The Waiting Game

They’re givin’ you the business and puttin’ on a show
You’re a million dollar man that ain’t got no dough
But critics still continue to plaster
My name and discredit my fame

Finally, the adrenalin is dissipating. A couple of Falcons has helped me calm down. That buzz from performing always stuns me. Even today three years after I “made it”. I can hear the crowd shouting my name. Even outside of Britain people know who I am and that’s what drives me on.

The thought of what has happened in those years since I won StarStruck makes my heart start to race again. I’m still here, no matter what they throw at me. I wouldn’t be in Sweden smashing another gig if I listened to their shit.

Every article, every TV show – all they do is mention the contract. The million pound contract for winning StarStruck. If they knew how hard I have worked maybe they would shut up. But probably now, it’s the British way to build you up and then knock you down. And then kick you in the ribs a few times just to make sure and say “it’s your fault I’m kicking you!”

“A deluded no-mark” I was called last week in an article on the Guardian, “eking out a living in the backwaters of Europe. It is all a far cry from 2 and half years ago on the eve of his debut album release. At the press conference TV talent show winner Taylor Alban stated without any irony or apparent self-awareness that this record could be ‘the most important album this century’. What was released was a hodgepodge of overwrought, predictable covers and self-penned mild folk-rock songs reminiscent of the most obnoxious backpacker-with-a-guitar that you ever had the unfortunate opportunity to meet on a beach in Thailand.”

I acknowledge the issues with the first album. However the problems were mainly down to the multiple producers foisted upon me and the way my manager refused to take on board my ideas. What an infuriating man! Ali Shaheed, the most musically brain dead man in London, without a shadow of a doubt. Getting rid of the buffoon was the best decision I’ve made in my career..

I told him not to release a cover for a debut single. But no, Ali said you can’t go wrong with a U2 cover and the media hype – a safe bet. Since when has music been about a safe bet? Covering The Sweetest Thing was as an uninspiring choice and I was surprised it reached as high as number four.

When my debut album sales barely crept above 15,000 the tone from the label shifted. The reminders came through that the million pound contract was dependent on sales. After the advance on the first album it now turned out that I owed the label!

I never thought I would be the one taken for a ride by the record labels. I thought my talent would see me through to where I belonged, to be ranked one day alongside people like Bowie and MJ.

The papers had a field day over the sales and people started hollering abuse at me in the street. I would walk down Stoke Newington High Street and people on a disturbingly regular basis would shout moronic stuff like “you’re shit!”, “top knot wanker!” and “you giant-headed twat!” at me.

One bug-eyed, skinhead even pressed me up against the wall outside the White Hart and told me I was scum for the way I treat people. His eyes were nearly popping out of his head. Luckily the staff from the pub came out and calmed things down and the guy ran off. But what an experience! I thought he was going to strangle me to death just for covering Vanessa Carlton.

In the end it made me all the more determined to prove people wrong. My mother said “work hard and you reap the rewards”. I try and I try but it feels like forces are conspiring against me. Here I am in Nefertiti Jazz Club in Gothenburg playing in a small cave-like venue in front of probably less than a hundred people.

Is it worth it?

It has to be. To get my message out. My second album was created using the rest of my advance money. I wasn’t giving that moolah straight back to the label, especially with their lack of faith in me. They said there will be no marketing on the record but refused to allow me to sign with someone else! Bloody hell, I know how Prince felt having no control of your destiny. They gave me a week in the recording studio and I blasted out ten of my own compositions and produced it myself as they wanted the dickhead who was responsible for my debut disaster.

I finish my Falcon and head out of the changing room back to the bar to see what’s happening. At the bar I stand next to a guy dressed up in Fred Perry talking about Sleaford Mods to some English girls. I look across the bar and see a man with a mean scowl staring at me. Getting stared at when out in public is probably the weirdest thing about being famous. People gawping at you when you’re on the Tube or having a pint at the pub.

I order another beer and then decide it’s a bit busy as the venue has morphed into a nightclub now. Madonna is on, a bit of Into The Groove. What a great song. The place has filled up since I was on half an hour ago. I notice the strange guy is still looking at me with a look of barely disguised contempt. I leave the bar and can feel him watching me as I make my way back to the changing room.

I plonk myself back in the comfy chair. Next stop, Stockholm. Hopefully sales of the new album will start picking up. Three thousand at last count. Enough to keep my head above water alongside the touring but not enough to pay the record company parasites back. I even managed a three-star review of the album in the Sun and album of the week on some French website. Zut alors!

I compare myself to the Beatles in Hamburg. These are my forty days and forty nights in the desert. My penance for dealing with the devil, or Ali as I call him. If I can just power through this tour for the next few months and save some cash to make a third album I could start becoming an established player.

Although I have no record label now. They terminated the contract after the second album was released. Bastards, they still receive their cut of sales from the current record despite putting bugger all resources into it. It makes me bloody fume.

I stand up and look in the mirror. I think I’ve aged ten years in the last twelve months. The stress of recording and touring is catching up with me. I shut my eyes and try to relax, I can feel my heart speeding up again.

I open my eyes and in the reflection of the mirror I see I’m not alone.

The guy who was staring at me at the bar is in my room. Shit.

“What’re you doin’ here?” my voice is strong but I don’t think it will if I have to ask again. He is stood in the now-open doorway.

“You don’t recognise me Taylor?” the man’s voice is soft, in spite of his hard eyes and tight, drawn mouth.

Recognise him? I don’t recall seeing him before. Unless it’s…

“You…you, you’re the guy from the White Hart!” I say, in utter surprise, it’s the bloody feller who nearly knocked my block off in London.

“That was the last time we met, yes.” The man is looking at me with more contempt than I ever imagined somebody could look at another human, “you still don’t actually remember me, do you?”

“I’m sorry,” I’m mumbling now, “Please. I don’t know, please don’t hurt me,”

“You’re not a nice person Taylor, you lie and deceive just to get your own way. We met three years ago in Shoreditch,”

“What’s your name? The last few years have been a bit manic, I’m sorry if I’ve forgotten who you are,”

The man moves from the door and stands a couple feet away from me. He doesn’t look like he’s going to plough my face in immediately. He looks calmer now.

“My name is Dan. You told me you wanted to make a record and told you I produce my own stuff. I said my friend runs a recording studio in Ealing so you could make a demo. I paid up front for the studio and new equipment which you said you needed. We texted and on the day you were supposed to come up to the studio you shafted me.”

“I can’t…I’m not sure I…” a flicker of memory is tickling the back of my brain.

“You cost me fifteen hundred quid for everything, you shit. I never heard again from you and three weeks later you were on that bag o’ shite TV show. And then you won and became Mr Big Shot and never responded to my messages or paid me back.”

And like a sea wall disintegrating under the power of a tsunami it all comes back to me.

“Oh God. I’m so sorry, if I could pay you back I would. I’ll try and get the money for you.”

“Forget the money, that doesn’t matter now. I know you’re pretty much insolvent if your puerile tweets are anything to go by. I’m going to take away what you really desire,”

“What’s that?” dizziness is striking at my core and I stumble past the man and fall back into the chair. The man looks at me pityingly, he walks back over to the door and places his hand on the handle.

“Your oh-so-precious musical career, Mr Alban,”

“Please don’t hurt me, please don’t,” I can’t believe what is happening. He’s going to close the door and murder me. I need to protect myself but what to do? I’ve never been in this position before.

“Oh I’m not going to attack you.” the man chuckles and stands in the doorway, “ I’m going to keep an eye on you. It’s very easy to do these days thanks to the internet. I know where you’ll be and what you’re doing. I’m going to empty your soul like you do to people. You are a parasite, Taylor.”

“What…what are you going to do,”

“I’ll keep you waiting, like you did to me. Then I’ll make you pay,”

The man walks out of the room and back to the bar and leaves me sat on the chair waiting. But waiting for what?

by Martin O’Brien based on Show Business – A Tribe Called Quest

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