New Zealander Rebecca Denton has spent much of her time overseas working in music television. She has previously worked for TVNZ, supernatural drama Being Human, as well as music TV shows rockfeedback, X-Factor, and The Voice. That experience has translated into her debut Young Adult novel - This Beats Perfect - a romp through London's music industry following a teenage musician, and her dealings with the very thing that disgusts her the most - global superstar boy band The Keep.
See below for the first chapter of This Beats Perfect
"I was always amused by boybands that got old", Denton explains "It started off as a kind of comedy about a manband that were well past their prime". She cites Take That, Westlife, and The Backstreet Boys as references of that odd thing: the matured boyband. "The whole thing of a boy band is really about that really young age isn't it? Sort of sixteen to twenty, and appealing to thirteen year old girls".
Rebecca's initial idea changed with the introduction of her lead character Amelie Ayres - a young guitarist and songwriter. "I really started to enjoy her story, and the comedy aspect started to fall away. I ended up writing a story about a girl who wants to write music - who has plenty of seventeen year old fears of putting herself out there." Though boy band The Keep are present in This Beats Perfect; this group are only just past their prime.
"These guys are like One Direction; they wrapped up the first part of their career at twenty-two. Isn't that incredible? Can you imagine having lived the life that they've lived between sixteen and twenty-two? I find that just so fascinating."
Amelie's somewhat snobby music tastes lead her to looking down on The Keep, which results in some antagonism between her and the band, including love interest Maxx. Rebecca relates to the deep connection and identity building that Amelie exhibits though her adoration of the less poppy side of music, "I was really kind of an awkward teenager in that I was absolutely terrified of my own opinions. So the only way I could be sure of myself was to make sure that I never liked anything that was uncool", chortles Rebecca. She expressed her love and devotion to The Cure by memorising their songs, and all the info she could find out about them from the liner notes onwards. "You go in really, really deep when you're young. It becomes the defining of you. The music you're into, and the people you share that with".
The chapters of This Beats Perfect crib their titles from various songs including Blur's 'Charmless Man', Teenage Fanclub's 'Fallin', and Hole's 'Celebrity Skin', which together add up to a tracklist unique to the novel. Rebbeca attempted to match the chapters to the emotion of their song. This tactic was unsustainable and she readily admits that Chance The Rapper's 'Summer Friends' - a sombre tale of modern Chicago does not readily connect with the tale she tells in her chapter of the same name. But the title works!
This Beats Perfect also has references to NZ songs, despite the novel being set in the London music industry. Canterbury crooner Marlon Williams, and classics cuts from The Clean and The Chills all rate mentions. "I plan to do that as much as possible. It's part of me", states Rebecca, "I grew up in Dunedin in the 90s so there was a lot of music around then. I did a lot of sneaking into The Empire and The Crown when I was younger when to see those great Flying Nun/Dunedin Sound bands".
Related: Marlon Williams live at WOMAD
Rebecca has already written a new Young Adult novel that connects to This Beats Perfect, and is contracted for a third book following a young female punk band that "scam their way into international glory".
I Am Rock ’n’ Roll
‘Excuse me!’ Amelie shouted. ‘I’m with the band . . . ’ Her voice trailed off as she cringed in embarrassment. She had to get closer if this was ever going to work.
Rows and rows of teenage girls funnelled by metal barriers were slowly pushing towards the entrance of the venue, moving to the soundtrack of The Keep’s new, ingeniously titled compilation album – Kept. The scene managed to be orderly, boisterous and chaotic all at once.
‘Tickets!’ a scalper shouted. ‘Seated circle!’
‘T- Shirts! CDs! Get your EXCLUSIVE merchandise right here!’ shouted a man holding a dodgy printed Keep T-shirt in one hand and glow sticks in the other, his eye scanning the crowd for police.
‘Big Issue!’ yelled a lady in a Keep baseball cap. ‘Exclusive interview with Maxx from The Keep!’
‘Mum!’ screamed a hysterical girl drowning in her oversized Keep onesie.
‘Keep moving forward. Stalls to the left, dress circle to the right,’ a burly security guard ordered half- heartedly.
Amelie stood a little straighter and raised her chin.
Confidence was the key here, just as Dad had told her. She tried to get closer but felt elbows rise to block her path.
On guard were two bald men wearing audio headset’s and garish yellow high- visibility jackets, clutching clipboards. To one side, a group of mostly male photographers were chatting, smoking and laughing among themselves; and to the other a large posse of diehard fans and autograph hunters pressed up against the Mojo barriers.
‘Excuse me!’ shouted Amelie, waving at the nearest guard.
‘I said no signings today,’ he shouted without looking over. She felt her cheeks flush as she took a deep breath and tried again.
Amelie had practised this many times in her head, but it was hard to hide the nervous edge in her voice. She had to be cool.
‘I’m here to see Mel! Mel Knight.’
The guard swung around, eyes suddenly bright. ‘Ah. Name?’
‘Amelie,’ she stumbled. ‘Amelie Ayres.’
‘Amelie Ayres,’ he said in a big, booming voice. ‘Sorry, love. Yes, we’re expecting you!’
She became aware of some murmurs of intrigue from the crowd behind her, and caught what she thought was a camera flash in the corner of her eye.
He pulled out his radio: ‘Security to production.’
Crackle. ‘Go ahead, security.’
‘She’s here. Miss Ayres.’
Crackle. ‘Thanks, security. Mel’s on her way.’
‘Just wait here a sec, love.’ The security guard pulled the rope up and ushered her through. She was on the other side of the barrier, but still just a few metres from the flock of ultra-fans and tabloid shutterbugs, and she could feel their eyes on her. Suddenly a camera flashed, momentarily blinding her. As Amelie put her hands up to cover her face, another flash exploded, then another and instantly the air became a solid wall of sound and flare, snapping and shouting and sharp white light. Startled and shocked, it took Amelie a second to focus and she realised the paparazzi were aiming their huge lenses in her direction. She felt a familiar surge of terror, exactly as she had felt at the audition last summer when the room went quiet and all eyes were on her.
‘Guys, for god’s sake. She’s no one. A roadie’s kid. Forget it,’ the security guard snapped angrily. He winked at Amelie and whispered, ‘If they think you’re someone, your photo will end up all over the bloody internet.’
Amelie felt relieved as the photographers immediately lost interest.
There was commotion at the stage door as a very tall and striking woman came striding forward – Amelie couldn’t guess her age – with arms full of bangles, a huge, bright- red afro and a shock of magenta lipstick. She beamed at Amelie and waved her over while shouting colourfully in an American accent into her mobile phone.
‘Fifteen? I’ll let security know. Not much to worry about at the entrance . . . No, don’t bother stopping, I’ll arrange the paps and press now . . . Just one interview today . . . The Sun, of course.’
Amelie opened her mouth to speak, but the woman held up an elegant finger with a bright blue painted nail. One second!
‘Cars arriving in around ten, stage door entrance!’ she said
into her phone, before turning to address the waiting paps and
fans. ‘There won’t be a fan greet today, but you’ll see them
arriving. No. No. They’re running late! Sorry.’
She gave a quick wink to Amelie before finishing her call. ‘I’ve just got to drop a little someone at the green room then
I’ll be right there.’
The woman snapped the cover on her phone shut, looked Amelie up and down, threw her arms around her and landed two air kisses a precise three centimetres from each cheek.
‘Hi, I’m Mel. Cute outfit, honey. You look FABULOUS! Aaaand you’re right on time! Let’s get you inside. Did you get here all right?’ She walked just ahead, her hips swaying from side to side as her bangles rattled in time.
‘Yes, thank you.’
‘Let’s get you to the green room, doll, and you can have some dinner – have you eaten?’
‘Not hungry? You’re a pop star already! All you need now are butt implants the size of China – I know someone who
can help with that – and a fling with John Mayer,’ she pursed her lips, ‘but ain’t nobody need help with that. Are you excited for tonight?’ she beamed at Amelie, her huge eyes sparkling.
‘Yes! Will I see my dad?’ Amelie hoped she could shadow him for the night and get in on the real action behind the scenes.
‘I think he’s gonna be pretty busy, honey. He’s doing the support act tonight as well, Dee Marlow? But he might pop across to see you before things kick off.’
Mel led the way down a very tight hallway and up a small flight of stairs to the most unromantic and un- showbizzy green room Amelie could have imagined.
Against the two facing walls sat sad, old, red corduroy couches and shoved against the far wall, underneath a pokey window, there was a small portable table over- filled with food and drinks. There were a couple of sick-looking house plants in their pots- come- ashtrays cowering in the corner and the stained, greasy wallpaper looked as though it had absorbed several decades of debauchery.
‘So, you can wait here. I’ll come and get you when we have a show. Okay?’
Amelie hesitated. ‘It’s all glamour back here, right?’ Mel laughed. ‘Well don’t be fooled – this room’s hosted some real music royalty over the years. If these walls could talk . . . ’ she looked around nostalgically, then wrinkled her nose, ‘not to mention the carpet – god only knows the dirt this flea- bitten thing could dish out to the tabloids. You know what, I’m just gonna choose to be glad they can’t. Your dad told you no photos of the artists, right?’
‘Oh yeah, I’m just going to text Mum that I’m here safe.’
‘Sure thing, sweetie.’ Mel smiled. ‘See you in a bit. Everyone knows you’re here and to look after you, so don’t feel shy about saying hello. Promise?’
Amelie nodded, sinking back into the musty couch and took it all in. The carpet was covered in a smattering of cigarette burns and a patchwork of other stains – a glass of beer spilt here, a magnum of Cristal sprayed there. The food and drinks that formed part of the rider (something Amelie had imagined to be extraordinarily glamorous) looked like an assortment of Iceland party food that had been left out too long at a kid’s birthday. She listened with longing to the action out in the hall. Voices shouting about this and that, the thud of equipment being unloaded, issues arising and being solved, it sounded so exciting.
TO MUM: I made it. In the green room waiting for Dad!
TO AMELIE: Just settling down to Bake Off with soupe a l’oignon! Bon Soir! Be Safe dot com!
The door swung open and a thin, bespectacled, bearded young man marched in, made a bee- line for the food and clumsily piled three mini sausage rolls and a couple of pigs-in-blankets on a napkin.
‘Amelie, right? Mike’s daughter?’
‘Pig- in- a- blanket?’
A sorry, grey sausage was thrust under her nose.
‘Oh, no thank you.’
‘Probably wise TBH. Well, hello, Amelie Ayres. I’m Clint. I’m a director, well, cameraman. I’m Julian’s other half?’
Julian worked with Amelie’s father at his east London recording studio, and he was a total scream.
‘Oh. Yes. I’ve met Julian!’ She stood up, feeling immediately at ease.
‘Course you have.’ He grinned. ‘I’m filming the boys backstage and what not. Mike said you were keen to see how it all works. Want me to show you around?’
‘Yes. That would be awesome. Only, I’m supposed to wait for Mel.’
‘She’s outside with the band doing press. The “band” has just arrived.’ He smirked. ‘Come on, we’ll be quick.’
Clint led her out into the hallway. At one end there was a lot of commotion as the band’s huge, colourful and lively entourage piled in. She craned her neck but couldn’t make out any of the stars among the scrum.
‘I should have been filming their arrival, but it’s quiet out there. Londoners can be either hysterical or non- plussed. There’s no in- between.’
Clint led her through another door onto the side of the backstage area. The enormous stage was right in front of her. She could make out the heaving crowd through a large, black mesh screen – in the darkness she could see heads bobbing about and the blue glow of thousands of mobile phones between camera flashes. Katy Perry was blaring over the sound system – and every minute or so the crowd began to chant.
Amelie was transfixed by the sheer size of the venue and the close proximity of the energised crowd made her feel almost giddy. She looked up to the ceiling – a labyrinth of lights and walkways and props hung overhead. To the side, the wings were covered by huge heavy black curtains and the mesh screen would presumably rise when the band came on. ‘No one can see through that screen from out front,’ Clint was explaining earnestly. ‘The way it’s lit; it just looks solid black. Magic, right?’
On the stage side of the screen there was a huge chrome fan (every boyband needs a wind machine, thought a smirking Amelie) and set up on a raised stage was a full drum kit. The plinth was on tracks, presumably so it could move forward. Behind that, hanging from the ceiling all the way to the floorboards, was an enormous, white silky screen – with a projector sat in standby mode shining a faint blue light across it.
‘We use that thing during “When I Grow Up” – they have these pluck- at- yer- heartstrings photos of the boys when they were babies. I mean, at least a few years younger than they are now! God, the mums love that number,’ he smirked, turning to Amelie. ‘It really gets them going. I mean, what the actual eff. Who gets into music thinking, “I just hope I can sell records to MILFs and their children.” It’s a sorry state.’ He shook his head. ‘Anyway, enough of that. Time for the main event – this, my lady, is where the magic really happens!’ Clint gestured elaborately to a laptop on a small desk.
Amelie looked at it, then back at him, her face completely blank.
‘I know. It’s pretty dull to look at. Everything is programmed in, I mean, some of it is manual but most of it is programmed for each song. Look.’
He leaned over and hit a few keys and a big spotlight came on above them and lit up the front of the stage. Cheers rang round the hall.
‘Ha! Man, these crowds are so easy to wind up.’ He flicked the switch off. They both giggled.
‘All the lights are rigged up through the console there.’
He flicked another switch and the projector lit up, and bright red flames flickered on the screen. ‘Some people make a lot of money designing projections for these big shows.’
‘CLINT!’ A shiny, red- faced man in a boiler suit approached. ‘What are you doing! Don’t touch the lights.’
Clint waved Amelie towards the side door. ‘You know the way. I need to set up my camera. No big multi- camera job tonight, just background stuff – we’re filming the whole show for DVD release later in the tour though. I’ve got a team of six joining me!’ he said proudly. ‘Nice to finally
‘Ah, you too.’ Amelie smiled. She was desperate to stay with Clint and watch him work.
‘Your dad’s a legend by the way.’ He grinned, fixing a lens onto his small digital camera. ‘Now get out of here before I lose my job.’
Amelie picked her way back through the darkness, pausing to listen as a technician gave a beautifully carved acoustic guitar one final tune- up. Amelie was staring so intently at the floor, petrified of putting a foot wrong and tripping over a cable or rogue amp and falling arse over tit, that she failed to see the figure standing by the side of the stage, psyching herself up – until it was too late.
‘Shit, sorry, oh my god, I’m so sorr—’
The girl flashed a broad smile and instantly Amelie recognised
‘Don’t worry about it.’
Dee smiled again – friendly but impersonal, well- worn and weary, lonely and jaded and deeply unsatisfied. Amelie knew that smile well.
She smiled back shyly and ducked out of Dee’s eye line as quickly as she could. The music in the auditorium faded down with the lights.
‘Pssst!’ Mel whispered and gestured from the shadows.
‘Over here!’ Amelie quickly joined Mel to watch the performance.
On stage, a lone spotlight came on, illuminating a lonely looking guitar and an old 1950s microphone. It was a nice touch. Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington had performed on this very stage all those years ago, and tonight all the imagery and styling was perfectly pitched – paying tribute to Dee’s musical influences and cleverly emphasising her credibility at the same time.
Waiting for her cue, Dee put her hand to her ear and bowed her head. Her blonde hair was braided around her face and pulled back from her head. She wore a simple dress made of many layers of white chiffon – her look. Otherworldly.
A drummer slid out from behind the curtain, settled onto his seat and began to tap the high hat. Tst. Tst. Tst. The crowd fell completely silent.
Dee took a breath and walked onto the stage. Amelie was spellbound. The surge of applause made her spine tingle, she felt overwhelmed with envy, anticipation and awe.
Dee’s voice was warm and husky and pitch perfect. She plucked a few accompanying strings on her guitar – so gentle you could hear the scrape of her fingers across the steel.
‘She’s a little superstar, right?’ Mel whispered into Amelie’s ear.
Amelie nodded. She closed her eyes and let the music fill her.
‘A lot of talent in that one,’ Mel continued. ‘Hard to believe she didn’t win American Stars and The Keep did. Mind you, it’s young girls that phone vote in those shows . . . ’
Amelie nodded, unable to conceal her excitement.
Song after song filled her soul and reminded her more than ever of what she wanted. She was determined to get selected for the solo spot at Music in the Park, and play and sing her own song for the first time in front of an audience. She knew her dream. There would be no freaking out at the audition. This time she would overcome her nerves and get that place. Leaning against the wall in the shadows, Amelie noticed a guy listening intensely, his head resting against a beam. His outline – the modern quiff and the curve of his shoulders through a dark T-shirt – was strangely familiar.
For a brief moment a beam of light spilled from the stage and fell on his face. Suddenly, he looked up and caught her staring. They locked eyes. She looked away quickly, cheeks burning: it was Maxx from The Keep.
Extract reproduced from This Beats Perfect by Rebecca Denton with permission from Hachette NZ