Rather than give me any hints over the phone, Amy had waited till I reached her studio to tell me her big idea. She wanted me to do the sound for her fashion show. I was flattered and petrified all at once. I knew nothing about fashion shows, or fashion for that matter, which couldn’t be a good thing. Surely Amy wasn’t offering me this out of friendship? I didn’t want her to ruin her chances by letting me botch the sound up. To my surprise, she mentioned the rave at the art gallery as having inspired her. Then the realisation set in. I hadn’t twigged that she wanted me to actually DJ at the show. For some reason, I’d presumed she wanted me to play the piano.
‘Yeah, and I was thinking it would be great if you were on the catwalk, too! So the whole show would be themed around being urban and irreverent,’ Amy enthused.
‘Maybe you’d be safer hiring a proper DJ?’ I pleaded.
‘You are a real DJ,’ Amy was not to be swayed.
‘I’d never refuse you anything, you’re like family to me,’ I replied. ‘I’ll do it, of course I will, but are you sure you know what you’re doing? Your whole future is riding on this one show!’ I hoped to bring her to her senses.
‘Then there’s no better or safer hands to place it in.’ Amy stuck her hand out to shake on it.
As I took her hand in mine, I realised this was the first time we had ever shaken hands. It felt a bit odd. Amy gave me some notes from her ideas folder so that I could start working on the sound. She was more intent on getting me to feel the vibe of the collection rather than showing me sketches of the garments. Amy knew that I would connect mood and words with music much easier than I would associate any notes with a dress or a piece of fabric.
So, armed with several sheets of paper, I headed out, wondering what I had got myself into. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to help Amy out; I most certainly did. I’d do anything for her, and in all the years we’d known each other Amy had very rarely asked me for a favour. It was always the other way around, so I felt hugely indebted to her. But right now, what with juggling the gigs Toby was sending my way with my piano classes and practice, as well as the upcoming memorial concert, I felt like there was not enough of me to go around. I was stretched too thin as it was. My anxiety rising, I wondered where on earth I would find the time and the energy to do justice to this show.
That evening, I looked at Amy’s files and began to slowly create a sonic picture of what she was trying to achieve. But I realised I’d need to pop over to Toby’s store to stock up on a fresh supply of vinyl, as none of the stuff I was familiar with felt just right. I needed inspiration. The following afternoon, therefore, I went over to Sway Records. Even though Toby wasn’t expecting me, he seemed to have something up his sleeve, as the minute I crossed the store threshold he stopped what he was doing and rushed over, leading me to the counter, where he instructed me to close my eyes. As I stood with my eyes tightly shut, all I could hear was the rustling of paper. It seemed to go on forever.
‘I’m warning you,’ I said, ‘if I have to keep my eyes closed any longer, I might fall asleep.’
‘Is that the thanks a fella gets for going to the trouble of whipping up a little surprise for his gal?’ Toby said playfully, putting on a fake American accent. ‘Right, little Miss Impatient, put your hands out.’
I was expecting something light, so when a heavy load landed in my hands I automatically opened my eyes, for fear of dropping it.
Toby grinned, gesturing for me to open the large parcel. I slowly peeled the wrapping paper and then removed a layer of tissue paper. Only when all the wrapping had been removed did I recognise what the object was – it was a box for carrying records. A proper DJ’s record box! As I lifted it, admiring it, I noticed that there was lettering on one side of it: ‘Beat Girl’. I liked that. It sounded catchy, and I wondered if it would even make a good DJ-ing moniker. Heather certainly wasn’t a hip-sounding name. I was genuinely touched and thanked him.
‘No self-respecting DJ can be without one,’ Toby said. ‘So don’t ever let me catch you hauling those records in a plastic shopping bag again!’
I smiled and gave him a quick kiss.
‘So when am I going to see you?’ he asked.
‘You’re seeing me now, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, but you’d hardly call this a date. I’m working and I know you’re not staying long. It seems that for us to spend time together one of us has to be working at the same time,’ Toby gently complained.
‘I’ll try to make some time,’ I struggled to smile reassuringly, as I knew how difficult it was going to be to free up an entire afternoon or evening any time soon, especially now that I had Amy’s fashion show to work on.
I wondered whether I ought to be looking into learning techniques on how to survive on four hours of sleep a day. Margaret Thatcher apparently managed to function on just that, and she had a whole country to run. Plus a family. Gosh, I must really be at the end of my tether if I’m comparing myself to Margaret Thatcher, I thought. I had exactly one evening of listening to the new records before I had to bring Amy some kind of a rough mix, so she could start coordinating her models and the clothes to the sound. I didn’t know how I’d pull it off, but I had to show up with something.
The new records had given me some ideas, but I wasn’t feeling the sound in my bones, and that nagging feeling continued when I played the music live at Amy’s studio. Amy and Steve had put up a makeshift catwalk down the middle of the studio, along which Amy was directing the models and occasionally swapping outfits and making the odd change. Both Amy and Steve looked thrilled with this first proper rehearsal, but I wasn’t so sure it was working. I kept thinking it needed something extra, maybe a more street sound, I wondered. I couldn’t put my finger on it; but I knew, if I persisted, the sound would eventually come to me.
‘This sounds fab, Heather,’ Amy gushed. ‘What d’you think about getting some skaters, too, alongside the models?’
I nodded absentmindedly, still contemplating that elusive missing sound. Amy caught my look.
‘Are we going to be ready with everything in time?’ she asked.
‘I think so,’ I spoke before I realised that was not the right answer. Seeing a worried expression forming on Amy’s face, I hastened to tell her that it would definitely be ready.
It was then that Amy announced that she had just received word from the organisers of London Fashion Week that she had been scheduled to show on the Saturday. This prompted a high-pitched scream from Steve, followed by a yelp from the model he was dressing, as he had just stabbed her with a pin.
After apologising to her, Steve excitedly explained to the rest of us what a big deal this meant. Saturday was known as ‘glamour day’, as it was the day when the renowned designers showed. To be ranked alongside such establishment names was either a fluke or a sign of great belief in Amy’s potential. Either way, it meant that the audience was guaranteed to be overflowing with a ‘Who’s Who’ of the fashion world. Magazine editors, department store buyers, fellow designers and the usual retinue of celebrities would all be crowding the front row. And they would all be there to witness my DJ-ing. Even though that wasn’t my world, I still felt a tingle of nerves at the thought of having to perform before such an illustrious gathering.
When I got back to the house that evening I asked Mike for help. I needed to learn how to operate digital music software. After a shaky start, with Mike not a particularly patient instructor, I got the hang of it, at least enough to get by for what I needed. By now, Mike and I had slipped into a comfortable camaraderie, albeit both of us still a bit reserved. I could sense his caution in opening up to me, which I imagined had a lot to do with being let down by his mother. He was afraid of the risk of allowing anyone else into his world, lest they disappeared. And I had made my intentions of wanting to get away as soon as possible very clear. So I understood his reserve. And I didn’t insist on any kind of bonding time; rather, I just let things evolve in their own time.
The rest of the week passed in a blur. I felt like I was constantly rushing somewhere; even my dreams were all about running someplace or feeling like I was late for something, yet I didn’t know what for. One evening, as I was juggling practice for the rehearsals and Amy’s music, I accidentally mixed the two up. As the two sounds meshed, something clicked. It was my epiphany. I tentatively continued to mix the two sounds, too cautious to start celebrating yet, but deep down I knew I had hit on it. That was the unique factor I was looking for, the sound that would set Amy’s show apart. It wasn’t a street sound as I had initially thought - it was the very opposite. I didn’t need to wait till I was at Juilliard to experiment after all, I thought happily.
The first person I called to tell them of this breakthrough was not Amy, but Toby. We had developed by this point a telephone relationship, as I had been too busy with everything to see him, so he had started calling me every evening from Sway Records to catch up with me and hear about my day and tell me all about his. I was glad of these phone calls, as they brought a touch of normality to the frantic day and allowed us to reconnect and stay close.
When I played the tune to Amy, she was equally thrilled. It worked perfectly with the outfits, she assured me. Now all that remained was perfecting the flow of the piece so that it was in perfect timing with the models’ procession. Even though Ed had been so sympathetic, I refrained from telling him that his words had had such an unintentional effect. If he knew I was involved in a project of this scale, he might have become worried about my ability to focus on the memorial concert and the audition piece.
By the end of the week, I could barely function, but my consolation was that I knew I had created Amy’s mix to the best of my abilities. Amy, too, was exhausted, as she and Steve were regularly pulling all-nighters at the studio, running around, trying to get everything just right for the big day. But at least they only had one goal, one focus. I, on the other hand, felt like I was being pulled in several different directions. On the Friday morning, I couldn’t even move when the alarm clock sounded. My brain refused to acknowledge it was time to get up again, as it felt like I had only just drifted off to sleep fifteen minutes ago. It didn’t help that the weekend was approaching, which meant Toby was bound to have at least one gig lined up for me, if not more. I groaned as I struggled to get to my feet. And then I remembered – the final rehearsal for the memorial concert was tomorrow! There was no way I could do a gig that night. Nor on Saturday night, as the concert itself was on the Sunday, at eleven o’clock.
I delivered the music to Amy so that she could start her own final rehearsals for the show. I didn’t have much time to chat but, as we discussed some details for the forthcoming Fashion Week, all of a sudden I realised that Amy’s show was on the same day as the Juilliard auditions. I was horrified. How on earth was I going to manage both? The audition was in the morning, whereas the show was in the afternoon; it was doable from a logistical point of view, but considering the pressure the morning’s audition would put on me, I would most likely roll up to the fashion show an emotional and mental wreck.
I didn’t let on to Amy that anything was amiss as I didn’t want to add to her stress. I should have confessed my concern to her right then and there but, like an idiot, I kept it to myself. I decided to postpone a freak-out until after the memorial concert.
Once that was behind me, maybe some magical solution would come to me.