No 7 - 2007
Give me the moonlight
Ronnie slapped his throat with the back of his hand, and tried a higher set of warm-up scales in the green room. His voice was wobbly and weak. He took another glug from the tall glass of warm Pepsi, gargled and squelched it inside his mouth, and looked around. All the other contestants were out for the moment: in the canteen, or final rehearsals. The green room smelt of new carpet and Old Spice. He sat himself down on the leather settee. The green room. The green room: he’d just said the words to himself like they were part of his normal everyday language. Lah-di-bloody-dah: the green room. Not to mention make up. And wardrobe. Quiet on the floor please, and…three two one. Bloody hell, this was showbiz, this was the real thing. Here, in the spanking brand new ATV Centre, next to the hundred foot high Paradise Tower in the very epicentre of Birmingham, Ronnie Turton was finally going to make it big.
His hands were sweating. That was all he needed. He didn’t want pancake (pancake, that just tripped off his tongue, natural like) running down his face, or worse still, the raven-black hair dye that kept his temples nice and dark, dripping. What would Tony Hatch – the Hatchet Man – say about presentation if his ears were all black? Calm, he must be calm. This was his moment. This was his dream. Opportunity had come knocking, and he wasn’t going to blow his big chance. New Faces.
It had been a long time coming, twenty odd years slogging away in the working men’s clubs of South Yorkshire, but he was here, now, 1973. His heart was thumping fast. He looked down, half surprised that he couldn’t see it banging away through his ruffle shirt and tux. They were going to call him in twenty (not in twenty minutes; no, the proper lingo was: in twenty). He needed to distract himself, to steady himself. He sat down. He took his wallet out of his jacket pocket, pulled out a scrappy old black and white photo of Leila and the kids, and there on a glossy red settee in the shiny new hospitality room on the third floor of the newest television centre in England, Ronnie took a deep breath and thought about his lot.
His memories were interrupted by a loud crash and the sound of a load of women giggling outside in the corridor. He stood up quickly, the leather settee made a nasty farting noise, but no-one came in. His guts were molten. He put the photo back in his wallet. Yes, all things considered, life had been good to him. Cue for a song, and he hummed a bit of old Blue Eyes as he wandered over to the window and looked down at the car park.
Perry had driven him, Leila and little Helen over early this morning, in his new Cortina. Very nice car – lovely blue body and black vinyl roof. Perry’d not been best pleased when Helen had chucked up Quavers and orange squash all over the velour upholstery; but as Ronnie said, it was such an exciting day, who could blame the girl. He’d felt like puking himself. Perry got more aerated at Spaghetti Junction, but by the time they’d found their way to the TV Centre and parked up, even he was in high spirits. The three of them would be out there in the studio audience now.
Ronnie looked at his watch again. Ten minutes. The sweat on his hands and face had dried and he felt cold. This was really it. Outside a flock of starlings swooped over the roof tops, synchronised in the shape of a giant fist. It was getting dark, and a gust of wind knocked the window. Ronnie smiled and shook his head. The door opened and Bobby dia Sanchez sauntered back in, with Paddy Pigeon laid over his arm.
“Something wrong with your head, chuck?” Bobby said as Bobby, in broad Mancunian. He stuck his hand inside Paddy, opened and closed his beak a few times and then threw his voice so Paddy warbled his bloody awful catch-phrase in that rubbish Irish accent,“Coo coo, will you look at yoooo.”
Ronnie could see Bobby’s lips moving, but he forced a smile.
“Ay, I’m fine,” he said.
“Ee bah fooking gum,” Paddy warbled and Bobby smacked him round the beak.
“Now then, now then, a bit or respect for our friend from Yorkshire,” he said. Then he kissed Paddy’s beak, and used his right hand to straighten the puppet’s bow tie and waistcoat. He gazed at Paddy so lovingly it made Ronnie’s flesh crawl. It was like watching a demented father clucking over a gormless kid. He bloody prayed Bobby dia Sanchez and Paddy Pigeon wouldn’t win.
Ronnie thought about his own father. He’d seen him two weeks back, at the Barnsley General. He’d not said much, which was no surprise to Ronnie. He’d just laid there, yellow and sweaty and gazing at the curtains round the bed. Miserable old bastard. One kidney left, and liver on its way out, they didn’t expect him to last till Christmas.
The door opened again, and the Dollybirds trooped back in, in a cloud of gin, fag smoke and make-up. They were giggling, and squealing and clapping their hands. Two of them were nowt to look at, but the main singer, Marti, had blue eyes and a face like a kitten. They might well win. The door opened a third time. It was Jeffrey, the floor manager, rubbing his hands together, with his clip board under his arm.
“Time to go-o,” he chirruped.
The girls stopped giggling; Bobby stopped preening Paddy; and Ronnie’s insides clenched and burned.
Jeffrey looked round at them all in turn, ticking his list.
“The other acts are already in the studio, so the gang’s all here,” he said. He turned on his heel and waved them to follow him.
Ronnie sat on a plastic chair in the dark listening to the warm-up man try to whip some excitement into the studio audience. He was yelling corny old jokes at them, and then ordering them to cheer and clap. Ronnie was sure he heard Helen’s throaty little laugh at one point. Shite, he was so nervous. He breathed in deeply through his nose. A small dry bogey whistled high up his left nostril. He sniffed a few times but it just tickled and whistled louder. Christ, he wouldn’t be able to sing with that going on. He tried snorting and clearing his throat but it wouldn’t shift. Eventually he covered his right nostril with his finger and blew out sharply. The pale little bogie shot out like a pea from a pea-shooter, landing on his shoe. He bent down to flick it away, groaning as his waistband cut into his belly. Months and months of sit ups, crunches and even Kung Fu in the community centre, but it was still on the flabby side. He was forcing his belly back into place, when he heard a squawk and a laugh behind him. Bobby dia Sanchez was leaning against the side panel, with Paddy Pigeon flapping away in the shadows.
“Coo coo, will you look at you?”
Ronnie wondered if he’d been watching him blow out the bogie too. He looked at Bobby. Bobby winked, and before Ronnie knew what was happening, Paddy Pigeon was nipping his bloody ear. That was it. Enough was enough. Ronnie grabbed the stupid bird’s neck and yanked it hard.
“Oy, you fucker, that’s me arm,” Bobby cried out.
Ronnie let go, and the bloody bird was back again pulling his hair. He’d spent hours getting it right and like Frankie’s, especially the waves. He stood up, and was about to throw a punch at
Paddy’s beak, when the New Faces theme music started.
“Yesterday I was happy to play for a penny or two a song...”
Ronnie and Bobby looked at each other.
“Tosser,” said Bobby, rubbing his arm.
“Twat,” said Ronnie, flattening his hair.
“Till a fella in a black sedan, took a shine to my one-man-band…”
After that, it was a blur. He remembered his heart pounding, the feel and smell of his sweat, and the bright lights right in his eyes. He remembered singing like his life depended on it, his eyes closed with the passion of it and his mind filled with night skies, stars, sequins, spangles and big red nipples. He got the wink and the little laugh in the right place. Give me the moonlight. Give me the girl. Over in a flash. And then the audience was clapping and cheering. He bowed two times, and put his hand across his forehead and squinted out. Helen was in the third row, jumping up and down, and wolf whistling. His lucky mascot.
The panel was kind to him. When Ronnie saw that Arthur Askey was sitting there with Ted Ray, Mickie Most and the Hatchet Man, he nearly fell over. Arthur bloody Askey. I thank you. It was like an omen. Ronnie looked at Arthur grinning, and his mind wandered back to Wath; his father snoring in his green chair while Arthur Askey and his pals cavorted and sang on the wireless.
But Arthur was the kindest of the lot. The lights reflected off his horn-rimmed glasses as he told Ronnie that he really liked his voice, and that he could be up there with the real Frankie Vaughan. He gave him nine bloody points for star quality. Nine bloody points. Ronnie was bowled over. Mickie Most and Ted Ray blethered on a bit, giving him fives. Mickie wondered what had happened to his hair. Ronnie tried flattening it again and a wave of anger at bloody Bobby dia Sanchez surged over him, as the audience laughed.
Tony Hatch was wearing his black roll neck sweater and leather jacket. His mean flat face didn’t crack a smile. He nodded at Arthur and said yes, it was true Ronnie had a “competent” voice, but he didn’t think there was a place in the market for him, that he was rather “old school.” Ronnie heard Helen and Perry booing in the audience. The Hatchet Man was unmoved. He said that Ronnie needed to look at his presentation, because even apart from the “whole hair issue,” he was a bit on the podgy side. This time, about a quarter of the audience booed and hissed. Ronnie took the comments with good grace. He had no choice. Folk looked like complete arseholes when they argued or answered back, so he just smiled, said thanks and bowed again.
But the comment about his weight hurt. He breathed in as he walked off the stage, and vowed to go running every day until he had a washboard stomach. He waited in the wings with his fists tightened, listening to the other acts. His score was respectable, more than respectable: higher than the three acts that had gone before. He had to win. He could do it. His pals at hospital radio, all the lads at work, and everyone at the club said it was a one hundred percent dead cert. Had to be.
When the Dollybirds got ten points more than him, Ronnie bent over as though he’d been punched in the stomach. He put his head in his hands and cried. When Bobby dia Sanchez and that bloody pigeon won the show by a mile, he walked slowly to the flashy new toilets and puked up his guts.
The following Saturday, all the family came round and watched New Faces in the front room. They cheered and sang along when the theme tune came on. They clapped Derek Hobson and hissed at the Hatchet Man. Pamela arrived late wearing a black sequin top, cut so low that her cleavage looked like giant scoops of vanilla ice.
“Room for a little one,” she said as she squeezed in next to Ronnie and Leila on the settee. Malcolm spilled beer all over the carpet when the first singing act was on, and Rhiannon shouted at him. Helen came and sat on Ronnie’s knee, wiggling up and down and turning to smile up at his face every other minute. He couldn’t stand it. His stomach was full of bile and heat, and his jaw hurt from the clenching. The room was stuffy and smelt of crisps and feet. Pamela kept squeezing in closer, and her strong syrupy perfume made him cough.
When the band struck up “Give me the Moonlight” and he saw himself walk down the steps onto the stage, looking shiny and porky in his tuxedo, Ronnie was mouth sick. He watched himself with one eye closed, and the other only half open, so all he could see was a big blurry figure with dark black hair. His voice was good and strong, he could hear that. All of a sudden, they were all shouting and pointing: on the telly screen, there was a close up of Helen in the audience, smiling and clapping her daddy. Leila put her hand on Ronnie’s knee and kissed the top of Helen’s head.
“We still love you, love,” she hissed in his ear. Her breath smelt of Martini, and a little bit of her spit fell on his cheek.
Ronnie tried to smile, but his eyes were welling up. He had to get out of there. He couldn’t sit through the comments about his hair and weight all over again. He couldn’t watch that bloody pigeon again. He gently shoved Helen onto Leila’s lap, and tried to stand up. His thighs were trapped between Leila and Pamela. The song was nearing the end, and he began to feel panicked. He launched himself up to standing. Leila was playing with Helen’s hair, but she looked up at him.
“You alreet love?” she asked, still beaming with pride.
“Just need a bit of fresh air,” he said, and he walked out to the back yard before anyone could stop him.
Ronnie leant against the back wall and looked up at the sky. It was drizzling, but there were stars blinking down between the clouds. He cleared the bad taste from his mouth and spat over the wall. The hammering of the steelworks banged away in the distance. A square of yellow light fell on the ground. The kitchen door opened. He smelt vanilla and syrup, and Pamela cruised towards him.
Neither of them said a word. The clouds shifted and the moon shone down on them. Pamela knelt down, and nuzzled into his crotch. It sent a sharp hot sensation straight to his bollocks. Ronnie groaned. He closed his eyes and left Sheffield way behind. Las Vegas, Caesar’s Palace, Sunset Strip filled his mind. Pamela sucked harder. He pushed his pelvis forward and his lungs filled his chest as he grunted in time with the song in his head.
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