Shattered glass is flying across The Camden Palace foyer in London. Grimacing bouncers have me in their sights. Suddenly I’m pushing backwards through the expectant clubbers on the steps and speeding up Camden High Street like the Road Runner. “Beep beep!”
It’s midnight and all I want to do is dance. However, if I’m caught I’ll never dance again. Luckily I’ve been doing the Jane Fonda workout every morning for months. Not in preparation for this unexpected moment, but my 80s drumming fitness regime sure is coming in handy right now.
I awake at noon and my inner critic gets busy. I’m barred forever from The Camden Palace, I can never go back there. Word gets around fast in Clubland and I’m barred from every dance floor in London. It’s hopeless. I’m such an idiot. Banished.
After my third coffee I get on the phone to Steve Strange. “I understand your frustration Tom,” he says. “Some nights, if Emma’s not on the door, the bouncers make these random decisions about who to let in and who NOT to let in”.
“Random, yeah, that’s what happened. As you know Steve I’m a regular. The Palace is ten minutes from my house and, whatever gig I’ve been to, I always drop in on the way home. You and The Wag have got the most reliable dance floors in London”.
Steve takes a breath. “So, let me get this straight. They didn’t like the look of you, you protested, so they shut the door and locked it? Whenever did that become our door policy?”
I keep quiet.
“The doors are glass panelled. You put your elbow through the one next to the lock to get your hand through to unlock it, and they chased you up the street. Given that we’re talking now I’m assuming they didn’t catch you.”
“Yeah, that’s about it. Sorry about your door mate.”
Thirty years later my crazy renaissance brain invents a disco ball survival strategy out of this shattered glass escapade.
There are five stages to the ‘Disco Ball’ model. ‘Banished’ is the ice blue outer circle, nowhere near the glitter ball in the centre and not even inside the venue. Which right now I can’t get into. I’m out in the cold. Forever it seems.
“Let me have a word Tom. We want you on our dance floor, you’re good for business. Give me a couple of hours”.
Three days later I’m back through the door. The entire security team, a subculture of their own, are keeping a watchful eye on me though. One false move and it doesn’t matter what Steve says, I’ll be tonight’s punchbag.
Check the graphic. I’ve reached the second phase, the corporate blue ring, a compliant face in ‘the audience’. There’s an element of “I need to be on my best behaviour” about my return. I have to keep proving that I’m a worthy guest of this fine establishment.
Word doesn’t get about after all, that was just anxious self-talk. The following Saturday I’m at the Kensington Roof Gardens strutting my stuff in a fashion show. I’ve been chosen because of my natural locks, it’s an exotic theme and I fit the bill on their circular catwalk. It’s amazing how things can turn on a sixpence in this town. I’m not only IN, I’ve ‘arrived’. Sort of. Backstage I’m not being treated like the star people are seeing on the catwalk at all. They’re quite rude in fact, strapping me in and out of outfits, telling me how to dance for each theme. A less enlightened person might begin to feel a touch resentful. Sure, I do it, I’m living the champagne dream but, to be honest, my enthusiasm is decreasing the more I get ordered about. I’m a dancer but I’m not free. I’m their animated mannequin. Spotlit in this hallowed orange ring I’m dancing to someone else’s song. I’m dancing to their micro-management number.
Ah, that’s better. Choreographer. Red. Upstairs at WestWay Studios I’ve requisitioned an empty creative space as my very own programming suite. Lipstick red sofas and slick black office chairs. There’s an element of Andy Warhol’s factory here. Cables, keyboards, drums and screens. “They’re setting up for the next mix down there,” says Bowie. “It’s all a bit technical. We’re coming up to where the real action is. What are you working on right now Tom?”
Wherever David Bowie goes others follow. I give out a few drums, hit a few buttons and soon there’s seven of us letting our hair down around a raucous sequencer jam. I scrawled out a tentative chorus earlier and I’m singing it over the Yamaha DX7 chords…
“My love is electrical
Wired up wrong
With a Desire Defect
Can’t turn it off when it turns on”.
David is joining in with a harmony on the ‘Desire Defect’ but the others, who can’t see the words, are just hearing “desired effect”. It’s a play on words but, without explanation, their commitment seems to be lacking. I try to crank it up by inputting a faster tempo in to this prototype sequencer but that simply crashes it. I’m clapping now and trying too hard to keep my new song alive acapella. To be honest I’m committing the gravest of musical sins and trying to force the groove. I should laugh, graciously, but I’m still imagining my new song is going to be on Bowie’s next album, which he’s going to call ‘Desire Dfekt’
“Hey, we’re ready!” comes a voice from downstairs. Suddenly I’m not in Andy Warhol’s Factory at all, I’m all alone in a glorified West London loft and someone has left the toaster on. It pops up, burned.
This inner red ‘Choreography’ ring’s predominant energy is that of desire. Things get done there but it can be disconnecting if I’m not careful. Pop psychologists say the next lesson you need to learn in life will be presented to you in many different forms until you eventually learn it.
“Don’t try to push the river and don’t try to force the groove Tom”. Today is the day that particular penny drops.
October 2021. Lockdown. All nightclubs have been closed for months because of the covid pandemic. What an unlikely time for me to reach the very centre of this model and be standing under the glitter ball. For real.
“We’ve still got twenty minutes to go and we’ve just smashed our target” says my client’s voice in my headphones over the top of ‘Human’ by the Killers. This is my seventy first Zoom ‘Rockstar Activator’ session online.
I feel like I’m dancing wildly with a hundred rockstar people but actually I’m alone and grooving on the spot. Four cameras are pointing at me silently. I’m spotlit and broadcasting to a company in America from my home studio sharing my computer sound. It’s BIG.
As well as all the ZOOM dancers, in their rockstar shades, hats and feather boas, there is a QR code always on our ZOOM screen, live in every home in 52 States. This means my American guests can donate to my friends at Odlum House Of Grass in Kenya while they dance, purely by holding their phones up to their laptop screens and giving whatever they feel moved to give. It’s a risk, they received the pitch a few weeks ago. I don’t think anyone has ever done this before. We’re innovating live.
Our target is to raise £3K in an hour and we’ve done it in 40 minutes. My Kenyan friends can now build their dining hall and community centre at the orphanage I’ve been supporting for a decade. No pushing the river, no forcing the groove, I can feel it, standing here under the glitter ball I am in FLOW.
I wonder what all the fuss was about. This is easy. Lol.
I’m presenting this ‘Disco Ball’ model to a group of thirty teachers and asking them where, individually, they place themselves right now.
“This place is bright orange, I can speak for us all”.
That’s the deputy head. This is at a prestigious North London school.
I’m also showing it, on a hastily scribbled flip chart, to a group of twenty five NHS admin staff and asking them where, individually, they place themselves right now.
“I started under the disco ball but I was orange within a fortnight”.
“Took me a month but, yes, orange, I’m sorry to say it. We’re a really close team and we’re dedicated to doing the right thing, but, as you say, we’re dancing to someone else’s song and, to be honest, they haven’t got a clue about the groove”.
That’s the head of HR. This is for real at a Central London team building event.
There’s laughter too as they recognise and ‘own’ their positions on the map I’ve flipped up. Laughter is a safety valve but there’s also something bonding about discussing this colour-coded situation in the land of metaphors, away from the normal language of office politics.
As the Q&A continues we find that everyone has been out in the ice blue cold at some time, thinking things would never get better. Some people, anxious about paying the mortgage and the family bills, are quietly living their lives below the radar in the corporate blue circle. Many of us own up to living on the circular orange catwalk. Everyone has an embarrassing personal tale about trying to push the river and force the groove. And, thankfully, everyone knows the paradoxical stillness of dancing beneath our very own disco ball.