I never considered myself in danger of becoming a groupie. It all started with an innocent weekend break: the first night of my favourite band’s tour, in Lisbon shortly after the millenium.
The band became the important thing in my life for a while, but in a way who they were seemed not to matter in the end. For a time, they were the biggest indie band in the world, and I loved them.
A fan community had grown on the official website, and a few of us arranged to hang out. I met up with a girl called Bee who shared my obsession with romantic poetry, and we spent the day together in the Sintra region talking about Byron and debauchery.
On the day of the show, we queued for 10 hours in the blazing Portuguese sun, determined to get to the front. I was mildly amused by the Americans who had traveled across the Atlantic for this – what kind of crazy person spends that much time and money following a bunch of miserable guys with guitars halfway around the world? They were in a different league of dedication to little old me.
At the end of the gig, I hugged Bee. She urgently shoved something into my hand and made secretive gestures. I peered down and was shocked to see a backstage pass. “Be cool,” I heard her mutter. “Just be cool.”
Cool I was not. I feigned nonchalance, sipping a caipirinha at the bar.
“The guitarist you fancy is right behind you!” Bee whispered. I grinned, transfixed. This must be the “ligging” phenomenon I’d read about in the NME: freeloading, partying hard with the tortured artists I so admired. Could I really get away with it?
I threw a glance over my shoulder, and wondered how to attract his attention. Playing with the straw in my cocktail, I went for a graceful turn, and sent the whole lot flying… straight down the trousers of my crush. Smooth.
I’m with the band
I’d had no idea about Bee’s lig-tastic existence. She was semi-entourage, occasional confidante, an old hand at this. She and the forum gang persuaded me to forgo my return flight and join them in the next city. Having been fired a few weeks before, I had nothing to lose.
Even once I’d settled back into a regular job, I continued to follow tours – though a string of UK dates proved to be more of an endurance test than a pleasurable experience.
The forum became like family, sharing entire hostel dormitories. We considered ourselves irreverent, too cool for school – anyone earnestly discussing The Band was directed to an alternate site where hardcore types dissected the meanings of lyrics and artwork.
It didn’t matter that I’d gone with one girl to have the singer’s signature tattooed onto her arm. No, we were definitely not taking this too seriously.
The Italian job
When an Italian tour was announced, Bee and I gleefully planned our itinerary. Still playing out our Byronic fantasies, we traded up from Aldi vodka to Prosecco and set out on our very own “Grand Tour”. In the UK, backstage passes had been hard to come by, but in Italy, we were indulged.
An unspoken system weeded out fans who would be overwhelmed or get “grabby”. At the top of the tree were the Japanese girls who had quit their jobs to be there. Their quiet deference counted in their favour, giving them almost automatic access.
Americans were the trickiest. You could never tell when one would start crying or shouting – completely undesirable and most definitely out. Somewhere in between were the British mob.
The actual rock stars were almost an aside at this point – Bee knew that if a sociable mood grabbed any of the notoriously dour and twitchy musicians, they’d approach first, so we headed straight for the booze.
Late one evening in a medieval piazza, we collapsed into chairs in the cafe that had been hired out as the hospitality area. Bee was attending stand up comedy classes at home, and had a few of us in stitches, describing her fellow-pupils’ teeth-gritted determination to find a funny side to life.
“It’s like they have to laugh, because the alternative is admitting that they’re suicidal,” she explained. “It’s bloody Prozac Users Anonymous.” We roared and guffawed as the singer slid into an adjoining seat. There but for the plastic pints of free champagne went we.
“Prozac? You’re not on Prozac, are you?” the singer said, suddenly serious, leaning forward.
“Oh… hi. Um, no?”
“You can’t take that shit, you know. The drugs companies… they’re evil. They rig the studies. They don’t care, they’re just in it for profits… fucking…”
Silence reigned. Unsure how to respond, we clasped our drinks tighter and tried to look sympathetic. Here was what we’d been hungering after: the intense, passionate outpourings that had entranced us in interviews.
You can see why none of us got laid. I was all reverent hero worship and talking about deep stuff in whispers. But now this glorious caricature of our hero had graced us with his presence, and all we could do was exchange glances and try not to giggle.
Sunset on groupiedom
The Italian tour was my peak – nothing was going to beat watching the sun set over the Arno or discovering that own-brand Amaretto worked out at a fiver.
Over the years I’ve seen them 43 times in over 10 countries and made lifelong friends. I’ve been to the occasional gig recently, but a career change and a shift in priorities has calmed me down.
My annual leave is tied to school holidays and my life is centred around friends at home – though every now and again, Bee & I still down a bottle of jenever and dance around the kitchen, blasting out the soundtrack to the good old days.