Friday, December 16, 2005

Musical musings

As a parent I worry constantly about Scrappino. It's only natural. I try not to, but I do. As soon as you give birth, your capacity to sense danger around every corner increases ten-fold. Every electric socket is a potential fire hazard; every driver a hit-and-run waiting to happen. All logic and reason disappear and irrational fretting takes their place, to the point that when I'm not worrying about something specific I'm worrying that I've been kept in the dark about something worth worrying about. And so I worry even more. Basically, I'm with Roger McGough on this. His poem, entitled (appropriately enough) Worry is one of my favourites.

Where would we be without worry?
It helps keep the brain occupied.
I once knew a man
Who couldn’t care less
And he died.


As our children grow older, the worry doesn't decrease - we just worry about different things. I know this because my parents have an almost God-like talent for worrying. In fact, I'd say they have a genetic predisposition to it, which I have clearly inherited. The dangers facing their single daughter in the heaving metropolis of modern London are not lost on them. And they are permanently anxious that I am safe and well. (If I'm honest, it's actually quite comforting to be worried about by your parents - I wonder if Scrappino feels the same?)

Given this tendency for anxiety I decided not to tell them that I had bought a ticket for a concert at the Brixton Academy. The words 'Brixton', 'Stockwell Tube Station' and 'Night Bus' are not ones to offer them much comfort. And so, without a word to the folks, I set off last night into deepest South London, with my good friend A, for the said concert.

As it turns out, our stealth was not warranted. Brixton tube station is now well lit and almost totally rebuilt, with windows in the ticket hall and a plethora of smiling (yes, can you believe it, smiling) tube staff. We felt 100% safe as we walked to the Academy and made our way to the back of the queue.

Our sense of safety was perhaps bolstered by the fact that this was a David Gray concert. Hardly at the cutting edge of the teenage music scene. In fact, looking at the people waiting behind us in the queue, we noticed that there were more mums and dads than rebellious kids. (A very refreshing feeling for me - finally, I'm not the only one in the audience rushing home at the end of the night to pay the babysitter). I don't know what the residents of Brixton must have thought of all these middle-aged middle-class white folk descending on their manor.

When we were finally ushered inside and made our way through the bag check (and not a CST volunteer in sight) it became even more apparent how middle-class this gig was going to be. This was Easy Listening night at the Brixton Academy. At the bar we both ordered a beer and were given the obligatory plastic bottles. The woman alongside us asked why the bottle was plastic. Clearly, she was a Brixton Academy virgin. And she wasn't alone. A had her huge work bag with her so we asked some random woman if there was a cloakroom. She pointed us in the direction of a door at the end of the foyer. It was only when we reached it that we realised that she'd sent us to the Ladies toilets. Bromley Village meets Brixton Central - the loo is not called a cloakroom south of the river. Perhaps she'd thought that the Brixton Academy was a posh secondary school?

Eventually, we found the cloakroom, checked in our bags and were given tickets to reclaim them after the gig. As we walked towards the hall, holding our pink tickets, a 40-something year old woman asked us "Oh, is there going to be a raffle?" ("Yes, love, there's going to be a raffle. All the major pop concerts have a raffle, didn't you know? At the Rolling Stones gig they have Mick Jagger running a tombola and Madonna gives out bottles of Pomagne in a lucky dip")

We managed to drink through the support act and made our way towards the standing area in front of the stage, while the roadies set the stage and tuned the guitars for Gray and his backing band. Roadies are, without exception, the most ugly blokes you could ever meet. I'd hazard a guess that being fat, tattooed, over-pierced and sporting long hair and a straggly beard are now essential job requirements for a roadie. And this includes the one female roadie who was there yesterday. Think Janice from Coronation Street meets Eric Bristow. Not a sight you want to pay good money to see.

Eventually, the lights went down, the crowd cheered and David Gray made his way on-stage.

Now, I know my own literary limitations. And being a music critic is not within my capabilities. I don't have the vocabulary or the musical understanding to do it justice. And, more crucially, I am completely biased. So I will simply say that he was terrific. He was clearly enjoying himself the entire night (unlike the last time I saw him - two years ago at Earl's Court - the venue was too big and he was pissed off at the audience who didn’t know any of his new material and kept calling out "Sing Babylon. Sing Babylon". Which he refused to do). Not so last night. He fired his way through the best of Life in Slow Motion (his most recent album) and then treated us to the best of White Ladder - "Sail Away", "This Year's Love" and, of course, "Babylon". He wore a fabulous dark brown Italian suit (a sign of White Ladder's commercial success) and I thought that Mum would have approved (she never forgave the Beatles for ditching the Pierre Cardin and opting for Afghan coats).

Now, I know that David Gray is not the coolest chap in the pop world. I know that some think he's corny, derivative and samey. But you know what? I don't care. I just think he's brilliant. And I've found that one of the most wonderful things about being 30+ is that you stop caring about what other people think and just enjoy the things that you want to enjoy without worrying about any potential damage done to your street cred. This is made easier by my acceptance (finally) that not everyone shares my passions and so I managed to resist the urge to earnestly compel A to "listen to the words!" whenever he sang a slow ballad. (It was during these slow numbers that the middle class audience came into its own. Instead of the obligatory waving of the cigarette lighters the audience held their mobile phones aloft instead - a sea of little blue lights).

And so A and I swayed, jumped, sang and cheered our way through the very best of David Gray. He was on stage for almost two hours - moving from electric guitar to piano to acoustic guitar and gave his all to every track. He ended the set with a fabulous rendition of Babylon (a sign that he's comfortable with his previous glories and can celebrate them without fearing about his future output) and the audience roared.

He and the band walked off stage leaving the audience baying for an encore. This always makes me laugh - everyone knows the band is going to come back. Their instruments are still on the stage for Christ's sake and the lights are still down in the hall. But we all have to play the game. So we screamed 'MORE' and eventually he jogs back onto the stage with his "Oh, okay then - if you insist" expression. And sang "Shine" (my personal favourite Gray song) with more passion and more guts than I've ever seen him do it before. Worth the cover price of the ticket on its own. Finally, with the audience fired up he ended the evening with a cover of the Cure's "Friday I'm in Love", and brought the bloody house down.

8 Comments:

Blogger Elster said...

Hehe - Your worry issues make you sound alot like my wife - another big time worry-er. In fact, the experts say that if she continues like this for a few years, she can be eligible for the Worry hall of Fame - maybe you guys will be inducted on the same night.

As for David Gray - I will admit with no embarrasment that I have no idea who he is. But I'm glad you had a good time.

2:57 pm  
Blogger tafka PP said...

Ooh- reading that I felt like I was there, could hear his songs and everything. Never mind pissing myself about the "Raffle" comment. Hilarious.

1:31 pm  
Blogger R.x said...

elster - good to know i'm not alone when it comes to irrational worrying. i can highly recommend White Ladder by David Gray. it's a fabulous album - there isn't a bad track on the whole thing. one of the cd's you'll be listening to for years without getting bored.

parrot - thanks for your 'match-making' with jameel. it was brilliant to hear from him - i owe you one. the raffle comment was 100% true - i couldn't make it up...

6:00 pm  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

R.x.: I'll get some decent chocolate for the parrot on my next excursion to London.

I'm sure you're a great parent for Scrappino!

8:40 pm  
Blogger MC Aryeh said...

David Gray is fantastic, though I can't imagine him doing "Friday I'm In Love"....it is quite wonderful to reach the stage where you don't care what others think and just enjoy what you enjoy. I would hardly call being in one's thirties middle aged - unless you were referring to clueless raffle lady and her compatriots! Love the McGough poem - can you recommend where to begin with him? It's nice to be worried about....

P.S. Thanks for peppering the post with many Britishms...much appreciated!

2:00 pm  
Blogger baldricka said...

I can't believe I'm admitting this in (sort of) public, but I've never heard of David Gray!! Where have I been? How has everyone else heard of him? I'm intrigued now! Can you record something of his for me and give it to H? Thanks!

6:11 pm  
Blogger R.x said...

jameel - you say the nicest things! thankyou. and throw in a couple of hazelnut whirls for parrot from me...

mc - i put the britishisms in especially for you, ol' chap. roger mcgough has been writing since the 60's - my favourite volume is Blazing Fruit - a collection from '67-'87. but there are loads more to choose from. that's a good starting point tho.

baldricka - you haven't heard of david gray?!? this is what happens when you make aliya. it's all arik einstein and gidi gov, isn't it? i'll happily burn a cd of david gray classics for you and send it over with H...

10:47 am  
Blogger tafka PP said...

Mmm Hazelnut Whirls!

If you want to get White Ladder to "Baldricka" any quicker (not that I know who she is- I'm not that omniscient...not sure if I spelled that right either) I can probably help there too.

4:13 pm  

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