Friday, October 17, 2008

Clare Grogan – ‘Tallulah and the TeenStars’

A text message from A. yesterday morning: ‘Completely 4got about the Clare Grogan signing 2day at Borders. R u n S working 2day?’ I’m not, as it happens. And he’s right, she has a new kids’ book out, the first in a series of three ‘Adventures of Tallulah Gosh’. It is of course totally tremendous that there are to be stories about that top celebrity, first sung about on ‘Talulah Gosh’ by Talulah Gosh (I never noticed it only had two ‘l’s before) way back in nineteen eighty something, the song that put the pop into indie pop, the fi into lo fi, and – more importantly – announced Amelia Fletcher’s arrival as a great singer. Not that I remember it from the time, but there’s that compilation on K. Brilliant song, in any case. Though what it has to do with Clare Grogan of proper ’80s chart pop stars Altered Images I couldn’t tell you. I couldn’t tell you much about them at all, in fact, but I know that I love ‘I Could Be Happy’, and I know that A. and S. are both daft about Gregory’s Girl, the Bill Forsyth film she’s in. Which leaves the question: are all these fond associations enough to make two grown men with no children go along to a book signing for teenage girls?

I’ve decided this is embarrassing after all,’ says A. as we complete our second circuit of the shop. He has brought a record bag with him, with a selection of Grogan-related vinyl, hoping to get it signed. I am clutching a 7” of ‘Happy Birthday’ which he handed to me when I arrived, suggesting I get it signed for S. Which is very kind of him, and a sweet idea, but it does rather preclude the possibility of nonchalantly pretending at the last minute that I’m not here to get anything signed after all, and am merely on my way to the Proust section. In the event, Clare is welcoming and chatty and A. makes all the right remarks about encouraging kids to form bands. With which she agrees – ‘The important thing is not to take it too seriously, to have fun,’ she says, before flipping through a copy of Tallulah and the TeenStars to show him the picture of Tallulah in a Siouxie and the Banshees T-shirt. Then it’s my turn, and I move forward with the ‘Happy Birthday’ single, a chap to the right of the table helpfully handing me a copy of the book to get signed too. Clare detects some reluctance in this, and half-apologises for the coercion. I say no, it was nothing of the sort, I’ll be interested to read the book, being a big fan of the song. Walking away from the table, A. gives me a funny look and says, ‘You do know where the name Talulah Gosh comes from?’ It seems that I don’t. ‘It was the name Clare was going to register with Equity when she became an actor, but Bill Forsyth talked her out of it.’ ‘So the Talulah Gosh song is...’ ‘A tribute to Clare Grogan.’ Thanks, A.! You might have mentioned that five minutes previously! Bloody hell.

The book is delightful, and delightfully simple. It’s almost a rags to riches story, except that there aren’t really any rags (all the families involved seem reasonably affluent) or riches either, just the formation of a band, a talent contest for them to enter, and various obstacles in the way of their triumph. The ambition of Teresa (AKA Tallulah, three ‘l’s) and her bandmates is kept low-level: the talent contest prizes are only book tokens, and they’re up against a magician, a spotty French horn player and a dance troupe called ‘Happy Feet’ who take the whole thing far too seriously, developing a bit of an attitude towards Tallulah and the TeenStars. ‘I didn’t care what they thought,’ reckons Teresa, ‘I just wanted us to do our song well and for people to like it.’ (p. 83). People do like it. Fun is had. Parents and teachers do their best to put a stop to much of it, at least to begin with: Teresa’s first faux pas is a band rehearsal in her parents’ garage when she thought they were going to be out, her second is a make-over session in which El, having quit the band as a bassist, rejoins them as a stylist (they have a stylist before their first gig! How Pop is that?) Poppy’s parents don’t appreciate having their daughter done up ‘looking like a tart’ (p. 52), and kick up a fuss.

Only occasionally does the story fail to convince – I wondered about the part in which Teresa’s previously hostile sisters win over her parents on her behalf by playing them her demo CD. I would also rather the cool set – Mia and Ava, superior sorts from the year above – had faced some sort of comeuppance, but maybe that’s just me. What convinces the whole way through is Teresa’s narration, full of enthusiasm, scattered with 21st Century allusions (we first see her playing her song ‘Baby I Don’t Bebo’ in her room; she and El skip school and go to Starbucks rather than a café), and with perfectly judged swathes of capital letters (‘WOW! THE GORGEOUS ONE SPEAKS!’ (p. 53); at the Betty and the Bee Stings gig, ‘IT WAS THE BEST NIGHT I’VE EVER HAD’ (p. 73); ‘TALLULAH AND THE TEENSTARS, YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!’ (p. 88)). So, though you can pretty much guess what is going to happen right from the start, Grogan does a good job of taking you along through the highs and lows Teresa experiences as disasters loom and are averted. And a great job of making being in a band at school seem not too cool, not too clever, not too geeky, but a fun and a friendly thing to be involved in.


Tim Footman said...

Is this the new publishing phenomenon for the 21st century? Books consisting entirely of references to 80s pop stars? Felt-covered Chesterf!elds in The Loft, anyone?

Chris said...

Sounds good to me. I forgot to mention that Talullah's mum's hairdressing salon is called Altered Images.

brogues said...

J went to the Glasgow signing and got me a copy which Clare inscribed "Hope you find your inner Talullah!" which prompted my mate D to say "I think he found his years ago!". How true :) The artwork's really sweet dontcha think?

Chris said...

Mine just says 'Talullah Rocks!' The illustrations are great - there are more on Muntsa Vincente's website.

A. said...

Given that several of the 80s bands had names taken from characters from kids TV shows - The Woodentops, Soup Dragons - I think there might be some good mileage in Tim's idea. I'd buy that title anyway.

Chris - I do apologise. I assumed you knew that one, so sorry.

The Fat Tulips had a single in the late 80s / early 90s (can't remember exactly when and it's too late to go digging in my singles boxes) called 'Where's Clare Grogan Now?'. Well now we know...

And she was a real sweetheart as well.


Chris said...

Don't worry about it, A., it made for a better story that way! And as you suggest, she was far too much of a sweetheart to mind. Hopefully.

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