Friday, 20 July 2012

Kick It Out Of The Park

Despite the curfew catastrophe I thoroughly enjoyed both Springsteen and Paul Simon's epic sets in Hyde Park last weekend.

However, the general disquiet about the quietness suggests that it may be time to stop concerts in the area as they are not only annoying the locals but those attending the concerts.

I attended the first Hard Rock Calling weekend in 2006 to see England go out of the World Cup on penalties to Portugal (well I read the whole of 'Vernon God Little' instead) and Roger Waters perform 'Dark Side Of The Moon' followed by The Who on the Sunday. The thing that most impressed me was the sound. Used to underpowered outside PA's the clear vocals and strong bass of the HPC weekend was a refreshing change. Its meant that I've returned to the weekends there again over the past few years.

However, this year, like the weather, it was a depressing and frustrating experience for many. I must say that for me I was close up to the PA on both nights and for Paul Simon in particular thought the sound was perhaps a little quiet but immaculate with all those players on stage. For Springsteen that was partly true but for at least the last 30 mins of the set the sound was gradually being turned down. It wasn't my imagination, I have it on tape, the sound got thinner and more tinny as the "encore" section progressed. The curfew etc has been discussed to death but even before the power was cut there was a definite fade out.

At 10:15 on a Saturday night in, I would say, the greatest capital city in the world.

This, despite all the conspiracy theories and finger pointing, was due to the licence given by Westminster Council and agreed to by the organizers - no music after 10:30 and it was 10:40. They would have got fined and possibly risked not getting a licence for gigs next year. With the amount of concerts in Hyde Park already reduced for next year the competition for places will be harder than ever. So as a musical decision it was appalling but as a business one, understandable.

The Royal Parks Department needs the concerts there to raise revenue to maintain the fine green area of Central London. the locals hate the noise and disturbance to their lives that the concerts bring. Yes, they are probably rich and have a country cottage they could slope off to. Yes it was Saturday night, they are killjoys, its rock n roll, man etc. Yet the Council are no doubt reflecting the interest of their constituents. The lack of concerts in Hyde Park may result in higher council tax bills for the residents - most may see that as fair exchange.

But turning down the sound does not serve the musicians, audience and music.

So I would suggest it would be better for all concerned if this year would be the last year that concerts were held in Hyde Park. I say that with a heavy heart as I enjoy attending gigs there. I think they are well run, well catered for and a cut above your average outdoor gig. They are relatively easy to get to and from (although Saturday night's post gig organization was an omnishambles) and the crowds often good-natured.

The question is where else to hold outdoor gigs in London where you can have a a large stage, decent sound and travel links?

Perhaps some of the Olympic venues can be utilised rather than be mothballed. Perhaps keen cyclists Kraftwerk can have a residency at the velodrome. Victoria Park has held gigs in the past perhaps the locals not being so well healed may prevent similar problems over noise levels with the council. Is the location of Hard Rock Calling simply because it is next to their flagship London restaurant?

I shall be back in Hyde Park on 12th August to see Blur \ New Order \ The Specials hold their "Thank Fuck Its Over" party as the Olympics fades into a future of Londoners paying for the bloody thing for decades to come. I just hope that the doomy bass of 'Ghost Town', the electronic pulse of 'Blue Monday'  and the crunchy fuzz of 'Song 2' is more "whoo-hoo!!!" than "what? eh? speak up!"

Its better to burn out than to fade away.....


Monday, 16 July 2012

Paul Simon: Graceland in Hyde Park

So after the rainy night before with the Boss\Macca fuck up, t'was a sunny day once Paul Simon wandered onto stage around 7.30. He has been described as a negative presence on a stage but I felt he was having a lot of fun up there. he frequently smiled, did some dad dancing and even cracked a joke at one point. Tonight he basically had two bands on hand, the band for the non Graceland material and the original band from the 1987 Graceland tour (those still with us). The talent on display was astounding.

                                                          Look, a smile!  (Photo: Reuters)

I'd had a little peak at the Dublin setlist from a couple of days before and was overjoyed to see Hearts & Bones as its a perfect song. Such a lightness of touch musically and lyrically, his performance of it was sublime. I was reminded of Carrie Fisher's comment about it - "if you ever find yourself in the position of having Paul Simon offering to write a song about you -DO IT!"

I had been disappointed that Jimmy Cliff who was billed to appear on the day seemed to have disappeared from the running order so it was a great surprise when he popped up grinning like a loon in his gold training shoes (wonder if he got them off Jimmy Saville?). 'Many Rivers To Cross' - oh boy, that was fabulous, not a sign of strain in his voice, fresh as the day he recorded it. His protest anthem 'Vietnam' sequed into 'Mother & Child Reunion' - no doubt a tip of that hat to that fact that Paul used Jimmy's backing band to record the original track.

I don't know how it made you feel the first time you heard Ladysmith Black Mombazo on the album. It was a sound unlike I'd ever heard before. The depth, the richness, the tension and spinetingling excitement of the new. Well to hear that sound reproduced live as it echoed round that park was astounding. Fuck the nosy neighbours, they should feel blessed they could hear that on a sunny Sunday evening. The dancing, the little ticks and sounds but overall the SMILES - it was infectious. They were gone all too soon.

So we then went bouncing into Graceland itself. So much to love here - 'Crazy Love II' in particular was splendid stuff, Ray Phiri's guitar work setting the pace with Bakithi Kumalo holding the groove with some fabulous bass. Hugh Masekela stepped up with a a couple of songs that linked back to the apartheid era South Africa that gave birth to the 'Graceland' album. The passion and raw emotion during 'Stimela' was astonishing

Compared to the previous night I thought the sound was excellent. You could hear the seperation of the instruments, the little fills and riffs, vocal lines and bass runs. Yet the end of the 'Graceland' set - with what else but 'You Can Call Me Al' - with all its noise and celebration was a sharp contrast tp one of the moments of the night where Paul, alone with an acoustic, performed 'The Sound Of Silence' as if it were the first time. The way he picked his way through the song, subtly playing with the melody, singing much less stridently turning the song into a hymn.

Yes the 'in the naked light I saw, ten thousand people maybe more" line made a cheer roar across the crowd and it may be corny but I got a little shiver down my spine nonetheless.

If that wasn't enough, Jerry Douglas, who had appeared earlier with Alison Krauss & Union Station, ambled out to add some eerie and yearning dobro guitar to Simon's thoughtful picking on 'The Boxer' with the massed choir in the darkness note perfect. "There's a lot of friends up here tonight...and a few out there" Simon says to a roar of approval. "No" he deadpans "I meant some of my friends over there" he says pointing to the VIP section.  *boom-tish*

Soon it was all over bringing to an end three hours of sheer bliss that went by so fast. This felt like a landmark concert for Simon and a celebration of a time and tour that he can now have perspective on as the demonstrators have gone.

Thanks to my friends for sharing such a rare sunny night under the London sky with me and for helping me cope with the crowds by simply being there.


Gone at Last
Dazzling Blue
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

The Harder They Come
Many Rivers to Cross
Vietnam (with Paul)
Mother & Child Reunion (with Paul)

That Was Your Mother
Hearts and Bones / Mystery Train / Wheels
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
Slip Slidin' Away
The Obvious Child

Hello My Baby
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

I Know What I Know
The Boy in the Bubble
Crazy Love, Vol. II
African Sunset (with Thandiswa)
Under African Skies (with Thandiswa)

Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela)

You Can Call Me Al

The Sound of Silence (solo)
The Boxer (with Jerry Douglas)
Late in the Evening
Still Crazy After All These Years

Friday, 13 July 2012

Change, my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon

So for those still watching - this Wednesday I signed my permanent contract of employment. So I am now employed for at least another 6 months. all the hard work and fighting my corner has worked.

Its very much been no news is good news for me. I have worked really hard to make myself indispensable and vital to the company. Its a company growing and increasing its profits and business areas. The tasks should get more interesting and varied over the next few months. Its all very exciting.

During this time I've had very little anxiety and it all has given me a lot of confidence and stability. I still have a lot to work on in my personal life and habits to drop but its a giant step forward/

So I am going to change my attitude to the blog a little. It will still chart my anxiety ups and downs but also will focus more on the gigs I go to, music I listen to and the like. I want it to be a little happier and forward looking.

This is also in part due to the demise of the mighty Word magazine whose own blog community has been my main home away from home for 4 years now - great people both on and offline. I posted the following video as a tribute to the place but it was also for something else.

A friend's flatmate died last week and its been very hard for me to get my head around.

I can't say that he was a friend of mine. I probably met him maybe a dozen times but he struck me as a man with a good generous heart and a real joy for life.  I have been very fortunate in that apart from my grandparents, everyone I have been close to through my life (so far *touch wood*) are still around. I think its the sudden ending of the life of someone so, well, alive that has bought me up so short, I'm a godless heathen child, I don't believe in an afterlife, this is it, this is all there is for me. So death and finality are rarely that far from my mind if I'm honest. Those long dark teatimes of the soul at 3am can be so tough.

I don't think all this will make me live each day like its my last etc but it really has reinforced in me that we never know when our or our friends time is up. We should never take our friends for granted and let little petty arguments be the last thing we say to someone. Don't just assume that your friends know what they mean to you as it will be the one thing you wish you'd said to them when they are gone. 

So I'll leave you this and wish you and yours all the best.
"For one day you are here, and the next you are gone
Every horse has its year and every dog its day, my son
So the only thing to feel sad about is
All the dogs and the horses you'll have to outlive
They'll be with you when you say good-bye"