It was a bizarre gig. It was in Heathrow Airport, of all places, but for once I was not aware of the Loneliness of the Long Distance Piano- Player. To explain: this phenomenon is the curious isolation and invisibility experienced by solo pianists when we're second on the bill to a pizza or a plate of lamb noisettes.
There were no diners here, only would-be flyers whose nerves needed soothing, said the British Airport Authority which was employing me. And those soon to take to the air listened. No, really, they listened. And they clapped and they came up to the piano and chatted as I soothed them musically in the Departure Lounge of Terminal One (I wish they wouldn't call them Terminals. I'm scared of flying, even when I'm not flying).
They requested the inevitable "Summertime" and "Take Five" and "Talk of the Town", and fathers pointed me out to their children, who quickly lost interest when they realised it wasn't the latest by Atomic Kitten I was playing. People came up. There was the keen jazz fan who had once seen Chris Barber when both of them were about 18 and was surprised to learn that Chris is still doing it. And then there was the charming South African piano teacher who wanted "Autumn Leaves" and played a bit herself.
Yes, for once I wasn't lonely because I wasn't invisible, I was being talked to. But to get to the grand piano I had Gone Through Security, or Security had gone through me. I was Temporary Staff and the Departure Lounge is airside, so this called for Precautions, and the Precautions were long and thorough, as they should be in view of al-Qa'ida's ability, however you spell them, to bring London to a halt just by saying boo. (These upper case letters are necessary in case you fail to realise the importance of the situation).
I endured half an hour of showing my passport, opening my books of music and having this man put his hands up my trousers until my eyes watered. I was frisked like I've never been frisked. Private parts, armpits, soles of the shoes, the lot.
On to the briefcase check. "Whossinere?" says female Security Screenwatcher, suspiciously. "Music," I murmur. Her eye alights on a chord book called The Satanic Changes. "Whossismean?" she demands. The Chief Frisker moves closer. "I think it's a play on Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses," I murmur.
She humphs, not as in Lyttelton, but as in contempt. She opens another chord book. "Whossisnere?" she demands again. "Oh, just some explosive chords by Thelonious Monk," I jest. "You what?" She leaps in the air. You do not jest with Security.
Eventually I am let through, to sit at the grand piano, large, very loud, with a sticky E flat and a bit out of tune up the top. …