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Short Story

All Howl: The Tragic Story of Ridley Truck and his Three Biggest Fans*

Joe Dunthorne


Act I



Four in the morning in a home studio off Hoxton Square. The walls and ceiling are soundproofed with egg boxes. Ridley Truck – singer, songwriter, producer – is sitting at the mixing desk in an over-stuffed armchair, wearing a navy officer’s hat with brass badge, one finger raised in the air.

Listen to this middle eight,’ he says.

This is the first time he has let anyone hear tracks from his new studio album: All Howl.

Sitting on the semi-circular leatherette sofa opposite him are Ridley’s biggest fans: Errol, Regina and Delia. They have been fans since the release of his first demo: I Named My Daughters After STDs. The two-hundred-print EP was distributed on mini-CDs tucked into pamphlets at the family planning clinic.

They are listening to the final climactic song on the album. It returns to the chorus, a key change, another chorus, a tempo shift, a double-speed chorus, then an outro with wolf cries.

Errol, Regina and Delia’s faces adjust into expressions of, in this order, awe, bliss and concern.

Ridley smiles widely, squeaks his hands on the arms of his chair. ‘So, guys,’ he says, pulling his feet underneath him, ‘what do you think of the new record?’

Regina is the first to stand. She is dressed in the manner of a packet of wine gums: black plimsoles, lime leggings, lemon tights, strawberry skirt, orange baggy T, and her hair dyed raspberry. She holds on to the wall for support.

‘Oh Ridley,’ she says, ‘this record is dangerous. The verses are like thousands of innocent people. The choruses are like high-grade military weapons. When the two come together. Oh God, it’s perfect.’

She falls back on the sofa as though picked off by some distant sniper.

Errol, a gangly Spaniard with enormous hands and feet, stands up. ‘I don’t think words will do justice to how good this record is,’ he says, and he walks over to the Persian rug. ‘Let me dance.’

[Perfomer’s note: there follows a stunning display of solo dance – encompassing Dutty Wine, rigadoon, electric shocks, tarantella, ‘pon de river, ‘pon de bank, strip the willow, habanera, the Lambeth Walk and an eye-popping arabesque.] 

‘Wow, Errol,’ Ridley says, ‘you really you think it’s that good?! What about you Delia? You haven’t said anything yet.’

Delia stands up. She’s wearing a vintage wedding dress. She breathes in and, slowly, out. ‘I enjoyed the album, Ridley,’ she says. Then she
sits down.

‘Right. What did you enjoy? What did you think of the production? Tell me about my vocal?’

‘Is that what you want?’ she says.

‘Of course it is. I’m looking for feedback from those I most respect.’

‘Okay,’ she says. ‘The production was a little overcooked. Your vocal seemed a little… yeasty.’

‘Yeasty – what are you talking about? What about that last track – the single – it’s a killer. People will actually die.’

‘It might work as a double A-side. And, honestly, the lyrics – I’m not convinced.’

‘You’re not convinced? You think ‘War Head’ should be a fucking double A-side!? Are you deranged? Listen to these lyrics:


How can you expect me to stay calm
when you burn me like napalm
and you’re surprised that I wail some
when you tear like a nail bomb 


‘That’s rhyming. Did you even see Errol’s dance? Delia, I’m giving you one more chance to give me some constructive feedback.’

‘Ridley,’ she says, looking down, ‘you know how much I love your band – how I’ve been to every gig – how I bought the Japanese imports – but I must tell you, because I love you, and I want you to do the best that you possibly can: the album needs work.’

Ridley, almost incapacitated with rage, hobbles to the mixing desk, inserts a sound effects CD, flicks to track 34, ‘Death by Dropped Piano’, and glaring at Delia as he does so, presses play. 



Act II



In the basement of a warehouse on Curtain Road, it’s Ridley Truck’s album release party. Regina and Errol have been asked to join the band as full members: Errol as the dancer, Regina as MC/Narrator.

Ridley is still wearing his officer’s hat, but is now dressed in a high-collared magician’s robe. Under the advice of Regina and Errol, the album now includes a voice-over/rap – spoken by Regina – that tells a story in the gaps between tracks, and also a two-minute tap-dance solo by Errol.

Delia has been excluded from the guest list. However, her love for the band has not faded. Wearing a low-key hat, un-distressed jeans and a simple T-shirt, she pays to get in. No one in the crowd can even see her – their eyes cannot grip on to clothes that plain.

She listens to the music critics whispering to each other as she passes:


Chorus of critics:

It’s over-budget

The project’s three years late

I hear the vocals are yeasty

He’s lost it


Ridley walks to the front of the stage. He has a microphone shaped like a magnum revolver. He puts the barrel to his lips. 

‘This performance is dedicated to those who didn’t believe in me,’ he says.

Kent, Ridley’s oldest friend, is manning the laptop. He double-clicks and they lurch straight in to the album’s opening track: ‘so young and
so untender’.

Ridley starts to sing.

Over one critic’s shoulder Delia sees him write in his notebook: vocals: a little yeasty.

As the song moves to the chorus, Errol drifts from the back to the front of the stage. He steps in front of Ridley and starts doing the worm. A&R men drift towards Errol like fish.

Regina climbs the speaker stack and – wearing a leotard made from untreated snakeskin – starts to freestyle. The crowd surges towards her.

Meanwhile, Delia watches Ridley. He looks around in disbelief. Then he carefully puts the mic back on its stand, turns his collar down and retreats toward the back of the stage. With tears in his eyes – realising what a fool he has been – he grimly, dejectedly, sits in front of the drums.






Leonard Street. It is hailing stones like rocks of crack. Water rushes up from the drains. Thunder rumbles; heavy goods vehicles pass; lightning forks the gherkin. Ridley is traipsing through the streets, soaking wet, his cape torn and heavy, his fists full of sodden promotional material. Kent follows, clutching their laptop (which contains the original cut of the album) and a bottle of Frosty Jack.

Ridley: My own Regina, leaked my album on the internet?

Kent: Tis widely available, sire.

[Stage note: When they are drunk, Kent and Ridley like to speak ye olde.]

Ridley: And she’s signed a deal with Edmund from Universal?

Kent: A five-album deal, my lord.

Ridley: And, what of Errol?

Kent: He is, forthwith, choreographing a musical adaptation of your life.

Ridley: Oh foul and tepid groupies.

Kent: Good sire, I am sorry.

Ridley: Where is this blasted Dragon Bar?

Kent: I fear it has been shut down, good sir.

Ridley: Do not lie to me! Is there no one left whom I can trust!?

Kent: I speak only from my heart, sire. Twas subject to a police investigation.

Ridley: Kent, come not between the Dragon Bar and my wrath!

Ridley storms off but is distracted by something. Through the window of an estate agent, he sees the music video for Regina’s new single. The song’s called: ‘Stand up for bastards’. It features a chorus of apparently sightless men in black shades, tap-dancing with white sticks.

Ridley falls to the pavement and starts to shake. Kent drops down beside him and they sit, huddled together. Ridley pulls the laptop from his friend’s arms, holds it out to the rain. The water leaks into the hard drive.

Ridley: Nothing can change now.

A man in a fur coat and Nike high tops thinks Ridley is asking him for money and he shakes his head definitively.



Act IV



Regina is performing at a high-profile industry event beneath the railway arches. Her stylist has suggested that, in a nod to her previous band, she wear a T-shirt that, on the front says: What’s Ridley got? And on the back says: Diddley Squat.

Her performance time is put back and put back. Eventually, she gets on stage after midnight. Looking out across the slackened faces in the crowd, she can hardly hear herself for the sound of their agreeing with each other, for the Velcro noise of them attempting to clear their nostrils.

After her cover of ‘Backstabbers’ by The O’Jays, someone from Polydor comes up to her and suggests she play some covers.



Errol, meanwhile, has been invited to choreograph a music video. It’s a re-enactment of the mods versus the rockers, but with nu-rave versus the twenties revival, and Brighton beach replaced by Kingsland Road.

There comes a cry: ‘Loose the glow sticks!’

Then the general of the Burlesque army yells: ‘Flappers advance!’

Quickly the battle takes on a life of its own – rows of ravers march with ghetto blasters on their shoulders, their jaws masticating. Cabaret dancers ping their bras at the advancing hordes. Errol, not recognised by either tribe, is dragged into the melee.

Meanwhile, in Camden, Delia has formed a back-to-basics rock band, called Young and Tender, they are already getting some hype in the blogosphere and have ten songs written. All they need is a singer. Under a golfing umbrella, she is running through Shoreditch, looking for Ridley – she knows he would be perfect for the project.

She finds him crawling between the two bagel shops at the top of Brick Lane – he is bearded and smelly and can barely recognise her in her simple cardigan and corduroy jeans.

R: You look like someone I used to know?

D: Ridley, it’s me. Delia. I’m sorry about what I thought about your new album.

R: You were right – it was overproduced and the vocals were…

D: No, don’t say it. That’s not important. We’ve got a gig in ten minutes at the Hoxton Bar and Grill. What matters is: can you still sing?

He looks up in to the orange lights – the smell of salt beef about him – and he howls, howls, howls, howls.



Act V


Hoxton Bar and Grill


We watch a soaking, sweaty, pissy Ridley roll around the stage, the hands of the crowd tearing at his cape, pulling at his blackened military hat. Kent’s playing keyboard. Delia’s on bass, shimmering and unfeasibly beautiful. In the strobe lights, they disappear and reappear, as though their batteries are critically low.

We hear journalists talking:

Hack 1: Such ingenuity.

Hack 2: Such good old-fashioned songwriting.

Hack 1: And, apparently, the singer is homeless!

Hack 2: Book him for an interview!

They high-five and start scribbling.

The venue is at capacity. There’s a crowd pushing against the bouncers, trying to get in. Outside, the storm roars – battering the floor-to-ceiling windows behind the stage.

A journalist writes in his notepad: Ridley’s improvised vocals are a return to his savage best. Each song an apocalyptic incantation.

Ridley sings:

A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all!

Never, never, never, never, never!

The room is threaded with that strange s-ensation – that this moment – this one perfect gig – will hum forever in their memory like tinnitus. Beyond hype, beyond sales, beyond production values.

Rain is starting to come through the ceiling, Delia’s hair is wet and this can only make her more beautiful.

Regina and Errol, sneaking in through the stage door, watch from the wings. As the simple chords wash over them, and the honest, mortal vocal line picks out a note here and there, they sink to their knees in bitter remorse. Why did they want to destroy this?

Edmund from Universal, watching from the crowd, wishes he could go back through his life and change all the mistakes he made.

As the crowd jump in unison, the floor vibrates. A crack in the ceiling widens a little. The lighting rigs starts to swing. Water is pouring through.

The event has moved beyond the shallow commercially motivated scene that fosters it. It is all about the music. No one in the room thinks: this would make an awesome music video.

Finally, as the band play out their encore, the lighting rig falls, crashing into the puddles of water across the stage. Ten thousand volts of electrical current passes through Delia, Ridley, Kent, Regina, Errol, all of them – their bones suddenly visible –  one collective eureka – that all this need never have happened – that it is too late to be sorry – before they collapse, convulsing, to the floor.

Ridley crawls across to Delia’s pale body and, holds her, fizzing in his arms. He puts his ear to her chest and listens to her heart descending through the tempos till, at last, it stops.

He lets off one last wail, a song he had hoped he would never sing, before succumbing, with relief, to the long secret track that the living will never hear.

Crowds exeunt with stolen memorabilia: plectrums, set lists, bottles of Evian.


*‘All Howl’ was written for and first performed at ‘Shakespeare in Shoreditch’, as part of the London Word Festival 2009.