We are bound for Riva Del Garda, Northern Italy, and this is a gig I am uncharacteristically looking forward to. Why? You may well ask. Surely this would be a trip anyone would be gagging for? And you’d be right. We are staying at the ‘Hotel St. Vincent’, set amongst the splendours of lake Garda, overlooked by and in the picturesque bosom of the Dolomites. We are surrounded by breath taking scenery. Smartly dressed waiters, hover for the chance to serve us ice cold ‘spumante’.
Way back when, in the days when record companies had more money than sense and un-recouped balances were just a twinkle in a ‘head of A/R’s’ expense budget, it was customary to send bands, ‘per diems’ in hand, out to these exotic Euro-festivals to promote their latest single.
“We would be miming”.
These words were gold plated and studded with diamonds. I would lovingly caress the true meaning they had for me, for the full duration of the trip.
Most bands, I think, took this miming thing for granted, but here was one nervous trumpet player who would cartwheel with joy, (if he could) in the sure-fire knowledge that our lead singer would have no recourse or reason to chastise said trumpet player for the inevitable array of split notes he was fast becoming renowned for. (A subject I will undoubtedly return to in due course)
As our white Italian-style transit van deposited us at the hotel we could see ahead of us, and alighting from a black stretch limo, none other than Boy George, milliner in tow (I made that bit up) along with The Thompson Twins, Paul Young and several other 80’s luminaries.
The show was a blast. Thousands of screaming Italian children singing the wrong words, I would mime my face off adopting ridiculous poses that no self respecting trumpet player could possibly entertain and as long as ‘His Masters Voice’ didn’t turn round to witness the charade, all was well with the world.
My Father-in–Law seasonally points out to us that the Turkey we eat on Christmas day has ‘changed out of all recognition’. Being the son of a Poulterer, he should know.
Song writing I fear has suffered in the same way and being the son of a Methodist preacher I should have no good reason to know. But, by some quirk of fate, after an abortive spell at Music College and a decade of pretending to play the trumpet, I find myself with that dubious title.
In the last 15 years the number of people who now call them selves ‘song-writers’ has multiplied like bacteria in a petri dish. Sixteen year-olds will now emerge from school, iPad in-hand, quietly confident that this is what they have become and before you accuse me of being a Luddite, I will be the first to acknowledge that a handful of them are fiercely talented.
It’s 2002 and tomorrow I have the pleasure of writing with none other than Gareth Gates. At 10AM I’m still lying in bed perusing what I might buy him to eat for his lunch. No rush though, as this is all happening tomorrow. We live in a remote rural spot deep in the heart of the Peak District. I pride myself on ‘laying on’ a tasty sandwich for lunch, which always necessitates a lengthy shop in 'M and S' the day before the session.
As my wife enters the bedroom I instantly know something is wrong.
“there are two people at the front door! I think one of them is Gareth and the other looks like his Dad?”, she worryingly observes.
“Impossible”, I shout. “the session is clearly tomorrow!”
The one thing I have learnt in this business is that the artist is always late, never early, and never ever a whole day early.
To my horror it is indeed Gareth and Manager/Father standing at the front door and I feverishly spring into action. Donning yesterday’s dirty clothes I descend the stairs to meet and greet.
This is not how it was supposed to be.
They are apologetic and very sweet, blaming the mix up on bad diary keeping but I know this is a bad omen. Gareth has a stinking cold but insists on wanting to write something along the lines of, Bon Jovi’s ‘Living On A Prayer’, periodically snorting salt water (yes that was salt water) over the kitchen sink. The only thing in the fridge is a frozen chicken tikka massala.
I am doomed and before long they are gone.
The day after St.Vincent, with an early evening flight to catch, we had some time to kill. Our drummer and I decided to take a walk by the lake. We both knew there would be hoards of screaming Italians waiting to spot Boy George’s hat and perhaps recognise us, but as we effortlessly meandered through the crowds, we suddenly bumped into some of the members of Depeche Mode.
I loved their brand of synth-fuelled electronic music, a far cry from the ‘blue eyed’ soul we served up, so when the blonde curly one in the dress invited us back to their hotel we eagerly accepted.
As we entered one of their several suites I couldn’t help noticing two people having sex, fully clothed, on a nearby bed. Fan and band member in joyful union, and with no apparent need for the removal of clothing, I was witnessing for the first time, the art of the ‘dry shag’. So this was Rock and Roll.
Whilst trying to avert my gaze, we finally reached the balcony, below which, stood hundreds of excited fans.
Champagne flute in hand, like the Queen at a Jubilee celebration, we waved back, importantly.
I’ve often wondered what exactly went on behind that balcony at Buckingham Palace.