Through the window of the hotel bar, into reception, we could see one of the staff. She was dancing, getting her groove on, dancing to a tune that was playing only in her mind as she alleviated the boredom of a dank Tuesday night in Southport.
Our group saw her, the four of us looking through the window. ‘That’s great,’ the rock star thought, as she slinkily danced to the imaginary tune. Our four heads gathered to observe, amused by her dance and inspired by her free spirit, and then, in surprise, she noticed us. We applauded. She smiled. And then she continued to dance.
A few minutes later, she visited our table, collecting glasses, getting on with the day job.
“What were you dancing to?” someone asked.
“Motown,” she replied, little realising that the rock star – number one hits in the UK and USA, household name, multi-platinum records, you know the drill – had made something of a career by reinterpreting such songs. His eyes rolled. She had no idea who he was, what he’d achieved or the fact that he’d filled football stadiums along the way. Funny, isn’t it, when stuff like that happens.
She started a conversation, the 18-year-old receptionist-cum-waitress, and the guy whose home is probably filled with gold discs and who worked with or hung out with some of the biggest rock stars of all time.
The conversation turned to Stevie Wonder. She reeled off a list of her favourite Stevie songs. The rock star decided not to tell her that he’d worked with him, or that the Motown legend had sent him a happy birthday message, way back when. Modesty forbade it, and, besides, he was one of the few people in his position who remained humble, and whose ego was as-good-as-non-existent.
The conversation continued. “So do you like 1960s music?” the guitarist asked.
“I’m only 18,” she answered. “I don’t know it.”
There’s nothing so cutting as the truth. We laughed as she dazzled us with her knowledge of soul as the man who used to be chased down the street by giddy girls listened and nodded attentively.
It wasn’t the first time he’d been un-recognised, in a hotel bar. He told us about another time when he’d been drinking with his band and had been approached by a gang of drunks. It happened all the time, an occupational hazard that followed decades of being in the public eye. The gang of drunks had pointed at them, then the bravest one had wondered over. Rather than talking to the household name, he’d pointed to the drummer – his drunken state getting the better of him.
“You,” he said. “You’re such-and-such, aren’t you.” He’d got the name right, but the face wrong – he was actually pointing at the drummer. The drummer loved it – as did the rock star – and played along. “Yes, that’s right.” And a conversation had followed in which the drunk guy had told the drummer how much he loved him, while the person he really idolised was sitting two stools away, watching on merrily.
On another occasion, another guy had wondered over. He was drunk too – why is drink always involved in rock’n’roll stories? – and had pointed to the guy who’d been a star around the world.
“You,” he said. “I have to tell you. You’re a dead ringer for Mick Hucknall. You aren’t him, are you?”
Mick Hucknall has ginger hair and isn’t that tall. The guy in question had dark/grey hair, and was tall. And somehow, he’d been mistaken for someone he looked absolutely nothing like.
Hotel bars are strange places in which to hang out. On another occasion, a print salesman had been bragging about his work to the rock star and his friends. He got to the end of his monologue. “What do you do?” he asked the singer? “I’m a mechanic,” he lied. And as the salesman walked away, everybody began to laugh.