘OK, I’ll say it,’ said Ratso. ‘Song For Ygraine really worked.’
‘Thanks,’ said Binji.
‘But,’ said Ratso, ‘I think we need to talk, you know, about what’s going to happen next.’
‘Yes,’ said Binji, as the plumber’s van came in through the gates. ‘Let’s do that.’
He lay in bed in the dark, scrolling through the various messages on Facebook about the gig, all of them positive. There was a Friends request from Jess ‘Sugar Plum’ Andrews. He accepted it, and a few minutes later a message came up.
Hey, awesome night, gd to c u again. R u free Sun pm?
Without hesitating he sent back: ‘U too. Free Sun, whassup?’
‘Ryans bday, BBQ at his. If it not work out with Nemesis, ryan like to spk about new band, RJoL lead and drummer going to uni Sept. U & me maybe??’
Binji sent back one word: Awesome. And got back: Cool! C ya! xx
He lay back against his pillows, beaming contentedly at the ceiling.
‘’Swat I call a result,’ said Binji.