Even if you think you don’t know Katy Perry, you’ll probably have heard her somewhere – for over the past two and a half years, her biggest hits have been pretty much inescapable. They’re the sort of emphatically hooky pop monsters that lodge in your brain after a couple of plays, even if you’re only half-listening. You’ll have heard them blaring out of car windows, or leaking out of noisy bars, or soundtracking your fast food purchases.
But even if you do know something about Katy Perry, you wouldn’t have learnt much more about her by the end of last night’s witty, colourful, but somewhat over-scripted spectacle at the Capital FM Arena. As you’d expect, she played the part of the brash, fun-loving showgirl to a tee, but her stage persona never slipped for an instant, and it was hard to read much expression behind those amazing, cat-like eyes.
We did pick up a few little nuggets of personal information along the way, though. “I feel like I’m English now”, she told us. “You’ve adopted me.” Perhaps guided by the influence of her husband Russell Brand, Katy has developed a love of English food: bubble and squeak, and roast dinners with Yorkshire pudding, which she claims to eat every Sunday. (“I can hardly fit into my costumes!”)
“I have become a lover of football”, she squealed. “Anyone here from Nudding-ham County?” Whoops. A few scattered boos echoed around the hall. “Don’t you like your home town? What about Nudding-ham Forest?” Even louder boos. Bad move, Katy. But she was on safer territory when naming her favourite TV programmes: My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and The Only Way Is Essex (“but I can’t understand what anyone is saying!”) drew roars of approval.
Billed as the “California Dreams” tour, the show was cleverly themed around a fairy tale concept, with heavy nods to The Wizard Of Oz and Alice In Wonderland. The live performances were interspersed with imaginatively shot film clips, which traced the journey of Katy and her cat (named “Kitty Purry” – feel free to groan) as they made their way through a dream-like fantasy world, on their way to the “Big City Baker’s Ball”.
The fairy tale theme was reflected in the stage set, which was adorned with giant lollipops and enormous cup cakes, and in the almost pantomime-like costumes worn by the players. As for Katy’s dazzling array of outfits, which transformed after almost every number as layers were either added or shed, you had to wonder whether she was chasing a place in the record books for the largest number of costume changes ever witnessed on a concert stage. During Hot N Cold alone, Katy worked her way through six different frocks, stepping in and out of makeshift changing rooms with a magician’s flair. Best of all was her opening ensemble, which coupled a scarlet, heart-shaped bustier top with a puffball skirt that was seemingly spun from pink candy floss.
Given that many of the songs – Waking Up In Vegas, Last Friday Night, I Kissed A Girl – are about over-indulging, losing control and behaving recklessly, the dream-like staging rendered them almost harmless, as if the over-the-top antics were only happening in the pages of a story book. At one point in the show, Katy was tempted by a huge chocolate brownie, wielded by a pair of mime artists. As it turned out, the brownie contained an extra “magic ingredient”, which cast a spell over the hapless innocent, causing her to see, say and do the strangest things. Not only did this provide a handy excuse for her more outrageous behaviour – it also had the effect of slapping a PG certificate on the more racy material, making this a show that even pre-teens could safely watch and enjoy.
The show climaxed with the “Big City Baker’s Ball” itself, during which a now blue-wigged Katy dragged excited audience members onto the stage for – appropriately enough – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me). The anthemic Firework provided the emotional high-point of the night, and California Gurls formed the grand finale, as the beaming pop star – now in a skirt made entirely out of cupcakes, flanked by rows of dancing gingerbread men – hoofed and vamped at the front of the stage, lapping up our excitement with unabashed glee.
Katy Perry returns to the Arena on November 5th. If you’re a lover of high camp, glittering spectacle and noisy, catchy, brutally effective pop, you’d be daft to miss it.
Set list: Teenage Dream, Hummingbird Heartbeat, Waking Up In Vegas, Ur So Gay, Peacock, I Kissed A Girl, Circle The Drain, E.T., Who Am I Living For?, Pearl, Not Like The Movies, Only Girl (In the World), Big Pimpin’, Born This Way, Whip My Hair, Thinking Of You, Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground), Hot N Cold, Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.), I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), Firework, California Gurls.
For Sue and John Hawkins – Block 8, Row R, perched high in a far-flung corner – Elbow’s first arena show in Nottingham proved to be a night to remember. Introducing Open Arms, the most anthemic and arena-friendly track on Elbow’s new album, Guy Garvey sought them out by name, block and row number, announcing that they were “officially further away from the stage than anyone else in the room”. And the name-checks didn’t stop there, either. During the course of Elbow’s two hour show, we were introduced to Craig – who had been spotted refusing to sing along when instructed – and to Sam and Sam, who had chosen to spend the evening before their wedding at an Elbow gig. (“Sam and Sam? That’s going to be confusing for your children. Oh, hang on, they’ll just call you Mum and Dad…”)
As well as these personal touches, other devices were used to create a sense of intimacy in the cavernous hall. Plenty of arena acts use central platforms linked by runways these days, but few front men make as much use of them as Garvey, who constantly strutted back and forth between the main stage and the middle of the room, shaking hands and accepting pats on the back. “I feel like Leslie Crowther”, he said at one point – and at times, there was something game-show host-like about his genial, witty patter.
“This band will have been together for twenty years in June”, Garvey announced, before wondering whether this would qualify them for entry onto Mr And Mrs (the TV quiz that tests married couples’ knowledge of each other). “Just because it’s something else we could win”, he quipped – then immediately apologised for his smugness. (“Pride comes before a fall, doesn’t it?”)
Part of Elbow’s charm rests on the fact that they never actively strove to become an arena act. Their breakthrough album, The Seldom Seen Kid, was conceived when the band were struggling, without even a recording contract. Its slow-building, word-of-mouth success was unexpected, and received with a profound gratitude that persists to this day. They didn’t thrust themselves upon us; we came to them.
Faced with the challenge of scaling up their live show, the band has risen to the occasion magnificently. Their songs fill the room, but the tenderness and grace of the material survives intact. The new album (Build A Rocket Boys!) deals with themes of childhood and nostalgia, and although less than two weeks old, the new songs displayed a stature that sat well with the more familiar numbers. The album’s epic first track The Birds opened the show, setting the standard high. Lippy Kids was delivered with arresting delicacy, and Neat Little Rows – as close to a grinding rocker as the band are prepared to get – was particularly effective. Its greasy-riffed counterpart from the previous album, Grounds For Divorce, was another highlight; surprisingly so, given that many of us had probably heard it a few times too many over the past three years. It offered a teasing glimpse of the noisy rock band that Elbow could easily have been, had they chosen to walk a different path.
For the final encore – the inevitable One Day Like This – Guy Garvey leapt from the stage, dashed through the main floor to the back of the hall, then clambered all the way up to Block 8, Row R, where he greeted a startled but beaming Sue and John Hawkins. The final few refrains of Elbow’s best known anthem were delivered from the worst seats in the house, Garvey’s arm draped over Sue’s shoulder. Man of the people, our Guy. Maybe one day like this a year would see all of us right.
Set list: The Birds, The Bones of You, Lippy Kids, Mirrorball, With Love, Neat Little Rows, The Night Will Always Win, Great Expectations, Grounds for Divorce, The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver, Puncture Repair, Some Riot, Weather To Fly, Open Arms, Starlings, Station Approach, One Day Like This.
Buena Vista Social Club featuring Omara Portuondo – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Wednesday March 16.
Thrust onto the global stage following the runaway success of its 1997 debut album (and the 1999 documentary film which followed), the Buena Vista Social Club has, for many people, been almost synonymous with Cuban music ever since. If there are younger, fresher, less traditional players out there, steering their country’s music in new directions, then most of us have yet to hear them. And given that most of the club’s members are on the far side of seventy, with a few players now entering their ninth decades, one has to wonder how many more chapters are left in this story of late-blooming good fortune.
Although many of the best-known characters from that first flush of international success – Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Compay Segundo – are no longer with us, the show rolls on with a shifting line-up. Star billing is now given to four players, one of whom – guitarist Manuel Galbán – was mysteriously absent from last night’s show. Trombonist Aguaje Ramos effusively led the band, while trumpeter Guajiro Mirabal – an incongruously sombre figure, who bore a curious resemblance to Alan Whicker – parped somewhat stiffly from the far right of the stage.
Saving her entrance for the second half of the two-hour show, the veteran singer Omara Portuondo enchanted the crowd from the moment that she stepped from the wings. At the age of eighty, her voice isn’t quite what it once was – but what she has lost in emotional range, she has made up for with enthusiastic, slightly self-mocking vigour. Cheekily referring to tres player Papi Oviedo as her husband – she is in fact single and very much available, as she revealed to the Post last week – Omara flirted with performers and audience alike, hitching her gown above her ankles and chanting “sexy, sexy” between numbers.
Omara’s presence lifted the whole mood of the show, after a somewhat tepid first hour that was mostly buoyed by the enormous goodwill of the crowd. As the newly energised players found their focus, the dancing began and the party got going.
As for the other players, pianist Rolando Luna erred at times towards an overly florid supper-club style, interspersing his solos with quotes from As Time Goes By and Yesterday. However, the best solo of the night came from percussionist Filiberto Sanches: a distinguished, almost professorial gentleman who suddenly sprang into action on his timbales, with a wonderful display of rhythmic dexterity. Other lead vocals were supplied by two of the younger members of the line-up – most notably by the elegant, statuesque Idania Valdes, who could well be a future star in the making.
As the night drew to its climax, the years fell away from the elderly musicians, and the flavour of Havana’s dance halls was successfully evoked. Two nights into their UK tour, with twenty-five dates still to come, the Social Club remain an unstoppable force, fuelled by the greatest tonic of them all: the sheer joy of making music.
Their styles might be very different, but their sounds are equally distinctive. And last night at Rock City, we were afforded the privilege of witnessing two of this country’s finest bass players – Norman Watt-Roy and JJ Burnel – billed side by side.
An increasingly Dickensian-looking Norman, his features contorted with concentration and delight, played alongside Wilko Johnson, his former cohort in Ian Dury’s Blockheads. Wilko first made his name as part of Dr Feelgood, the band whose malevolent energy helped pave the way for the punk revolution. Although Wilko cuts a somewhat more benign figure these days, his legendary thousand-yard stare and his choppy duck-walk survive intact. And although the two old friends barely looked at each other on stage, their instinctive rapport shone through, over the course of thirty-five splendid minutes of supercharged rhythm and blues.
If much of the first wave of UK punk was underpinned by a certain strain of moral righteousness, then The Stranglers were always a band who kicked against the rules. As if to remind us of the controversy which always seemed to surround them, they opened their set with the 1977 album track I Feel Like A Wog: a bitter blast against racial prejudice, whose deployment of a term of abuse that fell from common usage thirty years ago still has the power to shock.
However, there’s a fine line between the iconoclastic and the puerile, and by reviving the almost equally ancient Two Sunspots – a silly ode to a prominent part of the female anatomy – the band teetered on the brink of crossing that line. The track’s jaunty bounce sat strangely in the middle of a rather subdued section of the set, which felt geared more towards the diehard fans down the front than the less expert folk at the back.
Then again, The Stranglers have never been about cosy nostalgia. Still very much a creative unit, they gave an airing to some unreleased new material – including the wistful Freedom Is Insane, in which JJ assumed the character of a disillusioned soldier, longing to escape to a desert island.
As for the classics – of which there were plenty – Nice ‘N’ Sleazy showcased JJ’s playing at its inventive best, his bass acting as the track’s lead instrument. Always The Sun drew the loudest vocals from the crowd, and No More Heroes raised the noisiest cheers – not least for Dave Greenfield’s one-handed keyboard solo, performed as he coolly downed most of his remaining glass of beer.
Special mention should also be made of the impromptu duet between JJ and guitarist/vocalist Baz Warne, hamming their way through Marlene Dietrich’s Falling In Love Again as the roadies fixed a piece of beer-soaked kit. “You’re still a c—” said Baz, pointing at the beer-chucker, “but you’re a nice c—”. Perhaps the “men in black” are mellowing after all.
A shorter version of this interview originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.
I was whiling away the time before the interview looking up your dialling code, and you appear to be in Frome in Somerset. What are you doing there?
Well spotted. We’re at Chateau Stranglers, the Stranglers headquarters, which includes our management’s office, workshops, a recording studio, a rehearsal studio, and a bit of accommodation. And Tucker’s Grave, a cider house about a quarter of a mile down the lane. Two albums ago, on Norfolk Coast, we actually did a song called Tucker’s Grave, because it was a source of great inspiration. You don’t need more than two pints before you are… well, you know, it’s cider-delic.
When we last spoke, about twelve months ago, Decades Apart was just about to come out, and you were just about to do your previous UK tour. What sort of year did 2010 turn out to be for The Stranglers?
It was very good for The Stranglers. We played Glastonbury for the first time ever, after having been banished for thirty-odd years.
What was the cause of the banishment?
Thirty years ago, when we were asked to headline it, it was associated with CND, which it no longer is. And at the time, I’d done my economics and other studies, and unlike most of my peers and my generation of students, I was quite suspicious of CND. I had a few reasons to think that unilateralism didn’t make sense. No one seemed to think beyond that. They just thought: yes, look, we don’t want them, ban the bomb. And I was thinking to myself: but hold on, we get rid of our bomb and they still keep theirs? That’s what unilateralism was about. The Russians would keep their nuclear deterrents, but we would get rid of ours. It didn’t make sense to me. And everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. And of course, it wasn’t as if we were supportive of nuclear bombs or nuclear anything.
So you stopped short of saying that they were wonderful devices?
Yeah, we weren’t saying that at all, but there was this bandwagon. There are mass hysterias every now and then in this country. The Diana thing was another great example of that. But at the time, I was convinced that there was something dodgy about it. When the Soviet Union collapsed, and they released lots of information, which had been hitherto kept secret, it transpired that all the unilateralist peace movements in the west had been financed by Moscow. And I instinctively knew it. Michael Eavis held that against us for a while, until last year. And it was great, a perfect day, the best weather they’ve had at Glastonbury for years. It convinced me that in fact, God is a Stranglers fan.
I’ve never been to Glastonbury myself, but I have a number of friends who went, some considerably my junior, and they were talking about it as one of the highlights.
Which was a result I think, because we’re not necessarily of the generation of most of the punters there. We had 85,000 people, and we were given a good slot. We were given nearly an hour, which is quite a lot for one of these. We were mid-afternoon, we had 85,000 people, and they did not move. It was pretty amazing to see so many young people mouthing our lyrics, which warmed the cockles of my heart.
I feel compelled to ask you about the performance clip I saw on YouTube from over the summer, involving some loose dentures. What went on there, then?
(Laughs) It was a horrible, horrible night. We were in the wilds of Hereford, and it was just awful. It was drenched, it was waterlogged, it was muddy, and then the keyboards packed up. But we had a good time anyway. We thought: right, we’ll have a few more glasses of wine on stage, and just get into it. Some bloke jumped up over the barrier, onto the stage, and started jumping up and down. And suddenly these teeth – these gnashers – bounced out of his face, and landed right by my very muddy DMs. I looked at him, and he started to gurn at me. So I just pushed them over to him. He blew off some mud, and stuck them back in. And of course it just killed us.
I think it’s wonderful that toothlessness doesn’t dent his commitment to the cause.
Absolutely, but it made me fantasise: at least I could get a gum job, as opposed to a blow job! I’ve added it to the boxes I have to tick off before I die.
This time last year, I was talking to you about Retro Rockets, and I was teasing you about it being your “grumpy old man” single, complaining about how the charts aren’t the same any more. But I was looking at some statistics today, and it would appear that it was rather a prescient warning. In the UK Top 50 singles charts, as of this week, the highest placed rock song is only at Number 42. And if you look at the 100 best selling singles in the UK during 2008, 27 were rock – whereas in 2010, there were only three. And the biggest selling rock single in the UK last year was Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey, which is nearly thirty years old. So there is almost no representation of guitar-based rock music within mainstream pop any more.
I think that worldwide, fortunately, it’s different. But at the moment, it’s just pappy poo stuff, which appears to twelve year-olds.
Does it matter, though?
No, the charts don’t matter any more. Which is a shame, because I’m from a generation who grew up thinking it did matter.
And rock survives in other ways.
Yes, it survives live, it survives in album sales, and it has spread worldwide. But in the UK, you’re right. It’s disappeared. But then, who wants twelve year olds to come to your gigs?
Well, I stood next to a twelve year-old – actually, he was probably even younger than that, maybe nine or ten – at your Rock City gig last year.
Yeah, at the gigs we’re getting loads of younger people, teenagers and stuff, and that’s great.
It was quite a sight, actually. He really did know every word, and his face was kind of screwed up in concentration.
Oh, that’s cool. And they’re free thinkers.
Barely a week goes past without more bad news for the music industry. Do these kinds of pressures impact in any way on your band, or have you reached a stage where you’re kind of impervious to it all?
I think it’s a shame, but then we’re rueing or regretting something which is from a previous time. So, now is now. But it doesn’t impact so much on The Stranglers. I think the music industry committed a collective suicide when it started jumping on bandwagons and not nurturing talent. It got taken over by accountants, who only thought short-term. So instead of nurturing talent over two or three albums, if they didn’t recoup their investment within six months, you were out on your ear. And there’s also their complete inability to understand the digital revolution. So they kind of brought it upon themselves.
And it doesn’t impact upon your creative process either. Is there new material in the pipeline?
There is, actually. We’re going to play some of it live. People in the past would have said: ooh no, you’re going to get bootlegs. So fucking what, you know? In fact, we can afford the luxury of doing what we did with our first two albums. With any young band, you play your own original material, and by the time you get the chance to record it, it’s honed. You know how it works, and where it works.
And your fan base might already be familiar with it. The songs may almost be like old friends.
Absolutely. But after that, you get on this treadmill. You record it first, and then you play it live, which is arse about face really.
What are the new songs like, and what sort of areas are you touching on?
One’s wistful; the middle eight is about a guy who has been to Iraq, and who was thinking he was going to be accepted as a rock and roll hero, a star, in his Humvee. And it turns out no one likes him. It’s about the wistfulness of preferring to be on a desert island with the one you love, and rubbing out a footprint in the sand before the one you love sees it. Another one starts off with the line: “Once there were giants, walking amongst us; now I have to deal with little men with little hearts”. And there’s a metal-ish type tango which we’re working on. There aren’t enough of them. You can’t get enough.
How do you work out the set list? Is it a democratic process, in terms of adding songs and booting old ones out?
Yeah, and in fact we’re actually going to play old songs which we’ve never played live before.
Can you give me an example?
No, certainly not. That would spoil it.
You’ve got Wilko Johnson supporting you. When did you first meet?
He’s my old flatmate. I was sharing a flat with him in 1977. I saw the Feelgoods in 1975 or 1976 with Hugh [Cornwell], and we were gobsmacked.
Did you see Julian Temple’s film [Oil City Confidential] about Wilko and Dr Feelgood?
Absolutely. In fact, I gave Julian and Wilko the Mojo awards. I was asked to give them the awards for the movie.
You took to the stage at Rock City early last year, at about 7:30, whereas most bands at Rock City come on at around nine.
I think they’d got a curfew, because they’d got a club thing afterwards.
The interesting thing was that nobody was caught out. You have such a strong community amongst your fans, that the word just sort of spread – which I found completely remarkable.
We’ve always seen it as a form of communion. I think you get the fans that you deserve. So they’re free-thinking, pretty bright – I like to think of them as that – and they have dispensed with the prejudices which have been demonstrated against us, and they make their own bloody minds up.
Do they ever voice criticisms, and are the criticisms heard?
Absolutely, yeah – which is quite interesting to deal with.
Well, it’s more trustworthy than slavish adulation.
That’s the kind of people I prefer. Sometimes they get pissed off with us, and tell us in no uncertain terms, which I think is good. It’s healthy.
Their loyalty and their continuing interest must help to protect you against the trap which has hit so many bands who came up at the same time as you, in that you’ve never had that slide into becoming a pure nostalgia act.
No, that wouldn’t excite me in any way – even in the erectile sense. That’s not what we’re about. But I’m not ashamed of our heritage, if you want to call it that.
You’re calling it the Black And Blue tour. Your band’s association with the colour black is the stuff of legend, but you’re now adding a new shade to your palette. Where has the blue come from?
Well, we nearly called it Black And Blues, because of Wilko. But it’s going to be a dominant colour, and also a play on ideas, and what we’ve had to get through, to be here.
As in: it’s been a bruising experience?
Yeah, quite a lot!
Given that they couldn’t even remember the release date of their debut album, it’s fair to say that Jonny – a side-project comprising Scotsman Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub) and Welshman Euros Childs (formerly of Gorkys Zygotic Mynci) – are an act with nothing to prove. And given the number of false starts and mid-song cock-ups that peppered their set, it was clear that neither performer was taking the venture too seriously.
The stumbles – most of which were related to Euros’s inability to set the right tempo on his drum machine – were shrugged off with easy-going humour, and the duo’s relaxed geniality and unforced charm characterised the whole show.
Blending Blake’s lyrical romanticism with Childs’ wide-eyed whimsy, Jonny’s songs are light, tuneful, cheerful, and steeped in pop tradition. The quaintly old-fashioned lyrics stem from a more innocent time: when girlfriends were addressed as “ladies”, when lovers sent each other letters, when music fans accumulated “videos and tapes” that would “never be erased”, and when it was deemed perfectly acceptable to write tender odes to the simple joys of bread and butter.
Seven dates into the tour, album track Circling The Sun was given its debut performance. “We’ve sung it before”, explained Euros, “and we’ve played it instrumentally before, but we’ve never sung it and played it at the same time.” And yes, it showed – but then again, it scarcely mattered.
Don McCalman worked through the dark ages of Nottingham nightlife; a time when door staff were bouncers, a lobbing down a flight of stairs was an acceptable way to deal with an errant customer and the profession was completely unregulated. Then he wrote a book about it…
How long have you been working the doors?
I started over 40 years ago. I’ve worked the Royal Hotel for 27 years, and I used to have 16 doormen on there, because of all the restaurants. I used to run the George Hotel, the Mint Bar, the Ossington in Newark, the Daisy Club and lots more, all over Nottingham. At the Palais, I’ve seen blokes being chucked down the stairs. We were bouncers then. But if you were in a situation where it got out of control and someone was going to hit you with a bottle, then you had to take it further.
How often have you felt in serious danger?
Many times: it’s a dangerous job. I’ve had my son working for me and I was glad when he packed up. The trouble is we’re now getting knives and guns. If you get someone on drugs and he says to you that he’s got a gun, you have to take it seriously.
How do you deal with that fear?
It doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not frightened of anything. When you’re on the door, you can’t back off – if you do, you’d be known as a coward and nobody would work with you. If you’re going to get a beating, you’re going to have to take it. For example, when I was a young man I was doing The Rose on Parliament Street and this guy hit his girlfriend. He was with a load of lads and I got them all out and made sure the girl was all right. She phoned her father and he came down and thanked me. Then when I walked out later, someone hit me from behind. They found me on the dustbin in the morning.
Do you have to consciously keep your emotions under control?
Oh yeah, you have to. One minute it’s “Oh, please mate, please let me in, honest, I’ll behave” and next thing you’re a bastard. They’ll do everything to get inside you. Spitting in your face, calling you a nonce and all that. They want to get a rise out of you. But you never lose your temper. They go across the road, and they stand there abusing you for a while, and then they go.
Does anybody ever come back and apologise?
Yeah, lots of times. Nice lads will come back the next week. “Mate, I’m ever so sorry for what I did last week, for swearing at you and all that.” Then they’ll say, can I come in tonight? “Yeah, all right, you can come in.” Or sometimes I’ll say, “No, but thanks for apologising and come back to see me next week.”
So has Nottingham become more dangerous over the years?
It’s mixed. It’s got dangerous from the point of weapons. I think that most of the trouble is to do with “you’re on my patch.” I know people who live in St Ann’s, where I was born, who won’t go in one area because they’re frightened. And because the other bloke’s got a knife, they feel safer with a knife. I’ve been at bars where I’ve seen the jackets sticking up – so you know they’ve got the knife, at the back, in their trousers. Everybody drinks too much now – they don’t know what they’re doing, then they wonder what they’ve done the next day.
Is boozing more of a problem now?
Some people just go out to get drunk and cause trouble and some of the girls get absolutely legless. I’ve gone up Parliament Street and you can see them, she doesn’t know she’s having sex, she doesn’t know anything about it. A girl said to me one night, “I’m gonna slit you and pull your liver out.” I had another woman try to get a bottle to hit me. So I had to get her arm and say to her “If you do any more, or if you try and kick me again, I’m going to throw you down the stairs.” Sometimes you have to use that sort of attitude to people. You can’t just say to them, now be a good girl and pat them on the head. Because they won’t take that – they’ll have a go at you.
If you were able to pass any new legislation to make Nottingham city centre a safer place to be at night, what would you do?
I’d cut down closing times to how they were before. I think two o’clock in the morning is ample. I would never have increased the drinking time. If you leave the pub at eleven, it still gives you three hours to drink.
Do you get noticed when you’re not on the job?
I was once in Walkabout, and there were about eight lads with baseball hats. I could remember chucking them out of the Royal. One of them came over and said “Do you remember us? Do you want to come outside now?” Then suddenly, all the bouncers were around them and they went “Have you got a problem, Don? So I say to these lads, “Have we got a problem?” They went, but in a different circumstance, they’d have followed me.
Your autobiography The Bouncer came out last year. How did it come about?
When I first wrote it, I never thought of selling it. It was just for my family. But people took an interest and I was told to ring this guy called John Parker in London. I sent it down to him and he re-wrote it. He likened it to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
The book is even prefaced with; ‘Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not’.
I’ve done quite a lot in my life. But being a doorman has cost me.
In what way?
Being who I am, everywhere I go now, I’m on my own. Everybody knows me as dressed in black, and you get this reputation. When I was a young man, I used to love it, but now it gets very lonely. People can think all sorts – they make you like you’re a gangster and you’re not. I wouldn’t have been the vice-chairman of the Door Watch Committee, for one and I’m well known to the police, as I always did a good job.
You write about being severely bullied as a child. How did that affect you?
When I was a lad, I was really bullied. I was claustrophobic and frightened of going outside. Then when I was about sixteen or seventeen, I saw the guy that used to beat me on Porchester Road. All this hate came inside me and I went and knocked seven bells out of him. Once I did that, I changed from being timid to not being frightened. It was already there, but I was too scared to use it. Then I changed and I was always gang leader. With my mates, I was always the top man. I had jet black hair and there were all the ladies, of which I had a hell of a lot. But I can always remember my wife saying to me: one day, you’re going to end up on your own. And she was dead right.