Serendipity Shines on Glasgow

by Glen Ferris (gferris@haulfast.co.uk).

What do you say to someone you have revered for 13 years........someone who has provided an album of such importance in your life that it has supplied both soundtrack and support throughout a decade of trial and tribulation.....someone who's compositional skill has continued to uncover evermore detail the more it is heard, someone who's voice has effortlessly remained the greatest put on a slice of aluminium and plastic, someone who's lyrics have found different meaning the older and wiser this avid listener becomes...

Such was the predicament lying before me as I found myself walking up to James Grant at the bar of the Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow this past Friday evening [July 19, 2002]...

But let's start at the beginning for this is tale worth telling....

I was in Glasgow working at Paisley Airport for the week and on the Thursday I needed to be in Commerce Street to manage a relocation. Job completed I had a coupla hours on my hands so I perused the Glasgow A-Z and located Jocelyn Square. Just across the water from my present location.

So off I went, bought a film from a dodgy vendor, loaded up the works camera and asked the first person I met to snap me with the Jocelyn sign behind me for my photo album.

To no avail, not even a lone copper would assist me in my musical jaunt for instamatic providence!

Happy enough to be there anyway, I snapped a couple off ( see supplied jpgs) and sat in the car wondering how such an innocuous little corner could be of such great importance to Mr Grant.

Sat in my car, I opened my laptop to do some sidewalk diary updates when it occured to me....I have the details of James Grant's record office tucked away in my emails.

So I call them, and I enquire, simply because you never now until you ask.."perchance would James Grant be doing any gigs this week as I'm here on business etc etc"??

The reply?.." he might be doing the charity concert in the Mitchell Theatre this comig Friday but I would have to let you know...

Two things to remember here folks, 1. I live 350 miles away and did not have a hotel booked for the Friday night as I was supposed to be heading home in the afternoon......just my luck he would turn up when I'm back at home and secondly, what are the chances of James Grant's office calling me back with the info requested?......

12:35 next day, Secret records did indeed leave a message to confirm that yes, James would be attending the concert as back up to Karen Matheson.

So pace the office I did. Here I am in Glasgow and as luck would have it so will be James Grant. Now if you have read some of the stories found on the web site regarding Love & Money you may have read mine from way back in '89 and the other about Jeff Porcaro....

I've waited a long time for this so what the hell, I'll drive home after the gig!! What's 350 miles.....?

So I call Secret Records, no answer for two hours.

I then call the Mitchell Theatre to confirm the news and get directions, prices and parking info.

They don't have prices but gave me a number to ring...the Charity Spirit Aid office number..

A completely bonkers but extremely helpful lady by the name of Debbie answers the call and so begins my evening of serendipitous connections...

Debbie says come along and say Hi, (for I have just told her the short version of my 13 year old quest to see James grant perform live) and she jokes about needing as much help as possible with the gig as it's running a little late etc..

I joke with her, "James Grant's autograph in exchange for some pre-gig manual labor in the Theatre" I joke..

"You're on " she says and hands me over to Christine one of the Charities organisers.

I agree to meet Christine at 17:30 to assist in setting up the backline monitors and cabling etc, instruments and stuff.

So I found myself on stage lugging bloody great big floor monitors around with Ian McCulloch's band and generally pretending to be a roadie for an hour. The drummer Stuart found this highly amusing as I gingerly nudged his snare drum on stage with all the grace of a duck on ice...

Set up over and no assistance required I opt for sitting in the front of the empty theatre and watch the band's sound check.

On walks a guy with a bass guitar, plugs in and starts sorting out his EQ.

Yup you guessed it.....Bobby Paterson.

I thought James Grant's autograph would be reward enough for my inept speaker manipulation and here is the bass player from Love and Money jigging about right in front of me.... Two For the price of One!! are we doing a deal or are we doing a deal?

He exits stage left and I head for the foyer to find Christine and seek further misguided roadie assistance.

The place is by now filling up both with audience and with a collection of Scottish stars of music and televisual persuasions.

Debbie and Christine (now frantically sorting out backstage dramas and ticket collections ahoy) both excitedly ask if I have seen James as he's pottering about somewhere.

And there indeed he was.

James Grant, striding across the lobby straight for gushing fan hell!!

And so, I revert to my original question.....What do you say to someone you have revered for 13 years.....etc... etc......

Having stopped him in his tracks, I say the following...

" James....er........um...........er......you see.....er.......blah like your music and thanks for blah years of good listening blah really love SKOL..........blah"

His reponse? " that's really kind of you thanks very much"

And that was that.

What a jerk. Me I mean. 36 years of age, managing country logistics for a living, two kids etc etc and that was all I could muster.

I was too embarrased to talk to Debbie and Christine and felt I had wasted the trade they had so graciously entertained...

Would I get a second chance of redemption?

Too bloody right!

Off I went on a dressing room errand for Christine ( being a logistics manager I felt happier strolling across the office with a piece of paper than handling a speaker larger than my car for a bunch of very patient musicians..) and as I walk up the stairs to open the door?

Down comes Bobby Paterson, so I think 'fuck it, not this time buddy', and I arrested his descent with a casual ease hitherto unknown in these parts.

To say the guy was cool with the questions is an understatement, Bobby if you ever read this, you showed true warmth and generosity with my barrage of L&M and bass related quick fire rounds, and returned with an almost overwhelming sense of self depreciation.

We chatted about L&M, we chatted about bass lines, we shot the breeze on web sites and his current workload. What a gent.

I was dragged away too soon to deliver said peice of paper to Patrick in Ian McCullochs room and the conversation abruptly ended.

It made my day.

So, settled down into my seat just infront of the mixing desk centre of the house I await the man himself.

To say he lived up to the hype written by all the other lucky live followers on your site would be unfair.

He peformed a Van Morrison track and then, via a brief joke, launched into Lips Like Ether, an all time favourite of mine accompanied by an awesomely talented upright bass player who I can only assume was Ewan Vernal and a digital piano player who might have been Donald Shaw....

The rendition was spine tinglingly perfect.

Please, allow me to gush for once..... it had the whole place mesmerised, you see, throughout the other performances some people were talking, I guess becaue they were waitin for the 'real star' Mr McCulloch to turn up.

But for James Grant they were silent, you couldn't help it. The voice, the playing, the tightness of the performance was a lesson in professionalism couped with controlled talent.

He finished with 'Does it all add up to nothing' again with the incredible subtlety of voice and guitar and with a superb accompaniment from his cohorts.

Three songs, 13 year wait..........I would have settled for one.

And then to add insult to aural injury, on walks Karen Matheson who starts off with a stripped down version of James' All the flowers of the bough'.

To say they were made for each other vocally and musically may not mean much if you have not heard them together live but you'll have to trust me on this one........it was heartfelt musical perfection.

I can't remember the other songs she did, I think I was crying...what a wuss, but who gives a toss.

Except for my kids, music means more to me than love, money and life itself.

So when your day goes from a daft snap of the Jocelyn road sign to seeing James Grant and Karen Matheson sing live.....

I think tears are a cheap price to pay for the priviledge dont you? ( blimey I even sound like him.....)

So back to reality then, it should be pointed out that Debbie had joined me for this moment of peace via way of nicking my car keys, grabbing my camera, rushing back into the gig and sitting ,mesmerised like me, by the beauty of the performance.

I managed to sqeeze off a few snaps but it was dark and I was too far back for any clarity but she really put herself out to do this and I owe her one.

Comes intermission and i'm standing with a coke in one hand and camera in t'other discussing the moment with my new personal assistant and confidant to the stars, Debbie when across to the bar strolls James Grant.

"Right, hold this darlin, I'm gonna buy that man a drink" I says to my trusty sidekick and like a cruise missile I head for Grant zero.

No more the nervous fan, no more the divvy thanks and faltering ahhs and oohs.....I was all cola'd up and I had a decade of questions to offload...

Can you believe the man almost insisted on paying for the round himself? What happened next entered into the realms of my musical hall of fame alongside a similar chat with Jeff Porcaro, a phone call with Mike Oldfield, a shag with Drew Barrymore and a letter from Steven Spielberg!

Well ok......maybe I didn't shag Drew Barrymore but I was thinking of her at the time..

Again, just as with Bobby Paterson, James was completely cool as I raved about SKOL and Dogs In the Traffic, we chatted about Jocelyn Square, about Albatross, about Gary Katz, about reunions, about Jeff Porcaro, about St. Jude's, about beer, about lost loves and song meanings, about how the hell I got to be there, blimey the bloke practically gave up his entire intermission to talk to me!

He displayed a quiet and warm sincerity to this rambling old fan and seemed genuinely happy to hear my opinion of the greatest album of all time( SKOL) and showed along side Bobby Paterson no the slightest sign of boredom or disinterest, and it probably wasn't because im an interesting talker, he's just a nice guy.

He even allowed me to have my picture taken with him, courtesy of my photographic assistant Debbie.

All in all a fantastic evening, I get the chat, I get the concert, I get the beers, I get the picture, I got it all.

So James and Bobby if you ever read this, the guy in the baseball cap with a million questions says a huge thankyou to you both for a really memorable evening, you were beyond kind and I hope that the above is a testament to how you made one persons evening outweigh the thirteen year wait.

And so I left the theatre at 12:45 am with a 350 mile drive back to Coventry ahead of me and a car full of appropriate cd's and as I pulled onto the M8 out of Glasgow with the heavens opening above me, I realised that across town, it really was raining on Jocelyn Square.

Cheers,
Glen Ferris

[Editor's note: Is that a great story or what? Thanks for sharing, Glen.]


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