Old Songs on the Radio

By Miss G

"And was your name carved on the railway bridge,
JS loves WK,
And did he meet you there at four o'clock,
To steal your heart away?
And were there many others like him?
And many a game to play?
And twelve years on, the radio
Takes your mind back to the day
And the old songs will remind you,
When you were just a girl
They give you something to hold on to
In an ever changing world..........."

It was half past three and the kitchen was silent enough for Wendy to be able to hear the tiny clock on the window ledge. A few more minutes' peace and the kids would be running in the door. She always took this time to herself in the afternoons; it gave her strength for the coming onslaught. This was the time to indulge, to turn on the radio, to listen to the oldies, and to remember the days when the last thing she had planned for herself was a semi-detached house on a new estate. In those days she stuck her nose up at the girls whose sole ambition in life was a home, husband and children. She thought their world was small and boring. Ah, the plans she had. Hers was going to be a life of glamour and excitement, foreign travel and fashionable clothes, and obviously she would marry a pop star and be seen on his arm on TV. Well, she was young then. In those days making tea and waiting for her husband to come home wasn't something she thought she could ever be content with. Wendy smiled to herself as a blast from the past on the radio took her right back. Those were the days, my friend; we thought they'd never end.

Wendy was standing in the playground as the bell went, and late as always, she hurried into the corridor where her friends were waiting. Some of them had girl's magazines, and Linda lent her a copy of "Jackie". Wendy liked the stories in there but what she was really looking for was posters. In her big diary at home, at the top of each page which had room for just two or three days thoughts, she would write her current favourite. It changed from time to time. Right now it was Midge Ure of Ultravox. He was all over her walls and she had an envelope full of pictures of him that she carried around in her bag. They helped some of the more boring lessons go by a bit quicker. She loved his face, such a great nose, and way his hair was at the temples where it was pulled back tight by his ponytail. She knew every square inch of that man, not that there was much of him, hence his name. Her brother said he could beat him up easily, but Wendy didn't care, he had a voice like ten men, and he was just lovely. But most of all, Wendy liked it when she'd seen him on Top of the Tops in the "Love's Great Adventure" video, wearing glasses. Wendy had a thing for men in glasses, a big thing, and seeing them on Midge was just brilliant, it took her breath away. She really hoped they were real, but she just liked watching the video anyway, even if they weren't. She'd never been able to find a picture from the video in any of the magazines though, but she had a few of him in sunglasses and that would have to do for her dreams. Ah, but in her dreams she was the girl in the video that got him at the end.......

There weren't many pop stars that wore glasses of course. It still wasn't considered OK in those days, unless you were Elvis Costello, and he wasn't her sort with his funny National Health glasses. So she had to get her kicks watching boys at school, at least, the ones who didn't wear National Health ones, anyway. The trouble was that most of them did, or were just plain ugly. Why did only the ugly boys get glasses? Why not Andrew Langholm or Stephen Knowles? Or even...if were possible to think of anything so singularly fantastic......Justin Simmons, ha! or anyone else who wouldn't look at her twice anyway, so what did it matter. Feeling a bit down in the dumps at that thought Wendy wandered off from her friends, and, arriving at the noticeboard, her eye was caught by the talent show poster. Three weeks away. Well at least she had that to look forward to. Justin would be sure to be in it. That was the reason he was so popular, he played the drums in a group, and they were really quite good.

In the meantime life just sort of carried on, school was boring, and there was nothing to do afterwards except watch TV or go to Deb's house and listen to records. They spent a lot of time doing that. They sang along too, they knew the words by heart and sometimes they recorded themselves singing. Wendy thought she sounded quite good, although she hadn't got the nerve to go into the talent show, but she thought it might come in useful when she married a pop star. Maybe she'd make some records of her own.

But then something really strange happened. A girl she didn't know very well, because she was only a 4th year, came up to her on the way home and said that Justin Simmons liked her. At the time, with her friends listening, Wendy sort of brushed it aside, and just felt funny inside. But once she got home she let herself go. Screaming "Yes! Yes! Yes!" at the top of her voice, she got into trouble and had to clean the bathroom to "help her calm down". Her mother had a funny way of putting things sometimes. All evening she was in a complete daze, not for a moment letting herself slide into "but it may not be true". This was the best thing that had ever happened to her.

Saturday came and she went into Woolworth's to buy make-up to look her best at the talent show. She had got it all worked out. She'd get there early so she could get a seat near the front, at the side. Then she'd catch Justin's eye, and when he went off-stage he would beckon to her to go back with him. Then she would feel like a groupie, what a thought! Coming home on the bus from town she went right past his house and she thought how nice it would be when she was invited there. It was so much posher than her house. But most of her daydreams seemed to consist of Justin becoming very famous and her having a fantastic house in Surrey with electric gates.

The show started at 7 o'clock, so Wendy was there at six. She got her desired seat and waited patiently for "Amplifactor" to come on, they were to be the final act. As they had actually played in front of real audiences, everyone knew that Justin's group, fronted by an older boy called John who'd already left school, would walk away with the prize, but they also had more to offer, including a light show. As soon as the penultimate act finished the lights began, and the boys came on stage in a cloud of pink dry ice. Justin looked great in a sleeveless shirt and spiky hairstyle. Wendy couldn't wait for him to see her in her new clothes and lots of kohl pencil. She smiled at him as sophisticatedly as she possibly could, through 3 songs, even stopping herself singing along when they did an Ultravox song, "Vienna", as their main number, but she never got as much as a glance from Justin no matter how hard she stared at him. He just ignored her completely. Feeling very foolish she didn't wait to see them win, but ran home in tears.

How she dragged herself into school on the Monday she didn't know. Everyone had heard about the rumour that Justin liked her, and then everyone had heard how he'd snubbed her. It was as much as she could do to look at anyone all morning, and at lunchtime, although she was feeling a bit stronger, she just wanted to be alone, so she sat under a tree round the side of the new building and tried to eat her lunch. It didn't want to go down. She was sitting in a most unladylike way, hugging her knees and resting her head on them, when she heard footsteps approaching, looked up and saw Justin. She leapt to her feet and almost passed out.

"They told me you were here," he said nervously "and I came to apologize and explain."

Wendy was speechless.

"I've been meaning to talk to you, to ask you out, only I didn't have the nerve. I didn't know you were at the show, and they said I hurt your feelings. I didn't mean to."

Despite fancying this boy ever since she'd set eyes on him, Wendy never really knew anything about him. She had no idea he was so kind. She had been willing to go out with him thinking he was probably just a big-head like all the other really popular boys, and now this. It was more than she'd bargained on. It was all very nice, but a lot to take in, and she didn't know what to say. But she managed to smile at him, and then a thought crossed her mind.

"It was silly of me to think you'd have time to notice me at the show, I bet you were busy concentrating on what you were doing. Must be quite scary up there!"

"Oh, no, it's not that," Justin smiled and looked embarrassed "I couldn't see you. I'm a bit shortsighted actually."

A warm feeling came over Wendy and she felt a bit dizzy. Was she hearing what she thought she was? Did he say shortsighted? What...if...what...he......that.....what..........Her head was spinning. She laughed. She didn't mean to. Then realizing she might give the wrong impression she blurted out:

"Oh! Is that all! Oh that's fantastic then!" which was also not what she wanted to say, but it seemed to be the right thing at the time, as he noticeably relaxed completely.

"I'm supposed to wear glasses, but I've never had the guts to wear them to school. I want to get contact lenses but my Mum won't let me until I'm 18."

There was a long silence, during which time they never took their eyes off each other, but finally Justin asked her out, properly, to her face, and they arranged to meet after school. It was the first of many such meetings, and after a few weeks she was invited to his house for tea.

She had been looking forward to this so much, because she hoped she'd get a chance to see him in his glasses, and she was right, as soon as he got home he put them on, just in time for his parents to come home.

"If they caught me not wearing them I'd be in trouble," he said, almost apologetically.

"But you look really nice in them" Wendy insisted, and she meant it. They were round, just like Midge wore in the video. Really nice. She knew why he didn't wear them to school though, because some people were really rude to anyone wearing glasses, and she never understood why. Still, she would get to see him wear them whenever she came here, and that became a weekly event, as they were inseparable right through the rest of school.

But when they left school things got a bit more complicated with their relationship. Justin was now playing in a different group, to paying audiences, and he didn't want to do anything else. His parents wanted him to go to University, but his mind was made up. He wanted to be a professional musician, to sing for his supper, as it were. During the day he worked in a record shop, trying to stay close to the music. He never took his glasses off now, at first it had been for Wendy, but increasingly it was sheer dependence, and if he was honest with himself, he'd grown to like them. She was so happy, she'd got not only the best-looking boy in school, but she'd got him as a glasses-wearer too. She could never have expected that, not in her wildest dreams. Wendy's parents liked Justin but they were horrified at the idea of their daughter hanging around with "those sort of people", and her father tried their best to convince her to find someone else.

"Apart from anything else," he told her "He'll be away a lot playing. It'll be worse than having a sailor for a boyfriend."

Smiling fondly at the memory, Wendy picked up the photo of her Dad, who'd passed away two years ago. At least he got to see his grandchildren, she thought. He meant well, her Dad, he only wanted what was best for her, all he ever wanted really, to see her happy, with a family, not running round the country. He was always right too; sometimes she thought he knew her better than she knew herself. She missed him so much.

They had been on the road for 8 months straight. Hard work pays off and one successful show always seemed to lead to another. Wendy only saw them when they played near home, which was increasingly less as their name spread across the country. In Manchester they were the support act for Alison Moyet, and it was going to be the biggest crowd they'd ever played in front of. Justin had tried to get a good night's sleep but he'd argued with Wendy on the phone and it had been playing on his mind ever since. These separations just got harder and harder and he wondered how much longer he could keep going like this. Then, the previous night, in an act of tired desperation he'd voiced that fear to her, and she'd taken it the wrong way - now she was angry with him.

It was just one of many such situations, and trying to be professional he threw himself into what he did best, hammering out a driving beat for his mates, but it was getting ridiculous. They lived in different worlds now. She had a job and all her old friends. He had the band. There was Andy Gooding, a fine voice from a surprisingly small man, he and the lead guitarist Mike Larkin had known each other since childhood and wrote all the songs together. The bass guitarist, John Best, who Justin had played with in Amplifactor, had answered a newspaper ad that Andy had placed, and having been accepted by them had introduced them to Justin. They'd become a tight little outfit very quickly, and this fresh new talent hadn't gone unnoticed. He'd come across them before, but wanting to see how they coped with a bigger audience, Gary Mellard from Virgin Records was at the Manchester gig, and he liked what he saw.

Two days later they found themselves in a plush London office.

"Have you got legal representation boys?" asked Gary, knowing full well they hadn't. He was a fairly honest man, as record company men go, but it was much less complicated if he signed up these young acts on his own terms.

"No? Well, read it through. Don't sign your lives away without reading the small print!" he joked, half sincerely.

Not really knowing what they should or shouldn't be looking for in the contracts, each member of the band skimmed over the papers without really taking any of it in, and signed his name three times. Their excitement at this break, along with being totally overwhelmed by their situation had clouded all their brains, and it was only after they'd left the building that Justin even thought to call Wendy and tell her everything that had happened. For Wendy it was a real mixed bag of emotions, excitement for Justin, pride too, but also a deep fear that this would destroy what little they had left of a relationship. Although it was hard to do, she told him all of this.

"Come to London" he urged her "If you're nearby I know everything will work out. It's just being apart.......it's so hard........"

He was right of course, and she knew that now she must turn her back on everything familiar and reach out for her dreams. Hadn't she always wanted this?

"Don't worry Dad," she told her anxious father as he waved her off, "he's got his head screwed on, you know Justin, he'll be able to cope with a bit of fame."

She was trying to convince herself.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of hotel rooms, recording studios, photo shoots and vast shiny offices. Feeling a bit like Yoko Ono, Wendy would always tag along, never totally sure of how the rest of the band felt towards her. They all seemed to have a different girl with them everytime she looked, and none of these hangers-on were particularly nice to her. It was nothing like she imagined it was going to be.

Gary didn't like the band's name and decided on a new one for them. So now they were "The Front". Wendy thought it was a stupid name. But that's the name that started appearing on posters and in magazines. That was the name on their first record.

"I'm Not Here" was released on April 1st and Wendy thought that quite appropriate. They had a repertoire of over 100 songs but this was her least favourite, and she got the feeling the boys were less than happy with the choice. Not only that, the arrangement was totally different to how they used to play it live, again, Gary's choice. To Justin's face she told him it was brilliant, because she was so very proud of him, but privately she thought the entire situation was ridiculous. They had been packaged. Their name, their clothes, their song, everything had been changed, "improved", and they were being marketed like a packet of frozen peas. This wasn't the same band anymore.

Although they claimed to be having fun, she could sense a strain and some disillusionment among the boys too. There were constant arguments over the silliest little things. Andy always seemed to be stoned when she spoke to him, but at least he was smiling. Justin didn't seem very happy at all. From her perspective it all seemed very obvious why the whole situation seemed wrong, but she tried not to say anything. After all, if the record was a success they would be able to call the shots a bit more afterwards.

Thursday morning found them at BBC television studios for an early rehearsal. As usual Wendy had tagged along but she was feeling a bit superfluous. Hundreds of minions were scurrying about, all trying to look important, but the man of the hour was Graham Dines, who seemed to be the image guru for all the "lesser" artists. He'd already had Andy change his clothes twice. Then he turned his attentions towards Justin. Wendy was rendered speechless....

"OK, you, the drummer, lose the glasses."

"WHAT?" Justin was dumbstruck. This was worse than playground bullies.

"Keyboard players wear glasses, maybe guitarists wear glasses, but drummers don't wear glasses. Don't you have a manager? And change your shirt."

Seeing the expression on Justin's face Wendy was almost in tears. It had taken her years of hard work to give him the confidence to wear his glasses and this idiot was trying to undo all that. Fortunately Wendy had had more of an effect on Justin than she realized, because he just ignored it. John however had persuaded him to change his shirt, after a long head-to-head discussion. This continued at lunch in the studio cafeteria.

"Roger Taylor wears glasses," muttered Justin, still seething.

"Yeah but not onstage, he's got a point," said John, musing, "You don't usually see drummers wearing glasses. I don't know why. If it's going to cause us problems maybe you should...."

"Oh, maybe I should go back to being 16 and walking around unable to see because of someone else's opinion?"

"Look, I'm just trying to make things easier. We're new on the scene here; we need to edge our way in. Once we've got a hit or two under our belts, we'll have some say. Then we can do what we like. Can you see him telling Geldof what to wear?"

Justin compromised and fetched his prescription sunglasses from the car, but Wendy could tell it was done grudgingly. She was secretly very pleased with him.

The evening came along, the TOTP theme music played, and right on cue the boys played "live" in front of the studio audience and several million television viewers. Justin gave it everything he'd got but Wendy knew that the expression of determination on his face was actually total frustration. His drums were padded so as not to make a sound and there was no microphone on them. Everything was actually mimed to a pre-recorded track. It was all so phoney. Was anything real in this world?

To her great surprise, and possibly the boys' too, the record shot into the charts. The band's performance was shown again twice on Top of the Pops, and they did several other TV appearances. Only "Pebble Mill at One" was actually live, and here they were interviewed too. All this time Justin had been wearing sunglasses, and Wendy wondered what he planned on doing in the future. The dark glasses made him come across a bit mysterious, and as the drummer he was rarely asked any questions, they usually went to Andy. So he was quickly dubbed "the quiet one" by the press.

Bolstered by the success of "I'm Not Here" the record company gave them 2 weeks in the studio to make an album. It wasn't long enough, anyone knew that, and they said so, but Gary had everything "ready". Someone else had written the songs, someone else was there to arrange them, someone else did the backing tracks. It was taken out of their hands. The next single could have been recorded by someone else too, for all they'd done on it. Totally disillusioned, Justin took Wendy away for a weekend in Scotland.

"What I wanted to be was a musician, not an actor," he told her as they stood on an old castle in the wind, "I know they say all we have to do is hold out, that it's always like this to begin with, but is it? Is that true? Or will I never have any say in my life again? Will I be an old man with a fake sun-tan and a bag full of happy pills doing charity shows, telling stories to the press about the good old days? I'm not interested in fame Wendy, I just love music. There has to be another way."

Wendy hugged him tight. Away from the cameras he wore his ordinary glasses, and he just looked like her Justin, not some pop star.

"Maybe you just have to make the most of it. Maybe it won't last, and you'll be an old man with no sun-tan, and a bag full of beermats, playing at Butlin's, telling stories to your grandchildren about the good old days."

That made him laugh. First time she'd seen him laugh in weeks.

"I think I'd like that better," he said "at least I'd still be me."

The following week she found herself sitting in a faceless waiting area in yet another plush office building, trying to pass the time reading some stupid magazine. She heard voices, one of which sounded familiar, and when she looked up there, right in front of her was Midge Ure. He was talking to a brassy blond with cruel lips and arms full of paperwork, and he was trying to get a smile out of her. It wasn't working. As the snooty woman left he looked at Wendy and grinned.

"If she smiled she'd crack!"

Wendy laughed nervously, not knowing what to say, so he smiled at her warmly and started to walk away. Realizing she was about to miss a golden opportunity she called him back with the only excuse she could think of.

"Midge! Can I have your autograph?"

"Oh...Yeah, OK!" he said, and he flashed his dazzling smile at her and came back.

He looked even smaller in real life and Wendy was afraid to stand up for fear she'd tower over him, but luckily he sat down beside her. Looking at him closely he seemed really very ordinary. It occurred to her he wasn't even half as good-looking as Justin, but he radiated charisma, an inner beauty, he was obviously very comfortable with fame, he'd found his place in the scheme of things, and didn't get bossed around anymore.

"Midge, can I ask you something?"

"Yeah, go right ahead."

"How long did it take you to really be able to be yourself, to do your own thing in this industry?"

"Oh, you don't do that love," he said, "you never do that. This is showbusiness. It's all a show."

He smiled again, handed her the autograph, and said his goodbyes. She watched as the lift doors closed on him and he disappeared forever. At that moment Justin and the boys emerged from their meeting, and then, as always, they all left for the next stop on this runaway train.

The next single, "Didn't I tell you?" went straight in at No.1. It was taken from the album, and was written by a total stranger, they'd never even met him. None of them liked it, and they didn't even hide the fact, but Gary laughed it off and showed them the figures.

Everywhere they went now they were recognized. Andy was on the front cover of magazines, as the obvious pin-up boy, but pictures of Justin "hiding" behind his dark glasses were around too, as he seemed to appeal to a different set. They did all sorts of interviews, from Saturday morning kids shows to highbrow segments on Channel 4, but the questions never changed, and nobody ever asked Justin much, so he didn't contribute, lending himself ever to a reputation of being mysterious. He actually found himself becoming mysterious, as they were encouraged to develop images, all part of the "package". Andy the pin-up, Mike the joker, John the talker, and Justin the dark horse. It wasn't really him at all, but it's all a show.........

The third single, also from the album, only made it to No.10, but that was dismissed as not a problem, as most people already had it if they had the album. At least this time around nobody said anything about what they should wear. Perhaps at last, thought Wendy, they'll be taken seriously. Maybe this is it now; maybe from here on it gets better.

But from there on it got worse. John started to negotiate with Gary about using their own songs for the next album, and he wasn't interested, but any talk of trying to break contract was met with derision and threats. Andy had started doing more drugs to stay "up" on stage and was often "down" the rest of the time, sometimes not functioning terribly well as a result. Mike preferred to drink his troubles away and had lost his temper a few times, usually in the most public of places, and the press had started following the boys around hoping to get a good shot of him fighting with someone. Justin was the only band member with a steady girlfriend, the others seemed to pick up girls wherever they went and Wendy had no friends, she was horribly lonely. She missed her family, and she was tired, just really tired, of sitting around waiting for Justin. There was nothing glamorous about this life, nothing at all. The days were spent in studios, the nights were spent in clubs, in between they were in hotel rooms, and it became hard to tell one from the other when daylight was something she saw so little of. Finally, she decided she'd had enough. They'd done 3 dates in Holland and were on their way back in the bus. Arriving back in England from the boat, on their way back to London, they'd made a stop on the motorway just a few miles from Wendy's home, and everyone had got out to stretch their legs. Wendy stood on the grass and looked at the church spire in the distance. If she started walking she'd be home for breakfast. She looked longingly for some time and then heard Justin calling her. He knew what she was gazing at.

"We're leaving, come on, we can visit home when the new album's finished."

"I can't do this anymore Justin," she told him, "I can't keep living this lie. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. I want to go home."

"WHAT?! Come on Wendy, we can't do this now, look....come on, we have to go."

"I'm not coming, I'm sorry Justin......."

The shouts from the bus were getting louder. They were calling Justin, nobody mentioned Wendy. Did anyone even notice her anyway? Would they miss her if she wasn't there?

"WENDY!" shouted Justin.

"I'll see you...," she told him.

"JUSTIN GET ON THE BUS MAN!"

Justin watched Wendy walk away, and looked back at the bus, the driver now revving the engine impatiently.

A shout broke into Wendy's daydreams as a pair of filthy, wet children burst into the kitchen.

"What happened to you two?" she asked.

"Fell over in the mud."

"He pushed me."

"I didn't, he pushed me."

"Alright, hang on, if we have much more of this I'm going to have to start coming to meet you again."

"NO! We're old enough to walk home on our own!"

"Well, then walk home along the road, not across the rec."

"We didn't, the mud was in a front garden."

Laughter ensued and Wendy hid her own smile. Boys will be boys, she thought, and reached into the fridge for a pack of sausages.

"Dirty clothes in the basket!" she called upstairs, knowing she was wasting her breath, and shortly afterwards she picked up their muddy uniforms from the landing floor and took them down herself. Then she peeled the potatoes, poured some boiling water from the kettle over instant gravy granules, and heated up some baked beans. Gourmet food, she thought to herself, just like I always dreamt of. Well, at least they were Heinz beans and not Tesco's own.

The TV set the pace and just as the evening news came on she heard the familiar sound of her husband's car spluttering to a halt outside. He came in the back door and greeted her with a kiss, hanging his coat on the back of a chair instead of on a peg. Like he did every day. Like she'd asked him not to a thousand times, but never in anger. Everything was familiar. He always offered to help her with dinner, but never did. He always told the boys to move their schoolbags out of the way of the door, but never noticed when they didn't. He always made a funny noise at the cat. He always left his newspaper on the table right where she was trying to lay place mats, and he always had to be called 3 times to the table because he'd got stuck into the sports results on TV. And she never minded. That's just how it was. Today though, for some reason, she noticed, and laughed at the whole absurdity of it. It must have been because of all the memories today; it had been a day of coincidences, not just hearing the band on the radio. First she'd found some old magazines when she'd been cleaning up, that had brought back all the old days with Justin and the boys on the road. Funny how she had only fond memories now. It had been an adventure. She'd played the game of being the pop star's girlfriend, and found she couldn't do it. They could keep the big house in Surrey with the electric gates, she was quite happy with her little semi. People did as they pleased here. There were no cameras, no deadlines, no image consultants. You could walk to the shops in total peace, because people only knew you as a neighbour. In fact she'd mentioned this to the girl in the Co-op, about how she'd found the old magazines with the pictures of "The Front".

"Who?" said the girl in the Co-op, "Never heard of them".

At 8 o'clock she sent the boys to bed and joined her husband in the living room, but he'd already dozed off. That was OK; she could watch what she wanted on TV. She found a repeat of an old music show, but she didn't seem to need it now, all she needed was her home, her family, her man. Everything was all right with the world. She looked across at Justin and smiled.

"Well there he is in the playground,
He's waiting for his sons,
He's got an old leather jacket,
And his working clothes on,
He's done all the shopping,
And he's put the dinner on,
But he used to be the drummer in the band,
He used to be the drummer in the band.
And on a Saturday night
We'd be dancin' in the strobe light
Singin' along
To the words of the songs
I heard they had a record deal
I don't know what went wrong
But he used to be the drummer in the band
He used to be the drummer in the band.
Well it's late in the evening
The kids have gone to bed
He's fast asleep before the TV
With his glasses on his head
He was gonna be a rock star
He married me instead
But he used to be the drummer in the band
He used to be the drummer in the band.
And on a Saturday night
We'd be dancin' in the strobe light
Singin' along
To the words of the songs
He gave up all his dreams
For what he'd wanted all along
And he used to be the drummer in the band
He used to be the drummer in the band.

Copyright Miss G 2004

BACK