15.10.17

THE GIRL IN THE BATH


Towards the end of 1970, a few weeks after settling into a flat share in Bayswater, I became aware that each Sunday afternoon there took place in Hyde Park a football match between teams comprised of music industry personnel. Pink Floyd fielded a team, as did Melody Maker though the only member of the staff that played on it was Roy Burchall, the office manager, but for reasons long forgotten Ray and Dave Davies from The Kinks had been known to turn out for MM too. Most sides were made up from road crews of bands, big burley men with very long hair that fluttered behind their heads like lion’s manes as they ran around in the autumn wind. 
One Sunday I ventured into the park myself, strolling towards the pitches on the south side of the Serpentine and standing alone on the touch line for about ten minutes to watch the game. The play was robust, determined, neither side giving much away, and there was a good deal of shouting, swearing mostly, between the players as they urged one another on or sought to have the ball passed their way. Everyone got very muddy. I was surprised by the enthusiasm and resolve, pleased to be a spectator and not taking part. 
There was a small crowd watching the game at the half way line, and a few random spectators behind the goals, no more than twenty in total, some of whom cheered as fans are wont to do. After a while I noticed a girl called Anna that I recognised from among a crowd who hung out at La Chasse, the private music industry bar/club on Wardour Street. The sister of a roadie who worked for Yes, she was a short but well-built girl with dark hair that fell over her forehead into a fringe, a round face and a sweet smile, quite pretty in a slightly tomboyish way, and like everyone else she was dressed in blue jeans and a shapeless dark sweater. She was with a group of others, perhaps five or six, whom I did not know, but when she saw me she came over to chat and we stood together for a while, watching the game and talking to each other. She told me she didn’t much like football and from this I guessed that she was unimpressed by the strutting manliness of the players on the field and might just prefer the company of a less athletically inclined fellow such as myself. I was beginning to enjoy her company and I sensed the feeling was mutual. 
“There’s a party after the game, at a house in Earls Court. Some of us are going there,” she told me. “Do you want to come?”
“Do you know whose house it is?”
“Some guy called Tony Brainsby. Do you know him?”
“Yes. He’s a PR.”     
“Do you want to come with us?”
“OK,” I replied, having nothing else planned for the rest of the day. 
I knew Tony Brainsby but not well, though I would come to know him better as my Melody Maker career developed. A hard-working independent music industry PR, he was a tall, thin bundle of energy with long straight ginger hair whose most notable characteristics were the outsized horn-rimmed glasses he wore and two rows of prominent and rather goofy teeth that flashed absurdly whenever he smiled, which was often. He was what was known in the trade as a ‘motor-mouth’, endlessly jabbering on about the extraordinary abilities of one client of his or another, quite likeable in a way but at the same time a bit wearing on the patience. I knew he lived in Earls Court, reputedly in a big house that he’d inherited from his wealthy mother. Some seemed to think he’d done well in a role outside of the music business first but become bored with the straight life, grown his hair and taken up rock PR instead.
There was certainly something off-beat, maybe even slightly sinister, about him, as if there existed hidden secrets of a shady nature that he preferred to keep undisclosed, perhaps involving the exchange of envelopes containing wads of cash or illegal substances, or the sexual availability of pretty girls who were in his employ. His incessant chatter precluded inquiries into these suspicions but I was on my guard when I was around him lest a careless remark, an indiscretion that he would file away, might lead to my having to make a compromise of some kind from which he would benefit. 
Also, Brainsby was known to have wealthy friends who had probably inherited their riches, and when he wasn’t slumming it in the world of rock and roll he mixed in circles several rungs higher up the social ladder. It was known that he had a friend, name of Neville, who occupied a swanky apartment off Jermain Street in St James where exclusive parties were held, and where there was rumoured to be a two-way mirror through which activities occurring in an adjoining bedroom might be observed. I had no personal knowledge of this but another writer on MM, Roy Hollingworth, had evidently seen through the mirror and was mildly concerned that his own conduct in that same bedroom, which he could bring to mind only dimly through a haze of befuddlement, might at one time have been observed by others. All of this served to condemn Brainsby in my mind as someone to respect but who was best kept at arm’s length. 
Brainsby’s clients included Cat Stevens, Roy Wood, Thin Lizzy, Queen and David Essex, and he would soon include Paul McCartney and Wings among them too. He had a few lesser known clients managed by businessmen with high hopes and sufficient money to hire him, usually singer songwriters of the ‘bedsitter’ variety, and he was adept at subtly inveigling his journalistic prey into providing press coverage of these troubadours by offering hospitality that was designed to render music writers incapable of objecting. This often took the form of inviting the journalist to a ‘party’ at his or a friend’s home during which copious amounts of drink and other substances would be consumed, often in the company of attractive girls who seemed sufficiently welcoming to assume that a close personal encounter might be on the cards later that same evening. When the party was in full swing Tony would bid everyone to hush and introduce his latest singer songwriting protégé who would step forward with his guitar and perform an original composition or two to wild applause. 
It may have been scripted but at the end of the performance one of Brainsby’s girls would approach the journalist, position herself disturbingly close and squeeze his hand. “Isn’t he fabulous?” she would purr into his ear.
The journalist, sensing that to demur might blight his romantic prospects with the seemingly pliant girl, would agree wholeheartedly. “Er, yes, great,” he would say.
This was the cue for Brainsby, who had placed himself within earshot, to step up and complete the coup de grace. 
“You’re absolutely right. He is great,” he would say to the ambushed journalist whose head was already spinning. “He’s definitely going to be huge one day.”
“Yes, great,” you would reply. 
“Let me introduce you.” Whereupon the girl would step aside and Brainsby would bring the minstrel forward for handshaking. “Well, what about an interview?” he’d say. “In fact, why don’t we do it now?” 


So it was that when the football game in Hyde Park was over some of the players left abruptly while others lingered, a group of us finally wandering off towards Kensington Road where we hailed at least two cabs that carried us to Edith Grove in Earls Court where Tony Brainsby occupied his big white terraced house that doubled as his place of business. It was one of those Victorian houses on several floors, approached up a flight of steps, and he had demolished walls to create a substantial open space on the ground floor, a sort of open plan area where a large crowd was mingling when we showed up sometime between 5 and 6pm. It was evident from the discarded bottles and smoke-filled atmosphere that the party had been going on for some time, at least since the pubs had shut at 2 pm, and it was very congested, mostly music industry types I assumed and not necessarily those with whom a writer on Melody Maker might ordinarily come into contact. 
I saw Brainsby before he saw me, and when I did I began to wonder at what remove did one become a gatecrasher as opposed to a guest. Anna, it seemed, did not know Brainsby at all and had come to learn of the party from her brother who was one of the footballers, now with a dark blue track suit over his kit but amongst our party nonetheless, looking a bit windswept and with a touch of mud on his forehead. He too was unfamiliar with Brainsby and had been told about the party from a team member who was acquainted with him, so the chain of invitations had three links from him to me, although unlike the two links above me I actually knew the host. I thought it unlikely that Brainsby would object to my presence, if for no other reason than his calling demanded that he was forever gracious towards writers in all but the most trying of circumstances, but at the same time I thought it doubtful that he’d welcome me with open arms. He seemed to me to be the kind of individual who needed to be in control of things, and my arrival – when he became aware of it – would take him by surprise. This was not a party thrown for the benefit of the press and it might be that the behaviour of certain guests was not something Brainsby would want the press to witness, though as far as I could see there were no musicians of note, or otherwise, present. Nevertheless, I might still be stepping across an invisible line that separated work and pleasure for him. 
When he did see me Brainsby came bounding over, all smiles.
“Hi Chris, I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Hi Tony. No, I heard about the party from a friend that I’m with. I hope you don’t mind…”
He cut me off. “Of course not,” he said, trying to sound sincere. “Great to see you. Help yourself to a drink.”
Anna was by my side and I introduced her. “This is Tony, the host,” I said. Tony leant forward – he was a good twelve inches taller than her – and kissed her on the cheek. 
It occurred to me that mixing business with pleasure was something that Brainsby did all the time but that since my arrival was unexpected he wasn’t in a position to take advantage of it, by which I mean he was unprepared to extol the virtues of a client or otherwise progress his business interests as he normally would when confronted with an MM writer like myself. Also, he seemed slightly on edge, as hosts often are when a party attracts not only more guests than anticipated but guests he knew but wasn’t expecting. 
“Enjoy yourselves,” he said, easing back into the crowd. 
I could tell from the atmosphere that marijuana was being smoked. Plenty of beer, wine and spirits were being consumed and music was playing loudly. There were about 60 or 70 people present, more girls than men, and several very attractive girls were dancing casually in the wide open space, others mingling by a drinks table. I wondered who they all were and how Brainsby came to know them all. Most of the men seemed to stay together. Coupling had not yet commenced but would before the party was over I thought. Anna and I appeared to be one of the few couples, and having collected a drink each we slid off to the side, propping up a wall. By now I had concluded that she had decided to stick with me, at least for the duration of the party, or as long as we stayed, and probably for the night as well. When I put my arm around her shoulders she moved in closer to me, and we talked a bit about Brainsby.
“How do you know him?” she asked.  
I explained that he was a music biz PR and that because I was now the News Editor of MM I probably spoke to him on a weekly basis about something or other, and that he had taken me to lunch not long after my appointment. Aside from those that worked for record labels, there were about half a dozen prominent music PRs in London in those days: Les Perrin, Tony Barrow, Keith Goodwin, Billy Harry, Mike Gill, some smaller fry. Brainsby was among the youngest but pushiest, slightly apart from the rest because he worked out of Earls Court and not the West End. Most PRs had offices in Soho.
Anna took all this in and seemed impressed by my knowledge of the music PR world.
“Those girls all look like models,” she said, a slight frown on her face as she surveyed the girls who were dancing. “I hate them.”
I laughed. She probably envied their looks and skinny frames but for all their attractiveness these girls appeared rather cold and aloof to me. Anna, on the other hand, was warm and friendly. “I’m going to the bathroom,” she said. “Stay here. Stay with me.”
I promised I would and off she went, and while she was gone I helped myself to another beer and a sausage on a stick from a table in the kitchen. I smiled and nodded at a few people I didn’t know, and noted how the girls who might have been models were all wearing similar clothes, bell-bottom blue jeans that hugged their pert little bottoms and smock tops or t-shirts. 
Anna returned presently with a surprised look on her face. “You won’t believe this but there’s a girl in the bathtub,” she informed me, lowering her voice as she did so. “She’s covered in jelly that’s setting all around her. She hasn’t got any clothes on. Someone said she’s tripping on acid.”
“You’re kidding,” I said. “Isn’t anyone doing anything?” 
“No. She seems quite happy.”
“I wonder whether Tony knows?”
Anna laughed. Was it appropriate behaviour, I wondered, to inform the host that a naked girl was lying in his bathtub in this state? Surely he must be aware of it and had decided to leave her be, even though the bathroom was being used by one and all. I was, of course, unable to resist seeing this for myself.
“Wait for me,” I said, leaving Anna by the wall. 
There were two others waiting to use the bathroom, which was on the first floor, a man and a girl who appeared to be together.  
“You know there’s a girl in there, in the bath?” said the man.
“I heard that, yes,” I replied.
“It’s Claudia,” said the girl. “She’s friend of Tony’s, works for him sometimes.”
The bathroom door opened and another girl came out. “Claudia’s still in the fucking bath,” she said. “Doesn’t want to move. Fucking jelly setting around her. Fucking idiot.”
This girl left, muttering to herself. The man and girl waiting before me next entered the bathroom together and closed the door behind them. Two minutes later it opened and they emerged together.
“She won’t come out,” said the girl. “Do you need the loo?”
“Yes,” I lied. 
“Be quick, then.”
I went into the bathroom and closed the door. It was a large bathroom by most standards, with plenty of space between the bath, basin and toilet bowl, all of which were made from white porcelain. There was a frosted glass window, tightly shut, and the walls were painted yellow. The girl called Claudia was indeed lying stark naked, stretched out in the bath which was easily big enough to accommodate her without the need for her to raise her knees. She was a rake-thin, dark haired girl with very small breasts, quite tiny which made me suspect she was young, certainly no older than 18, her arms by her sides, her legs slightly apart, her head back and her eyes closed. Her long hair was parted in the centre and fell down to her shoulders, and she had a slight smile on her face. She was perfectly still, and there was something almost serene about her, a tranquillity that, had it not been for the slight rise and fall of her chest, might suggest she was actually dead. The jelly, pinkish in colour, was indeed setting around those parts of her body that were immersed in it, mostly her legs, bottom and the underside of her flat stomach. It wobbled slightly, as jelly does, when she twitched a bit, and the ripple spread slowly up to where the level of the jelly stopped, somewhere behind her back. My arrival impacted on her not in the slightest. She didn’t even open her eyes.
I undid my flies and used the loo, unnecessarily, then did them up again and turned towards the bath. I felt the urge to say something. “Are you all right?” I asked. Claudia opened her eyes, frowned and then closed them again. She made no attempt to cover herself. 
“I’m tripping,” she said. “Go away.”
Outside the bathroom door was another girl waiting to come in. “Is Claudia still in the bath?” she asked.
“Yes. What’s happening with her?”
“She took an acid tab about an hour ago. She did this once before but without the acid, said she wanted to see what it was like to be set in jelly. She bought loads of it and poured it into the bath with hot water, then got in and she’s waiting until it sets.”
“And then what?”
“She’ll probably get out, covered in fucking jelly and walk downstairs.”
“With no clothes on?”
          “Probably. She did this before, and now she's done it again, expect on acid this time and during a fucking party. She's mad. Doesn't give a fuck. Doesn't care who sees her.”
“Does Tony know?”
“Oh yes. He’s quite cool about it. You know Tony?”
“Of course.”
The girl smiled at me and looked as if she was about to say 
something else then checked herself. “It’ll be fine,” she said wearily. 
        I went back downstairs and found Anna where I had left her. “My brother has just left,” she said. “He offered me a lift but I stayed. You don’t mind do you?”
        “No, of course not.”
        “Shall we go soon?”
        We lingered for another half hour or so. No further sightings of Claudia were reported and, neither of us having any knowledge of how long jelly took to set, we decided to leave before she emerged covered in it, if indeed she did. Later I bought Anna dinner at an Indian restaurant close to my flat in Bayswater where we spent the night. We both of us somehow knew this wasn’t going to be the start of some big romance, just two single people who would go their own way again after a satisfying moment in time, not an uncommon occurrence in those days. I watched her get dressed in the morning and when she left neither of us said very much. 
        “The girl in the bath,” she said as she was leaving. “I hope she’s ok.”
        “Yes, funny that. I won’t forget it in a hurry.”
        “Neither will I. Bye… see you around.”
        “See you.”


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