Moment of Wakefulness
I am walking under a time-shattered bridge in the East End of London. Graffiti mottles the crumbling bricks with scrawled shapes, faded by the wind that whistles through the arches. The sun has been beating mercilessly all day like an army drummer, and now the air hum-buzzes with the electricity of an approaching storm.
I step over some broken bottles and flapping pieces of cardboard.
"Urban" I remark to Martin and Joe, who are picking their own ways through decaying litter about a metre ahead of me.
They both laugh gently and we continue walking.
Martin gestures towards an enormous red-brick building with cracked windows hinting at shadowed spaces behind. Letters that once declared things proudly now whisper, faint and blanched, of ceased industry, of machines switched off and jobs lost.
Some police tape flutters in the electric breeze while some bored-looking police officers field questions from the public about the most recent of London's myriad violent crimes, locking their dull eyes on the bleak street.
We step over the tape to get to the main door. Joe opens the front gate then stands, whispering curses, as he searches his key ring to open the second, then the third doors. Once through I am led down a concrete corridor peppered with heavy doors barricaded by thick black bars. We reach the one we are looking for. I shiver in the damp heat and imagine years of industrious clamour, now oddly silent.
The studio itself is like many others I have been in. Tangles of wires snake across the floor, scaling anything in their way. Huge speakers sit fatly, their surfaces so dark and ominous as to appear frictionless. Mattresses lean next to the bits of carpets tacked onto the concrete walls (attempts to improve the sound-proofing). Instruments lurk in corners waiting someone to release their latent noise. Empty beer cans jostle smudged newspapers whose headlines shriek yesterday's news, a Snicker's wrapper perches next to a bite mark-riddled coffee cup, victims all of some past late-night rock 'n' rolling.
Martin switches on the computer as Joe goes through the sorts of vocals he wants me to create for his track. "It is Northern soul." I nod, and listen to the recording a few times. A flash of worry momentarily blinds me. What if I have no idea how to write? Or sing? What if I am just a dreamer with a poorly-paid day job and an ocean of ambitions that will never be fulfilled?
As soon as the worry comes, though, it goes. I shake self-doubt from my mind, focus on the job in hand and smile. It is a good track.
Two hours later we have put down all the vocals. They are happy and I am happy. I reflect that the more I do this, the easier it gets. I was recommended as someone who could write and sing good vocals, and I am fairly sure that I have lived up to it. I am proud of my work.
We leave the studio. On the way back to the car I turn and look at towering factory, its edges now blurred by the summer darkness. The air fizzes. The police tape arches high as the wind flicks it carelessly back and forth. The building squats, aloof and alone.
As am I being driven to meet my sister (over from Paris for a fleeting visit), the view from my temp desk flickers behind my eyelids. I take a deep breath and hold it for a moment. Opening my eyes I expel both the breath and the image. No need to worry now, I think. In these moments I can visualise a life of living how I want, where I want and by the means I want. When I do a good job in the studio. When I sign that royalties contract next week, when I meet that person I am going to work with, in rehearsals and in lessons. At these times I can cope with all those hours of desk-dull banalities, of dealing with self-appointed Health and Safety officers and of zombie-like ticktockclock watching, disguised as a secretary, receptionist or bit of mindless office-candy. I can cope with all those hours if I live for those ephemeral moments when I can see my own potential, when I can tell that other people believe in me too, when creativity is queen.
As we drive away from the studio through the neon lights of the East End the skies begin to fling portly drops onto the windscreen. I lean back in my seat and think of the factory. Its red bricks that survive each metamorphosis, that, although weakened by the passing years, it remains standing. Blood spattered but not bowed.
I shake the thoughts from my over-indulgent mind and tear my eyes from the smeared fairground colours of the shops.
I turn to Martin.
"That was good" I say. "Now what's next?"