Alex James: The Great Escape

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I've been hanging around both ends of the Monopoly board this week. The first course of the awards dinner at the Royal Opera House, which involved figs and roquefort, I spent with P Diddy's bottom in my right ear. He was talking to Paul McCartney, who was sitting on the table behind me. It was a spectacular room, filled to its apex with all the divine promise of celebrity incarnate – like a church at Christmas when Jesus is there but not doing anything you can actually put your finger on. The party pack of fireworks always seems to remain unlit on these occasions, but it's very nice to look at them all lined up in their pretty wrappers in the big box that they come in, in this case the Royal Opera House. Maybe that's what glamour is, really, P Diddy's bottom in your ear while you munch on a fig.

There were a lot of people going to Kabaret afterwards. No doubt a few fireworks might have gone off down there, but I'd had my fix of celebrity and went to The Groucho instead.

The Groucho has changed since the smoking thing. There is nowhere to smoke there except outside on Dean Street – the tramps call the paparazzi and tell them who's there. There were loads of photographers outside, one man even shoved a video camera in my face. There was a drive-by, too, a car full of flashing photographers, apparently, making a circular tour of all the clubs that would be likely to have people of interest outside having a smoke.

This intense scrutiny is quite stifling. I had a band in the studio this week. The guitarist was telling me that it's extremely risky to indulge in any kind of groupie shenanigans these days. Band members' girlfriends routinely monitor the fans' chat forums and catch up with what their other halves have been getting up to after the gig in Sheffield. Is there really any point in being in a big ass band any more? No one buys records and you can't have sex with everybody.

Even so, it would seem that the youngsters are still keen to make a go of it in the music business. I spent the weekend at the Scala Theatre in King's Cross watching dozens of unsigned acts compete for a record deal. I need a bit of the Royal Opera House in my life, but it was nice to be in King's Cross, too. The theatre was comfortably dilapidated and expansive, with staircases that led to rooms full of junk. Empty space is somehow more relaxing than anything money and designers can create.

I was on the judging panel, which largely involved taking people's dreams away from them. In reality, the very best band and the very worst one weren't a million miles apart. It's about details, really. You can usually tell whether a band is going to be any good or not before they've played a note.

Some of the unsuccessful ones wept. Others got angry. I hope not winning a competition wouldn't cause anyone to give up playing music. It's such a wonderful thing to make music, no matter what level you're doing it at. In fact playing music is its own greatest reward. It's never as much fun as when no one is listening. Or watching.

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