Sad news that Chuck Berry died today. It took me back to the one time I came accross him on my travels.
In 2013 we were lucky enough to tour Argentina and Uruguay with TV Smith. It was a mad tour, as they all seem to be, but great fun.
The tour finished up in Montevideo, a lovely, sleepy town that I’d written a song about, implying that the place was a non stop partying cross between Dublin, Ibiza, Berlin and anywhere else you’d like to throw in where the locals value a good time over sleep eight days a week.
In fact Montevideo has a lot more in common with Geneva where everyday seems like a gentle Sunday afternoon stroll in the park.
It turned out that the government of Montevideo were delighted with my portrayal of the local population as a bunch of 24 hour a day inebriates and decided to bestow on me the honour of becoming a “Visitante Illustre”, the equivalent of being awarded the keys to the city. The only other British musicians to receive this honour are Paul MacCartney and Elton John so it’s a big deal.
In particular they liked the video of the song which can be seen here.
So, after a wild night of last show of the tour celebration, with precious little sleep and a thumping head, off I went to the Uruguayan Parliament to collect my award. This entailed giving a speech in Spanish, – demanding under the circamstances.
Afterwards, as we walked up the stairs to the front of our hotel, the doors opened before us and an extremely sprightly, elderly black guy came through. He was cool. Dressed in a captains hat, bootlace tie and leather bomber jacket, he passed quite quickly on his way to somewhere important.
“That’s Chuck Berry”, said my wife Liz and by golly it was. I didn’t realise he was still alive at the time, let alone still touring the world and playing shows.
So, clutching my medal as the illustrious visitor to Montevideo I felt honoured to have received it, excited to have seen one of the original greats of Rock n Roll ……….. and a complete and utter fraud. Who was I to be honoured in this way when playing in town was the guy who invented the rock guitar solo, the widely acclaimed ultimate poet of Rock n Roll, the man who inspired The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and just about every other iconic musician of taste who picked up a guitar? Indeed you listen to all the great guitar solos on the early punk records and there is one man whose two string style is behind them -Chuck Berry.
I got over it though, and when I showed the hotel my medal they allowed me to check out later that evening, way after the official leaving time, without charging. A memorable day then, but they often are in South America.
(PS: There is a fuller blog I wrote about this eventful tour which begins here )