Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Farewell, The Desired Effect

At 6.30pm on a chilly evening in November, I’m tripping down the main street in Shepherd’s Bush, beckoned along by the golden light emanating from a set of arches which form the letter ‘M’. Yes, the pull of McDonald’s is strong. I’ve transversed three Tube lines in the past hour, and certainly need my strength for tonight’s event. So five minutes and £1.98 later, I’m racing as fast as my little legs can carry me towards the O2 Empire, to see my very favourite human being - none other than Brandon Flowers - perform the final show of The Desired Effect tour. 

I make my way to the end of the line, greeting Victim friends here and there, and end up making friends with a Victim called Sarah from Derby, and a lady from Surrey accompanied by her daughter and niece. She’s been playing the album in her bakery all day. Here I am reminded of why it is perfectly okay to go to concerts ‘alone’, because you’re certain to make friends. When it comes to The Killers and Brandon, I know that I can arrive alone and without a shadow of a doubt meet up with people I know or recognise somewhere along the line, and failing that, new queue friends are the absolute best.

With extra security checks, we only make it into the venue after 7.30pm, and between a dash for seventh row (not up to my usual standard, I know, I’m losing touch in my old age) I’m trying frantically to purchase tickets for Coldplay’s tiny upcoming show in Hackney. But both me and my two back ups fail, and although disappointed, I know that Coldplay will eventually embark on a full tour, and speaking of tours, this specific one is about to come to an end…

“What’re they called?” “Clean Cut Kid… I’m his dad!” goes the conversation in front of me as the lead singer’s proud father battles his way out of the crowd after the opening act’s set. Brandon’s typical oldies playlist kicks in, and before we know it, the lights have dimmed for the main act. Cue screaming. I’ve said before that in the few minutes preceding Brandon Flowers appearing on stage, the string that tethers me to the earth is severed. The same is true tonight. I’m not ready for this, it is not happening. My levels of nervous excitement are at fever pitch, and the adrenaline racing through my body is enough to make me feel like I am the one about to take to the stage. 

But I’m not; he is. Brandon. BFlow. King B. Whatever you want to call him. “Come out with me, come out and see” he croons in his opening song, illuminated by a single light, as though he is some supreme, unearthly being, which he very much might be. But the mood doesn’t remain calm for long, as he bursts into ‘Dreams Come True’, punching the air emphatically when the chorus is reached. Here I am, in the middle of London, spending my life bracing for the crashland, and forgetting that this whole experience is really a dreamland. Perhaps the next step is to take a chance underneath the streetlight.

Next is ‘Can’t Deny My Love’ followed by the incomparable ‘Crossfire’ (cue voice note to Lauren), but this time it’s ‘Magdalena’ that gets me. Always a firm favourite since its release in the Flamingo days, tonight I’m clutching my lightning bolt necklace and shouting the words as somehow I manage to experience every emotion of my 24 years of life, compressed into four minutes. Tell them that I made the journey, and tell them that my heart is true. ‘Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts’ is next, my absolute favourite Brandon solo song, and next we get a slowed down version of Jenny Was A Friend of Mine, followed by Lonely Town (cue voice notes to Andrew). ‘Diggin’ Up The Heart’ is also a firm favourite with me, and it seems like I’m not the only one, based on the way the crowd jumps. 

Brandon Flowers is a man of many talents, but perhaps joke-telling is not one of them. “I’m going to choose a cover now, I’ll give you three options…” He says seriously, “the first one is ‘Booty’ by Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea, next is ‘Bootylicious’ by Destiny’s Child and last is called ‘Da Butt’ by EU… do you know that song?” But then he smirks and launches into ‘Read My Mind’ instead (cue voice note to mama), much to the disappointment of those who were genuinely excited to see him shake his booty to ‘Bootylicious’. 

And so we continue until the double-feature of ‘Human’ and ‘Mr Brightside’ sends the audience completely over the edge. The French flag is projected in lights on the stage while we wait for an encore, which begins with the sombre ‘Between Me and You’, only to be injected with a second round of energy during ‘Still Want You’. ‘Only The Young’ was the perfect way to end the show - melancholy enough to make me feel all the chills in the world, but hopeful enough to not send me home drowning in my own tears. 

Though the same could not be said for the weather - after a quick scope of the stage door, I decide not to risk pneumonia for the chance of a second selfie with Brandon, and instead turn my umbrella upside down and use it as a boat to ride in down the street to the Tube station. Well, not really, but the rain was pretty heavy. 

And so it ended, not softly and gently, but with one final bang. I remember the way the tour started - the first play of ‘Can’t Deny My Love’; the race to HMV to buy the album and secure a spot at the meet and greet; the almost tearful excitement of the first night; the calmness of my first meeting with Brandon; the dash around the country to see four shows of the original tour; the TV appearances; the moments shared with friends; and the way each and every one of the songs on that album is attached to at least one special memory. And I know one day this will hurt - one day I will look back on this tour and bargain with the Fates about how I’d trade all my tomorrows just to relive one moment of this tour. One day I’ll be a wreck of emotions because no matter what I do, I can never be back in Brixton or Manchester or Birmingham or Shepherd’s Bush or even in that back room of HMV on Oxford Street, and I can never re-create those moments. One day, no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to conjure up the feelings I felt during this tour. I am so, so privileged to have been able to be a part of this - to have seen the shows, to have experienced it with the fans, and to have lived in this wonderful city with afforded me with the opportunity. 

The next time I see Brandon Flowers it will be with The Killers - and whether I’ll be darting across town after work, or booking two weeks leave to fly across the world remains to be seen, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, thank you, Brandon. And thank you, London. Redemption keep my covers clean tonight, maybe we can start again. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

I'm So Lonesome I Could .... (not go to a concert)

When one makes the decision to pack up one’s entire life and move to the other side of the world, completely alone, one inevitably gets called both brave, and downright insane. About nine months ago, I did just this. With no place to stay, a job I knew nothing about secured four days before leaving, and no friendship ‘group’ in London, I packed two bags and boarded a plane. Yes, it was insane. People wondered how I could do this without a boyfriend in tow, or a kindly aunt to stay with on the other side. Quite simply - I’m an only child, I’m a strong, independent woman, and I’m used to making my own way in the world. I don’t need to plan my life around other people, because I’ve found that in doing so, far too many opportunities are missed. If I waited around for someone to accompany me on all of my travels, I would never go on any. 

And so, here in London, time passed, and I did many things: I went to concerts, I went to bars, I went on trains. Sometimes I went with friends, sometimes I went with the intention of meeting up with friends - and sometimes I went completely alone. And all of these options were perfectly fine. It was fine to travel to Birmingham alone to see Amii; it was fine to go on a weekend away in Brighton with Catherine; it was fine to roadtrip to Liverpool with my mom; it was fine to get a 6am train to Manchester to visit Megan. Even better were the concert escapes - King Charles with Amii; Kodaline with Sinead; Taylor Swift with my mom. But do you know what was also perfectly fine? Getting the early train to Cambridge and wandering around all day by myself. Making the trek to Milton Keynes to sing my lungs out to Arlandria at a Foo Fighters gig, alone. I never felt strange. If I wanted to do something, why couldn’t I do it alone? Why should I wait for someone else to do it with me? My friends don’t expect me to go to the gym with them, so why would I expect them to go to the Foo Fighters with me? Does anyone look at you strangely when you’re at the gym alone? No. So why would I get stared at if I was at a Fall Out Boy show solo? 

And so out of the 19 concerts I have attended this year, 5 have been completely alone. When I purchased tickets for a recent show, I was quite surprised when a note on the website told me that tickets may only be available in sets of two or more. What if I wanted to go alone? Luckily, I was able to purchase a single ticket for this specific show, and I put this detail out of my mind. 

And so November arrived, and with it, Imagine Dragons at the O2. I hit StubHub for a resale, only to find out that almost all tickets (save for extremely expensive ones, at three times the average price) were only available in sets of two or four. Why should I be penalised for not having a plus one? Naturally, I took to Twitter for a little rant, and was advised by a follower to simply purchase two tickets and offer one to a friend in exchange for drinks. And I’m 100% sure this follower was trying to be friendly and helpful, but unfortunately, things aren’t always that easy. I do not have a friend to take with me. I have absolutely no choice but to go alone, and the fact that I am prohibited from buying a single ticket makes it impossible to do so. Why is it that I have to miss out on events I wish to attend, due to the fact that I am ‘single’? And by ‘single’, I do not mean that I don’t have a boyfriend. I mean that I am one person, doing my own thing in the world, and I will always be so. I am certain I am not the only person in the world who is dong life alone. 

And what does such a restriction say to young human beings, who are constantly being told to ‘you do’, and ‘live your best life’? Websites are full of inspirational crap like how being in a relationship shouldn’t define you, you can be just as happy single, be content with who you are as a person, blah. blah, blah. Sure, I’d be really content if I could just attend this concert! In 2015, why are social norms like this still being thrust at us from every angle? How is not being able to buy a single ticket for an event any better than banning certain people from an event, on any other basis? This tells me that by ‘not having friends’ or ‘not having a boyfriend’, I don’t deserve the perks that are in place for people who follow norms perfectly. Is it not bad enough that when living in a studio flat, I was charged extra tax for ‘being single’, as it was ‘assumed by the council’ that studio or one bedroom accommodation would be shared by a couple? Is it not bad enough that the cost of everyday living assumes that all human beings are cohabitating with a romantic partner by their early twenties? And yes, most people are doing so, but aren't we past the stage of having to conform to what 'most' people are doing? If that’s what you’re doing, that’s absolutely fantastic for you - so you continue to do you, and I’ll continue to not do me. I’ll begin to believe that maybe I am strange and wrong and failing at life, all because I’m being told I can’t go to a concert alone. Fine then, you just stop going to gym alone. Don’t dare go for a jog by yourself. You know what, you should probably get all 17 of your housemates to go with you on the Northern Line tomorrow morning, because how could you do anything alone? 

And before you tell me that I am blowing all things out of proportion, and I’m talking about resale tickets here, and obviously the couple is trying to sell because they both can’t go… why do ticket resale websites allow sellers to specify how many tickets they want to sell, but don’t allow buyers to choose the number to buy? I’ll tell you why: because no one wants to sell one ticket in a pair and risk not being able to sell the other, because ‘no one goes to concerts alone’. But that’s rubbish. That’s the norms of society making you believe that no one should go to concerts alone. 

What’s next, then? Train tickets only available in sets of two? Having to prove spousal accompaniment before I can get on an aeroplane? Why should people not be able to do the things they want to do, by themselves? Because I do have friends, I have a number of wonderful, amazing friends, and some of them will travel halfway across the country to go to concerts with me, and others will book spontaneous weekends away with me, or make food with me at 2am, or say just the words I need to hear, when I need to hear them. And I'm confident enough in those friendships - and in myself - to not have to spend every single moment of my life in company. Because, you know what, not everyone conforms to the norms of society. Not everyone is going to stick themselves in little boxes on the hillside, produce 2.4 children, adopt a labrador and spend their Saturdays adding a new coat of paint to their white picket fences. I mean no offence. I know that one day I too will be painting a white picket fence, even if I'm doing it alone, and switching the kids for kittens. I’m not saying I want to spend my entire life isolated, I’m simply saying that I want to go sing along to ‘Radioactive’ tomorrow night, and I want to do it alone. Simple. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Soundtrack To My Life: 10 Songs That Changed Me

I often wonder what would be on the soundtrack for the movie of my life. For someone who feels as deeply about music as I do, it is a real consideration. For every era, ever event, every moment of my life can be defined by a song, a lyric, a band. Sometimes a song reminds you of a town, a trip or a person. You associate that annoying top 40 hit with the roadtrip you took with your besties back in 2010. You skip a certain band because an ex loved them. You hear a song from your childhood, and suddenly the world around you recedes, and it's 1998 again. And then sometimes you look back and you realise that those songs changed your life. They influenced you into doing - or not doing - things. They shaped and formed you, like clay in the hands of, not the musicians, but of your own interpretations. I've been moulded and shaped and formed by so many songs, and these are the most important. 
(In no particular order, then)

The Shins - Bait and Switch: It's no secret that I'm obsessed with this band. Although not my favourite Shins song nowadays (that honour goes to Turn On Me), this was their first that I paid real attention to. And it's my soundtrack of freedom and happiness. No matter how melancholy this band is, they're like my comfort blanket. I can turn on this song and suddenly it's 2012, I can smell my Starbucks latte and the hire car's air freshener. There's nothing in the world but laughter, and sunshine and somewhere over the next hill, or around the next corner is Stonehenge, Glastonbury, and a world of possibilities. 

Taylor Swift - You Belong With Me: Ever since 2009, I've been slowly morphing myself into Taylor Swift, and this was the song that started it all. I was never a huge fan of Love Story, but this song took me in from the moment I heard it. It started with headbands and glitter, and evolved into high-waisted skirts, crop-tops and red lipstick. I wanted to become this girl, but I suppose there are worse role models. And after all, Taylor Swift told me it's okay to be a cat lady. 

Boyzone - No Matter What: I was seven years old, and sitting on the floor of my living room. A music video was on the screen: five men in white, singing the most beautiful melody my tiny ears had ever encountered. They had to be angels. This was the first song I was ever conscious of knowing. My love of music bloomed and blossomed and continued to grow throughout of my life, and this was the very beginning. 

Savage Garden - Santa Monica: This is my favourite Savage Garden song, and as they were the first band I ever saw live, I had to include it here. Although my nine-year-old self was far too young to understand exactly what the song was about, I did my best. And the name Norman Mailer always stuck with me. This song is by no means just about plastic people in California. It's all about that lazy winter spent in a tiny patch of sun in front of my first computer; it's trying on shoes with my first best friend; it's an ice cold day in downtown Vancouver, and how we all ran to the window as the first flakes of snow began to fall. 

Coldplay - The Scientist: The year was 2008, I was a first year Bachelor or Science student, and suffering from what felt a hell of a lot like depression. I'd never taken very much note of Coldplay, but one day I got ahold of this song and played it on repeat so many times that friends started to ask what was going on. At least then they paid attention. But Coldplay changed my life in so many ways and brought my such joy. From an almost tearful realisation that they were playing live in South Africa, to a dash across the country to see them, to near hyperventilation at their appearance, long walks to their studio on the other side of the world, debates on their new material and long discussions of Chris Martin's love life, I wouldn't be who I am without Coldplay.

Bastille - Things We Lost in the Fire (Fire Fire): I'll cut to the chase, this song earned me a friendship. "Of course I'm going to see Bastille, I don't miss concerts", I smirked. But then it turned into "You like Coldplay?" "Wait, you're a fan of Lost?" "Taylor Swift, what?!" And what could a friend really be to me? It's the person who will sing with me on a roadtrip, use my favourite singer's name as an expletive, or just sit in a car with me, listening to a song from  my childhood, the rain pouring down onto the windshield, both knowing that Boyzone is better than the party we're on our way to.

The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound: I don't know how I lived years without knowing about this band. I don't know how my soul survived without this masterpiece of an album. This song helped me discover Springsteen, who would become a constant in my life. And discovering the Gaslight Anthem gave me a new favourite band, and with it a whole new world of excitement. A whole new realm of singalongs in the car with my digsmate, a whole world of laughter and in-jokes and that special part of friendship that can only be expressed through music. 

Westlife - My Love: This song didn't so much change my life as define it. I can see it now: it's 2001, the skies are blue despite it being midwinter. It's the closest my life has ever been to perfect, so far and the closest - I fear - it will ever be. This song is the smell of sunscreen, the roar of the ocean and the assurance that with three people in the world who care about you, you don't need anything else. And now, 14 years later, this song is the assurance that although everything changes, it'll all come full circle in the end.

Brandon Flowers - Crossfire: Back in 2010, I was trying very hard to keep my strange fangirl obsessions under wraps. I tried these challenges where I'd not mention music for a week, to see how normal people lived. And I just couldn't do it. It was time for my friends to accept my for who I was, and if they couldn't, then perhaps they weren't even friends at all. Enter Flamingo. Enter Flamingo into my car's CD player, from whence it was never removed. 

The Killers - A Dustland Fairytale: Of all the songs that have impacted my life, this is the one that completely turned it on a dime. After one listen, I had to know everything about this band, I had to see them, I had to be a part of everything to do with them. It took a love for music and travel that was bubbling just below the surface of my calm life, and released it in a great explosion. It took my mild interest in media and the internet and made it into a full-blown obsession. A new career path, and new city, and new inspiration to meet people - everything changed within those four minutes. And I never looked back. 

Brandon in Brum: The Desired Ending

In some kind of obsessive fangirl haze, I'd bought a ticket to see Brandon Flowers in Birmingham, without first considering how the hell I was going to get halfway across the country and then back without missing any work. Nor had I checked trains. Oh, and the person who had my ticket was - unbeknownst to me - driving from Wales that very afternoon. Somehow, I pulled off a £16 return journey to Birmingham, which would allow my to stride into the office the next morning exactly on time, if slightly worse for the wear. 

So around 3pm, I stuck my laptop into my drawer, picked up the handbag containing my pyjamas for my sleepover at Amii's house (lol, sleep), and legged it to Euston as fast as the Tube would allow (read: soul-crushingly slowly). Halfway to Coventry I started to get nervous. I had never cut it this fine for a concert in my entire life. If the train broke down now, would I be able to walk to Birmingham by 9pm? C'mon, train!

By 5pm, I was jogging to the venue, only to find Amii was taking a loo break with her queue mates, so I intercepted James and his mama in the balcony queue. I do apologise if I scared you with my over-bubbling enthusiasm and the screaming hug Amii and I shared when she arrived back. 

It is so, so wonderful to meet human beings who understand you. To have friends that you can be entirely yourself around, knowing that they like you for the strange, weird and quirky human being you are. Amii, you are one of those friends. And don't get me started on the hugs from Justine and Emma too, I'll just get emosh. 

And so my ticket arrived from Wales, and a little before doors, a mass of curly hair appeared out of the venue door, and with it, backing singer Danielle Withers. It took a few minutes, but I was brave enough to ask her for a selfie, and we bonded over a short chat about which shows I'd been to. Manchester had been my favourite so far, due entirely to the appearance of Jilted Lovers.

I made my way back to my spot in the queue, and before we knew it, doors were open. Amii and I managed our traditional Mark's-side-second-row spot, although I lost it after attempting to make a run for water 3 minutes before showtime. Stupid me. While waxing lyrical about the London and Manchester setlists, two ladies next to me butted with with a very un-British friendliness. "So, do you just like, follow Brandon Flowers around?!" They were intrigued. "Yep, that's why I'm in this country." They laughed, but I grimaced. "I wish I was joking."

Some would say seeing four shows in one week, with largely the same setlist, would be boring, but tonight couldn't have been less so. Hyper aware that this was the last time I'd see King B for a while, I soaked up every glorious moment. I held my breathe for the appearance of 'Diggin' Up The Heart', but I had nothing to fear. My favourite from the new album was firmly on the setlist, having only been left off of the first London night. I feel like this was the first time I was honestly able to appreciate 'Lonely Town', and lost myself entirely for Brightside.

After the show, I located Amii, who had been a couple of people away from me, and together we screamed and hugged Emma, most likely traumatising her plus one for the night, who came in the form of her dad. And although we didn't get to meet our guy after the show, we did glimpse him, signing the odd autograph, then waving and grinning before boarding the tourbus.

After following James and his mum to their hotel, Amii and I fell into a cab back to Solihull, where we thought watching Harry Potter until 3am would be a fab idea. 3 hours later, I was bundling myself back into a cab to the station, and trying not to spill my Starbucks latte as I climbed aboard my train back to London. Screaming children prevented me from catching up on any sleep on the train back, and although I strode confidently into the office, right on time, 3pm saw me dismissing my new intern and stumbling back to my flat for an excellent nap. My Desired Effect Tour was over, and I was so satisfied that I'd barely even checked the prices of the Eurostar to Paris for the next show. Nope, I was done. And I was happy. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Pilgrimage to Salford: Brandon Flowers Live in Manchester

My technoloy malfunctioned at Euston. One minute I was about to type in my reference number to collect my train ticket at the self-service machine, the next, said machine was rejecting my card and the email containing the precious reference had magically disappeated from my phone. Cue 3 minutes of panic before email was located and I managed to race to my train exactly seven minutes before departure. Hey, for me that's cutting it fine. I'd love to say that the two hour train ride provided optimal time for the perfect snooze, but nope. The countryside flashed by in a haze of exhaustion and The Shins on my iPod, but I never did drift off. Thank goodness for high-speed Virgin trains, because before I knew it, we'd arrived in Manchester, and I was being collected by the lovely Megan (in her lovely car). Isn't it strange and fantastic to come such a long way - literally and figuratively - with someone? All the way from Beit House's third floor in 2008, to Manchester, 2015.

Megan and Gordon live a wonderful, happy and real life in Manchester's trendy Northern Quarter. It's something I aspire to when I'm older - a kitchen full of food, a spareroom full of stuff. Sometimes I think that moving around constantly since I was 17 has left me with few possessions. But for now, I was here to make memories. We took a drive to Tatton Park for a picnic in the sun - the first time I'd felt actual heat in the sun since I'd moved to England. Not just warmth, actual burning heat on my bare arms. It was fantastic. The evening was occupied by a shopping trip to Chester Oaks and on the way back, we were astouned to realise it was after 9pm, though the sun was still shining. I excused myself to bed around midnight, and managed a good eight hours. I'd need it for Sunday's gig. 

By 10.30am, messages from Jess about the length of the queue started to get me excited, and I dashed out of Megan's car outside the venue to hug people and squeal while she drove around the block. I promised to be back around 5pm. And so we hit the science musuem, completely underestimating the size of the place and only getting through about a third of it before we headed home for fantastic home-made burgers (on the braaaaaii). And then it was queue time. Being the genius that I am, I neglected to save a spot for myself in the queue before joining Jess, Ryan and Charlotte for a chat until just before gates. The excitement is palpable - Bernard Sumner of New Order is here. By the time I did get my own spot in queue, I was far too late for barrier, but did make it to a second row position. Not bad.

Shout out to the girl next to me who looked bored the whole way, even through Brightside. Shoutout to the guy on the other side of me who literally only came for Brightside. Anyway. Nothing could ruin this. Nothing could ruin the appearance of Jilted Lovers and Broken freaking Hearts. I believe I may have out-fangirled myself. As with the past two shows, Magdalena comes with an intro chat, though this time it's slightly changed up: "There are all sorts of pilgrimages, some people make musical pilgrimages... I come here, to Salford - I think I wanna be blessed by Morrissey!" Brandon says, trying to sound ironic, but betrayed by his nervous giggle. It's Okay, B, we all know your Morrissey stories. And then Bernard Sumner appears, and Brandon may well have forgotten that Moz even exists. The feeling of playing live with one's idol is surely one of the greatest experiences of one's life.

And so I fall out of the crowd, and make my way to the stage door to bid farewell to the Victims. As I walked into Megan's front door, Twitter told me that Brandon had done an acoustic encore on a balcony outside the venue just after I'd left. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. Just being there had been enough for me. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Brandon Flowers in London: The HMV Signing and Brixton Round 2

It took a long time before I fell asleep on Thursday night. The fact that I'd met my idol kept running through my mind, and I played it back like a film clip on repeat in my head. I eventually drifted off in a haze of vivid but unmemorable dreams, and woke with a start when my alarm went off. The four hours before I could leave for the signing were the closest to hell I've probably ever come. My inability to force down food, the caffiene I was injesting in attempt to keep me awake, and the slowly rising levels of adrenaline all combined for a terrible effect on the human body, but I pushed through. And so I made it to the signing, where I was shepherded into a back room of the HMV Oxford Street store with 300 or so other Victims, all clutching our copies of The Desired Effect, and bouncing on the balls of our feet to try to get a glimpse of the man of the moment - who hadn't even yet arrived. Hey, we were excited, okay? I was joined by Daisy, and for a while we discussed last night's meeting, the show and what we were hoping for from tonight's show. By now the album was playing on a loop for the second time, and standing in a room with 300 superfans, all signing along to Can't Deny My Love was another surreal moment. Brandon appeared to massive applause, and grinned his way through the sigining. "Nice to meet you again, Brandon. Thanks for being an inspiration, see you tonight." I said as he handed me back my signed CD. I don't know why I didn't go for the handshake, but I was happy nonetheless. Still shaking like made when I left - either due to lack of food or adrenaline - I abandoned my plans to go straight to Brixton, and headed home for a nap. After sleeping for exactly 20 minutes, I bounded out of bed with the idea that if I didn't leave for Brixton now, I'd fall back asleep and never make it before gates. However, upon arrival at 5pm, I scoped out the - small - queue, and instead headed off for a cocktail with Rachel. Unheard of. I was slacking in my old age. I made it back to the queue around 6.30pm, and made friends with two young girls in queue, who wanted to know all about last night's show. I don't even know their names, but I was in their Snapchat, so we're basically besties, right? I made second row on what would be Dave's side, and Daisy waded her way through the crowd to me. We had the perfect view. Perfect.

Tonight's support was Joywave, mercifully less noisy than last night's band, and with a good sense of humour. "We know we're standing between you and Brandon right now." 
Perhaps it was because I was closer to the stage, or perhaps my mind was allowing me to focus on finer details tonight, but Brandon was unstoppable. Air-punching and mounting speakers, Only The Young dance moves and all - it was perfection. 
I was ecstatic at tonight's opener of Untangled Love, in my opinion the most 'Killers-ish' song on the new album. Jenny Was A Friend of Mine came with Brandon's inquiry of whether or not we thought the narrator was guilty - an overwhelming yes from the crowd. "I don't want you guys on my jury" he said, giggling, and in that special Brandon way of almost singing his sentences.
A surprise came in the form of substituting Read My Mind for Human, and the crowd lost it. "... are we human, or are we dancer? LOOOOONDOOOOOON!" Goodbye sanity and hello so-long-to-devotion hand gesture. I screamed my face off at the appearance of 'Diggin Up The Heart', by far my favourite off the new album, and although the rest of the setlistwas similar to the previous night, it did nothing to diminish the impact of night two. Chrissie Hynde appeared again, ending her and Brandon's performance of 'Don't Get Me Wrong' with "Isn't he gorgeous?!" Yes, Chrissie, he's gorgeous.

And although the crazy part of me wanted to stay and meet him a third time, my aching 24-year-old body disagreed, and sent me straight back on the tube home, where I was barely able to converse with anyone around me. Great gig, yeah, zzzzzzzzzz. I collapsed for about 4.5 hours, until it was time to throw some clothes in a bag and hightail it to Euston for my train to Manchester: round three was about to begin.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Brandon Flowers in London: The Meeting

I once read a Stephen King book in which people were described as being tied to some kind of metaphysical string, and when the string was cut, they died. I’ve re-interpreted this theory slightly, and come to my own conclusion that we’re all tethered to the earth by a string - and sometimes, something happens that loosens your string, and sends you flying into nothingness, into the great beyond. You feel unhinged from the rest of the world, everything seems to spin, and just for a few moments you’re not sure what’s real and what isn’t. I think this feeling could come from a great shock, or simply from a lack of ability to comprehend just what’s going on around you. Sometimes things are just too much for our tiny human brains to fully absorb. That happened to me last Thursday. About ten minutes before BF was due on stage, the string holding me to the earth was severed, and I felt myself drifting away from the 5000 other people in the room. This was not happening: there was no way my hero was really going to appear on this stage in front of my face in a few minutes, and perform some of the songs that had defined periods of my life since 2010. No way. I could barely register that the guy behind me was speaking Afrikaans, I could barely stand up straight or breathe. I was - unfathomably - nervous. As though I was the one about to take to that stage. I gripped Emma’s shoulder and squealed that I wasn’t ready. She wasn’t ready either. We would never be ready for this.

But I want to dial this back a bit. Back to Monday, when HMV decided to announce a CD signing by none other than a certain Mr Flowers. First 300 people to buy the CD in store get in. I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly apologise to the brand new assistant Tom, who had started work about an hour previously. “I’m sorry”, I told him, trying to retain the last vestiges of my professionalism, “I have an emergency, I need to go to HMV, I’ll be back in an hour.” And so I sprinted to the tube, and whiled the thing to hurry up as it carried me toward Oxford Street. I dashed out of Bond Street station breathlessly, threw myself into HMV and stared around like a mad woman. Where is it??? The precious CD was located, and I speed walked to the counter. Keepin’ it cool. “Can I still get the wristband for the signing?” The cashier frowned at me. “I dunno. Some guy came in earlier talking about a wristband too. Go upstairs and ask them.” The answer was yes, I could (definitely) still get a wrsitband, and I pegged it back to work safe in the knowledge that come Friday, I’d be meeting Brandon Flowers. Meeting. Brandon. Flowers. I sent out a slew of Whatsapp messages decorated with crying emojis. I was meeting Brandon Flowers. Hey, I had to take full advantage of this tour - the first one and probably last time I’d be in the thick of things to experience a defining moment for my favourite artist.

I’d be lying if I said the next three days flew - in fact they dragged, time seeming to slow down as we got closer and closer to show number 1 on Thursday, and the signing on Friday. By Wednesday night, I was mildly hysterical, and in danger of the excitement spilling over and manifesting in either a screaming match or a tearful breakdown at any given moment. It was that kind of crazy, ridiculous excitement that I had felt the day I was going to see Coldplay live after dreaming about it for years. Thursday crawled by even slower, with frantic glances at the clock every few minutes. Every moment until 4pm was pure torture, and at exactly 4, I raced home to drop off my laptop and then grabbed the first circle line train in the right direction - unfortunately no matter how many times I am advised to avoid Edgware Road station, I always end up spending an inordinate amount of time there waiting for a connecting train. On this particular night it was 20 minutes, and by the end I was almost ready to rage tweet Transport For London, thought I knew nothing good could come of that. And so by the time I’d caught yet another train from Victoria, it was after 5.30pm, and I was  tapping my foot impatiently to the beat of my iPod, clutching my lighting bolt necklace and mouthing the words to Magdalena like some sort of desperate prayer. And then all at once I’d arrived, I was greeting Emma at the station and we’d covered the 400m or so the the venue. It was happening. We scoped out the line for familiar faces before taking our own spot at the back of the line, where we were accosted by an excited Alice (“Remember your cat wellies?” Yes, I remember them all too well), a quick hello from Sinead, Sam, waved greetings and "OMG I totally know them from Twitter" and then gates are open.

Inside, I was happy to choose a spot near the sound desk. With three more shows after this one, easing into things was surely best. One noisy support act later, we were itching for the main man to take to the stage. By the time the lights dimmed, I’d still not managed to re-attached the string that grounds me it’s really happening, he’s really here. And then the music started up, and I lost myself in it. Punch the clock, baby on the nightstand I sang like no one was watching, and surely they were not. Decked out in a golden jacket, Brandon was a vision. A consummate showman, a born and bred musician. It’s gonna be alright, you’re a performer. Somehow the entire crowd knew the words to Can’t Deny My Love, but it was Crossfire that sent me over the edge. This was the song I’d had a poster of in my lounge for the past three years. This was the song I’d brainwashed all my friends into liking in 2010. This was what I’d first heard on World Cup kick-off day, this was the song I’d tweeted East Coast Radio about daily, and screamed when they’d finally played it. This song was my first indication that Brandon would never let me down musically. Magdalena came with a chat, and the first surprise was Hard Enough. You let me into your life on a whim…Isn’t that true of everyone? The acoustic version of Jenny Was A Friend of mine was haunting, and by the end of Lonely Town, we’d all started doing the graviton dance. I Can Change is not a favourite of mine, but live it worked out well, and Brandon followed it up with another Killers cover - this time Read My Mind. And who doesn’t love Read My Mind?

By this time Emma had left, and I wound my way a bit closer to the stage, only to have to suffer through Swallow It. Thank goodness the setlist recovered with Only The Young, and then a remix of Mr Brightside. Now tell me, Brandon, how does it feel going to bed every night knowing that you’re the guy behind one of the most iconic songs of our generation? Good, yeah? Although I was already realising it, I didn’t want to admit to myself that Brandon could pull off a solo show as well as he could pull off a Killers show. I love The Killers, and it would break my heart if they split, but I take some comfort in knowing this deep in my heart.

Exit Brandon. Cue screaming. Cue more screaming.

If anyone was waiting for a surprise, this was it. Out pops Brandon for the encore, and then out pops Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders to join him. I’d never seen such joy on a man’s face (until the Bernard Sumner incident of May 24th, but we’ll get to that). Brandon and Chrissie performed ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’, complete with the most adorable dance moves possible, then she joined him in a beautiful duet of ‘Between Me and You’.

“I’ve shared a lot of myself with you over the past 12 years.” Brandon says after Chrissie leaves. “And… I’m probably going to embarrass her, but you’ve got to thank her for sharing me… come on our here.” A collective 5000 people held their breath as Brandon’s wife Tana and two oldest sons made their way onto the stage. She waved shyly to massive applause. “This one’s for you” … Brandon launched into Still Want You to shouts of ‘Awwww’ from the Victims. It was the first time we’d ever seen her in real life.

The Way It’s Always Been is one of my personal highlights of the album, but ended the show on a slightly melancholy note. Hey, maybe that’s what he was going for.

For me, there was no time to be melancholy - I fought my way through the crowd and pegged it to the stage door, where I was joined by Alice and Daisy for the long wait. By 11pm it was freezing, the adrenaline comedown had me shaking terribly, and I was considering leaving to make it back to the tube before it shut. Every time the stage door opened it was Brandon…. but it wasn’t. The small crowed began to disperse, leaving about 20 of us die hards to harass the security guard (“Orville, like the guy who invented the airplane”), who eventually told us yes, he was coming out, but he wouldn’t have much time. When band photographer Torey popped his head out the door, I knew it was time. The string connecting me to the earth was tied firmly, and I was calm. Brandon was grinning widely as he stepped out the door and straight towards the throng of selfie-seekers. “Hey Torey, how’re you doing?” I asked (calmly). Torey was good, how was I? “Good, thanks.” “Hi Brandon, can we have a really quick photo? Your music changed my life, thank you for being you.” I was dimly aware of the small crowd around me letting out a collective “aww” at my words. I snapped the photo, stepped back and then all of a sudden the world stopped turning, and all I could do was repeat “I’m done, I’m done with life, I’m done.” We watched Torey hop into the front seat of a cab, and Brandon in the back, as we ran up the road squealing “We met Brandon!” much to our surprise, Torey waved to us from the car, and snapped a few pictures before they sped off. It had happened. I had met Brandon Flowers. Life as I knew it had changed.

Monday, May 11, 2015

D'You Want To Go To The Seaside?

My first trip to Brighton was booked and planned in a reckless haze of and Trainline. No, I did not mind spending 100 Pounds on a hotel room if it meant that I could take a train through the countryside and listen to The Shins, whilst pretending it was 2012. Ever since my first trip to England way back in 2012, I’d had this inextricable association between The Shins and the English countryside. I spent some of the happiest days of my life driving around England listening to the lonely laments of this melancholy band. I was happier then with no mindset. But that’s not the point.

Let me start out by saying that I had never been so unprepared for a trip in my life - I’d barely taken a glance at Google’s directions from the train station to the hotel, and I’d not even bothered to search for things to do in Brighton. It was time to be impulsive, and this was about as impulsive as things got.

Of course I got to Victoria station an hour early (hey, I said impulsive, not idiotic), and scoped out where our train was departing from, whilst miss Catherine raced across town to make it in the nick of time. “OMG, friend, I thought I wasn’t going to make it - you would have killed me!” I sure would have.

The National Rail train was almost empty, except for two girls sipping something that looked like chocolate milk, but definitely was not. We watched the countryside speed by outside the windows, and I almost felt as though some of my enthusiasm for England was returning. What am I saying - it was definitely returning … within 45 minutes I was positively squealing about the adorable little houses, my voice approaching dangerously inhuman levels.

We stepped off the train in Brighton, and I breathed in the familiar smell of sea air - something I’d not experienced since January. The quaint streets of the town were abuzz with bank holiday weekend tourists, bustling through the shops and eateries. The magnetic pull of the ocean drew us towards it, and we managed to find the seafront without even using a map. D’you want to go to the seaside? The Kooks’ song begins to play incessantly in my head, and continues for the rest of the weekend.

Although neither of us are big fans of fish (or ‘fush’, as we Durbanites apparently say), there are certain traditions that simply need to be observed at the seaside, so we popped into the nearest fish and chip shop, and proceeded to wolf down a healthy portion of the stuff - of course slathered in a flavourful mix of ketchup, vinegar and enough salt to send my blood pressure through the roof by the time I’m 30.

Our hotel is just a stroll from the famous Brighton Pier, and is the cutest, quaintest little thing I have seen in my life. Strawberry Fields. As if I needed another song stuck in my head for the weekend. Or, well, forever. After cup of tea, we feel revitalised, and ready to take on the town.

And so we headed for Be At One bar and seated ourselves to prepare for the wonder that is a peanut butter cocktail. But this particular one was made with Reece’s Pieces are Bourbon, and let me tell you - The Killers were right all along. Bourbon needs to be left on the shelf, and only consumed in situations equal to or greater than you planning the demise of your girlfriend, Jenny. It got better as we got further along though, and by the time we had enough Bourbon in our bodies, it was really quite pleasant. We cleansed our pallets with another gem, the Candy Pants, and then headed back to the hotel room, but not before a pit stop at Tescos for chocolate, and another at a local pizza restaurant for a takeaway. We drifted into a happy slumber, to awake the next morning to a slight drizzle and chill in the air, but after spending a winter in London, I was not to be deterred!

We headed out for a buffet breakfast, complete with a range of teas, pancakes, nutella, bacons, sausages and yoghurt - though none of the famous brown sauce. I watched the rain fall on the window pane opposite the our table, and reflected on how beautiful the view of the pier must be from this spot in the summer. And speaking of the pier…

I’d never seen anything quite like the massive structure that sits in the sea in this tiny English town. No, this isn’t like KZN’s own Margate pier, which you’ll find in varying states of decay, and filled with ‘fisherman’ in varying states of vaalie. This pier is filled with cute food stalls, arcades, viewpoints, and right at the end - a funfair.

Ah, rollercoasters. We couldn’t help ourselves, and boarded the biggest one, light drizzle spattering on our faces, and already frozen fingers locking tightly around the safety rails. Rollercoasters - of course - always seem like a good idea until you’re hanging 50m above the Atlantic Ocean, praying to Dave Grohl that everything will be alright - the likelihood of the Brighton Pier, collapsing at this very moment are slim, right? Right? I shut my eyes tight and told myself that if I could survive Ratanga Junction’s ‘Cobra’, this thing was child’s play.

All rollercoastered out, we hit the streets again, wandering through the town in search of a market, and getting waylaid for hours in the cute shops hidden away down the alleyways. We eventually landed in a tea shop called the Mock Turtle, where I spent a good half hour trying to remember what a ‘mock turtle’ was, and decide whether or not the guy at the table next to me was a member of some obscure rock band. The Mock Turtle (named after a character from Alice in Wonderland, ha!) took ‘quaint’ to a new level - looking like a cross between a bakery and the living room of an sweet, little old lady from the early 1900s. The scones were excellent.

Our final day dawned bright and sunny - the clouds had evaporated, and although the mercury was only peaking at 11 degrees, it was pleasant to walk along the beach (in long pants and coats, of course). Imagine the surprise of a Durban girl to discover that the beach here was composed not of soft, fine sand, but rather of layers and layers of rounded, polished rocks. But somehow this strange beach has its own beauty, one I can’t comprehend fully. The only thing I know is that I never want to leave. It’s the first time I’ve ever been reluctant to get back to London. The Kooks were right - I fell in love on the seaside, though it wasn’t with a person, it was with England. I fell in love with the country all over again.

After a beautiful weekend of friendship bonding, we got on the train home, where I sat back with my iPod and my ‘Best of The Shins’ playlist. This was what I’d been dreaming of doing for three years, and now I was doing it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Throwback Thursday: A Walk Down South Africa's Musical Memory Lane

Sometimes - not often - I take a nap during the day, and I wake up after ten minutes, completely confused as to what century and country I am in. I legitimately expect to wake up in 2007, in my mom's house, during the school holidays, or something ridiculous like that. And when I hear the shrieks of the sirens outside my window, and absorb the fact that I'm starring at the dull beige walls of my shoebox apartment in London, there's nothing I can do but close my eyes as the waves of homesickness wash over me. At least I'm always safe in the knowledge that if I hold fast against those waves, the feeling will pass within a few minutes, and I'll be as happy as pie to be living in my favourite city.

Anyway, this happened yesterday, and then today when I turned on my iTunes on shuffle mode, I happened across an old gem that took me back to SA in the early 2000s, when Watershed-style, easy listening rock was all the rage. What was the song? It was 'Can't Lose With You' by none other than the 2001 SA Idols season 1 winner, Heinz Winckler. Ahhhh, the nostalgia. Ahhh, the full-flavoured cheese. Yeah, I mean the guy came on the TV show I worked for a couple of times, and I bumped into him in line at the airport last year, but in my mind he belongs in that carefree period of my life, when my biggest worry was whether I'd get an A or an A+ on the piece of homework I'd submitted. Oh, to be 11 again. It got me wondering what other SA gems from that time I'd completely forgotten about. You ready for this stroll down memory lane?

Watershed - Indigo Girl: I physically could not walk 5 meters in 2002 without hearing someone humming along to "you're my little indigo girl, indigo mmmmmmm'. In fact, my friends thought they were so cool because they knew lead singer Craig Hinds' little brother. Years later, I became good friends with his cousin, so I'm just as cool. 

Mandoza - Nkalakatha: No, I don't know what the words mean, but do I need to? Like, who couldn't sing along to this, despite having no idea what you were saying?

Arno Carstens - Another Universe: Can anyone ever forget that car ad with the dad and son? It's basically ingrained in my head, as though it aired on TV every day last year rather than more than ten years ago. Pity no one ever knew the words to the 2 and a half minutes of the song that weren't in the ad.

The Finkelstiens - QQ Me: No, I do not know what 'QQ me' means. I think it has something to do with instant messaging, which was just about to take off in SA around 2001. I mean, it could be some weird euphemism, but I choose to think that it's really about turning on your PC and hitting up the ladies on that MSN. 

Just Jinjer - Safer: Yes, it was 2004, so it was a bit later, but this is just one of those songs that gives me an "ahhhhh" moment everytime. Like "ahhhhh, I forgot this was their song, I'm only here for What He Means". 

Blue Eyes - Springbok Nude Girls: All together now ... "Daddy's little blue eyes .... mumble mumble mumble.... we're gonna leave it BEHIND." 

You're welcome.

Monday, April 13, 2015

For Goodness Sake, Let Us Be Young: The Vaccines Live In London

You know you've lived a tough life when your first reaction to any good news is "What's going on?" accompanied by an inappropriate amount of crying emojis. So when the music gods from Columbia Records answered my Tweeted pleas for a Vaccines ticket, you can imagine my reaction. But hey, this is London, and stranger things have happened. Though they always seem to originate from a good Twitter rant. 

My lack of a ticket was simply due to the fact that there are just too many concerts in London. Like, if The Vaccines had been playing in Cape Town, it would have been all anyone talked about for weeks, and I'd have been in the - digital - line for tickets an hour before they went on sale. But this is London, and here they're just another band playing the Brixton Electric on a Wednesday night. And so I had missed out on tickets, and was considering one of the 70 Pound resales (that would have rendered me unable to buy groceries for the remainder of April), when Columbia came to my rescue and offered me a ticket. 

I headed off to Brixton after work, transversing the Circle and Victoria lines and ending up at Brixton station around 6.30pm. Gates were due to open at 7pm, but as I had to wait to collect my tickets - and as the line was super long already - I made peace with the fact that getting near the front wouldn't be posible, but I was quite happy to hang out near the back. As it was such a small venue, 'the back' wasn't even that far from the stage. However, I had seriously underestimated my skills, and managed to make it to second row.

Two opening bands later (both of whom I warmed up to before the end of their respective sets), the entire crowd is singing along to The Supremes' 'You Can't Hurry Love'. Surprising from a crowd composed largely of young people, sure, but as The Vaccines are always open about how inspired they've been by 60s music, perhaps it fits.

And so Justin and crew arrive on the stage with 'Teenage Icon' and before I know it, I'm in the midst of a very mobile mosh pit, and re-thinking my life's motto of "second row or nothing". Seriously, who moshes to The Vaccines? (A lot of people, it seems.) Oldie 'Wreckin' Bar' is next, followed by 'Ghost Town' before brand new 'Dream Lover' makes an appearance. Oh yes, there's that 60s influence. When I shut my eyes, I may not get another dream lover, but I sure get a flashback to my grandparents' living room and the Everly Brothers. The appearance of 'Wetsuit' so early in the set takes me competely by surprise. It is honestly one of my favourite songs ever - the line "We all got old at break-neck speed, slow it down go easy on me" just gets me every single time. Live, it's slightly rougher than the recorded version, but that just adds to the emotion. For a band about to release their third album, I was impressed with the number of first album songs that made the setlist: 'Post Break-Up Sex' (of course), 'All In White' (a song which I've been intruiged by since first listen) and 'If You Wanna' (cue the return of the moshpit) and 'Blow It Up' were all there, along with one of my second album highlights 'I Always Knew'. Encore came in the form of a beautiful acoustic version of 'No Hope', which translates surprisingly well into this format, 'Wolf Pack' and then, just when the girls behind me started expressing their astonishment that they weren't going to play Norgaard, there is was, the perfect end to the set. What a priviledge to see such a major band in such an intimate venue.

Sometimes it happens that you forget just how much you like a band, and just how much you've listened to their albums. For any of my mid-level bands (read: anyone outside of my top 5), I usually do a lot of pre-gig listening to make sure I know all the hits that will be on the setlist. Without doing this, I'd probably end up knowing about 70% of the songs, and for someone like me who doesn't take concerts lightly, that's simply unacceptable. But with such short notice before The Vaccines, I had no time to do any such listening. and I was happy to note that there were only 2 songs I wasn't completely familiar with. Hell, I even knew the words to Dream Lover already, and I literally know their first album back to front and inside out. It got me wondering - what was it about this band that caught my attention a few years ago when they first came onto the scene? I'm pretty sure 2011 me wouldn't have actively investigated a band whose first single was called 'Post Break-Up Sex'.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Sweet Dreams Are Made of Chris

So, the peeps over at Casper created this cool little graphic showing different types of sleepers - and it took me exactly one second to figure out which category I fall into. Casper sells mattresses that ship to your door in a box that can fit on the back of a bike, and they know a thing or two about sleeping! That'll save you the horror of dragging something like a mattress on the Tube when you're a London beginner (I still haven't bought a microwave, but let's save those lovely musings for another day).

Was I the Bed Hogger? No, I was not, let's be honest here, most of my bed-sharing in the past 24 years has been with cats, and I don't even have one of those anymore. Which brings us to the next one - am I the Cat Napper? Perhaps I would have been a few months ago, but as I no longer have a cat...the Night Creature? No, almost 3 years of waking up before the sun to go to work robbed me of any night owl tendencies (which, let's be honest again, never existed in the first place). The Party Animal? Well, certainly not, though I am guilty of occasionally smashing through a McDonald's burger at 1am when I've just gotten home from a gig. Perhaps then, the Lover... cue awkward laughter, well, no. Aha, there it is: the iSleeper. That's me. Although I'm generally passed out by 10pm at the latest, I'm one of those people who wakes up at intervals during the night and I always have to check my social media. Quick midnight tweet here, sneaky creep on Instagram around 3am, and so it goes on. The last thing I do every night before I close my eyes is scroll through my Twitter feed, and it's the same as soon as I wake up. Most people snooze their alarm and have a ten minute nap, I snooze mine to have time to check my social media!

I've also occasionally been guilty of falling asleep with my iPod on (back when I still knew where my headphones were, one would think it would be more difficult to lose things in a flat as small as mine - I'm starting to think my walls are eating them, like something out of Doctor Who, you know. But I digress...). Music makes me feel such a wide range of emotions - today I listened to Mika's 'Life in Cartoon Motion' for the first time in years, and I was postively dancing in my chair at the office! I can listen to The Shins and feel completely melancholy, The Killers and feel like everything in the world is perfect, and then there's the band that calms me unlike any other. Who? Coldplay, of course. There's no better song to fall asleep to than 'Cemetries of London' from their 4th album 'Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends'. Is it a strange choice? Sure, possibly, but just listen to this melody and tell me that it's not the most calming thing you've ever heard. Add Chris Martin's vocals and it's pure perfection. He can sing me a lullaby any time.

Sweet dreams.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Stroll

After rushing around to every single Royal Bank of Scotland branch in North London, looking for one that was open so that I could pay my rent before the deadline, I was finally successful in Kensington High Street. It was only 1.30pm on Saturday, and I faced the rest of the day with absolutely nothing planned. So, in an attempt to shake off the ill feelings I've been having towards London the past few days, I decided to take a stroll. Today just also happened to be the day my mobile data ran out, and deciding I could survive two days without it before it kicked in again on the 1st, I was reduced to planning my route without technology. Ah, well, not exactly. Feeling like my 2012, wifi-hunting self again, I popped into Starbucks and used their wifi to figure out how far I was from my favourite London landmark. What's that, you may ask? Buckingham Palace? Big Ben? Perhaps Oxford Street counts as a landmark? Wrong on all three counts. It's the Royal Albert Hall. If you know me, there's no need to ask why. If you don't, it's because I credit this building with being inextricably linked with the reason I ever visited London in the first place, and so I feel a great emotional attachment to it. 

Anyway, RAH was a 21 minute walk, and off I set, eventually thinking I was really smart and taking a quick shortcut down a quaint street. Now, after strolling for 30 minutes, encountering the tiniest baby pug I have ever seen as well as several Rolls Royces, I emerged back on the main street (ha ha) about 200m from where I began. Fail. RAH was now 15 minutes away, but thank goodness the rain managed to hold off, and I got to behold my favourite building and take a number of highly unsuccessful selfies.

I toyed with the idea of a stroll through Hyde Park fo several minutes. It seemed that the best idea would be to hop on the nearest Tube and get straight home before the rain really came down, but instead I took the nearest path in the opposite direction, and meandered through Hyde Park, down by the water for another hour. It was difficult, in the gloom and threatening rain, to imagine the first time I'd been here, almost three years ago, in the brilliant August sunshine. And then suddently, something seized me. I don't know what it was, but in that moment it was 2012 and I could smell Reading (not physically smell it, Reading smells like a combination of vodka and poop) but something in the air told me that I was here in my favourite city to see my favourite bands and life was so exciting and.... within seconds the feeling was gone, try as I might to hold onto it. Anyway. I gave up and took some photos of the swans.

At the gates ot Hyde Park, I once again bypassed the Tube, and set off down the road towards Harrods, just for fun. I passed the store and the nearby M&S, and reminisced about how I'd sat on a bench at the side of hte road and eaten my pasta salad before hopping back on the tube and taking a stroll along the Thames, way back in 2012. Things feel so different now.

I don't know if the day, as a whole, did me good or bad. I love London more than anything in the world, but I'd do anything for it to feel the way it did the first time.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I'm So Sorry.

One month into 'living the dream', I'm ready to tell you, it's not easy. Three weeks ago, the hardest issues I faced were figuring out how to drag my suitcase up three flights of stairs from my taxi to my brand new apartment. Now, I face not being able to sleep at night because of the screaming people, screeching motorbikes and wailing sirens outside my window; I face the inability to be granted a bank account; and I'm forced to face the fact that I grossly underestimated the cost of living in England. It is not, for example, possible to survive on 100 Pounds per week, after rent. Sure, my bill at Tescos comes to 25 Pounds for the week, but that's not counting the extra 20 I spend on lunch at work for the week, or the 20 from those few times I popped to Sainsbury's because I fancied a treat. And what about the cost of entertainment? Sure, I'm saving on transport by walking to work, but using just as much on the Tube at weekends. Good thing I don't have any friends, or I'd be spending even more money on transport and entertainment.

Sometimes it crosses my mind that I could be sitting in the Durban sunshine right now, accompanied by every family member I possess, and perfectly able to take my very own car down to the shops to buy absolutely any item of food I could possibly want. Instead, it's pouring with rain and pitch dark at 5pm, and I face going home alone yet again to eat stale bread for supper (I can't even toast it as I don't own a toaster, and my oven sets off the fire alarm every time) and perhaps reading a PDF of Harry Potter until it's 8pm and I decide it's late enough to go to sleep. This is not the dream, this is the nightmare.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kaiser Chiefs Live at the O2

Apparently it’s weird to go to concerts alone. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been one to do things the normal way. After spending so much of my time alone, and having to do everything with just myself for company, I’ve kind of gotten used to it. I don’t think I even realise what I’m doing is weird anymore. Well, the couple next to me at Kaiser Chiefs sure noticed it was weird. I spent most of the evening trying to figure out if the looks they kept casting me were confused, suspicious or pitying…

After swearing I wouldn’t buy any more concert tickets until I’d been paid, I somehow found myself typing my card details into Viagogo two days before Kaiser Chiefs were set to play at the O2. It’s only 22 quid, I told myself. Plus, I’d missed most of Kasiers’ set before Foo Fighters back in December, because I’d been, ya know, meeting Dave Grohl. No biggie. Plus, I’d never been to the O2 before, so I bought my super cheap re-sale ticket, and off I headed to Greenwich North station, after a cross-Baker Street station trek. Seriously, the Jubilee Line is unnecessarily far from the rest of the world.

With gates set to open at 6.30pm, I stepped out of the station at 6.29pm, unconcerned as I had a seated ticket. In the corner of the station, someone was busking to ‘I Predict A Riot’, and I had just enough time to ponder how interesting it sounded in a female voice before I got close enough to realise it was a dude. Though sadly not Ricky Wilson.

Starving, but wanting to spend as little money as possible, I scanned the area for a McDonald’s, but was unsuccessful. My options were thus Subway, or… Subway. I opted for a chicken sub which was 1) out priced 2) tiny and 3) so full of onion that I could still taste them after brushing my teeth three times. But, one lives and one learns, and next time I’ll simply wait until I’m INSIDE the O2 before I stuff my face. See, there’s a Starbucks, and even a SPUR! That’s right, a good old-fashioned, burgers-and-barbecue-sauce Spur.

Inside, I made my way up the fancy escalators, then found my seat (next to the judge couple) and then took a stroll around the arena. Yes, I am perfectly entitled to stroll around all by myself, and that’s exactly what I did! And by some miracle, I remembered a half-eaten slab of Cadbury Oreo chocolate in my handbag, sparing my from paying for snacks, or throwing away 2.40 on a cup of tea. I’m not even from this country, and I can tell that’s daylight robbery. I also managed to restrain myself from buying any kind of tour merch. I mean really, I have enough band t-shirts. [edit: I feel really bad for saying that and right now I’m on the verge of grabbing a Killers tee out of my drawer and pressing it to my face whilst sobbing. Moving countries is a very emotional thing, okay?]

Moving along.

Opening act Public Service Broadcasting could have done everyone a public service and just not gone on stage. Seriously. Out of respect for them, I stayed in my seat, but headed out for another stroll as soon as they and finished. Seated tickets are surely the only way to go. After a full day of work, I couldn’t even imagine being in standing. Guess I really am getting too old for this…

Now, I’d seen Kaiser Chiefs twice before: once at Reading in 2012, squished halfway through the crowd, with my back against a barrier and the sun baking down upon the body that was aching to be back in a bed that was not a tent. The second time was after I’d just met Dave freaking Grohl, and all I could register was that the crowd didn’t appreciate anything, and that ‘Never Miss A Beat’ was still my favourite Chiefs song. Needless to say, the third time I got to see them was the first I got to truly appreciate them.

And they sure didn’t disappoint. Full of humour, Ricky is so endearing that I honestly just want to hug him. I have this huge soft spot for this band that I can’t even explain. Maybe it’s because of the hilarity with which they recounted the scarf-in-the-soup incident in that YouTube video. Perhaps it’s because I still feel a little guilty for not loving Ruby when it first came out…

So Kaisers start off with The Factory Gates and then without, well, without missing a beat, move straight into Everyday I Love You Less and Less. Aaaand the crowd are extremely happy. I’m surprised but not unhappy that oldies like this and Everything Is Average Nowadays still make it into the setlist.

When Ricky - somehow - makes his way to the B-stage in the middle of the standing section for The Angry Mob, I literally witnessed two people in the disabled section just above me completely disregard their wheelchairs and get up to dance. I am not kidding.

In my extensive Kaiser Chiefs listening, I had never before come across Roses. In fact, I was quite convinced at the time that it was a cover, and made a mental note to look up the original song, because it sounded great. Well, I was wrong. And somehow it gave a glimpse into what KC could have become if they’d wanted to be a band who took themselves a little more seriously, dispensed with the catchy choruses and repetitive lyrics, and toned down the crazy stage antics. If they had focused on musical ability and vocal talent instead. And I was blown away.

But before I could become too contemplative, we were back to normal, rocking Modern Way and my own favourite, Never Miss A Beat, and then a band member selection. Peanut chose Time Honoured Tradition, but only after Ricky reminded him in a stage whisper to please choose something the new drummer knows how to play… “Why are you all shouting ‘Ruby’?” Ricky asked the crowd, sounding genuinely amused, “We’re going to play Ruby!” And they sure did, following their biggest hit with arguably their best song, I Predict A Riot.

Now, sometime during the day, I’d read an NME article about a video of Dave Grohl which was being played before the encore during KC’s tour. From the way NME put it, it was real footage filmed when the two bands toured together, of Dave losing his temper with Ricky and co. Instead, we were treated to an obviously staged video of Dave employing every swear word he had ever come across, insulting the hair-dos of every Kaiser Chiefs member, and ripping into Ricky for judging the X-Factor. I tried not to cry from laughter. I also tried not to imagine Dave laughing his ass off and apologising to the rest of them as soon as the director yelled “Cut!”

The three song encore ended, as usual, with Oh My God, and I had the time of my life singing along, because as we all know, I really have never been this far from home.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Kodaline Live at the Roundhouse

Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster that is Kodaline. I'm not even just talking about their gig at Camden's trendy Roundhouse on Tuesday, I'm talking about the band in general. 

It was around April or May 2014 when I settled down to watch some Coldplay videos on YouTube, and because I'm a sucker for punishment, I watched 'The Scientist' on repeat about 5 times, before deciding to try one of the 'suggested videos', which just happened to be something called 'All I Want' by Kodaline. Ohhhhh, the emotions I'd felt by the end of that video! I mean, that poor freak in the office! And the girl who fell in love with him no matter what anyone else though! It was just so beautiful! And IF I'd been an emotional human being, I'd have been sobbing into my teacup because the world just isn't a nice place. But, I'm not an emotional human being.

Just look at this!!

Anyway. I was as impressed with the rest of the band's album 'In A Perfect World', and what almost did make me sob into my teacup was the delayed realisation that this band, that I was now firmly in love with, had in fact played at T in the Park 2013, which I had attended, without knowing who they were. Oh, the regret. I had spent my afternoon falling asleep to Earth, Wind & Fire rather than crying to 'All I Want'? Great. Either way, I stuck their album on repeat for the next few months, all the while marvelling at the fact that I somehow felt like I'd known this music for my entire life. There are few bands that produce music I'd class as 'so beautiful it hurts', and I'd discovered three: Coldplay, The Shins, and now Kodaline.

It was with a surge of OMG that I find out that Kodaline would be playing in London in mid-Febraury 2015. Unfortunately for me, I slacked and tickets sold out in 30 minutes. Fortunately for me, I was spared having to pay 60 Pounds for a re-sale due to a very useful connection managing to help me get one at face value.

And so I showed up at the Roundhouse to a queue to rival anything I've ever seen at Wembley. Seems I've been completely underestimating this band's popularity. 

Queue or no queue, we managed a spot about 6 rows back, and I had a chance to take in my surroundings. Well, they sure weren't lying when the named the venue. The room is completely circular, with seats in a circle above the back of the standing area - it's basically a mini Royal Albert Hall. Kind of. 

I feel that two opening acts are unnecessary for such a small gig, but luckily they both were entertaining - despite the inability of our group to agree on 'which of the Mispers was the hottest'. Moving along...

Kodaline themselves finally ambled onto the stage in all their Irish glory, and opened with 'Ready', off of their brand new album, 'Coming Up For Air', then straight into 'Love Like This', cue crowd going wild. But it wasn't until 'High Hopes' that I really realised the impact of the band. For I could barely hear them over the sound of the crowd, singing along to every single word. Even me, I almost felt emotions! And the band were just loving it - they love having this kind of power over their poor, defenceless audience!

Whilst we all held our breath and prepared for 'All I Want', they decided to keep playing games with us and instead play 'Brand New Day', and a new song called 'The One', which Steve wrote for a friend's wedding (can you imagine being at that wedding? Can you imagine being that friend?? The emotions, I tell you!).

They warned us that 'Love Will Set You Free' was their last song, and we waited with baited breath (again) for them to come back and play new single 'Honest', and that elusive 'All I Want'. In fact, someone in the audience took it upon themselves to start singing the chorus of the latter, and soon the entire crowd was singing along. I could just imagine the band backstage, giggling little Irish giggles.
It was really quite rude of them to play with our emotions to such an extent as to save 'All I Want' for last. A collective 3000 tried to disguise their tears as 'something in my eye' as Kodaline, accompanied by the Mispers' violinist, broke 3000 hearts.

And so I braved the tube back home, grumbling about the fact that it's almost impossible to get from the Northern Line to the Hammersmith and City, but at the same time quite pleased that way back in 1998, it had been another Irish band - with a singer called Steve - that had sparked my love for music, and now, in 2015, the Irish were still going strong.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Imagine Dragons Smoke + Mirrors Album Launch

I used to say that I never win anything, but since the Dave Grohl Incident, I’ve had to eat my words slightly. Still, I don’t win things often. Not at all. Remember the Two Door Cinema curse? Yeah? When no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t acquire tickets to see TDCC at their win-tickets-only gig in Cape Town three years ago? (Yes, it’s been three years and I’m still extremely bitter…)

Anyway. When I entered to win tickets to see Imagine Dragons play an exclusive gig at the House of Vans in London, I did so without even considering that I might actually win them. But hey, I moved to London to go to concerts, so I may as well try.

Imagine (ha ha ha) my surprise when I got the email saying I’d won tickets! My first choice for a plus one was, of course, Amii who absolutely adores Dragons, but seeing she couldn’t make it down from Birmingham. In the end, I was accompanied by a Victim named Sam, along with Sinead and her friend Abbey.

It must be part of the fun of exclusive gigs, that they’re never in normal venues. From TDCC in a silo somewhere near Cape Town airport, to The Kooks under a highway in Joburg and in a warehouse in the wilds of Salt River, it’s all the more exciting to be dumped into a hipster-cool venue. Dragons held their show at House of Vans, a mix between a skate park and an abandoned train tunnel, next to Waterloo Station. With the walls covered in lumo graffiti, and the inside exuding  the kind of industrial-cool that wouldn’t be out of place in Cape Town’s Woodstock area, it was the perfect place for an album launch gig.

Pretty sure this is an abandoned Tube tunnel
 After failing spectacularly at the photobooth, we managed a second row spot behind another groups of Victims (seriously, I felt like I was seeing The Killers, which is never a bad thing), and prepared ourselves for the hour and a bit wait until the band came on stage. Thankfully, the gig was live streaming around the world, so they had to be on time.

At precisely 9am, the band trouped onto the stage, and began a slow chorus of ‘It’s Time’, with frontman Dan Reynolds holding out his microphone for the audience to sing along. Somewhere between this opening chorus and the actual beginning of the song, I burst into maniacal laughter, somehow unable to believe that I was really standing here, in the middle of London, at an exclusive gig by one of the best new bands in the world, with said band less than 2 meters away from my face. And then I lost myself in the music.

The last time I saw Imagine Dragons was from the very back of a very hot, very crowded and very dusty King Tut’s Tent at T in the Park 2013. I was stuck behind the VIP platform and couldn’t see anything besides the fact that one member had Mark Stoermer-length hair. They were good back then, but this time, they were phenomenal. Intimate gigs are just that much more special. In addition to old favourites like ‘Demons’ and ‘On Top of the World’, we were treated to new material, and it went down a treat with the audience, many of whom knew all the words to ‘Gold’ already, much to Dan’s surprise. “YOUTUBE” we shouted back, when he asked how we knew it. ‘I Bet My Life’ is a million times better live than recorded, even ‘Shots’ sounds great, as does another new song called ‘Summer’. But one truly stood out for me, and that’s ‘I’m So Sorry’. It’s not often that I take to new songs when I hear them live before hearing a recorded version, but I already know that this is going to be my favourite Imagine Dragons song ever.

Hi there, Dan.

Closing with ‘Radioactive’, during which Dan beat the hell out of a massive drum on the stage, unfortunately no amount of screaming could bring them back. And so ended my first gig in London for 2015, and believe me, it’ll take The Killers to better it. Or maybe Taylor Swift.

Because yes, that’s why I moved to London. I moved here so that I can do ridiculous things like see Imagine Dragons at an exclusive gig on a Wednesday night. So that I can eat a 99p MacDonalds burger for dinner because I’ve spent all my money on tube fare to get there. So that I can leg it across Waterloo to the tube so that I make it back home before midnight. So that I can forego a leisurely stroll to work the next morning in favour of a mad dash because I’m so exhausted and chose to sleep an extra five minutes. So that I can spend the next day recovering before I see another band. That’s why I’m doing this.