The best part of our London adventure has been to see as much live music as our time and pockets will allow. We have treated ourselves to an embarrassment of concerts and gigs at the most amazing venues in and around London. Shall we eat or shall we see another concert? Hmmm, food can wait.
In the middle of summer, on one of the hottest days of the year – temperatures were well into the 30s, even mid-30s (I’m not sure what that is in Fahrenheit, or “old money” as they say here in London!) we went to see Diana Krall in concert at an outdoor venue. We honestly couldn’t have chosen a better day to do that. We arrived in Hampstead in the afternoon.
George Michael lives in Hampstead and he had, notoriously, driven into a Snappy Snaps photo shop in the early hours of a morning that week, heavily under the influence of an unknown substance. I laughed when I saw a sandwich board bearing this handwritten headline for a local rag: “George Michael drives into shop”. He was subsequently sentenced to four weeks in prison for that misdemeanour, and is currently fighting to be released on bail.
So on we continued to Kenwood House. It is a stately home, in the leafy suburb of Hampstead, and is used as a venue for outdoor concerts through the summer. It is really beautiful, the emerald green lawns roll from house to lake and on to the woods on either side and we languished next to a peaceful little lake to picnic before the show. As show time drew near, we made our way to the concert area, where row after row of brightly-coloured deck chairs awaited our arrival. Our seats were near the front, and gave us a good view of the stage area which stood in sharp relief against the royal blue sky. The wooden deckchairs filled with fans, all eager for the show to begin.
What an amazing evening! Diana Krall is a fabulous musician, and we were so excited to see her live! She performed a huge variety of jazz numbers, accompanied by her talented band of drummer, double bass player and acoustic guitarist. She bobbed and weaved through her songs, and caressed the grand piano with such tenderness and skill I was in awe. A concert such as this, on a night such as this, in London – it doesn’t get much better than that!
On another hot summer’s day, we went to the O2 Arena in North Greenwich to see Michael McDonald and Al Green. We live right next to the Thames, so we decided to travel along the river – we took the Thames Clipper and bounced along the rippling river to North Greenwich.
I am a huge fan of Michael McDonald, he is another one of my all-time favourites, and I’ve loved his music since his Shine Sweet Freedom days of the mid-1980s. In 1986 my husband and I went on a three-month holiday to the UK and Europe, and I remember sitting in a park in Amsterdam one chilly Sunday afternoon, under blue sky and icy wind, drinking Heineken beers and listening to the piped music of Michael McDonald and Patti LaBelle singing On My Own.
We arrived at the O2 about an hour before the concert was due to begin. We sat down and soon a mountain of a man and his petite wife came to sit in the row in front of us. He said to me, “You’re not going to want me sitting in front of you, are you?” To which I said, “Not so much.” He duly sat down in front of me and blocked out the sun. Luckily when the lights went down we were able to shift along a few seats and both get a clear view of the stage!
To see Michael McDonald performing live was just unbelievable. He was sensational. We again needed three seats as I was beside myself, and I boogied myself silly in my seat! I did my ugly whistle at the end of each song. I think I annoyed the people on either side of me (yes, I do include my husband!) as I bobbed and jived and shimmied and shook my bones to the dulcet tones! – what a relief when Michael shouted out, “School’s out!” and gave us the nod to stand up and dance – YAY! He sang everything that I know and love from Yah mo’ be there, to Shine Sweet Freedom, You belong to me, Taking it to the Streets, Minute by Minute, What a Fool Believes and he was joined by a local singer – Jaki Graham – who filled Patti’s high heels fabulously to join him for On My Own. He left the stage amid much protest from the fans, after an hour and a half of pure, beautiful, blue-eyed soul.
It was interesting to combine Michael McDonald and Al Green in the same concert. They had equal billing, they didn’t share the stage but brought their music from opposite ends of the soul spectrum.
The interval over, we made some noise for the Reverend Al Green. He entered from stage left, resplendent and melodramatic in dark glasses, suit and boots and carrying a bunch of long-stemmed roses. He waved with his other, white-gloved, hand. And so began the Reverend’s soul session, interspersed with the flinging of long-stemmed roses to adoring female (and male) fans in the audience. He sang his heart out through soul standards and smooth cover renditions. His three daughters doo-whopped in the background, and he was accompanied by an outstanding band that he ordered around with elegant, frilly, trilling fingers.
When the Reverend got excited, he would stamp his feet and slip his silk-lined jacket off his shoulders and on to the floor. He would pick it up and put it on again as he pulled himself together after each song.
I was less than impressed with the audience that night. After an absolute treat of songs like Let’s Stay Together and Let’s Get Married, part of the audience thought Let’s Get Outta Here, and started to leave the auditorium before the end of the concert. The Rev called out to them, reassured them he was on “no curfew” and yet he watched as a steady stream filed out. I guess it was to get ahead of the traffic but come on, London … you can do better than that! This was a one-night only show. Al Green was clearly not amused, and the show ended abruptly.
My husband is mad about American Idol-winner, Fantasia, and she had a one-night only, first-ever concert in London in May. This was held in IndigO2, within the O2 Arena complex. We had fabulous seats in the second row upstairs, and watched Fantasia perform to the writhing mosh pit in front of the stage.
She was incredibly energetic and passionate, she put her heart and soul in her songs and most of her wardrobe on the stage floor. I exaggerate … she threw her shoes off as she walked on to the stage, and got rid of her necklace and earrings and anything else that bothered her as she stomped and sang her way beautifully and emotionally through a range of old and new numbers.
She gave the organisers a headache, as she wanted to “feel” her people; the mosh pit was separated from the front of the stage by a barrier, and, when the people couldn’t come to Fantasia, she stepped down from the stage to come to her people. It was a wonderful concert, a treat to see her and experience her stage presence and vitality, and to enjoy a talent that we watched unfold on international television.
I stand in awe of such talent, of endless opportunity and of life in a city that breathes life into so many artists and actors and buskers and students and punters-who-watch. May I never take this for granted, and may I always jump around in thrill and excitement. And may we always need three seats.
Sunshine signing off for today!