A fortnight ago, owing to the mismanagement of our railways, I had three hours to kill in Doncaster. I walked into the centre of town, where all the shops were just closing. In the Danum Hotel, I noticed, the Christmas tree was up, with fairy lights blazing. I was just wondering whether this could be the first Christmas tree of the year when I spotted a newspaper vendor selling Doncaster's local evening paper, the Star. I bought a copy and took it into a pub.
Turning to page 11 in the Star, I saw a long tribute to the singer Robert Palmer, who was evidently dead. All at once, the cunning London Evening Standard bill I'd seen a few days before, "Rock Star Dies", made horrible sense. I should have guessed it would be a mid-ranking rock star. If it had been a big one, they would have used the name; a smaller one and they wouldn't have bothered at all. At the time, my speculations had for some reason centred on Michael Bolton. As a teenager, I owed a lot to Palmer, especially to his song "Addicted to Love", which was one of a select few that I could dance to. The others included "Inside Out" by Odyssey and "Sledgehammer" by Peter Gabriel, which I liked because it didn't sound like Gabriel (whiny Hampstead liberal with gimmicky drum sounds), but like the Rolling Stones, all of whose songs I could dance to.
Palmer had strong Doncaster connections, and the tribute in the Star depended heavily on quotes from a man who, in the Sixties, had booked Palmer's first band, the Mandrakes, to play dances, but this man had a curiously bathetic turn of phrase. "The Mandrakes," he said, "were the finest warm-up act I can remember." They'd wowed the crowds "at the Top Rank Suite on Silver Gate, and the Co-op Ballroom at St Sepulchre Gate", doing so well that the promoter took a chance by putting them into "the Two Palfreys at Cantley, and the Earl of Doncaster Hotel . . . As a result of the reputation that built up in Doncaster," the eulogy continued, "they eventually picked up many engagements in the Midlands." Shortly afterwards, Palmer made a triumphant return to the Doncaster area with a gig at the Yarborough Social Club, Bentley.
Palmer, it seemed, "had two girlfriends in Doncaster, although he had daytime commitments in Scarborough". Given how good-looking he was, it surprised me that Palmer should have had only two girlfriends in Doncaster. (I mean, I've got three there.) But there again, if you extrapolate from that, he must have had, what, about a thousand girlfriends in the country as a whole? That would be about right, for while Palmer, an obviously nice man, was born in Batley, his looks suggested Monte Carlo or Milan. He had the accent, too (Batley, I mean), and every time he opened his mouth to speak, you were profoundly shocked.