Alex James: 'We were brilliant and the babies screamed for more'

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The Independent Online

Two very different varieties of musical extravaganza last Thursday. I took our son, Geronimo, to the singing group for nought to two year olds at the local village hall. He's eight months old and he loves whacking pianos, banging his drum and shaking his jingle bells. A proper little headbanger. I only started to wonder what might really be in store as I was parking the car, but the village hall had a reassuringly familiar leaflets- and-biscuits vibe.

There is a festival every year in Rome. The bill ranges from Pavarotti to Metallica. If you're having a hit in Italy in the summer, you are whisked in to perform at this health and safety nightmare. Upwards of a million people moshing and posing - God knows where they park their scooters. It's a big, old crowd though, and the whole thing is beamed live on television to everybody who can't be there in person.

Suffice to say, I've never been phased by playing to big crowds, but as a small group of mothers in the village hall struck up a song about, "Hello, Geronimo, hello, hello!", I was practically speechless. Songless, even.

Obviously, I was the only bloke in the room, so it was hard to know whether to blend in with a trembling falsetto or go the octave below and boom it. The startling thing was the sweet sound of ladies' voices unaccompanied, singing a simple and delicate melody. They were really good. There was no horrible selfish me, me, me agenda, like there is with pop music on the telly at the moment - it was beautifully selfless. Babies are the best audience, because they really don't care if you get it wrong, and they like everything you do. This kind of encouragement can propel you to unexpected heights. I couldn't keep my gob shut for long.

It's a tragedy, but people tend to have a low opinion of their voices. There aren't really any great voices; just great tunes. Of these, the "Grand Old Duke of York" stands out, as did the unfamiliar jig "Giddy-up Horsie". We were brilliant, and the babies screamed for more. Best band I've ever been in.

Having re-appraised what constitutes cool music, I then made a trip down the Fosse Way to Real World recording studios near Bath. Real World is legendary, even outside music-business circles, as the last word in over-the-top Eighties studio opulence. A temple of sound of Notre Dame proportions.

I was surprised at how tasteful and functional the studio is. It's hard to criticise: big and beautiful, and crammed to the rafters with everything from pre-vintage Fender guitars to next-generation mixing consoles that would baffle the techiest, spoddiest, sound engineer. I'd been deliberating whether to buy a new computer for my little shed. I made a mental note to splash out and be damned. People in bands always moan that the more gear you've got, the less stuff you get done. You end up reading manuals all day. I really don't know if having absolutely everything or absolutely nothing is best. I'd be just as happy to record an album in the village hall.

Meanwhile, i've taken to cross-country running. It's the only way I can carry on eating loads. It's also good for exploring the local area. We live in a valley. I hadn't realised that woods can be confusing. You have to just accept that sometimes you get lost, in which case the best strategy is to run up a hill and hope you can see a village. The countryside in the Cotswolds isn't exactly a wilderness; it's criss-crossed with bridleways, footpaths, woodland trails and disused railways. But slopping through the mud and the brambles is quite different to trotting around St James's Park.

Running around the countryside is primal. In fact, it's regressive. It does feel good to beat your chest and run around hollering at the top of your voice. It really does. Hope I don't get shot.

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