The man in Barcelona

I was in a band once. Probably most of us were. The long and short: I did a bad thing going to uni – we were pretty good. Most of us probably thought that, too. But anyway, and whatever. I’m still top pals with the lads I played with. One of them went on and got himself a record deal for an LP he made on his laptop.

We went to Barcelona the year before his album came out. We arrived the same day terrorists failed to blow up London. I was writing clumpy nonsense around then, and he was mastering the last few tracks before the album was pressed. So we got waffled and gabbed about the parallels you can’t ignore – the indulgent solitude of the creative process, that kind of thing. The loneliness and regret at the lost ideas you didn’t jot down. How you’d start something, ebullient, and start hating it three-quarters through. How you don’t want to show anybody any of it… but kind of do. And we’d sit by the marina, by swaying boats and broken glass, with our litres of beer, and dream.

There was a pianist playing every night in the wicker bar we sat in. He was virtuoso – a very beautiful player. I mean I’m not built that way but I’d have given him a kiss. He had this big warm grin I still can’t forget. His piano was sun-faded – the colour of a black t-shirt you’ve washed too many times. And since we were the only pair clapping, he got up, walked over and asked if we had any requests. We got Sting and Phil Collins and Dave Brubeck. He got a couple of beers.

Still, you think. Two people on a night isn’t much of an audience. But then you wonder if that’s actually enough – if playing piano for two idiots who love you is enough. Whether it was the creative life he planned, dreamt about. Naturally, you have to ask who he plays for. Whether he plays here because it’s all he’s good for. Whether he only plays because it’s all he’s good at.

And then you see him smiling again, and remember that first and foremost, all money aside, he plays for himself.


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