05 Gladys Alone: Going Underground

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Gladys Sings at first gig

Gladys performs live in front of a crowd for the first time. It should be "her night" but two of her family members turn up unexpectedly and overshadow the event in different ways.

Read by Natasha
Written by Bertie
Illustrated by Chiara Civati.

Gladys goes it Alone, Chapter 5: Going Underground.

Gladys' school friends weren't really the clubbing sort. They were more into staying at home and reading a book or watching a murder mystery on TV. They were starting to throw parties, especially when mum and dad were kind enough to go out for Saturday evening, but they were still a bit young for clubs and gigs. They serve drinks in those sorts of places, and in Britain, you aren't supposed to go into a bar on your own until you are 18 years old.

She was somewhat surprised when Jamie, who was probably the coolest guy in her class, accepted her invite to her gig.

"Let's see if he actually turns up," she thought. Her friends Sara and Jay-Jay said they were definitely coming, in fact they agreed to travel together with Gladys.
On the night, they had trouble finding the club. They came out of the tube station which was further east than any of them had ever been, and they walked over the bridge. The navigator on Gladys's phone was pointing to a grassy island surrounded by traffic. They managed to get across the road to it, but where was the club? According the phone, they had arrived.

"It couldn't be that, could it?" Said Jay-Jay, pointing to a big metal sign and some steps leading down beneath the ground.

"Surely that's a public toilet?" Said Gladys.

In fact, Jay-Jay was right. It was the club. The Throbinsons’ lead singer had bought an underground convenience and turned it into a nightclub.

"Well this is a glamorous venue," said Sara as they hobbled down the stone steps in their high heels. It might not have been the most exclusive place in town, but it was still hard to get into. The man on the door said, "You girls got ID?”

"You see that poster," said Gladys pointing to a picture of herself. "That's me. I'm on.”

"Okay," said the guy, checking her face like a passport official. "And what about you two?"

"They're my roadies," said Gladys. "I can't go on without them.”

And so her friends got in without paying. Better still, they were given tickets for free drinks at the bar. They ordered soft, fizzy ones.

Tim and Jennie had already arrived, and were checking out the mics. "We're on at 8.30," said Tim. "I don't suppose many people will be here so early. Perhaps that's a good thing seeing as this is your first live gig.”

By 8 o’clock, the dank basement was starting to fill up with life. When Jamie arrived, Jasmine said, "Who’s that hanging on his arm?” She wasn't from their school.

"Whoever she is, she looks like the cat who got the cream," commented Sara, obviously bitten by jealousy. Gladys was pleased to have some good-looking people in the audience, however, who seemed like they might have the pick of places to go on a Saturday night, and had decided to come and see her.

Then she heard somebody say, "Hey isn't that Sam from the chiX." She looked over her shoulder and saw her sister. Kisses and hugs swiftly followed.

"Well Gladdy," said Sam, "Now you know how we felt when we were starting out. Good luck to ya sis.”

"I'm going to need it," thought Gladys.

It was time to check her microphone. While the engineer was adjusting the boom down to her height, she could see that people were crowding around Sam to ask if the chiX were going to have a reunion concert any time soon. She felt not a little cheesed off. Here she was, about to do her first gig, and she was still being over-shadowed by Sam before she had even sung a note.

She couldn't see the lead singer from the Throbinsons. Presumably the main, perhaps the only reason to visit this dive was to grab a glimpse of him. Perhaps he would turn up later. Meantime Sam was giving the stargazers something to look at. Jezz, the manager of the club came up to Gladys and said, "Great to meet you. You're on in five. I've asked your big sis to introduce you to the crowd if that's okay.”

It wasn't really okay with Gladys. She wanted to do this her own way, but she couldn’t really object. It really got everyone's attention when Sam from the chiX was took the stage.

"Well, hi everyone," she said smiling a starry smile. Sam looked kind of great, like she was totally used to everyone’s eyes being on her. She had grown quite tall over the last few years, had a slinky figure and a way of holding herself that gave out all the confident vibes that Gladys lacked.

"It is an unexpected pleasure for me," she said, "to be standing here in this great little venue about to introduce my very own little sis.”

There were claps and a few whoops from the crowd.

"Her name is Gladys, and when she was just a little babe hardly out of nappies, we used to take her on tour with us.” She lifted her arms in the air to generate a chorus of “AHHHs” from the onlookers.

“As I'm sure you have all heard, Gladdy is actually the brainy girl in our family. This is her first time singing in public and so please give up your warmest welcome for the one and only Gladys!”

She held out the microphone and Gladys ran over to take hold of it. Gladys was half fuming because she wanted to shake off that sobriquet of “brainy.” She had to be cool and confident.

She fumbled slightly as she placed the mic in the stand. Tim was already playing the opening bars of the music. Gladys opened up her eyes as wide as she could and tried to engage with the crowd. They were a sort of blur. She could just about make out Sara and Jay-Jay who were standing in the front row. There was nothing for but to sing.

[Play up music]

There was a biggish cheer for the song. Gladys did not feel excited, more relieved actually. Her next number was one she had to sing by herself at the piano. It was much harder on her own. Then playing the guitar and singing the song after that was even tougher, and she fumbled some of the chords, but nobody seemed to notice. Somehow, she got through it. It was an enormous relief to get to “All We Want to Do is Sing” where she had some voluminous backing music and vocals. Three girls were dancing at the front, but most of the others seemed only mildly interested. It was by no means a disaster.

"Thank you for being such a wonderful audience tonight!" She heard herself call out before she left the stage, thinking to herself, "That sounded corny, but what else could I say? At least the audience were clapping, if only politely.

As she was walking back to the corner and the table that she and her friends had made their own for the night, she saw somebody standing in front of her that made her almost say out aloud,
"Oh no, not her, please don't tell me it's her, I'm imagining this, it can't be true."
But it was true. A moment later, she was engulfed in a big bosomy hug and the smell of designer scent mixed with nicotine and gin.

"Mum, what are you doing here?" She asked when she was released.

"I saw it on Facebook; I had to come didn't I?”

That was exactly why some of her friends weren’t on Facebook - so their mums couldn’t see what they were up to. Why had she accepted a friend request from her? She knew why - because it was rude not to.

As mums went, she was an unusual one. She had simply abandoned the family when Gladys was three years old, leaving them to their care of dad. She upped sticks and moved to Australia to join the new man in her life. The oldest sisters, Laura and Mandy, had never forgiven her, and more or less refused to speak to her. Gladys and Sam were so young when it happened, however, that they hardly remembered their mother at all. They only really remembered their dad and his struggles with cooking and washing. After about a month of asking, "Where's mummy?" They more or less stopped bothering. Later on, Gladys wondered if she had died or gone to prison. Now she was back in their lives, Gladys and Sam found her embarrassing at best.

"Actually Gladys," said her mother, "I've come to give you a good sound talking to. Step outside so you can hear what I've got to say to you.”

Gladys was wearing a skimpy dress, and it was quite nippy outside on the green. There was the roar of traffic all around, a police helicopter going overhead, and rowdy people out for Saturday night - it was hardly the best place for a heart to heart talk, but that didn't stop her mother.

"What's all this I hear about you giving up school?" She demanded.

"You know me mum," said Gladys, "I like to do things properly or not at all. I'm following my musical career full time.”

"Don't be such a foolish young flibberty jib," scolded her mother, and then she actually slapped her across the face. The slap didn't really hurt, but Gladys was stunned. What right did this woman who had abandoned her family have to do that to her?" She actually laughed. Her mother went on, "You're making a wrong decision Gladys, you're messing up your chances in life."

"Well you never said that to my sisters.”

"They were different. They had what it takes to make it. Quite frankly, you looked silly up there on stage just now. You’d be better off in the church choir.”

"Thanks mum, for your advice," said Gladys. "When I want to know how to be totally irresponsible I'll come and ask you how to do it. But I'm getting cold up here listening to this nonsense, and if you'll excuse me, I have to go back to my friends."
As she marched back into the club, the doorman, who had just taken over the shift, asked, "Got any ID love?"

"That's my ID," she said angrily pointing at the poster again, and marched passed him.

It was crowded inside now, and as she was making her way towards her friends, a man said to her, "Hey Gladys, loved your act.”

She looked at him. He was tall and skinny; about twenty or so. He seemed kind of cool.

"If you are looking for a manager," he said, "just give me a call," and he handed her a card. At first glance, he thought it said that his first name was "Dude" but actually, it said, “Dud.” Presumably, it was short for Dudley. It sported a logo of an arrow, sort of Mod style from the 60s. She knew about that sort of thing because her Dad liked The Who. It said, “Scoot Ltd. Top representation for top acts.”

"Thanks," she replied briskly.

"No really, give me a call;” said Dud, "I’d like to take you places. There is a long way to go and the best way is to get there fast. Why hang around, right? "
"I'll think about it," said Gladys, and she went back to see her friends.