Having spent over 20 years embarrassing himself in front of rock stars, our columnist Mark Beaumont shares his do's and don'ts of celebrity engagement
You are Ezra Furman. You are sat on a box of stage gear with your entire band in a car park outside a small US festival which has entirely forgotten to arrange transport for you back to your hotel after what can best be described as a ‘technically challenged’ weekend of trying to play through a PA that sounded like it was constructed entirely from twigs and pigswill. Then, out of the darkness, staggers an equally stranded, strong-to-industrially pissed Englishman claiming to have spoken to you on the phone once and trying to blag a lift on a tourbus you clearly don’t have.
Do you squash the guy into your already overcrowded Uber, risking a hefty vomit surcharge? Or politely brush him off while making a mental note to definitely hire that security detail you’ve been promising yourself?
Yes, after a few minutes of awkward festival chat, off I weaved, back into the festival to keep drinking until the shuttle bus showed up or the paramedics arrived to cart me back to town – whichever came first – convinced in retrospect that if I’d only mentioned the five star review I’d given him in NME for his last album, Ezra and his band would have carried me shoulder high back to my hotel, serenading me with celebratory sax rock all the way.
You’ve all done it. Yes you have. Spotted someone from a band you love when you’re ratted beyond reason and wandered over with no firm plan of engagement. Why wouldn’t you, it seems like you know them, right? So how did that go for you? Did you strike up an instant rapport, chat until dawn, swap numbers and become godparents to each others’ children? Or did you slope away twelve seconds later with a wonky selfie and a nagging sense of shame that they might have taken your nonsensical, one-sided slurring as some sort of insult? Exactly.
It happens to the best of us. The IndieAmnesty hashtag of 2016 threw up a few memorable high-profile confessions, such as Erol Alkan admitting to having once stood on Morrissey’s hand (no further details needed, apparently) and John Prescott confessing to calling Damon Albarn “Damian” throughout their lengthy conversation (but curiously didn’t feel like sharing his encounter with Chumbawamba at the Brits in 1998). And 20-odd years of interviewing A-list musicians hasn’t made me any less of a drunken stalker-dork out in the field, as any number of baffled and bewildered My Bloody Valentine members will attest.
I have, however, developed a few golden rules for such moments, which you should immediately commit to memory in case Jack White happens to walk into your local ‘Spoons in the next 10 minutes, or you find yourself in the DSS queue tomorrow next to Sleaford Mods.
1) Be prepared. Resist the urge to race straight up to your chosen object of celebrity harassment babbling the first thing that comes to mind. Take a breath and think about the things that you might regret not having said to them. Case in point: when I unexpectedly found myself within blurting distance of Peter Gabriel – a teenage obsession of mine before Pixies ate my sordid soul – backstage at a Magnetic Fields gig, I could have told him that I was once so moved by an Amnesty International advert in one of his tour programmes that I started a letter-writing campaign at school and got a political prisoner in Russia released. I could have told him that. What did I tell him? “I broke a sofa dancing to ‘Solsbury Hill’.” That sound, friends, is the very computing code of NME.com cringing.
2) Try not to be too, y’know, murdery. Major musicians are acutely aware of The Chapman Effect and, once spooked, they’re out of your grasp faster than a Love Island contestant catches chlamydia. Take poor Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro, whom I once took along to interview his all-time hero Brian Wilson. The instant he was face-to-face with Wilson, he tore open his shirt to reveal the line “god only knows what I’d be without you” tattooed across his chest. Wilson sat through that interview as on-edge as Jacob Rees-Mogg being interviewed by Dick Turpin.
3) If you’ve met them before, never assume they remember you. How funny it would be, I thought, working backstage at the NME signing tent at Reading Festival one year, if I queued up with the assembled throng to get my arm signed by Blink-182, considering I’d interviewed them twice and even been to Mark Hoppus’s house! They’d definitely recognise me, and not just dutifully sign my arm and watch me get thrown out by security for over-expectant loitering.
4) Keep it brief – you’ll be surprised how happy you’ll make a celebrity by accosting them with “it’s a pleasure to walk past you”.
5) Don’t offer them sex just because you’ve run out of anything else to say.
6) Make sure it’s actually who you think it is, as you don’t want to end up in a comedy blog of people who got selfies with a random ginger bloke who clearly isn’t Ed Sheeran. And don’t be the girl who thought long and hard about what to say to Justin Bieber at a meet and greet, sashayed up and asked him “do you fart? Because you just blew me away”.