Read an Excerpt
'If I'm drinking and taking
drugs, I'm the last person
on earth that I'd want my
daughter to go out with.
But hopefully the person
that I will become will
be somebody I'd let my
daughter go out with.'
WE SHALL SEE WHAT HAPPENS
It's well after two o'clock on the second day of rehearsals and everyone's waiting for Rob. At one end of the vast, concrete-floored oval that is the Docklands London Arena, the set is up: the rows of lights, the stacks of speakers, the white cyclorama, the drapes, the black front curtain, all miraculously suspended from the criss-crossed girders in the roof high above. On the stage itself the instruments are laid out and ready: the drums central on their platform, `the groups of keyboards to left and right, the guitars in racks beyond. On the fringes a mighty confusion of wires and plugs connect to a mass of chunky black cabinets and monitors. Smoke drifts across from two stage-side smoke machines and hangs thinly in the air, giving substance to the beams of the continually changing coloured lights in the half-darkness.
The seven members of the band have arrived, greeted each other and various black T-shirted members of the crew with elaborate hugs, wandered backstage to catering for coffee or lunch and eventually taken their places on the set. Curly-haired Guy Chambers, Rob's songwriting collaborator and the band's musical director, has settled down behind his keyboard stack and started the rehearsal. 'Is everyone ready?' he asks. Languid black bass guitarist Yolanda Charles unties her hair and they swing into it. But still the tall central microphone waits redundant on its stand, as it didthroughout the long day of studio rehearsals yesterday.
Suddenly there's a cry away to the right. 'Robbie! 'It is the star himself, at last, striding through the gloom in a posse of three or four, his dark-bobbed personal assistant Josie Cliff keeping in step beside him. It's quite chilly, this early February day, and he' swrapped up: in thick coat, grey woolly hat, dark glasses, a scarf wrapped tight round his neck. As he marches straight to the centre of the stage, a shiver of excitement comes over the band.
'Hello, hello, hello. Nice to see everyone,' he says, nodding round, smiling, smoking as he talks. 'What's with the hair, Gary?' he asks the pudding-bowled, sideburned guitarist on the left.
'Wish I could say it was me own,' Gary Nuttall replies, with a sheepish grin.
Rob moves now to kiss Yolanda, who smiles hugely as she embraces him. He hugs Fil Eisler, the other guitarist, tall, lean and slightly scary in a fur-collared trenchcoat, shakes hands with Guy, thenwaves at keyboard player Claire Worrall and drummer Chris Sharrock. He blows kisses to his two backing singers, Tessa Niles and Katie Kissoon. He'sstill smoking, with stylish casualness; his walk is not so much a swagger, but more the confident stride of a man surveying his domain.
'Shall we do "Wimmin"?' asks Guy, up at his key-boardset, keeping things gently moving along.'D'you want to do "Wimmin", Rob?'
'Let's do "Wimmin",' Rob replies. 'I'm sick of blokes.'
There's a ripple of laughter across the band, crew and other hangers-on who fringe the brightly lit stage area.
As the band launch into Rob's new song, the energy is completely different. With Rob there, holding that microphone, his voice at the centre of the music, everything suddenly coheres. 'Even before he sings a note,' says Tessa later, 'his presence is enough to kick-start the thing into hyperspace."Stop!' calls Rob suddenly, halfway through the song. There is silence. 'On the answer lines,' he continues commandingly, 'can they be really shouty and can everyone do 'em.' As the band listens attentively, he demonstrates: 'Nice tits, nice arse, no class or conversation.'
The band try it out, yelling back his chorus. Rob does a little thrust on the final 'Whoa!' and throws his fist up in the air. Then he's gone - off to join the tall figure of tour manager Andy 'Franksy' Franks at the far side of the stage, dressed, as always, in his habitual black. Rob wasn't on stage for long. The band are left electrified by his presence, laughing like kids.
As star follows tour manager through the little door to backstage and catering, MD Guy is quietly back in charge. The band rehearse 'Singing For The Lonely' and 'Perfect Day', but it's all a bit lacklustre again. Behind them, a wiry, bald crew member pumps up one of the two giant inflatable Brit awards that flank the back of the stage. Then, just as the band are flagging badly, Rob has sprung on from nowhere, grabbed the mike, and kicked the act back into life. 'It's such a perfect day,' he growls in a powerful, deliberately non-singing voice. 'I'm glad I spent it with you.'
He's slowly disrobing now. His coat's off (though not the woolly hat and scarf), revealing an untucked cream shirt, criss-crossed with dark lines. Below, his baggy jeans crumple over trainers.
'I'm so sick of people's expectations, leaves me tired all the time...'
Even in this empty stadium, Rob sings with such intense passion, his high forehead furrowed into a frown as he clutches the mike stand with both hands. His voice rings up to where the multicoloured lights flicker across the shadowed spaces of the roof. 'I was watching that Popstars thing on Saturday night,' he tells his ragtag audience during a break a little later. 'And I was thinking, if I auditioned for that now, I wouldn't get it.' There is laughter. 'And then, 'he continues, in a spooky voice, 'I remembered...'
Halfway through 'No Regrets' he breaks off. 'We know all of these,' he says. 'So we don't need to do the rest of them.'