In June of this year I found myself knee deep in mud, struggling from my Glastonbury tent towards the faraway, more interesting areas of the vast festival site. I could go no further, marooned in the one place you donâ€™t want to get stuck at Glastonbury – the dance field (well, I suppose the inside of the portaloos might be worse). Yet here, in this foreign field, I somehow zeroed in on one corner where richer sounds were concealed, chancing upon the BBC Introducing Tent. And there I discovered Spotlight Kid.
That was how I came to be at the Hoxton Underbelly last Friday. Sometimes people describe me as â€śluckyâ€ť so I suppose it was no surprise that, having discovered a great new band originating from my home town of Nottingham, I would swiftly find them playing just round the corner from my adopted Spitalfields. After the fates had conspired, it would have been rude not to attend.
Rude, but possible. There was a parallel invite from ITV to spend the night in the Jonathan Ross green room (the real one rather than what you see on stage) with Noel Gallagher (who did so much to revive British music at its most dead), Michael Sheen (who did a magnificent portrayal of the great Cloughie himself) and Miranda Hart (who did so little to win all those comedy awards) but I reasoned I can go to Wossy any week when heâ€™s filming. But then there was an also a British Sea Power Â gig at the Barfly in Camden and they are quite possibly Britainâ€™s absolute best band, but I have seen them maybe a dozen times before. Nottinghamâ€™s finest won out.
This year Iâ€™ve been invited to see Muse in the private Wembley box of the head of Warner records, stood on the very front row for U2 at Glastonbury and even had to step in as John Taylorâ€™s body double for Duran Duran (I told you I was a lucky so-and-so), but itâ€™s this sort of gig, down in the basement of a small club with an energetic hungry young band that will always excite the most.
Spotlight Kid (the Spotters on Tour) had support: the long running order comprised four hungry bands, but I missed the first (apologies to La Bete). Next up came three-piece Alphastate, with singer Ani announcing it was her birthday. She sang well, but spoke quietly and moved little, but I liked her dreamy folky vocals. And that she asked if anyone had been lucky enough to get Stone Roses tickets earlier in t
I spent Saturday in the company of Duran Duran. Had you told me, back in the 1980s, that Iâ€™d do that, I wouldnâ€™t have believed you. Yet, in recent years, Iâ€™ve had nights out with a fair few of the popstars I grew up listening to or watching on Top of the Pops. Thereâ€™ve been the likes of Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet, Leee John of Imagination (we danced together to “Just an Illusion” at the rap party of Reborn in the USA) or even the lovely Tereza Bazar from Dollar (who could forget that dress for Hand Held in Black and White?).
Even so, Duran Duran are special and I’ll certainly treasure my crew pass. They were always a cut above the others. While not necessarily regarded as such in their home country, they were the biggest British band in the US since the Beatles. Never overtly cool, they had a superb brand of brilliantly crafted pop that Iâ€™ve always loved. In fact, over their thirty year career in music, Iâ€™ve enjoyed every Duran single, perhaps with special pleasure reserved for the brilliant “Ordinary World” that led to a revival at a time when it appeared they would fade away, when their music has always deserved to be heard.
Itâ€™s thirty years since debut singe “Planet Earth”, a song the band sometimes mix with the underrated “All She Wants Is” in their live shows. Thereâ€™s an element of sadness that, after all this time, the band are still worth writing about. I once scripted a TV show called Sing it Back with Paul Gambaccini, the walking encyclopedia of music who stated earlier this year that the era of rock â€™n roll is over. It seems horribly true. Itâ€™s not just that I went to the opera a few weeks ago, and surprised myself by rather enjoying Mozartâ€™s Die ZauberflĂ¶te. Itâ€™s that thereâ€™s very little interest or enthusiasm from the young generation in forming bands and actually crafting songs.
On Saturday, Duran played three of their new songs, all of which were impressive, especially “Leave a Light On” which I presume is a single to come soon. The band were recording Duran Duran: One Night Only at ITVâ€™s London Studios, hosted by Christine Bleakley. Very professional, they were working pretty much all afternoon on sound checks and setup, but at times even this band with great stamina (as youâ€™ll know if youâ€™ve seen them live) need a break. At one point I was asked to take to the stage and mime a little bass playing, giving John Taylor a well-deserved rest. Iâ€™ve done some strange jobs over the course of my lifetime, but I never expected to become the body double for one of the worldâ
Some people say there just arenâ€™t enough hours in the day. Earlier this week, mine lasted 32 hours, beginning with a grand American breakfast (eggs sunnyside up) in downtown San Francisco, followed by a cable car ride up Nob Hill, clinging onto the outside which theyâ€™d never let you do in London.
A little shopping preceded a walk along the waterfront, staring out towards The Rock, otherwise known as Alcatraz, on which Jo Rowlingâ€™s Dementor-guarded prison of Azkaban was based. Her third title, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, is many readerâ€™s favourite so it was fitting to see it as Iâ€™ve spent a little of the past few days getting back to the third Johnny Mackintosh book.
Great cities have great architecture and San Fran is no exception. Thereâ€™s the landmark Transamerica Tower and, as you can see above, I managed to catch a glimpse of the unforgettable Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Mason Hill before heading back towards the hotel, having lunch (a pastrami and swiss sandwich even Joey Tribbiani would have been proud of), and then on to the airport, scene of my first ever full body scan where the security guards can see right through your clothes (I felt so sorry for mine!). We talked about these on The Science of Spying exhibition that I worked on, so itâ€™s amazing to see them already in action.
On the plane it was a lamb curry, two disappointing films (Aliens in the Attic and the animated 9) and a chat with neighbour Katy who showed me photos of the prizewinning cats she breeds. Sheâ€™s also a dog lover and thereâ€™s an Old English sheepdog in the family, so we talked about Bentley. To get over the poor movies I also re-watched the first half of the terrific Time Travelerâ€™s Wife, which is a splendid adaption of a great but difficult book to bring to the screen. I could be wrong but the film seemed to die in the UK from a near total lack of publicity, after a very delayed global release. Some fans of the book werenâ€™t keen on the casting, but Rachel McAdams is seriously underrated and always splendid and Eric Bana did a great job too.
Sadly, not much time for sleep, before leaping onto the Heathrow Express and heading for lovely London town â€“ itâ€™s always good to come home after some time away. One of the tricks to defeat jetlag is to stay awake as long as possible and not succumb to the though