S– is my rock ‘n’ roll lodger. He only stays with me for slightly over a month but that month is a lot of fun. He is a friend of a friend of a friend. I mention to Christine (my Kensington Drama Club chum) that I am between lodgers, and she tells me about this Austrian musician who is coming to London to seek fame and fortune, and needs a place to stay while doing so. I am intrigued by the possibility and it means I don’t immediately have to seek another long-term lodger (all of whom, in their own way, prove stressful) so Christine passes my details up the line of communication and in due course the deal is done.
S– is tall and blond with the chiselled good looks and muscular build of an Austrian cross-country skier. I, at the time, am 5ft 3in tall and dumpy. We make an odd, but happy household. S– is determined to make it in pop music and is of the conviction, shared by many before and since, that London is the place to do it. He has made a demo tape and has come over for a month (in the end he stays for slightly longer) to hawk his tape round the capital’s record companies.
The eighties is known, among other things, for brittle electronic pop which trumpets its studio origins with high, but harsh production values. Many records of the time fit that description but they are mostly made by British, American or occasionally, thanks to Stock, Aitken and Waterman (if “thanks” is the word) Australian. The most notable European success in this arena is the Norwegian band a-ha. The immortal (in spirit but sadly not in fact) John Walters, then producer of John Peel’s radio programme, had a joke about how they got their name, to the effect that when they finished their first gig, a non-plussed and underwhelmed audience paused, and then said thoughtfully, “a-ha”. Anyway S– looks a bit like someone from a-ha, and his music is hi-energy pop, but with vocals delivered in a reasonably strong Austrian accent. Beth, on hearing a song of his which features the word “Hollywood” quite extensively opines that his vocal delivery makes this sound like “Holyrood”, which she finds consistenly amusing.
Anyway, it is a well-done demo – sounds professional and well-put together. The first thing S– does on arrival is to take his tape to a duplication house and get many copies made. In the ensuing weeks he delivers the tapes in person to pretty much every record company in London (in those days there are a lot of them) subsequently chasing them up by phone or in person.
We get on fine. He is a very nice chap, we have a shared interest in music, although possibly not the same music, but I play him the odd thing I like. After a few days we fall into a ritual of watching a movie each evening to keep him entertained. At the time I have one of the original laserdisc players, the height of technological sophistication in the early eighties despite Philips designing it to resemb;e a top-loading washing machine. Laserdiscs, for our younger readers, were large videodiscs (the ancestor of DVD) which looked like 12-inch vinyl records with added silver bling. Vinyl records, for our younger readers … oh never mind.
Anyway, each evening we watch a movie – I choose them carefully and S– likes most of my choices. Initially this is just to keep him entertained, but as the month progresses, the record company rejections start to mount up, and the movies become increasingly a form of moral support – another crap day trying to break into the music biz, never mind, let’s watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Increasingly I find myself trying to bolster his flagging spirits.
It is during his stay that I have what will prove to be my last crossdressing adventure for many years. My colleague Elizabeth at QMW invites me to a fancy dress party. I ask if S– can come as well – a party to cheer him up. I have not crossdressed since entering my lodger era, but the prospect of this party makes me sorely tempted. In the end I shove some (rather glam) clothes and make-up in a bag, rather lamely suggesting to S– that they are some of L–‘s which she has left behind. S– does not bother with a costume. When we get to the party I scurry off upstairs to get ready, leaving S–, I later discover, to fall heavily and hopelessly in love with Elizabeth (it is her boyfriend’s party apart from anything else). I then emerge dolled up and have a rather wonderful time – a lot of the girls at the party are cool about it and come and talk to me (although I still strenously deny any suggestion that I am a crossdresser). I generally have a wonderful time, apart from one drunken lout who keeps trying to grab my genitals.
As we return to Walthamstow, I talk with S– in the cab and it’s clear he knows I am trans and is cool about it – nonetheless I stil have to strenously deny it. Little do I suspect that, in any case, I am about to be forcefully shoved back into the closet by looming events.
S– gets glummer, and glummer. No record company shows any sign of biting. Rejection letters arrive regularly in the post. I show him movies and play him music. Unexpectedly, he really warms to Fairport Convention’s Heyday. This is a collection of Radio 1 sessions from the late sixties, many for John Peel. I first obtained it as a bootleg tape, but it subsequently gets a legitimate release. The songs dates mostly from Fairport’s early, pre folk-rock, West Coast-influenced days – there are covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Richard and Mimi Farina. Which is ironic, because …
Most of the rejection letters are form letters, but then one arrives that isn’t. It’s from Joe Boyd, sometime Floyd/Fairport/Thompson/McGarrigle producer, who at the time has his own independent record company called Hannibal Records on which many early, key world music releases appear. Boyd’s tone in the letter is both amused, and incredulous. He wonders whether S– has ever listened to any of the records he has produced. It’s an amusing, slightly acid letter which concludes with the assertion that S–‘s tape is the single least appropriate demo (in terms of Boyd’s career and musical interests) that he has ever received. Given the tone of the letter, S– is reasonably philosophical.
Shortly afterwards, he returns to Austria, without a pop career, his romantic ambitions for Elizabeth sadly unfulfilled. Amidst all the other lodgers, his stay with me has been unadulterated good fun, and a brief respite from the very tough times which are starting to loom.