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Weird Weekend's - Rock Idol

James Toseland: Racing hero, rock star. Luke Ponsford: Not bad with a guitar. For one night only, Visordown joins Toseland and his band Crash on stage. Let's rock!

It's a muggy Saturday night in Gloucester and I've got a problem. In the grand scheme of things it's not a big problem, but at this precise moment in time it's causing me serious concern. Here's the thing -

I can't remember if Highway to Hell starts on an A or a D chord. As I step up onto the stage of the GL1 Glevum Hall I clock the eager faces of the crowd, and I still can't remember. I strap on my Gibson Explorer and hear the drummer counting me in. James Toseland leans on his mic stand and shoots me an expectant sidelong glance.

Oh sod it, it's probably an A chord. Adopting the classic Pete Townshend windmilling stance I clout the Explorer and the opening salvo of Highway to Hell thunders out of the amps. If I screw this up, I'm going to look a right tool...

I don't have a lot in common with James Toseland. I have never been a World Superbike Champion, I don't have chiselled features or a torso seemingly hewn from aluminium. I can't recall ever having to beat libidinous females away with a stick. In fact, the only thing I'm aware of that unites us is that we both play - or have played - in rock bands. James in his covers outfit Crash, me in a variety of failed country-rock combos. What a flimsy excuse for a story, I thought, after the idea of me joining Crash to play a number was bandied around the Visordown office. James would surely never agree and, as far as the band were concerned, what if I had the musical ability of a tone-deaf gibbon? This surely wasn't going to happen.

Amazingly, James agreed. I was to play at the next Crash gig in 10 days. So I had 10 days to learn Highway to Hell, verse, chorus and the guitar solo in the middle, then perform it in front of real fans. Yikes.

As the time leading up to the gig counted down, I managed to devote a total of 14 minutes to learn and rehearse the AC/DC tune. By the time I arrived in Gloucester for the 4pm soundcheck, I was about as familiar with the song as I am with the details of the Maastricht Treaty. The band - guitarists Paul and Warren and drummer Gav - were stressed and busy and not interested in my concerns. When would I be able to rehearse with them? How would I keep my guitar in tune in this humidity? Where was the toilet?

I kept my head down, but that wasn't helping my growing unease. Firstly, I didn't know the song properly. Secondly, I didn't know the song properly. And thirdly, why had I opted to sport such ridiculous facial topiary? I looked like a cross between Lemmy from Motorhead and the proprietor of a Dickensian orphanage. Much nervous pacing ensued.

Continue the Crash gig

Crash concert

Eventually, at 6.30pm, James arrived. With a TV crew, a glamorous journalist from a glossy ladies' mag and a cabal of photographers in tow. Introductions weren't made. The assorted media jostled for JT's attention.

This was proving to not be much fun. After pushing my way to the front of the scrum I finally shook hands with the man and reminded him of my planned 'guest spot'. He looked at me blank-faced before being pulled away by the TV crew. Did he actually remember anything about this? My nerves were starting to fray.

When Crash finished soundchecking and started to play a few numbers, my nerves frayed even more. They were good. Really good. Great drummer, awesome twin guitar attack, and James was pretty handy on the keyboards. Shit. I really wish I'd spent more time practising. After belting out a very impressive version of Gimme All Your Lovin', guitarist Paul beckoned me up. He plugged me in to his amp and asked if I wanted to do the rhythm part or the solo. I opted for the solo. At least I'd be able to improvise something, I hoped. And as we rocked through Highway to Hell, I sort of faked my way to the end. The band appeared happy.

Now all I had to do was wait until show time, four hours away. Four hours of pacing around this big, sweaty venue with nothing to do. Maybe I could grab a quick chat with James. Ask him about his musical influences, his favourite songs. But as soon as our brief rehearsal was finished, he was gone. Oh.

So for four hours I paced. Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones once said that 25 years in the band comprised, "five years playing, 20 years of hanging about". Now I know what he meant. But as Crash hit the stage at 9pm, I was struck by how little hanging about JT must do. Being in a covers band which routinely plays 30 well-rehearsed songs in front of large crowds takes a lot of commitment. God only knows how he fits it all in with his WSB schedule. During the half-hour interval, I plan on asking James this very question. But he's got to do a TV interview. Then he disappears again. Oh.

By 10pm I've given up on getting near James. But by 10.45 I'm up on stage with him. He's got his arm around me and we're belting out Highway to Hell. I'm cranking out the riff, he's singing. For three minutes, he's my partner in rock. Jagger and Richards, Bono and The Edge, Axl Rose and Slash, Toseland and, er, Ponsford. Sounds good, right? But all too soon it's all over and James has gone, assorted media and sundry fawning lovelies trailing in his wake. I said no more than five words to him all day. Oh well. I got the job done. I did the gig and I didn't screw up. In fact, I rocked like a god, even if I do say so myself.

And just in case you were wondering, Highway to Hell does start on an A chord.

A huge thanks to James, Paul, Warren and Gav for putting up with Luke and his beard. Go to www.crashband.co.uk

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