POP / On the Road: Room for improvement: The end is nigh, but there's still time to go hotel receptionist-bothering

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The Independent Online
Rhinestone Cowboy' was not proving to be a top choice for the gathered punters. All the way through, conversation was at a decibel level to rival Concorde departures. Polite would be the best word for the desultory round of applause afterwards. Although I am the man who will play anywhere, I feel grateful that it's not me playing in the bar on the ferry between Holyhead and Dublin, with a Force 8 gale rocking the boat. It's a splendid crossing, though, if you enjoy the kinds of funfair rides which make you feel ill, which I do.

The last time I checked into a hotel in Dublin, I glanced over my shoulder and there was Van Morrison having a drink in the bar. Fearing his legendary impatience, I managed to restrain myself from sharing with him the fact that we have the same birthday. He's not there this time, though, and so misses the opportunity to see me indulging in the traditional tour sport of seeking a better room than the one that has been allocated to me. Unmade beds and used towels are gift horses in this respect, and I for one have never found myself having to look them in the mouth. With lesser complaints, a degree of confidence is needed. The quality of a room is important, and nothing I am about to say should remove my right to grumble about over-enthusiastic uses of Shake'N'Vac to cover up still worse odours: but the point is, it's by no means vital that anything is wrong with the room in order to try your luck. Sometimes just being tired or feeling plain stroppy is all that's required. I would like to pass it off as a joke that I complained about being on the second floor facing an air-conditioning duct, but this is what gained me, if not a Presidential Suite, then certainly a better room. The fact is, at the time, I was perfectly serious.

Next evening, after the soundcheck at Whelan's and with not enough time to return to the hotel, I hang around the bar for a while. A man who looks as if he started drinking at an ambitiously early hour asks me when I'm going on and what I'm going to play. Short- term memory not being his strongest suit, he repeats these questions on a bi-minutely basis. When he lurches into the men's room after me, I realise it's time to go to my dressing room for my regular half hour of Tai Chi before the show. (Oh, all right then: for a quiet sit- down and a sup of my pint.)

Onstage I have a heavenly I-can-do-no-wrong gig. The banter from the sold out crowd is excellent, my lack of sartorial elegance being a fair target, really. They even spontaneously sing the backing vocals during my version of Prince's 'I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man'. Definitely one of the best shows of the tour.

In complete contrast, the next night in Cork, I play the worst set to the least interested audience. I confess to throwing a mild tantrum after the show and refusing to go back on, at least until coaxed gently by people backstage.

Curry-related stomach grief sets in throughout the drive to Waterford for the last show of the tour. It's a Sunday afternoon stint and I'm due on at 5.00pm. After the soundcheck, I lie down in the dressing room for an hour, feeling horrible and wishing myself forward in time so I can go to bed. But adrenalin is a wonderful thing and as soon as I go on I have never felt better. When I leave the bar, half an hour after playing, the crowd burst into applause and follow me to the car outside. They are still applauding as I drive off. Now, if you'd seen that in a film - the illness, the uncertainty over form, the triumph against all odds, followed by an heroic exit - you'd say 'I'm not buying that', wouldn't you? But it's all true.

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