All the Rage Prologue

All the Rage
Prologue

 

There was no buzz on earth like applause – and the members of All the Rage had never heard such a roar as this. Through the dazzling studio lights, they could just discern the wobbly shapes of faces. Oceans of faces. Oceans of people, cheering and stamping. And the cherished figures of families and boyfriends, whose Yeahs were the loudest of all.

The group had just sung to their biggest ever audience – and the incredible thing was, the baying gallery in here was not even the sum total of it. Far from it. No, it was the eight million – EIGHT MILLION – or so with their feet up in front of ITV1 who really counted, for to them fell the task of picking up their phones and voting in this live contest.

Glowing with exhilaration, the three girls beamed into the camera monitors, as they’d been told to, and then at each other. There had never been such powerful camaraderie between them. It positively crackled both on- and off-stage – that’s what made them such a wow to watch perform. As they clasped hands now, there was electricity; a shared pulse that charged through their linked bodies. The grins and winks they exchanged were proud and congratulatory. We’ve done it, they said, aren’t we the greatest! These are my best mates, and we’re living our dream!

It was a dream which, in sixteen hectic months, had taken them from the rough-and-ready pub circuit to primetime television exposure. But where would it take them next? That was the question filling the girls’ minds now.

‘The Sugababes ought to be feeling a tad nervous, is all I can say,’ chirruped Todd Davies, Talent Scout‘s ever-excitable presenter. He would have still gushed had they sung like a trio of tortured cockatiels, but in this case his praise was sincere. All the Rage had brought the current heats of this popular talent show to a spectacular close. Todd thought they were easily favourites to be voted back into next week’s grand final.

They seemed like a viewer’s – and a record company’s – dream to him: Chantal, with a cherubic face and a buxom shape that owed nothing to silicone, looking divine in a sea blue mini dress; elegant, willowy Faith, in silky indigo, whose sound possessed a rich, Madonna-like quality; and little, husky Justine, wearing blazing orange, all dimples and wiry energy.

‘Don’t just take my word for it, though,’ Todd continued cheesily, pointing into the camera, ‘let’s see how our celebrity panel rates this hot new girl band. Carla – did you think they were bostin’, our kid?’

Chantal, Faith and Justine hailed from the Black Country – the industrial hub of the West Midlands – and Todd lampooned their accent and vernacular at every opportunity. Many Talent Scout viewers were cringing in their living rooms at this point – particularly in the Black Country region itself, where many a cry of ‘That saft cockney prat cor do our accent’ resounded – but the All the Rage girls were far too euphoric to take offence. They just giggled along with the audience, who hooted convulsively at Todd’s every wisecrack.

‘Well I sure dunno what bostin’ means,’ Carla Day, 1970s disco idol, latter-day star of musical theatre and regular panellist, declared in a New York twang, ‘but I’ll tell ya something, honey – I thought these three ladies were awesome tonight! I never heard It’s Raining Men put across with such passion. If the record companies ain’t beatin’ a path to your door after this, I’ll eat ma sequins, baby!’

The audience whooped like apes, as they did whenever a celeb judge complimented one of the acts. The girls themselves were more demurely delirious.

‘Rory – your thoughts?’

More whoops greeted chest-waxed Australian soap hunk Rory Powers simply for opening his mouth.

‘I agree with everything Carla said, Todd,’ he drawled, with a trademark lazy smirk that drew yet another chorus of squeals. ‘And the girl on the left – ‘

‘Justine,’ Todd interjected.

‘Justine – sweetheart, you remind me of a young Geri Halliwell!’

Justine glowed. Rory wasn’t to know, but no comparison could have flattered her more.

Chantal smirked to herself also; she knew a certain person who’d be green to even see her in Rory’s company.

‘Reuben,’ Todd addressed the third and final panellist, ‘d’you reckon All the Rage will live up to their name?’

‘Absolutely,’ rasped Reuben Greenway, zillionaire record producer and laconic wearer of Ray-Bans and black leather. ‘A classic disco anthem, well delivered. They’ll be dancing to you three in the discos of the future!’

‘Cheers, Reuben,’ said Todd, ‘and big thanks to all of this week’s guest judges. But don’t forget, viewers, it’s your votes that truly matter. So, if you want to see our trio of bostin’ Black Country babes here next week, dial the following number?or text ‘RAGE’ to this number?but not ’til after the show! I know you’re all eager beavers, talent scouts, but the phonelines aren’t open just yet! In the meantime, ladies and gentlemen, give it up one more time for All the Rage!’

The girls, still clutching hands, demurely bowed and departed backstage.

******

In the green room, it was all hugs, shrieks, champagne and pandemonium. The other four acts, though upbeat, were rather reserved (the girls sensed their rivals took the competition more seriously, and their self-esteem was more dependent upon the outcome of the public vote), but All the Rage were behaving like they’d won already. To them, appearing on TV, spending a day in a studio, having their make-up professionally done and being paid compliments by celebrities were sufficient thrills.

These were Black Country girls who’d practised their art in pubs, not stage school graduates who were blas頡bout brushes with showbiz. As far as they were concerned, the party could start now.

The trio yelled ‘Yessss!’ in unison and leaped into a circle, turning their traditional group hug into a kind of Greek dance of jubilation.

‘Well done, girls!’

‘That was so wicked!’

‘Rory Powers compared me to Geri! Rory Powers – I’ve had a thing about him for years!’

‘Did you hear what that Reuben guy said?’

‘What d’you think – bit different to doing karaoke down the old Red Lion, eh?’

Joe, their manager and so much more, was there already, as their behind-the-scenes champion, along with the other contestants’ mates and parents.

‘That was stunning,’ he cheered, and emotionally cuddled them in turn. This band meant so much to him, and they thought the world of him too?in differing ways. Things were about to happen to these girls – and it just seemed so bittersweet that?No! Mustn’t spoil their night by getting blubby.

‘So how do you rate your chances, girls? The panel certainly seemed to like you the best.’

‘Ye-es,’ wavered Chantal, ever the cautious one, ‘but that lad who did the Justin Timberlake number could take some beating. All the little girlies will be begging Mommy to borrow the phone and vote for him.’

‘But it’s not the winning,’ Justine argued, in her husky, shouty voice, as she filched four flutes of champagne from the complimentary tray and doled them amongst the girls and Joe, ‘it’s the taking part – as you yourself used to tell me, Miss Brown! Cheers!’

They clinked glasses sloppily, giggling as bubbles spilled over their fingers – yet they stood and drank in abrupt and loaded silence. They became oblivious to their extraordinary surroundings, the other singers, the backstage crew busying about in black, shouting things into headsets.

In their relatively short coalition, Chantal, Faith and Justine had forged an almost psychic bond. They were far more than bandmates; even ‘best mates’ scarcely covered it. To each girl, the other two were the sisters she had never had. They were attuned to each other’s moods, tastes and even menstrual cycles.

When they simultaneously glanced up from the depths of their flutes, caught each other’s eyes and laughed tautly, they knew all was not quite wonderful but nobody wanted to voice such spoilsport thoughts on such a special night.

‘D’you reckon it’s true what Carla Day said – that we could get a record deal out of this?’ asked Chantal, sounding, oddly, more troubled than elated.

‘It could happen,’ Faith responded in similarly wobbly tones. ‘Record company execs watch shows like this, don’t they? One of them could ring in if they like us. Or maybe it’s only the winners of these competitions that get offers – I don’t know.’ She bit her lip, and twiddled with the white gold ring on her left hand – nervy gestures that were very uncharacteristic.

‘That would be a marvellous break for us, wouldn’t it?’ said Justine, but equally flatly. ‘One that we’d have to be bonkers to turn down?’

Nods, further sips and contemplation.

Then Faith took command, and spoke in a ‘right, the time has come’ voice. ‘Let’s go into the dressing room for a bit. I think we need a chat.’

‘Yeah, that’s a good idea,’ Justine said slowly, ‘it’s quieter in there, we’ll be able to talk.’

‘And we’ve got an hour to kill before we have to be back on air for the results show,’ added Chantal.

‘Want me to come with you?’ Joe asked Faith attentively.

Faith squeezed his hand, smiled in a ‘thanks but no thanks’ manner – then murmured ‘Would you? This affects you just as much as us, after all.’

She discarded her almost full glass on a random table, and the four trooped away to the little dressing room which All the Rage had been assigned for the day. Everything here was so showbiz – down to the little touches like the gold star bearing the band’s name that had been tacked to their door.

How many nights, getting changed in putrid pub toilets to sing on stages the size of orange boxes, had they dreamed of fame, and the glitzy cliches that went with it?

How many editions of Talent Scout had they watched at home with fish and chips on their knees, heckling the envied contestants?

This day had been the best of their lives, and whatever happened now, whatever the upshot of the dressing room confessional they knew was coming, nothing could ever erase the fabulous memory it would become.

As Joe softly closed the door behind them, they wedged into the room, occupying any spare square centimetre of chair, dressing table and window sill they could. The enormous, light bulb-surrounded mirror portrayed their young faces, riveted to Faith as though she were a boss about to deliver a ‘good news and bad’ speech to her staff. Faith took a huge breath, and glanced briefly at Joe, as though to draw courage from his dependable, ponytailed presence.

‘Girls,’ she said, ‘I’ve got an announcement to make.’

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