06 Gladys Alone: The Eye of the Needle

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Gladys desperately wants to succeed as a solo singer, but she is finding the music world is a tough place. A potential manager holds out the promise of help. Should she trust Dud the Dude? And is she weak-willed to be talked into doing something to shape her image that she thought she would never do.

Read by Natasha
Written by Bertie
Illustrated by Chiara Civati.

Gladys goes it Alone, Chapter 6: The Eye of the Needle.

Gladys wasn't really cut out for exercise, and hated running, but she had to look great if she was going to make it.

"I will succeed, I will succeed, I will succeed," she repeated as she skipped.

Music is a highly visual business. Skipping with a rope was one activity she didn’t mind doing.

"Are you okay love?" Asked her dad as she came back into the house, sweaty and red faced.

"Er, yes, fine thanks," she gasped between panting.

After a shower, she sat with her tablet and searched Google for musical competitions that she could enter. She found quite a wacky one: The local council wanted people to put their litter in the bin instead of dropping it on the street. They had come up with a dustbin that would sing a thank you song when people used it. They were holding a competition for singer-songwriters to win the honour of composing and performing a rubbishy tune. The prize was £2000.

"Well that will pay for a few hours in the recording studio," she thought.

It took her about five minutes to pen the song,

“Thank you for caring,
Thank you for sharing,
Your rubbish with me!”

She sang her ditty into her portable recorder and emailed it off to the organisers.

Next, she entered a TV talent show because these days, well you just have to. All she had to do was to fill in some details about herself in an online form, and then turn up on the day for the audition, which was in just over a month's time.

She was wondering what to do next when her eye fell on the business card that Dud had given her at the gig. It was sitting on her desk. She wondered if she should call him. To be honest a dude who comes up to you at a gig and mumbles a load of slightly incoherent words about helping you succeed could quite plausibly be just trying it on… but then, maybe not.

She rang Arny to ask his opinion. He answered from his hospital bed, "If a bloke says he's a talent scout and can get you a record deal, be careful. There are guys who just use that as a cover story and want to take advantage of you."

She felt Dud's card between her finger and thumb. It did seem a bit thin and cheaply printed. She pictured him her mind. Dud the Dude - or perhaps Dude the Dud. He had been sort of leaning against the wall when he met her. He wasn't so much chilled as a cucumber, as - well an ice cube. His longish hair was tied behind his head, but he didn't look at all girlish, just arty. He had large sensitive looking eyes. Well, she had to admit she liked him, but she wasn't going to trust him an inch.

“I'll ask to see him at his office," she thought, "and then I can suss out what sort of business he's got." The address was in Dean Street, in Soho. It was a seedy part of London, but a little search on the Internet showed that there were quite a few music and film businesses based there.

She rang Dud. He sounded quite business-like:

"Sure Gladys," he said, "I'm glad you rang. It would be great to meet up. I’ll put you in the diary to meet the boss.”

Gladys' experience of a music manager boiled down to Arny. He was old school, a bit rough at the edges, talked a certain amount sense and quite a lot of baloney; but underneath it all, had a heart of gold. He really belonged to the time when you actually went to a record shop and bought a single imprinted into the grooves of a vinyl disk. Now in the era of digital downloads, YouTube, and all you can eat streaming, he was not exactly the man of the moment. Sometimes he would moan, "I don't hold with giving it all away for free. Where's the money in free?"

You had to admit, he had a point.

The office could not be more different from the one where she had met the record execs. Four people were working in a small space overlooking the market stalls on the street below. The meeting room was little bigger than most people’s bathrooms. Dud's boss wasn't at all like Dud and he certainly wasn't like Arnie, or even the music execs. If he had worn a tie, she would have guessed that he was a doctor, like Sara’s father. His dark suit had broad stripes; his glass frames were thick, and his dark slightly messy hair was receding. As soon as he opened his large, sensuous mouth, with strong teeth, Gladys recognised him as being, well, posh. His name was Lex, which was short for Alexander.

He leaned back in his chair and said, "My first business was "Pick Me UP." You've seen the bars I guess. You might even have been in one, despite your slender years. They don't sell alcohol, just mocktails made out of tea and fresh fruit juice. If you haven't tried one you must, they are the most delicious and healthy drinks on the planet."

Gladys had never heard of “Pick Me Up,” let alone set foot in one its establishments, but she nodded and tried to look politely impressed.

"We sold the business last year, and now I want to have a bit of fun. I'm investing in young talent. Here's the deal: you sign with us for a year. Every month you come into our studio and record a song. We fix you up with gigs over town. If you sign with a record label while you are with us, we are your representation and we get 25%. Sound fair?”

Gladys prided herself in her head for business, but it was hard for her to take in if this was a good deal or not. It seemed like they would take a lot of the headache out of trying to build her career.

"And after a year's up, what then?" She asked. She would be seventeen. It seemed pretty old to her.

"We see where we are and mutually decide whether to renew for another year," he said.

Dud chipped in and added, "If I may say so, Gladys, it’s a sweet contract for an artist that's just starting out. Get in on the ground while the going is good. It won’t be long before we will be fully booked and turning talent away.”

"Let me think about it for a day or so," said Gladys, but she somewhat knew that she was going to accept. It wasn't as if she had any other offers of help. She was starting to feel very lonely, plugging away by herself at her career.

On the way out of the office, Dud asked Gladys if she had time for coffee. She said yes because she hoped to learn more about Lex. Dud led her through the narrow streets of Soho, which seemed sleepy during the day, even though this was the very centre of London. They went into a little Italian ice cream place. She looked longingly at the colourful freezer, but Dud ordered an espresso and asked what she drank.

“I only drink tea,” she said. It arrived in true continental style - a glass of tepid water with a pathetic looking bag, still in the packet, resting in a saucer. The only thing Gladys appreciated about coffee was the smell, but Dud’s espresso smelled so strong it almost gave her caffeine jitters.

She asked what the real deal with his boss was.

"He's an old Etonian," Dud said. Gladys had of course heard of Eton - It is England's oldest and poshest school. The Prime Minster, the Mayor of London, and the Arch Bishop of Canterbury all went there.

"He's loaded and can afford to take risks that nobody else would take. That's why it's such a good thing he’s got on board. You should grab it with both hands.”

“I know already that the record labels don’t like taking risks on new artists,” admitted Gladys. “I went to see one. They weren’t very encouraging.” She immediately wished she hadn’t admitted that. The information didn’t make her seem more desirable as a musical property.

"Well you could work on your image," said Dud thoughtfully. "You do look a bit innocent if you don't mind me saying so. How about getting yourself a tattoo?"
Gladys couldn't help laughing. "A tattoo!" She exclaimed. It was the very last thing she would have thought of inflicting on herself. "Never," she said, "My dad has the name of his first girlfriend written on his chest. He really hates it now."

“I wouldn’t let you do something silly like that; but a flower or a butterfly would look good on you.”

"But I don't want to scar myself for life!" Said Gladys.

Then she realised that wasn't quite the thing to say. Dud had some sort of inky wavy thing crawling around his neck, but he didn’t seem to have taken offense.

"Here’s why you've got to do it,” insisted Dud, "because good girls like you don't have them. I know a guy who can do it for you. He's an artist. Come and look through his photographs. You'll fall in love with his work, I guarantee."

Somehow Gladys found herself walking through Soho with Dud, and down an alley and into a Tattoo parlour. It was the sort of place she thought she would never set foot in, but it was kind of interesting to be there. The walls did indeed seem a little like an art gallery. There were backs, arms, and other parts of the body bearing peacock feathers, roses, dragons, and songbirds and butterflies and many other creations. He also had various health certificates and qualifications on prominent display.

“Your work is beautiful," said Gladys, "But not really for me."

"I could do a little heart for you,” said Simon, the tattoo artist.

"If I was going to have anything, it would be that," said Gladys. She wished she hadn't made even that confession. Her finger was resting on a musical clef in the catalogue. It was like her style.

"On your left shoulder?" Suggested Simon.

Some demon took over the good little girl called Gladys, and she said, “Go on. Let's do it," as she sat in the chair and watched Simon take the needle out of the sealed package, attaching it to the tattoo machine, which looked like some sort of garden tool. He began to swab her shoulder with disinfectant. She thought, "Why am I doing this? Am I weak to be talked into something I don't want? How could Dud talk me into this so easily - something that's probably going to be quite painful and which I can't reverse. I know better than this. ”

But she also thought it was part of a mad adventure... something she would never normally do.

Ouch! The needle pricked her skin. More than that, it went in deep. She frowned and then tried to smile but it wasn't easy. It tingled like mad. When it was done she looked in the mirror at her sore, but now musical shoulder. It was a neat little musical clef, rather pretty, but she thought to herself, “It’s a small token of my weak will.”