Sunday, 4 October 2009

The wall-to-wall is calling...

A middle-aged man getting excited by a few dozen painted boards? Ha!

On Friday afternoon last week I was stood on a stage with Mal Troon, guitarist from Gemma Ray's live band. There is nothing unusual in this; it's what I do for work a lot of the time. We had just dragged heavy amps, cabs and drum cases from the back of a van through a narrow stage door onto this street-level platform. As we put bits of equipment together, the lighting tech in the booth at the back of the stalls shot swirling practice streaks of colour across the dark theatre, bringing slices of the art deco interior to life. In seconds, this modern West London concert facility was magically transformed. Suddenly this was no longer the HMV Apollo, home to Jack Dee's TV series and season six of the bleedin' X-Factor. As Mal and I gazed out over the rows of still-empty seats, the venue was transported back to its legendary status: we were stood, ladies and gentlemen, on the stage of the Hammersmith Odeon.

The name means different things to different people. Mal was, I think, chuffed to be treading the same boards as Bruce Sprinsgteen. Paul, the front of house soundman, was digging the AC/DC vibe. And my head was swimming with fantasies of Ziggy Stardust.

This was where David Bowie made his last stand with the Spiders from Mars on July 3, 1973. As I looked out, I saw the same landscape as he would have done all those years ago. I daydreamed the frenetic 'Ode To Joy' intro and wondered what it would have been like to step out from the wings in a ludicrously glittery garb. I hovered around the front of the stage and imagined Ronno to my left, Trevor to my right, Woody behind me. Then I looked over my shoulder towards the spot where Bowie's first costume change had occurred (between 'Hang Onto Yourself' and 'Ziggy Stardust')... and caught sight of Ian Hunter showing his grandson around the stage.

I shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, asked him how last night's gig had gone, that kind of thing. And all the while I thought to myself, hmm... what a charmed existence this is, eh? Mott The Hoople recorded half of their legendary 1974 live LP right here... on this very spot. And here I am, in the same location, talking to the man behind all of that. All the while, incidentally, I was wearing a jacket bought from Overend-Watts.

As the soundcheck ended, doors opened and the hall gradually filled up with 3,500 expectant people. More magic filled the air - as it always does at great gigs. Gemma and band played a blinder, and as I helped to clear the stage after the last song I couldn't resist a jog over to the stage-right lip where my friends Martyn and John were waving at me. I grabbed their hands, cheesily, just as Ziggy had done during 'Let's Spend The Night Together' 36 years previously. Then I walked across to the other side carrying a drum carpet and heard another friend, Neil, calling me from his seat in the stalls. I clutched the rolled-up mat close to me: "Me and Mick Ronson!" I hollered back, ridiculously.

Back in the dressing room, everything looked just the same as it did in the old films. Have you seen 'A Hard Day's Night?' Just like that. Backstage visits from Jimmy Page and Mick Jones of Led Zep and The Clash respectively only added to a super-surreal atmosphere.

And back out front, finally watching Ian and the boys rattle out so many magical Mott hits, I actually caught myself feeling a strong wave of faux nostalgia for a time that I was actually way too young to have experienced for myself. I sang along to 'Saturday Gigs' somehow believing that '69 really was 'cheapo wine, have a good time, what's your sign?', even though as a five year old urchin I wouldn't have had the first clue...

This had been an extraordinary peek behind the curtain for me. I've been privy to the inner circles of many varied music productions - from the Water Rats to Wembley Stadium. But this one, aided by a decent dose of honaloochie boogie, had been a journey through time that I don't think I'll be forgetting any time soon.

It's good for your body. It's good for your soul. The golden age of rock'n'roll.

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