Chapter 1 An Introduction To The Stairway

“Brummagem" first appears in the 17th century as an alteration of "Birmingham," the name of a city in England. At that time Birmingham was notorious for the counterfeit coins made there, and the word "brummagem" quickly become associated with things forged or inauthentic. By the 19th century, Birmingham had become a chief manufacturer of cheap trinkets and gilt jewelry, and again the word "brummagem" followed suit--it came to describe that which is showy on the outside but essentially of low quality. [Merriam Webster's Word of the Day Oct 5, 1999]

From the Road Diaries. Three conversations, Summer 1980, London and Birmingham:

“I’m worried about Dik.” Mulligan says.

We’re standing out in the alley that leads to the entrance of The Rum Runner, or Duran Duran Way as it’s becoming known. We rehearse in the Rum Runner, as do the “chosen ones”. The Beat filmed the video for Mirror The Bathroom inside the mirrored tack of The Runner. Mulligan and I are taking a break from another slog of a rehearsal, trying to come up with new material for the second album, and mostly failing. So, a quick breath of traffic fumes with our fags.

“What?” I ask. “Why?”

“I’m worried he might leave the band.”

“Huh, you should worry more about me leaving.” I say.

“Yeah. But the difference is he might actually do it.” Mulligan says.

Oh dear Jon, wrong thing to say, very wrong thing to say.

****

“Goddamn it!” Miles yells and punches his desk. First this asshole kills himself. Then this asshole takes the band’s truck and all their gear and drives off into the desert. I got gigs lined up, radio, TV, all kindsa shit. I don’t need this. This is not some goddamned game we’re playing here!”

No, I think, it isn’t. It’s people’s lives. Their deaths even. And soon, soon you pompous Yank git, there’s going to be another one of your band’s who are a singer guitarist short of a full deck.

****

“You sure about this?” Dad asks.

We’re sitting in his black cab, parked round the corner from Outlaw Studios. I’m right back where Fashion recorded our first demo – was it only two years ago? It feels like bloody years, and all of them stacked on my back. I stare out at the grey veil of drifting rain.

“Yeah Dad. I’m sure.” I turn and smile at him, an expression devoid of any warmth, “Fuck the music business, eh.”

“But I thought the tour with that Irish band went well.” He says.

“U2? Great band. Fucking disastrous tour for us. If you can call a dozen or so small clubs dates a tour.”

“Well, long as you’re sure.” He says.

I climb out of the back of the cab and walk round the corner, through the old factory gates, to the studio entrance. Perhaps we thought we might capture some of that old magic and excitement by coming back to this studio to record our second album. Well we aren’t. I ring the bell and eventually Ebba opens the door.

“Worro Luke,” he says, “Dayn’t think yow was recording today.”

“Uh, no we’re not Ebba, Just need to pick up my guitars and amp.”

“Orroight. But int yow in tomorra like?” he asks as I trail him across the studio floor, past Judas Priest’s rehearsal set-up.

“Er, yeah, think so.” I say. “Thing is there’s this bloke I know with a Mesa Boogie and a Les Paul. Goldtop deluxe. Says he’ll do me a part-ex on my gear plus some dosh. But I have to do it this afternoon before some other bugger gets in there.”

“Sweet,” says Ebba, not really listening. Stoned I reckon, he usually is.

He helps me wheel my cab outside and we load everything into the back of the cab.

“See yow tomorra then.” Ebba says.

“Yeah. Right. Tomorrow. Cheers.” And Dad drives me the two streets to Musical Exchanges, where I get enough cash for the Peavey stack and the Ibanez Iceman to pay him what he owes on the loan he co-signed for the gear, and buy myself a train ticket to Bordeaux. I decide to keep the Aria Les Paul copy. I might well be leaving the music business behind but I’m not leaving the business of playing music. On the way into town we make a detour along the Kings Norton Road and park outside Annette’s house.

I’m a bit nervous tiptoeing up the drive with the note in my sweaty hand, like a bleeding lovesick teenager with a Dear Jon note. I slip the note through the letterbox and leg it back to the cab. We drive into town and Dad lets me off outside New Street Station. Never ones to show each other much emotion we shake hands.

“All the best son. Stay in touch. For your mother, y’know.”

“Yeah. I will. Tarra Dad. Thanks.”

I pick up my hold-all and guitar case and walk into the station without looking back. The content of the note I’ve just put through the boss’s door runs a tape loop mantra in my head … Fuck this, gone to New York … … Fuck this, gone to New York … … Fuck this, gone to New York … to the tune of Message In A Bottle … Fuck this, gone to New York …… eee oh eee oh … Fuck this, gone to New York …… eee oh eee oh … Fuck this, gone to New York …

****

Ever since I can remember I’ve been addicted to being famous. The addiction took root early in my childhood and was fueled by a growing awareness of where I lived; Birmingham. The Birmingham I grew up was a massive and miserable collection of dour, smoke-blackened Victorian buildings surrounded by nightmarish housing projects. There were no fax machines, no cell phones, nobody had walked on the

moon (thank you very much Sting), there were no color TVs, no CDs or ipods, no Walkmans, no Starbucks, no communications satellites, no Google, no Internet, no nudity on the 2 black and white TV channels, and precious little by way of exciting music. The pubs shut at 10.30pm, the last bus was at 11.30pm, and the whole miserable place was pretty much shut down, locked up, and asleep by midnight at the latest. It also seemed to either rain or be overcast the whole sodding time. And if there was one place that encapsulated for me everything about Birmingham I was so desperate to escape, it was the British Leyland car factory. The factory spread like a stain at the foot of the Lickey Hills, one of Brum's rare attempts at scenic splendor marred by this sprawling complex of buildings. When I was a kid my Dad tell me that during the war they’d painted the roofs to look like country lanes, so that the German bombers wouldn't be able to target the factory. Pity some fucker hadn't climbed up there and painted "AIM HERE ADOLPH" in big red letters. Those bombers could have done succeeding generations of school-leavers a huge, unwitting favor by bombing the miserable place into the ground. So, cue the echoing voice, and … “ let’s go back to your childhood … childhood … childhood …”.

****

“But why we moving, Dad?” I asked.

“Get in the van.”

“But why?” I whined.

“Yow shut up and get in that bloody van you little sod or yow’ll feel the back of my hand.” Dad said.

“Come on our Alan, do as you Dad says. You too Roy.”

“Alright Mom.”

I climbed into the back of the Bedford Doormobile and stared out at the trees on our road. The wind was whipping the upper branches back and forth and even from inside the van I could hear the surf roar of their movement. The huge box of a moving van had taken all our furniture earlier that morning.

“It’s a bloody disgrace.” Dad said, and ground the starter motor a few times. Eventually the Bedford’s lawnmower-sized engine spluttered into life. “He worked all his life to get that house, your Dad did.”

“Never mind, Arnold. It can’t be helped.” Mom said.

“Can’t be helped? It should be helped. A pittance they paid him for that house, a bleedin’ pittance. Just so as they can build some bloody by-pass.”

“It was from the Council.” Mom said.

“Ar, well I bet none of the sodding council ever had to move so some buggers could make a packet in backhanders. Building something no bleeder wants, except them making the money.” Dad said.

“Shush Arnold. Language in front of the kids.”

“Sorry, love.” Dad said, “But it’s still bloody wrong.”

I still wasn’t sure exactly what had happened or why, I was only-5 yearsold, but I did know I was saying goodbye to all my friends, the streets I played in, my hiding places, trees I climbed, and everything.

“Ending up on some bloody housing estate!” Dad grumbled and complained half to himself as he ground the Bedford’s 3 forward gears, coaxing it away from home.

“I expect it will be very nice dear.” Mom said.

Sounds quite nice doesn’t it – “housing estate”. And “Pool Farm” might summon images of rural mill ponds. But what it was in reality was a jerry built sprawl of tower blocks, maisonettes, and three story blocks of flats the council had thrown together

to house 10,000 or so displaced inhabitants of Brum’s inner slums. Sometime in the late 1950’s the city fathers took a look at land prices that near the city center and decide they were far too high to allow a bunch of shifty, working class bastards and their spawn to carry on living there. So they bulldozed the slums and built towers of office and retail space. As I stepped out our battered Doormobile and took my first innocent steps across the pavement outside 14 Barretts Road flat 1, I had no idea what awaited me. I didn’t care about the ugly cement blocks with peeling paint work, boarded up windows and streets full of litter. All I could see was the patch of overgrown wasteland across the road and the adventures it promised. There was a rusty oil drum, half a plank of wood, and a pile of crumbling old house bricks. Magic! The next day I was playing pirates with the rusty oil barrel and the splintered plank when a shadow fell across me. I squinted up at 3 kids who were about twice my size.

“What yow doin’ squirt?” the biggest one asked.

“Pirates.” I said, “You want to play?”

“No we don’t want to play, do we Jimmy,” one of them said.

“Who said you could play with our plank and our oil drum?” the Jimmy one asked. “Gerrim.”

I was dragged kicking and yelling to the other end of the field where they threw me into a pit. I picked myself up coughing and squinted up at the edge, which was too far above my head to reach.

“You better let me out!” I yelled up at them, “Or my Dad –”

But I didn’t get any further because it started to rain. Not only was the rain warm, it smelled funny. The three big kids were standing around the rim of the hole pissing down on me.

We lived in the bottom flat of a six-flat block, 3 stories high, 2 flats on each floor. There were steep dirt slopes that the council hadn’t gotten around to turfing running down from the street to the block’s front door. Our front door was flimsy, with a letterbox and a pane of frosted glass. The whole door, including the glass, was painted council puke green. The block door on the other hand was a huge medieval-sized bugger, heavy enough to crush and amputate unsuspecting little fingers, that had a pane of wirereinforced glass that looks as if it would repel armour-piercing shells. Facing the door was a set of bare cement stairs that led up to the other flats. They had flat metal banisters with edges sharp enough to make sliding down them a potentially castrating offence. It was on these stairs that me and my mates would measure our boyhood bravery by seeing who could jump from the highest step to the cement floor below. It was on these stairs that I would get my first snog. It was on these stairs, having stuck my head out of our

front door to see what all the yelling and shouting was about, that I would see 11-year-old Jimmy Wilson level a single-barrel shotgun at the bloke next door and threaten to blow his “fuckin’ ‘ead off.” And this was at a time when gun violence was rare in Britain, even on housing estates, if you can even imagine that! Under the stairs a tangle of old bikes and prams were slowly rusting away in an ammonia piss stench. Beyond that another equally foreboding door led to the passage that ran past the sheds down to the communal yards where the upstairs flats had their washing lines. It was in one of these sheds that the grisly discovery would be made of dismembered missing pets. Shortly after which, Jimmy Wilson and his two younger brothers were taken into care. Their Dad had gone into hospital after suffering a heart attack and their Mom had promptly run off with a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. The 3 boys aged 15, 11 and 8 had been living on their own in the flat above ours, surviving by stealing bread and milk of neighbors doorsteps. There were rumors that some of the missing rabbits and cats ended up in Wilson boys’ stew pot, but then there were always rumors about all sorts of exaggerated bollocks. As we were on the ground floor we had our own back gate that led to a tiny patch of fenced-off mud that the council laughingly referred to as a garden. Dad took one look at the garden and immediately marked out where he would build his greenhouse. He would cobble together his own structure from old window frames, doors and bits of corrugated iron, scraps of plastic sheeting and any other old to the could get his hands on. Then he’d nail together some bits of old 2 by 4 to make beds for horse manure, install a fumy old paraffin heater, and start to grow mushrooms and tomatoes. Lived on sodding tomatoes and mushrooms we did! In this way, even though he was a

taxi driver in the concrete wilderness of Brum, my old man maintained his links to the proud ancestral tradition of surfdom in which numberless generations of our family had struggled down through the centuries, scrabbling for sustenance knee-deep in shit. The inside of our flat was Dr. Who’s Tardis in reverse – it was somehow a lot smaller inside than it looked from the outside. And it looked small and poky from the outside. It was a good job we didn’t have much furniture. Grandma and Granddad Turner had the “big” front bedroom, Mom and Dad had the small middle bedroom, while me and our Roy shared the tiny back bedroom. Our room was so small that the door wouldn’t fully open because it banged into the bottom of my bed. We lived there from when I was 5 until I was 15. Even after Grandma Turner died of stomach cancer when I was 12 Granddad kept the “big” front bedroom. It became a sort of shrine to our black-clad, zeppelin-shaped Gran and I was too scared to ever go in there. So we had no more space even though our 23 stone Gran had gone to her eternal reward, courtesy of the National health and Co-op funeral parlor. In the living room, however, I was promoted from the floor to the settee where I joined Granddad and Mom. Dad retained his sacred throne-like lumpy armchair, with our Roy on the floor in front of the 2-bar electric fire, I suffered through endless nights of boredom watching the tiny figures that flickered across our 13 inch black and white telly. I lived for the Yank programs, anything, cowboys, cops and robbers, even mushy black and white films full of actors Mom and dad listed as they appears on the screen as being “dead now”. I wasn’t fussy. By the time I was 6, I’d already decide that one day I would go and live in America.

****

Sunlight was fighting its way through the dark orange and brown of our living room curtains. What little light did manage to seep into the room was immediately absorbed by the twin banks of fag smoke rising from Granddad and Grandma Turner who were planted on the settee in front of the telly. Me and our Roy stood in front of our Phillips radiogram straining to listen to Bill Haley and the Comets.

“What’s he rockin’ around?” Roy asked.

I threw him a disgusted sideways look. “The clock. The clock!”

“Well what’s rockin’ mean then?” he asked.

I had no idea, but I loved the way it sounded. We had to keep the volume down and the song was occasionally drowned out by a bout of coughing, hacking, and hoyking from the settee. Bill Haley’s film had Teddy Boys smashing up picture houses the length and breadth of the country. It was all in the News of the World but only Dad was allowed to look at that ‘cos it was apparently full of vicars having it off with schoolgirls. Whatever “having it off” was. The air, as well as being heavy with the smell of fag smoke, drying laundry, and boiling cabbage, was also rife with revolution and as a sign of sympathy me and our Roy had rolled our socks down around our ankles and

untucked our jumpers. We might have only been 7 and 4 respectively but we knew a revolution when we sniffed one. Dad grumbled into the front room bringing with him his own fog of cigarette smoke, engine oil, and Old Spice. He reached down and angrily switched the radio off.

"That's enough of that! Go and have a swill and get to bed. Bloody jungle music." He said.

Poor old Bill Haley never got to rock much past about 4 o'clock in the afternoon our house.

"And I'm warning you two. You better pull your bloody socks up." He yelled after us.

He went to join his in-laws on the settee to squint in disapproval at our tiny black and white telly, watching people pretend to suffer and die on Emergency Ward Ten.

****

Huh! I come awake, my chin on my chest. Neck pain. Eyes throbbing pain. Drooly shirt front. Bladder full.

“I need to piss!”

“No time big boy.” Miki says swerving us across three lanes of downtown traffic, “We’re almost there.”

“We’re late Luke.” Annette adds.

Fucking managers. “We’ll be wet Luke if I don’t have a slash soon.”

“Shut up!”

The truck lurches, stops, doors swing open and spit me out onto the asphalt. Staggering for balance, ice cold night air knifing my lungs, head clearing but then I’m shoved toward and swallowed by the stage door mouth. Down narrow gloomy corridors, through a door, bearing a tarnished star on flaking paint. The dressing womb. Toilet stall in corner, thank fuck. Pissing in almost orgasmic relief, I lean one hand against the wall in front of me. Back in the room I find a speckled mirror framed, by light bulbs only three of which work, and a cold metal folding chair. Starting to focus, makeup ritual, deep breathing. Enough of that, fuck all that yoga shite Sting does, get a

cigarette lit, suck some blessed relief. Fag balanced on the burn- decorated table edge. Foundation, eye-liner, eye shadow, blusher, hair gel spiked, perfect.

“Any chance of a beer?” I ask the room.

“No.” Annette says.

“Two minutes.” Someone yells through the door.

“Whaddya mean two minutes? What about the sound check?” Dik demands.

“Have to do it in the first number.” Mulligan says.

“Shit.”

“Are the guitars and bass in tune with my synth?” Mulligan asks.

“Give it here.” I say.

Practice amp dead, my ear pressed to bass guitar like Beethoven trying to guess the bugger into tune. Have to do, close enough, I think. I hope.

Back out into another birth canal corridor, low ceiling, naked bulbs barely above the top of my head, wading from pool of light to pool of light, feeling the floor rise beneath my Docs. Rumble of crowd growing. Doors slam open, blinding lights, red, green, searing gold, silver, blue. Lights die, I’m plunged mid-step into an abyss. Tapdancing across snakes nests of cables, a starter roar from the crowd. Fumble guitar lead into pedal, then into a strange amp set on fuck knows what, drag pedal next to mike stand, cable into pedal, cable into guitar, eyes adjusting to the gloom, back to amp and flick standby by switch. Twist volume knob up full, middle all tone controls. Menacing tidal wave of feedback pulsing as I swagger back to microphone.

“Good evening!”

Blam – lights up, full chaos, searing heat, blindness.

“We are Fashion.” Dik’s voice booming all Bog-like, bam, bam, thud, as he does a quick check of his snare and bass drum.

“Meeeep … warble!” Mulligan’s synth up and running. “Boom boom boom boom boom boom boooom” bass line intro to Red Green and Gold and we’re away. Oceans of light, then drowning in darkness, coming up gasping, sweat building already, guitar neck slippery, finger positions and song structure now rooted deep in muscle memory, automatic pilot engaged, adrenaline thrill sparking like high voltage through tired wiring, head aflame with pulsing beat, guitar slicing magnesium chops

through the back beat. Huge breath, mouth to mic to find it, pull back a couple of inches, and:

“Red, green and gold – let this be the color for all .. no more black and whi-yite game – together we can overcome all!”

This next one must be Burning Down, teeth gritted throttle that fucking guitar neck, smash the chords’ face in, sweat flaying in arcs through the lights as I dip and whirl, psycho carousel of thunder, rising like Poseidon to the mike:

“Can I borrow your lighter – ‘cos my forehead’s getting tighter – and I gotta go gotta go – bu-urn some-um-thing da-own”.

And even before there’s eve a chance, the smallest gap into which might creep a whisper of applause, we’re into the third (?) number, lost count already, but:

“Die in the west and you’re halfway to heaven, heaven, heaven!” bawled over bratty chords, thunderous bass and drum avalanches.

There’s a gasp of breath after the last looping vocal note and into the sudden ear-roaring silence the applause welling and breaking over the lip of the stage. Take that and I’m straddled, balls to the crowd, and don’t you all just wish you could be

me! A dip to the bottle of water a roadie has magicked at my feet, seared throat soothed with ice cold water shock.

“This is our new single. It’s called Citinite. You won’t like it!”

And we’re onto Mulligan’s hurdi gurdi carousel drowned Ferry acid vocals with Andalusian guitar slicing the face from the windshield. Pain in my throat, notes totter on the brink of discord, breath is now furnace hot with every landed fish mouthful seeming to deliver minimum oxygen to starved muscles. One more song to go – I think –into Big John and then Hanoi Annoys Me, both of which Dik sings, before I have to sing The Innocent. Move off the mike and dance this beautiful guitar around the moonscape stage. Mulligan and Dik’s faces rising occasionally through the lightshow bombardment like satellites lost in a cosmic stew. Teeth and grins and nods and snarls slamming in strobe. Back to the front of the stage to strafe them with the opening chords to Hanoi Annoys Me. Light spilling back off the stage giving occasional glimpses of upturned faces, arms snaking above a mass of writhing bodies. Back to the mic to boast:

“We are innocent, it’s not our fault, if we don’t stop moving, we won’t ever come to a halt.”

And then we’ve nailed the set’s carcass to the back wall and run for the wings, a passing “thank you very much” tossed at the mike.

Panting side-stage like dogs, sweat drenched, grinning at the growing roar for more.

“Not too long – let’s go before they change their fucking minds.”

Back out into the land we now own, a roaring wave of applause washing up over me. Mea culpa, absolved, and adored. No messing, smack them with the Fashion anthem and then dive back off down the rabbit tunnel to the dressing womb. Sweat everywhere, gasping, drowned as rats, towels lobbed over heads, Annette bobbing and gushing, the words “fucking brilliant” buzzing through the air like honey-stoned bees. A drink, a drink, my condom for a drink. A soothing stream of some cheap lager, ice cold pinning me in my seat, a babble of voices, the room filling. I can’t breath, somebody get me a cigarette. A line, then two of white powder appear on the table at my elbow. No need to even roll my own note these days, kapow, brain floodlit, mouth buzzsawing words into easier to understand pieces, delivered with accelerating blood pulse. Limbs, smooth arms, slim shoulders, silky hair, long legs of mini-skirted slinkers, ruby mouths, proffered breast fruit, juicy arses, a joint here, another line, a shot, then outside, into a cab, I’m suddenly in orbit around a club dance floor, or two, then a hotel lobby, the room, the bed, the faceless orgasm, the exhausted slump sideways into tomorrow. The door is being pounded. It’s time to get up and do it again.

****

The row of terraced houses wound up and down Tiverton Road like an industrial accordion cast aside by a drunken giant. Grey slate roofs glistened with Christmas frost under the full moon. Roy and I scrambled out of the car and scurried down the entry to Grandma James backdoor. The front door was only used for weddings and funerals. Boxing Day was like a second Christmas, almost as exciting as the actual day (nothing beat that agonizing countdown to 6AM Christmas morning), but there were more presents, even if some of them were monogrammed hankies or grey socks from Aunty Dorothy. The whole James clan would gather and jam themselves in Grandma James’ and Granddad Charlie’s tiny terraced two up and two down. There was a shadowy entry way to run up and down, there was the outside toilet to flush when empty and bang on the door when occupied, and there was the mysterious back garden, a small patch of weeds that surrounded an Anderson shelter left over from the war. I threaded my way through forests of trouser legs and sailing ships of dresses and reached the front room. Just two years earlier I’d disgraced myself by crying because I wasn’t allowed to eat my dinner at the women’s table. I refused to move to the drunken, fag smoke-wreathed men’s table in the back room and cried with my head buried under the corner of the tablecloth. It’s amazing what the lure of the stage can do, especially when fueled by booze. I may have only been 9 years old but I knows what a glass of Stones ginger wine could do to warm my chest and fuddle my head.

“Come on then our Alan. That’s right,” Dad yelled, “Get up on that table and give us a turn.”

I clambered onto a chair and up onto the polished top of Grandma James’s front room table. I looked round, my head just about level with the crowd and spied Auntie Christine over in the corner next to her Dansette record player. She was old, about 14 I thought. Anyway, she wore a big girl’s party dress with lots of layers and had pop records. Her idol Cliff Richards was warbling on about his living doll when Uncle Bob said:

“Come on Chris, turn that bloody racket off so we can hear Alan.”

She shot me a furious look but do as Uncle Bob says. Most people did, he’d been in the army. He’d got a tattoo and had stood outside Buckingham Palace and guarded the Queen. I looked at Christine as she slipped her precious 45s into their green Columbia Records sleeves. I was determined to impress her.

Uncle Harley came up and stood next to Dad. He puffed on his cigar, the smoking fireman.

“He’m a card yower Alan.”

It was one of the first times I remember seeing Dad look proud of me.

“Mad as a bag of spanners.” Dad said, “But we might as well get a laugh out of him.”

I started marching up and down the table imitating a cartoon from a paraffin advert from the telly.

“Boom-boom-boom-boom Esso Blue!” I proclaimed, and then segued into “You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth in Pepsodent” grinning out at everyone from behind a face full of teeth.

Then I hit them with “Nuts! Who-o-le Hazelnuts! Cadbury's take them and they cover them in chocolate!” to the tune of The Banana Boat Song, moving on to wow ’em with a big finish: “The Milky Bar Kid is tough and strong, The Milky Bar Kid just can't go wrong, The Milky Bar Kid only eats what's right, That's Milky Bar, it's sweet and light, Nestlé's Milky Bar! The Milky Bars are on me!”

This was a sure-fire winner as everyone thought our Roy looked just like the Milky Bar Kid from the advert. As I lapped up the good-natured applause I saw Roy

beetroot red at the back of the room. Dad handed me my prize glass of Stones Ginger Wine. Aunty Christine swanked past me in her frock.

“Well at least Cliff has got nothing to worry about!” she said with her snoot in the air.

We’ll see about that, I told myself, and slugged down my drink.

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