NWR Issue r14

Story: The Fake in the Back

'The Fake in the Back': comic story by Dan Anthony. Reading & recording by Caroline Stockford. Images and animation by Megan Elsey. Audio edit by Ieuan Rhys.
Scroll down for transcript

The Fake in the Back: Story by Dan Anthony from New Welsh Review on Vimeo.

Transcript of 'The Fake in the Back'

‘I’m not jealous,’ wheezed John.
Paul stood nearby, unsure. He thought John was jealous.
Blood trickled down John’s yellow satin sleeve. His grip tightened on his half-drunk bottle of Wild Turkey. The knuckles shone through his skin. His wig caught the tarmac, tugging his head down. John squinted through his round, wire-rimmed spectacles. They did nothing for his vision. In his intoxicated state, they made things trippy. He could see other members of the Fab Four speeding around in little hexagons, twinkling in the moonlight.
With a huge effort John focussed and, for a moment, he saw Paul’s face.
‘What?’ demanded Paul.
John passed out.
Ringo and George looked down at the singer.
John Lennon, pale as the Turin shroud, spattered with a thin patina of hill-drizzle, lay in a pool of blood, water, bourbon and diesel.
‘He’s OK,’ said Paul, as he turned on his Cuban heels and clumped back towards the club.
Ringo and George exchanged glances.
‘We can’t just leave him here in the car-park,’ said Ringo. ‘He’ll catch his death.’
George bent down and began slapping John’s cheeks.
‘You try playing the bass, covering for his mistakes and getting all the ooo’s in,’ shouted Paul before disappearing inside.
‘Come on,’ whispered George, cradling John’s head. ‘He’s not that bad.’
Ringo surveyed the singer in the yellow Sergeant Pepper outfit, he was groaning and trying to sit up.
‘I disagree,’ he said. ‘Medically, psychologically and harmonically – this man’s a no-fly zone.’

As he made his way through the scrum in Remedies Night Club, young and old slapped the back of Paul’s blue satin suit. They told him that he and the boys had been fantastic. Nobody could remember the real Beatles, but they all agreed the No Frills Beatles were the most entertaining fake Beatles they had ever come across.
A woman with sleek brown hair and green eyes tugged at Paul’s arm.
‘Can I buy you a drink?’ she asked. ‘You were fab tonight.’
Paul smiled admiring the curvy lines of his fan’s tight fitting jeans, already the John Lennon in the car park was fading from his memory.
‘Thanks,’ said Paul, pushing his mop top wig back into shape, superimposing his natural Newport, Gwent, accent with his alternative Liverpool, Merseyside, voice: ‘I don’t mind if you do. You don’t half work up a thirst on stage. JD and coke please.’
‘I love your voice,’ said Mindy. ‘It’s much better than John’s.’
Paul loved hers too. She sounded like Cilla. When he was young everybody put on a Liverpool accent. In those days a scouse mouth had nothing to do with geography, it just meant you weren’t a square. To Paul, the sounds of The Scaffold, Carla Lane, Alan Bleasdale, even John Peel, were all laid down by the original of the working class hero he’d left lying in the car park - with a little help from his friends.
‘You dancing?’ asked Paul.
‘You asking?’ asked the woman.
‘I’m asking,’ said Paul.
‘I’m dancing,’ said the woman.
Paul’s heart strings throbbed like the cello in ‘Yesterday’. So did hers.

The weather was turning nasty outside. Icy rain drops fell out of the sky as the moonlit gap between the black hills filled with clouds. George and Ringo dragged John towards the van. Their manager, Byron Williams, watched through a carefully positioned wing mirror from the driver’s seat. He frowned as he puffed on a fat cigar.
As they hoiked John into the back of the van, Byron came to the conclusion that this was the last time he would drive him down to the Royal Gwent Hospital. The gig, with its fights, its arguments and its sublime musical moments had been a success. But the rollercoaster ride of life with the No Frills Beatles was too much of lottery for Byron. He needed to go shopping - for a new Lennon.
Byron sucked on his cigar, back-combing thin strings of Brylcreemed grey hair. He began to think positively about the situation. Not only would a new John Lennon be less prone to breaking down, he might also be a more tuneful and attractive version of the current repro. Apart from anything else, the incumbent Lennon couldn’t see properly through his little purple glasses, his accent sounded strangely Dutch and he had a paunch that made him look out of context, particularly during ‘Help’. Moreover, John’s explosive relationship with Mindy, his wife, could transform straight forward gigs into weird avant-garde happenings. A warring couple, one equipped with musical instruments, would shriek at one another other in unconvincing Liverpool accents. Usually the magic of the music broke through and even the kids pretended they had always loved the Beatles. But sometimes a Beckettian hand would smother the joy and insults would fly back and forth between John and Mindy all night. Paul and John would snarl and kick each other with their winkle pickers. The audience would sway, not knowing whether to dance or cry. Not even Ringo and George could cheer everyone up with their banter. It was like Waiting for Godot on Strawberry Fields.

Ringo and George slammed the back doors, stirring Byron from his thoughts. He unwound his window and peered at his most reliable Beatles.
‘He’s in, mun,’ panted Ringo.
‘He’s getting heavier,’ added George.
‘Right boys,’ said Byron, satisfied that the rock solid core of his tribute band wouldn’t take much persuading when he presented them with his new Super John. ‘You go back in the club, press the flesh, enjoy what’s left of the evening.’
Byron started the van and began the familiar drive through the sinewy old roads to the accident and emergency department.

A week or so later, in the lounge bar of the King’s Head Hotel, Newport, Gwent, Byron found himself fingering another cigar. Beyond the tobacco stood a twenty five year old musician. Tall, with a shock of sandy coloured hair, a long elegant nose and hawk’s eyes, he wore his jeans and tea shirt in an almost reluctant manner. Byron nodded as the boy spoke shyly about his musical ambitions. He wasn’t listening to the singer’s quiet words - he was taking in the ‘look’. The guy could have been wearing a suit, a kaftan, a leather-jacket or a bib and brace, whatever the he put on would have appeared both convincing and disingenuous at the same time. Byron recognised it instantly. The new man was ironic.
The singer’s name was Garth Gilligan. That would have to go. Like all members of the No Fills Beatles he would have to accept the name of his character - John. So would the kid’s accent, when he spoke the boy sounded like a Welsh boxer: understated, almost, but not quite, nonchalant. It was disconcerting. He’d have to learn to talk scouse, but that wasn’t going to be a problem because the hard vowels and musical lilt that the Irish, Welsh, African, American and English dockers had developed in Liverpool was made by the same mixture that worked Newport’s smaller, but no less melodic, estuary. The only person Byron knew who had remained steadfastly unable to connect the Usk sound with the one from Merseyside was the band’s current Lennon.
‘We all need a hero,’ said Byron, gently rotating the matchbox in his pocket. ‘That’s how we get through it all.’

As Byron predicted, the new singer was a hit. The first gig at the Blackwood Miner’s Institute was well received. New John drawled in his new voice, back-chatting with Paul on stage and flirting with the audience. Freed up from the responsibilities of shepherding Old John, as he’d come to be known, Paul found himself swivelling around the stage with fresh energy. Mindy’s departure from the scene meant that the old habits went too. Paul felt like a lone wolf. Soon word got out: if you wanted a band at a party, and were concerned about prices, the No Frills Beatles would rock the house down.

Ringo and George saw it first. It was almost as if they were looking for it, as if they knew that as well as the right notes and clothes the band also needed the problem that meant that the Beatles couldn’t stay tight forever. As they packed away the amps one night they spotted Byron popping an extra roll of tenners into Lennon’s Pepper suit pocket. Ringo and George didn’t like this. For them the four members of the No Frills Beatles were an old style union. There was no room for a special one.
It was the women that narked Paul. New John with his combination of good looks, youth, talent, money and wit outshone Paul, who had none of these things. On-stage Paul looked like a dusty old piece of taxidermy, plonked thoughtlessly near a white marble statue of a big Greek god in a provincial museum. Whenever possible, Paul avoided sharing New John’s microphone, so as to avoid unnecessary juxtaposition.
Then there was the name. Ringo, George, Byron and New John all began to call Paul ‘Old Paul’.

One night, in The Electricity Club in Cardiff, Old Paul broached the subject with Byron as Ringo and George manhandled the band’s gear onto the stage.
‘I don’t like this New and Old stuff,’ he said quietly. ‘Paul’s Paul and John’s John, I can’t be ‘Old Paul’ – I sound like some kind of pipe tobacco.’
But Byron just nodded and sniffed his cigar. He wasn’t particularly interested in what Old Paul said. Indeed, the more Old Paul moaned, the more Byron began to wonder what the band would be like if he found a new 24 year old Paul McCartney to complement his bright eyed über-Lennon.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘You’ve got plenty of juice in your tank. I’m not even thinking of retiring you.’
The throw away comment stung the bass player. His face tightened and his eyes flashed.
Later, Old Paul clambered around the stage, screaming and singing as loud as he could, upstaging New John at every opportunity taunting him with his best Liverpudlian one liners. New John wasn’t troubled, he just sang and looked ironic.
After a night of Jack Daniels and Rekorderlig, Old Paul was eventually picked up by the police, lurching uncontrollably across a dual carriage way, dressed in a garlic sauce spattered Pepper suit, spitting teeth after a punch up in a kebab shop.

Old Paul made his way past the red brick terraced houses of Church Road in Pill, Newport, Gwent. He paused when he reached the new car park and the short cut to his flat in Constellation Street. There was a low, wooden barrier, about a foot high, separating the wavy undulations of the groundsel infested pavement from the smooth rink of slick, black tarmac. Old Paul looked down at his feet, as if he was trying to make out what was behind them. Somehow the thin sea mist, or was it rain, made things a bit trippy, like everything was see-through. He didn’t trust his trainers. They didn’t even look like they belonged to him. Carefully, Old Paul stepped over the barrier and onto the surface.
A man, dressed in a faded green track suit, emerged from the supermarket exit. It was Old John. Old Paul was shocked. It was hard to imagine that just six months ago this indistinct customer, carrying a packet of strangely named custard creams, used to be John Lennon. Old Paul scanned the car park searching for somewhere to hide, but there wasn’t even a bottle bank. Old John walked towards Old Paul, almost as if they’d arranged to meet in the Lidl loading bay.
Old Paul didn’t move.
Old John stopped, tiny droplets of rain twinkled in his thin hair.
‘I’m not jealous,’ said Old John.
‘That’s not what Mindy says,’ said Old Paul.
‘I heard you got fired,’ said Old John
‘I wasn’t fired,’ said Old Paul. ‘I quit.’
Old John nodded. He took a step away.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Old Paul.
Old Paul stopped and turned.
'What for?’ said Old John, ‘Leaving me in the car park in Pontypool, hitting me with a bottle of cider or sleeping with my wife?’
‘Everything,’ said Old Paul.
Old John nodded, he moved on, Old Paul followed.
‘Look, John, It doesn’t have to be like this. We could put it all back together. Get the original Beatles back on the road.’
Old John shook his head. He looked at Old Paul, his face was sheathed in a glistening halo of drizzle. His eyes were wide with excitement. Old Paul still didn’t get it.
‘I’m not John Lennon,’ said Old John.
He moved away from Old Paul, clearing the little barrier between with a skip.

Dan Anthony is a writer whose titles include books for children.


previous multi-media: Review of short story collection Jwg ar Seld by Lleucu Roberts
next multi-media: Interview with Cynan Jones and Caryl Lewis


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