Let’s do this

Tuesday 17 October 2017, Tooting Tram and Social. Her first time on stage since a couple of things at school. She looks good but nervous. The older girl has done a few open mic nights before, and chats with her reassuringly, hugs her, helps her bring the microphone stand down. Finally the nine-piece band has finished tuning up and running sound checks and they launch into their first number, Barefoot. She sings beautifully, but keeps her movements small. The band is enthusiastically received, with help from friends and family in the audience. Apart from the other girl, her bandmates didn’t realise this was her first performance in public – she hadn’t told them so they wouldn’t fuss her.

The following May she came with me to see the Rolling Stones at London Stadium. She has never needed any lessons in stagecraft, but if she had, it was a good one. The support act was Liam Gallagher: as we entered the stadium he was in his default state of aggressive moaning.

We could see him on the big screen of course, but from a distance it took me a full five minutes to locate him in person on stage. He wore dark blue against a dark background, he stood there and barely moved. He didn’t look as if he was enjoying himself. So what chance did we have?

Liam is famously a huge Beatles fan: had he not, then, heard the story of Bruno Koschmider yelling “Mach schau! Mach schau!” (Put on a show!) to enliven the five young lads from Liverpool, passive as they played their instruments in the Kaiserkeller in Hamburg in 1960?

When the Rolling Stones came onstage, the change in mood was immediate and thrilling. Jagger, of course, still appeared a tiny figure, but he wore a shiny silver jacket and moved ceaselessly to every corner of the stage – you couldn’t miss him – and he transmitted an energy belying his 74 years to the whole stadium.  When it grew dark he wore a billowing red silk shirt which glowed like a beacon.  We had paid for a show, and by god we were going to get one.

That’s how you put on a show, I said, as if she needed telling. The nine-piece band she sang with worked well musically, but its members had very different personalities, and the negativity some brought to group discussions may have inhibited her stage performances. But her confidence was quietly growing with experience and positive feedback. When they played their most prestigious gig yet at a festival, other band members said “It’s 400 people, aren’t you nervous?”  She replied “No, 40, 400, 4000, we play for people so we can play to more people, that’s the point. This is why we’re doing this.”

The nine piece evolved into a smaller, more flexible band which had the advantage of not needing such a large stage, and not taking so long to do its sound check. Just as important was the personal chemistry between members: they were also mates. Confident of the band’s support, her performances became freer and more energetic.

Sunday 25 August 2019, Greenbelt Festival. A large tent at this family friendly festival, mothers, fathers, children and babes in arms swaying to the music. The People Versus are closing their set with one of their most danceable numbers, Charybdis. It’s hot in the tent, but she’s singing and dancing freely, her floaty top amplifying her movements.

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Friday 29 November 2019, EP launch at the Jericho Tavern, Oxford. The People Versus return to their home patch, and the pub venue is sold out with friends, family and fans. The merchandise table is ticking over nicely selling tee shirts, sweaters and CDs.

The band is finishing its sound checks. She’s chatting to me, quite relaxed, three or four rows back in the crowd. The announcer leaves the stage to a burst of applause, and she has to push her way through. The teasing opening riff of Like I’m Lonely/Driftwood starts up as she climbs on stage smiling and looking at ease.  Now she’s on stage the show can start.

She brings down the mic and starts to move to the music. She hasn’t started singing yet and we already know we’re going to have fun. Let’s do this.

Midnight

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I had to bring Emily to this place, to this beautiful place, where my mother brought me twenty-seven years ago.  “Remember this time.  It’s the way life should be.” And I sensed, even at the time, she was telling me that happiness is elusive and fleeting, as she held me in her lap, as we sat on the sand and watched the waves rolling in under the moonlight, and as I examined the pebbles in my hand.

And now in her memory we come back to this same cottage, arriving late and in darkness after the working day.  Emily settles in bed and is soon asleep while I look out of her window towards the sea.  I’m tired, but sleep won’t come.  I get up, and look at the moon shining through the trees, the trees which border the track down to the beach.

And an open top car quietly pulls into the driveway, and there is Emily’s father, but as I first knew him.  I know he cannot be there, and also that he is, and that I am seventeen. He waves and opens the passenger door and gestures me into the seat.

I leave the cottage and go to him, and we drive off through the forest without a word passing between us, and the wind blows our hair.  My heart races with fear, with excitement.  He gets out and stands at the edge of the trees, looking down on the sea.  Suddenly I feel the deepest longing.  I follow him and he looks in my eyes and we kiss, slowly and tenderly.  He extends his arm towards the sea.

“But…”

He puts his finger to my lips.

“Shh.  There is nothing but you and me, the sea and the moon.”

And I see it is true.  So we walk to the waves, and paddle, and wade and swim.  And we play and laugh and hold each other in the silver sea.  Then as he looks in my eyes I feel myself being pulled down.  I struggle at first, but he smiles at me reassuringly, and I feel a sweet calmness upon me.  All is well.  All is well.

(Based on Midnight by Five Fathoms Deep, and The Big Big Sea by Martin Waddell and Jennifer Eachus)