I have just - just! - returned from The Old Truman Brewery on London's Brick Lane, where Pete Townshend has been promoting his recently-published autobiography 'Who I Am'. He was interviewed by Will Hodgkinson, participated in a question and answer session with the audience and signed many-a copy of said publication.
I arrived at the venue at almost exactly 6.45pm, fifteen minutes before the event was due to begin. I'd walked a quick walk from Aldgate tube station as I didn't know how far along Brick Lane I was going to have to go; as I passed Rough Trade East on my left I saw a large chimney with TRUMAN written on it in front of me to the right - a good sight. The Old Truman Brewery is another one of those undeniably impressive buildings that would probably have been demolished by now if someone hadn't come up with the idea of using it for something other than the job it was originally intended for, and walking in you have to think that it's a good job that they did. To the right was a Waterstones stall piled high with books, to the left an audience of maybe a couple of hundred with a small stage in the centre facing the assembled multitude. I bought a book (you just knew that I would didn't you?!?) and found a seat next to a studious-looking chap who looked to be making short work of The Times crossword. A live recording of The Who could just be heard over the massed mumbling. Good.
Around ten past seven a ripple of applause found it's way around the room as a young lady attempted to introduce the evening. Sadly her words were hardly heard, as as her microphone either let out a wall of feedback or didn't work at all. This situation continued throughout the first few minutes of the Townshend / Hodgkinson exchange which annoyed large sections of the audience (which I think is rather ironic, given Townshend's pioneering use of feedback on guitar, and indeed the row that his band were capable of making!) although things were more-or-less sorted out (PT apologised for being late as he'd travelled by train meaning that there was no time to check the microphones) in the end. The interview went well and was very interesting, with Townshend giving some typically involved answers and swearing a bit too much for the people in front of me - again, a bit ironic don't you think? After 45 minutes or so of regaling us with tales of Moonie and The Ox, his ongoing relationship with Roger Daltrey and more it was time for questions from the fans - again the microphones went wrong, again Townshend didn't scrimp on the answers - before the previously calm and genial audience became a seething rugby scrum hell bent on destruction. This could only mean one thing - yes, it was time to get your book signed... confusion reigned for a few minutes as no one seemed to be sure where Townshend would be sitting - I found myself near the back of the queue (I always seem to find myself near the back of the queue!) as order was restored. Judging by the number of people in front of me the Waterstones stall had clearly been been very busy - as we shuffled our way towards our quest people wondered if he'd sign all the books or if he'd get bored and leave early.
After a half an hour I was a few people away from the front of the queue. The staff were friendly, asking us to have our books open ready at the title page and smiling cheerily as we all complied. I gave my (open) book to the gentleman to the left of where Pete was sitting and suddenly I was face to face with the man himself, the nearest I have to a hero. Oo-er... he looked up at me, smiled (a bit) and signed the book with a black felt pen and a large flourish. Excellent. He looked up and smiled (a bit) again and I suddenly thought that I could say something like 'hello Pete, I'm Leigh, you're the reason that I play guitar, no really you are, and I play guitar with Ruts D.C., you know, Segs and Ruffy's band, you used to know Paul Fox as well didn't you? Can we have some gigs with The 'Oo please?' I decided against this (a wise decision don't you think?) and instead said 'brilliant, thank you'. He said 'thank you' quietly and smiled (a bit) again as he gamely shook my hand.
I walked away, putting my book back into the Waterstones plastic bag provided as I did so. I then realised that I was dying for a pee.
On my way to look for the toilet I bumped into Mark of Monkey Picks fame. After exchanging hellos he asked if I'd got my 'bit of scribble'? 'Yeah' I said, rather more nonchalantly than I thought I would. And why not? They (whoever 'they' are) say that you should never meet your heroes, and 'they' may well be correct. And I haven't met mine have I? - well, not really anyway. But I'm well pleased with my book. I might even read it one day!