An invitation arrives by post to review The Cardigans, a successful and cool Swedish indie band who are playing at the Royal Albert Hall. The invitation includes a plus one. There are also two tickets to an after-show party at an exclusive club in Chelsea. This is literally the most glamorous thing that has ever happened to me, and I hardly spend any time wondering how I got onto this mailing list and who in the marketing department of the record company will lose their job when it all comes out.
I invite my housemate Tom, who is studying for his accountancy exams. This will cheer him up no end, I think. What better way to forget an upcoming lifetime in the accountancy industry than with a hip concert? He’ll look back on this as the last truly enjoyable thing he ever did, and forever associate me with a life of wild abandon. Future Tom can tell his accountancy friends that he once went to a Cardigans concert with a famous rock journalist.
“And guess what? We even get to go to the after-show party!” I tell him.
“Will the band be there?” he asks.
“Well, probably not, but lots of people that know the band will be there, maybe even people from the record company!” I say.
Tom looks decidedly underwhelmed. The stress of all that study is really getting him down, I tell myself.
The night of the concert arrives and we take the tube to the Royal Albert Hall. I go to the ticket desk to proudly claim my plus one.
“I’m on the press invite list,” I tell the person at the desk.
“Yes, this is the press invite desk,” they reply, with no little amount of surliness. “What publication are you with?”
“Er…Footloose Magazine,” I say, loudly enough for them to hear, but not so loud as to announce it to the people behind me, who might be from GQ or NME.
“Footloose Magazine,” I say firmly.
After some discussion with a colleague, they finally locate my name, and Tom and I go to our seats, which aren’t in what I’d call a premium spot, but the reverb from the speakers only dampens the show a little and we’re still full of ourselves as we leave.
“Look at these people just going home to their ordinary lives,” I say to Tom. “I bet they wish they were going to a glamorous Chelsea club to mix with people who might know the band.”
We laugh to ourselves as we wait for and then get on a bus and head to the party.
The club is everything we could have imagined and more. As we arrive, there is a neon-lit corridor lined by what I’m going to guess are actual models holding trays of vodka shots and champagne glasses. Tom and I grab what we can and walk through to the bar.
It’s mostly empty and in fact we’re the first to arrive, so we belly up to the bar, claim a couple of stools and talk about how exciting it is to be at this amazing event.
“We’re here for the after-show party,” I tell the bartender, who to be fair is still setting up his station and probably doesn’t hear me.
Eventually, people begin to filter in, and before long we’re joined at the bar by throngs of what I can only assume to be music industry insiders. Tom and I agree that we should try and engage people and basically just look as though we do this kind of thing all the time.
A couple of well-dressed men sit down on the stools next to me. One of them is super tall and one is short, which, I later say to Tom insightfully, is a social combination you don’t see very often. I nod to them and as they order drinks, and ask them how their night is going so far.
“Yes, it’s been quite amazing,” says the smaller one. “How about you?”
“Oh, you know,” I say. I don’t really know what I mean by this and realise I have nothing to back it up with. Tom is elbowing me, so I nod my excuses and turn back.
“They’re in the band,” he says. “The small one is the drummer, I think.”
I do a sly double-take. Tom is right. I take a big swig of champagne and swivel back to face them.
“I mean…not as amazing as your night, obviously!”
The men laugh and the drummer tells me about a sound problem that they were having on stage and I laugh loudly and agree with him about how annoying that must be when you’re playing the Royal Albert Hall and I generously introduce him to Tom and we have an actual conversation and at one point I think he asks what we’re doing after the party but then a woman pushes through to the bar and I go back to talking to Tom.
“Don’t look,” he says.
“OK. What should I not look at?”
“The woman next to you is Nina, the lead singer.”
The fact that the band are here at all is a major surprise to both of us. And now the lead singer, who is basically an internationally lauded entertainer, is right next to us. Well. Next to me.
“OK, you have to say something to her. You can’t not say anything,” says Tom.
I agree. She stays standing at the bar to chat to her band mates, so we grab another glass of champagne and drink it quickly while we think of what I should say. We can’t think of anything. “I’ll just wing it,” I say, grabbing and downing a shot from a passing model.
I spin round on my stool to face Nina.
“Hi,” I say.
“Oh, hi,” she says.
This is a very relaxed back and forth already, I think.
“I hope you had a good time tonight,” I say. “I heard you had some sound problems on stage.” I feel that this establishes me as a confidant of the band, trustworthy and empathetic.
“Oh. Yeah,” she says.
This is GREAT, I think.
“So…are you playing any summer festivals?” I ask, even though I know the answer to this.
“Yeah. I think so. I can’t remember,” she says, suddenly looking around the room.
She’s so cool, I think. Look at her, like the host of a party, nervously thinking she should circulate.
I’m going to toast her, I think. That would be such a thoughtful and intimate gesture, but one that isn’t creepy or too ingratiating.
I reach back to the bar for my champagne glass. My immediate thought on doing this is that the bar is much further away than I thought, and then almost immediately after that I feel like I’m less upright than I need to be. It takes what seems like ten full seconds for me to hit the floor, my barstool undeniably upended. I’m looking up at Tom, who is grabbing my glass, which to my credit is impressively full.
He helps me to my feet as I try not to make eye contact with the room, although it feels like hardly anyone noticed. Nina and her rhythm section are thankfully nowhere to be seen, sparing me the ignominy of having to apologise. Tom and I focus on keeping ourselves to ourselves for a while.
“That was bad,” says Tom.
“Yes. It was. Bad. Do you think we should leave?”
“Nah. I mean, Nina and the band did notice, I will say that. But it’s not like they’ve complained to security or anything. They probably just think accidents will happen. I bet people fall over all the time at these things.”
We stay and drink more champagne and it’s not terrible but I never really regain my poise.
At some point, a record company employee approaches us. We assume he’s going to say something about the incident, but he’s really chummy and introduces us to his friend, Simon.
It turns out after some remedial chat that Simon isn’t really his friend but a competition winner of some kind and the record company employee asks us if he can he just leave Simon with us as he has to make sure the band are OK. We begrudgingly say that he can.
Simon wants to talk about The Cardigans. A lot. Tom and I indulge him as much as we politely can, but suddenly the bar turns from being free to being incredibly expensive, and we decide to cut our losses and head back to the bus stop.
“Hey, at least we got to talk to the band for a bit,” says Tom.
“Yeah. We did, didn’t we?”
The night bus pulls up, and we clamber on.