Living: 'You'll like Lenny Kravitz,' I was crushingly assured, 'He's old-fashioned'

  • @johnhenrywalsh
I know you don't want to read another word about BSE, but do you know what's actually responsible for it? The real culprit may have got lost in the thickets of verbiage, the pine forests of speculation, the ever more outre grim warnings ("You realise that biscuits are made from beef gelatin, don't you? And wine gums..."), so let me refresh your memory. What causes encephalopathies in sheep and cattle and allegedly humans is a nasty protein particle called a prion. Now I couldn't help noticing that there exists a publishing company by the same name. It's one of those tough breaks that happen in the world of proper nouns (there used to be a brand of appetite suppressant called Ayds. I wonder what happened to that?). So, out of curiosity, I rang Prion Multimedia Books to inquire: why is your company named after the single most disruptive organic compound in the British Isles?

"It is a bit unfortunate," said Barry Winkleman, managing director, "But prion is also the name of a saw-billed petrel, a small seabird that walks on water. It's on our logo. This protein thing is a modern development." I note from the Writers' and Artists' Year Book that Prion specialises in books on "psychology and health, food, environment, animals, space and aviation". Were they planning a cookbook? "Nah, we've slimmed the list right down," said Winkleman, "It's mostly sex and drink and literature now. Our next big one is on the Sex Lives of the Popes." I wished him luck and rang off. Five minutes later he was back. "Hang on a minute. We did publish a cookbook last year. It was called Burgers..."

For ageing groovers such as I, the pull of Wembley Arena gets less and less magnetic (it's something to do with those cartons of undifferentiated lager-style fizz you get for your pounds 2.30). But I took a chance and went along to worship at the throne of Lenny Kravitz, the American rock star, who played there on Saturday before an adoring multitude.

Sir Leonard of Kravizlovenia, as he seems to be known to the cognoscenti, is a young New Yorker devoted to the heyday of rock'n'roll. Everyone goes on about what a purist he is, how retro, how true. "He's really into, you know, authenticity," I was told. It seems that Mr Kravitz, in the same spirit as the Early Music Consort, is so keen to reproduce the "authentic" style of late-Sixties rock'n'roll that he insists on using ancient valve amplifiers in the studio, and plays an elderly Flying V guitar even though it is so unfeasibly cumbersome it has put his back out more than once. "You'll like him," I was crushingly assured, "He's terribly old-fashioned..."

How right they were. Mr Kravitz is indeed a throwback to a statelier, more relaxed era. Conservatively dressed in skin-tight loons, stacked heels and three-foot dreadlocks, he wound his way across the stage in a series of formalised crab-like manoeuvres possibly derived from Noh drama, flagellated the drum kit with his anacondan plaits and clutched his guitar in an arthritically vertical posture stolen from Bill Wyman (than whom, of course, nobody is more creakingly old-fashioned). Las Vegas- style, he congratulated the audience for being beautiful (all right, what he actually said was. "All the years I been comin' here, ain't never seen you motherfuckers like this") and even jumped into the Arena's pullulating apron to embrace delirious fans, rather in the style of HM the Queen going on an unscheduled walkabout in Bongawonga.

But the only time you really knew the guy was stuck in a timewarp came half-way through a song called, typically, "What Goes Around Comes Around". There was a saxophone solo, then a trumpet improvisation, then some horrible parping from the vibraphone-keyboard and then the unthinkable happened. The band fell silent and the spotlight shone on the lady drummer, who proceeded to wallop 17 shades of ordure out of her cymbals...

A drum solo! In 1996!! A chill hand closed round my heart. Suddenly I was hurled back to a time full of Party Seven cans and terrible hairstyles and fields with bad-trip tents but no lavatories, when jokes were banned and you said "really nice" to indicate the zenith of human appreciation. Half the audience seemed to feel it too. The rush to get to the bar was extremely old-fashioned.

You have to admire the chutzpah of Mr Simon Wilkinson, chief executive of Nottingham First. This is not a dyslexics-only football team, it's a consortium of businessmen who are in cahoots with Nottingham's city council to burnish the place's image. Their only problem is that before they can come up with a new identity, they must first play down the city's 700-year association with its most famous green-belt inhabitant, Robin Hood.

"As a child I never liked Robin Hood," opined Mr Wilkinson, in one of the week's best sound-bites, "Men in doublets and tights simply do not project the right image for a modern, vibrant city. Nottingham is the headquarters of Boots, you know."

Gosh. Fired with interest, I rushed to the Nottingham branch of Boots, looking for signs of modernity, vibrancy and so on. It was not a rewarding expedition. Would Boots's own-brand Ginger and Lemon Mini-Cookies ("A refreshing combination of flavours", 29p) set hearts racing all over the Pacific Rim? Would their heart-stopping "Three-for-Two" offer of Carefree Sanitary Towels do a lot to encourage investment from Silicon Valley? And can Mr Wilkinson really believe that the pounds 6.95 Wrinkle Lift Pot - perhaps the least romantic combination of words ever stuck on the side of a jar - on special display does more for his home town than quarterstaffs, merry men and suits of Lincoln Green?