Monday, June 29, 2009

Let There Be Rock!

On Friday, we saw AC/DC at Wembley Stadium.  And they rocked.  With a capital R.

It wasn’t subtle, it wasn’t classy.  It was tacky, it was loud and it was fantastic!

Last night, we saw an altogether different act.  Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park.  He was classy – but still loud and fantastic.

It made me think how many gigs we’ve been to over the years – it’s in the hundreds somewhere.  And over time you notice patterns, some of which I’d like to share with you now.

The first thing you notice about a gig is the venue.  People have different tastes when it comes to venues.  Some people like the raw grubbiness of the Kentish Town Forum, whereas some like the clean toilets and shiny escalators of The O2 or the new Wembley Stadium.  Personally, I prefer the latter.  In the same way that I don’t believe that music sounds better through the crackle of vinyl, I don’t believe that a gig is better when your shoes are stuck to the floor and the whole place smells of beer.

The second thing you notice at a gig are the people around you.  Gigs are fun, they are energetic.  People sing and people dance.  But some people just behave like tossers.  There’s a difference between getting into the show and throwing yourself around into everyone who’s standing around you and asking really loudly during every quiet song who would like a beer from the bar.  Just because it’s a gig, there’s no need for your respect for those around you to go out of the window!

Then you get to the opening number.  The setlist is very important at a gig, and nothing is more important on the setlist than the opening number.  The opening number sets the tone, it sets out your plan for the evening, and it reminds the audience why they came to see you.  You need something to grab their attention – an act should not slowly sidle onto the stage and say “hello, I’m going to sing a few songs if you don’t mind”.  Bruce Springsteen opened Hyde Park with “London Calling”.  AC/DC opened with a huge steam train rolling onto the stage and a barricade of pyro.  Make it big, and make an impression with the first song!

As the night progresses, there will inevitably be some songs thrown in from the new album.  Everyone does it.  But there is a habit of playing a well known song to bring the audience up, and then slipping in a song from the new album in the hope that nobody notices and that the high energy flow from the hit song through the one that nobody knows.  If you have a new album out, you will know which songs are good and which are filler.  Be honest with yourself.  Slip in a few of the good ones if you want, but don’t play any filler as it’s not going to win you any more album sales!

We’ve been to some very long shows (a few headline sets of over three hours!) and some very short ones (I remember the Manic Street Preachers doing barely an hour at Brixton a few years ago).  If it’s your show, people have come to see you. They’ve either sat through several dull support acts, or left home late in the evening and they are eager to see you.  An hour isn’t going to cut it, so make sure you’ve a set long enough to be worth seeing.

If you’re the kind of musician (or drummer) who likes to play a self-indulgent solo two thirds of the way through the show, then you’re going to have to accept that for 90% of the audience, it will herald a trip to the loo.  Solos are not popular – especially drum solos.  When people are clapping at the end of a drum solo, it’s from a sense of relief that you’ve finished – don’t take it as a signal that they want to hear more and strike up again. Ever.

After a couple of hours (typically) of music, it’ll be time to close the show.  Picking the closing number is almost as important as picking the opening number.  It’ll shape the memories of the gig that the audience take home with them.  Choose wisely.  No album tracks.  No filler.  Make it a good way.  A serious song will send the audience away thinking serious thoughts.  A joyful song will send the audience away with a smile.

Finally, if you’re going to come and do an encore, do it quickly.  If you wait five minutes before coming back on stage, most of the audience will be standing in the doorway clutching their coat and half-drunk bottle of water and not really in a position to enjoy the final song.

Whatever you do, make sure you have a proper ending to the show.  Don’t just stop suddenly

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It’s a funny old year…

Time flies as you get older – and this year has certainly flown.

It doesn’t seem like a year ago that the news was broken to the world that Symbian was changing.  A lot has happened in the year – a change as large as the one Symbian underwent can’t happen overnight! – but still it doesn’t seem like twelve months ago!

I wonder whether it’s a sign of age that the years are going more quickly.  Or maybe it’s having a garden…

Since we’ve had a garden at home, the seasons fly by so quickly.  One minute you’re watching the leaves brown as the view from the view turns from verdant to winter and as soon as the Christmas lights are taken down you see the first signs of the crocus pushing their way bravely through the frozen earth in search of some winter sun.

The flurry of bulbs – daffodils, tulips, hyacinths – pushes on through the spring, and is soon joined by the white sprinkling of magnolia.  As the spring marches on, the vibrance of the summer colours start to spring forth – pink roses, pink lavatera, blue agapanthus and the exotic passiflora. 

All too quickly, the summer sun sets in the sky and the colourful splendour of the garden returns to the lush green covering which revives the vernal memories of when the flowers were but buds.  The plants work hard to prepare themselves for winter – green shoots turn brown as they lignify against the winter chills.

The autumn winds rustle the now-fading leaves and one by one, the leaves cede to the gentle pressure of the incessant winds and fall to the floor, leaving the xyloid skeletons of the summer growth to survive the frosts and the snows.

A flurry of cyclamen signals the end of another year as the winter jasmine starts budding up and the crocus prepare themselves, deep underground, to herald the start of another year.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The first of many…

Friday night, we went to see the Pet Shop Boys at the O2.  And what great fun is was too!

I’ve seen them a fair number of times before, and the shows have ranged from the high-concept to the rather minimal.  This tour falls into the former category.

White boxes feature prominently in the show, as do hats of various levels of weirdness.  Maybe I should say headpieces rather than hats, as some of them are not hats in the traditional sense. 

I’m an unashamed PSB fan, so I think it was obvious that I was going to enjoy the gig. But I enjoyed it even more than I expected to.  Most of the hits were there (except Rent) even if only in one of the many medley-esque arrangements of the new songs which started drifted to a chorus of a previous single and then back again during the course of a few minutes.

But it was nice to hear “Do I have to?”, “Kings Cross”, “Why don’t we live together” and “Two divided by zero” dredged from the vaults and given a new lease of life on the stage.

The whole thing was – as I remarked at the time – rather like a high-camp version of The Wall set to a disco beat.  And I mean that in a good way…

The PSB gig marks is the first in a series of gigs over the coming couple of weeks. 

We are seeing AC/DC and Spinal Tap within a few days of each other – will we be able to tell the difference. 

We’re off to see Blur in Hyde Park – will they be playing songs we know and love, or will they be hit by a need to be arty and play B-sides which nobody knows?

We’re off to see Robin Ince’s “A Night of 400 Billion Stars” at the Bloomsbury Theatre and to see Eddie Izzard being interviewed by Frank Skinner for Radio 4.

I shall hopefully find some time amongst all that for a bit of blogging!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Has it really been a month..?

I can't believe I've not written in here for a month. I've started an entry a few times, but self-censorship has always cut them off halfway through for reasons of "not being interesting enough".

But, today I shall throw caution to the wind and simply dump my thoughts down into this little window and press "submit" whether it not I judge the quality to be worthy.

It's been quite a month - our MPs have been claiming far too much money for ridiculous things and the parliamentary Labour Party came within a whisker of committing regicide. Iran had a free election, in which anyone could vote whichever way they wanted - but then disregarded the votes cast in a bastardised version of democracy. Gordon Ramsay upset an Australian TV presenter and Margaret Mountford announced she's not going to be on The Apprentice next year.

All exciting stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. But let's talk about democracy today.

Democracy is very important. Equally important is the need to recognise that a perfect voting system does not exist. Here in the UK, first-past-the-post is unpopular - though mostly unpopular with those parties who'd do better under a PR system, it has to be said - but at least it's democractic. If a government becomes unpopular, and gets fewer votes cast, they will have fewer MPs and will not be the government any longer.

And therein lies one of the key values of democracy - the ability to lose an election aswell as win one. Plenty of elections happen worldwide in which votes are cast and counted, but winning is the only option; the government cannot lose (China, Zimbabwe, Iran to name but three) be it as a result of corruption during the voting process or simply by cheating when it comes to counting the votes.

In the recent European elections here in the UK, the BNP won a couple of seats. For whose who are unaware, the BNP are a whites-only, right-wing, homophobic and racist party who believe in the absurd notion that to be British involves being white, speaking only English and definitely not being gay.

However, for whatever reason - be it manipulative campaigning or simply a protest vote amongst a low turnout - they did win enough votes to win two seats and much as I find their policies and personalities abhorrent in the extreme, I cannot deny them the right to represent if they are duly elected.

There is no hint that any deception was involved in the electoral process to enable the BNP to win those seats. Even amongst the most cynical of serious observers of the political process here in the UK, there is a belief that a vount cast is a vote counted even if there is strong disagreement with how those votes are transformed into an elected government.

So whilst it may be fashionable at the moment to criticise the first-past-the-post voting system or to rue the fact that the BNP become fairly elected representatives I think it's important to remember that whatever crinkles in our electoral system there may be, when you cast a vote on polling day, you can be safe in the knowledge that your vote is counted, and that - in simple terms - getting the most votes means that you win the election - and not getting enough votes means you lose.