I had a great seat for a Squeeze** gig at the Royal Albert Hall the other night (courtesy of publicist and gentleman Mark McGinlay). I was so close to the stage I was able to offer some constructive criticism as they played…
I love watching bands play. Not necessarily the lead singer, but the rest of the group as they interact, keep the beat and, most crucially, stay in the moment.
You might think that writers want to be in a band for that sense of camaraderie, and, yes, there may be some truth in that. But they don’t want to join a band to meet people! Especially people they might be forced to share a tour bus with. Yikes. No. If they want to meet people they can invent their own and keep them on the page where they can torture them like the control freaks they truly are. Writers wants to be in a band for very a different reason.
Squeeze played for two hours straight, and the musicians closest to me — the drummer, percussionist and bassist — never missed a beat. They were relaxed, smiling at one another, having a great time, but they never once forgot that they were playing before over four thousand paying punters at the Albert Hall and any mistake would be laid bare to eight thousand eyes staring at them.
If only we writers could sustain our concentration for that long.
So, today, when you’re writing, make your hero Yolanda Charles, bass player. She was the musician playing closest to me and she never lost concentration once. She was always in the moment. She never even contemplated leaving the moment. She kept the moment in its place. And she knew that the moment was a living, breathing thing that had to be constantly fed or it would leap up and push her off the stage.
Happy writing – now get back to work… and concentrate!
*Sportsmen want to be in bands too, but that’s because they’ve spent so much of their lives getting up at the crack of dawn to run/swim/drive in circles that they’re boring and don’t have any real friends and are looking for a sense of belonging… but that’s a rant for a future newsletter.
**And if you don’t know who Squeeze are, you’re in for a treat: catchy songs with the most sublime lyrics that are able to summon up characters, places and tell stories in a way that many novelists struggle to evoke in ninety-thousand words. Listen and learn. The use of tenses in Up The Junction is a masterclass in how to break the rules and make it work…
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I work for the Orion Publishing Group and had really enjoyed Guy Pratt’s My Bass And Other Animals one man show and after seeing one of his shows in London I plucked up the courage to ask him if he had ever considered getting his stories published as a book. In fact, he had written a draft of the book and was looking for a publisher, so I introduced him to one of our editors Ian Preece and the rest is publishing history.
Took Chris down to Salisbury to see Guy Pratt’s ‘My Bass And Other Animals’ show. Couldn’t find the venue at first. We walked in circles along Endless Street (oh, the irony) in Salisbury looking for the Arts Centre only to find a very sorry-looking dilapidated building. We asked some guys playing basketball nearby if they knew where the Arts Centre was and they pointed us in the direction of the church, without pointing out that it actually was the church.
Chris and I were wandering about, looking very lost when, by random luck, a door opened and Guy stepped out.
‘It’s Guy!’ I said, and for a second he gave me one of those Christ-should-I-know-you? looks (I had only met him a couple of times at this point).
We met with the Ottakar’s guests (including Duran Duran devotee Jon Howells) and the show started. We elected to stay seated at a raised area at the back, and behind us was a massive stained-glass window with an image of Christ on the cross, which Guy said was putting him off a bit.
Guy’s show was superb (this would be the third time I’ve seen it). He had new material from the recent tour — mostly about insane American fans — and, despite coming straight from the Glasgow gig, was full of energy. He also gave a lot of time to the Ottakar’s people after the show (even though Jon was clearly hurt by the Duran Duran only have one bass riff gag) and he dropped lots of hints about tomorrow’s gig at the Royal Albert Hall. Amazingly, he’s definitely got us two passes for backstage. I cheekily pushed for more and Guy very kindly explained that he would see what he could do, while pointing out that it’s not very exciting and you’re just shoved into a little bar with all the other liggers.
He saved the best till last, though… he let slip that Roger Waters and Nick Mason were at the same rehearsal studios as Gilmour’s band last week. He then added that something very special was lined-up for Monday night’s gig, he wouldn’t tell us what, but I can’t bloody wait!
Tuesday 30th May (my diary entry written the day after the gig).
I’m surprised Claire (my wife) didn’t thump me yesterday as I spent most of it in a distant daze. We had family and friends over for a barbecue (it pissed down, of course), but all I could think of was the Gilmour gig and I couldn’t wait to get out of the house.
Chris and I eventually ran off at about 5.30 and we picked up dad and his friend Kevin and set off the Royal Albert Hall. The doors opened late and the crowds were heaving. Luckily it had stopped raining and we found Ian Preece (the editor of Guy’s book) by the band’s blue catering bus by door nine. We found the guest list and got our passes. There were three of them: big red stickers that you had to slap onto your shirt. I broke the bad news to dad and Kevin that we didn’t have enough for them. Kevin was fine about it, though dad threatened to write me out go his will if I couldn’t get him a backstage pass.
Dad and Kevin were sitting in the next block, so we split up and Chris and I took our seats.
The gig… Well, bloody hell…
History will record that, despite all the rumours, Waters and Mason didn’t turn up. After a brilliant start with Breathe/Time/Breathe (reprise), Gilmour forgot some of the words to ‘On An Island’ and seemed initially hesitant with his playing and hit a few bum notes. But, once he warmed-up, the evening became something very special.
David Crosby and Graham Nash popped-up throughout providing backing vocals, Robert Wyatt played trumpet on ‘Then I Closed My Eyes’ and the main show concluded with a version of ‘Echoes’ that completely blew my mind… and all through this I was wondering what the big surprise could be.
Then, for the encore, David grabbed his Telecaster and said, ‘Now I’d like to invite onto the stage… Mr. David Bowie.’
The Albert Hall erupted as five thousand people jumped to their feet all crying ‘David-fucking-Bowie?!’ all at once.
Bowie then sang an absolutely stonking version of ‘Arnold Layne’ that had everyone in a frenzy and if that wasn’t enough he followed it by singing the verses to ‘Comfortably Numb’ followed by one of the best renditions of the solo I’ve ever heard Gilmour do…
… it was around this time that my head exploded.
Still stunned we came reeling out of the hall to find dad and Kevin. Dad took my car keys — they were gamely going to sit in the car while we checked out the post-show party — and we went to find Ian.
We found him by door one, a member of staff told us to go back to door nine, which we did, but when we couldn’t find anyone there we were directed to door twelve, then eleven. While hanging around we were approached by a very attractive young woman with what I thought was a Spanish accent. She pointed at our red backstage stickers and wondered where we got them, ‘We know Guy,’ I said. ‘You know a guy?’ she asked with a frown. I showed her Guy’s picture in the program and she understood, and wondered if we had any more. I explained that I had already left my father and a friend shivering in a car because we could only get three, but she decided to tag along anyway and in an exceptional piece of blagging she shuffled through security flanked by us badge-wearers. We were so impressed we bought her a drink. Her name was Paula and she was from Brazil and she’d been travelling across Europe when she heard about Gilmour’s tour and managed to get a ticket just the day before. She was a huge fan and we talked about the best songs of the evening. Guy arrived to say hello and I congratulated him on the show. He was really happy with it and felt we had seen the best version of Comfortably Numb ever. Phil Manzanera and Steve DiStanislao drifted through too, and Guy explained that David had his own private party downstairs. Paula had been hoping to meet the great man, and knowing her impressive blagging skills I’m sure she eventually did.
After half an hour Chris and I headed back to the car to find dad and Kevin inside with the engine running and the heater on full playing Freebird at a head banging volume. A perfect end to the evening.