Andy Warhol. Our handshake is ice cold. This isn’t a metaphor, his eyes are warm but we’ve both been clutching our champagne flutes too hard. Little Nell’s isn’t the biggest club in New York but on this opening night it’s the most crowded.
We’re both being encouraged to move away from the bar by our separate entourages. “London drummer”, he says. “The hair”. It’s the early 80s and I’m in the vanguard of white cover stars with dreadlocks. I’ve been living in New York for a year and, although starting off in Chelsea, I’ve now got a spacious apartment uptown on 108th Street and Broadway. Harlem starts at 110th Street and a lot of my American friends are anxious about coming up ‘this far’ to see me. Caroline will though, she’s from London too and she’s got a beat up Cadillac. We always seem to park on the wrong side of the street at night and have to move it in the morning. I never mind though, however hungover I am. We’re fifth-floor-walk-up-rock’n’roll-pirates.
New York is awash with free champagne and I’ve developed a taste for it. I’m invited to everything. Half the time I don’t have a bean to my name but who’s counting? As long as I swoop in like a star and eyeball the doorman with that, “Hello again mate” attitude I’m in.
But then Christmas comes and everyone goes home. I need to sober up anyway, it’s quite easy to burn out in this city. I volunteer to work with an organisation feeding the homeless. We’re approached by restaurants that are keen to stay open on Xmas day. With my graphic design skills I’m put in charge of looking after the publicity and, in the way of things, a leaflet turns into a pamphlet into an eight page Newspaper with interviews, sponsored ads, and all the addresses of places homeless people can eat over the holidays.
Accidentally, probably because of my English accent, I become one of the ‘voices’ of the organisation and I’m invited to the radio station in the Empire State Building where I’m asked to describe the UK’s Welfare State as an example of compassionate social care. I have to choose my words carefully with Margaret Thatcher currently at the helm. However, I manage to stay upbeat by referring to The National Health’s noble roots. My words, and accompanying music tracks, are being broadcast out of that aerial on top of the Empire State. It’s a kind of philanthropic Desert Island Discs.
“Tom, I’m going to read something you wrote in your paper describing the candlelit march that many of us were on recently, publicising the plight of the homeless in our city” my interviewer says. You say, “I came to New York looking for the bright lights and found them on many blurred dance floors. But I discovered the brightest and clearest lights in the hearts of strangers on our Manhattan March for the Homeless”. He pauses for effect. “That’s quite poetic, before we get to your next song, have you ever thought of being a writer”
“Me? No, I’m just a drummer. Ask Andy”.