Every day, something new threatens my fragile faith in reality. A sociopathic Honey Monster becomes Prime Minister. Those two posh women tell everyone on Twitter that socialism is actually communism through some kind of iPhone filter that turns you into a Disney fascist. The ‘Tequila’ karaoke guy gets on America’s Got Talent. Nothing, bar a Lib Dem actually doing what they say, would surprise me anymore.
So when the text arrived at a nervous NME office from Dave Grohl confirming that he’d definitely be turning up to play at the relaunch of Club NME at Hackney’s Moth Club last Friday and we wouldn’t have a riot of 300 disappointed Foos fans (I’d given out far too obvious Twitter clues, it turned out) on our hands, the relief was palpable, but the idea didn’t seem any more absurd than any other random club gig by one of the biggest rock stars in the world. As far as I know, Dave’s out rocking bars every night off, under the anagram Foof Hits Reg.
Then the follow up text arrived. “I’m bringing Rick Astley.”
Right. Okay. We were getting Rick-Grohled. Mild boggle. But in this age of dancing Anne Widdecombes, acting Ed Sheerans and tiny burgers in pizza crusts, what’s left to surprise us anymore? Even when Rick dived out of the crowd after Dave’s opening solo song and took to the drumkit to bash out ‘Times Like These’ like a bequiffed Bonham, it was incredible but not, like, Mayor Slowthai un-thinkable. After all, I saw Rick Astley take to the kit during his Isle Of Wight set, and it’s not like he’s never popped onstage with Foo Fighters before. He was onstage with them at Japan’s Summer Sonic festival and at the O2 in London in 2017. In fact, Rick is becoming something of a Grohl sidekick. His Penfold. His Nick Frost. His lager DJ bloke from Sleaford Mods.
Sidekicks in music are no new thing. Simon had Garfunkel. Bowie had Iggy. The Beatles had Ringo. In the ‘70s you couldn’t move for ‘pet’ dwarves and in the ‘80s you were nobody without a silent keyboard counterpart or a dancer playing ‘pill maracas’. But as credible bands got bigger, the sidekicks got more respectable. Barely a Blur gig went by post-95 without Phil Daniels cropping up, often leading a parade of Groucho club alumni through a chorus about what they imagined might happen in one of these municipal parks that the peasantry go to once they’d had their security chase them off Primrose Hill. Primal Scream had Kate Moss, Oasis had Paul Weller, I’m pretty sure Radiohead had Stephen Hawking. During the Britpop age, such cultural crossovers and big name nods were markers of the respect being granted to the ascendant wave of alternative music, and the Caligula level partying going on across the capital’s most exclusive (i.e. a tenner to drink a lager near Chris Evans) members club establishments.
Come the ‘00s, a comedy sidekick became all the rage. The Killers picked up Jimmy Carr, presumably having met in a teeth-whitening salon. Kasabian formed a lifelong bond with Noel Fielding, presumably over coats. It’s as if we’ve reached the age of the ironic post-sidekick, a knowing wink to the out-of-place mates and keyboard-based window dressings of the ‘80s, and the more exploited novelties of the pre-punk era. It’s a chance for the comedians to live out a snippet of their secret rock star fantasies, and for rock stars to tip us the wink that, behind the surly snarls and heartworn epics, they love a curry night in watching Dave in their pants as much as the rest of us.
Or maybe I’m overthinking it and they’re all just having a laugh. Whatever, Dave Grohl’s Astley bromance feels lovably serendipitous, and was amazing and surreal in equal measure to watch. Every major band should have their own personal slab of walking kitsch on speed-dial, just to give them the opportunity to create unique surprise events like this. Now, how do we get The National to adopt Milton Jones?