From playing with Sonny Rollins to hanging out backstage wit Beyoncé and Jay-Z, even the biggest stars have moments when they have to pinch themselves to check they're not dreaming. We asked luminaries from the worlds of pop, rock, folk, jazz and classical to name their most memorable momentsTell us about your greatest music-related moments in the thread below
There have been so many amazing moments in my career so far: coming off stage to find Prince had been in the audience, playing for Nelson Mandela, being introduced at the Grammys by Stevie Wonder and knowing it was my opportunity to get heard by millions of people.
However, my favourite moment is right now, right this instant. I am coming to the end of a six-week tour of north America with my new album The Sea. It has been amazing and the response is such that I couldn't have dreamed it better. I love looking out at an audience full of people from all backgrounds; black and white, hipsters and 60-year-olds, gay and straight, collegiate and rowdy. I'm playing a record I really believe in, standing on stage with friends I've known since I was a kid and seeing so much of north America.
One day you're braving the snow in Montreal, eating sushi, the next day you're in Coachella in a romper suit, drinking out of a coconut. I met Björk at this great party she threw with the Dirty Projectors at a warehouse in Williamsburg, New York, and played on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with the Roots. We dance on the tour bus to Erykah Badu's new album and I pass the time playing my 1920s Washburn guitar that I picked up in a shop in Haight-Ashbury. I am experiencing happiness in my life that I didn't imagine possible two years ago, when my husband died, and that makes this moment, now, so wonderful to me.
During Gorbachev's years in power, the English National Opera did a Russian tour. I was music director at the time and we were the first British opera company to go there. We took our production of Verdi's Macbeth. They had no idea what to expect, but somehow word got round that it was going to be an exciting evening. I came into the pit and a man in the front row of the stalls lent forward, handed me a bunch of flowers and said quietly: "You are welcome."
I couldn't start for several minutes because members of the public were trying to force themselves into boxes which were ruthlessly patrolled by large Russian ladies. The performance was one of the most exciting of my life. Everybody was on top form, and at the moment in the first act finale when the king's murder is discovered, the entire company has to sing a loud dramatic passage. When the music cut off, instead of the customary stunned silence, the audience broke into wild applause. I can remember only thinking, I hope the singers don't lose their pitch because the next passage is unaccompanied. When I came back into the pit for the third act, the audience gave the orchestra an enormous ovation and a young girl skipped down the central aisle and handed me another enormous bouquet of flowers.
It would have to be when I heard the first Neu! album at home, after recording it with Klaus Dinger and [producer] Conny Plank. We were playing it to family and friends, so it was a very happy, special moment to have them all hear this recording of my ideas. Listening to Hallogallo and all the other tracks outside the studio was always a very important experience. It was so wonderful to hear the tunes in the living room with my mother and brother – everybody seemed to have a positive feeling. You could feel the intensity of what music does to you, the beauty of it, the magic. It surprises me because we had to record that album in four nights without having any possibility of preparing stuff at home. In those days no one had recording gear at home. So we had to create the music on the spot in the studio. The magic, especially of Hallogallo, has survived all this time.
Live Aid was such a pivotal moment for my generation of groups. It was the apex of that decade, the highest point of that golden age of British pop music. None of us would ever be that powerful again. Let's face it, we were all trying to raise money for Ethiopia, but it was also an incredible moment for us all to enjoy. There was also a huge amount of jostling for position throughout the day, and some were more successful at dealing with that than others.
The weather helped to highlight everything. I remember flying in by helicopter, coming in over Wembley and seeing the twin towers – Wembley meant more to me in iconic terms than just a place to do a show. I was sitting next to [ex-Faces and Who drummer] Kenney Jones in the 'copter. I'm a massive Who fan, so all I was interested in was that this was their first gig for eight years.
We were on at 2pm. I would have preferred to have been on at eight in the evening. But having those 20 minutes was incredible, even though I don't actually remember our performance, just the bits around it, like seeing Pete Townshend, David Bowie, all these extraordinary people. I thought I'd speak to Bowie, but he didn't know who the fuck I was. I got in his way at the bar. I introduced myself and he gave me one of those looks that suggested I was stepping too close to his radar.
Meanwhile, I was drooling over Pete Townshend. He told me to follow him up on stage to stand on the side and watch the Who – the greatest rock band in the world – doing Won't Get Fooled Again. Then I got a tap on the shoulder. It was Paul McCartney. He said he thought we'd done a great gig and gave me the thumbs up. But Spandau didn't get it right. Others were better at pushing themselves forward. Bono was no fan of anyone; he just went straight to centre stage – George Michael, too.
Still, I was thrilled to be part of that rock dream. I – a working class lad from Islington – had the feeling that, at any moment, someone was going to come up behind me and say, "Sorry, there's been a dreadful mistake, can you leave?"
Glastonbury 2009 – it was the first time I had been to Glastonbury, which is pretty lame, really. But it was also the first time I had played a big English festival. It was also the same weekend that Bulletproof went to No 1. Even though we had a No 1 and had had another hit with In for the Kill I thought no one would give a toss that we were playing. But it was an incredible experience. That's when YouTube comes in handy. There were more people there than I could have hoped for. I remember peering out from behind the curtain and seeing the crowd spilling out of the sides of the tent and Tony, my manager, saying: "See, I told you. Stop pranging out!" I didn't stop being nervous for the entire gig, but I remember secretly crying a tiny bit during the drop-down in In for the Kill. Every single person for as far as I could see had their hands up and sang every word back louder than me. I had never seen that before. It was the moment we realised how many people knew La Roux.
It was pretty rock'n'roll – it was one of the best moments of my life. It was when I played a little show in New York with my father, who's been a musician for 40 years but had never been to the US. I produced his last solo record early last year and said I'd fly him over to support a set I was doing as Luke Blonde. There were these black bouncers from the future, and me on laptop and electronics. My dad was a bit shocked to see my sci-fi alter ego going straight into this Martin Luther King speech; it was pretty full on. Then my father came on and played all this Dylan, JJ Cale, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson stuff and just blew away this New York crowd at the Bowery Ballroom. Jack Black was there. So was Heather Graham, who came in on roller skates. I tried out her skates – her underpants as well. She tried out my guitar. We did a duet, with Jack Black on the drums. It was very surreal for me, a young musician from Perth, the most isolated city in the world, where usually a gig attracts a couple of fat drunk guys. The night dissipated into a long-distance dream. At one point, I refused to go on stage unless I got a box of Krispy Kremes. Then we left the venue and went to find Michelle Pfeiffer.
I met Nelson Mandela, then president of South Africa, for the first time in September 1996. I was performing at the Arts Alive festival in Johannesburg and was invited to meet him at his office in Pretoria. I wanted to bring him a gift, so I decided to give him a boubou, one of the west African robes that I wear on stage. He put it on at once, and I have a picture of him wearing it. I also had a letter to give him from the Senegalese president, Abdou Diouf, and he asked about all the important people in Senegal. And then he gave me advice. He said that I should be a voice for the people, and that I could make a difference as a musician. He said that people believed what I said even more than they believed politicians, and I had a role as a messenger.
Something really strange happened during the meeting. There was a girl in the delegation from the festival who had not met President Mandela before. Immediately he saw her he started asking about her grandmother. "How did you know that she's my grandmother?" asked the girl. "I just looked at you, and I knew you must come from the same family," Mandela replied. It was amazing. What a memory!
It was a gig last summer, a beautiful evening in Locarno in Switzerland. They cordoned off the town centre, and there were 12,000 people all crammed into the market square. The Kooks were my support band, who I love. I remember being on stage and seeing endless amounts of people singing back to me all the words. I was overwhelmed that you can travel so far from home and have so many people know your music. The best thing was seeing all the people at the front, smiling. It was an incredible feeling, making all those people happy just by singing my songs. I had to stop myself from getting a little teary-eyed.
I thought I was insanely lucky when I was asked last year to go on Later … with Jools Holland. It's an institution. I never expected to be where I am now, let alone go on shows like that. I felt odd, a bit out of place. I was on with Diana Krall, Stereophonics, the Unthanks, Maxwell – I felt so honoured to have been there. I thought, "What on earth am I going to do when Jools starts playing piano and everyone joins in," so I started shuffling. It was one of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life. I'm lucky in that I don't go crazy and lose it; I'm quite grounded and laidback. But Later … was a worry. It was the start of my career, and suddenly I was on this incredible show with some of the most talented artists, and I had to perform with them.
My greatest moment was when my single went in the charts at No 3 this year. Not because I'm self-absorbed, but because of the run-up to it. I was originally signed to Mike Skinner's label, and that went under, and it took a year to get my music back. Then I lost my father, who killed himself. That was two years ago. Then last May I got stabbed in the neck. It was some asshole in a club, and it was completely unprovoked. It was serious – I had three-and-a-half hours' surgery to put it right. It was close to my carotid artery. I would have died if that had been nipped, or at least lost the use of my face, neck and shoulders. All in all it's been a pretty rough few years.
I threw myself into my work. After the stabbing, I felt angry for quite a while. But I used the negative energy. It's nice to be on an up. Lily [Allen] had an awful lot to do with it. We did a song together, and she took me on a tour of Europe and Australia. I can't tell you how much love I've got for her. I found out I was No 3 on the Sunday morning. I was over the moon. I celebrated with my first drink in seven weeks – a Jameson.
It was in the late 1980s, I was playing at Ronnie Scott's and I got a call to play on a film session the next morning. My manager had said it was just to do a sax solo over an orchestra, no problem. But when I got to the studio, it was the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the composer and conductor was Elmer Bernstein.
He introduced me to the orchestra as if I were some world-famous classical soloist. Then it turned out not to be an improvisation, but 580 bars of written music, to go with a seduction scene featuring River Phoenix (from A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon) they were screening as we played. After five bars, I came off the rails. Bernstein stopped the orchestra, looked at me over his glasses, and said: "Everything OK?". I said, give me five minutes to think about it, and it would be great to have a beer and a cigarette. A guy went out and came back with a cold beer, a packet of cigarettes and an ashtray. I sat in the middle of the orchestra while they stared at the ceiling, got out crosswords and newspapers – you could see them thinking: "We've got a right one here."
I thought, I've fallen out of my safe zone – though I know the jazz world seems pretty unsafe to a lot of people - and now I'm right out of my depth. But I drank the beer, smoked the cigarette, and somehow did it in one take. At about bar 500, I remember hearing that little voice at my shoulder saying: "You're going to mess this up now." But it worked. In the end, I thought I'd played all the notes exactly as Bernstein had written them, but he said to me afterwards "I love the way you interpret my music."
It was a couple of years ago when I was with Empirical and we played the Newport Jazz festival. It was a blazing hot day, with that beautiful view out over the bay, and when we came off stage they announced there was going to be a special guest appearance. It was Bill Frisell with his trio, the one that made the East/West album. I'd never heard him live before, but I was sitting there among all those boats, water at my feet, and he started playing Moon River and Heard It Through The Grapevine, stuff that was so bluesy and laidback compared to our rather earnest modern jazz thing. It felt like the music was playing itself. It made a huge impact. He never makes what he does a product, his diversity and constant creativity is amazing, and however different his projects are, they always sound like him. I've got a picture of him on my wall from the Cheltenham Jazz festival, with this big smile on his face at something somebody's just played. He looks like someone who's just happy to be doing what he's doing, it's a real inspiration.
I'd have to say when Aerosmith played with Jimmy Page in August 1990. I'm not sure how it came about, but it was an amazing experience because he had been one of our major influences. Jimmy played just about every song we knew and loved, including a lot of blues stuff and Yardbirds stuff. The soundcheck at the Marquee was one of the most eventful couple of hours that I can think of. People call Aerosmith the American Stones, but we were always more the American Zeppelin. We didn't get a chance to rehearse, but it was a lot of fun. He travelled with us on the bus and we hung out with him for the whole weekend. It blows my mind to think that Jimmy would think that much of the band that he'd want to spend that much time hanging with us, and then play with us.
I would never have thought it would have been possible, growing up in Boston in the late 60s, when the idea of being in London was like for a Catholic going to the Vatican; the holy grail. The fact that 20 years down the line I'd not only know Jimmy Page but be able to play with him, that was beyond anything I thought could ever happen. That weekend, we mostly talked about places where we'd recorded in common and how hard it is to keep a family together on the road. And being a survivor. Me, Jimmy, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck – we're still doing it, and Jimi Hendrix isn't. Why? Luck. I think Jimi felt impervious to everything. But you can only take so much. And mucking around with street drugs is like playing Russian roulette, and in Jimi's case, he lost.
It has to be Sonny Rollins. When I was the house pianist at Ronnie Scott's in the 1960s, the star American soloists came over without their own bands, and we all had to do the best we could. The first time I met him was probably 1965, he arrived at the rehearsal – I think this was in his beret phase – and asked me to name something to play. I said Prelude to a Kiss. We kicked it around for 45 minutes, then never played it again for the entire month he was here, until he came back again the next year. I wasn't nervous – I might have been if I was another sax player – I was just concerned about whether he'd be easy to get on with or not. Some of the Americans could be difficult with local players back then. He was an amazingly nice, gentle guy and a massive talent back then, and he still is.
If I'm telling you what the greatest moment of my career is, my career must be over! So as far as I'm concerned, I haven't had the greatest moment of my career yet. But if you want to talk about a moment that highlighted something, that moved something forward more than anything else, I would say January 1978, the CBS convention, which we closed. I was kind of upset about being the last band on, because normally everybody starts going home in the afternoon on the last day. But they didn't in this case, and the room was absolutely packed with all the other bands – Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, Cheap Trick. So we did the show and I sang For Crying Out Loud. When it was over my eyes were closed; I thought everybody had left the room, because there was a moment of dead, stunned silence, and it seemed to last forever. I went, "Oh my God, what happened?" And I opened my eyes and when I did the room exploded. They went completely insane. People started rushing the stage – there are pictures of Billy Joel standing on a table and all these people going completely crazy. They did $40,000 worth of damage to the room – there were broken chairs, smashed dishes, everything! That's really what made Bat Out Of Hell take off. That was the turning point. It was an amazing, extraordinary moment.
My greatest moment was back in June 1997, my first-ever European show. I flew from Bamako to Paris, and then travelled down to the Angoulême festival, where I was performing on a big outdoor stage as the opening act for Salif Keita and Ali Farka Touré. I had only performed live four times before, back in Mali. I had nothing to lose, and I was totally confident that nothing bad could happen and everything would be good – even though I knew that my band didn't respect me because I was young and female. They said that it wasn't possible to mix balafon and n'goni in the backing for the songs. All of this was made possible because of the French Cultural Centre in Bamako, who helped me, and sent tapes of my songs to Christian Mousset at Angoulême. Without that help from the Cultural Centre, I would never have enjoyed this career as a musician.
Selecting one great professional moment from 50 years on the road presents problems. Four and a half years of music-making with Dave Swarbrick – especially when we rehearsed for our first gig in a train compartment on the way there, surrounded by Indian lads who giggled and clapped all the way? The moment on stage with Steeleye at Manchester University in 1970 when it was clear that the band worked so wonderfully? The first ever Brass Monkey gig at the Black Horse in Telham when sensational is the only word for the sound we made? Persuading Norma to make her first solo CD, working on it with some of the very best musicians and a great producer called John Chelew, then seeing it miss the Mercury prize by a whisker? Why not any one of those? The truth is that when, in Elkins, West Virginia in August 1991, I first made music on stage with my daughter Eliza (and with Norma, of course) really does put everything else in the shade. There I experienced the extraordinary magic of playing – and especially singing – with a blood relative for the very first time. It was almost as though one didn't have to think. There was never a moment when she was anything other than an equal in the matter and that in itself was astonishing and quite liberating. Ain't nothing quite like that feeling – that freedom.
What comes to mind is the encore I played after a concert at Berlin's Waldbühne with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. It was three summers ago. I'd played the Rachmaninov Rhapsody, it was a big event – in front of 23,000 people, and filmed for TV, and after I'd played this very loud tempestous work, I came back out and played a little piece by Mompou called Young Girls in the Garden. I play this in encores a great deal – more so than any other. Many encores can spoil the mood, but this fits after almost everything.
I came from a house without any classical music. Mompou's piece was the very first record my parents bought me, aged 5 or 6: it goes right back to my very first musical experience. The music has such innocence and purity; playing it at this venue, that had been built by the Nazis, in a city that was being bombed not so long ago – the whole thing just came together in a very magical way, and it was an amazing moment, a meeting of childhood memories and a full adult's career.
I got to chill with Jay-Z and Beyoncé in his dressing-room! I was on my way to South Africa for the World Cup so I didn't have time to worry about what to wear. I watched the gig first, which was crazy, man – I grew up listening to him, so seeing how he put a show together was really inspiring. It was mad. Then I went backstage. It was the first time I'd met him – I'd seen all his team already but I was on tour the last time I was invited to meet him backstage at Madison Square Garden. I wasn't nervous – I don't really get nervous with things like that.
He's a cool guy. He's chilled, laidback and humble and makes you feel welcome. Beyoncé was there as well. She was real friendly – you see people on TV and don't know what to expect, but she's even better in person. Real down to earth. He had words of advice for me – he told me to stay focused and not let my ego get too big. No one from the grime scene has crossed over in the US yet, so it's hard to say what might happen with me there, but right now everything's in place to make it happen.
The moment I remember most vividly is working in the British big band put together to play with pianist McCoy Tyner at the Barbican in 2001. But it wasn't the gig, it was the first rehearsal, at these little studios, The Premises, in Hackney. We played McCoy's Passion Dance, that was the one that did it for me, because his playing is so passionate and so full, and that seems perfectly to represent it.
I'd accepted the gig thinking I'd be playing on the free stage before Tyner, not actually in the band. Now I found myself playing with McCoy Tyner about five feet away from me. He was really gracious about it, told us all he was more nervous than we were – we didn't believe it, but it made us feel better. At lunchtime he had time for everybody, signing vinyl, telling stories. The way he used the big band made a big impression on my writing, he wasn't afraid to change things around a bit: have four saxes and a tuba, not follow the usual big-band lineup. But more than anything it was the way he played while you were soloing, how he listens to you. You're playing, and thinking: "He's done this for John Coltrane." It's wonderful to be in the slipstream of that legacy, and it's stayed with me ever since.
Two moments come to mind. The first was after a performance of Guilio Cesare at Glyndebourne. David Attenborough had been in the audience, I was introduced to him afterwards. "This is a real pleasure and an honour," I said to him. And he said to me with absolute sincerity: "Believe me the pleasure is all mine." I thought: "That's it then. This great, great man believes in me and rates me. I have no reason to ever doubt myself again."
The other moment I choose is after a recent concert. A couple came up to me and said, "Our mother died recently. We found in her handbag a list she'd made of things to think about on her deathbed. One of these things was your performance of Dido's Lament. We wanted to tell you." I was terribly moved by that, to think that somebody wanted to take that with them. I could have mentioned appearing on this stage, or that stage, or working with so and so, but nothing comes close to that to moving other people - it's why I'm in this business. To move people.
What are your most memorable musical moments? Maybe it was your band's first gig, meeting one of your heroes, or being blown away by a live performance - you've read what the artists we interviewed had to say, now share your own stories by posting a comment in the thread below.
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