Italian politician boogies on down: Rome's Interior Minister can't bring himself to give up the nightclub job, writes Patricia Clough

THE 1,500 people bopping away at the Val Bossa hockey club thrash in Varese did not take too much notice of the cat with the dark glasses, hockey cap and five-day stubble who churned out Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Otis Redding favourites on his electric organ. He was just part of the local scene.

It was the television teams, the photographers and the plain-clothes guards who were concerned about the organist and occasional singer of the Distretto 51 (District 51) soul and blues band. The man in the denim jacket with luminous buttons, bright pink shirt and baggy white pants was Roberto Maroni, Number Two in the Northern League and Italy's unconventional new Interior Minister.

'Bobo' Maroni, who has not been able to bring himself to give up entirely his vivid green suits and bright coloured jackets despite his new responsibilities, has played in this popular amateur band for 11 years and is not planning to give it up. 'It's the only relaxation I have at the moment,' he says. The only concession to his status is that he is excused from packing away the equipment afterwards.

Mr Maroni joins the ever- growing number of leading politicians who play or have played musical instruments, with a particular bias towards jazz or rock (see graphic above). He could also be said to be following an Italian tradition of mixing music and politics, which goes back to Nero.

The presence of their Interior Minister that night did not impress the local police, under strict instructions from Varese's Mayor, Raimondo Fassa, a Northern League colleague, to stop noisy functions at midnight. 'Minister or no minister, I'm going to have to report this,' said one.

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