Chapter 12: November 1998

It’s time for me and Chambers to get out of our own heads. Carlito knows it and now we know it too. That’s why we’ve come here. We don’t even laugh at him for shouting ‘let’s jam’. He has a way of saying stuff like that and making it sound cool. Chambers and I start by playing songs we think the others will recognise. Carlito wants everyone to join in but Sawyer refuses – she seems suddenly shy. To everyone’s surprise, though, Ace does start singing along. And, when he does, he makes this mournful, ecstatic sound that shouldn’t even exist, let alone make sense. We have a go at No Rain and then more and more songs and eventually the day passes. We don’t want to go home so we climb down to the fields below the big rock and lie in the long grass. I feel like a chameleon. I look up as the sun becomes a moon, a hole in the swelling darkness. I shiver and I’m grateful when Sawyer suggests going back to the car to get jumpers. Once we’ve got the extra clothes on, we decide to walk. Two cars tear past us through the night, their beams like searchlights. We go deeper into the dark but we’re unafraid. If we can’t see what’s there, then what’s there can’t see us.

We’re sustained by snacks that Carlito hands out to us when we’re hungry and by endless supplies of magia. When any of us complain that we’re cold, Carlito makes us run until we’re out of breath and laughing. Over the course of the night, we start talking about Ace as our singer, and although on one level the idea fucks with my head, on another level I’m happy that I won’t have to stand at the microphone anymore. Carlito talks at a million miles an hour about how we’re a band now.

“All the people they will love you.”

Chambers rubs his hand over his close-cropped hair.

“Can you help us, Carlito?”

Carlito knits his eyebrows.

“Have I not helped you lunatics already?”

And even though I can hardly make my friends’ faces out in the blackness, I am sure everyone is smiling because of course we know that without Carlito, Chambers and I would have nothing.

“You could manage them,” Sawyer suggests.

“These banana brains?” Carlito yelps. “Do I look completely bonkers?”

“Well,” Sawyer teases, “you don’t not look completely bonkers.”

We all laugh again, and even Ace can’t stay completely miserable in the face of all the compliments everyone throws his way.

“Let’s do it,” he says.

Everyone’s wired as we drive home, a compilation of obscure b-sides blasting from the speakers. The roads are empty. I’m disorientated. It feels like at some point in the last twenty-four hours, we stepped out of time.

“My mates,” Carlito says. “Before you know it, you’ll be headlining Reading Festival.”

The thought thrills me. All we need to do now is write some more songs, practise them, perform them, record them, sell them…

With Carlito in charge, it all seems possible. When we get home, he’s like a hurricane – he gets everything organised. He lets us use the pub’s live room as a rehearsal space as well as his backline equipment. And then he introduces us properly to David.

How did JD and Chambers end up here? Go back to the prologue.