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Wednesday 08 April 2009

Dream Lover

Posted in: NZ Writing
By Rhys Page - 12th January 2008

David Herkt's summer short story season: Johnny 'Sound of Swinging London' Duder finds new talent when he escapes to NZ. A tale by Rhys Page.



When independent record producer Johnny Duder, 34, was arrested for importuning for immoral purposes in the Madras Place Gents lavvy in North London, on April 16th 1965, tried, found guilty and fined, he still thought he'd be able to brave it out.

'Oh, the Cunt-stable,' Johnny exclaimed viciously, over a gin and tonic, after his appearance in the dock, 'that Cunt-stable. Wasn't he a right little sod? What an effing liar. Said that he saw me persistently eyeing up this old man. Old man! I wasn't there to pick up no effing old man.'

However once the news was out, things changed. He may have only been five paragraphs on page four of the Daily Mirror but it was enough.

The Satellites decided that having a convicted homosexual for a producer wasn't going to further their musical career, despite the fact that Johnny had produced their only number one single 'Sputnik'. EMI weren't taking his calls anymore. Vernon Fox had finally murmured the words 'moral turpitude clause' when Johnny had cornered him in Le Coc D'Or about his contract. And it seemed like there were any number of young men turning up at the studio asking for small loans with the implication that, if one wasn't forthcoming, there was a lot more information that could be made public.

'At least they remember me,' Johnny murmured to Patrick Gower-Lambeth, known as Patricia in places as diverse as the Elephant and Castle and the Colony Club, 'which is more than I could say for a few of them.'

Then the release of Brenda St Clair's single 'Love is Right' was inexplicably delayed by Decca. American interest in Paul Flynn dried up. New Musical Express referred to Johnny's 'eccentric productions' one week and 'last year's musical moment, Johnny Duder' the next. Half the queens at Le Duce or the Apollo were avoiding him like he was catching. And even Stas, the Polish drummer in Dave Merrick and the Hi-Stars, who'd been more than happy to drop by once or twice a week for a bit of manual stimulation and a few quid pressed into his hand suddenly became otherwise engaged.

So, three months later, the idea of temporarily locking up the studio and booking a voyage to New Zealand on the P&O vessel, the Arcadia, seemed logical.

At least it did when he made the decision.

Johnny may have been down but he wasn't out. A year, he thought, in the Colonies, and then a triumphant return to ring in the changes.

'Well, some people have the Riviera or Tangier or Brazil as a dream-destination, me, I've somehow ended up with New Zealand,' Johnny said, deadpan.

It was a long-held ambition, New Zealand was. He'd always wanted to go there. Mountains, he'd heard, white tropic beaches, milk-fed young men. When he was sixteen his mother had a longish affair with Ed, New Zealand born commercial traveler and Johnny, too, had fallen in love.

'Can't you just imagine it,' Johnny commented, 'every time he'd drop by he'd have this thirty six year old tart and this sixteen year old nancy-boy both on heat, both making goo-goo eyes at him. Very competitive my mum was too. Oh, she knew. She knew. Nothing got past her.'

But along with his unrequited passion, Johnny had taken on board a rosy picture of a picture-perfect country at the ends of the earth and while Ed, the commercial traveler, was long vanished, his country of origin was still alive and well in the depths of Johnny's mind.

'Holiday, ducks, time off,' he explained in the studio office at 403 Bayswater Road, knowing that his words were going to go down like a cup of cold sick. He'd paid out Mavis, then dealt with Heywood, who was a whole different kettle of fish and who threatened legals until Johnny had threatened him right back.

'It's all going into mothballs,' he said later, strangely satisfied, looking around the rambling studio warren with its mixing consoles, his hand-assembled compressor, the acoustic baffles, the trails of wiring, the mics, and the tape racks.

'Mothballs,' he repeated.

'Temporarily,' he added.




Sometime in early 1960, Johnny had come to the realization that musicians were nothing. They just made sounds. With Johnny's increasing skill using double-track tapes, with splicing, overdubs, replaying and over-recording, Johnny could do anything. He'd drop chains in metal buckets, tape the sound, and use it as a drum-beat. He'd speed up or slow-down voices and lay on his favourite echo-effect. He'd compile and multi-track, compress, close-mic, and flick on the reverb. It was new. It was inventive. It was all about him. It was all about those long nights in the studio alone, just him and a few Benzedrine to keep him going, another pill for 2am, another at 4am. Johnny'd made reputations. He'd created sounds. He'd made hits.

Johnny knew that whatever Johnny found, Johnny could make great.

Which partially explained the fact that two weeks after his arrival in Auckland, New Zealand, Johnny 'The Sound of Swinging London' Duder was conducting and judging the 'Stars of Tomorrow' Talent Night at the Spotlight Club, just off Queen Street.

He'd phoned selected reporters. He'd done interviews. He'd handed round his best publicity shots. He'd contacted clubs. He'd placed advertisements. He was back to being a man on the move and news of his Madras Place indiscretion hadn't appeared on any local horizon to interrupt things, so far as he could tell.

'Hi, I'm Johnny Duder,' he said unscrewing the mic from its stand, staring out into the crowded New Zealand club, 'and my life is all about talent. It's all about finding the sound of now.'

By the end of the night, he'd sorted two drummers, one bass-guitarist, one acoustic guitarist, one trumpeter, a piano-player of medium quality, three girls more than up for backing vocals, and he'd fallen in love with Steve Alltab, the vocalist for The Phoenixes.

The Phoenixes, as a group, were a shocker. They'd probably rehearsed once. The song was a dog. But Steve wasn't. Steve could sing. Steve was five foot eight. Steve had black crew-cut hair. Steve had blue eyes. Steve had clear skin. Steve would photograph well. Steve was marketable.

'You, now you, if it had been just you, you could have won tonight,' Johnny said, 'like that,' and he clicked his fingers.

Steve studied him.

'How much are you married to them?' Johnny asked, indicating the other members of the Phoenixes on the other side of the room.

Steve struggled to answer.

'Good,' continued Johnny, 'because you I can do something with. Them? Nuh. So I give you my card, you phone, come and see me sometime next week. I've got a song for you. I can put together a band. I've got time booked at Zephyr Recording Studios. Now, this is between you and me, right? No blabbing. Now get the rest of them over here and I'll buy them a Coke.'




'I have-a heart that loves-you

I have-a soul that needs-you

You have-a place in-my-life…'

Johnny chanted the lyrics, with rhythmic emphasis.

'Don't you worry what you sound like, you sound fine. You just hit those words hard this time, just like I showed you,' Johnny said to Steve.

He nodded at Dion and Pete, brothers, lead guitar and bass guitar. He flicked a glance at Des, the drummer.

'Why don't you boys go out and have a smoke,' he said, 'and we'll try him on playback.'

No-one understood Johnny's recording methods.

'But don't we do it all together?' they'd ask.

'No,' Johnny always wanted to reply, 'we don't.'

So Johnny had got used to doing it his way with minimal fuss. Make it easy for them, tell them nothing and if they asked, blind them with the mysteries of acoustical science.

Walking into the control room, and pausing in front of the double-glazed glass, Johnny watched Steve put on his headphones.

Their eyes met through the glass.

'You got me?' Johnny asked, flicking on his mike over the console.

'Yeah,' said Steve, his voice coming crisply over the speakers.

Johnny was all business now, Mr Efficiency.

'Right, I'll run the backing, now give me your best.'

Johnny flicked on the Studer four-track.

'Romeo Pop, solo vocal, take 1,' Johnny said.

Johnny turned on the playback tape and watched the reels turn, but in the control room he was only listening to Steve's husky voice, without backing.

'I have a heart that loves you…'

It was good.

'I have a soul that needs you…'

Johnny liked it.

And Steve, alone out there in the studio, was pulling it off. He was even flicking his hand on his thigh in time with the beat.

'Yes,' Johnny thought, 'you, I can make a star.'




'When they've come back to your place and they're sitting there and they say 'I'm really drunk'. It's just their way of saying 'yes', 'Johnny had once told Jake Epstein, who had a real letch for young East End boxers, but who was obviously in need of some pointers.

Jake hadn't looked convinced. It was the difference between them, Johnny thought. Johnny'd take any opportunity and use it as an opening, where Jake would just sit there thinking about what it all meant.

'I'm really drunk,' Steve said.

He was sprawled on the sofa beside Johnny in Johnny's rented apartment in Courtville, on the corner of Waterloo Quadrant and Parliament Street. They'd been to a Constellation Records party in Cook Street with Tony Magellan and the Huntsmen, Terry Finlay, the Pacifics, and Alison Browning. Johnny was beginning to get a feel for the city. He'd found out where it was happening and he was there in the thick of it.

Johnny had Miles Davis 'Kind of Blue' playing on the new Phillips Hi-Fi. The lighting from a parchment shaded lamp was dim. The night was warmish.

Johnny didn't bother saying anything. There wasn't much need. The way Steve was sitting, his legs wide apart, his lips damp, his eyes half-lidded, meant that Steve was up for things, Johnny knew.

But to Johnny's surprise, Steve wasn't the expected bit of straight trade who'd sit there, trousers down, eyes closed, apparently thinking of something else while Johnny did all the work. Johnny thought he'd might get a look-see and a bit of a wank, but no, Steve wanted to get his kit off. Steve wanted to be nude and admired. Steve had needs and wants of his own. Steve wanted to kiss. Steve was surprisingly expert.

'You done this before then,' Johnny asked.

Steve nodded, sucking his underlip, while Johnny stroked his silky behind.

'Right,' said Johnny, 'well, that makes things different.'



It felt unnatural, all of this, Johnny thought. It was awkward. He wasn't sure he liked it. They'd caught the ferry across the Harbour and they were lying on Cheltenham Beach. Johnny was in a new pair of black swimming trunks. He'd never been half-naked on a beach in his life.

'I'm an effing Londoner,' he'd said to Steve. 'and me mum wasn't exactly one to go to the sea-shore. I wouldn't even know what to do.'

He and Steve were wearing identical sunglasses. Steve who'd never worn a pair before had borrowed a pair at Johnny's urging.

'Gives you anonymity,' Johnny had said.

Steve was already beginning to be recognized. 'Romeo Pop' had proved to be a creeper. It started off slow but now it was getting good radio-play. It had been nominated for the Mobil Song Quest. Its bouncy production and soulful values had got comment. Steve had been featured in the Auckland Star – 'Husky-voiced, Boy-Next-Door, Steve Alltab'. They had 'Colour Of Blue' to the final mix stage and 'Look Out' in the pipeline. Johnny had taken Steve to Derek Lester and done a management deal.

It was hot. They lay together on the sand. There was the island, Rangitoto in front of them, though Johnny still couldn't get his mouth around its name, at least not seriously. The sky was blue. The sun was hot. Waves ran up the beach. Johnny smoked. Steve lay on his stomach reading a copy of Melody Maker.

While Johnny couldn't have begun to number the quickies he'd had in the varied course of his life, he could say officially that he'd never had a boyfriend, not a proper one.

'Not exactly domestic, my habits,' Johnny had once observed, late one night, to a group of drunken members of the Colony Club whose domestic habits didn't look exactly conducive to romance either.

Johnny had got used to the adventure and the efficiency of casual sex, but this was something completely different. He always feared he was going to get bored with Steve but boredom hadn't happened. He'd always wondered what you'd do with a boyfriend but now he found that he didn't have to think about it because it just happened.

He was self-contained, was Steve. He didn't require maintenance. He had a day job in an electrical store in Dominion Rd. He had his new after-hours career. Steve was curious about everything but he didn't have to blab on all the time like some Johnny knew. He was content, somewhere inside of himself, Johnny recognized. Steve also liked the security that Johnny gave him or at least that was what Johnny figured.

Steve was staying over now a couple of nights in the week as well as all weekend. He had his own toothbrush in the bathroom. He had his side of the bed.

Looking at Steve on his towel next to him, Johnny admired the line of his back and the curve of his bum. Steve's body was inexhaustible. He was just the right size. He was energetic in sex. He liked new things. He was a tryer. And Johnny had found himself in a seemingly endless quest to reach the heart of Steve through his body.

Johnny liked it when Steve bit his lip, his eyes closed to better experience whatever sensation Johnny was rousing. Johnny liked Steve's wriggle against him in the humid nights and the feel of his hot skin. Johnny liked Steve's many and various little noises.

'Do you want to come in for a swim?' Steve asked, taking off his sunglasses and putting the copy of Melody Maker down.

'In that?' Johnny asked, shocked, glancing towards the sea. 'I've never even been in a bloody swimming-pool. What am I going to do in there?'

'Come on,' Steve said, standing up, his blue swimming togs bunched nicely in the front.



'There's something we've got to do, my baby.

There's nothing to stop us now.

There's a great new world that is opening,

And we can't let it go…'

'Little bleeder manages OK, doesn't he?' Johnny commented to Eric Webbing, Zephyr Studios and Constellation Records owner, as they both stood in the control booth.

'He's just giving it a run-through but listen to him.'

Johnny upped the volume.

Steve was in the studio, belting it out, just him out there by himself while Johnny's carefully mixed backing tape played.

Eric nodded.

'Hear that,' Johnny said to Eric, 'that beat? That the sound of the stairway in your loading dock. Got that drummer to stomp up and down on it, speeded it up a bit, compressed it, pitch-shifted it down, and there you've got it. Sounds better than any effing kick-drum.'

'There's something we gotta do, my ba-by,' Johnny sung, hopelessly tunelessly, emphasizing the thick beat.

'I've got that girl, Alison Browning, she's doing nothing at the moment,' said Eric, casually. 'She might have a song or two.'

Johnny studied Eric.

'When do you think you're going back to London?' Eric asked him.

Johnny shrugged.

'Hadn't really scheduled it,' Johnny said calmly.

Eric was looking at Steve out there in the studio, eyes closed, singing into the mic.

'We're young and we're in love, my baby,

We've got a chance to make it…'

Eric probably had a fair idea what was going on, Johnny thought, but he'd never said anything about it.

'If you want to, we could make a more formal arrangement, in-house producer here in Zephyr, and then Constellation Records will put out everything you do, put you on salary if you like…. While you are here, that is.'

Eric paused meaningfully.

'There's Diana Kay, and that little Marie York, and the Cavaliers and then there's those boys from Whangarei, those ones I played you, the now they've got something you could get down on tape and do things with, work your magic…'

'Let me think,' Johnny said, but they both knew he'd say yes.



Through the windows that opened up on the Courtville balcony Johnny could see the tall spindly palms that rose up behind Government House, wavering a bit in the Saturday afternoon heat.

Steve was wearing nothing except his underwear.

'What are you thinking about?' Steve asked, dropping onto the sofa beside him.

'What are you doing?' Johnny responded.

'Nothing,' Steve said, guiltily, widening his thighs a little.

Steve liked his power to arouse, Johnny knew. They all did at his age.

Johnny stroked Steve's thigh with a finger, then got bolder.

'And what's this here, then?' he asked.

'My todger,' Steve replied.

'Was thinking about cashing my P&O ticket in,' Johnny said while his fingers ran back and forward across the tightening white cotton of Steve's Y-fronts.

'Stay on for a bit. Get your career going. Work with Eric. Make a difference. Create the sound of 1966.'

'You like it here?'

'Some places,' Johnny said, pulling down the band of Steve's underwear a little, just to get a tempting glimpse of things to come.

At first he thought New Zealand was a bit like permanently living in some quiet night in Hull but Johnny was nothing if not irrepressible. He'd got things up and going. He'd put himself in the centre of action. Johnny had found out he could change things easily.

'There's not so much inertia to move here,' Johnny had announced one night, over a warm beer in Eric's office, 'between you and getting things done your way.'

Steve suddenly laid his head on Johnny's shoulder.

'There's something we've got to do, my baby.

There's nothing to stop us now…'

He breathed the song, more huskier, more dirtier, more butch, than he'd ever recorded it, and then he burst out laughing at Johnny's expression.

'Don't you mock those lyrics,' Johnny said, as Steve kept laughing. 'Blood, sweat and tears, those lyrics cost me. Anyway, you'll be looking for someone else soon enough. I'm just on the way to something better.'

'No, I won't,' murmured Steve, again in Johnny's ear.

'No, you're not,' he added, more persuasively.

'Might have some of my equipment packed up and shipped over, my equalizer, the U-47 mics, they're beauties, those ones, some of the pre-amps, the reverb unit, one of my mixers… Some of those bits are irreplaceable, nothing like a few home modifications to get the job done proper. Let's get those knickers off then.'

Steve hitched up his bum a little and let Johnny pull down his underwear.

'So you're going to stay?' Steve asked, lifting up legs so his underwear just dropped to the floor.

'Temporarily,' said Johnny, looking at him with mock-suspicion, narrow-eyed.

'And maybe we'll see after that.'



RHYS PAGE is an Auckland communications director, specializing in in-house publications. He is a great consumer of gay fiction, of all genres. 'I have a whole collection of gay historical fiction and most of my recent stories are set in the past,' Rhys says. He believes in happy endings.

Copyright ©David Herkt. All Rights Reserved.

Rhys Page - 12th January 2008