Monday, 26 December 2011

Katerin

You know, people often think artists only hang out with other artists. All those celebrity pictures they shoot these days: so and so on the arm of such and such, or the guitar player and the drummer smashing up a hotel room together.

In my experience, though, it’s often others you meet while you’re doing the rounds you get really friendly with. Take Katerin, for example. She was my European tour manager, back in, what, ‘73? They’ve always liked me there, right from the get go. It was a great tour, the German gigs especially.

Then, six years later, she probably saved my life.

London, 1979. I was down on my luck big style by then. Singer-songwriters were out of favour, and I had washed up in some awful squat in Hackney, blowing any royalties I had on whatever I could lay my hands on. Heroin, mainly.

I heard the door go, that morning, and one of the commune, Terry I think, mumble directions to my room. I didn’t have the energy to raise myself out of my bed. Terry wouldn’t have cared who it was.

“Hey, look at you,” I said when she appeared at my door. She was a real stunner, then, with this great mane of red hair in a plait half way down her back. She still is striking, even if there’s a bit of pepper and salt in the mix these days. Those cheekbones!

“Venus,” she said quietly. “How good it is to see you.” Hardly a trace of a German accent in her English. I could see what she was thinking, as she took in the room. The squat was just disgusting: even the cockroaches moved on to somewhere better as soon as they could.

“The record company gave me your address,” she said. “They keep an eye on you, you know.”

“Yeah, they want to protect their investment of nothing at all,” I said. That was unfair. I hadn’t recorded a single thing for them yet, and they were running their whole operation on a shoestring out of a half-derelict warehouse in Shoreditch. I wasn’t exactly on trend.

As if to prove the point, someone put the Sex Pistols on next door. Katerin wrinkled her nose.

“Well, they seemed like good guys,” she said. “Anyway, have you eaten yet?”
I hadn’t eaten for at least a day, so I let her take me to the nearest cafe that served vegetarian food. I must have looked like a ghost to her, while she just looked magnificent, in her combats and black beret. I used to tease her she was Baader-Meinhof, but I don’t know I was that far off.

“I would not use violence like they do,” she’d say.

I remember the sunlight flooding through the grubby window of the cafe, lighting up Katerin’s hair as she lit another cigarette. Around us, posters for CND marches competed with ones for gigs by bands I’d never heard of. Two-tone, reggae, styles a million miles from the music I’d grown up with.

“I need to listen to more music,” I muttered, to myself mostly. The corners of Katerin’s mouth went up a little. “I don’t see you doing a ska version of Wide-Finned Chevrolet,” she said.

Right at that moment, I didn’t see myself recording anything. I was still withdrawing from the night before: not the spectacular symptoms you read about now, they never happened to me, but still. I’d felt better.

“Finish your breakfast,” Katerin told me. “I’ve one or two things to do, then I will come back for you.”

When she reappeared in late afternoon, I was past the worst pains and was staring out the window of my room, thinking, I’d be better off in hospital. Or jail. The meals would be more regular. Terry’s punk band, Snarl If You Wanna Go Faster, was rehearsing downstairs, so there wasn’t even any point in picking up my acoustic.

“I let myself in,” Katerin said. Her mouth was twitching upwards again as she indicated the wall of sound coming from downstairs. “These guys aren’t so bad. Maybe they could be support for your next tour.”

I went to reply, something sarcastic probably, but she went on too quickly. “Anyway. So I’ve changed my ticket and we both have reservations for the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt tonight. We need to hurry.”

And that was it. Simple as that. Apart from my Gibson, and a few bits and pieces, there wasn’t much to pack. I left Terry and the others my dirty laundry, and went with Katerin to her flat near Munich where, over the next few weeks, she got me clean.

Again, no histrionics. Nothing came out of the walls at me. I slept a lot, I seem to remember, and went for long walks in the hills above the village she stayed in then. At night, we’d allow ourselves a cognac and a joint. Well, everything’s relative, right?

And then I didn’t see her again for another thirteen years, by which time she’d married, had kids, and beaten breast cancer. I don’t know why I didn’t – well, that’s not true, I do know why. After I got clean of hard drugs, I went back to London and recorded the tracks that became Crossed Wires at the Crossroads for the guys in Sea Holly Records.

I was staying with Katerin’s cousin, who’d married a stockbroker and moved to Surbiton. So every morning I got the train in, just like any commuter on their way to the office. Except my office was the warehouse in Shoreditch, with a bunch of musicians I’d never met before.

When the record came out, I went off to Eastern Europe to promote it. Then my agent in L.A. called, I went to do some gigs there, and fell off the wagon again. I’d said to Katerin I’d be back before winter to tour Germany, and she was fixing up dates for me when I left for the States.

I never made it back before winter, of course. Didn’t make it back to Germany until the Berlin Wall came down, and even then I was too embarrassed to look her up. Took until 1992 to get totally clean again, and by then she’d moved to Bavaria. Took some time, that summer, tracking her down. Improved my German no end.

Junk logic, that’s what I call it. When you’re dependent, you make decisions which are really about how easily you can get your hands on the stuff. I should never have gone back to L.A. Who knows what might have happened if I’d have really pushed that record. Sea Holly might still be in business, for one thing. They were good guys: Katerin was right about that.

I stay in touch with her now. When you get older, you tend to work a few things out. If life doesn’t kill you first.

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