It was the first night of the “Spike Milligan and Friends Tour” at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin and the house was sold out.
We had only arrived in Dublin that afternoon and by the time the lights and technical cues were worked out there wasn’t even time for a sound check never mind a dress rehearsal. So I wasn’t exactly relaxed! Also I’d been warned before hand that Spike was extremely unpredictable and hated sticking to a set script; so in other words I should be prepared for anything.
As I waited nervously for my cue on stage to begin singing, something very peculiar began to happen. A strange tingling sensation crept along the hairline at the back of my neck and I became aware of a waft of chilly air enveloping me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed what looked like a cat shaped apparition beginning to form and hover four feet from the ground to the left of my field of vision.
I instantly recognised it as Yam my cat. His black face, white whiskers and bib seemed to be shimmering weirdly in the light. I had left Yam behind with my Mother in the Isle of Bute to fly to Dublin and begin the tour with Spike although we did usually travel together.
“What are you doing here?”, I asked mentally to the hazy feline shadow momentarily forgetting where I was. Yam, who was wearing his fur lined accusing look, in a split second seemed to convey his disapproval of being left behind on this particular trip and transmitted the following message;
“Oh, so you left me behind, just when you are going to need me most. Sorry but I can’t help you this time. Just mind your back ---mind your back----mind your back.”
The vision vanished. What was that about? I didn’t know.
I should explain that Yam and I had an extremely strong bond. Since I’d become a performer we had chalked up many adventures as we travelled the country together and had often practiced “think talking” when we were in the same room, easily able to read each other’s thoughts. However, this was very different, we had never actually communicated at distance and certainly not accompanied by a “visitation”! I felt quite shaken and unable to trust my judgment. Perhaps the pressure of the situation was causing me to hallucinate in some way. I told myself to get a grip and calm down. Fortunately, just in time to hear Spike speak words I recognised as my cue to sing.
“Brought up by the Nuns and brought down by me---the stunning--and I mean this sincerely folks--the delightful --Megg Nicol”
Amazingly, I managed a perfectly normal sort of smile although at that moment not even Spike knew just how “stunning” this particular performance was going to be.
Ed Welch, our musical director gave me a reassuring glance and tastefully began to play the intro to my song on the grand piano. It was one of my favourite ballads called “Old Friends” written by Gretchen Cryer from a show called “I’m getting my Act Together and Taking it on the Road”. Anyway at this point, I was just relieved that a sound resembling singing was coming out of my mouth and I began to relax into the song.
I could feel the audience willing me to be good and as my confidence began to grow I would even say that I was beginning to enjoy myself.
That feeling didn’t last long. Just as I was about to launch into a real “show offy” part of the song I thought I could hear a little stifled laugh coming from the front row of the audience. No, surely I had imagined it. Then I distinctly heard a murmur of voices, then more laughter and gradually I became aware that the main part of the audience had turned their gaze away from me and were now steadfastly focusing behind me up stage.
The noise in the theatre was growing louder and louder. I was mortified. What was so funny? And now to top it off the band were laughing too. By this time I was completely baffled and alarmed by what was going on. Still singing, I tried to sneak a look upstage to see what was causing all this fuss. The cause however was only too clear. Behind me walking across the stage without an apparent care in the world was a mammoth cat shadow. Mysteriously, the theatre cat Paddy had gone behind the white scenery where the back projection lights were reflecting his image across the stage like some fabulous shadow puppet. Added to this spectacle, there was a familiar figure with his “Eccles” hat on all fours trying to retrieve him A ten times larger than life ---Spike! I was stunned. I doubled up with laughter, totally unable to sing a note. I could do nothing except laugh uncontrollably. At that point the band disintegrated into helpless hysterics too. The audience was now in an uproar. Two seconds later when Spike came running on stage carrying the Paddy the errant cat, the audience broke into thunderous applause.
Making the most of this unexpected turn of events Spike insisted that I stand with him and Paddy as he gave the audience an ear bashing for supposedly “ruining” my song.
“Looks what you’ve done to the poor girl ---the first night of our tour and you’ve reduced her to tears. You must apologise immediately audience-- say after me--We are very sorry---”
Audience, “We are very sorry--”
Spike, “ To have ruined your song Megg”
Audience, “To have ruined your song Megg
Spike, “ And we want you to sing it again!”
Audience, “And we want you to sing it again!”
Big applause, and blow me I sang the song again with both Paddy and Spike on the stage. In this overwhelming atmosphere of warmth, I couldn’t fail. From Paddy the Cat’s arrival on stage we were an instant hit and the House Full notices went up..
.......So it wasn’t quite the CATastrophe that Yam...had predicted!