“Yo, it’s Ani fockin’ Klang here spittin’ flows, come around here imma break your nose, bitches love me when I play my shows, I’m fly as hell and everybody knows.”
“Okay your turn.”
“Your turn. Spit some bars.”
“No, I don’t think so. Not my style.”
“Oh come on.”
“Where would I even begin?”
“Just start talking. Then make it rhyme.”
“Right. Okay. So like iambic pentameter or?”
“Jesus boys, no. Don’t overthink it. Go.”
“Alright. Ahem. YO, YO, MY NAME IS DAN, AND I’M A MAN AND I HAVE A PLAN. I’M GONNA GO TO THE SHOP TODAY, AND IM GONNA BUY SOME BLOODY HAY. FOR MY HORSE! BECAUSE HE’S HUNGRY AND-”
“Maybe… maybe keep working on it.”
I’d made it to Manchester, and reunited with my best bud once more. It was good to be back together – and a relief. Disaster almost struck on my journey across the Pennines.
It started that afternoon, just after I finished work. I’d taken a taxi to Leeds train station, lugging my rucksack and Annie’s merch bag, which she’d entrusted to me as she couldn’t carry it with all her luggage. Upon arrival at the station I’d hopped out of the taxi, bought fruit pastilles and tobacco, and smoked a cig. Then I went through the ticket barrier and waited impatiently on the platform – itching for the train to arrive and for the fun to begin.
After ten long minutes, the train bound for Manchester Piccadilly finally screeched to a halt in front of me. The doors hissed open, and before climbing aboard I did my usual ‘wallet, keys, phone’ pat down. They were all there, safe and snug. However, something felt… off. My body felt oddly lithe. Graceful. Unencumbered, you might say.
The merch bag. The merch bag containing £600 worth of custom-made t-shirts and £120 in cash. The sodding merch bag. I’d left it in the taxi.
And all at once, adrenaline flooded my body.
Fighting backwards through the crowds to get out of the station, I pawed at the Uber app with shaking hands. Annie would be devastated. She designed the t-shirts herself, and a hefty chunk of the money she’d made touring would be effectively forfeit if I lost all of the t-shirts. I’d have ruined her whole trip.
I called my Uber driver and howled down the phone at him, and for the first minute of the call he had no idea who I was. Finally he agreed to come back and meet me – in thirty minutes. I had no way of knowing if he would be true to his word, or if this was all a fiction and he was at that very moment zipping down the A58 wearing an Ani Klang t-shirt, fanning himself with five-pound notes, cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West. Distraught, I tumbled back through the ticket style and stood chain smoking in the car park, mumbling to myself like a loon, palms clammy.
I realised I didn’t have a clue what car he was driving, or what the license plate was, or what he looked like. I called the driver again through the app. He told me his license plate, and I nodded and said yes okay great, then he hung up and I immediately forgot every single letter. Screaming internally, I could only squint at every taxi that passed me by, hoping desperately that I’d recognize my driver.
In a panic, I opened the Uber app and pressed ‘Tip Driver’ as an extra incentive for my driver to return. I sent £5, and when the receipt popped up I realised I’d picked the wrong journey and had just tipped a driver from a week ago. Gurning with rage like Basil Fawlty, I booted a pebble across the car park and sent another £5, this time to the right driver.
Finally, after a total of fifty-five arse-clenching minutes, he arrived.
I wailed my gratitude, flung another fiver in through the passenger door, heaved the merch bag out of the boot and staggered back into the station to book a new ticket to Manchester, one hour late, reeking of fags, white as a week-old corpse, stomach churning, heaving great big post-panic-attack breaths.
“How was your journey?” Annie asked when I rang her doorbell 90 minutes later.
“Oh, not bad. Not bad.”
Annie was crashing at a DJ’s apartment. He was called Gary, and his place was the location for pre-drinks ahead of the show, which was taking place at a club called Yes. All the DJs for the event were there. There was a DJ called Harka, and a tall man in a leather vest, and a girl in camo pants called something like Pan or Spiv or Mip.
The club was good fun. Annie managed to pull before she’d even taken to the stage; a girl came up to her in the crowd as we were stood talking, to pay tribute to Annie’s freckled face.
“I feel intimidated to even talk to you,” I overheard the girl say.
Oh, how I wish people were too intimidated to talk to me. All the weirdos come and have a word; I’m a black hole for nutters. I got into a long, ear-shouty conversation with a man who had ingested an ungodly amount of ketamine. It was mostly him doing the shouting – I wasn’t really speaking, just nodding and smiling and occasionally wiping flecks of his saliva off my eyelids.
At 2.30am, for the final time Annie span around like Wonder Woman and morphed into Ani Klang, blue light glinting off her many silver chains. She played a hard-hitting 90-minute set, and the pace didn’t let up for a second. A couple of hardcore girls at the front in spandex spent the entire set throwing shapes without so much as a drink refill. I alternated between dancing bashfully at the side of the crowd and manning the t-shirt stall whenever I got too self-conscious, which of course was regularly.
For her grand finale at 4am, Annie jumped out from behind her decks clutching a bottle of champagne. Handing out glasses to the first couple of rows, she shook up the bottle, popped the top, and sprayed booze all over the crowd with the energy you’d expect of a Glastonbury headliner. And like that, amid much whooping and cheering and you-wot-you-wot-ing, the last show of Ani Klang’s UK tour was done.
Bottle in hand, she threw open her arms to soak up the happy cheers. As the revellers wound down, she hugged the promoters, fist bumped the dancing girls at the front, and set about packing up her gear. From the back of the room, leaning against the wall sipping a beer, I watched my friend on stage. I felt very, very proud.
There was an after party at Gary’s that night, and I chatted to a lot of weird people. One guy showed me a video of him doing lots of backflips in various places, which was fine except the video was five minutes long. I’d get fidgety watching Bruce Lee do backflips for five minutes in person, never mind a grainy video of Josh from Preston pinwheeling around his local gymnasium. At 8am, after much carousing, everybody left, and we got a few hours of desperately needed sleep.
We met my brother Charlie later in the day – we were due to stay with him and his boyfriend Christian for the next two nights, until Annie’s flight home early Monday morning.
Charlie had heard a lot about Annie – he was the last member of my immediate family to meet her. First Jack, in Bristol, then my mum in Leeds, then my dad in Harrogate, now Charlie in Manchester. It was a complete coincidence that Bristol and Manchester were two of the cities Annie had gigs in, but a very useful one indeed, because it enabled us to travel the length of the country for five weeks without spending a single penny on accommodation.
“You smell like a brewery,” was the first thing Charlie said to me upon receiving us in his apartment. “Don’t sit down anywhere, please.”
An understandable request.
Annie wasn’t on her best form to meet the final member of my immediate family; the tour had rendered us both shells of our former selves. By this point, her voice was little more than a rasp.
“So nice to meet you, boys,” she croaked at Charlie and Christian, half dead. “I’m usually more animated, I promise. And I don’t always sound like a man.”
That evening – when we were feeling a little more alive – we went up to the rooftop of Charlie’s accommodation with takeaway pizzas from Rudy’s in Ancoats. We drank beers and chatted about California and Annie’s time in a Canadian boarding school, and then we played a movie trivia game, which I won, and was very smug about, and played Cards Against Humanity, which Annie won, and was very smug about. Then we spent, oh, about 45 minutes telling Alexa to do different kinds of farts.
“Alexa! Ketchup fart!”
“Here’s A Ketchup Fart, Coming Right Up.”
That night Charlie took us into town. We were hoping to get into some interesting bar where they project porn on all the walls, but they were full up. Instead we went to a jazz bar called the Fitzgerald, which I found agreeable because I shitting love F Scott Fitzgerald. We snapped our fingers, quaffed a few gins, and ended up on Canal Street.
After having had my eardrums pounded like gongs until 8am that morning, I wasn’t wildly keen to go to any fist-pumping clubs. I respectfully requested Charlie take us somewhere we could sit down and chat. On the way we passed a booming lesbian bar, and I could tell from her face that Annie was sorely tempted to sprint inside and raise hell. To her credit, however, she resisted the urge.
“It’s our last weekend together, boys. Chicks can wait, honestly.”
After a couple of beers in a quiet bar we found, we headed home at midnight, and I introduced Annie to the unearthly miracle that is gravy and chips. Then, for the final time, we watched Peep Show in bed together and fell asleep. We didn’t realise it would be the final time – when do two people ever realise such things? But the next day and night would be Annie’s last in the UK, and true to the trajectory we’d been on for the last five weeks, we’d be getting no sleep.