Cel­lar Song­bird

Mu­sic is the food of love in this charm­ing com­plete story by Ly­dia Jones set in the 1960s.

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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

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