Our continued the serialisation of novella What’s The Deal With Europe? If you missed the prologue click here.
What’s The Deal With Europe? – By Spencer Vale & Andrew G Melladay
Chapter 1 – FINDING A NAME FOR THEMSELVES
Despite a keen interest in all aspects of music, and a propensity for trying out new things, Robert Cole never really pictured himself in a boyband. Nevertheless, he became a founding member of Taurus, York’s claim for European glory, along with two of his housemates. The fourth member of the household declined the offer to join because apparently he had better things to do with his time. Sitting on the toilet being one example.
Imagine the situation where one day, you’re a fairly average male university student, enjoying your course, sleeping in late, leading an active social life but sleeping with far less women than you’d hoped you would, and the very next day you’re a member of a boyband! This is the situation that Robert found himself in.
I previously mentioned that Taurus was formed with two of his housemates, Patrick and Ashley. Robert’s final housemate would never dream of joining a band though. Believe me, I know. The other housemate was me.
Ashley’s outlook on this challenge was that in order to do well, the UK had to start altering its Eurovision view. 2003 showed a total lack of understanding and an act so out of touch that it was simply embarrassing. Gone are the days of the United Kingdom being able to send in any old rubbish and walk it because the silly foreigners will enter their “bing-bong-diddly” songs. The standard of songs has risen sharply over the past few years, and the sugary Euro-Pop just doesn’t cut it any more.
“We need to stop picking obvious Eurovision-like songs, and just enter a decent representation of British music, whatever the genre,” he told Robert. “Something needs to change, both in our decision making and view, and in the voting system in general, but whatever it is, we need to start taking Eurovision more seriously like everyone else does, or we may never get that elusive sixth victory!”
What an ambitious idea it was! It struck the others like a scheme that Ashley had come up with. Well actually, it was a scheme that Ashley had come up with, but in particular it made Patrick and Robert: a) nervous, b) excited and c) prepared for violent physical retaliation.
When Ashley had his moments, they were sometimes good, sometimes bad, but they were almost always interesting; like the time when Patrick and Ashley saw a lad with long hair and Ashley took it upon him to adopt a Southern American accent (Redneck not Mexican) and shout, “Eh boy, you a Navajo? Then why you got such sissy hair?”
That was just brilliant. Sorry if that brilliant sounded sarcastic, it was meant literally. Well not literally, it wasn’t very bright and colourful but let’s not get caught up in semantics. Taurus was a good idea for a laugh that presented the option for both great highs and woeful bruising lows. Taurus was something different. This was something they could get their teeth into, something they wanted, and moreover, something that could potentially lead to stardom, money and women.
Ashley had spent the first year of university jamming with Robert every now and then, which had been great, but a half-hearted attempt at a three-piece with a guy called Nick had failed, Def Leppard’s next album was a long way off and he had hardly picked up his guitar in months. Something musical was lacking in Ashley’s life. Could being one third of a boyband be the thing to fill the gap? Frankly it could.
He was feeling a bit disillusioned with Uni life, and what with studying History, he had more than enough time on his hands between watching Quincy and the repeat of Neighbours. But did he really want to fill up this valuable time with being in a boyband?
Take That, New Kids on the Block, 5ive, The Backstreet Boys, not Boyzone, (they really were crap), Worlds Apart…Taurus! Ashley had written their first lyrics, they just needed some good tunes and moves so funky that Blaxploitation would look like Stephen Hawking. To turn Meatloaf clean on his Klingon-browed head – they could do that!
Robert was different to Ashley though. For all his honesty, he was never quite sure how Ashley persuaded him to be in the band. This was Ashley’s baby but he knew he couldn’t do it alone. A band needs at least three members to be classed as a band. Anything less and it’s a duo or a solo act. The Olsen Brothers has been the last male duo to win the Eurovision Song Contest and they were going for a completely different angle and age bracket. Ashley was sure that it had to be a band. He lived with Patrick and Robert so they seemed like the perfect people to ask first. At the very least, they wouldn’t have far to walk to the rehearsals.
I was the fourth member of the household, and I wasn’t exactly boyband material. I’m half Norwegian (on my Mother’s side) and if I’m honest, my potbelly and goatee beard do not sit well with pop stardom. Back then, I drank espresso, read Kafka and wore black polo neck sweaters. In fact, I couldn’t have been further from boyband material if I tried. At the time I think I considered boybands as the anti-Christ. Not that I’m Christian, but I’m sure you take my meaning.
Pop music with its shiny, happy, colourful commercialism was not exactly what I believed in. Ashley asked me if I wanted to be a part of the band in its early stages and all I could do was let out a rather manic laugh.
People tell me that I have an extremely scary laugh and sometimes I sound like the devil incarnate. If that is true though, then I’ve mixed up my religious imagery somewhat. It would be slightly difficult for the devil to dislike pop music and consider it to be the anti-Christ simultaneously, but you get the drift. You would also possibly consider me to be the devil incarnate if you’d witnessed the time I tried to strangle Robert. If you allow me to digress slightly, I’ll explain.
It happened the year before Taurus was formed and I lived in the same halls of residence as Ashley and Robert at the time; on the top floor, where as they lived on the ground floor. They’d had a party in their kitchen (the kitchens in Alcuin College are large enough for a significant gathering) and it was getting on for about four in the morning and only the hardcore were still attempting to keep the party going.
Earlier in the evening there’d been Karaoke. The worst attempt by anyone was a rendition of Sting’s ‘Desert Rose’, and if you know that song, you know it should never be attempted on Karaoke. Also, there had been games of Twister and several people including Ashley had done the Full Monty. Ashley had initiated that.
I was dosing in the corner of the kitchen and a couple of party goers, Robert included, thought it would be funny to put pieces of fruit from the punch bowl on my face. It was probably the lethal combination of punch, Absinthe and a lack of sleep, but I took a dislike to what they were doing in a rather uncharacteristic and direct way.
From what people tell me (I don’t remember that well), I lunged at Robert, wrapping my fingers around his throat and squeezing as hard as he could. I’m deceptively strong for my stature and it took several people to stop me.
Despite not passing the fruit initiation test, Robert and Ashley still chose me, together with Patrick, as a housemate to move in to their new place with later that year. However, I firmly declined the offer to be in their boyband.
“I’m not even from the UK!” I said, feeling like I had to justify my decision.
Ashley had explained that he thought that maybe the only way that the United Kingdom could win it again was not to have someone English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish enter, but someone non-UK based to enter it for us. “We did get an Australian to have a go for us. Gina G, back in 1996. And she was the best we’ve had in a while.” Ashley explained.
“Let’s be honest though, it was Gina G’s pants that were the highlight and even then she didn’t win.”
That’s a Eurovision moment emblazoned in my mind. It’s the fact that every item of clothing Gina wore in TV performances prior to the contest got shorter each time. When it actually came to the final performance, when she raised her arms in an overhead clapping motion, her pants were clearly on view. It’s a shame they weren’t union jack pants though. Maybe that’s all it would’ve taken to get her the top spot.
Ashley and Patrick still persisted. They explained to me that A-Ha had been a very successful Norwegian band in the eighties and that the lead singer Morten Harkett was still being lusted after many years after their peak. It’s difficult to see why they ever tried to use such heavy persuasion techniques on me. It was absolutely fine for them that I didn’t want to be in the band.
As far as the others were concerned, three was the optimum number of members for a boyband. 5ive may argue against this viewpoint, themselves originally opting for a further two members. Actually they only had four members towards the end so it’s never quite made sense to me why they didn’t rename themselves 4our. Maybe they thought it looked stupid. I guess they’re right.
Anyway, Patrick, Robert and Ashley were happy with having three members. They had the minimum number of members required to actually call themselves a band whilst keeping the band member to groupie ratio as high as possible.
So Patrick had persuaded Robert to be in the band, which at that stage was still provisionally called ‘Euro-project’. It was a simple and self-explanatory name but Ashley soon changed the name to Taurus. His thinking was that if Jemini had opted for a more bullish name then maybe they wouldn’t have flunked and they might have even brought success back to the Bulldog Nation. It also annoyed him that they’d chosen to purposefully misspell the word Gemini; opting for a J instead. Not realising the spelling, I wrongly thought that the female singer in Jemini was actually called Gemma Nye. Despite my inaccuracy, I too am of the opinion that intentional misspellings of the world of pop are uncalled for. Oh you just get me on Room 101!
It was the flattery that Ashley plied Robert with that eventually persuaded him.
“I need you in the band mate. You’re great at writing music and we need someone to write the music!”
Robert was dubious about joining the band. He’d always taken pride in his music, and at times you could accuse him of the pretension that Patrick hated. At the time that Ashley had approached him with the idea, he’d had a little side project going on. He had written two high-concept instrumental albums and had made some money out of selling them on the Internet. He felt that if he were to try and win Eurovision, then he would do it for the comedy value; for the irony. He didn’t want this to get in the way of what he loved doing and that was writing his own music. He needed a false identity.
Looking at most of the ‘harder-edged’ boybands, it seemed the norm for many of the members to give themselves a boyband identity. Taking 5ive as an example, they had a member called Abs. If you didn’t know already you could probably guess that that is not his real name, but are you so sure about where he got it from? It’s unlikely to be anything to do with pride in his six-pack or even the fact that his car has got an Anti-lock Braking System. Robert realised that it didn’t matter where you got the name from, just as long as it sounded hard.
Robert soon settled on the name Aftershocks, refusing the intentional misspelling of Aftershox. When quizzed about this at the time, he opted to tell people that the name came from the fact that he’s got a short fuse and that aftershocks regularly sweep through the band after he loses his temper. Particularly like the time that he hit Taurus’ manager. Back then they didn’t have a manager. It was all lies. The name was actually inspired by an Aftershock fuelled night down their local pub.
There wasn’t much to remember, which is good considering the members of Taurus would struggle to remember much about the night itself apart from the consumption of several rounds of Aftershock. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that it was the consumption of said Aftershock that probably caused the amnesia, however the reason for drinking so many rounds of Aftershock was early enough in the night to be memorable.
There were quite a few people down the pub and one of Ashley and Robert’s housemates at the time, Phil Ilford, decided to buy an Aftershock. Everyone but Phil all claimed in unison that none of them had ever tried a shot of the cough medicine/paint stripper combo known as Aftershock, so Phil bought them one each. The fact that they all blatantly lied, serves to build an unforgiving picture of the boys. However, they are not habitual liars. Well, maybe a bit, but anyway, Phil believed them and took it upon himself to get a round in. He didn’t want anyone to miss out on this oh so wonderful drink that he was consuming. Either that or he didn’t want to be the only one with the inside of his mouth missing the next day. If you have never before sampled the delights of Aftershock, its unique property is its ability to dissolve the top layer of skin for the inside of your mouth and the enamel from your teeth.
What made Phil a great drinking buddy was that the “I’ve never tried that drink” line always seemed to work on him. On this occasion it worked several times in one night. No sooner after Phil had returned from the bar with a round of Aftershocks, everyone promptly downed them and repeated in unison: “Is that Aftershock you’ve got there Phil, I’ve never tried that” and back he went to the bar. It’s not that he’s stupid; he just doesn’t like to let people down.
It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Patrick was fascinated by Phil and referred to him as less of a person and more of a concept. He could also never quite understand why his parents wasted two letters by calling him Phil Ilford and not Philford. Letter wastage, a terrible crime.
So the next day, Robert was feeling the aftershocks of the Aftershocks of the previous night and the name stuck. He could continue writing high-concept (pretentious) instrumental music albums and flogging them on the Internet with his own name, whilst pursuing a career in a boyband under his new moniker of Aftershocks. He didn’t realise that his fellow bandmates would soon want a nickname too.
I’d always thought that to have a stage name you need to have actually been on a stage at some point, but in reality, Patrick’s nickname had been established for him well before Robert’s had. And again, Philford was the catalyst.
Being single-minded and driven, Patrick had always been focussed on what he wanted to achieve and how he wanted to be perceived. God forbid anyone who would stand in the way of him: Philford’s attempt to steal the girl that Pat fancied being just one example.
It happened about a year before Taurus’ inception and in a nutshell, Patrick went mental in the Future. Actually that probably won’t make any sense to you. If you’re wondering how it’s possible to refer to the future in the past tense, it’s because there used to be the Future in Derby. No, that still doesn’t make any sense. How do I clear this up? Right, ok, Patrick once went to the Future right and…no clearer? Ok, if you ever went clubbing in Derby in the late Nineties you might understand.
The Future was the name of a nightclub.
It used to confuse Robert greatly when Patrick referred to the night when he was “in the Future.” But now that you understand the metaphysics behind how it is possible to go back to the Future and how it has nothing to do with Michael J Fox, hopefully the story can continue.
You see, Patrick really is a wild card. It’s a name he likes to live up to and a name that he likes to be called. It can be difficult to separate the Wild Card Patrick Terry from the real thing. If he lives up to the persona, does that make it real? Through extreme measures, Pat can push people to love him or hate him. But there can be no middle ground. No ambiguity.
In this infamous night in the Future, (have you got your head around it yet? The nightclub has thankfully changed its name since then. Not that I frequent Derby nightclubs,) Patrick decided to test his Wild Card status out on one Mister Philford. It was his own fault really, not that I’m condoning what Patrick did to him, but try and steal the woman of a renowned wild card and you’re blatantly in for trouble.
Actually, to call the girl Pat’s “Woman” is a bit much. He fancied her, but I don’t think they’d ever exchanged more than “Hello. How are you?” But like I say, Pat’s a very extreme person, and therefore in his tiny mind, anyone that he’s met and then subsequently thought about whilst bashing one off can constitute as “his girl”.
To be fair to Patrick, this time he had at least mentioned to everyone that he liked Tina, the girl in question. She was an English student that lived in the adjacent halls of residence to us during our first year at the University of York. Ashley had invited a group of us down to stay at his parent’s and go out in Derby to celebrate the New Year and Patrick had planned to use this opportunity to have a crack at Tina. Little did he expect Tina to fancy Phil more than him. Him?! Patrick Terry. Charismatic ladies man Patrick Terry. Wild Card Patrick Terry.
When Patrick stumbled on to the dance floor to witness Phil with his tongue down Tina’s throat, something inside of him clicked. He ran towards them, knocking about five people onto the sticky dance floor in the process, and pulled Tina away from Phil (I suppose technically Pat could say that he pulled Tina that night) and lamped the shell-shocked Philford right in the face.
The now famous night amongst Derby’s social circuit earned Patrick the nickname Baddy Paddy Terry. It was a nickname that Patrick did not like and was quick to point this out to anyone that he heard say it. At which point it promptly stopped (to his face at least.) It’s a shame that the name didn’t stick. It had its obvious benefits for Taurus; the fact that Baddy and Paddy rhyme making it easy to throw in to a song lyric if necessary.
Wild Card it had to be though and Philford had earned his second mark in the Taurus legacy. Two nicknames down and one to go.
With Ashley’s full name being Ashley Graham Richardson, they decided to go for the boyband favourite of taking the first name and using the middle initial. They decided to shorten it to Ashley G, a bit like the Spice Girls used to. It also seemed like an appropriate tribute to Eurovision favourites Gina G and Bobby G from Bucks Fizz. The way the nickname really came to their attention though was the day Ashley went slightly overkill when using his middle initial.
Ashley had decided to subscribe to lad-mag Loaded. For some reason, before he posted the form, Robert noticed he’d written on it:
First Name: Ashley G Richardson
Surname: G Richardson
A bit of an error there, but Robert didn’t bother to point it out to Ashley until after he had already posted it. After a few weeks of calling him Ashley G Richardson G Richardson to his face, Patrick and Robert thought that they had better explain themselves. Ashley wasn’t angry. Not only did the overuse of his middle initial throw a nod towards his future band nickname, it also led to a rather unusual evening where Ashley took up a challenge set by Robert to fill in as many forms as he could with the name Ashley G Richardson G Richardson (actually the more G Richardsons the better) and post them to see what replies he got.
There weren’t many magazines in our house. Ashley had a massive back catalogue of Loaded mags though so he filled in three or four of the freepost subscription applications. However, they were quite small and so he only managed two G Richardson G Richardsons on each. For some reason or other there was a copy of Good Homes lying around, so Ashley subscribed to Britannia Music and Britannia Video Clubs as well as Red House, which is a children’s book club. Also, the Folio Society, which is a history book society, (there are a lot of book societies – no seriously you’d be amazed) found amongst copies of Empire and Top Gear.
He also applied for an E111 (pronounced E1-11, although unlike Ashley it has never tried to claim a double barrelled name and shouldn’t be confused with an E1-11-1-11), which is a form you need when you go abroad to prove you’ve got health insurance between reciprocal government agreement nations. That was it though unfortunately because they were going through a big tidy period and had cleared out most of the old magazines, and porn subscriptions were strictly out of the question.
Strangely enough, Ashley (or should I say Ashley G Richardson G Richardson G Richardson) never got a reply to any of his applications. Some bastards have no sense of humour. Look who’s laughing now?
Mind you, seen as they rarely use their nicknames anymore I guess that nobody is. Ashley G-Whizz!