David Lister: The Week in Arts

Even wild men of rock like to do the ironing
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The Independent Online

When Fleetwood Mac received a lifetime achievement award at the Brits a few years ago, they made a string of contractual demands for their brief appearance. One was that their dressing room be painted beige. The then head of the Brit Awards, the redoubtable Lisa Anderson, agreed to their demands, left the room, then poked her head back round the door and said to the startled band: "And just remind me which decade we're in. Oh, yes, the 1970s. Thank you."

That's a feeling that I often get when encountering the strange world of contractual demands, or riders, demanded by stars, most usually rock stars. This week it was reported that at a charity gig for the homeless last Sunday, Paul Weller's rider stipulated: "Six bottles of red wine (quality), 3x24 cans of lager, and an iron and ironing board."

That iron and ironing board may not seem very rock'n'roll, but in fact Weller is not the first or even the biggest star to need the homely presence of an ironing board in his dressing room. It was also the rider of those hard-living rock legends Led Zeppelin in their heyday. At least they had smooth, uncreased shirts for the groupies to rip off.

I have been acquainting myself with the world of riders recently as my bedtime reading has been a rather overlooked little gem of a book, which came out at the turn of the year, listing the riders of some of the world's best known acts. The Little Red Riders Book, published by Portico, informs us that homely items figure quite large in the contracts of the rich and famous. Socks, for example, are heavily in demand. The Magic Numbers and Muse expect fresh socks, while Moby, whose feet must sweat for his country round the clock, demands 15 pairs.

While Moby looks after his feet, Elvis Presley looked after his stomach, requiring a pot roast with gravy, mashed potatoes with gravy and corn bread with gravy at every show. Not terribly fatty, that lot, so it's hard to see how he grew so large, until you get to the dessert: "36 chocolate donuts". Dido fans may be less fanatical when they know that her dressing room is full of jars of Marmite, though as a fellow corn on the cob man I have no problem with Aerosmith wanting corn on the cob "cooked for exactly three minutes".

Peter Andre wants cheese and cucumber sandwiches cut into triangles, which means he can never share a dressing room with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who demand that all triangular objects are removed.

Toilets loom large in the minds of chanteuses. Mary J Blige cannot perform without "a private toilet with new toilet seat", likewise Madonna. Barbra Streisand also demands a toilet, but with rose petals in it, bless her. And then there are those places we'd best not go – Marilyn Manson's "bald hooker with no teeth", Iggy Pop's "Bob Hope impersonator and seven dwarves", Mötley Crüe's wish for a sub-machine gun is scary, but not quite as frightening as David Hasselhoff wanting a life-size cut-out of David Hasselhoff.

Why do promoters and venue managers humour performers by agreeing to all this rubbish? Is it really likely that the stars would refuse to do a lucrative tour or even perform any differently if riders were outlawed? Rather, I suspect that promoters and venue managers get a secret kick out of superstar excess, and like living it vicariously.

Me, I'm just comforted to learn that the Rolling Stones' idea of naughty dressing room behaviour these days is a "TV capable of broadcasting cricket matches".

One in-joke too far

Andrew Lloyd Webber was praised in the press this week. One observer was quoted as saying: "Andrew at nearly 60 is coming up with the ideas that younger producers should be having." That observer was his wife, Madeleine, so isn't a totally objective voice. Mrs Lister speaks highly of this column, but neither Lord Lloyd-Webber nor I should let such compliments go to our heads.

The latest Lloyd Webber wheeze is to cast as the new Maria in The Sound of Music Summer Strallen, pictured, who had been in the Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks, playing a showbiz wannabe. Lord Lloyd-Webber even made a cameo appearance, with Miss Strallen demanding from him a chance to prove herself. It's one step on from the TV reality show which won Connie Fisher the part of Maria.

But it seems to me to exclude a lot of us from the joke. Hollyoaks is an early-evening teen soap. Teenagers tend not to go to the theatre. Most theatregoers will be unaware of this prequel. What exactly has it achieved?

* Great moments of the Arts Council, No 341: The recent cuts in funding for some arts companies have at least been followed by letters from the funding body, the Arts Council, offering tea and sympathy. Unfortunately, the letters appear to have been written by zombies.

A letter from the council to the director of the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford informed him with regret that his theatre was having its funding cut. Only it didn't go to him. It was sent for some inexplicable reason to the mayor of Guildford, who forwarded it.

Heaven knows what either the mayor or the director of the Yvonne Arnaud theatre made of the letter. Five times it mentioned how regrettable it was that Chipping Norton was having its grant cut. Doesn't it inspire you with confidence to know how on the ball the people are who are funding the nation's culture?