When she first heard the news of Michael Jackson’s death, Jennifer Batten didn’t believe it.
“I’d heard so many rumours about him over the years that I thought it was probably another rumour.”
Then realisation turned to anger.
“I was angry at how he’d been treated the past 15 years or so. The whole lawsuit thing and the press had things to a level it didn’t belong at.”
She hadn’t seen or spoken to him in 12 years, not since the end of the HIStory World Tour, her third playing guitar for the King Of Pop. The three jaunts totaled one-and-a-half years and over four-and-a-half-million people.
“There was Michael and his gang, then the band and dancers, and the roadies would travel on a different schedule. But at rehearsals everyone had access to him. And he was very open.
“Once we were on the road he couldn’t hang out with us, unless he shut down amusement parks, which he did several times over the years so we could hang out. Or if we were out (on the road) during Christmas or Thanksgiving he’d have big dinners with us.”
She adds: “We would have a group prayer before we’d go on the stage. But after a show he was gone before we hit the last note, for security reasons.”
Batten was turned on to the guitar through jealousy.
“My sister had a guitar and I didn’t,” she says.
“I told my parents that was what I wanted for my next birthday and my dad got me an electric guitar and some lessons. I really took to it.”
She adds: “My sister doesn’t play any more. She’s a book editor.”
Sounds dull in comparison.
“I know!,” she laughs.
Batten trained at a Hollywood music school and was playing in six bands simultaneously when she heard of an audition to play in Jackson’s band for his Bad world tour in 1988.
Out of more than a hundred, she got the gig.
Did he particularly want a female guitarist?
“I never talked to Michael about it but he was always looking for something different, something to wow people. I think it was a combination of that and that I could play the Beat It solo.”
This weekend she’ll be holding a workshop to explain her guitar techniques.
“I tear apart the stuff that I do and open it up to any questions. It’s mostly the anoraks who turn out to that,” she laughs.
Do they always want to know how to play the Beat It solo?
“I try to avoid it because I’ve played it so many times, I’m kinda done with that,” she laughs.
The Michael Jackson movie, This Is It, showed another female guitarist rehearsing with him for the 02 shows that never were. After playing on the previous three tours was she offended not to be asked?
“He wanted a whole new thing with young musicians and young dancers,” says Batten, who has also worked with guitar great Jeff Beck.
“And I think it was a smart move because I had done it three times already and he had someone who was so excited about it like I was the first time.”
How does she remember him?
“He was very even tempered, he was a creative tornado, he was very much hands on. And very kind to people. When things went wrong he never lost his temper, never yelled at anybody. He was a joy to work for. A very pure spirit who wanted the best for people.”
Jennifer Batten, The Guitar Bar at Deux, Clumber Avenue, Sherwood Rise, Saturday February 20, 1pm to 4pm. Tickets: £35, 07770 226926, www.theguitarbar.co.uk