Thursday 25 September 2003

You would have thought that

You would have

thought that posting the first chapter would be a triumph. Far from it. The Vicar was upset. I have apparently made the whole thing "sound rather like some sort of spy thriller. Richard Breamore did not really come down and hire the Vicar as a private eye".

Well, of course he frigging didn't, but I am trying to turn this into a whodunnit. Isn't that what I am meant to do? Read my lips: Rule One : No rewriting.

While I'm here, I have just realised that I've forgotten to mention the final morning at Real World. Now hey. It may have nothing to do with the plot, but no amount of speed writing is going to make me miss that out. That was the day when I ceased to be simple Punk Sanderson, and became Punk Sanderson, the Naked Assistant. With capital letters. It was like this. I invite Siobhan through to the studio to look at my videos. We have a drink and then…well then, I can't remember a damn thing. But, believe me, anyone at Real World will tell you about the day when Punk Sanderson woke up stark naked on the studio floor with his manhood under threat from an industrial strength vacuum cleaner and his memory completely obliterated.

Now I'd love to claim that the cleaner was waking me up after a night of great sex with Siobhan, but who knows. I certainly don't. And Siobhan claims she doesn't, although I have my suspicions. I know something went on. I smelt my whatsit and…well never you mind. Let's just say that was the night I got to live the rock n roll life.

It was also unfortunately the night that someone nicked the Vicar's video camera. So whatever happened, it cost me over a thousand quid. And if I can't remember it, it can't altogether have been worth it.

On the good side, the video of Diva wasn't in the camera, so I've still got that. lives to fight another day.

My thanks to the 74 club, who were there at the start, and all those who have sent emails. Enough to make a downtrodden writer's day. We have now reached the dizzy heights of 153 readers. Not enough for a cozy retirement, but a small step on the path to fame and glory. I mean 153 people. That's 152 more than attended my last gig. Keep telling your friends to tell your friends to tell your friends. After all there's more going on here than a man starving himself in a glass box.

Onwards and upwards I say. Or downwards, in fact, towards the next paragraph.




We left Real World exactly a week after that first meeting with Breamore. The Vicar had spoken with his wife and apparently got approval for an "extended holiday" working with Billy G. I could waste several pages on the subject of the Vicar's mysterious wife, but now is not the time. The Vicar had made his peace with her – I will make no further comment - and had decided to go straight up to London, where he would stay on his boat, The Betsy. Nothing about the Vicar is quite as it might appear. His car, for example, is not the Porsche or Ferrari, that one might reasonably expect from a famous record producer. It is, in fact, a large, slightly elderly Volvo estate. I think it is what my mother would describe as a very "sensible car". The Betsy, on the other hand, is far from sensible. It is a large 38 foot concrete hulk that he had built himself shortly after graduating from college. The most that can be said for it is that it is still afloat after so many years. At some point, I shall no doubt have to describe it to you in great detail, but, for now, perhaps we can make do with the fact that it is a concrete monstrosity that the Vicar would undoubtedly abhor if he himself had not built it. If it were a building, I think he would describe it as "modern brutalist". It is moored in H**** (no, I am not going to give you the correct address) and is approached by a rickety old death trap of a pontoon.

We arrived in the middle of the afternoon, by which time the Vicar had fortunately exhausted most of his jokes about naked engineers. He opened her up – boats are always girls, you know - and went down below to the galley to prepare the essential pot of tea, ("You cannot be trusted to make the tea, Punk. You do not take sufficient care."), while I went to the home studio that he had installed in the saloon at the front, a bank of tape recorders and a computer editing system.

"See if he you can take the CD that Billy G mimed to on the National lottery, and load it into the digital editor, without losing your underpants", he joked. (OK, so he had not quite exhausted his supply of jokes). "It's bad enough having your face exposed every day, without adding the dubious pleasures of your groin".

I took the CD and recorded it into his computer. It was a powerful digital editor, which allowed me to look in detail at the waveforms of the music. You could see each of the drumbeats, and the shape of the various verses and choruses.

"It is most unlikely that this will tell us anything", he warned, " It would be a simple matter for anyone to buy the single, load it into a computer and simply switch the song around on a digital editor. I imagine virtually anyone with a home studio could have done it".

After the fake CD, I recorded a copy of Billy G's real CD. The Vicar was going to make a detour to buy a copy in Bath, but I had confessed that this was not necessary as I already owned a copy. In fact, who am I kidding, I own a copy of everything she has done. Not the sort of thing I'd admit to down the pub. I'm more of the Smiths and the Happy Mondays, with some of the godfathers like the Jam thrown in for good measure. (My band, the Hellboys, are available for weddings, barmitzvahs, divorces, and anything that pays at least a pint of beer). But Billy G comes from Manchester (always a good thing), makes great music, and in terms of sex appeal, let's face it, she's in a class of her own. (I almost wrote "arse of her own" – Freudian slip). Check out her videos. And that poster of her with the python. If I wasn't such a calm, sensible, restrained individual, I would have that nailed to the ceiling above my bed in the completely empty flat that the Vicar has recently found for me. But then you don't need to know about my private collection of Billy G nail clipping holders, Billy G belly button fluff removers, Billy G underpants and other essential merchandise items. My private obsessions are not important to the story.

"Let us see, my dear Punk," the Vicar said, taking the mouse from me and looking at the two versions of the song that were now laid out on the screen. "We can see that all of these bits are absolutely identical. You can hear the beautiful voice of your beloved Billy G singing away exactly as nature intended." He slowly scrolled through the song, starting with the introduction, and then the first two verses. "If you look at these waveforms they are exactly the same, so all of this is an exact digital copy. Someone has simply taken the real CD and copied it. Careful. I think that sock of yours is trying to escape." He carried on scrolling through the song. Suddenly he came to a point where the two waveforms were different.

"And this is where they started to alter the song".

He double clicked on the waveform at the top of the screen, and the music started to play. Billy G was singing the third verse of her song. He stopped the music, and double clicked on the waveform on the bottom of the screen. This was the fake version, and rather than singing the third verse, she was singing the first verse. This was the point at which she had appeared to get the words wrong on the Lottery.

"Nothing too imaginative", he said. "It would sound as if they have simply taken the first verse, and put it where the third verse should be. Let's try."

The Vicar took his computer copy of the real CD and edited it, putting the first verse where the third verse should have been.

"Let us see how we are doing. There we are. That is exactly what they have done. My edited version of that verse is now just the same as theirs. What happens next?"

He continued scrolling through the fake version. After the third verse came the instrumental break, where Billy G had appeared to regain her composure.

"They have inserted the instrumental break. That is easily done." He quickly matched the edit on his version. "What next?"

Once again he scrolled through the fake version. In the place of the third chorus, Billy G was singing the words of the first chorus.

"They have inserted the first chorus, let us do the same".

The Vicar made the edit, and his eyes lit up with excitement.

"Look. My edit does not match theirs. The singing is the same, but the music is different. Do those words happen anywhere else in the song?" he asked.

I read through the lyrics, which were printed in the CD booklet. Don't Touch What You Can't Afford, Words and Music by Edward Broom.

"No, definitely not. The words to the chorus change every time. Why?"

"Because if you are right, my fine friend, then the number of possible suspects has been cut from just about everyone in the known universe to a very much smaller, more identifiable group."

"You can tell all that just from the editor?" I asked.

"Let me enlighten you. On the real CD, Billy G can be heard singing these words only once. In the first chorus. Correct?"

Yes, I nodded.

"and it sounds like this."

As he said that he played a snatch of the first chorus.

"On the fake CD, they have reused those words at the end of the song to confuse her, and they sound like this."

He played a section of the fake chorus. The singing was the same, but the backing was very different. It sounded to me much more like the music that appeared at the fade towards the end of the song.

"On a simple editor, you would not be able to put those words on top of that music. To do that you would need access to the multitrack tapes of the record. You would also need to obtain a recording of her voice on its own, and then add it to the music that comes at the end of the CD. We have therefore in a matter of five minutes reduced the possible suspects from any Tom, Dick, or Harry who, like your good self, was misguided enough to purchase a copy of the CD, to a very much smaller band of people who, unlike yourself, would have had access to the original tapes. We have, in fact, successfully eliminated you from our enquiries. A good thing too, as I am not sure that I would have been willing to put up bail for you. No, I suspect that you and all her other fans are in the clear, and that this will prove to be what your TV detectives would call "an inside job"."

He smiled in a self satisfied way and lent back in his chair. I almost thought he was going to put his feet up on the table.

"All this and we have not even had time to sample that excellent pot of Earl Grey tea that I have skillfully prepared in a warmed pot, with fine bone china cups. Shall I play mother?" he said, picking up the teapot.


Armed with this new information, the Vicar was impatient to visit the studio where Billy G recorded – although not sufficiently to hurry his beloved Earl Grey. I, too, was excited at the chance of meeting her. Before leaving, the Vicar muttered something about petty rock stars always having ridiculous security, and spent a few minutes downloading an image from her website, and playing around in one of the graphics programs on his computer. He took the results off his printer, and hustled me off The Betsy.

It was one of those times when I hated the Vicarmobile, and wished that he owned one of those flash cars, so that we could have arrived in style. What makes it worse is the fact that he always asks me to drive, so I look like a bloody chauffeur. He had some calls to make, and he would never dream of using his mobile phone while driving. In fact for years he had refused to have one altogether, but had eventually given in, apparently under pressure from his wife, who had insisted that he should get one so that she could track him down.

He sat in the back seat with his telephone, his filofax and his Palm pilot. Everything but his laptop, which was being mended. He loves new toys, and he always has the latest system for storing phone numbers. He has telephone numbers stored in his watch, in his filofax, in his Palm Pilot, in his mobile telephone. I think he even has a credit card with telephone numbers in it. Out of his clutch bag, he brought the sheet of paper that I had seen at Real World. He looked it over, and then read aloud what he had written across the bottom

"Why not the Police?"

and then again more slowly

"Why not the Police?"

He thought for awhile, during which time I manoeuvred us safely along Old Kent Road (street name supplied at random) before turning into (yes, you Monopoly players guessed it) Whitechapel Road. He looked up a number in his filofax. I learned later that it was "Angela Barnett", a columnist with the Financial Times.(In real life "Angela" was actually a man, but there seem to be so few women in this book that I thought I had better give him a quick sex change. I hope his wife doesn't mind. And that the FT doesn't mind me employing an extra columnist for them)

"Hello Angela, The Vicar here"

I am not sure if the voice at the other end knew who he was.

"We met over lunch at Sir Edward Heath's last year."

Well, if you have to drop names, I suppose saying that you met over lunch with a former Prime Minister pretty much comes top of the list.

"Yes…Fabulous view. I remember Sir Edward ("Sir" bloody Edward, I ask you) saying that he had been told that it is one of the top ten views in the country. And his reply was that he could not imagine what the other nine could be."

The Vicar put his hand over the receiver and told me

"Edward Heath's house overlooks Salisbury cathedral. Breathtaking!"

He returned to the conversation.

"Angela. A favour, if I may. A simple financial query."

He asked her advice on some Lloyds insurance funds he was interested in, gave her his email address, and then rang off.

It was difficult to see what that conversation had to do with Billy G, if anything.

The traffic was appalling and we were making painfully slow progress. He looked up to see where we were, and then went back to his list. He went to the very top, where he had written " Who gains?"

"So who gains, Punk?" he asked me. "The other members of PowerGirl? If you could keep hold of your own slightly soiled underpants and were less interested in the inside of Billy G's knickers, who would you be buying?"

"I'm sorry, Bishop. I absotively posilutely fail to drift your catch?" I said obscurely.

"If Billy G stopped making records, who benefits?" he asked.

"Emma B, of course. It has been in all the papers."

I shall spare you the ritual argument about the newspapers which followed. I, as always, stoutly defended the right of the working man to have ever larger breasted topless girls on page three, and articles explaining how to eat my way to multiple orgasms, while the Vicar espoused the quality of his beloved FT, which doesn't even have sports pages. I ask you.

"Well, which of us knows about the rivalry between Emma B and Billy G," I said finally, pleased to have won the day.

"Ah! but did this insightful journalism, written entirely in words of less than one syllable, wonder if it might not be a manufactured rivalry? Even Punk Sanderson must know that those apparently great rivals the Beatles and the Rolling Stones used to secretly co ordinate their releases to ensure that they did not coincide?"

I, as ever, remained resolutely ignorant of any fact more than twenty years old.

"Your modern day battle of the alphabet girls is no doubt equally phoney. But a little analysis of their sales figures might prove fruitful. Careful that truck is stopping!"

I dumped the Vicar's mobile office unceremoniously onto the floor.

We were still proceeding painfully slowly. We had been in the car forty minutes and had only just reached…The Angel Islington.

"Time for you to follow your roadies' instincts, my dear boy. Follow your nose towards the river. I'll see if Sean Fitzpatrick can give us some sales figures."

He kept Sean's number in his watch, and in my mirror, I could see him pushing a button on his watch scrolling through to the right number.

"Sean. How wonderful. A small favour, if I may."

Sean. Sean. Sean. What can I say? Well, firstly, of course, that his name is not Sean. I shall probably have to buy him several pints and a couple of hundred Rothmans to apologize to him for giving him such a lame new name, but "Sean Fitzpatrick" was the best Irish name I could do on the spur of the moment. A total character, he has worked with the Vicar for years. - "A&R hero and frequent saviour of my vegetarian bacon". Sean, as he shall forever more be known, had a brief career as an excellent, but penniless, musician, before he noticed that even the successful rock stars only had a couple of swanky sports cars, while record label executives owned entire racing teams. Or in Richard Branson's case, a whole airline. He therefore promptly did the "poacher turned gamekeeper" switch, and went to work for a record label, gaining the obligatory expense accounts and limited edition sports cars along the way.

There is no such thing as a quick conversation with Sean. He is always effusive and very talkative. He also tends to use the F-word ten times in every sentence.

The Vicar held the receiver away from his ear, and I could hear Sean mouthing off in his thick Irish accent.

"It's fucking ridiculous.You waste your day playing fucking power games with the fucking accountants. What the fuck do they know? Have they had three fucking million selling records in the last year? All they have to do is sign the fucking piece of paper and they will make more fucking money than even they can fucking add up. And I get to make a fucking great record. But no. None of them are willing to make a fucking decision. They just shove it further and further up the fucking food chain. I might as well not bother and just go straight to the fucking top myself. No one else has got any fucking balls at all."

The Vicar smiled as Sean vented his fury.

"Acts of heroism, Sean. Supreme acts of heroism. Without you, there would be no hope for any of them."

Sean continued regardless.

"It's all so fucking stupid. We all know we're going to make the fucking record. This business could be such fun if we could just cut the fucking crap."

"The music business is unfortunately more concerned with business than it is with music. We all need challenges. And yours is to make the suits do the right thing despite their complete inability to know what is good for them, even when it is staring them in the face."

Sean was slowly cooling off. It must finally have occurred to him to ask why the Vicar had called.

"An insignificant trifle, Sean. I am almost embarrassed to ask you to concern yourself with such a trivial matter. I need some soundscan figures. UK sales figures for the last couple of months, and then the sales for the next couple of weeks as they come in."

"You can? You are too kind. I would need them for both Emma B and Billy G."

Sean obviously had a lot to say about Billy G. Again the Vicar held the receiver away from his head.

"It's going to fucking kill her. I was laughing so fucking much, there were tears rolling down my cheeks. You could imagine some bastard changing her song lyrics on the autocue and putting up the story of the Flopsy fucking Bunnies or something…"

"You are probably right." The Vicar said, when Sean finally ran out of steam. "If you can please email the figures as soon as you have them. I shall be forever in your debt. As I am already."

That should have been the end of the conversation, but Sean obviously had more to say. I saw the smile on the Vicar's face start to fade.

"You have no idea what you are asking, Sean." He made a display of shaking himself as if he had a chill. "This is more than a simple favour. Even the thought of it brings me out in a cold sweat."

He listened as Sean said something further.

"This is something that I would rather you did not ask of me. I have not so much as set foot in "the place we do not talk about" for seven years. You have no idea what would be involved. There would be all manner of aggravation and complications."

He sat silently and then drew a deep breath.

"If you can find no other solution, I will agree. I do business with people, not companies. I will do it as a personal favour for you. But I would ask you to please try your damnedest to find an alternative."

He rang off just as we approached the river.

"A live radio show for the Glamour Twins. Broadcast from Malvolio's office. We go as far as despair and then say "Lord have mercy"".

He turned his thoughts back to the journey.

"Turn left along the embankment, and we are nearly there." he said, winding down the window, and blowing an imaginary cloud off the palm of his hand "Let's blow that dark cloud away. It may never happen".

I managed to pull back into the main stream of traffic, and chauffeured us without further delays to West End Studios, where Billy G was recording. So much for glamour! Some studios, like Real World and Abbey Road, have got it, and some…well, some haven't. I need not have worried about the Grannymobile letting the side down. This was nothing more than an anonymous building on a rundown red brick industrial estate. Above the expensively designed logo mounted on the front of the building saying that this was indeed "West End Studios" was a large number 11, pointing out that this was really just the 11th unit on the estate. Number 10 was an international freight business and Number 9 was a stationery business. I could have been coming to buy car spares rather than going to meet Billy G.

"The tragedy of England is the tragedy of ugliness," the Vicar quoted from God knows where. "Ugliness, ugliness, ugliness. Ugly surroundings, ugly ideals, ugly religion, ugly hope, ugly love, ugly clothes, ugly furniture, ugly houses, and now ugly industrial estates."

I parked the car in one of the spaces in front of the unit, and we walked toward the front door, which was completely blocked by two large security guards. The one furthest from us was being pummelled by a blond haired woman wearing a jacket with "No Meat No Man" emblazoned across the back.

"But you've gotta let me in." she was screaming. "Do you know who wrote her new hit? Me that's who. She fucking stole it. I just want to look her in the eyes and laugh. Life owes me that. Take your hands off my jacket, you tosser."

It must be scary to be stalked by people like that. Completely mad. Even my auntie knows that Powergirl didn't write their own songs. They were all written by two guys, Gaydon and Broom.

"I am sorry, sir." The other security guard said as we approached him. "No one gets in the building without a pass. Absolutely no exceptions."

He had obviously had a long day, and had probably heard every excuse going - members of the family, former employees, members of Parliament, royalty, US presidential staff, astronauts, public health inspectors, rodent exterminators ...The two guys were both frigging enormous, absolutely square – as wide as they were tall. Their necks were thicker than my waist. Not so much a brick shithouse as an entire toilet block. Where do security firms find these freaks? I hadn't seen men this big since the last time I was thrown out of the girls' changing room at Wimbledon. There was going to be no way past without a pass. It seemed we would have to wait for our meeting with Billy G…..