The Duet will be out on 4 May 2022.
Here’s a preview. Enjoy!
© Harper Bliss
To do any of this without Joan by my side is like doing it with a limb cut off, or worse, a torn vocal cord. I only feel like half a person. Like the better part of me is still missing. Our new single is called “The Better Part of Me” for a reason.
“I’m so stoked,” Billie says. “Let’s do this.”
The Lady Kings recruited Billie as Joan’s replacement almost a year ago. I should be used to her by now. I am in some ways, but in many others, she will never be Joan. The best guitarist to ever walk this earth, in my ultra-biased opinion, with the nimblest of fingers—and I should know.
What distance remains between Billie and me will soon be obliterated by the tour we’re about to embark on. A two-month cross-country journey will do that to you. All boundaries are about to be shattered. But first, we’re checking out our support band, The Other Women, and the show they’ll be opening with every night. They’d better bring it. I haven’t come to watch a rehearsal. The Lady Kings are here to experience a proper performance.
Our tour manager, Andy, greets us at the entrance of the Hollywood Bowl. The first concert of The Lady Kings reunion tour—if you want to call it that—will be a home game. I can’t even remember how many times we’ve played this venue. For The Other Women, I think it might be the first. I try to remember my first time on this particular stage, but it’s too long ago. Too many years have passed and too many things have happened since. Like our guitarist dying.
Most of the crew are here. Some have been with us for decades; some I will get better acquainted with soon enough.
We’ve only settled into our seats when there is movement on the stage. They don’t want to keep us waiting. Good. My expectations are high and low at the same time. I wouldn’t have picked The Other Women as our opening act myself, but according to everyone at our record company, it makes perfect sense. Truth be told, I don’t even know why we need an opening act at all. We’re The Lady Kings, for crying out loud. When I come on, the crowd goes from cold to hot in a split second. I’ve always known how to light up an audience. It’s what I do. It’s what I’m good at. But times change and The Lady Kings haven’t toured for over ten years.
So, here we are. Poised for The Other Women. We’re not coming into this cold. We’ve watched their clips on YouTube. We’ve had their songs on repeat on Spotify. We’ve pored over their pictures and bios.
Roy, our manager since we started out in the early nineties, said, “Fact is, you may need them more than they need you.”
“We’ll see about that,” Deb, our drummer, replied.
“I’m feeling my age.” Sam, our bass player, is looking at the stage as The Other Women take their places. “How old are these kids again?”
“Twenty-something,” Billie says. “With an enormous fan base.”
“Evening,” the lead singer says into the mic, only to be met with an ear-piercing wave of reverb. She steps back and waits until she gets a thumbs-up from one of the sound techs. “Let’s try that again.” If she’s intimidated by having all current members of The Lady Kings and their entourage staring at her from the front row of an otherwise empty Hollywood Bowl, she hides it well. “It’s an honor to play for such rock royalty tonight. Thank you for taking us on tour with you. We promise not to let you down.”
“Polite as well,” Sam mumbles in my ear. “I didn’t know they still made young people like that.”
“Certainly politer than we were at their age,” Deb says.
I let them talk and keep my gaze trained on Cleo Palmer, lead singer of The Other Women. We look nothing alike, yet she reminds me of myself many moons ago, when The Lady Kings took the music world by storm. When audiences couldn’t get enough of us. When security guards had to form a human shield around us after every show so we could get from the stage door onto the tour bus without being grabbed by delirious fans. Long bygone days.
Our fans have aged with us and, so I’ve been told, these days, meet and greets with the band are official add-ons when you buy a ticket for the show. I’ll be curious to see how that goes once the tour starts.
“You may know this first song,” Cleo says. “It’s called ‘Like No One Else.’”
“No fucking way,” Sam says.
“The nerve of these kids,” Deb adds.
“They reel you in with their seemingly polite ways,” Billie says.
I have to laugh at their brazenness. “Like No One Else” is only The Lady Kings’ most iconic song. Our biggest hit. And our support act are starting their set with a cover version. I’m not sure whether to be flattered or offended.
“This better be good,” someone from the crew shouts.
The Other Women respond by playing the first chords of our song.
“Are they even all women?” I hear someone say behind me. “That bass player doesn’t look like a woman to me. Come to think of it, that drummer…”
A female voice shushes them—even when you’re in an all-female band, the men around you still need to be told to shut up sometimes.
I barely notice the bassist or the drummer, or The Other Women’s guitarist, who lays down a mean riff Joan would have approved of. My eyes are glued exactly where they’re supposed to be. I’m getting confirmation of what I’ve known since I was introduced to The Other Women. Cleo Palmer was born for the stage. I couldn’t look away if I wanted to. Her presence, the way she uses her voice, how her body writhes against the microphone stand, the dramatically held high note at the end of the chorus. It’s all there and it commands all my attention.
There’s no denying it. Cleo Palmer is a star. Maybe Roy was right. Maybe we’re the lucky ones getting to tour with them and not the other way around.
By the time the song ends, they’ve already won over every person in tonight’s small audience.
“Fuck. They’re good,” Billie says.
“They are,” I confirm, as an idea sprouts in my head. If we’re going to be touring with The Other Women, with someone like Cleo Palmer, we might as well make good use of them.
Opening our show with The Lady Kings’ biggest hit was a bold move. But I didn’t get into this business to be a good girl and only do what is expected of me. On the contrary. And boy, was it a thrill to look into Lana Lynch’s face as I sang the hell out of that song. I’ve had years of practice. When we formed our band, it was the first song we taught ourselves to play—although this is the first time we’ve played it in front of an audience. I hope Lana was impressed.
I cast her one last glance as I let the final note of our set die in my throat. We’re no longer used to playing for such a tiny audience, but they make up for it by giving us a massive applause. Lana holds her hands above her head as she claps for us. Did she just give me a nod of approval? I’m about to find out.
“Thank you. It was such a pleasure. Can’t wait to play here again in a few days.” I tap two fingers to my forehead in a salute and head off the stage.
Backstage, I’m joined by my bandmates.
“That was so tight,” Daphne says. “You smashed it.” I exchange a high-five with our guitarist. Tim and Jess follow hot on her heels.
“Do you think we impressed them?” Judging by the smirk on Tim’s face, it’s not a question.
“Cleo?” I turn around. “Lana would like a word,” Roy, The Lady Kings’ manager, says. “Whenever you have a minute.”
“The King wants to see you,” Daphne says. “Best not keep her waiting.”
“Argh,” Jess groans. She’s had a crush on Lana Lynch forever.
“Come with me,” I offer.
Jess huffs out some air. “We’re going on tour with them. I’m sure I’ll get my moment with Lana.”
“Go,” Tim says. “You must have dazzled the fuck out of her.”
I follow Roy to the front stage where Lana is surrounded by the other members of her band. This won’t be a solo audience then.
“Way to go,” The Lady Kings’ new guitarist, Billie, says, and gives me a thumbs-up.
“Can I steal you for a minute?” Even when she speaks, Lana’s voice is low and gravelly.
“How daring.” We walk up a few steps. “To kick off with ‘Like No One Else.’”
“It’s a tribute, of course.” When I’m talking to Lana Lynch, I don’t care if I sound like the ultimate fangirl—all of us in the band would cite The Lady Kings as one of our defining influences.
“You did it justice, and it gave me an idea.” Lana leans against a bench.
“Thanks.” It’s still surreal that we’ll be touring with our idols. We were gearing up for a headline tour with our own support act, but we happily gave up on that for a chance to tour with the Kings. All four of us, unanimously, in a heartbeat.
“You might have heard of this duet I’ve done with Isabel Adler,” Lana says.
“Your long-awaited comeback single.” I’m trying to keep my cool. I’ve only had ‘I Should Have Kissed You’ on repeat since it was released—not something I would ever have expected of a song featuring Isabel Adler. “I love it.”
“Yeah, so… on the tour, how about you and I sing it together?” Lana fixes her dark gaze on me.
“Yeah.” She bats her lashes once.
“Sure, I mean, if you think that I’m up to that.” There’s not a lot left of my earlier bravado.
“Good.” She plunges her hands into her pockets. “I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t think you were up to it.”
“Okay. Thanks. Yes, let’s do it.”
“We should get some serious rehearsal time in. The tour kicks off in three days. I need to talk to the band, but I was thinking we could add it as the last encore. Send people home with some good vibes.”
Some good lesbian vibes, I almost say, but catch myself. Although I don’t know why. Surely, I could say something like that to Lana. But I don’t know her all that well—yet.
“Sure,” I say, instead of all the things I’m thinking. I can hardly blame myself for this starstruck moment. Lana Lynch and The Lady Kings are rock legends and my band are not only going to be opening the show for them; I’m actually going to be on stage with Lana.
“Can you come to my house tomorrow?” If Lana’s excited by this at all, she’s not letting on. Then again, she’s known for being cool as a cucumber under the hottest circumstances. “We’ll do a few run-throughs without the band first. See how our voices match.” Sounds as though Lana’s got this all figured out without talking to the other members of The Lady Kings.
“Of course. Just let me know when and I’ll be there.” Never mind that I have a million little things to take care of before we leave town for two months. I’ll just do them in less time. Even if I didn’t want to get off on the best possible foot with Lana, I’d still cancel everything for a chance to spend a few hours singing with her.
“Roy will give you all the details. Thanks, kid.”
Kid. Jesus. So much for me beginning to think of us as equals.
“You’ve got the right stuff. Any fool can see that.”
Oh, fuck. There’s the blush. Damn you, pale Irish skin. The last thing I wanted was to blush in front of Lana Lynch. Luckily, it’s completely dark, and where we’re standing is not well lit.
“Thanks,” I mumble.
Lana just nods, then walks off.
Even though I take a few deep breaths, I’m still beside myself when I join my bandmates. I tell them what Lana asked.
“No freaking way,” Jess says. “Why can’t I sing like you, darn it.” Jess has always refused to swear with us.
“Fuck. You’re going to be on stage with them.” Tim is practically jumping up and down.
“It’s not a done deal yet,” I say. “Going over to Lana’s tomorrow is more like an audition than anything else.”
“Give yourself a break, Cleo,” Daphne says. “Lana knows what you can do with your voice. You must have impressed her tonight. That’s why she asked you. Besides, they’d be crazy not to put that song on their set list. It’s been at the top of the charts for months. It’s probably the reason they’re touring again.”
“We’ll see.” Heat glows within me. I can’t wait for tomorrow. “Drinks are on me tonight. Come on.”
We head to our favorite Silver Lake hangout spot, where I try to calm my nerves with way too many shots.
<<End of preview>>
The Duet will be available on Wednesday 4 May 2022 from all retailers.
The audio, narrated by Abby Craden, will follow later this year.