What’s the deal with Michael? #Eurovision novel chapter 9

Continuing our serialisation of What’s The Deal With Europe?  The novel that inspired the comedy movie Transatlantic Smash.

CHAPTER 9 – WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH MICHAEL?

Michael MacGee’s system of gig selection for Taurus was basically do everything and anything.  He had started insisting that a record deal was “just around the corner” and for a while the lads believed him.  By this stage, I’d been roped in as a roadie; but by now though I’d seen enough to know that I wanted to come along for the ride.  Being asked to be the roadie is probably more to do with the fact that they needed me to drive the van – none of them having passed their test – and Michael thought that it was not a manager’s job.  And that’s how the three lads from Taurus found themselves rehearsing in a church hall in Blackburn for a concert later that night.

They were doing a sound-check, running through Sweet Spanish Hunchback, but their hearts were just not in it.  With Michael watching though, they had to go through the motions.  At one point, Robert stepped forward as part of the dance routine and accidentally fell over Patrick’s leg.

“Oh my god.  You’re bloody awful you are.  Can you see what I’m saying?” bellowed Michael at the boys.

“Yeah, we can see what you’re saying Dad,” Ashley felt the need to represent the band in front of his father.

“No you can’t see what I’m saying can you?  You can’t see what I’m saying.  Use your ears!  You’ve got a gig tonight.  I need maximum effort from you.”

“Look, we’ll give you one hundred and ten percent alright?”

“No, you can’t give me one hundred and ten percent can you?  It’s against the law.  Can you see what I’m saying?”

“Yes Dad.  We can see what you’re saying!”

“No you can’t see what I’m saying can you?  You can’t see what someone says through their mouth.  Can you hear what I’m saying?”

“Err…no…we can’t see what you’re saying…?” Ashley was genuinely confused but did not want to let the side down.

“Yes you can hear what I’m saying otherwise you wouldn’t have responded to my question would you?”

“Look, this is stupid!  I had trials for Leicester City you know and now you’ve got me doing gigs in a church hall!  What’s the point?”

Michael’s barrage of confused sub-football-manager clichés was the final straw as far as Patrick’s uber-ego was concerned and he stormed off.  It seemed that he had even started to believe his own biographical lies!

“Where’s he going?  You’ve got a gig tonight.  Go after him.  Can you see what I’m saying?”

“Yes…we can see what you’re saying?” ventured Robert.

“No you can’t see what someone says through their mouth.  Can you hear what I’m saying?”

“No…we can’t see what…” Robert never got chance to finish his sentence as I, a frustrated bystander, friend, and roadie, pushed Robert and Ashley towards the door.  Patrick was walking pretty fast towards the van with his head down and it took more than a little effort for the three of us to catch up with him (or at least for a man of my condition to catch up with him.)

“Look, just forget about my Dad.  He’s not worth it, but we do have to do a gig tonight.”  Ashley always felt it necessary to make allowances for his father.  But Patrick was not happy and I understood why.

The gig that Michael had the boys headlining that evening was a community event.  He had told a representative of Project Y Records, at a previous gig, that Taurus were going to be doing some charity work.  The boys had nothing against charity work.  Nothing at all.  It’s just that the audience of this gig was not likely to be made up of the correct demographic.  Taurus really needed to be playing to fresh faced teenagers, but it looked more like the audience of this gig was going to be made up of the grandparents of fresh faced teenagers.  What Michael had gone and done was arrange a gig for some old peoples’ charity or other.  And that’s why Patrick was pissed off.  Why should they be happy doing gigs on the Werthers Originals and Tinned Salmon Tour?  Even if the gig is for charity, doing work for the Varicose Veins Trust is more likely to damage your career than help launch it.

Patrick was itching to get in the van.  He wanted to get away, so I opened up and we all got in.  Patrick still had frustrations to vent at Ashley though.  He thought that the only reason why Ashley was still in Taurus was because Michael wanted him to get off of his “fat arse” and do something other than sit around in his pants all day watching MTV and eating mayonnaise sandwiches.  Ashley didn’t care what Patrick really thought though.  By this stage he knew there was a chance that he’d soon be rich.  There’s nothing wrong with that unless you spend all your money on mayo.

I started the van.  They obviously needed to get away from the gig and playing to a load of Perry Como lovers was not going win them any new fans.  I wanted to go wherever they wanted to go.  As I mentioned earlier, I was never cut out for being a pop star, but the way I saw it was, I would not want the first pair of panties that a woman has ever thrown at me to be big as a duvet.  Can you imagine parachute sized pants fluttering down slowly over your face?  Nevertheless, Michael was definitely going to be mad.  If we were not going to go back, we were going to have to skip the country!

“Fancy a trip to Ireland?” I asked.  The gig venue was only about an hour’s drive from Liverpool airport and a weekend break seemed like the perfect thing to clear the heads and get a bit of perspective on things again.  A lot of people hail the year that Riverdance was the pre-pointscoring entertainment of the Irish Eurovision in 1994 as a highlight.  I don’t.  Personally, anything that gave birth to the career of Michael Flatley is not seen as a highlight by me.  I can appreciate the skill, but I really don’t want to see two hours of it.  That said I hoped that Ireland, the country that dominated the Eurovision Song Contest in the nineties, would be the catalyst to a new lease of life for the Taurus charge.  And with that I put the van in gear and pulled out of the Church Hall car park.

It didn’t take long before we were stuck in traffic unfortunately.  This was not ideal as I felt that we really needed to get going in order to prevent this trip from falling at the first hurdle.  The longer it took us to properly get on the way, the more chance there was of everyone having second thoughts and acquiescing to Michael’s demands and I would be forced to turn the van around and go back to the Church.   However, the slow moving traffic turned out to be a blessing in disguise due to the bizarre scene we ended up witnessing.

We were stuck in a long line of traffic approaching a roundabout approximately five hundred metres away.  We were directly level with a side street that didn’t have many cars on when we heard the sound of a horn and turned to see a black Audi TT stuck behind a very slow cyclist.  The car had no need to be in a hurry as it was approaching our road and it would take it a while for it to find a gap to pull out into our lane.  That said, the Audi driver didn’t seem to care about such logic and was growing increasingly impatient with the cyclist.

The cyclist began to turn right into a cul-de-sac without signalling.  The Audi driver, not happy with the cyclist’s failure to observe the Highway Code, pipped the horn of his hairdresser’s car aggressively.  At this, the cyclist spun round and promptly gave him the bird.
The Audi, which could now have happily driven on to the junction that met with our road with no further interruptions, decided he was going to follow the cyclist instead.  And with this innate need to assert his alpha male status, he revved his engine and did a sharp right angled revved his engine and did a sharp right angled turn, accelerating towards the cyclist.  Unfortunately for the driver, the red mist had clouded his vision of the oncoming speed hump somewhat, and he went caroming over it far too quickly.

The cyclist turned round rather bemused as the TT pulled up along side of him; the driver still revving his engine, now angrier than ever having compromised the low body work of his average (let’s face it) girl’s sports car.
My problem with Audi TTs is that they appear to be almost symmetrical from front to back, and therefore you can never tell which direction they should be pointing in; but I digress.  The angry driver started to shout abuse at the cyclist who just carried on cycling, albeit very slowly, and he was forced to rev his engines to pull up alongside him again.  This time though he pulled slightly in front of him and the cyclist had to apply the brakes.

By this point, there were quite a few witnesses watching intently, ourselves included and the driver, having made a big tit of himself was forced to back down.  With no options left, other than to leave the scene of the incident before he made an even bigger tit of himself, he did a three point turn, revving loudly as you’d expect (cock) and headed off in the direction he’d originally come from with – dare I say it – his modestly sized tail between his legs.

“Worst bit of road rage I’ve ever seen!  Kind of validates the TT-drivers-are-twats-or-have-a-twat theory!” exclaimed Pat.  This bizarre show of incidents seemed to have cheered both him and Robert up, and provided the necessary inspiration for future hit
Car Wars.

Unfortunately Ashley was still stewing about his father’s ineptitude and persistence.  With the traffic now thankfully moving again, Robert sensed the need to distract Ashley further.  “If you had to have sex with one of the Tellytubbies, which one would it be?” he asked him.

“It’s got to be Po,” not realising how controversial this selection would be.  The following is a rough transcript of the ensuing conversation.  Please forgive me for not remembering exactly who said what:

“Oh you can’t, she’s too cute!”
“What about Tinky Winky then?”
“That’s a bloke you donkey!”
“Never!  She carries a handbag!”
“Makes no difference.  It’s definitely a bloke.  He’s got a really deep voice.”
“Quite a lot of women have deep voices.  I find it quite sexy.  Like Mariella Frostrup.”
“It would be sexy if it wasn’t a man.”
“Mariella Frostrup’s a man?”
“No, Tinky Winky!”
“Mariella Frostrup is Tinky Winky?”
“Don’t be a dick!”
“Ok, so you say that Tinky Winky’s a Ok, so you say that Tinky Winky’s a man.  He’s got no nob though has he?”
“Yeah he has.”
“I’ve never seen it.  It must be tiny.”
“No, size doesn’t matter.  It’s what’s under the costume that counts.”
“Well, which one is the other girl?”
“La La.”
“No.  I couldn’t do it with La La.”
“Why not?”
“Dunno really.  I just like Po.”
“Yeah, I’d have to go with Po as well.”
“Don’t be daft.  She’s too innocent.”
“Alright!  Dipsy.”
“That’s a bloke as well!”
“Well you’re not giving us much choice then are you?  We don’t like La La and yet Po’s supposedly too innocent.”

As I said before, I’m not exactly sure who said what during the conversation, however I seem to recall that Patrick was particularly against the corruption of “innocent” Po; an interesting opinion for a man of very little moral grounding.
The Tellytubbies conversation had at least temporarily taken everyone’s mind off of things.

It was also the catalyst for a very confusing conversation regarding kids TV, sci-fi films and then consequently, the similarities between sci-fi and kids TV.  Someone raised the question of whether Rainbow was essentially a sci-fi saga in itself.  The fact that it ran for twenty years probably gives it saga status, and some of the characters, like Zippy for example, are rather alienesque.  Also, when you’ve got a talking hippo, it clearly must be a genetically engineered creature.  Someone even suggested that Zippy could be the R2D2 of Rainbow.  C3P0 is obviously a little bit camp, that’s George and therefore Zippy, who is the slightly gobby one out of the duo, is R2D2.  You can’t always tell what he’s saying but you always know that he’s giving C3P0 agro.

Incidentally, the man who did the voice of Zippy in Rainbow, Roy Skelton, also did the voice of the Daleks in Doctor Who.  But the biggest sci-fi/kids TV crossover of all must be Bungle and Chewbacca.  Albeit that Bungle is less heavily armed, and Chewbacca doesn’t seem to share the same need to cover himself up in certain social situations, but nevertheless, there’s a definite similarity.

Can you imagine a Bungle vs Chewbacca movie?  I’d love to see that.  You’d always put your money on Chewbacca to start with, but I think Bungle could throw him off guard by his general nature.  He’d make Chewbacca slightly uncomfortable in his company.  And he’s got a massive head.  It makes me wonder whether anyone on the Rainbow production company had ever seen an actual bear.  You could also argue that there are certain facial similarities between Geoffrey and Mark Hamill.

This glorious banter probably had more truth in it than it seems at face-value.  It could be that children’s TV is the breeding ground for later sci-fi fans.  It’s that initial suspension of disbelief.  If you’re willing to believe that a bear can quite happily interact with a human, and an effeminate hippopotamus, that’s less than a quarter of the size of real hippopotamus, that may be why you can get people that are quite happy to watch sci-fi films.

The whole trip to Ireland and getting away from Michael was an incredible turning point for this group of lads, of which I include myself in; not as a band member, but for the journey I took as a person and the experience I went through.  We were all still supposedly studying for a degree at the time, admittedly it was the three month long summer holidays at this point, therefore we had plenty of time on our hands for gigs and pursuing the European dream, but the boys were now in a totally different place in terms of their priorities.

“Cheryl Baker or Jay Aston?” asked Patrick.  See what I mean?

“I can’t remember what Jay Aston looks like.  Was she the other one in in Bucks Fizz?” I might have a worryingly large knowledge of Eurovision now, but back then I was still a rookie.

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“Yes, from the original line up at least.  She was replaced by Shelly Preston in 1985.” Ashley was no rookie.

“Well I’m going for Cheryl Baker, just because I know her.” I said.

“I can’t remember Shelly Preston,” said Robert.

“She was actually in the band longer than Jay Aston, but Jay was the original and therefore the best in my book.  It’s amazing just how many different members Bucks Fizz have had since Eurovision.  I looked it up once.  It was twelve I think!” Ashley can only be described as a geek.  A geek through and through.  And before you shout at me, “he doesn’t look geeky”, let me just clear up what I believe a geek really is.  For a start, a nerd and a geek are not the same thing.  Forget for a minute the question of whether there is a difference between a nerd and a poindexter, or in fact a difference between a poindexter and a nerdstrom.  That’s not the issue here and to be honest I don’t know.  But a geek, that is someone who is passionately obsessive about a topic.  A nerd would be someone who has thick glasses and wears braces.  Ashley is definitely the former and not the latter.

“I can’t believe that Bucks Fizz lasted that long,” remarked Patrick.  “But I guess, if they’ve had so many line-ups throughout the years, you probably can’t even call them the same band anymore.”

“Actually, there have been many legal wrangles in recent years, over who has the official rights to the band name.”  See what a mean?  Geek.

“But essentially ripping skirts off is not going to make a career for you is it?”

“Well, it depends whether you want to branch out into Eggs and Baker,” Robert chimed up.

“I think that was just a by-product.  It wasn’t exactly Bucks Fizz doing the whole show was it?”

“Do you think it was basically based on her name?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Ashley, “and it doesn’t really work either.  If you consider her name is Baker and it’s a cooking show, you’ve already got a pun there.  You don’t really need another pun do you?”

By this point Ashley had well and truly forgotten the troubles with his father, the fact that he wasn’t really being very successful as a manager and the fact that they’d just run off to Liverpool airport, to go on a trip to Ireland, when they were supposed to be playing a gig later that evening.  I mentioned earlier that this trip was a turning point for the band.  Not only were they getting on as a group of friends better than they had done in a long while, the pressure of trying to make it as a successful pop group had created a few tense moments from time to time, but there was a much bigger turning point on the cards.

Until this point, we’d all had our mobiles on silent, expecting the inevitable phone calls from Michael, telling us to get the hell back to the church hall where Taurus were meant to be playing an “important” gig.  We had all managed to ignore our phones, wrapped up in the banter of the day, but Ashley couldn’t help take a glance at his and the curiosity over the possible contents of the text message that he’d just received overcame him.

“Pull over James,” said Ashley with a look of shock on his face.

“Why?”

“Just pull over please.”  So I did.  I was worried about what news could be so bad that it required a stationary vehicle, and I dare say that Robert and Patrick were thinking the exact same thing.  How wrong we were.

“We’ve got a record deal,” said Ashley in a very matter of fact way.

“What?”

“We’ve got a fucking record deal!”

Michael had cancelled the gig and was about to phone Project Y Records when he got a call from them instead.  Dave Johnson, the A&R guy, unfortunately was not going to be able to make it to the gig, which he was disappointed about as he wanted to give them the news in person.  Having already seen the guys perform at a gig a few weeks before, the decision had been made to sign Taurus on a one album deal!  Ireland would have to wait as things were starting to get a bit big!

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