Note – An expanded edition of this article – including the ‘Mr Hucknall’ story, can be found in this month’s excellent Essential Marbella https://issuu.com/essentialmagazine/docs/essentialmagazine-august2021-digital/72?fr=sNjAwMDQwOTUzMDI
Having worked in media for over 30 years, I am more than used to late nights, stress inducing situations, rampant egos and the simmering undercurrent of being part of a team that could erupt in sudden violence at any moment (not so much during my stint at Reader’s Digest Group, but I digress.)
Working backstage with an ‘Access All Areas’ pass hanging around your neck, however, takes it to a whole new level. When asked to describe the build up to a major concert, my eyes tend to get the thousand yard stare of those who have seen too much, too young. Usually it is a crazy combination of chaos theory and crisis management at all times. When you throw too little sleep and far too many energy drinks, you begin to understand why it is a job for the insane. Which is why I am perfectly suited to it.
Joaquin Cortes at the Puerto Banus Bullring was my first large scale production. The modern flamenco dance sensation was at the height of his considerable powers, and the event was a sell-out. The only problem was that the bullring had lain unused for years, so it took a frantic ten days before the performance to remove rubble, prepare the changing rooms and VIP areas and practically call a napalm strike on the toilets to have the venue fit for service. While we were running around, Diego, who lived with his family at a house at the back of the Bullring, oversaw the work from the bar of the bullfighting clubhouse.
The customary blur of rigging stages, sound and lighting checks and liaising with Cortes’ team meant that we didn’t really give Diego another thought. That was until, standing backstage thirty minutes before Joaquin was due on, I looked behind me and saw Diego and a group of around twenty friends sitting on deckchairs with cool boxes, eagerly awaiting the performance. He took considerable Andalusian umbrage when I explained that he was not allowed to run a ‘side hustle’, allowing his mates the closest seats in the venue – ‘gente’ or ‘no gente’.
That was the least of our problems once the performance got underway, however. A few days before, ETA had let off a small explosive device on a nearby beach. No one was injured, but the Guardia Civil were understandably twitchy. I was standing on the sound desk when I looked up and congratulated the head of Guardia for having men on the roof. His faced drained of colour as he told me that he didn’t have amen of the roof…
The President of an African nation was a VVIP at the event and had brought his own armed security team with him. Unfortunately, he had failed to inform the Guardia that they were taking up positions overlooking the crowd. A rather tense stand off then followed as we raced to the rooftops and told the snipers to get down, sharpish.
Finally, I will leave you with the ‘Backstage at Bolton’ story. The American singer was performing at the Puente Romano and I was handling the Press Accreditation and the photographers’ pit.
Due to the layout of the Puente Romano Tennis Club, Press Accreditation and VIP Ticket collection take place on tables by the entrance. I have run the Press for concerts for several years and you always get the odd chancer, turning up on the night with a Press Card from 1973 and saying that he wants to cover the event for Paris Match or some sort. Having politely but firmly said that sorry, the Press list closed 24 hours before, I had enough time to people watch, always entertaining at concerts.
One person who caught my attention was a lady in her late 60s who seemed to be wearing a baby blue onesie. She was also on crutches and, as it was another hot day, I asked her if she wanted to borrow a chair to sit down. She thanked me in a profuse but slightly rambling way and started to explain that she had to give a rose to Michael. I smiled and said I would see what I could do; thinking that she probably didn’t even have a ticket.
With five minutes before the Michael Bolton was due on, I headed inside to look after the photographers’ pit. If you don’t know, that is the strip between the stage and the first row of seats. The general rule is that Press photographers are allowed to get their shots during the first two numbers – before the star gets too sweaty and the makeup starts to run – and then my job is to escort them back to the Press area.
I had just herded the photographers away and was having a last look along the pit. Michael Bolton came to the front of the stage to play a slow acoustic number, when suddenly I heard a frenzied cry of “MICHAEL!!!” and I spun on my heels.
What I saw next will haunt me for life.
It was the woman in the onesie, making a beeline, at speed on crutches towards the West Coast Warbler, clutching a rose and with the look of the fanatic on her face.
There was only one thing between her and the object of her affections.
“Madam, please” I tried to reason as she bore down on me, with no apparent decrease in speed.
I stepped in front of her to block her and received a hefty clump with a crutch for my troubles. She careered into me, still yelling “Michael!!!!” and I attempted to stop her by grabbing her. I’m not sure what bit of the onesie was in my hand but I got a another crutch to the side of the head for that one.
Michael Bolton looked down with a raised eyebrow.
“Security!” I gasped “Help!”
Now the thing with Security, is that you have to handle them correctly. It is a thankless task and they have been known to employ just short of lethal force on occasion. One drunken female stage invader at a Joe Cocker concert in Banus was taken out in a pincer movement of such speed and force that I think she landed in Cabopino.
“Get her to the side” I hissed, as she flailed away with the crutches like something from the Battle of Helm’s Deep, “but gently”.
Once we had sat the woman down at the side of the stage, we went through her bags. I never go through a woman’s handbag, and this one was a prime example. There was such detritus that I was half expecting to find a severed head.
But there, at the bottom of her bag, was her VIP ticket, as well as her membership of the Official Finnish Michael Bolton Fan Club.
I told the security guard to stand next to her and make sure that she did not make another break for it. Limping back to the production desk, I could see Fran ‘the Man’ Ramirez, my brilliant buddy who I have worked with on more concerts than I can remember grinning from ear to ear.
“Backstage at Bolton, brother” he laughed. “How come, every year we say that we are never going to do another concert again? And then we do another concert again?”