How would you like to be a pop star for a day? All the posing, none of the worries. Sound good? It did to Jon Lewin who was invited to spend 24 hours being famous. Miming, TV cameras and foreign countries, well... Belgium. This is what it's like.
The Making Music office, on a drowsy Thursday afternoon, the only moving things the drifting specks of dust illuminated by the flickering glare of the word processor screens. The telephone rings, disturbing part of the slumbering giant that is the editorial cabal.
"It's Dave Stewart — does anyone want to go to Belgium next week and play popstar for a day?" You'll know Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin through their singles 'It's My Party', 'Leipzig', 'Busy Doing Nothing', and the Whistle Test theme, which Dave also did. Dave & Barb's latest single, 'The Locomotion' had already been and gone in the UK Top 75, but was just beginning to take off sur le continong. Belgian television beckoned.
"Duos don't look that good on television, particularly when there's so much row going on on the record," thought Dave. "And it's more fun when there are more people around."
So Dave and Barbara put a miming band together. Firstly, Dave decided he'd play drums (though he's one of Britain's finest keyboardists). Then they roped in guitarist Jakko Jakszyk to play keyboards. Jakko is an almost well-known recording artist, session player, producer, singer, and inside right. He's played with Dave in numerous other musical ventures, and was the only other player involved in 'Locomotion' (he'd sung backing vocals). Then they phoned us.
Even though Dave has been known as a 'Friend Of Making Music' for some time, we were more than a bit surprised to be asked. After all, Jakko had at least sung on the single; I was to mime guitar on a song that was recorded wholly with keyboards. My major qualifications for the task seemed to be a haircut, and a vague knowledge of which way up to hold a guitar.
"Learn the record," Dave said. I tried, sweating blood over the fiddly chord progression under the keyboard solo in the middle eight. "You clever bastard," I moaned, playing the single for the 35th time.
We rehearsed, Dave and I, in a dingy rehearsal studio in Hammersmith. "Let's meet so I can show you a few chord shapes, and we can turn the volume up a bit," Dave enthused. A tremor ran through my bowels — "But Dave," I gulped, "we are just miming it, aren't we?" At 6.15 next morning, Dave and Barb picked me up in the taxi on the way to meet Jakko at Gatwick, via Victoria. "Passport, notebook, book to read, long posey guitar strap, stage wear, camera, plectrum?" Dave pays for the tickets — who needs money?
Just how are pop stars meant to behave at airports? Remembering the (Specs?) Pistols, I had my Ray Bans (all right, copies) ready, and was willing to puke on any passing stewardess (early morning sickness), but Dave, Barbara, and Jakko seemed more intent on coffee and biscuits, and getting onto the plane. We were airborne before I'm normally out of bed (quarter to nine, if you must know).
Eleven o'clock (Belgian time, an hour ahead) and we were out of Brussels airport and on our way to Ostend with Richard From The Record Company. Richard is a bluff and bearded Flem, which means he's Belgian. Naturally, he spoke excellent English. Two hours in the minibus, and I was fast asleep.
It was after we first arrived in Ostend that I got my first taste of what being a pop star was really about: wasting time. Of the 12 hours we spent in the town, no more than an hour and a half were spent 'working'. The rest of the time was taken up with playing football in the dressing room, eating the free food, drinking the free beer, watching the other groups on the TV monitors in the subterranean backstage bar, walking on the beach (briefly), drinking the free beer, taking the piss out of the Belgian bands...
Some of it was fun, some was horrendously tedious. "It's like this all the time," Barbara told me. I began to get some idea why musicians often go so wild on tour — it's partly boredom, and partly something that Jakko pointed out to be at the post-show reception.
"You're never going to come back to a place like this; you're never going to meet any of these people again," he said, indicating the shirt-sleeved TV technicians guzzling their free Stella. "So you can behave any way you like, do anything you want, and not care about the consequences. And if they do ask you back, they'll want you enough to ignore anything you did before."
We plotted our own debaucheries back at the hotel — throwing the TV out of the window, well, TV guide, actually, and ringing room service, then hanging up, was about the best we could do. Naughty boys, eh?
The show was being filmed in an enormous concrete casino complex, a veritable palace of bad taste, from the enormous plaster replicas of the Venus de Milo, to the yellowing Rubettes' posters backstage. The hall itself was smallish nightclub size (capacity around 400), replete with tables and chairs. The programme was called 'Mike' after its presenter (though it could have been the other way round), and seemed to be the Belgian Wogan, combining chat with music; his guests that night were a naturist, a politician, and an aged choreographer.
About 3pm, they interrupted our kickabout with news that we were wanted on stage for a run through. All instruments had been supplied by the TV company on Dave's request, and were chosen for aesthetic value. I had a creaky black Strat, Dave had a floor tom, snare, and two tiny 9in cymbals, and Jakko chose a Korg organ. The organ was most important, as Jakko had brought with him a two inch clockwork Thomas The Tank Engine which needed a flat surface to run along.
These details, though normally completely ignored by the cameras, are very important to the band, who happily spent ages plotting how to get the toy to start in the right place, and fall off the end in time with the drum fill at the end of the middle eight (it didn't).
The run through was simple, even though it was the first time we'd mimed together. We had to simply mime roughly in position, while the monitors played the song at us. The director and cameramen sit back and watch, calculating their camera angles. Later, when we did the dress rehearsal, the cameras actually swung about in front of the stage. The stage was a reasonable size, but you couldn't prance around too much, or the cameras kept missing you. However, I was too busy watching the others, and concentrating on 'performing' to pay much attention to the cameras. I found it much like ordinary gigging, as I was doing my best to play the right chords, despite being totally inaudible. (I even found myself tuning up between runs through.)
Life's a bit more exciting for Dave and Barb, as they have interviews to do during the afternoon, while Jakko and I just sit and wait.
It was 10.15 by the time it got to our slot at the end of the recording. We'd had a meal, a walk on the beach, make - up, more drinks, and more football. Too much hanging around can make you even more nervous (remember the dentist's waiting room?), but we were all quite calm.
We were ushered onstage to be greeted with the sight, not of hordes of screaming adolescents, but of about 150 bemused mums and dads and their early teenage offspring. Holidaymakers.
The first run through was fine until the last eight bars, when the backing tape stopped — technical foul-up. It was searingly hot in a leather jacket under those lights as we stood about waiting for a second take. The lights were so bright that we were only really conscious of the stage area — the cameras and audience were beyond the glare. Dancing around was no problem — I bent my legs and posed about (second nature, really) for all I was, worth, Dave blatted away on the drums, and Jakko poked at his keyboard. Easy.
When we got to the second run through it was even better, until Dave clubbed a cymbal rather too enthusiastically, and it toppled to the floor. There was another pause, and the director decided to retake the opening bars. Thomas The Tank Engine was placed on Barbara's head, the director called "Action", and then "Cut" almost immediately, and that was it. All finished. Not much effort, but still very hot work.
The show was followed by a dull reception, then a long sleepy drive back to our hotel in Brussels. Straight to bed.
So much for being a popstar. The next morning, while Barbara did radio interviews, and Dave got lost, Jakko and I played tourists in Brussels city centre — chips and mayonnaise, anyone? Back to the hotel by one, plane at 2.40, and back in England an hour later.
And so that's what it's like to be famous for a day. In a foreign country. Thanks to Dave and Barbara for letting Making Music find out what's involved in the success, without any of the worry of having made the record.
Feature by Jon Lewin
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