Some years ago I stood three feet away from Paul Weller at a gig in a fairly small London venue. It was at the Half Moon in Putney in August 2011. Ian McLagan (former keyboard player with Small Faces and The Faces) was playing, solo, and I went on my own. A friend who was supposed to come too let me down. Going to a gig in a pub venue on your own is very different from going with other people. Plenty of people I know would never do it, and I don’t enjoy it. It’s not like going to the cinema on your own. Usually I would drive to a gig if nobody was coming with me, park near the venue, and drive straight home afterwards – no waiting around for late buses or trains or walking on my own in unfamiliar parts of London. But that afternoon I’d had a few beers at a pub in Hammersmith watching Kilkenny beat Waterford in the All-Ireland Hurling Semi-Final. I really wanted to see Mac, as he was known, so I got the required trains and buses to the venue. It’s a 15-minute drive for me, but it’s 45 minutes on public transport. It was a great show. Mac died in December 2014; this was the only time I saw him live.
In those days the Half Moon had a small raised area at the back, beside the table where you paid to get in. It had room for three or four people, and a tall, narrow, round table just behind, with enough room for a few drinks. I arrived during the first song, and there was just space for me to the left of a couple who were stood on that slightly raised area. I stood beside the woman. To her right was a guy but I couldn’t see his face, he was hidden away in the corner of the room. It was only when I leaned back to put my pint on the table behind that I noticed it was Paul Weller. The only way to see him was to lean back and look past the woman he was with. I was very impressed. He had found the best place to stand to make sure that nobody at the gig would notice him. I was in the presence of greatness, twice over, with the legendary Ian McLagan on stage and one of Britain’s greatest songwriters to my right, out of sight and enjoying the show.
There are times when you want to keep out of sight. To some extent it gets easier as you get older. A character in Douglas Coupland’s “The Gum Thief” speculates that he could commit the perfect crime if he wants to. He’s over 40, he wears a suit, and he drives an anonymous car. He could drive away from the scene of a crime and all anyone would be able to tell the police is, “It was a guy. In a car. No, I don’t remember anything else about him.” Over the last two weeks I have had a cold-sore on my upper lip (first mentioned here, “What Gladstone Did”) which has just about healed. I haven’t shaved for 13 days, so the skin has had time to heal better than if I were shaving regularly. This is only the third time in my life that I have gone more than a week without shaving. I am not a beard kind of guy. I kept it so that my skin could heal, and have kept it until today (Mother’s Day) because my wife likes it, but I feel disproportionately self-conscious about it and plan to shave it off tomorrow. It might have grown into something distinguished, but at the moment it feels like the “Sleeping in His Car” look that Marina Hyde wrote about recently in this excellent piece about Simon Cowell, Sebastian Coe and Sepp Blatter.
We have a tendency to overestimate how much people notice us. It’s called the Spotlight Effect, and there was a famous experiment with US college students that illustrated the concept. Students were made to wear a Barry Manilow t-shirt (typically seen as a very uncool thing to wear) and consistently over-estimated how many of their classmates noticed. You can read about it here. Most of the time people really aren’t looking at you, however embarrassed you may feel about your actions or the way that you look. I tried to remind myself of this whenever I left the house but it’s no good: the beard has to go.
At that Ian McLagan gig in August 2011 Paul Weller left during the encores – the perfect way to keep himself out of sight when the house lights went up. He touched my right arm as he went past and said “Cheers mate” as he slipped away with his companion. Natty suit, as you’d expect. Mac name-checked Weller as he introduced the next song, saying he knew that it was one of his favourites. “I think he’s coming this weekend? Is he here?” I didn’t want to attract any attention to myself, or to announce that he had just left, but I might have been the only person left at the show who’d seen him. The song was “Debris”, performed beautifully. (The original version is here.) Not for the first time (and to paraphrase Flann O’Brien) a tear of pure alcohol trickled down my cheek, but like Paul Weller himself I was well out of sight, and nobody could see me.