The Charity Shop Rejects – Live in Concert
Gillian St. Kevern © 2017
All Rights Reserved
“And that was the latest travel information. For everyone stuck in traffic, my commiserations! At least you’ve got some top tunes coming up while you wait.” Liz Bang’s cheerful tones were a sharp contrast to the horns sounding all around their taxi. “I’m going to play you two songs back to back, and then Jake Boss, coolest man in radio, will be here to deliver his weekly gig report.”
Jake peered over the passenger seat. The row of cars in front of them had not moved in five minutes. “I’m about to become Jake Boss, latest man in radio.” His fingers twitched, itching for the packet of Mayfairs left behind on the kitchen table. God, I need a smoke.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. Dan, his boyfriend of eleven months, nodded out the window. “Two songs with a jingle in between. We’ll be fine.”
The taxi lurched forward before Jake could reply. The driver careened around a corner, and seeing empty road in front of them, hit the accelerator. Minutes later, Jake legged it towards the Radio Xtra building.
The cold November morning went right through his silk T-shirt, skinny jeans, and leather jacket combo. Jake dressed with paparazzi, not the weather, in mind. But it wasn’t photographers standing in wait.
Jake took in the three men and stumbled. Musicians often lingered outside Radio Xtra, hoping to offload demo CDs onto a sympathetic DJ. But these three could only be waiting for him.
At second glance, nothing linked the three of them as a band. The man wiping his hands on his jeans as he spotted Jake belonged to the Zayn Malik school of style. His black hair was long on top, contrasting with his buzzed sides and carefully curated stubble. Jake was sure he’d seen the guy beside him somewhere before, but his shoulder-length brown hair and shredded jeans didn’t ring any bells. The third wore a limp woolly hat, fashionable only in Japan, and watched his approach with a child’s confident expectance. They had only one thing in common —their sweaters—their mismatched, hideous sweaters.
Jake’s stomach plummeted. It’s started.
“Mr Boss?” The Malik-fan was evidently the front man. He ignored Jake’s attempt to avoid eye contact. “We’re a band, the—”
“I know.” Jake tugged his studio pass out of his pocket and held it out for the security guard’s inspection. “And I know what you want.”
“Our demo CD.” The front man licked his lips. “We’re aware you’re a really busy guy—”
Jake snorted. “You think?” He looked past the guard to the clock on the wall above the reception desk. Three minutes.
“If you could give our CD a listen—”
Jake pinched the bridge of his nose. “You’re wasting your time. I get more CDs a week than I can listen to—and those come through the proper channels. And you want me to drop everything and listen just because you asked nicely?”
The front man swallowed, looking to his companions.
The longhaired guy frowned. His cheeks were pink from the cold. “We’re not asking for special treatment. We want to put our work in front of someone who knows their stuff.”
Dan was approaching, his habitual backpack slung over one shoulder. He cocked an eyebrow at Jake, raising his arm to tap his watch.
Jake glared. Like I don’t know time’s running out. “And you fixed on me because of my great experience.”
The longhaired guy tucked his hair out of his face. “Look—”
But the warning note in Jake’s tone went entirely unnoticed by the third member of the band. He grinned brightly. “And your sweater.”
Jake caught the guard’s smirk out of the corner of his eye. His fists clenched. “So knowing my fondness for Christmas, you decided to capitalise on it by dressing up in the most ridiculous sweaters you could find.”
“That’s not—” The longhaired guy started.
Jake snatched his pass from the guard. “Great job. You just ensured there’s no way I’m listening to your crap.”
“But if you don’t even listen—” Front man protested.
“I don’t need to.” Jake stabbed a finger toward him. “Look at you! You’re using a cheap ploy to draw attention to yourselves. Why? Because you know your music doesn’t stand up without it. If you had any—and I mean any—credibility as musicians, you wouldn’t rely on gimmicks.” He heard the buzz as the guard hit the security door and dived for the entrance. He ignored the lift, making straight for the stairs—fuck me, fuck me, fuck me—and skidded into the studio just as the producer began the countdown to on-air.
“Seriously, Jake?” Liz eyed Jake’s heaving shoulders and shook her head. “I thought you were on a health kick.”
Jake didn’t have breath for a comeback, so he glared.
“And we’re back! And with us in the studio, the one, the only, Jake Boss!” Liz grinned at him, thoroughly unrepentant. Her tight curls were died bubble-gum pink to match her lipstick, as bright as London was cold. “How’s the traffic?”
“Appalling.” Jake might be asphyxiating, but he had a second wind for links. “But I warn you now, I’m not adding traffic report to my list of duties.”
“Sounds like Jake’s eager to get into his gig report—must be a good one!” Liz turned the fader down on Jake’s background music and cued his theme. “I’m curious. Did Extra Terrestrial live up to the hype you gave them all last week?”
The link was effortless. Liz bantered easily and Jake got stuck into his favourite subject: music. It came as a surprise when the producer signalled it was time for news.
“And our next song is dedicated to Jake: ‘Run’ by Snow Patrol.” Liz grinned. “Light up, light up—as if you have a choice. Stay tuned for more of the songs you love after the news.”
Jake tugged his headphones off. “You’re an evil woman, Liz.”
She cackled. “How’s it going?”
“Horrible. My fingers are actually twitching. I can feel the start of a headache building.”
“He’s doing great.” Dan had entered the studio during the link without Jake noticing. He was touched to see Dan held a cardboard tray containing a Starbucks cup. “I’m really impressed.”
Eleven months and Dan was still simultaneously alarming and the best thing to have ever happened to Jake. The gym instructor knew nothing about music and had an appalling fondness for 80s pop ballads. He talked to Paul Entbridge of the Banging Roses without recognising the world’s greatest living guitarist and was the only person alive who knew Jake’s dirty secret. Dan could ruin him—and Jake didn’t want to do a thing about it.
“For me, babe?” Jake helped himself to the cup, joining Dan in the stairwell. “You came in with me on your day off. You didn’t need to get me coffee as well.”
“Just wanted to show my support. Quitting smoking’s tough.” As Dan crumpled the tray into a nearby bin, Jake saw he had a CD case in hand.
“Is that what I think it is?”
Dan glanced at the CD. “I talked to those guys after you left. They seemed pretty cool.”
Jake sipped the gingerbread latte, hoping to ward off the headache he could feel building. “Trying to manipulate yourself onto playlist isn’t cool.”
“You’re wrong about them. They call themselves the Charity Shop Rejects. The sweaters—”
“I don’t care. I’m not listening to their crummy CD.”
Dan followed Jake up the stairs. “Aren’t you being a little harsh?”
“You have no idea what it was like last year, Dan. The moment Liz launched her on-air hunt for the Man in the Ugly Christmas Sweater, there were musicians showing up decked out in tinsel and baubles, desperate to get my attention.” Jake tightened his fingers around his coffee cup. “Turning something personal into a grab for fame—” Hot liquid spilled across his fingers and he swore.
“Easy.” Dan grabbed a handful of tissues from a nearby desk. “Here.” He wiped down the cup and handed it back to Jake. “You don’t know they’re not serious about their sweaters. I mean—look at me.” He motioned to himself.
Jake smiled. Dan had swapped out his legendarily hideous sweater to accompany Jake to work. He wore a red-and-white scarf with a snowflake design that paired nicely with his hoodie—a look recommended by Jake’s PA. But the moment they got home, the hoodie would be ditched in favour of the tackiest knitted garment known to man. He brushed his fingers over Dan’s cheek. “You, babe, are one in a million.”
“And London’s got a population of eight point seven million.” Dan turned the CD over. “Statistically speaking, you should at least give them a listen.”
Jake hesitated. By the time I make it to my desk, there’s gonna be twenty CDs there already. What’s one more? As he hesitated, he saw the late night producer headed their way. Taking musical advice from Dan. That’s going to look great. The station collectively adored Dan but deplored his musical tastes. Jake shook his head. “And encourage people to copy them? Sorry, babe. I’m not risking my career over tack like that.”