“Okay okay okay. Let’s try again. You sing the high notes, and I’ll sing the low.”
“Wait I thought you were the high notes.”
“That’s what I just said dude. I sing the high ones, and you take Mark’s part.”
“Oh right. Yeah that makes sense.”
“Okay. Here we go.”
“Fate fell short this time, your smile fades in the summer.”
“Place your hand in mine, I’ll leave when I wanna.”
“No wait, you just sang the same notes I did. We’re meant to be harmonising.”
“Okay. Yes. Got it. So who does the high notes again?”
Drunk as jolly lords, Annie and I tumbled home singing through the slick wet streets of London. We’d spent the evening in Wetherspoons with Sam, ostensibly to plan a No Taste club night, though all productive conversation on the matter had ceased by the time the second round was sunk. By the end of the night Sam and I were creasing together, giddily recounting for Annie our escapades as naughty teenagers in Wetherby, with our old band Sex Rain.
It was Annie’s fourth night in England. We’d been out the previous three evenings as well – first to the Bedford (boozy), then to Pop Brixton (boozy), then for beers in Sky Garden and onto the beautiful tourist-walk along South Bank (boozy, with a dash of exercise). In addition, I’d foolishly gone out three nights in a row before Annie even arrived in the UK, which meant I’d been drinking each evening for the best part of a week. The four and a half weeks ahead of us looked uncertain: I couldn’t fathom how my body would possibly hold up.
The following evening, to try and keep our health in check, we went to the Rebel Inn for 0% beers and played board games as rain tickled the windows. Later on we spoke about love, and France, and the break-up, and the hurt of it all. Then we walked home and got high and watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a favourite film of Annie’s. I liked it, particularly the scenes with Sean Penn as Spicoli, although I don’t remember the last half hour because I got too stoned and fell asleep.
“Just couldn’t make it on time.”
I tried showing Annie the Guy Ritchie film Snatch, but it didn’t come across very well. I should have known that a gay Californian DJ wouldn’t have a huge amount of interest in watching a lot of horrible grey-skinned men from the East End bark ‘fack off’ at each other for ninety minutes. We had to watch it with subtitles on, and even then it remained largely unintelligible: it turns out it’s very hard to explain to a foreigner quite how Cockney rhyming slang works, and why on earth they don’t just say ‘phone’, ‘wife’ and ‘stairs’.
It wasn’t long before Friday rolled around, and with it Annie’s first show. I was feeling ropey after the week we’d had, but Annie was determined, and set out to meet some DJ friends for a pre-show dinner over in Peckham. I lay around feeling sorry for myself for the majority of the evening, then as the dark drew in I pulled on my Converse and headed out to Streatham Station. I got a text from Annie as I was en route:
yooo text me when ur coming thru boys. merch booth is all set up and looks sick. on my rider I’ve managed to get you a massive Peroni and a few cans of G&T ?
I shuddered at the thought of more boozing as I hopped aboard the train to South Bermondsey, and ate fruit pastilles as I watched the lit-up city swish by. I’d never been to South Bermondsey before, and let me tell you: scary place after dark. The train station is a single, thin platform, illuminated like an island in a great sea of black. There are two ways out: one (the way Google Maps wanted me to go) was down a very long, shadowy, totally secluded pathway between two high fences, with no streetlamps for two hundred metres.
I started off down said path, ignoring the shrieks of my common sense, and only stopped when I saw three large figures loitering in the darkness ahead and I realised I was in London, not the countryside, and while swerving dark paths in Bardsey might make you a bit of a paranoid fanny, avoiding them in London is probably quite sensible. I was tired, and in no mood to be ragged about a mob of beardless youths.
Looking over my shoulder every four seconds, I made my way back towards the station and out the other way, which eventually led me past Millwall’s football ground and through a silent, inky industrial estate. I got the willies bad. I tried to play jazz through my headphones to keep my spirit calm, but it served only to make me jump out of my skin every time a cyclist overtook me without my hearing their approach.
After a harrowing thirty minutes, I found the place: Venue MOT, Unit 18. The door staff didn’t believe me when I told them about my driving license.
“You lost it?”
“How exactly does somebody lose their driving license?”
“Drunk, in Bangkok.”
“When was this?”
“Three years ago.”
“You lost your driving license three years ago?”
“And you never thought to replace it?” asked the bouncer, incredulous.
“Well, it sounds obvious when you say it like that,” I replied.
After a brief argument I was allowed in, compromising on my lack of ID by showing them a photograph of my passport saved on my phone, plus the obligatory a negative COVID test.
The venue was only little inside; it consisted of one room for dancing, a bar, and a smoking area with wooden palettes and crates stacked up for people to sit on. Not exactly Sispyhos, but it would do. I rolled a cig and messaged Annie to let her know I was out the back, and after a moment she bounded out the doors clad in her gig attire, all bowling shirt and chains and fishnets.
Ruffling my hair affectionately (hate hate hate, every hair on my head is meticulously arranged to minimize the appearance of male pattern baldness, Jesus Christ, nobody is allowed to touch it EVER), Annie introduced me to each of her cool queer DJ pals in turn.
“This is my best homie Dan, he’s letting me crash with him. He’s a straighty but he’s an ally, he’s one of the good ones. We love him. Isn’t that right Danny Boy?”
Cue obligatory arm punches and shoulder headbutts and more wanton ruffling of my beautiful precious hair.
Old faces from Berlin showed up, too: Charis and Andre, who I’d not seen since that fateful night in February 2018 when a ketty Andre attempted to tap the frozen surface of a city pond with his foot and plunged into the waist-deep water, and no taxi would take him home because we made him take his trousers off so all he was wearing to beat away the winter chill was a kilt fashioned from somebody’s jumper.
“Yeah… let’s not bring that up again man,” said Andre, when I brought it up, immediately after greeting him.
The crowd was very queer and very androgynous, which was a thrill. I’ve never met anybody who identifies as ‘they’ before, and I enjoyed the challenge of remembering what to call who. I got it right 90% of the time, only slipping up with the odd ‘he’ that should have been a ‘they’ towards the end of the night, when I’d had a hundred beers and was talking at pace – but at any rate the music was so loud I don’t think anybody noticed.
It made me think a lot about gender. I had lengthy conversations with perhaps a dozen people over the course of the evening, and for the most part I had no idea what gender of person I was talking to. Speaking to somebody and not knowing if they’re a boy or a girl seems like a strange notion, until you do it and you realise – well, it just isn’t. It doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference. You converse with a personality, not a gender. I think there’s something lovely and warm in that.
Annie’s set was around midnight, and though the venue didn’t reach capacity, it was a loving, rambunctious crowd. I’m not one for dancing at Annie’s shows – I feel like an imposter, bringing the vibe down with my tentative dad bopping – but I went for a couple of cheeky two-steps in between shots and cigs, to show support for my friend.
I love seeing Annie transform at her shows. The shy, endearingly clumsy girl I hang out with by day – the one who accidentally tripped on a metal ‘wet floor’ sign and sent it clattering down a flight of stairs in Sky Garden, drawing the scowls of the assembled waiting staff – vanishes in a puff of purple smoke, replaced by Ani Klang – the hyper-confident, mysterious sex-siren serving up sin to the people. She might bruise like a peach and crumple beneath a gentle breeze in her daily life, but on stage she can’t put a foot wrong.
When she brought her set to a close and left the stage – sweaty, hair slicked back, grinning – we hugged and jumped around and smoked ourselves to oblivion outside. At 5am the venue closed, and we were unceremoniously slung out by the bouncers. I shared a taxi with a very sleepy, head-lolling Andre, while Annie stayed behind flirting with the girl working the ticket desk.
It wasn’t until the following afternoon that I saw her again.
“Hello shagger,” I said, opening the front door to her victorious smile.
“I love this fucking country, man,” said Annie.