Blackpool draws diplomatic veil over cravings of the superstars: David Lister reports on the extravagant expectations of US performers billed to appear at Britain's biggest jazz festival

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The Independent Online
SOME of the most celebrated American performers will supply the song. The organisers have to supply the wine and women.

Next week, Roberta Flack, Ray Charles, Nina Simone, B B King and others arrive in Blackpool for one of the biggest jazz festivals held in Britain - and with them some outsize demands.

For Martin Witts, organiser of the Blackpool Jazz Festival, which takes place from 9 to 22 July, complying with the small print in the contracts for the top US artists has given an insight into the headaches of meeting the cravings of superstars - hard enough in the big city, a superhuman feat in Blackpool.

All the American acts expect 24-hour room service, which as visitors to political party conferences will know, is hardly de rigueur in Blackpool. And every contract for a US artist comes with a rider. 'The expectations of the Americans are far higher than the English,' Mr Witts said diplomatically. There is, for example, Miss Flack. Stipulated in her contract is one limousine; not white. One Steinway grand piano; colour not specified.

A piece of cake compared with the expectations of B B King. It is not so much the suite of rooms for him, but also for his nutritionist, not to mention the dozen tuna and cheese sandwiches, mineral water and towels of specified colours that must be on hand at all times.

'The problem is,' Mr Witts said, 'we're trying to put on a quality product in a place that without being rude has the top of the tree and the bottom. We're putting this on in a Victorian ballroom (the Winter Gardens) and there simply aren't showers and baths in every dressing room. But at home the Americans are treated like kings and their expectations are so high.'

The requirements of Ray Charles - toilet in the dressing room and easy access to the stage - are understandable as he is blind. Other acts present problems Mr Witts can only discuss in the most diplomatic of terms.

Of the Blues Brothers, he said: 'Everything everyone expects is all true. That's all I want to say. If you have seen the movie you will know what I mean.' (The film of the same name featured quantities of drink and women).

So does the band demand the cream of west Lancashire's young females? According to Mr Witts: 'A local authority on the local talent is required. It's not too much of a problem. Blackpool is full of local authorities.'

Before arranging that, there are the logistics of this weekend's arrivals. A limousine must pick up B B King at Manchester airport, followed half an hour later by another (not white) for Roberta Flack, who also desires a luxury crew bus for the band and a van for her manager.

'We are basically responsible for every slip of toilet paper,' a fatigued Mr Witts said. 'People don't realise the extra financial cost involved. That's why you pay so much to see American acts.'

(Photograph omitted)

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