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Meet Jai, the Merchandise Guy

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Leamington Spa

Today is Jai's birthday. Who is Jai, you ask? Well, if you've been to one of the shows this tour, you may remember the handsome devil behind the merch stall. What you didn't realise as you perused the fine selection of quality products on offer, is that Jai is one of Peter's oldest and best pals. They met many moons ago at school in Coventry, where Jai is from. Jai has always had good taste in music, and according to Pete was actually responsible for turning him onto a lot of the great music that informed the songwriter he was to become. When Pete moved to London the pair kept in regular touch and stayed close. Peter even asked Jai to join The Libertines at one point, when John Hassall left the band temporarily. Jai was busy enjoying a career as a professional footballer though, and declined. A bright and positive spark, Jai is one of those guys who's just great to have around, so we couldn't believe our luck when he agreed to come on tour and man the merchandise stall.

Today is also the 15th show of the tour, in Leamington Spa. After a morning spent taking in the environs (I won't extend myself on the joys of Leamington Spa, as I wouldn't do it justice. All I'll say is if you've never been, I urge you to take a day off and go there at the earliest possible convenience), I walk into the venue for soundcheck to find Jai's son, Lucas, running amok in front of the stage. I remember when this little fellow was born. "He's six now mate" comes the reply when I ask Jai how old he is. Six years suddenly seems like a very long time, when measured in Little Human. I wish Jai a happy birthday, and we end up chatting a while about getting older, as tends to happen on birthdays of late. "To be honest, he's the only thing that makes me feel old, because now I have to tell someone what to do" Jai says, nodding at Lucas. The little man is now thoroughly engaged in a game of his own devising, which apparently involves spinning around very fast, then stopping abruptly. The object of the game, it would appear, is to then not fall over. He's actually pretty good at it. Deciding this skill somehow bodes well for his future, I shuffle off to soundcheck.

Now. Considering what a pleasant and serene town Leamington Spa appears during the hours of daylight, I must say I'm shocked at how scrappy it becomes post-sundown. Perhaps we caught it on a bad night, but there's definitely an edge. During a customary pre-gig stroll I narrowly avoid several confrontations, and am at one point forced to cross the street to circumvent a small gathering of chaps who seem absorbed in a disagreement of sorts. Now I'm all for freedom of expression and the exuberance of youth, but the exuberant youth of Leamington Spa seem to be expressing themselves just a touch too freely tonight. I make my way back to the venue with the air of a man with purpose in his stride.

The carnival spirit tonight has extended itself to our show, it seems. I arrive to learn that two separate fights have broken out during the support band's set, and the tension is still palpable as we start the gig. This atmosphere collapses a few songs in however, when Peter pays tribute to Jai from the stage. He first leads the whole venue in a rendition of 'Happy Birthday', and then offers a heartfelt apology to Jai's wife (who along with his parents and son is also present) for his "terrible behaviour at their wedding". Before anyone has time to wonder what said 'terrible behaviour' might have entailed, he dedicates For Lovers to the couple as Stephen plays the song's opening bars of piano. It's a tender and disarming moment, and the malevolent spell in the room is broken. A sense of unity now prevails, and once again I marvel at Peter's ability to control the mood of a crowd of people.

Thanks again to Jai for joining us on this little chapter, its good to have good people around. And one last time, happy birthday brother. What a guy...

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