Arny was the manager of the chiX - the band Gladys's older sisters were in. Arny always recognised that Gladys was hard working and shrewd, even though she was too young to be in the band. But what would he think of her chasing a dream to become a solo singer in her own right? He's in hospital, and not so able to help her with her career. He does however make some calls on her behalf.
Read by Natasha.
Story by Bertie.
When Gladys sent an email out to a record exec, a reply usually shot back right away... unfortunately. Too often, it stated bluntly, "The address xyz @xyz.com has not been found”.
She had met loads of movers and shakers when she was young - well actually she still was young - but when she was little she had gone around quite a bit with her singing sisters and she had always asked for business cards, because she was savvy like that, but she had spent the last few years just being a normal school kid. Her stock of contacts for producers, pluggers and promoters was out of date. She needed to put her song in front the right people. She worked hard at uploading her mp3 onto all the social music sites, and emailing it directly to recording companies and promoters.
When her emails didn’t bounce, she assumed that they had landed on the right screen. She must have had about half a dozen chances out there.
She checked her email first thing in the morning. Two new messages were waiting for her - one reminding her that she hadn't logged on to a game-site for a while, “Your Pink Tomogo is missing you,” it mourned. The other was from her school about the last day of term.
Eventually a reply from a record company turned up.
Thank you for sending James O’Hara your mp3. As I am sure, you realise we receive hundreds of submissions each week, but we do listen to every single one. If we wish to take this further, we will let you know in due course.
Yours, Mira Simons
PA to James O'Hara
Head of Talent
She read it two or three times. “Well perhaps they will get back,” she thought. Then, a voice in her head said, “Oh Gladys, don’t be so naive, it’s a polite brush-off letter. You’ll never hear from them again.”
Back in the day, when the chiX were starting out, she used to work with Arny, their manager. She really missed him now. Arny had been born in the East End of London. His first job was pushing a tea trolley inside the office of a record company. He ran errands, showed willing, as well as a certain gift of the gab, and got himself promoted to the position of “plugger.” It was his role to chat up DJs on the radio and persuade them to play the company’s singles. Soon he was managing the publicity for some of the biggest bands of the 70s, in the days when rock stars had long hair and bad teeth and wore brightly coloured polyester jumpsuits. Gladys actually knew the names of the some of his clients, because they featured in her dad’s record collection.
Nowadays he was the sort of self-made man who drove a pink Rolls Royce, actually, his was black and totally ancient, but it suited him.
He had always looked after Gladys and treated her like a grown-up, even when she was little. Looking back, she wasn’t quite sure if he was just kidding her a bit, like grown-ups do with children sometimes… but no, even with hindsight, she didn’t think he was never less than on the level. He was genuine in his respect for Gladys and her gumption and her brains. But her desire to be a performer - well that was something else. Maybe he did not see her in that role.
Of course, when she had the idea to quit school and be a singer, the first person she called was Arny. The office manager had said, “I’m afraid Mr. Blackstone has been taken ill.”
“Oh dear. When will he be back?” Asked Gladys.
“We don’t know. It could be some weeks.” That sounded worrying.
“Can I, can I ask what’s wrong? I’m Gladys. He knew me quite well when I was little.”
“He’s had a heart attack. He’s in Kingston Hospital,” came the reply.
Nobody she knew had been seriously ill before… like in danger of dying… this was a first in her young life, and quite a shock.
Now Gladys felt guilty because she had only visited him in hospital once. That time he had been quite cheerful, but really did look gaunt. She had wanted to cry, and did not feel like going back to see him again. By now, she thought, he must be getting stronger. It might do him good to talk about business. At any rate, he could give her a word or two of advice.
She arrived at Kingston Hospital with chocolates and flowers.
"Ah Gladys, it's like having an angel sitting on the end of my bed," said Arny, who still had so many wires plastered to his chest that he looked like an old-fashioned TV set with the back off. She thought that because her dad had one of those in his workshop.
Gladys told him about her decision to leave school, and to try making it as a singer. She crossed her fingers, really hoping he would not give her the same lecture that everyone else had done. You know, the one about her being too smart to take a risk like singing for her supper, and that she should get her exams first. Were they passing a script around or something?
Arny sat up and rearranged his pillow.
"Well girl, I wish you luck, because the business has got a whole lot tougher over the past few years. It's a lottery. A tiny handful make mega bucks. They rest get squiggly pop. What do they call the lottery? A tax on the desperate, or the stupid. You’re neither of those, but you need to know the facts before you start down this road.”
Gladys nodded. It was going to be tough. The only encouragement she had received so far was in an email from Laura in Los Angeles who had said, "Yeah girl, go for it," without actually offering any concrete help. Perhaps it was true what some people tweeted. Laura was out for herself, not her family or the fans. As for her other sisters, well they were discouraging her. Everyone thought she was throwing away her life’s chances.
Gladys asked Arny if he thought she was crazy to give up a chance of a place at university.
“Well I left school when I was fifteen, but plenty of those singers who pretend to be from the wrong side of the tracks got good educations. Where was it Mick Jagger went? London School of Economics, wasn’t it?”
“Anyone more recent than that went to uni?” Asked Gladys.
“Funnily enough, I was just reading an article about Paloma Faith… it’s on the side table… here it is. Says she has an MA in theatre direction from the prestigious Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design. Look Gladdy, there are many ways to go in life. Now let me see if I can work the phone for you. “
Notices around the hospital warned everyone to keep their mobiles switched off, as they might interfere with the medical equipment, but of course, the real problem for Arny was he couldn't live without his phone. He sneaked it out from under the blankets and called a contact in a big record company:
"Yeah, she's really smart, and she's known the business since she was ten years old," he was saying.
She could hear the voice coming back that the chiX had faded fast and were yesterday's sound. Laura's last single had struggled to get into the top 40 in the download charts, and the only reason the studio hadn't sacked her was because she was dating Simon Ferg of the Fergs and they didn't want to upset one of their biggest grossing stars.
Yes, it was going to be hard thought Gladys. In a strange way, her connection with the chiX was going to make it harder. Their time had come and gone.
Arny was the sort of guy it was hard to say no to. He was charming and persistent. He wasn’t above using the fact that he had a heart attack, and it would be rotten to refuse him when he was down, and in any case, he had all day and wasn't going to hang up until his friend had put a date in the diary to meet Gladys.
In short, Gladys got her first meeting with a record company. Not bad going just two weeks after making her first demo.
As a ten year old, she had been surprisingly cool headed and savvy about business. In fact, she was the one who sat up late reading her sisters’ first contract and pointing out the loopholes. But the funny thing was, now she was sixteen, everything was so much harder. The prospect of such an important meeting was starting to freak her out. How should she dress? Smart for a business, or cool for pop? First impressions are so important in a superficial world. What she needed to do was to strike an attitude - she knew that much, but however hard she tried, she always looked the swotty schoolgirl. How could she make them see that she was touched by destiny? She decided to dress smartly. She wore a white shirt and dark trousers. She would look like she meant business.
Gladys arrived early at the music company’s office. She always liked to be ahead of time. It made her feel on top of things.
The PA showed her into an empty meeting room with a big table, blinds on the windows, and the hum of air conditioning. A jug of water and a plate of biscuits waited on the sideboard.
After forty minutes or so, three executives breezed in, two men and one woman. Cards were tossed across the table. She was shaking their hands. They seemed to be taking her quite seriously - they were young, but they had impressive titles like Account Manager, A&R Director, and Jnr Director of Marketing. The one who did the most talking was Dave. The woman, Susie, sat back and looked at Gladys in quite a hard, assessing sort of way. Jude, who was the most chilled of the three, was pleasant.
"Have you brought a demo?" Asked Mike.
"Ouch!" Thought Gladys, "They haven't even heard my track." Of course she had the song on her phone. You would think that a meeting room in a music business office would have some sort of sound system she could plug it into - and it did, but there did not appear to be the right connector, even though it was probably the most common one in the world. Fortunately, her phone had quite a good volume on the speaker. She played” All We Want to do is Sing,” and they sat back and listened.
At the end, there was a painful silence. Dave looked at Susie.
"It's quite eighties," she said.
"But a sweet voice," chipped in Jude who was clearly playing the part of Mr. Nice.
Dave sighed, "You're young. You still have time, but you need to get out and gig. Get experience. Get advice. Come back to us in a year.”
Was that it? It sounded like he didn’t have anything more to say. Gladys almost rose up from her chair to go. Unfortunately, they did have more advice. Susie glanced at Dave and then turned her head back to Gladys, "Don't take this the wrong way," she said, and Gladys felt like she wanted to bolt out of the door, because she knew that she was going to say something harsh, like on those TV Talent shows, where the real entertainment is watching the judges rip the wannabes’ ambitions into teeny-weeny shreds. "But are you sure you are cut out for this? You're obviously a clever girl with a sweet voice, but you need so much more. You need a look and a sound that's either totally original or totally in the moment. At any point, we are searching for a particular type of act that's hot in the charts right now. To be honest I don't think the 1980s is coming back anytime soon.”
Gladys nodded. She almost said, “Thank you,” but stopped herself. Why should she thank someone for such a patronising put-down? She wasn’t going to fall into that trap. She wanted to cry, but she was determined not to give them that satisfaction.
"It’s true that you could work on your image," said Jude, “and of course do lots of gigging to get experience. Tried and tested, that's what you need to be.”
Dave said, “I hope we don't sound too mean. Perhaps if I give you couple of stats about the music biz, you will know where we are coming from. 74 per cent of mp3s in the online stores are downloaded less than 10 times. That's basically sales to mum, dad, a couple of aunts and a best friend. So quite frankly, almost everything does nothing. Zilch. On the other hand, 60 per cent of our revenues come from just five big artists with the company. Almost everyone new that we sign loses us money. So you see, it pays us to keep backing our winners. Signing new talent is a big risk.”
"But without new talent, there’s no future," said Gladys.
"Correct. So we are very serious about A & R.”
Gladys looked blank. She didn't like to say she didn't know what A & R meant. She had actually heard the term, but wasn’t quite sure what it stood for.
“Artists and repertoire,” explained Jude. "It's what I do. I nurture the new talent. Like Dave says, we really care about the future, but at the end of the day, it’s a business, and we have to back winners or there will be no business, and nobody will benefit if that happens. Not the musicians. Not the fans. Not nobody.”
"In two plain words," added Susie, "It's tough out there. Well that was four words, but four true ones.”
Gladys had got the idea. Not only were they saying, “No,” but also they were saying, “Don’t even bother trying.”
She left the office with tears in her eyes, not of disappointment, but fury. “What a patronising bunch of smug jobs-worthies!” She thought to herself. “It gives them some sort of perverted pleasure to smash risk-takers’ dreams while they claim their safe salaries. Well, my belief is stronger than that. I’m keeping it in tact.”