Music is the food of love in this charming complete story by Lydia Jones set in the 1960s.
A period story by Lydia Jones
Iread in the paper they were doing it today. Derelict building on Wharf Street to be demolished. It makes me sad to see it: the proud Victorian redbrick crumbled and cowed; windows blacked out. It was called the Cellar. Liverpool had its famous Cavern Club, Manchester its Oasis. The Cellar was our smaller hometown version, but to us every bit as glamorous.
Queuing to get in on a Saturday night, heart skipping . . .
“Hands, please,” the bouncer would say, inking our skin with his green entry stamp.
It was pitch black beyond that door. For me it was the gateway to a different world: a place where Irene Prescott, shop assistant, slipped her skin like a snake in springtime and stepped gleaming into the light. It was all down to Mary. “Go on,” she said when the band asked for volunteers. “You’ve got a good voice.”
“Come on, ladies, don’t be shy,” the lead singer of the band on stage cooed into the microphone. “Ladies’ Invitation Night.” “My friend’s a good singer,” Mary cried. Before I knew what was happening I was being propelled through cheering bodies on to the tiny stage. “OK, love, what’s your name?” “Ireenie,” I said with defiant inspiration. If “Sandy” Sandra Shaw could glamorise her name, so could I. “Ireenie Scott.”
From the edge of the shadows, Mary flashed me thumbs-up. “OK, Ireenie. What will you sing for us?” That first time I sang “Anyone Who Had A Heart”, with which Cilla had a No. 1 hit. When the crowd cheered for more, I gave them Kathy Kirby’s “Secret Love”.
Such a kaleidoscope of sensations: the heat of the spotlight; the unfamiliar sound of my voice through the microphone; a hushed crowd swaying in time to my singing, then screaming for more. I think I floated back to Mary. “Buy you a drink?” the barman said as I reached her.
“Who are you when you’re at home?” I asked, flushed with adrenalin and confidence. “Rob.” He had a look of Paul Jones, Manfred Mann’s gorgeous lead singer. “Don’t they give you a second name?” “Smith.” Even in the bar’s gloom I saw a faint blush. “Rob Smith.” I laughed, sparkling with Ireenie’s stardust. “Yes, Rob Smith, you can buy me a drink.” “How come he didn’t walk you home?” Mary asked as we stacked shelves together in Masons’ grocery store come Monday.
“Are you kidding? I couldn’t let him see my house. Ireenie Scott would never live in a terrace round the back of the gas works.”
“But that’s just a singing name, Irene. I don’t understand.”
“He doesn’t know that, does he? He thinks I am Ireenie Scott.” “You mean you didn’t tell him?” “No.” I giggled. “And there’s more.” “Excuse me. I’d like half a dozen eggs and a pound of tea.”
A middle-aged woman in a hairnet plonked a wicker basket down between us.
“It’s a self-service store, this, love,” Mary explained. “You help yourself to what you want – with one of those little metal baskets over there – and then you take it to the till.” The woman blinked. “Well, that’s rubbish service, I must say.” “Sorry, love – it’s the new way.” “Anyway –” Mary pulled me aside. “What do you mean: ‘there’s more’?” I f illed her in. “So you basically told him a pack of lies? How could you? All that stuff about working for a music producer in Manchester!”
“I didn’t say I was anything glamorous. I said I was his Girl Friday. I suppose it was the kind of life I’d like to have – that Ireenie might have. Rob’s an architect. He’s not going to want anything to do with plain old Irene Prescott, is he? Anyway.” I shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. He didn’t even ask for my number.”
“Good job.” Mary giggled. “Seeing as you don’t have a phone at home.”
It stayed with me, the stardust of the Cellar: sizzling excitement as I stood on stage, euphoric adrenalin as the crowd cheered. It was a beacon in the midst of my workaday world.
The next Invitation Night I sang Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By”, and when the crowd demanded an encore, I gave them Brenda Lee’s “Losing You”.
All the time I was scanning the swaying shadows for one particular blond head.
“That was amazing,” he said just when I’d decided he wasn’t there after all. “I was waiting – I didn’t know how to say –”
He passed perplexed fingers through that thick Mod mop.
“Don’t just stand there.” I flashed him Ireenie’s flirtatious eyes. “What does a girl have to do to get you to buy her a drink?”
It was lovely. We talked about our families, our schools: stuff I didn’t have to lie about. When he looked at me it felt like I was melting inside; I never wanted the night to end.
“Could I – er – walk you home?” he asked when it looked like it was about to.
“No,” I said too quickly. “Sorry,” I recovered. “But my dad goes mad if a boy walks me home; comes out into the street and everything. It’s dead embarrassing.” “Oh,” Rob said. “To your bus stop then?” He took my hand and my heart forgot to beat properly.
As we walked together through silvered lamp-lit streets, f ingers entwined, I thought Ireenie Scott was the luckiest girl alive.
“Can I see you again?” he whispered as my bus pulled in. “We could go to the pictures or something.” “OK.” “Friday? I’ll meet you outside the Odeon for the main showing.”
As I took my seat on the bus I couldn’t stop smiling.
We saw the new James Bond film. Sitting in warm darkness we watched 007 squash Goldfinger, my fingers twined with his.
“I’ve enjoyed tonight, Ireenie.” Rob’s fingers caressed mine across the coffee shop table. “Could we do it again, do you think? That ‘Zorba the Greek’ trailer looked good.”
“It’s an X certif icate, is that.” I didn’t tell him that though I was nearly twenty, my dad had never let me watch one.
“My auntie’s going to Greece,” I said to fill the pause. “She’s flying on an aeroplane to Athens.”
“Athens.” Rob’s eyes glistened. “All that ancient architecture. But it’s Italy I’d really love to visit: Rome, Florence!”
“One of our bands is going to Rome,” I heard myself say.
“Really?” I noticed he withdrew his hand. “Will you go with them?” “Gosh, no. I just – er – arrange it.” I squirmed inside at lying to him again.
“How’s it going with gorgeous Rob?” Mary asked when we were back shelfstacking.
“He hasn’t even kissed me. Perhaps he doesn’t like me that much.”
I wondered if perhaps I wasn’t pulling off the Ireenie role when I wasn’t singing.
I scoured travel agents for Italian holiday brochures so that next time I’d sound like I knew what I was talking about.
“Zorba” exploded into our cinema in black and white images so vivid we felt we were there amidst the mountains and