The Singer, April/May 2009
Home Is Where the Heart Is. Or more precisely where one of my nineteen Nokia mobile 'phone chargers may be. Where do they go? Am I that stupid, that sloppy, that I will be forever donating them to happy hotel housekeepers the length and breadth of our green and pleasant. I seem to have mastered it abroad - as the rigmarole of mobey charging is further complicated by extra bits of airport - bought electro - tat to actually power the whole show. Dull dull dull. I can hear my sweet manager's words, "You only have yourself to blame, I can't be there all the time, I'm not your mother…". But darling, you are… a bit.
You see, it's that post-gig liver-lashing that is the culprit of all this dullery in the hotel. As the clock ticks perilously close to that magical eleven a.m when breakfast becomes a hopeless ambition rather than a fuel-stop on the way to the Travelodge car park. THE HOTEL EXTENSION. I live by them. Midday guilt as the "Do Not Disturb" sign flaps ironically whilst families and businessmen traipse to their tinned tomatoes and miniature cereal packs at The Last Chance Rubbish Breakfast Saloon. One o clock panic. I am in Swansea. I need to be in York at four. Sod it. Twenty more minutes.
I often wonder how they did it in the fifties. Touring was all the rage then… and old buses containing Humphrey Lyttletons, Ronnie Scotts and George Mellys, and their various orchestras, fairly rattled up and around the country, playing dance-halls and village greens, Manchester speakeasys and Glasgow cinemas. The tales were rich with incident (have a read of Melly's superb trilogy to attest) and the shows were huge. There is a marvellous and curious cafe, "Scooterworks" in Lower Marsh, Waterloo, near to where I rent a flat, and the owners having scraped away fifty years of wallpaper and paint, discovered a layer of old posters advertising jazz gigs in the forties and fifties, and lovingly glazed the lot. Just the sheer volume of shows around the south is heartwarming.
I have a personal manager. She, Charlotte, is a dear friend, and knows my every trajectory and contradiction - on and off the road. Flights are planned with precision and care, train seats are booked, hotels googled, promoters scrutinised. All these are held to the light to see if any glitches, any irregularities may sully the route to a happy gig. I ain't no Diva, my requirements are slight, and yet, as I get older, the grumpometer can tip over into the red with the weeniest by-road hold-up. I cannot and will not fly from either of the airports that claim to be in London, but are, in fact… well, not… in London. City airport has become my friend. Four counters, two coffee shops, one escalator and a train that takes you onto the runway is surely all one needs for a happy flight. Charlotte knows this too, and Glasgow and Edinburgh gigs begin with City airport.
Charlotte will occasionally drive us to gigs and we look forward to these jaunts like Derby and Joan, packing the car with sandwiches, fruit and a comfy change of shoes. Octogenarians off to Windermere have less fun. My driver on these trips is a delightful ragbag of posh farmer's daughter with an impossibly high moral ground, upon which her rock solid political and environmental views are flounced, and a Stepney Green fishwife, turning the air blue and effing and blinding at the slightest jarr to an otherwise perfect system. Her obvious preference for puppies over the newly born babies of friends fills me with delicious delight and her derision for the latter is gaily and openly displayed when required. Marvellous. We come from radically different family backgrounds, never really argue and she has become a fabulous foil, go-between, egger-on, advice bearer and is a true and disarmingly honest pal, often protecting me when my brain turns porridge and my mouth motors. Lucky, lucky me.
A few years ago, we went together to hear the legendary jazz singer, Anita O'Day at the piss elegant Knightsbridge basement, Pizza On The Park. We had a great table and eagerly awaited the eighty three year old's show. We were treated to an extraordinary pre-gig film of O'Day in her swinging heyday, her clipped husky voice laser sharp and perfect. What came next was, by turns ghoulish and mesmerising. Still doll-like and pretty, a beautifully coiffed O'Day was clearly afflicted by a form of dementia and was a filigree whisper of her former, glorious self. She forgot where she was, what she was singing and worse, her manager was lying at the monitors… tugging her mike lead to remind her she was meant to be singing. We collectively gave her the applause that would clearly fuel her determination to continue, but as Charlotte and I walked into the rainy London night, numb with the horror of this once all-conquering performer's endgame (she died that year) and angry that her manager could let this happen, I recalled whilst being photographed with her afterwards our conversation. I asked her what kept her going. "Honey, as long as I think I can sing then I know I'm alive… so I sing". What a girl.
And so to another festival gig, another band, another hotel. It's what I do. Get on with it Shaw. Charlotte has squeezed a nice hotel in. I drop my bag next to the bed before a short power-nap. Sound checks at six. There's a Nokia charger on the floor. Wonder if it's mine.