Magnificent – a fun evening with Elbow

The beautiful grounds of Hampton Court Palace

We went to see Elbow in concert on Friday night. It was a very beautiful evening in the impressive setting that is Hampton Court Palace. The slight breeze carried the band’s powerful, haunting melodies and clever, clever lyrics to the delighted ears of every Elbow fan.

“Another sunrise with my sad captains, with who I choose to lose my mind. And if it’s so we only pass this way but once, what a perfect waste of time.” (My Sad Captains)

After a picnic on the bright green grass of the historic gardens, we took our seats in the Palace courtyard for the concert. The section we were sitting in still had a few empty seats, apart from one in which a young man – a modest 6’7” in stockinged feet, I’d guess – sat, in front and slightly to the left of my seat. That gave me a perfect view of the back of his head, around which I could see the fringes of the stage lights. I wondered who’d invited Murphy and his Law to join us again.

(Murphy has accompanied us to a few concerts. Once to Kew the Music at Kew Gardens, when a woman pushed her way past us halfway through the concert to stand right in front of us. When my husband reached up to tap her on the shoulder and ask if she’d mind swapping places with us, she scoffed and told us to sue her for being tall. We also listened to Lisa Stansfield at one of her concerts, and caught occasional glimpses of her through the beer mugs of a group of people standing in front of us at Scala in King’s Cross. And then, in the midst of 65,000 fellow revellers at Hyde Park, waiting for Barbra Streisand to make her appearance, I asked a man in front of me if he wouldn’t mind shifting ever so slightly (I’m talking millimetres) to his left so I could see past him. He swung around, looked me up and down, and told me he wasn’t Jesus Christ and asked how the [expletive] I expected him to do that.

Those extreme experiences are fun memories to laugh about. Little knots in the thread of our music concert tapestry, haha!)

Back to Hampton Court Palace…

The concerts take place in a courtyard through a couple of those archways

My disappointment must have bored into the back of the young man’s head, as he moved into the empty seat to his left, giving me an unencumbered view of the stage. Yay! But that joy was to be short-lived; approximately seventeen seconds later a family arrived, and took up that and two more of those very seats to his left. The kind chap moved back to his original seat. Darn. Now what? Ha! There were still a few empty seats to his right…

The seats all around the venue started to fill up, and I kept an eye on those empty seats in front of us with greedy longing. One of those was mine, and I willed it to remain empty. And, as the concert began, it did. I waited to see if there were any late-comers, so enjoyed the opening number, Dexter & Sinister, from the very very edge of my seat, and the very very edge of my left buttock.

Guy Garvey, Elbow’s frontman and gifted lyricist, welcomed us warmly and told us how lovely it was to be performing again. He said it felt like they’d come home, and we all agreed. I decided to stay put for the dreamy, beautiful Mirrorball.

“We made the moon our mirrorball
The streets an empty stage
The city sirens violins
Everything has changed.”

The coast then looked clear so I took my cue, and my cushion, and moved to one of those seats in front of us. Ah, what bliss – with two empty seats in front of me, I had an uninterrupted view of the beautiful stage. It looked fabulous, and Fly Boy Blue/Lunette sounded sublime. I looked around, satisfied and, okay, a little smug.

The thing they say about pride also applies to smug, I guess. As I turned back to look at the stage as The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver began, two tall people nestled into those empty seats in front of me. After giving each other a few excited cuddles, which blocked my view completely, they settled into their own seats and I could see the stage – just! – between their heads. Until, that is, she took out her phone and started to video The Birds. I didn’t really feel like watching the rest of the concert through her phone, so I moved back to the very very edge of my original seat and, once more, to the very very edge of my left buttock. The irony of Elbow’s next number, The Bones of You, wasn’t lost on me.

Such a beautiful setting, under an azure sky, on a warm June evening

On the odd occasion when the guy in front of me moved his head slightly to the left, it wasn’t too bad, really. I was able to relax into the middle of my seat for the wonderful My Sad Captains, and a rousing and gorgeous Magnificent. After that, the couple two rows in front stood up and left. The move looked permanent, so I took my cushion and moved back to my first second seat to enjoy the wry Grounds for Divorce.

“There’s a hole in my neighbourhood down which of late I cannot help but fall.”

I should have known those lyrics to be a portent of the couple’s return to their seats. When they sat down, I wasn’t sure what to do next. I noticed the phone wasn’t coming out of the woman’s handbag, and the two weren’t cuddling as much this time, so I stayed. About fifty-five seconds later, they leapt to their feet, and so did everyone else. We all sang and danced and, as the band left the stage, all 3,000 of us clapped and stomped our feet to get the band back on for an encore.

Elbow obliged, and gave us the gentle Lippy Kids before getting us to sing along and harmonise with them in the rousing, fabulous, exultant One Day Like This. And then Elbow took their bows, thanked us for being there and, to thunderous applause, cheers and whistles, bid us goodnight.

After the past few years of lockdown, isolation, and no live events, the words of Elbow’s exquisite final song sum up perfectly the joy and triumph of a welcome return to live music:

“Throw those curtains wide
One day like this a year would see me right.”

Indeed.

Sunshine signing off for now!

Two Sirs, with love

It was beneath a warm Tuscan sky in July that we took our seats for the second gig of the 19th Lucca Summer Festival. It was surreal in so many ways.

Our seats were in the front row, the outdoor venue (Piazza Napoleone, in the heart of the historic walled city) was magnificent, we were on our first-ever trip to Italy and we were about to see two legends on stage: Sir Van Morrison and Sir Tom Jones. I was lost for words.

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The couple sitting next to us arrived shortly after we did. She was beside herself, and I couldn’t help but engage with her. While we were there for Van Morrison, she – and her reluctant partner – were there to see Tom Jones.

“I don’t know what it is – whenever I see him, I just go funny all over. He doesn’t have to sing or anything – just looking at him, I just go all funny. I’ve never known anything like it. He doesn’t like it,” she said, pointing to her disengaged, eye-rolling partner.

On the dot of 8.30pm, Van Morrison and his band opened the show with the beautiful and lyrical Moondance. With characteristic lack of engagement with the audience, Van moved on to The Way Young Lovers Do and Magic Time, with its superb trumpet solo.

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He followed with By His Grace, Someone Like You (the romance in both the melody and lyrics floor me, as did the performance of Van’s stunning backing vocalist, Dana Masters), Whenever God Shines His light, a fabulous remix of Have I told you lately, and Wild Night.

I’ve learnt that when Van picks up his harmonica, he starts to play it upside-down. He did so and remedied it quickly in the intro to the stunning Enlightenment, and again enthralled with his saxophone in Little Village.

It was at this point that my neighbour demonstrated what ‘going all funny’ meant. She jumped six inches off her seat, her legs went flying and kicking, and she screamed spontaneously. She was the first of thousands to scream in adoration as Sir Tom Jones strode across the stage in front of us to join his good friend, Van, for What Am I Living For?

It was Sir Tom who introduced their second number – “This is one we actually recorded together,” – Sometimes We Cry.

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Sir Tom left the stage and Van picked up the pace with a medley of Baby Please Don’t Go / Don’t Start Crying Now and, as the light began to fade, Here Comes the Night. He followed with the lilting and romantic In the Afternoon / Ancient Highway / Raincheck, before strapping on his guitar for The Beauty of the Days Gone By, Why Must I Always Explain, and Think Twice Before You Go.

Van took his cordless mic, and I knew the end of his set was in sight. Not before the popular Brown Eyed Girl and Help Me. A quick “Thank you!” and he walked off the stage.

He responded to the audience’s applause and imploring screams to come back, and we leapt to our feet to his rousing, signature encore: Gloria. Van briefly thanked his band and, at 10pm, left the stage.

I often listen to Van – and on such wonderful occasions as this, watch him – and wonder where the music comes from. Where does he find it? That depth of passion and emotion? His words reflect deep, deep feelings and he writes extraordinary, awe-inspiring music to express it.

I don’t go ‘all funny’ when I see Van. But when I listen to his music, he reaches me in places I didn’t know could be reached. His gift is astonishing, his music sublime. He speaks a lot about ‘transcendence’; I think I’m getting to understand just what he means.

It was 10.30pm, the beautiful Lucca night was gently cooling and Sir Tom walked on to the stage with his fabulous band. After a moving Burning Hell, he greeted the audience in Tom style.

“Everybody feeling all right? Are we gonna have a good time?”

He talked about his years in Las Vegas in the ’60s, and introduced his next song:  Run On.

“I used to spend time with Elvis Presley. After the shows, we’d sing all night – well, he did and I’d listen. He loved gospel music, bless him. I learnt a lot from him.”

His huge band backed him with enthusiasm, a huge amount of fun and jolly fine music. We couldn’t take our eyes off the horn section – the saxophone, trumpet and trombone/tuba players. The three excellent musicians who sang, danced and interpreted the lyrics in such a spirit of fun were a delight to watch!

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Sir Tom followed with the popular Hit Or Miss, Mama Told Me Not to Come, Didn’t It Rain, and the wildly ‘funny-inducing’ Sex Bomb.

“Grazie!” he yelled to the audience. We responded loudly with screams and whistles.

After a brief nod to the recent wins of his much-adored Welsh football team, he talked about his late wife.

“When I used to make a new album, I’d bring it home and play it for my wife, Linda. She always had a favourite song. This was hers on my new album, The Long Lost Suitcase.

After a beautiful and emotional Tomorrow Night, he said, “Ok. Well, here’s a happy song!”

A delightful and high-energy Raise a Ruckus drew huge applause and a huge “Yeah!” from the 76-year-old legend.

Take My Love (I Want to Give it All to You), led into the new Latin-esque Delilah. This got his band dancing and the entire audience singing.

“I love Lucca! It’s humid, and that’s good for the voice. That’s why Italy has so many good singers. And why Wales does too!”

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The Soul of the Man followed, then Elvis Presley Blues – a haunting tribute to Elvis, written by Gillian Welch. The Tower of Song, and Green Green Grass of Home and a samba version of It’s Not Unusual were followed by a raunchy You Can Leave Your Hat On.

Between each number, Sir Tom yelled, “Yeah?” We responded, “Yeah!”, so he yelled, “Oh yeah! Come on!”

After If I Only Knew, Sonny Boy Williamson’s Early In the Morning offered each of Sir Tom’s band members a chance in the spotlight. As  I Wish You Would ended, Tom left the stage and the audience screaming, whistling and shouting for more.

It was past midnight, and Sir Tom and his band came back on stage for Thunderball, with a collage of Bond movie-clips on screen behind them. The beautiful Kiss, a gracious tribute “to the genius that is Prince”, was followed by a song that Tom described as “rock ‘n roll, blues, gospel, with some boogie woogie on the side”. An extraordinarily arranged Strange Things Happening Every Day showcased his band’s energy and depth of talent, and ended the evening on a high.

Sir Tom Jones, to the adoring screams of thousands of devoted – and a whole lot of new – fans, assembled his band members. He introduced each fondly, and then thanked the audience.

“It’s because of you, that we do what we do. Thank you, and God bless you!”

The Two Sirs, the two legends, have 146 years between them. The two friends, with two hugely differing styles, gave us four hours of musical magic. It really was one hell of a gig.

 

 

 

These are the good times

Having lived in London for two years, it was only last week that we experienced our first open-air concert in the rain. BBC Radio 2’s annual music festival in Hyde Park is a wonderful day’s entertainment. Add four seasons into that day, and I bid you welcome to British autumn.

Hyde Park’s summer season of open-air concerts ends with this one. It’s kind of ‘goodbye open air concerts; goodbye summer; hello any season you like, all at once’.

It was a huge line-up that we bought tickets to see. Billed by BBC Radio 2 as ‘a festival in a day’, the programme ran from 3.30pm to 10pm (‘any later and we’ll keep the Queen awake!’), packed in a whopping 12 artists in a row and 40,000 people into the park. The rain came and went, as did the sunshine and wind. The evening ended with a full-moon rising, blurred behind the clouds.

The likes of ’70s African American disco and R&B band, Chic, played numbers from our disco days:

Chic - who brought Le Freak to the world in 1978

Alabama-born duo, The Pierces, brought new American sounds into the mix, along with dazzlingly popular UK band Take That’s Gary Barlow. Add in some Will Young, James Blunt, Imelda May, Lenny Kravitz, Jonathan Jeremiah, Caro Emerald, Beverley Knight, Bellowhead and Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, Ruby Turner, Louise Marshall and a rare live performance from Sandy Shaw, and you have a spectacular afternoon of music and entertainment.

A number of the artists were new discoveries for us: Jonathan Jeremiah with his mesmerising ‘Lost’.

Jonathan Jeremiah - I just loved his 'Lost'. What a great find.

Imelda May’s contemporary rockabilly beat seriously rocked, and I was entranced with her playing of the bodhrán (Irish frame drum), not to mention her unique style and talent.

Imelda May - a great Irish rockabilly star

British talent is always popular in London. Will Young was ill and without much of a voice, disappointingly, but he did his best; he even tried miming to one of his songs. That wasn’t such a great idea. James Blunt rocked the park, much to my surprise, and I didn’t see his jumping-on-to-the-piano dramatics coming at all. Not at all.

Beverley Knight brought rocking soul to the stage, while Bellowhead – with their 11-piece band of piano accordion, banjo, mandolin, cello, fiddles, trombone, saxophone and tuba – brought a kind of medieval story-telling into the mix. I really loved them.

Caro Emerald, from Holland, was another new and lovely voice to hear, while Lenny Kravitz – in his trademark shades – was just incurably cool.

Lenny Kravitz is too smooth. And he does move

Ruby Turner filled the park with her big voice and rousing Infatuation and Moving out of the Cold, with sensational backing from Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. Backing singer, Louise Marshall, also grabbed the mic and the audience’s attention; she’s another one to watch.

Gary Barlow stood in for headline act, Lionel Ritchie, who was either ill or busy with a new album, or both. Gary is currently heading the judging panel on the new season of X Factor and, if the contestants represent a chunk of the UK population, a lot of women on this island are in love with Gary Barlow. He couldn’t have been better received.

Gary Barlow. Much-loved British artist

I have to say, though, that my favourite favourite of the whole day might not be what you’d expect. Contemporary music, new music, rockabilly, heart throbness, coolness, retro beat, story-telling and miming aside; this grand lady floated on to the stage in sparkly short pants, fringed top and shining black locks. With long beautiful legs that flowed all the way to the ground and into two bare feet, her two songs took me back to a childhood in dusty Zambia, where – despite being light years behind the rest of the world – we still knew iconic pop music when we heard it. Even if we were only six.

Here’s the original version of one of Sandy Shaw’s two songs:

Rain, sunshine, wind and many drunken revellers notwithstanding, our red box got richer by two more tickets. And, in the words of Sandy Shaw’s second number last Sunday, there’s Always something there to remind me.

Sandy Shaw - on the soundtrack of my childhood - performing here with crazy-talented Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra

If you look beyond the brollies, you can see Will Young

Sunshine signing off for today!