If Poets were King

Friday 18th May 2012

ALEX and James, dear friends and neighbours, suggested I approach Elliott Murphy. They’d met busking in Paris years ago; had been intending to invite him over for a few days; could probably persuade him to take a reduced fee.

He toured frequently with Springsteen, had the gaunt features and long, blond hair of a Tom Petty. A semi-autobiographical novel, Cold & Electric, was available in French, German or Spanish: excuse enough to book him for the Lit Fest.

“Rock’n’roll is my addiction and literature my religion,” he had often said.

The owners of Badlands, a Cheltenham record shop and Springsteen fan base, said they’d put the word out. I decided on the Playhouse: a homely venue kept going only by the dedicated enthusiasm of lovers of amateur dramatics. A deal was struck, contracts exchanged. His came back with a rider: two pages of high expectations way beyond our budget.

Nevertheless, we did all we could to transform the least shabby dressing-room into something presentable: an armchair, flowers, tablecloths, wine; the four white towels, Perrier water, sandwiches and chocolates – though Swiss, not Belgian – he had requested.

“Aw, that’s quaint. I hope I’ve not put you to any trouble.”

“Well, we don’t usually get riders. Authors tend not to…”

“Did my agent send you a rider? Oh. Must be one of Bruce’s. She probably put it in as a joke.”

I returned to the theatre in time for the sound check, to find engineer Paul in raptures: here was a  musician whose mastery of foreign languages included EM frequencies, subwoofers and foldback. He even had several guitars to choose from.

During the interval, Elliott asked if there was a specific song I’d like him to play.

“Hmm. Not done that for a while. Will see if I can remember the tuning.”

Did it as an encore. I can still hear him singing the final verse:

If poets were king
The world would change its marching tune
And nothing would get done
Until very late in the afternoon

The crew polished off any goodies he’d left in the dressing-room.







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