Steve's Online Diary
Copyright Comeuppance Ltd. 2002 - 2012 This diary may not be reproduced in whole or part without permission.
Recorded Celebrity Mastermind. Researching and studying for that has been a lot like learning a stage role, like the Beckett a few years ago. Once committed, I can’t help myself. I don’t care a lot about winning, coming first, but I care a great deal that I can believe deep down that I did my best. It was torture, frankly. I was much more nervous about it than I’ve ever been about any show of my own. Up to the last minute, after make-up and the director’s pep talk, I was still cramming from my notes. My subject, T. S. Eliot and Four Quartets, was broad and deep enough. I visited Burnt Norton, the Jacobean Manor house near Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds and the title of the first of the four poems, where Eliot had gone surreptitiously in 1934, and where, in its formal garden, he found magic and inspiration that would inform him for the rest of his life. I, too, found a little magic, but nobody was home, and no soul approached me while I ambled for twenty minutes or so among the rose bushes and fruit trees. I was technically trespassing, so didn’t stay long. I made plenty of noise with big car on gravel! Still, nobody came out to question me. I wanted them to: I could have explained it all and maybe get clearance for a private tour of the gardens, set among 2,000 acres of farmland. On the way home, I was passing within a handful of miles of Little Gidding, the title of another of the quartets. There I found a 17th Century chapel, where Eliot had knelt (“You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid”) in the ‘thirties. It, too, is a special place, tranquil and over-brimming with mystery. I sat alone in that tiny place of worship and took a few deep breaths. Seldom have I felt calmer, and it was there and then that I realised I could do that quiz without making myself look foolish and dim.
Suffolk/Essex border, September 11th: set a log fire.
First of the autumn.
Three hour power cut.
We don’t get concerned.
Fire, cosy. Power back by 8.30pm.
Strange, had never been to Chichester until we played open-air in July, then I was back a few weeks ago. Mrs Harley and I stayed in a harbour-side country house hotel for three nights; took in the Festival’s “Singin’ In The Rain” on the middle night. Went with high hopes – it had received 5-star reviews everywhere you looked. We give it 4. Sometimes the leads forgot to be American. Spent an inspiring few hours exploring the Roman Palace at Fishbourne. The countryside surrounding Chichester is calming, not wild like further west; the city itself a southern Cambridge, we thought, without the great halls of learning. The cathedral is splendid, of course. Outside, I sat to take in the magnificence of it all, then my stomach turned, slowly and achingly, and my top lip snarled in silent disbelief at the sight of a guy climbing down a ladder from the top of the steeple. I have awful acrophobia – it’s my one big phobia, heights. The fear manifests in a wish to fly. I want to dive and cross the roads to reach the roof of that building over there, without touching the ground. Like a bird. I know I am human and it won’t work, so I dread being close to balconies higher than, say, the fifth floor. Watching him, Spiderman personified, brought out suddenly a groan from the back of my voice; then his mate appeared. There were two of them, twenty feet apart, descending almost vertically. “That’s the perfect job for you,” Mrs Harley mocked. I heard “aaarrgghhh” emitting from me, involuntarily. And yet, I couldn’t take my eyes off them. On the tower, still a hundred feet up, there seemed to be four or five men in the team of steeplejacks. They were casually breaking into their packed lunches, apparently. All just part of a normal working day. “Well, I don’t suppose they could stand on stage in front of huge crowds and perform like you do, “ Mrs H spoke consolingly. I wasn’t sure. From where I sat, they were Supermen.
Uplifting: in rehearsals, we get little idea of how things will play out in public. Cocooned in a near-airless space, stopping every hour or so while one or another volunteer brews tea and coffee, taking maybe 40 minutes for a light lunch brought in from a sandwich shop in town, we go over and over parts and arrangements until a semblance of near-perfection is reached, and this time recently we were attempting this with almost 30 songs in total (many familiar, of course). It went well, and there was a satisfaction among the players in the knowledge that several old titles had been either revived or introduced. Then I was alone. Alone to collect them all together, the titles, and create a running-order for a Live audience.
Leamington Spa Assembly Hall is a cracking good rock venue. Good acoustics, standing on the ground, a lot of history, and backstage (downstairs), there is a sense of other-worldliness. The owner, Chris Alexander, has installed his private collection of fairground memorabilia. There’s a dodgem car, a rocking horse, and a 1960s 20’ chromium caravan. Rumour has it that it was made (fitted out, anyway) for Tammy Wynette, and who could argue? Once the lights and sound picked up my 12-string rhythm, the reception was a gratifying kick-start for us. Ritz was always in danger of shocking some, and I have opened with up-tempo tracks mostly for many years. But my gut feeling was that a little drama from lights-down would start us all off on a mystery tour for the evening. I know now for certain that those Human Menagerie and Psychomodo album titles will be wonderful to play, backed by orchestra and choir, and I’m determined to press on with that idea. It may mean no other UK rock band shows all next year, so the tickets (2,700 if we get the Royal Festival Hall) can sell. Will probably happen in November or December, and no other band shows before it…it’ll be hard for me. But that’s a price I will have to pay – believe me, to forgo the Live experience in my home country for 12 months will be a stress. But business is business, and the costs will be astronomical, so the tickets must shift. Pride, too, will factor in all this. I want to play to a sold-out hall, and we already know a figure pushing 150 is likely to be coming from the Continent, maybe more. At Leamington, spent time with my cousin Jackie’s husband, dear Tony. He talked excitedly about the set. Cheered me with his (the first) reaction to my slipping into The Beatles song, You Won’t See Me, out of the end of Mr Raffles, but before the refrain. “I may come back to that,” I remember saying, and when I did, the Having A Party line took on a sort of mayhem I can’t remember witnessing before. Uplifting.
I’ve been a fan lately. Eurostar to Brussels to see Yusuf. He played a beautiful set, made up mostly of Cat Stevens’ Greatest Hits, and you couldn’t ask for more really. Great band with him. Alun Davies back with him on acoustic guitar was especially good to see. Yusuf introduced him as “one of my best friends”. They took “a holiday” for Ruby, My Love, with Greek island seascapes on the big backdrop and the bazouki parts were played in brilliant harmony by guitarist Eric Appapoulay on mandolin and percussionist Kwame Yeboah on 12-string guitar. After the show, I spoke to Yusuf about in-ear monitors and why doesn’t he wear them. Like all of us of a certain age, he found them difficult to get used to, but I pressed him to persevere. They are a singer’s saviour. Yusuf had his beautiful wife and two teenage kids with him, and there was much good feeling back there. The canon of work he has to choose from is enormous and brilliant. He is one of the greatest writers the music industry has seen, in any generation, at any time. Played the Forest National, a circular arena, capacity close to 7,000, and it looked close to full to my eyes. We got close to selling it out in the mid-70s. Not today, sorry to admit. I felt pangs, the sort of wistful day-dreaming we get in reminiscing of other, better times. Today is good, too, though, and I relish every minute of my professional life.
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