Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Grrrrrooose!

I walked past a man this morning, with a balding head, who had 666 tattooed onto his crown. I wondered what possesses a man to do something like that. Is it a form of self-loathing? Does he think it's a bit of fun? Did he do it when he was drunk? Does he believe in the Devil? Does he think his tattoo will help him to pull the ladies or intimidate the crap out of those who stand in his way? Answers on a postcard...

I was writing an email to someone today about the song How Can I Keep From Singing. I was pointing out that it had been sung very beautifully and wistfully by Enya. Imagine my horror, therefore, when auto-correct altered Enya to EBay! Surely the clearest indication (if one were needed) that I no longer live in the world I was born into! I was trying to tell him the story of the Radio 1 DJ who was so shocked and saddened by stories coming from China during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre that, after one particularly chilling news broadcast about nuns being run over by tanks, he simply said, falteringly, "I don't know how to follow that" and played Enya's How Can I Keep From Singing instead.

I went jogging at lunchtime. It looked lovely outside. Sunshine. Blue skies... Some time between putting my trainers on and opening the door, the weather took a serious turn. Three minutes later, I was running around Highgate Wood whilst being pelted by enormous blocks of hail whilst icy winds battered my face. One of the park rangers was mowing grass on the cricket pitch, one assumes in preparation for the summer season. He must have been even more confused than me!

This evening we jumped on a hugely crowded tube and made our way to the O2 to see that great Midlands band, ELO (now branded as Jeff Lynne's ELO). I don't perhaps waffle on as much about ELO as I do Kate Bush or ABBA, but I can assure you that they were as big a part of my childhood sonic landscape as either of those other two great acts. As a teenager I was obsessed with them to the extent that I probably single-handedly ruined my Dad's love for the group! I spent hours in independent record shops looking for obscure album releases from the early 70s when the band used recorders, French horns, 'cellos and anything Jeff Lynne or Roy Wood could get their lips or fingers around to create naïve prog rock masterpieces. The Battle of Marsden Moor was a personal favourite, listed by mistake on the back cover of the album I had as "The Battle of Marsden Moot!"

After Wood left the band (to form Wizard), ELO went mainstream and became a prolific singles band, and, from 1976 to 1981 entered an imperial phase where every song they recorded became a hit.


The fabulous Feeling were the surprise (well surprise for us) warm up act. What a treat! The last time we heard them playing live, they were playing us up the aisle at our wedding! They performed brilliantly. They're surely one of the tightest live acts on the circuit. You can hear every layer of sound. Dan, the lead singer, is a true showman.

The sense of anticipation for ELO was extraordinary. I tweeted that I was in the venue and was instantly hit with a barrage of tweets from people who had seen the show and wanted me to know I was in for a proper treat.

The typical ELO fan, it would seem, is about ten years older than me, male, relatively well-preserved and heterosexual, although there were a surprising number of women there, all - literally all - with regional caramel slices in their hair!

The gig was stupendous. Hit after hit after hit, starting with that epic gong and heavy-string introduction to Tightrope. Every song brought the memories flooding back. I thought of my Mum and Dad during Telephone Line, I thought of Brother Edward during Secret Messages and Fiona and Ted during Sweet Talking Woman. The string trio at the start of that particular song reminded me of teenaged busking trips to Coventry. I think I transcribed it for us to play alongside the Miss Marple theme tune! We certainly used to listen to it as we drove to busking pitches around the Midlands.

The 10538 Overture was a personal favourite. It instantly transported me back to my bedroom in Higham Ferrers playing a live version of the song on my little record player with its silly speakers. I had the image of a 14 year-old lad singing to the moon, unable to comprehend how excited he was to hear the 'cellos thumping away in that particular tune.

Don't Bring Me Down went big in the crowd. I swear the backing vocalists were singing "Bruce" instead of "grrrrroooose" but Jeff Lynne's mondegreens are legendary.

It was a treat to watch the original ELO keyboardist, Richard Tandy doing his legendary thing. He's old school rock. Cool as a cucumber. No extraneous energy. He just gets on with being brilliant. Some of the moments when he did the iconic vocoder solos were amongst the best moments of the night. He took it all in his stride and then casually pushed the microphone away like he hadn't just re-created 1970s pop-rock gold.

Jeff Lynne sang well. Hearing his unassuming, unpretentious spoken Birmingham drawl between numbers was rather magical. The band was top-notch. I think it was only the three string players who let the side down a bit. It didn't ultimately matter because a lot of the string material was on track, but they just seemed a little lazy, almost as though they'd mistaken the gig for a West Life concert. They looked neat and tidy but paled into insignificance compared with the fiery, theatrical performances of Mik Kaminski and the great Melvyn Gale which made 1970s ELO concerts so special. These new girls just seemed a bit tame, glam and, well, boring. They reminded me of everything I used to hate on X Factor when the singers were bland and the girls playing strings around them were paid to sway a bit whilst looking pretty but unassuming. I got the impression that the violinist was fudging some of the iconic string runs as well. Wrong girls for the gig, sadly.

Obviously everyone's highlight was Mr Blue Sky. The hall erupted into dancing, jumping and singing. Everyone in the space was united in their love of the music and, frankly, their love of everyone else in the 02 who was loving the music. There was a fabulous sense of camaraderie. Like Jeff Lynne had handed out several thousand ecstasy pills at the start of the show and everyone was suddenly coming up!

I have discovered that my new facial hair makes it impossible to whistle with my teeth, which seems a little random, and totally unfair when you want to show your appreciation of two great bands without shouting yourself hoarse.

We got out of the O2 mercifully quickly. I'm sure the poor bastards who were sitting in the Gods are probably still at North Greenwich tube trying to get on a train. I don't know how they manage to get however many thousand of us dispersed without major incident.

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