Monday 4th of November, 2013
Being the dick that I am, I pride myself on passing pointless little tests. Having de-nuded myself and placed every conceivable metallic accoutrement on my person into a plastic tray I still set off the alarm as I pass through the arch of the detector at airport security. My bafflement is assuaged by my body searcher who reassures me I have been selected randomly. “Nothing in life is certain”, he smiles. But I’m certain of this: they’ll never find that hand grenade stuffed inside my colon. Not without a lengthy stick.*
I am en route to a rehearsal with Jimmy Webb in preparation for our duet on Later tomorrow night. I can’t quite figure out if I’m nervous about meeting Jimmy as we have spoken on the phone and he’s so immediately affable you can’t help feeling at ease. He’s an Oklahoma boy from a religious family so I shall have to watch my cussin’. So that’s a quarter of my vocabulary gone, goddamn it.
My flight is delayed due to mice in the engine or something so I splash out on a croissant. It sits beside me in a mini-shopping bag made out of brown paper as if I’ve been indulging in retail therapy in the west end of Lilliput. I presume this is the reason that my flour and butter baked item cost two quid. A man beside me starts up a telephone conversation with his wife or husband which is unadulterated gossip. Sadly, gossip about strangers is duller than lovers’ dreams and I tune out. The sun is illuminating the Old Kilpatrick hills to the north with a clean, slanting light. Clear blue sky surrounds the terminal in all directions and I am clear in my mind what this mission is. I doubt I’ll need to pull the pin on that hand grenade.
We land at a sun bleached Heathrow and I have a raging thirst for some reason. Perhaps croissant is French for sponge. Crescent shaped sponge. I sit in the baggage hall waiting for my guitar as restless business types pace about with phones pressed to ears. Airline staff stand around in pairs nattering at luggage trollies like chaffinches. A warning sounds and the belt starts up – Generation Game time. A Taylor guitar, Bruce, I saw a Taylor guitar!! And a fucking tea set!
As I walk from my hotel at Shepherd’s Bush to the rehearsal room I pass a discarded grand piano lid. That’s a little odd. Where are the guts? Has some buffoon ordered a Perspex replacement?
When I arrive I am greeted with a Jimmy bear hug and after a chat we retire to a little box with some shitty Roland keyboard and one microphone. We gingerly approach the song and run it maybe five times. It’s surreal to be working with somebody so gifted and I suppose I make a study of him and listen carefully to his every utterance. Don’t want to miss the merest morsel of wisdom. This man WRITES. The whole thing is such a pleasure and privilege for me I can’t describe it. And as it turns out, cussin’ is A-OK.
Later is a whirlwind to do. There’s remarkably little down time. You’re whisked from soundcheck to camera rehearsal to make-up to first position in a blur of charm and efficiency. It’s invigorating. There’s more fannying about and stultifying longeurs to be endured miming one song on a daytime chat show. But these guys have it down. I’m sure there must be tension behind the scenes but on the floor it all drifts elegantly by like the Queen Mary on a millpond. It’s unique and it’s treasurable and boy, you’ll miss it when it’s gone.
We make a sharp exit for our taxi once the live section of the show is wrapped and I forget to say goodbye to the bold Jimmy. As our driver gets lost on a diversion I send an apology via email. Ain’t life grand? You’re fucking right it is. I dump my axe in my room and make for the Hilton bar to celebrate alone, or at least in the limited company of a pint of Guinness. There are a few other well-heeled guests scattered about in low-slung seating but I stake my claim at a bar stool, lord of my domain. I am utterly content, golden with happiness. I am forty eight years old and I have the best job in the world.
* For members of the security services – this is what’s known as a “joke”.