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Monday, June 20, 2011

The long memories of would-be rock stars

At a 60th birthday party in a suburban garden yesterday somebody uttered the words that always send a chill down the spine of this old hack.

"I was in a band once and you reviewed us."

If ever you're tempted to worry that nobody is actually paying any attention to what you write, then all you need do is make the glancing acquaintance of any musician you have ever described in less than glowing terms, no matter how long ago. They'll quote you verbatim, even, as in this case, if thirty-two years have elapsed since you loosed-off your one-liner in a singles review at the end of a no doubt trying day and thought no more of it.

Mark Hodkinson has done an excellent piece in the new issue of The Word where he finds a bunch of uncelebrated indie 45s in a record shop and goes in search of the people who made them a quarter of a century before. What he finds in almost every case is that this record was the most important episode in those people's lives.

The former musician I met at the party had a refreshingly clear-eyed view of his own distant brush with rock stardom. "As soon as we'd been on Top of The Pops, I realised it was all rubbish," he said. Most musicians you meet are not quite so reconciled. They all sport one item of clothing or jewellery which hints that, no matter how straight and settled they may appear today, there was once a time when they were on the highway to hell. They can all explain in very simple terms what deal, what TV strike, what distribution cock-up prevented them from being as successful as the handful of successful acts.

And, what's more, they're usually just about to put out a record or put together a tour. Which they hope you'll review.