Eviscerated Panda - Chapter 1

By Sarah Tipper

We thought, let's try something new. Something different. Over the next issues of Metal On Loud, we will publish a chapter out of Sarah Tipper's "Eviscerated Panda - A Metal Tale" book, making this our very own literary mini series!

Chapter One

 

In which the newly formed thrash metal band, Eviscerated Panda, play their first gig.

 

Woah, mind where you’re going with that, you nearly crushed my love spuds’. Nick exclaimed, dodging the corner of a big, black Marshall speaker cabinet.

I didn’t think you were using them’. Retorted Ian, backing up to avoid Nick’s genital region and then setting the cab down at the back of the stage with Paul’s help.

After tonight lads we’ll all be using them’. Nick claimed.

We’ll all be using your love spuds?’ Paul queried, ‘That’s revolting. I want no part of that. I don’t know what weird rituals you had in other bands but I’m a happily married man’.

Nick sighed. He was tired from starting work at the supermarket early so he could finish early and from loading all the gear into the van, like a game of Tetris with expensive heavy black pieces. And then they had to load everything out of the van again when they got to the venue. He wanted a pint of delicious, cold, fizzy lager and a smoke.

I meant, once we’ve played this gig tonight we’ll have all the women we can handle throwing themselves at us’.

So, in your case, one small one with low expectations?’ asked Ian.

Maybe we’ll attract tall, strong, Amazonian women who can help us shift the gear’. Said Paul optimistically.

Yeah, because you get a lot of Amazonians round here’. Said Nick.

Nick, Ian and Paul were three-fifths of Eviscerated Panda. Nick was the vocalist, Ian played rhythm guitar and Paul was the drummer. It was half past five on a Friday evening in late May. They were in sunny Berkshire, England and were setting up for their first ever gig together that night. Ian paused from kneeling to fiddle with his effects pedals and stretched. He was tall, reaching almost six foot four and he was slim. His black fourteen hole Doctor Marten boots, tight black jeans and black Bolt-Thrower T-shirt with the arms cut out (all the better to display his tattoos) suited him well and created a pleasant silhouette on stage (although no-one had witnessed this yet). He had long, straight, very dark brown hair almost to his waist and was clean shaven. He’d thought hard about what to wear today.

Although they wouldn’t have liked to admit it Paul and Nick had too. Nick was wearing brand new pants and socks, green combat trousers, black Vans trainers and a Slayer T-shirt. Nick’s build was more muscular than Ian’s and he was just a little shorter but still over six feet tall. He had dyed black, voluminous hair. Blond Paul wore dark blue boot cut jeans, navy Converse all stars and a Black Sabbath T shirt. The T shirt was a tribute to Bill Ward, one of his favourite drummers. He was also a big fan of Nicko McBrain. They finished setting up and went to the bar.

So what sort of music do you boys play?’ Asked the barmaid Vi, who did the day shift.

We’re like Slayer, with five per cent of early Suicidal Tendencies, five per cent Napalm Death, a bucket load of Black Sabbath, a bit of Pantera, a pinch of Judas Priest and a nod to Venom’. Paul said.

They left Vi looking bemused and went outside for Nick to smoke and for Paul to check there was nothing left in the van that they needed.

We should get a good crowd in tonight’. Ian said.

They hadn’t promoted their first gig as much as they could have done, partly due to nerves. They were in the ambivalent position of wanting people to come and see the amazing music they played and also of not wanting people to come in case they turned out to be rubbish and an embarrassment. It was hard to anticipate whether what sounded great to the five of them in their practice room would sound great to a room full of the discerning ears of local metal fans.

Ian and Nick considered this their first proper band. They didn’t count the dicking around they’d both done from the time they were in their separate sixth forms and up to before the formation of the Pandas, playing at youth clubs, church halls and on one occasion for Nick in school assembly.

Ian had worn his lucky pants to all his early gigs but his lucky pants had since been thrown out by his Mum for being too scruffy. He had lost his virginity in his lucky pants, or rather out of them. He had then worn them infrequently so as not to use up their powers. To the casual observer they’d appeared to be a fairly standard pair of black boxer shorts from Marks and Spencer. However, they had taken on an almost mythic significance to him one day after a study period in the sixth form had turned into something more practical.

Her name was Sally and they had been dating for a couple of months. Her parents had gone on holiday to Florida and they went back to her house, having no lessons for the rest of that afternoon. He thought of her still sometimes, images of her saved in the bank. Also, if he heard the word ‘Florida’ he’d tend to get semi-erect. TV programmes about Disneyworld made his balls ache. As he’d stepped into his new pants (which were black with a red flame print) he’d thought; I’m going to make these my lucky pants. They are brand new and have no History attached to them, yet…

Ian had never heard of ‘enclothed cognition’, the theory that what a person wears can affect the way they think, but he was an unwitting proponent.

Paul was more experienced musically (and also sexually). He had played in a hard rock covers band for a few years but he was still a little apprehensive this evening. He was used to playing tried and tested crowd pleasers, often to an inebriated wedding audience or Saturday night pub crowd. Paul worked as a painter, decorator and general handyman for a housing association. He enjoyed his job which would often be different every day and it came with the perk of a van that was very useful for gigs. He was used to getting along with people he’d only just met (mainly elderly residents and single Mums with young children) and within an hour or two he’d be getting tea and biscuits from residents while he improved their flats and houses. By the end of the day he’d be admiring pictures drawn of him at work by toddlers or photos of Grandchildren and listening to people’s stories. He’d been careful to wash all the plaster dust out of his long, partly curly dark blond hair after work. He’d also had to cut a little bit of green paint out of his hair at the front where it had escaped from the pony tail he wore for work.

Nick was not usually prone to nerves. He’d learnt to be confident at the boys’ only private school he’d attended. Occasionally his confidence spilled over into arrogance but not frequently. His parents were disappointed that after spending thousands of pounds on his education he worked in a supermarket. This wasn’t his first unglamorous job that they had disapproved of. His first job after leaving school was working for a fast food chain. He’d applied full of bravado and rebellion. He was keen to show his parents that he wasn’t a snob like he perceived them to be. He got hired and started work almost immediately which he saw as a sign of success rather than a sign of the restaurant being desperate for staff due to their high turnover. His worthy maverick notions soon wore thin when he had to work long hours while wearing brown trousers, a mustard yellow polo shirt and a baseball cap. And he constantly smelt of vegetable oil.

He lasted for six weeks in that job. After the first two he felt like meat was murdering him. He got free food on his breaks but began to be able to taste the disinterest and resentment with which it was made. Some of the other staff teased him about his accent and the managers were bullies, trying to give him all the unpopular shifts, thinking they could get away with it because he was young and new. He was not enamoured of it at all. He went home after a shift and he never returned. He didn’t eat fast food for a couple of years after that. Everything nasty you heard about hygiene in these places was true, he’d discovered. The disgruntled male employees scratched their balls with the orange juice stirrer and if you were rude to the counter staff your burgers may well have unadvertised additions. After that kind of taste sensation pot noodles seemed like ambrosia to him (the food of the gods, not the Devon custard, although he thought that was nice stuff too). He had been the only person working in the restaurant to have studied classical literature at school but not the only person to have read it.

Music was Nick’s main interest and motivation. He could apply himself to writing lyrics and spend hours with a guitar but he had no desire to apply himself to accountancy or any of the other professions his Dad would consider worthwhile. Nick desperately wanted to achieve some measure of success with music to prove his Dad wrong. His Mum, Gloria, was less disappointed than his Dad and often made peace between Nick and Nigel, his Dad. She would point out to Nigel that Nick was reliable, enthusiastic and that he turned up for work on time every day. He didn’t phone in sick unless he was genuinely ill and he didn’t expect hand outs from them (although Gloria would often give him some extra money for clothes and treats when his Dad wasn’t looking).

Gloria also pointed out that Nick was still young so there was plenty of time to mess around for a while and then choose a career. Nick had achieved good exam results and could always go back to education. She pointed out that Mick Jagger had done very well out of music. Nigel would harrumph at this and say ‘Well, if that’s what you consider very well then we have different ideas of what doing ‘very well’ entails’. What Nigel would have liked was for Nick to do things he understood and that he could talk about at the golf club.

Nick and Ian had met when the bands they were in were playing at a youth club. They were both eighteen at the time and they were both feeling that they were getting far too old to be playing youth clubs with their audience of fourteen-year-olds pretending to be drunk on cider they’d swigged surreptitiously round the back of the club. They’d bonded instantly by talking about music they liked. They soon began hanging out at each other’s houses and in the Green Man, their local Rock pub. They had both seen the advert for band members wanted to start a Thrash Metal band one Saturday morning, in their local music shop, The Right Note. They had both applied and had both been auditioned on the same day, one week later.

The advert had been placed by Phil Winter, a veteran of many bands, after leaving his previous band, Nightshade Milkshake, in a hurry. The drummer had found out that Phil was sleeping with his fiancée and this had necessitated a sudden change in personnel. Chairs were thrown and angry words were exchanged. Phil had decided to start a new band with all new members.

His advert was printed on fluorescent yellow paper and it read;

Do you want to be in the next Slayer? Then read on. Why is another Thrash Metal band necessary? If it isn’t to you then walk away from this advert. Lots of things which aren’t necessary are fun but I want serious musicians with the drive to succeed. If you’ve liked metal for years you probably think that you know everything about it. Good. I might disagree with you about some of it. That’s okay, there’s room for alternative viewpoints in metal, that’s why it’s so powerful. Rules were meant to be broken and guidelines were meant to be evaluated to see if they are useful and used if this proves to be the case or disregarded if it doesn’t. If you love Thrash Metal (you must truly love Thrash Metal and not just be lying to get it into bed) and are an excellent drummer, rhythm guitarist, bass player or vocalist looking to form a band and create new material with an experienced guitarist in his own practice space then give me a call. Wimps and Posers should leave the hall. Today Berkshire, Tomorrow The World.

Paul had seen the advert and had thought it was a bit over the top and potentially the work of a weirdo. But something about it appealed to him and he auditioned because he loved the idea of playing original, heavy music. He’d been a bit wary of Phil at first, finding it hard to fathom what his real personality was as it was being drowned out by his boasting about what a phenomenal guitarist he was and how rock and roll he was. He wasn’t sure if Phil liked him or not, as a person, rather than as a drummer. He wasn’t sure if or how he’d ever know. He found Ian and Nick easy to get along with.

 

While Paul, Ian and Nick were rushing around getting the equipment ready for the gig, others in Reading were getting ready for a Friday night out in a more leisurely way.

Cleo danced around her room to the sounds of her getting ready to go out playlist. This included AC/DC’s ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, X-Ray Spex’s ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours!’, Flotsam and Jetsam’s ‘Hammerhead’ and Danzig’s ‘The Hunter’. It was the end of her working week and she was looking forward to seeing her friends at the Pandas’ gig that night.

After graduating from Coventry University in English last summer Cleo had got the first job available so she could pay off her student debt. She worked in the sales office of a luxury biscuit company and from nine a.m. on Monday morning to five p.m. on Friday afternoon found herself having to make apologies such as

I’m very sorry you’ve found your lemon puffs to be damaged’ and ‘I’m concerned to hear you found your fig rolls to be inadequately fruity for a premium biscuit’.

It was the ideal post university job, with regular hours, pleasant colleagues, an always full biscuit tin and nothing too taxing to occupy her. She could leave at five p.m. and have forgotten all about work by two minutes past.

Before going to Coventry she’d taken a year out and she’d felt bored and restless in Reading. Her best friend Jenni was going to the University of Reading and so would be staying at home with her parents. Cleo didn’t feel like this was an option for her and felt she’d go mental if she stayed at home with her Mum, Peggy, who was still coming to terms with Cleo’s Dad’s death.

I’m so bored’. Cleo moaned to Jenni. ‘I’m bored of vodka. I’m bored of working in my crappy Saturday job. I’m tired of putting up with Peggy’s moods’.

Cleo had decided she had to move away to go to university. Her Mum’s anger was too huge for there to be room in the house for Cleo too. Cleo was sorry her Dad was gone too but being angry wouldn’t bring him back.

While waiting for term to start she found a job in a newsagent shop. She had to wear a blouse to work and an unflattering pleated skirt that she thought made her look chubby even though she wasn’t. She thought it was funny when guys came in for Razzle or Mayfair and she kept them waiting and sweating because they always put the price somewhere obscure on these magazines so she had to stare at and around the pouty, duck face pulling cover floozie to search for it.

Once in Coventry Cleo felt free. She decorated her small room with posters of her favourite bands. She had a calendar with kittens on, one for every day of the month. Art students thought it wonderfully ironic and kitsch but she chose it because she liked kittens not because she was being ironic. Cleo thought it was great being away from where she grew up and away from Peggy and all the associated nonsense. She enjoyed meeting new people and seeing herself reflected back in their reactions to her.

She liked looking out of her window on the top floor of a massive ugly concrete block at the surrounding woods and listening to Type O Negative’s ‘October Rust’ album. Over the years Cleo was in Coventry she and Peggy learnt to get on acceptably with each other again. They would never be very close, like Jenni was with her Mum, but it was an improvement and since Cleo had finished university and moved back to the family home they co-existed peacefully, each knowing and staying within the boundaries of their relationship.

She brushed her poker-straight waist length red hair and put on some pale face powder, black eyeliner, black mascara and red lip gloss. A quick glance in the mirror showed her that her short, tight, black, safety pin print dress, big boots and leather jacket looked fabulous. She added her Vivienne Westwood skull necklace and felt ready to go out. She was one of those women who always looked like she wasn’t trying too hard. This was because she wasn’t trying too hard.

Women had had since the seventies to perfect the rock chick look and Cleo just effortlessly extolled it. Fashions come and go but a short skirt, long hair and a smile is always a winning combination. Marianne Faithful had lived in Reading and although she didn’t know it Cleo had walked past her house many times. Perhaps some of Marianne’s magic still lingered and had attached itself to Cleo.

Her phone rang, playing AC/DC’s ‘Touch Too Much’ as the ringtone. It was Jenni saying she was nearly ready and she was really excited and she couldn’t wait to get to the club. Cleo picked up her bag, checked the contents; purse, keys, phone, tissues, face powder and sweets and then walked the ten minutes to Jenni’s house through the sleepy suburb of Reading she’d lived in since she was a toddler. Curtains twitched a little, not in a malicious way, just in the comfortable way of local people taking an interest in other local people, especially those of them still young enough to do something of interest. She said

Hello’ to Mrs Butler, two doors down, who was tidying up her front garden.

You look nice, Love’. She said to Cleo, ‘You wouldn’t think it to look at me now, but I used to wear a mini-skirt in the sixties and go out dancing. You enjoy yourself while you’re young, I know I did’.

Thank you Mrs B, I will’. Cleo replied.

Cleo left Mrs Butler smiling. While she pruned her roses she thought of nights spent dancing close to the yet to be Mr Butler and her other young suitors.

 

Jenni’s Mum Pam let Cleo in and said

Can I get you a cup of tea? Or a sandwich? You girls need something sensible before a night out’. Cleo declined politely.

I’ve bought you some biscuits from work’. She said, giving Pam a big gold tin of fancy assorted biscuits.

Oooh, lovely, thank you’. Pam said.

Cleo loved Jenni’s Mum Pam, who had let her live with them for weeks at a time when she was in her late teens and when her Mum, Peggy, had been severely depressed, irrational and hard to live with. Cleo ran up the stairs to Jenni’s attic bedroom on the third floor. She had no time for tea and no desire for anything sensible. She’d been sensible all week and it was becoming tiresome. She could hear The Sisters of Mercy’s ‘Temple of Love’ from the second floor landing.

Jenni’s house was in a slightly more affluent part of Reading than Cleo’s. Jenni’s Dad was a lecturer in Sociology at the university. The house had a basement, three stories and large garden. It was crammed with an eclectic selection of books ranging from the intellectual to the distinctly less so. The same bookcase contained Albert Bandura, Dennis Wheatley, Hunter S. Thompson, Erving Goffman and Nancy Friday.

Cleo flopped down on Jenni’s bed, staring up at the Peter Steele poster on the ceiling while Jenni put the finishing touches to her make up. Jenni was tall, five foot nine to Cleo’s five foot four, and she had long, dyed black hair with purple streaks. She wore lots of black and silver eye shadow and a tight fitting black matt PVC corset top and skirt combo with purple fishnet tights. She had a tattoo of a flock of bats from her shoulder to just above her right breast. She’d waited until she was twenty-one to have it done, fearing anything she choose before that she wouldn’t like a few years later. She had celebrated passing her final year exams by having this tattoo. She’d chosen bats long ago, when she was watching Elvira Mistress of the Dark once or more a day. She could very clearly remember sitting in the tattooist’s waiting room wondering how painful it would actually be. She had gone alone. The waiting room made her feel light headed, the buzzing, like at the dentist, seemed to be a promise of pain to come. She had found it to be not as painful as she had expected and when she looked at her watch afterwards it had taken less time than she’d thought. Time had a habit of slowing down during new experiences she found.

Jenni had studied Biology at Reading and was taking a few years out to earn some money before applying for a Master’s degree in biotechnology. Her Dad had hoped she’d follow him into the social sciences but she liked the clearer cut discipline of Biology. She worked as a lab technician at the university and liked that she could wear anything she wanted to work because it got covered up by a lab coat. No-one minded what colour her hair was.

How do I look?’ Jenni asked Cleo.

Fabulous and then some’. Cleo replied.

Thank you, Miss Cleo’. Jenni replied. Both girls had read Pamela Des Barres ‘I’m with the Band’ recently and had got into the habit of calling each other Miss when alone.

They thudded swiftly down the stairs and went into the lounge to say bye to Jenni’s parents. Her Mum, as usual, said

Don’t talk to strange men, dressed like that they might make assumptions about you and stay together and get a taxi home and let us know if you won’t be home tonight and don’t drink too much and don’t smoke anything at all’.

She said it all in one breath, having got used to saying it every weekend. Jenni’s Dad Roy was fascinated by Jenni and her friends in an academic way.

Belonging to a subculture isn’t a bad thing, Pam’. He said.

I think most feminists, me included, would point out that clothes are not consent so whatever they wear is irrelevant. Have a good time within the constraints of what is appropriate in the context’.

Cleo never had conversations like this at home with Peggy. Peggy was vaguely supportive of Cleo but hadn’t understood her wanting to go to university and then get a job when she could be getting married and having kids. Cleo and Peggy got along well enough but had little common ground. Peggy liked to read romance novels and watch her soaps on TV. She hadn’t married again when Cleo’s Dad had died, of a massive heart attack in his forties, when Cleo was just fourteen. It was as if Peggy had partly shut off from thinking on that day and decided to not get too involved in her own life, just to coast through it, with the help of mundane distractions. It had been hard for Cleo, her Dad suddenly no longer a part of her world, but she was young and resilient. She still missed him but didn’t dwell on it too much, not wanting to become stuck in a now unattainable past like Peggy.

Cleo and Jenni walked to their local rock and metal venue, the Edge Bar, while idly wondering who would and who wouldn’t be there that Friday night. Both girls were single, Cleo having broken up with her last boyfriend when she left university and Jenni having not dated anyone since she was an undergraduate. They were having a lot of fun with their friends and although both would have liked a boyfriend and both spent hours thinking about and discussing the options available to them they were both cautious, not wanting to make decisions they would later regret. They had friends from school and university who they had grown apart from, those who had got stuck into marriage and motherhood in their late teens and early twenties and neither Cleo nor Jenni wanted that.

It was free entry into the Edge Bar that Friday night. They made their way to the back bar, where the bands played. The venue was scuzzy but comfortable, with a large, noisy back bar and a slightly smaller, slightly quieter front bar. They’d been drinking there regularly since they were fourteen. The locks on the toilet doors didn’t work and there was a wealth of graffiti on them. Some of it was so old it had the zero-one-seven-three-four dialling code for Reading and the ladies it claimed would give you a good time were probably menopausal by now.

The velvet upholstery on the seating that ran round the room and that covered the cushioned parts of the bar stools was dark red. It was worn and shiny in places. The Edge Bar pre-dated the smoking ban and occasionally when it was full of bodies and warm you got a whiff of old pub smell, part beer, part tobacco, part sweat, making you imagine sepia tinged people with pipes and cigarettes, drinking their pints and laughing.

Inside the club they met up with Ian and Nick. Cleo, Jenni and Ian had all been at school together, a tough comprehensive that prepared them well for some aspects of adult life and poorly for others. Most of their contemporaries had left school with inadequate exam results for the good jobs. They had a huge bank of shared experiences, like the time when Cleo’s Mum had gone away to Wales for a few days to visit relatives and they’d decided it was time to start drinking. They had bought Special Brew, reasoning that Lemmy drinks it and so it must be great stuff. They had all sat around the tiny Formica kitchen table, with Motörhead’s ‘Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers’ playing in the background and enthusiastically opened their cans, each taking a huge swig. As they tasted the bitterness of the booze they tried to rearrange their features into those of connoisseurs enjoying a fine wine. After a few mouthfuls each they agreed it was vile and tried to remedy it by adding blackcurrant. They made it through a can each but none of them had ever had a second.

And then there was the time when it was school photo day and their whole year group were forced to form a human pyramid on wobbly wooden benches in the gym. All the teachers sat on chairs at the front and so unfortunately were unable to see what the assembled students we were doing behind them. While they were trying not to fall off the wooden benches the students were also told to look at the camera, to smile (nicely) and to cease making ‘amusing’ hand gestures. There were quite a lot of wanking gestures, lots of bunny ears over people’s heads, some peace signs and Jenni, Cleo and Ian were throwing the horns. The photographer shook his head, tutted and gave everyone evils. Mr Murray, the Headmaster, had to stand up and tell everyone they would stay there all day if they didn’t co-operate and that this was for their benefit so they could remember all their school friends. Jenni had only smiled a bit. She was thinking

I bet Robert Smith didn’t smile in his school photo. I’m not buying the photo anyway, half the people in it listen to drum and bass’.

Ian had been standing to the very far right of the photo and the photographer had snapped away unaware, capturing him with horns aloft, preserved in that photo forever. It was four years since they’d all left the sixth-form but their friendship had been one that stuck fast, based as it was on the shared experiences of a shambolic education, a passionate love of music and a desire to do something a little more exciting than work in a shop or an office forever.

As Nick and Ian had already been there for a couple of hours, loading the gear in, they were on their way to being drunk. They were apprehensive about this, Eviscerated Panda’s first gig, but you’d never have known it to look at them right now. It had taken them almost a year to get to this point, to have all five of the band gig ready and with enough material to fill forty-five minutes.

It was one thing for them to be able to run through the set in their practice room (the lead guitarist Phil’s basement) but to do so in front of a room full of their friends, another band, their very best friends and in some cases their wives and girlfriends was another matter. Ian smiled hugely when he saw Cleo and Jenni, he felt reassured by their presence. It felt a little like when they had been waiting to go into exams together. Instead of expressing this he said to Cleo

Evening. Are you saving up to buy the rest of that dress? If we advertised the gig on the back of your knickers everyone would see it’.

You can buy me the rest of the dress or you can buy me a drink’. Cleo replied.

And you can’t see my knickers that’s just wishful thinking’.

He laughed and went to the bar to get vodka and Diet Coke for Cleo and a Jack Daniels and Coke for Jenni, to thank them for coming to see the Pandas. He’d just got paid and his job in IT support meant he had plenty of disposable income, especially as he still lived at home. Cleo and Jenni both hugged Nick, who they knew well from numerous weekends spent in the Green Man pub.

Paul wandered over with Angie, his wife, who had rushed around getting ready to go out after she finished work at six-thirty. She worked as a hairdresser in a traditional salon frequented mainly by women aged over fifty. She and Paul had married three years ago. She was a sweet girl, with thick, shiny brown hair that always looked and smelt wonderful and reminded Paul of a conker. When he’d told Angie this she hadn’t been impressed even though he had meant it as a sincere compliment. She was slightly chubby in a deeply attractive way, the half a stone of extra weight she carried was on her chest and on her bottom, giving her killer curves. She was Coco Austin rather than Coco Chanel and none the worse for it.

Tonight she looked particularly cute in a green leopard print dress, red kitten heels and a fake red rose in her hair, which was mostly up, except for a few curls left loose at the front. She didn’t know how pretty she was or how many guys snuck surreptitious glances down her cleavage or at her shapely bum. She was unambitious for herself. She wanted to have a strong marriage and she hoped to have children and give them a cosy, happy home, unlike that of her own childhood. Angie, her younger sister Tracy and their mother, Pearl, had been abandoned by her father when Angie was eight.

Angie’s wedding day had truly been the happiest day of her life. In the absence of her own father she had been given away by Paul’s father Reg. She loved how his family had welcomed her into their midst. At twenty-six and twenty-seven years old Angie and Paul had just begun to think about starting a family of their own. Angie couldn’t wait. They’d agreed that morning that she should stop taking her contraceptive pills. She fetched a Diet Coke from the bar and a pint of lager-shandy for Paul, who was driving the van, and made a mental note to buy some folic acid tomorrow.

Angie was startled from her folic acid buying thoughts by a pinch on her bottom.

Ange, sweet-cheeks, looking hot!’ Exclaimed Suzy, giving her a big hug, kissing her on both cheeks and then making her way round everyone else with similarly effusive greetings. It was the first time Cleo or Jenni had met Suzy and so Ian introduced them. They too got kissed on both cheeks and enfolded in big friendly hugs. Suzy had bounded ahead of her on-off boyfriend Jim, the Panda’s bass player, like a friendly Labrador.

Suzy was excitable, twenty-eight years old, bisexual, dark blonde and exceptionally outgoing. She worked as a sales rep for a cleaning products company during the day and as an Ann Summers Party Organiser for a few evenings every month. She liked to say she thought clean during the day and dirty in the evenings. Jim felt lucky to be with her but sometimes felt like he couldn’t quite keep up and couldn’t give her everything she wanted. He was thirty-one years old, worked as a mechanic, and liked to go to the pub, listen to music, go to gigs and watch TV.

Jim was uncomplicated and the rest of the Pandas loved him for his lack of ego. Phil thought this might be a disadvantage on stage as he’d just stand there, playing bass with proficiency but without flourish. Jim took up a lot of room. He was big without being fat. He was a neat six foot tall and he was broad shouldered. He had thick medium brown hair and thick eyebrows that Suzy made him wax in the middle. His large brown eyes were fringed with generous eyelashes. He was easily the hairiest of the Pandas.

As a couple Jim and Suzy were dissimilar but appeared to be deeply, truly fond of each other, each one admiring in the other characteristics they didn’t have. Suzy wishing she could be calmer and less impulsive and Jim that he could be more outgoing, but finding it hard and so making their relationship rockier than Jim would have liked. It bothered Suzy less. She didn’t have the same need for security as most people and found it perfectly easy to live in the present moment for much of the time.

The Pandas and their FWAGs (Friends, Wives and Girlfriends) found a big booth to sit in and got comfortable. The Pandas were due on stage at nine-thirty and were supporting a local band called Demon Speeding. They had got the gig through Damon, Demon Speeding’s singer, who was a regular in the Green Man pub like most people who liked rock and metal and lived in Reading. The sound engineer came over and asked them to sound check. They were still waiting for Phil, the lead guitarist and self-proclaimed Panda’s driving force. Nick went outside to call him.

Dude, give me five, I’m just on my way from the station’. Phil apologised.

He’d left home late, he was trying to finish some work for a client (he was a website designer who worked mostly from home) but had been somehow unable to drag himself away from watching porn on his computer.

Phil was the oldest of the Pandas at thirty-seven. He’d never married, never had a relationship lasting much over eighteen months and he liked to think of himself as a charming, irresistible ladies’ man. Just lately he had been slipping into Leslie Phillips instead of Russell Brand. He would settle down he promised himself, when he found the right woman for him. He was very much into the journey and less focused on the destination.

He’d been chatting to some girls on the train and trying to persuade them to come to the gig and have a drink with him after. He had got on the train at Tilehurst, where he lived, spotted two girls he liked the look of, sat down opposite them, looking resplendent he thought, in his tight around the crotch trousers and asked them

Where are you travelling to?’

Reading’ one of them had said, looking at him as if she was thinking

That’s where this train goes and what’s it to you? Weirdo’.

Well, did you know that life’s a journey and not a destination?’ He’d asked them.

Errr…’ They’d replied, looking towards the door. It was the door of a moving train and no help.

My point is that on the journey you should come and check out my band’. He smiled.

We’re playing the Edge Bar in Reading but by next month we’ll be playing arenas so check us out now before we get too big to get close to’.

He’d eventually managed to get a lukewarm reaction out of them by the time the train reached Reading but they chose not to accompany him. He told himself it would all change after tonight, once he started gigging again. Phil was an accomplished guitarist and his confidence in that area was not false pride. He’d been playing for twenty years. His close friends thought he was getting stranger, the more he worked from home, coming out with more and more things that would be best left as thoughts rather than vocalised. But none of them questioned his guitar ability.

Phil bustled into the Edge Bar, went straight up to the sound engineer, apologised for being late and offered to buy him a pint. He was aware that the sound engineer had the power to make him sound terrible, okay or great. Luckily Ed the sound guy was a reasonable sort and was well used to working with musicians, some of whom tended to work very much to their own timetable. The Pandas sound-checked briskly, aware that the bar was filling up and people were watching them but that they didn’t want them to watch too closely just yet. It sounded good and Ed gave them a series of big, reassuring thumbs up gestures.

After the sound check the Pandas returned to their table and Ian introduced Phil whose gaze lingered on Cleo and Jenni for longer than on Suzy and Angie, who he had met before and who he knew to be unavailable. Suzy and he had flirted quite outrageously on one occasion and although in other circumstances Phil would have been keen to get to know her better he tried to keep his distance. He thought he recognised his female opposite number in Suzy and after leaving one band through misuse of his penis he didn’t want to repeat that mistake. Especially now he was ready to let the Pandas loose. He thought he had a chance of success this time and didn’t want anything to screw it up.

When the Pandas went on at twenty to ten the Edge Bar was busy but not full. All their FWAGs clustered near the front of the stage, at the side. Angie was feeling slightly nervous for Paul. She knew he was looking forward to playing something that wasn’t cover versions but also that he was slightly out of his comfort zone with drumming faster. As he was at the back of the stage he was less worried about being on show but more worried about staying in time so he didn’t put the others off. Angie thought he would be a cool Dad, letting their children have a go on his drum kit.

Jenni was fiddling with her camera, planning to get some photos of this momentous event. Phil was thinking that he’d show these youngsters how it’s done, both on stage and then off stage, chatting up the adoring women that were sure to result from his virtuoso playing. Ian was studying his effects pedals, trying to breathe slowly and hoping very hard that it went well. Jim was ready to go. The great thing about not having too large an ego was that he wasn’t risking anything. He played because he enjoyed it. If he stopped enjoying it, he would stop playing. Maybe due to his day job as a mechanic he tended to see things as being simple, you serviced bits, cleaned bits and replaced bits and everything worked out fine. He was gratified to see Suzy smiling at him and he smiled back hugely. Nick was staring into the middle distance. He was planning what he’d say to rouse the audience if needed and he was hoping his voice would be loud enough in the big venue.

The set list had been decided weeks ago and was eight songs long. They started with ‘Hit Where it Hurts’, a song about a relationship break-up including a fight that involved being hit in the testicles. Next was ‘Conflict of Interest’ about the greed of bankers and about how letting banks regulate themselves can’t possibly work. Then came ‘Metal Fix’, which had the fundamental message that metal is great, liking metal is fun and other types of music aren’t as great. This had taken Phil half an hour to write and followed in the tradition of Judas Priest’s ‘Metal Gods’, AC/DC’s ‘Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ and Manowar’s ‘The Gods Made Heavy Metal’.

This was followed by ‘Plastic Purgatory’, about the shallowness of people having lots of plastic surgery, trying futilely to remain youthful and then not being happy with how they look and having still more surgery until their original features were dist

Sarah Tipper