‘Back in the Day' is a short piece of interlocking monologues, which forms part of the PhD study and was also showcased by North West Playwrights at Oldham Coliseum in 2007.
Back in the Day
The “Plane Room” of the Royal Oak Pub in Oldham . It is a small room, with pictures of WWII planes on the walls. Mark – late 30s/early 40s – is sitting with a pint. He is taking a trip down memory lane – a successful career as the lead singer of an indie band means he has a type of cool most men aspire to, but few achieve.
Mark: I loved it in here. Cheapest beer in Oldham and the kindest landlady going. Always had a little extra for me – quick nip of whisky or brandy to go with that pint? Cheers Linda, you're a love.
I don't get back much now, well obviously not. Mum's not well though, so I try, when I can. Can't really do anything for her, so don't really know what the point is, other than to make me look good for the PR. Don't get me wrong, it makes me feel like crap. But what can you do? No bad publicity, not after what happened …
I particularly like the tiger fleece that hangs underneath the television, other side of the bar. Christ knows what's on that. Specially when you think about some of the nights we had in here. Makes your stomach turn to think about it, know what I mean?
Anyway, I was sat in here, second time I came up to see mum after her diagnosis. First time, I was just laid back in my old room, playing records. Mum's kept it exactly as I left it. It's kind of nice. Feels like being seventeen again. Second visit, though, I needed to spend a bit of time alone – bit of quality time. No agent, no girlfriend, no publicity. See, that's the thing I love about coming back home. Everyone recognises me, course they do. I know that, they know that. But it would break some sort of rule, some code of conduct if they said owt to me. They'll tell their mates, if they see me on telly – oh yeah, that Mark right, I sold him his first guitar. Yeah? Well I was in the first version of Bunkbed , before they got that other bass player in. Yeah? Well, I actually gave Mark the idea for their first single. You can guess how it goes.
In a way, it's kind of sweet. They'll nod, let on to me like, but no autographs. No fans, not up here. Not cool. That's why at the start it didn't seem very different to every other time. I was sat about here, and the other side of the bar this bloke was staring at me. I was the only one in the plane room, and he shouted over the bar. ‘Do you want one mate?' I smiled, politeness first, said no, I had to get home. ‘Staying with your mum eh? Sorry about her illness. You know, I used to love your mum, back in the day. Always had a cuppa for you, didn't she?'
OK, so he thinks he knows me but I don't know him. He looked a bit like Mick McManus, remember the old wrestler? Dyed black hair and a swiftly receding hairline. He disappeared for a moment, then the door swung open and he blundered in, towing some shivery whippet of a girl behind him. ‘Brought you a pint anyway, probably owe you one from back in the day, eh?'
Since the trouble in '96, I've had it drummed into me by a mass of PR gurus that it's rude to say to someone – Look, I haven't a clue who you are, so stop speaking to me, stop being in my space, and piss off before I beat you into a pile of shit. But I was being sorely tempted – it took a lot to smile back and say thanks.
So, freaky guy is smiling at me, talking crap whilst I politely listen and drink the pint he's bought. The girl was weird though. He caught me looking at her. ‘Sorry, didn't introduce you, how rude. This is my fiancé, Shona. Not bad for a bloke my age, eh? Now, you will love the tale of how we met – no this will make your dick wilt, this will. Do you remember my ex-wife, Julie? And my little girl, Ella? Well, Ella and Shona - best friends at school. That's how we met. At a parents evening. Course, I waited till she was sixteen before it all started. Not bad though? Not bad at all.'
You see some blokes with much younger birds and you think, OK, not bad going mate, if you can why shouldn't you? But this guy, it seemed plain dirty. Just wrong. She can't have been more than seventeen as it stood and she looked so … sad. That's the only word that comes to mind. She looked sad. I gave her another glance, and he leant across: ‘You can have a go if you want mate. Like you did with my Jo? I won't mind. Not for you. Know why? Cos you're not like the others, Pete, Ian, that lot. You were always decent. Always remembered a mate. So just say the word.' He smiled in a greasy sort of way, but within all that he'd produced the key word. Jo.
Jo was our backing singer for a while in the early days, and she was lovely. She had this shitty little boyfriend who thought he could play the bass, and ended up being our shitty little roadie. I fell for her big time. Shitty boyfriend caught us at it in the front room. He looked like a young Mick McManus was all I could remember. He's walked in, looked at us both, and walked out again. When we got dressed, he brought in three mugs of tea. Jo and I had laughed – could she have found a bigger loser?
It all fizzled out after our record deal, and our manager brought in some fat bird with a louder voice. Jo went on to bigger and better things too, far as I know. And here was her ex. With me in a pub in Oldham . Sat smiling, ready to serve, as it were. I still couldn't remember his name, but I smiled back, said no thanks to Shona, and bought the next round in.
This piece is part of my PhD as well as a piece for performance. Within the whole play I am exploring the idea of cool, who is and who isn't, and why that might be. The play is also about communication, which one of the reasons I wrote in monologues - during a workshop I attended once, a playwright said all plays are just clashing monologues, which is something that really stuck with me, and with this piece I have attempted to unclash them. Homecoming is also a theme, and as someone who has always travelled about this theme was perhaps the easiest one for me to explore.
After living in London for three years I moved up North, first to Lancaster for a couple of years and then to Oldham, where I stayed for three years. Growing up in Dorset, I had always been fascinated by Manchester – my grandfather was from Salford and it seemed such a cool place for someone from the South – we had beaches but Manchester had shops, clubs and theatres! Everybody I knew when a teenager loved Manchester bands – especially New Order and Joy Division – and when I finally managed to get up here I observed, and was fascinated by, the culture of being in a band, and possibly ‘making it'; so many of people I knew thought they might, and so many didn't. My father was a musician, so music has always run through my life and was one of the reasons I travelled about so much when young. When I first came to Oldham, and then down to Manchester , it was like finding a stable resting place for the first time, but one that still seems endlessly fascinating. I noticed however that when I went back to Dorset and met with old friends I felt very different, as if I had found a more exciting life and they had not moved on, and this is the feeling I wanted to explore with Mark in this piece.
‘Back in the Day' started as a short story, but then I was interested in the idea of performance and the unreliable narrator, linking to the performance of bands and lyrics – how listening to a one musical voice can move someone, and whether listening to a speaking voice could do the same. I used a monologue format to imitate the lead singer in a band, so that one story can overlap another, and once all the monologues were written, I chopped them up so they could segue into one another. This piece speaks of looking back to a time when anything was possible, and the future didn't matter. Life was about parties and nightclubs and gigs that would never end. Of course, once they do end, those times tend to look a little empty and trivial, regardless of whether you have ‘made it' or not, and this is what Mark and Tom explore in this piece.