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!

Days like this

Brighton is incurably cool and quirky. In the matter of half an hour on Tuesday we saw a unicyclist, a banjo-playing busker, a sulking angel, a blue-mohicaned Doc Martens-booted guy taking out the trash from a coffee shop called Lucky beach, and a pug called Gertie. In the weak winter sunlight, against a dramatically beautiful sunset, we soaked in the sea air and the cheery atmosphere that this unique seaside town offers for free. When we saw Van Morrison in concert at the Brighton Dome later that evening, it seemed he had done the same.

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It’s no secret that I adore the musical genius that is Van. I have a list as long as the phone directory of my favourite Van songs and, to be honest, he could sing the phone directory and I’d be clapping and whooping along with the rest of them. Having seen him three times in concert so far, I’ll declare it’s not his stage presence that keeps me buying tickets. But honestly, on Tuesday night at Brighton Dome, Van not only interacted with the audience, but he actually cracked a joke. I kid you not. Let me tell you: an all-singing and slightly-talking Van in action was a sight to behold.

His daughter, Shana Morrison, opened the show with three numbers. Apologising after her first number No more Mrs Nice Girl that she wasn’t going to take up any of our ‘Van time’, she told us she was ‘just  singing while [we] all got seated’. After Ten Thousand Things and Rainy Day, she stepped aside as “Mr Van Morrison!” took to the stage.

In trademark brown fedora, cool shades, a dark grey suit and playing the sax, he walked on to the stage to joyful applause, bringing with him the sounds of Celtic swing. With appreciative shouts of ‘yeah!’ to his lead guitarist, he took us through Close enough for jazz, followed by Higher than the world. As Rough god goes riding’s lyrics faded (Riding on in, riding on in, riding on in, riding on in) so began the first of his interactions. ‘Vanter’, if you will.

“Just like Jesse James. Just like John Wayne, just like Billy the Kid!”

Shana joined in, “Just like Van Morrison!”

Van replied, “No! Just like Clint Eastwood; he just mosies along. He looks extremely bored and he says, ‘Howdy ma’am! Go ahead and have a nice day!’”

Picking up a mouth organ, Van led us through Back on top. As the audience responded to the opening bars of So quiet in here, he said “Thank you” and took us through a cracking version of this hauntingly beautiful number.

As he sat down and strapped on his ukulele for Keep it simple, he told us a story. Deadpan and actively  unsmiling, he said:

“Apparently I’m a comedian. A friend of mine who knows Billy Connolly said Billy Connolly had said ‘Van Morrison is very, very, very funny.’ So this is a platform now.”

The jokes didn’t follow, but the music that did was outstanding: Queen of the slipstream, Keep mediocrity at bay (with Van at the piano), and Benediction, which he introduced by acknowledging it was written by his friend Mose Allison.

Shana joined him for Whenever God shines His light, and then he introduced his friend Chris Farlowe who joined him on stage to ensure we had ‘rhythm and blues’. Together, like two great buddies, they took us through the rocking sounds of Early in the morning/Rock me, in which Van got the audience clapping and he thanked us for that afterwards, Hoochie coochie man and a crazy bluesy Stormy Monday, and Born to sing. Van and Chris had so much fun!

To enthusiastic and appreciative applause, Chris left the stage and Van, at the keyboard, took us through a beautiful alternative version of Have I told you lately (joined ably by Shana), followed by Old black magic and Brown-eyed girl.

A few times through the evening, Van implored us to “give it up for the band”. They were outrageously talented: keyboard/Hammond organ/trumpet player, trombonist, trumpet/sax player, drummer, percussionist, bass guitar/double bass player and lead guitarist. They reacted to Van’s twirling fingers and swinging arms and fashioned and fine-tuned the music to mandatory Van-perfection.

Chris joined him again for Stand by me before a predictably rousing, rocking and crazy loud drum-soloed finale in the form of Gloria. Joking, chirping and ‘vanter’ aside, there was still not going to be an encore. The lights went up and Van left the building.

Brighton had delivered, and I’d put money on it: we weren’t the only ones who’d seriously enjoyed the gig.

Sunshine signing off for today.