On the road with Iggy Pop... kind of
It’s the classic anxiety dream: I’m onstage in a sweaty rock club in front of a frothing crowd, wondering what in hellfire I’m doing here. I look down at myself—I seem to be wearing…underwear? Or at least some kind of Elizabeth Taylor Butterfield 8-style slut slip. The splashy big band drumbeat of what is unmistakably the intro to Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life hurtles around me.
Bewildered, I turn around to see Clem Burke, Blondie’s iconic drummer…? And there’s…OG Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, firing an urgent morse code on his bass, alongside Bowie/Iggy’s trusted guitarist and bandleader Kevin Armstrong doing slippery spider runs down his fretboard.
Trying to make sense of it all, I whirl back to the crowd as Clem’s drums crash over us. The audience’s expectant faces shine up at me as I step up to the mic, open my mouth, and….
Oh. Not a dream. Most emphatically not a dream.
23 DEC 2022
It’s the night before the night before Christmas, and a message from curator/producer Tom Wilcox flashes up on my phone:
Hi Katie, I have a somewhat arcane idea: you singing Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life album on a tour in early 2023 with Glen Matlock, Kevin Armstrong and our friend Clem Burke, with Iggy’s blessing. Worth a conversation at least? Tom
Arcane? It’s downright doolally. I immediately phone him to tell him so, patiently explaining yes yes obviously it’s a dream come true, who wouldn’t want to act out a mid-life crisis in a band of iconic rock’n’rollers, my god I saw Clem and Blondie on their 1978 Parallel Lines tour when I was 16, Lust For Life is the best Iggy album, so funny and dirty and tart and smart, but…it’s a terrible idea. I mean, I’m a singer and I revere Iggy, but am I the right…uh, delivery system for this escapade? Nobody even knows I’m a singer, for one thing.
That’s what I did when I first moved to London from Virginia in my 20s, along with dancing with DV8 Physical Theatre and Michael Clark Company and Pet Shop Boys. But then I stumbled into my presenting job on pop culture car crash The Word, getting busier with broadcasting and writing while singing and dancing got scaled down to a hobby. Thanks for asking me buddy, but folks won’t buy this.
But Tom is adamant.
I call my boyfriend, who starts hollering YOU MUST DO THIS! into my earhole. He is t.h.r.i.l.l.e.d. The purveyor of his early childhood tumescence was glam rock toughie Suzi Quatro, and he relishes the idea of having a Suzi Q of his very own.
It’s settled. At the age of 60, I’m going to be a rockstar. Or try to be a rockstar. Or try to try.
JAN-FEB 2023: PRE-REHEARSALS REHEARSALS
For about a month I’ve been boning up on the material one on one with Kevin Armstrong. Kevin began his career backing David Bowie at Live Aid in 1985, but it was his many years recording and touring with Iggy that makes him the perfect mentor for this audacious romp through the epic poem of triumph and vulnerability that is Lust For Life. As we busk through stripped-down versions of Sixteen and Turn Blue, it hits me just how musical and sophisticated a singer Iggy is. Kevin patiently coaches me through Iggy’s syncopated phrasing, and helps me understand the pathos beneath the lyrics’ swagger. It turns out that even the ur-punk himself struggles with inadequacy! We are all Iggy.
24 FEB: FULL BAND REHEARSAL DAY ONE
The entire band convenes for the first time at a satisfyingly shabby rehearsal studio in Kentish Town. I’ve interviewed both Clem Burke and Glen Matlock in the past, but becoming the lead singer in their band is a startling upgrade of my showbiz hijinks. On keyboards is Florence Sabeva, a classically-trained Belgian composer who works on Marvel films when she’s not pounding out punk riffs. The second guitarist is Luis Correia, a Portuguese musical prodigy and former biologist with specialist expertise in lizards and vipers. Kevin assembles the troops and we lurch through a first pass of Lust For Life’s title track. The massed band roars like a 747 in the tiny rehearsal room. I’ve got antennas up, making sure I come in at the right times. In the fat silence after the song judders to a close, Glen gives the impression that he’s a bit dubious about my prospects as a front person. I’m dressed like a sister wife in a ruffled jumper, long skirt and Crocs, so I guess I don’t inspire confidence. But he hasn’t reckoned with my inner Suzi Quatro.
25 FEB: FULL BAND REHEARSAL DAY TWO
The war stories are flying thick and fast: the time Iggy opened for the Rolling Stones in Detroit and got bottled off for wearing only a leather jacket and sheer tights, squashed junk fully visible. The time Iggy almost got beaten up by Hells Angels for calling them junkies, and when forced to apologise, announced from the stage, “Sorry I called all you junkies junkies”.
27 FEB: FULL BAND REHEARSAL DAY FOUR
Everyone’s tired and punchy, and we knock off early after running through the set, now including choice Bowie and Blondie covers. I go home to pack for the tour, which encompasses 10 UK club dates and one in Dublin. Onstage wardrobe: vintage nylon slips. Travels well, sweats well, washes well. Plus all the designers are featuring lingerie looks in their spring collections. That’s how I’m justifying trotting out my 90s-era clobber, anyway.
28 FEB: FIRST NIGHT OF THE TOUR—BRISTOL EXCHANGE
Our haunting intro music from the opera La Wally starts up, and I spray my legs in a growly cloud of Tobacco by Perfumer H, so the front row will benefit from wafts of my kicky hooves. The band navigates an assault course from dressing room to fire escape to alley and back through another door leading to the stage. Clem slams into Lust For Life, and for the next hour and a half, I’m dancing, whoop-assin’ and occasionally singing. Halfway through I hop off the side of the stage for a sneaky costume change, and suddenly there’s my boyfriend, kissing and hugging me and absolutely losing his marbles with excitement. I feel like I’m whooshing along in a mass hallucination. As soon as the show ends, clips from the night start posting to social media. The word “joyous” is mentioned a lot. They’re right—this band is a joy machine.
1 MAR: LONDON 100 CLUB
The fever dream continues. Overexcited onstage at being surrounded by world-class musicians, I forget that I’m in the band and clap at the end of songs. I make a mental note not to clap myself.
2 MAR: LIVERPOOL THE CAVERN
The dressing room is invaded after another sold-out show. A large drunken goth lady cheerfully bellows at Flo and me, “Aww, you’re bezzie mates, aren’t you? You’re bezzie mates! Aww! Bezzie mates!” Flo and I, who only met for the first time a month earlier, studiously inspect the infinity within our respective crisp packets.
3 MAR: TOUR VAN
Nothing like six people wedged together in the back of a van for personality quirks to quickly emerge. Clem’s got tour quality of life down to a science, making the most of any amenity: a local park for a morning run, a hidden gem restaurant, even taking the trouble to recommend hotel breakfast standouts (porridge, bubble and squeak) on the Lust For Life band WhatsApp. He commandeers the narrow ledge at the back of the van for catnaps, christening it the Clem Burke Lounge. We christen him Elf on a Shelf.
Glen is a human jukebox of campy folk songs. In our battery hen van, he likes to catch my eye and then launch into ever more obscure ditties. At a motorway caff, I spy him with his phone up to his ear, a faraway look in his eye. He’s listening intently to Suzi Quatro singing her 70s soft rock smash, Stumblin’ In. What is it with English men and Suzi Quatro? Just when I have Glen pegged as a total softie, it transpires that he’s just learning the song for an upcoming filming session with Suzi.
3 MAR: HULL SOCIAL
Hull is intense! Sweaty sloppy furious…joyous. The gig’s like an old-timey revival tent meeting, and everyone’s in our cult. Plaudits continue to pile up on the socials. Back in the band van, I read out an email from my friend Dan in San Fransisco: “HOLY FUCK! I’m watching clips online from three different shows and you all sound so fucking great! Rip Her To Shreds from last night feels like it must’ve felt to see Blondie in a small club. It’s all so muscular and fun. It didn’t actually need to be this good but it is. Congratulations!”
4 MAR: HEBDEN BRIDGE TRADES CLUB
From the stage in Hebden Bridge, I spot the artist Gary Hume in the crowd having what I can only describe as a fit of transcendence. His artist wife Georgie Hopton is at the front of the stage and I sing to and with her. I sort of don’t know where I stop and the audience begins.
5 MAR: EDINBURGH VOODOO ROOMS
Six band members peer balefully into our tiny 4’ x 8’ dressing room, every surface covered in snacks. I scooch a sandwich tray to one side and start to apply my maquillage. Clem drinks a Coke, Glen wanders out for a cigarette, Kevin and Flo consult their phones, Luis strategises about the pre-show meal. Thus begins the inexorable adrenaline ramp-up to showtime.
Edinburgh is the loosest, rawest, funnest gig yet. Irvine Welsh is spotted in the crowd. Afterwards I grab my now-traditional after-show tipple—Japanese whisky in a teacup—and venture out to the floor to meet more fuzzed-up fans.
Every night as the tour rolls on—to Dublin, Colchester, St Leonard’s and two final nights in London, Iggy is my teacher. I learn from his wit, his libido, his tenderness, his freeness. And how does it feel when I step to the mic and look across the room of people exulting to the boom boom boom, boom boom ba-boom of Lust For Life’s opening salvo? It feels like a homecoming.