Buy it now

Available from all good brick and mortar bookstores, including Borders and Waldenbooks in the US, and Blackwells in the UK. It is also available from the following online stores...

Paperback Sellers

e-book Sellers

The Rocktastic Corduroy Peach

Chapter Two

A smattering of applause sounded around the room. Marcus stood with the other members of the sales team in a semicircle around Karl as he held up the team’s coveted award for all of them to see. The inscription on it read “South East Foods Ltd. Sales Team of the Year Award (2nd Place)”.

April sunshine streamed into the open-plan office but it didn’t cheer Marcus much. He knew what was coming. Second place. Karl wouldn’t like that, not Karl Simon Danvy. Karl wanted to win, win, win, like he lived his whole life as a race. Already Marcus’ boss, despite being four years younger, Karl would no doubt be head of the whole division before long. Marcus consoled himself with the notion shit floats as well as cream.

Karl held his hand up to stop the applause before it petered out. “Thanks very much. I can tell you that senior management has their eye on this team.”

Marcus stifled a snort of contempt. On you, you mean.

“This award isn’t about me, it’s about you.” Karl smiled, making eye contact with each team member. “It’s your hard work that won this award. Even Marcus’ best effort to lose the Woolworth’s account didn’t set us back too much, eh, Marcus?”

Marcus wished a large hole could swallow him up. Karl would have to mention that, Marcus’ major blunder two months previously. He hadn’t known it was the Woolworth’s area director he had on the phone. When the man was rude, Marcus said something back, like anyone would. Still, perhaps not everybody would have chosen Marcus’ vulgar juxtaposition of the man, a donkey and a gherkin. All credit to the charm and skill of Karl that he managed to patch up relations. He even increased Woolworth’s annual order.

A smattering of laughter came from the sales team and Marcus noticed a space around him. There was nothing for it, he gritted his teeth and laughed with them.

But Karl would not let up.

“That one little hiccough that made the difference between first and second place in the awards, eh?” Karl smiled but his eyes were little pinpoints of hate. “No, seriously, no hard feelings there. Anyway, I’m sure you’re all aware that our very own rock-star Marcus has his sights set on higher things than selling quality pet food, eh, Marcus? When’s that first album due out?”

Another smattering of laughter rippled around the room. Marcus smiled so determinedly his face ached. What exactly had he done wrong in a previous life to deserve this?

There was no point winning a prestigious sales award unless you celebrated it, even if it was only second place. Successful sales teams were built around shared goals and achievements, so Karl insisted on buying the whole team a drink, even Marcus. They settled on a trip to a nearby pub at lunchtime.

The head office of the Oxford branch of South East Foods Ltd. was located in East Oxford close to the Cowley Road, one of Marcus’ favorite nighttime haunts. Cowley Road started at a roundabout known as The Plain at the end of Oxford High Street. From there, it snaked its way past countless takeaways, pubs and Indian restaurants until reaching Temple Cowley, whereupon it changed name to the Oxford Road and Marcus lost interest. Some of the town’s best music venues stood on Cowley Road. Overlooking The Plain itself could be found The Point, a small hall over a pub called The Scream. Further up were The Elm Tree, The Bullingdon Arms and The Drumheller, all of which put on bands. But best of all was The Zodiac, a dedicated music hall. Big bands played The Zodiac, acts like Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Grandaddy, The Candyskins, Hurricane #1, bands Marcus knew and loved. Always surprised at how out of touch his workmates were, he constantly tried to educate them.

A few days earlier he had tried to enlighten his colleague George, catching him at his desk. “I saw ATL at The Point last night.”

George was another salesman at South East Foods Ltd. He smoked like a chimney, which met with Karl’s disapproval, but George excelled at sales, allowing him to get away with it. He looked up at Marcus from his computer.

“ATL?”

“Arthur Turner’s Lovechild—ATL. At The Point. You missed a cracking gig, mate.”

George was forty-eight, proud to have seen Led Zeppelin at Knebworth and Pink Floyd perform The Wall at Earl’s Court. Marcus often tried to persuade him to go out and see something more contemporary. George looked levelly at Marcus.

“Arthur Turner’s Lovechild?”

“Yeah, don’t be put off by the name or anything, they’ve got cracking songs. They’ve got this really good one called ‘Put your hands up if your first word’s fuck in the morning’.”

Marcus’ voice trailed off as he finished the title. The night before, it had seemed like rather a good song. However, without the benefit of four pints of Brothers Cider and a curry inside him, he had to admit it might not be to everyone’s taste. George had nodded sagely and turned back to his computer.

Marcus sat with George now, almost drooling as George chain-smoked his way through half a pack of cancer sticks. The sales team had come to The Flowing Well on Sunningwell Street, just off Cowley Road. The pub ran open-mic sessions in the evening. Open-mic meant open-microphone, where anyone could come along, get onstage and play a few songs. Open-mics were scattered all over Oxford. Another great one happened weekly at The Exeter Hall on Oxford Road. Marcus loved them. Sometimes you got good singers, sometimes you hid your laughter, but they were inclusive, with anybody and everybody encouraged to get up and have a go. Marcus loved all that. He hadn’t been to The Flowing Well for ages but on a whim had suggested it to his colleagues.

He sat with them and tortured himself watching George smoke while Karl recounted dealings with some supermarket or other. Like Marcus gave a shite. All he cared for now was a puff on one of George’s ciggies. He could kill for one. In fact, he decided, he would kill George, steal his cigarettes and make a run for it.

George noticed Marcus staring. “Want one?”

Marcus gulped.

“Go on, help yourself.” George offered up the packet.

Karl smiled cruelly. “I thought you’d given up, Marcus?”

Marcus had given up. Karl didn’t approve of cigarettes, excessive drinking, drugs, bands or, for that matter, anything Marcus considered essential for having a good time. When Marcus joined the sales team, he had been eager to impress Karl and, rather foolishly, announced he could give up smoking any time. Karl told him he couldn’t and after that it became a matter of pride. As far as the office was concerned, Marcus hadn’t smoked for six months.

Marcus looked at the assortment of half-drunk pints on the table. “My round, I think.”

Trying to remember six different drinks, Marcus set out for the bar. He got halfway there before he saw her, the barmaid. For a moment, he was in heaven. The pub was not busy, so she perched on a stool behind the counter waiting for the next customer, her nose buried in a book. Frizzy red hair escaped in tufts from where she tied it back and one hand twirled a strand around a finger. She read intently, only half-noticing her spectacles sliding slowly down her nose until they were in danger of dropping off.

Marcus reached the bar and stood for a few seconds watching her, wondering whether she would notice him. He cleared his throat and smoothed back his hair, a pointless exercise considering the obstinate thickness of his curls.

“Ah, excuse me, darlin’.”

The woman looked up sharply, a flicker of annoyance passing over her face at the word “darlin’”. Her glasses flew off her nose and, attempting to catch them, she dropped the book.

Marcus beamed. “Woah, steady on, tiger.”

The woman reddened as she scooped the book up and placed it with her spectacles at the back of the bar. Turning to Marcus, she spoke with a warm Irish brogue. “Sorry, I didn’t see you there. What can I get you?”

Marcus tried to read the book’s cover but couldn’t pronounce the long words. It certainly wasn’t Mills and Boon. She had to be a student.

He nodded at the book. “You a student then?”

She was utterly deadpan. “That obvious, huh? Bloody students, eh?”

“What you studying?”

The woman paused before answering, as if reluctant to let Marcus know. Her face, which had almost regained its normal color, now flushed pink again.

“Er, geology,” she mumbled.

“What’s that, then? Rocks and stuff, innit?”

She nodded. “It’s a nerdy job but someone’s got to do it. What would you be wanting to drink?”

“Could be worse. You could be a dog-food salesman.”

The woman sighed. “That would be a fairly specific benchmark to assess myself against. Let me guess, you sell pet food?”

“Yep.”

“Well, I sell beer. What can I get you?”

“I’m in a band too which has got to make me a bit cool.” Marcus grinned at her.

She raised an eyebrow. “A band? Ah, you see, the moment I looked at you I said to myself ‘girl, you’re in the presence of celebrity’.”

“I can only shrug modestly.”

The woman smiled, a broad, inviting grin lighting her face up. Her cheeks left the pink of embarrassment behind them. “Ah, go on then with you, what’s the name of this band?”

“Corduroy Peach.”

“Not exactly a household name. Now, if you’d have said you were in Raydar, I’d have been impressed.”

“Hey, they’ve got nothing on us. We played at Sorton-cum-Snodwell Village fete.”

“You don’t say. Perhaps I’ll come see your next gig. Tell me, which fetes are you playing this summer?”

“Er, well, we’re between gigs at the moment. We’ve got a demo tape though.”

The woman folded her arms with mock incredulity. “Oh right, now I understand, ‘would you care to buy our demo CD, madam?’ Never trust a salesman.”

Marcus reached inside his pocket, pulled out a cassette tape and held it out to her.

“For you, darlin’, no charge.”

She looked at the tape for a moment and then up at Marcus. He smiled at her. She had no choice but to take it.

“So, is it any good?”

“Shit hot guitar.”

“Okay, so you’re the guitarist. What about the rest of it?”

“Ah, it’s crackin’, mate. Four of the best songs you’ll ever hear.”

The woman put the tape carefully down on her book and turned back to Marcus.

“Rest assured I will listen to it later and inform you of my considered opinion. Now, drinks?”

Marcus thought for a second. There had been six very specific drinks on the list when he set out. Karl wanted half a bitter…or was that George? Someone wanted an orange juice, he was sure of it. Or was it a Guinness?

“Six pints of lager please, darlin’.”

She nodded and started pulling the pints. “Could you not be saying darlin’ please? It gets right on my nerves.”

Now it was Marcus’ turn to flush pink. “Sorry, I don’t know why I say it really. Just habit. Sorry.”

The woman put the first pint on the bar. “You should bring your band up here one evening. We run an open mic on a Monday. You could play a song or two and then I can say I saw you before you got famous.”

“Hey, we might just do that. Maybe as a warm-up before we play Earl’s Court?”

“You with those boys over there?” Rose nodded towards Marcus’ colleagues as she placed the second pint on the bar.

“Ah, yeah, I work with that motley crew.”

“Ah, Mötley Crϋe, there’s a band I’ve heard of.”

“Ah, yeah they’re great. Do you like them?”

“I didn’t say that. Anyways, your man’s smoking in the non-smoking area. Can you tell him to stop please?”

“Ah, yeah, I will. Disgusting habit.”

Rose put the third pint on the bar. “You’re right there. One thing I can’t stand is cigarette smoke.”

A wall of sound came from the stage of The Bullingdon Arms, a brutal, uncompromising noise drenching every corner of the auditorium. The massive, distorted guitar, a frenetic bass line, a pounding kick drum, all drove the music forwards, brooking no resistance and taking no prisoners. Almost swamped in this bleak musical landscape came the wailing, angst-ridden scream of the singer, his hair a great mane of black, face streaked with sweat and mascara as he strained to invest every note with the poignancy of his tortured soul.

In all, a majestic performance, marred only by the fact his mum and dad stood right at the foot of the stage, full of the embarrassing enthusiasm only ex-hippy parents were capable of. Mum had even fished out her old tie-dyed T-shirt for the occasion.

The one-hundred-and-fifty-capacity venue currently held an audience of thirteen—the sound engineer, the four members of the band, the singer’s mum and dad, two teenage girls and the four members of Corduroy Peach. Thirteen, an unlucky number. One of the guitarist’s strings broke but he kept on playing. It didn’t make a lot of difference to the overall sound.

Marcus, Danny-boy, Dermot and Paul stood at the rear of the room, their backs up against the wall. Mum and Dad grimaced slightly from the noise but did their best to nod their heads and tap their feet in time to the music. Marcus glanced sideways at Dermot, catching his eye and pointing at the shameless pair. Dermot grinned and rolled his eyes. The noise made actual conversation impossible.

The girls in the corner, lanky, leggy things in tight jeans, didn’t look as if they appreciated the band’s best efforts. One of them gestured with her thumb in the direction of the exit. The other agreed and they quickly finished their drinks and made their way out. As one, Marcus, Danny-boy, Dermot and Paul turned their heads to watch the girls pass. The boys were only looking. No harm in looking.

The music reached a crescendo. Up and up it ratcheted, the singer contorting his face, pouring his soul into the microphone. Clearly quite upset about something, the exact details of his heart-breaking predicament were difficult to discern as he chose to convey them by repeatedly and inexplicably screaming, “Buckaroo.”

And then it was over, the final crashing chord, the microphone flung to one side, the singer’s emotional energy spent. A brief hum of feedback gave way to silence. Mum and Dad clapped enthusiastically, Dad even managing a few whoops. Marcus, Danny-boy, Dermot and Paul exchanged glances and joined in half-heartedly, clapping one hand on their wrists so they could keep hold of their pints in the other. The lights came up and the sound system came on, playing songs from Kylie Minogue’s Greatest Hits.

Danny-boy put his pint on a nearby table and started to extract earplugs from his ears.

Marcus watched the band begin to pack away their gear. “His guitar’s a bit cheap, innit?”

Mum and Dad were now on the stage congratulating the singer, who at least had the decency to look a little embarrassed.

“Well, not everybody’s got the money to buy a flashy, custom-made guitar like yours, Marcus.” Danny-boy pulled out a small plastic box and carefully placed his earplugs inside.

“Well, yeah, it’s custom-made, but I made it.”

Dermot raised his eyebrows. “What, you made your own guitar, mate?”

Even Danny-boy seemed impressed for a brief moment.

Marcus shrugged. “Well, yeah. Nothing to it really once you’ve got the right tools.”

Danny-boy closed his box of earplugs and put it in his pocket. “Yes, well, I’ve thought about doing the same thing but it’s a time thing, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, my arse, Danny-boy, like you could make a guitar,” snorted Dermot.

“As Marcus said, it’s just a matter of having the right tools.”

Paul raised his eyebrows and leered. “You got the right sort of tool then, have you, Danny-boy?”

“Please don’t call me Danny-boy, Paul. I really do find it very annoying.”

“Yes, but your tool, Danny-boy. You got the right sort of tool, have you, eh, boy? Eh?” Paul moved around in front of the other three, smoothing his comb-over into place, evidently pleased with his crude double-entendre. He had a habit of swaying from side to side as he spoke, especially when excited, and he did it now. Marcus felt giddy watching him. Paul was like a metronome, albeit one which couldn’t keep time.

“Be quite a trick if he could make a guitar with his dick, eh, Paul?” Dermot rolled his eyes at Danny-boy and Marcus. They both smiled back as Paul roared with laughter.

“Well, what do you think of them then?” Marcus nodded in the direction of the stage, his tone of voice implying he didn’t think much of the band.

“They’ve got something there, yes.” Danny-boy stroked his chin sagely. “A certain sort of raw talent.”

“Yeah, yeah, I thought so too. Yes.” Marcus felt obliged to agree with Danny-boy. The argument just wasn’t worth it. “I thought they were great.”

“Ah, they were bollocks, mate,” cut in Dermot.

Danny-boy folded his arms across his chest. “Whatever you say, Dermot, they have a certain charm.”

“Charm? Bollocks.” Dermot grinned mischievously. “If they were so good, why did you have earplugs in?”

“I merely wish to protect my ears. Look what happened to Pete Townsend.”

“He went deaf, didn’t he?” Marcus tried to remember the details. “Didn’t he start appearing onstage in a plastic box or something, because of his tinnitus?”

“My point precisely.” Danny-boy looked defiantly at Dermot.

“Well, you just look a bit of a dick with those things sticking out your ears, that’s all I’m saying,” continued Marcus.

Paul guffawed.

Danny-boy picked up his beer. “You can laugh all you want. If we’re going to spend a lifetime gigging, we’ve got to take care of ourselves.” He glanced crossly at Paul for a moment. “Could you stop doing that please, Paul?”

“What?”

Danny-boy reached out and put his hand on Paul’s shoulder, stopping him from swaying. “You’re making me feel seasick.”

Marcus ran his finger around the top of his pint glass. “The thing is, Dermot, me old mucker, bollocks or not, Lazarus’ Kiss have got a gig here in The Bullingdon Arms and we haven’t. So, if they’re so shite, where does that leave us?”

“We’ll play here.” Danny-boy leant back against the wall and raised his pint to his lips. “We’ll play here, you mark my words.” He took a sip. “When we get going, we’re going to blow this town away. Listen, boys.” He paused, waiting until he had the undivided attention of the other three. “Seriously. We’ve got a great set of songs. Better than this lot. Better than anyone else on the Oxford music circuit at the moment. We can almost play them through now without any mistakes”—Danny-boy looked at Marcus—“and we just need to work on our image a bit.” He glanced at Paul. Paul’s comb-over was securely in place, stuck there by the sweat from his forehead. He began swaying again. “We just need to get a handle on those two things and we’ve got it licked.”

Marcus, Dermot and Paul nodded, taking in Danny-boy’s words of wisdom.

Danny-boy ran his fingers through his hair. “We are seriously rock ‘n’ roll.”

“We’re Rocktastic, Danny-boy.” Marcus smiled. “The Rocktastic Corduroy Peach.”

Danny-boy looked patiently up at the ceiling. “Could you please stop calling me Danny-boy?”

Chapter Three