Monthly Archives: June 2012

Rocket Man lands in Harrogate

Yesterday (Tuesday 5th June 2012) I saw Elton John entertain crowds at Harrogate’s Yorkshire Event Centre. This is by some distance the biggest concert I’ve been to where I’ve a) walked there and back and b) slept in my own bed. It should be added that at £80 a ticket I wouldn’t have paid transport and accomodation on top.

Before I talk about the concert proper; here are two things about Elton John you may not know;

1, Between 1971 and 1976 he released six albums which are up there with the best records committed to vinyl; Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across The Water, Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me … I’m Only The Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirty Cowboy (the patchier Caribou split the last two). It may surprise you to learn that the first two produced no UK hit singles whatsoever.

2, In 2001, after 25 years of constant hits but patchy albums (Too Low For Zero in 1984 was his sole moment of true glory during this period and The One from 1992 deserves critical re-appraisal) Sir Elton (and – a critical point – Bernie Taupin as well) rediscovered their mojo and produced the magnificent Songs From The West Coast which was followed (if we sidestep the worthy but dull Peachtree Road) by the equally outstanding The Captain And The Kid and an impressive collaboration with long forgotten American musician Leon Russell entitled The Union. And … nobody seemed to notice. Sir Elton could still score a hit with a tacky reworking of Your Song or a mash up with a boy band covering Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word but his outstanding new records sold only to the hardcore. Even his so called fans didn’t seem to care. One has to be impressed that he bothers to listen to his muse.

Which takes us back to the concert. Granted, this is the Greatest Hits tour so one can’t really moan at a setlist that had `the hits` but it was telling that the sole selection from the last twenty years, Hey Ahab, from The Union was one the highlights and certainly his strongest performance vocally. Otherwise one of the few real surprises was Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters, a lyrically powerful tribute to New York from the Honky Chateau album. Oddly enough I had this record on the day before and was reminded what a great song this was; it was a pleasure to hear it live.

In all concerts it always takes you a while to get into the swing before one song gets you to your feet and you stay there for the rest of the night. In this case it was a joyous rendition of Philadelphia Freedom which was almost the highlight of the set. A few other moments came close; Candle In The Wind retains a suprising amount of power – let’s remember that long before `that` use of the song he played it in tribute to teenage AIDS victim Ryan White and that story is worth looking up. The well remembered album cut Funeral For A Friend/ Love Lies Bleeding is a reminder that Elton doesn’t owe his success to arch theatrics and garish costumes – his forty year career is founded on musical dexterity and songwriting power.

The highlight of the evening, however, proved to be a truly awe inspiring performance of Sacrifice. On record this appears to be a mournful lament of lost love but the uptempo rendition Elton treated us to reinvented the song as a celebration; we love and love goes cold so we move on but we learn from the experience and take the good memories with us and it’s no sacrifice at all. During the song I was thinking of a trio of ex lovers (SJA, RKJ and SM if they’re reading this) and I had a massive smile on my face at the end of it.

If I had one criticism of the set it was its ending but that’s probably because I’m one of the few Elton fans who doesn’t like Your Song. I find it bland and dull, quite frankly. It was always going to be the encore and it had its place but I was hoping something more triumphant would be ringing in my ears as I went for an overpriced roast pork sandwich and much needed piss but alas, not to be.

Changing the subject; as a (relative) veteran of such concerts I was surprised to find myself in the lairiest, booziest crowd I’ve been in. Some of this may be due to the seated nature of the concert; you were able to get in the drinks without losing your vantage point. I have nothing but admiration for the stewards who had a thankless job of keeping exit routes clear from some of the tipsier members of the audience (of which there were more than a few). I did see one steward getting some aggro though and I hope the red faced gentleman involved got slung out. I’m hoping the Yorkshire Events centre move towards a standing only set up for future concerts which should keep the binge drinkers and prattlers on the periphery.

More to the point there is sober, then there is tipsy, than there is drunk and beyond that there is incapable. I have it on good authority that a middle aged woman queuing to use the toilet in a nearby retail outlet (and not buying anything) was so far gone that she simply did her business on the floor which of course had to be mopped up after her (I hope she was just drunk – the alternatives are rather worrying). It will be interesting to see what comments are made regarding the crowd – let’s face it, if a concert attended by primarily young people featured taunting of stewards (generally good natured) and public urination we’d never hear the end of it from certain sections of the community.

Photograph: Andrew Benge/Redferns taken from http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/jun/06/elton-john-review

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Harrogate Advertiser highlights – Part 1 (of many)

I would like to introduce a new feature on my blog highlighting my local rag, the Harrogate Advertiser. I’m assuming most people have heard of Harrogate itself but in case anybody hasn’t, it’s a former spa town in North Yorkshire that is known for being very affluent and one of the best places in the country to live. I like my hometown, I’m proud to say I come from here and there are far worse places I could be living. I’ll stress that straight away. I’ll also say that the majority of people who live here are very pleasant as neighbours, colleagues and clients (my work involves a lot of contact with the public). As with anything else it would be a shame for a narrow minority to tar them with the same brush.

But Harrogate does have a narrow minority of people who are what the word stuck up was invented for – and more to the point we all know which part of their anatomy they are permanantly stuck up. These are people who labour under the impression that they were somehow created superior from the majority of people and think that anybody on a lower income or, indeed, anybody who has to work in the first place were put on this earth to cater to their every whim. Needless to say these people have opinions that aren’t so much note in my back yard as not in my ten acre estate.

You probably get the idea so I won’t labour the cliches. We all know people like these and Harrogate is full of them. Unfortunately. But we all know how ridiculous these arrogant snobs are so let’s give them what they deserve – ridicule! Only fair.

Which leads me on to the Harrogate Advertiser, the self proclaimed Voice Of The Town. Until very recently they were proclaiming themselves the voice of the town since 18something; perhaps they’ve decided to stop proclaiming how long its been since the rest of the world moved on. In terms of reporting local news and advertising future events I suppose this paper does its job and it is worth the pound you pay to buy it. However every issue contains so many examples of editorial incompetence, sloppy journalism and misplaced priorities that you begin to wonder if it isn’t deliberate. This is the publication that (I kid you not) considered a dispute between the ballroom dancing society and line dancing society to be front page news.

More to the point, all too often it gives voice to the minority introduced above. Now I’m all for freedom of speech, I may not like what somebody says but I’ll defend to the hilt their right to say it. But I reserve the right to be able to hold their opinions up to the contempt and ridicule they deserve and, as the Harrogate Advertiser’s editor is well known for limiting right of reply when it suits her (trust me, I’ve been there) I’ll make my little stand in my blog. And I’ll enjoy it as well.

So I shall introduce our first guest, an Elizabeth Glendenning who has written a letter published under the heading, `Pupils Bad Behaviour`. Now to be fair to Mrs/ Miss Glendenning, in her letter she actually attacks the teachers more than their primary school pupils (the Harrogate Advertiser has a wonderful habit of printing taglines that misrepresent letters before anybody has read them – given the hot water it got the editor into last year you think she would have learnt). Her complaint is that a group of schoolchildren got on a train and took up a lot of seats, leaving quite a few adults standing. She notes that not one of the teachers asked the children to give up their seat `to a lady` and this shows a `lack of common courtesy and good manners`.

One can understand her complaint up to a point. Trains are not really designed for whole parties of schoolchildren (Mrs/ Miss Glendenning does not specify how many children there were – she refers to a class) and the school should perhaps have hired a minibus for the occasion (maybe they did and something went wrong). However what are the odds that several seats were taken up by adult males who Mrs Glendenning does not mention. Presumably they did not offer to give up their seats either. So we’re left with impression that Miss/ Mrs Glendenning, aggrieved of the fact that she missed out on the seat lottery that is all too common of public transport, picks on the people she considers least deserving of a seat and writes in high dudgeon saying that the headteacher should hang their head in shame at the `disgraceful` behaviour of their teachers.

Mrs/ Miss Glendenning laments a lack of good manners and courtesy, only just stopping short of saying those wonderful words so beloved of a certain type of person – `in my day`. One just hopes that the children (not a breed I always have sympathy for) who have found themselves attacked in their local paper (as much by the editor than the correspondant) don’t grow up as opinionated and judgemental as Mrs/ Miss Glendenning.

An average Harrogate Advertiser correspondant, or their patron saint at least.

Gig review – Four 45s/ Sam Forrest/ Strangers In Paradise – Northern Monkey, Leeds, 1/6/2012

Has it really been March since I updated this thing? To anybody who was awaiting updates (if anybody was) then I apologise. My excuse is that writing a weekly piece on a band was becoming a bit of a bind so I got out of the habit. However I continue to be driven forward by the things that matter to me and this page remains my best outlet for sharing them.

So here goes;

It’s always been my view that the greatest band you will ever see could be playing the gig of their lives anywhere, at any time. It’s YOUR responsibility to be there. That’s why I love going to gigs, particularly when it’s a band I don’t know much about. You always go in the hope you’re going to be blown away. It rarely happens, of course, but it would be pretty dull if did.

This is the point where I’m having to resist the temptation to give a history lesson. Suffice to say that that almost a decade ago a lad I worked with played in a band and I did the decent work colleaguey type thing and I went along. It would be a lie to say that band (IV Play) blew me away that night – I might now regard them as the fifth greatest band ever (yes really) but they had a bit to learn and it was five gigs before they hit their stride. But we’re not really interested in them here.

Through IV Play I came to know the other outstanding Harrogate band of the era; Revolv; who DID blow me away when I first saw them support IV Play at Carringtons in 2003 – specifically the acoustic version of their song `It Never Stays` with its thunderous three guitar tumbra. Nothing else they did quite hit me the same way but I’ll never forget that.

Revolv 2003 consisted of Jonny Skinner (vocals), Steve Mosby (guitar and later in D’Nile with IV Play’s Liam Gray), Al Ramsden (brother of IV Play’s Matt and principal songwriter), Joe Flanagan (guitar) and a drummer whose name escapes me. IV Play and Revolv would both disband by the end of 2005 but D’Nile (and briefly Faces Of Dorian) rose from the ashes.

That should suffice for background. Now we can fast forward to Friday 1st June 2o12.

My main reason for ordering my boss to work his day off (yes really) was to see Steve and Andy Mosby’s new band Strangers In Paradise who were making their live debut. It’s always to good to be able to say of a band that you can’t really think who they sound like – and Strangers In Paradise are such a band. The twin cliches of `indie` and `alternative` have to be mentioned but the band also has a guest MC in Tre Cool (twenty five years after Aerosmith and Run DMC rock and rap remain surprisingly awkward bedfellows) and the edgy stutter of their sound still allowed Steve to show off his guitar prowess (the guy is a virtuoso). It can only get better from here.

So that was the purpose of my trip accomplished but there were still two more acts to go. Next on the bill was a solo spot Sam Forrest, lead vocalist with Nine Black Alps. I’m ashamed to say this band have escaped my previous notice even though they have a three album history. It’s far from easy to hold the attention of an audience when the beer is flowing and it’s you and just one guitar but Sam more than managed it (being a 30 something pro while looking like a fresher student at an open mic night does help) and his performance had me making a mental note to check out his band.

Which us on to the headline act, the Four 45s, also from Harrogate and consisting of Joe Flanagan (ex of Revolv – them again), Nick Turner, Rufus Beckett and Nick McTague. Despite knowing two of the band personally (I’ve met Joe a few times through mutual friends and used to work with Nick) I didn’t know what to expect. I was just praying that it wouldn’t be some tuneless shouty racket whichI’d have to politely pretend to like.

Rock music is always at its best when it’s intelligent and literate but at the same time you can dance to it. And literate and danceable are certainly the two words that describe the Four 45s. I detected a definite folk influence (we wouldn’t have rock music as we know it if a folkie on speed hadn’t taught it how to think of course) but this was definitely rock music, inciting us to have a good time while reminding us there is more to the world than booze and the beat. Joe and Rufus swapped the front man role several times and Nick T made his presence felt on backing vocals. Critically this felt like four individuals getting together to entertain us rather than a pack of clones going through the motions.

So that was my Friday night. One band triumphantly realising their potential and two other great bands discovered. Life doesn’t really get much better. Thanks have to go to Joe who sorted me a ticket in the first place and Steve for persuading the (extremely pleasant – another nice change) bouncers that I was on the guest list.

Links as follows

https://www.facebook.com/strangersinparadiseuk

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nine-Black-Alps/25573229850?ref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/thefour45s (from which the picture below is nicked)