Sometimes everything just lines up nicely. My partner Soo and I been thinking about going on a boat down the Thames for a while and we’re currently mildly obsessed by delta blues/1920s jazz throwback C.W.Stoneking, so when The Word magazine emailed to offer me priority booking for an afternoon in London aboard the rather plush paddle steamer The Dixie Queen with Stoneking providing the musical entertainment it was, as I believe the young people say, a no-brainer. And if that were not enough, the magazine’s overlords and all-purpose music and popular culture commentators David Hepworth and Mark Ellen would also be recording one of their legendary podcasts during the trip. These informal, usually insightful and frequently hysterically funny chats have been enlivening my walks to work for over five years now, and this seemed like an unmissable opportunity. Tickets were booked within about 30 seconds of the “You’ve Got Mail!” alert sound going off.
Come the day of the cruise, the good karma didn’t look like it was running out: it was gloriously sunny in London, the brightest and warmest day for weeks. Soo and I boarded at Tower Pier and headed upstairs to the bar, where Mr Hepworth was performing unofficial bouncer duties by the door to the not yet accessible lounge where the music and talking were due to take place. A couple of exits next to the bar led to an open-air deck at the front of the boat from which a classic view of Tower Bridge could be had, and as this was apparently the biggest pleasure steamer in the country, the bridge was going to have to raise to let us pass. We got a good vantage point as the boat approached, with me vaguely worrying about the possibility of missing the start of the podcast recording.
And then the weird thing happened. Pretty much exactly as we passed under the two halves of the raised bridge the public address came on and we heard the convivial tones of Mark Ellen, welcoming us aboard and telling us that the podcast would be starting in the next few minutes. And that in the spirit of audience participation that it would be nice if the first five people to have bought tickets could be part of the podcast. Remember what I said about being quick on the draw with that email…
Now, I’m by no means an attention-seeker (despite the existence of this blog), and my gut instinct in this kind of situation is to find a cupboard to hide in, but hell! This was The Word podcast! Short of being inexplicably invited on the Adam & Joe show I wasn’t going to get something this in tune with my sensibilities landing at my feet again ever. So I walked over to Mark, identified myself, found myself being greeted like some class of superstar and a few minutes later was in the surreal position of taking the stage to a round of applause, where I sat next to estimable compere Kerry Shale and was subjected to some gentle grilling on my first ever gig (The Cure, 1984. Mr Hepworth didn’t approve), my best ever gig (very tricky…but I went for Robyn Hitchcock in Anglia Poly bar in 2004 because I thought there’d be mileage in it, what with him being mates with Mr Ellen), and the best ever time I’ve ever had on a boat (I picked falling into a canal, which probably isn’t true but had humour potential). I think it went off OK, but it’s going to take some courage to listen to it when it’s released. Two minutes later I was back in the audience shellshocked, listening to the next person’s answers to the same questions. And not long after that, they brought out Neil Finn from Crowded House and asked him too. This led into a two song set by Finn and his wife’s informal set-up Pajama Club, which sounded pretty snappy to me.
After the podcast, the main event. By now, the lounge was packed, with tables full of people down by both sides and others (including Soo and I) sitting primary school style on the dance floor in front of the stage. Stoneking led his band through a truncated set and sounded as authentically temporally- and geographically- dislocated as ever (for more detail on his extraordinary M.O. see here). He also mined a good line in boat-related between-song banter. He wrapped up just as the boat returned back to Tower Pier – I hadn’t even noticed it turning round. It had been three hours since we departed but it felt like ten minutes. Just time to get some CDs signed by Stoneking and a short chat with Mr Ellen about the days of Smash Hits and we were away. An amazing afternoon.