Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Brian Fallon Live at St Pancras Old Church

I think everyone experiences a handful of surreal moments in their life. The kind that force you to take a step back, shake your head in awe and say "Things like this just don't happen". These are the kind of moments we imagine are for the lucky, the privileged, the special - not for every day humans like ourselves. For some, it’ll be your partner proposing in New York City, as the snow begins to fall along with the New Year’s Ball. For others, it’ll be winning a couple of hundred Pounds on a lottery ticket you bought on a whim as you stomped home after a bad day at work. These things just don’t happen.

I myself have experienced just a handful of these moments: meeting the touring guitarist for The Killers in a Starbucks, after years of joking about how much he loves coffee; having Dave Grohl introduce himself to me as “Hi, I’m Dave”; touching hands with Bruce Springsteen as he sang ‘Spirit in the Night’ into my face. And I added another to my list this past Monday night.

In general, I’ve usually been quite successful in obtaining tickets to concerts I’d wanted to go to. Enough perseverance usually wins out in pre-sales and general sales, and failing that, there’s always a fellow fan selling a ticket or two closer to the date. For desperate times, there’s StubHub, where I tend to wait for prices to reach face value or below before parting with my cash. You can understand, then, why I was relatively confident I’d be able to get a ticket to Brian Fallon’s special show at the St Pancras Old Church. I’m not going to repeat how much I love Brian / The Gaslight Anthem - if you’ve read my blog or ever met me, you know. But then I failed in the first sale. And in the second. And in the two competitions I entered. And try as I might, there was not one single ticket going. But I was not deterred.

On the evening of the show, I happily waltzed off to the venue - a mere seven minute walk from my office - certain that someone would turn up with a spare, or even - against my better judgement - willing to pay a tout an inflated price. This was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime show, my favourite singer at his finest, and I could not miss out.

At the church, things weren’t looking promising, but shivering in my cool-but-not-warm, military Coldplay-circa-2008 jacket, I decided to wait it out. I had nothing to lose. What struck me immediately was how genuinely friendly the fans - whom I had never even met before - were, all honestly concerned about whether or not I would get in, and all wanting to help in any way they could. It took 3.5 hours, but I entered the show as Brian played the first note on his harmonica. Take me to church. I’ve already thanked the incredible people responsible for my entry, but I’ll thank them again - you know who you are.

And from there on out it’s an hour of worship. Growling raw emotion, the guitar and the harmonica. You rang on a Wednesday night / I was buried in the churchyard. And the hushed reverence of 150 people, too awe-inspired to do anything but watch. ‘Red Lights’ follows, and what was a massive singalong on Friday at KOKO, is now a stripped-down lament.

Never one to miss an opportunity for a spot of banter, Brian greets his audience. “I like places like this. I grew up with hymns, I like the old ones… not the new ones - they sound like Coldplay.” He grins and I roll my eyes. Then he launches into an explanation of where he got the inspiration for the next song. “I saw this interview, and this guy said ‘people say love is all you need, but I need money. Sure, it doesn’t solve all problems, but it solves the ones I have!’ ” I knew what the song would be, and sure enough, Among Other Foolish things sounds just as good acoustically as it does in all its usual glory.

Out of nowhere, a Gaslight Anthem song makes an appearance. It’s ‘The Navesink Banks’, I spent time ‘neath the trestles / with the punks and the dime store saints and I can almost hear the collective intake of breath of the members of the fan forum of the same name.

A few songs later we hit ‘Honey Magnolia’, one of my favourites from the new album, and surely this is the only way this song should be performed. It is absolute perfection, and topped off with a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’.

I’ve never been to such a quiet gig in my life - many people whispering along to the songs, or mouthing the words, but no one daring to do any more. It’s either a mark of the respect of the fans, or perhaps the beauty of the performance has caused everyone to lose their voices. Never know. Brian is completely in his element, and unable to thank us enough for being there. As if we’re the ones who should be thanked.

‘Ladykiller’ is darkly fantastic, and ‘A Wonderful Life’ gets what is probably the biggest crowd reaction of the night. “Some people say some songs are inside guitars… I never believed that and then I got this guitar and I took it back to where we were recording the Handwritten album, and I just started playing this…” It’s the opening chords of ‘National Anthem’. I never will forget you, my American love. And I will never forget this night.

It’s a bit overwhelming the whole thing. There’s an air of something incredibly special having happened tonight. The emotion seems to be in the very air, and although the mood is euphoric, I'm bordering on melancholy. Perhaps that it’s the effect of the church. Perhaps that’s just what happens when you know you’ve just seen one of the best gigs you will ever see in your life. I wish I could go back in time and tell 2011 me, who had just discovered this album called ‘The ’59 Sound’, that one day she’ll live in England and some ridiculous things will happen, and she’ll see that guy in a church down the street from her work. But she’s never even been to England. And she’d never believe me. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Brian Fallon Live at KOKO, London

The Gaslight Anthem is my drug. My painkiller so to speak. I entered into a whirlwind romance with their music way back in 2011, after a casual peruse of the year’s festival lineups led to my discovery of a little album called The ’59 Sound. For months - which became years - I didn’t stop. I wondered how I had co-existed in a world with this band for so long, without ever knowing it. They filled a void within me that I had not known existed - their lyrics spoke to my soul. I often say that although The Killers are my lifestyle, The Gaslight Anthem are my favourite band.

Fast forward to Cape Town on a fine February evening in 2012. Picture me sitting on my bed, live streaming BBC Radio One for the Reading Festival announcement, to decide whether or not I should attend a festival in a country I’d never been to before. If Gaslight play I’ll go. I need to see them. Imagine the DJ announcing …. “Paramore, The Foo Fighters… The Gaslight Anthem”. Now imagine me screaming loud enough to wake up all the neighbours. I bought tickets immediately. I was going to see Gaslight.

Three years and four Gaslight Anthem shows later, I found myself living in London, where I was lucky enough to attend a show in Brighton, and a final one - before the hiatus - at Shepherd’s Bush in London. And then it was over for an indefinite period of time, and my heart felt like I imagine it would at the end of a four year relationship. I almost cried, but then I realised I’m a heartless princess of darkness.

Then came the whispers of a Brian Fallon solo album, and my ears pricked up. If I couldn’t have The Gaslight Anthem together, at least I could have something to sustain me. Unfortunately, when Brian’s UK tour was announced, I was happily sunning myself in South Africa, completely unaware that my favourite had just released tickets to a show 6 minutes away from my work. And so I missed out on ticket sales.

As soon as a second London date - the St Pancras intimate show - was announced, I plotted my strategy for tickets. I had to make a plan to get to Brian in London somehow. But despite my best efforts, both round of tickets sold out, and neither of my attempts at winning tickets were successful. I gave up hope, and resigned myself to the fact that come April, I would be breaking into a church in Camden.

But a few weeks before the show I did manage to find a spare ticket for KOKO (thanks, Jess Baker, I am eternally grateful!) and on the day I took a rare lunchbreak and strolled down to the venue. A quick scope around the stage door revealed that the tour bus was already there, and assorted crew members were hanging round outside. Now imagine me pretending to be on the phone whilst I walked up and down, feigning ignorance as to who these human beings even were.

And so, back at work I attempted to concentrate for four more hours before I could leave for the actual gig. Let’s just say that by 4.30pm I had given up on doing anything productive, and was doodling Frank Turner lyrics in the back of my notebook. When 5pm finally arrived, I hightailed it down to KOKO, picked up my ticket, and then inhaled what I assumed would have been a very delicious chicken flatbread from Pret - though I wasn’t in any state to taste it. I joined the queue, where I was entertained by a plethora of excited fans. “I mean… he has more guitarists now than in The Gaslight Anthem! Let’s see, there’s Jared, and Ian, and Alex… and cousin Frank…”

Inside - and 5 rows from the front - I met some lovely fans, who made me feel like I was part of something. One of the things I love most about music is how it brings people together, and there is no better example than when a fan community gets together at a gig.

Two opening acts later Brian grinned his way on to stage and then began to growl into his microphone: Swinging in the backyard / pull up in your fast car whistling my name. Huh? Open up a beer / and you say get over here and play / I’m in his favourite sun dress OH! He was covering Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’ with such dark emotion that it sounded like a different song. It was brave, perhaps, to open with a cover, but when has Brian ever done anything the ‘normal’ way?

‘Red Lights’ was the first original song up, and boy did it go down a storm. I am aware that it was originally released by Brian’s Molly and the Zombies project, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that for most of the audience - myself included - it had been heard for the first time on Painkillers. And for an album that only came out a month ago, everyone was already very familiar with the words.

Next up was ‘Rosemary’ and I sang my heart out. It must be my third favourite on the album, and although it does hint at underlying sadness, it somehow fills me with hope. My name is Rosemary, and you’d be lucky if get to hold me.

And so we continued with a mix of Painkillers songs and The Horrible Crowes covers “we’ve been waiting a long time to play these songs”. After a hauntingly beautiful rendition of ‘Honey Magnolia’, Brian stopped for one of his typical speeches. “Have you never been to a show before, where I talk a lot? So it’s usually an hour and a half show, and I make dumb jokes and play some songs… and if you need a history lesson, well New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey, New Jersey”. He was on top form. One of my favourite things about Gaslight shows was Brian making fun of everyone from Obama to Bono to Jesus, so his sense of humour always goes down a treat.

‘Smoke’ was a definite highlight, and translates amazingly well live. It is astounding to see how seamlessly Brian and the Crowes transition from the slow and sad ‘Steve McQueen’ to something to upbeat. Although ‘Nobody Wins’ is my favourite song off the new album, I found the bass to be a bit overwhelming live, so I was slightly disappointed, but before I could dwell on it, I found myself being thrust full-force into a four-song Horrible Crowes marathon, losing myself in Brian’s screams.

All too quickly it was over, and I attempted to make a dash for the stage door, but getting out of KOKO turned out to be quite a process. Nonetheless, I made it eventually, along with a small handful of dedicated fans hoping to meet the man himself. In my typical style, I’d convinced myself that it ‘wouldn't be that cold’ and had opted for my leather-jacket-edgy-cool look. Turns out I was just cool. And by cool I mean cold. I was freezing.

I began to lose hope when about 70 other people turned up, all with the same objective. It was 10.30pm, I was shivering from a lethal but familiar combination of cold and adrenaline, and I thought there was no way in hell I’d meet Brian. I also somehow managed to make friends with the two guys next to me, and at least talking distracted me slightly from my rapidly plummeting core body temperature. At last - at last - Brian came out, considered the long queue of eager fans for a second and then said “Okay, I’ll start at that side, and work my way around” much to the horror of his manager, who was also considering said queue of eager fans, but with horror. “Move it along, guys, let’s be quick.” Brian paused his conversation with the first group of fans. “You can go, it’s okay, I do this every night. Hey - are any of you going to stab me? It’s fine.” Perhaps he had been warned about the British penchant for stabbing.

And then it was happening. A crew member took my phone to snap a photo, and I heard words coming out of my mouth, although I could not tell you how I managed to form them. “Hi! You’re my favourite songwriter ever. And could you sign my photo? I don’t know if it’s weird, it’s you… my mom took this photo at a Gaslight show in… in Dublin a few years ago and we thought it was a really cool photo so…” “It is a cool photo.” He said, signing away. And then it was over, and I was shaking so much I could barely hold my phone steady enough to broadcast said photo. And this must - surely - count as one of the best nights of my life. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Filling My Head With Dreams of Coldplay

A week after the NME Awards, I had recovered from my flu - or so I thought. I'd spent the weekend in Birmingham, and returned to London pretty certain I wouldn't make it into the War Child show at the O2. I hadn't won tickets in the ballot, and due to the Epic iPhone Fail of 2016 (which, I am happy to report has now been reversed, and my Hackney pictures restored!) I had missed general ticket sales. Oh, how unfair my life is - I could have walked home afterwards!

Just for fun, I called up War Child on the Monday morning, to ask about VIP tickets. "Oh, yeah, 500 Pounds each? So unfortunate they're all sold out... yes definitely put my name down on the list in case you get any more." I hung up the phone, wincing. I may be insane, but not quite insane enough to spend 75% of a month's rent on a Coldplay ticket, when I'd already seen them twice in the past two months. Maybe if I hadn't gone to the NME Awards. Imagine my surprise when War Child emailed me back two hours later saying they'd just had some come available, at 250 each. I debatated it for about ten seconds, before my common sense kicked it, and I emailed back to say that unfortunately I'd not realised that the show was taking place after the BRIT Awards, and that it was a bit late for me. I could feel the dishonesty radiating from my body.

Undeterred by my lack of funds, the freezing weather and the fact that the show started at 11pm, I hit up Gumtree in the hopes of finding someone with an face-value ticket. I don't support buying from touts, but I do believe it is okay for a geniune fan to purchase a face-value ticket from another human being. My prayers were answered in the form of a woman called Susan-who-was-actually-her-son-whose-friend-couldn't-make-it.

Strolling around near the O2 at 7pm, I kept an eye out for celebrities attending the BRIT Awards that evening, though I only managed to spot Carl Barat from the Libertine (who did not return my greeting as he walked from the car park) and a massive Hummer-limo contraption that could only have belonged to Rih Rih or the Bieb. And so 8pm saw me standing outside the Slug and Lettuce, still shivering in my lace dress and heels because I will never learn to dress appropriately for the English winter.

It was a surreal moment, when the screens inside the restaurant flipped to the live television coverage of the BRITs, and Coldplay blasted onto the stage with Hymn For The Weekend. How weird to think that this was all happening a few meters from where I was standing - just on the other side of that wall!

After a few hours in the queue, we were let into the tiny venue that is the Indigo club, where I had never been, despite literally being able to see the O2 from my bedroom window. I wish I could say that I was getting used to seeing Coldplay in such small venues, but it's not something one can ever really get used to. Despite the rumour of the Bieb being the opening act, it transpired that the opening act was really a duo of DJs, playing a very interesting mix of what may have been BoB Marley and rave. When they did play a Bieber song, 20 minutes before showtime, it was evident that most of the audience must have heard the same rumour I had. But no, definitely no Biebs were present.

By now one thing that was becoming familar was the tension in the air as soon as the audience glimpses the brightly coloured stage decorations that mark the A Head Full of Dreams era. And so, after a short introduction to War Child and their cause (which you can donate to by visiting their website) the band in question erupted onto stage with none other than the title track from the new album. Ah, Chris. (And the rest, of course, I mean it's not like I'm in love with him or anything). So full of smiles and grins and happiness. I saw him described somewhere as "a happy little jelly bean" and that's exactly how he's coming across tonight. I'm ecstatic at the appearance of 'Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall', and I'm screaming along to 'waaaaaaaaaaterfall' at the top of my lungs, having entirely forgotten to pretend to be cool for the sake of my concert buddies, who I met three hours ago. 'Charlie Brown' is a highlight once again, it is an utterly euphoric song to experience live, and never fails to astound me. Coldplay is an experience rather than a band.

I'm holding my breath for 'Hymn For The Weekend' but as they've already played it at the BRITs ceremony, I'm not sure if we'll get it. But, oh boy do we get it! Chris flails around the stage in his typical endearing manner, and although I can tell he's not taking himself seriously at all, his vocals are flawless. The award for Best British Band is so well deserved that it's almost laughable. Can any other band even begin to touch this? 'Fix You' is always the emotional highlight, but this time I went to pieces during 'Viva La Vida' because the true weight of the situation hit me - this album had gotten me through a very rough year - 2008 - and there had never even been one bone in my body that had believed that I would come out of it okay, and that I would be seeing this phenomenal band so close to my home, on a casual Wednesday night. I was pretty glad that The Scientist did not make an appearance - despite being my favourite Coldplay song; my makeup wasn't waterproof.

After 'A Sky Full of Stars' (cue stooping to stuff my handbag with more confetti - I'm aiming to have enough to paper my walls by the end of the year), the band left and came back for an encore in the form of perhaps the most unexpected song (I'd have called Magic, Everglow or Up & Up here). "This is a song we wrote in 2005 - we gave it to Justin Beiber, well he was only 3 but he knew he wouldn't like Coldplay very much" Chris quipped affably. "But really, we wrote this song for Johnny Cash - it's called Til Kingdom Come". I gasped audibly and fumbled for my camera to record it. Ever since I'd first heard that the song was written for Johnny, I've always imagined him singing it, but of course Coldplay do it flawlessly.

And so that was that - it was 12.30am on Thursday, I had to be at work on the other side of London in less than 8 hours, it was below zero degrees, but I was skipping home. The next day I would realise that my voice had been decimated, and I'd be unable to speak properly for at least three days. I'd live on coffee to get me through work for 9 hours, but I'd wax lyrical about this show for about 90 years. I could easily not have gone - saved myself 80 quid and gotten an early night, but that's not the way I choose to live.

iPhone 4 camera quality killed my vibe :(

Thursday, February 18, 2016

NME Awards 2016 - Coldplay Live

On Tuesday morning, I woke up with a slightly sore throat. It’s February in England, and I’d slept with my heating on. Obviously I’d dried out the air a bit too much. Nothing a cup of tea wouldn’t fix. But by the time lunchbreak rolled around, I was unable to speak or swallow, and I panicked. No, not because I may have to call in sick to work, or because I was at all upset at the thought of a day or two in bed - but because tomorrow was the NME Awards. I’d bought a ticket as soon as Coldplay had announced they were performing and nothing - not hell nor high water nor ill health - would keep me from Chris Martin. 

And so - heavily dosed up on four different medications but still attempting the leather-jacket-edgy-cool look - I headed to Brixton O2 Academy for the second time within four days. I was, however, starving and in need of the loo, the solution to both of which I located in a Costa down the road from the station, and so by the time I reached the Academy, I was stuffing a chicken sandwich down my throat whilst attempting to retain aforementioned leather-jacket-edgy-cool look. Add the influence of the bucketing rain and it’s quite clear that I failed miserably. 

After 40 minutes in the rain - by which time at least I’d ascertained that my jacket was waterproof - we were led inside, and shepherded upstairs, only to be told that pit standing ticket holders were to wait around to be collected by a stewart. That’s it. No other info. And so we waited. And waited. And waited. 47 minutes later, we were given wristbands, and escorted down the stairs, into the venue proper, and down to a very small spot in front of the gents’ loo. A very small spot which had no view at all of the performance side of the stage. Hmm. I had paid 40 to see my favourite band, not to stare at the presenter’s shoes for 2 and a half hours. At this point, many irate thoughts crossed my mind: NME Awards, more like the ‘Where The Hell Are We?’ Awards. Pit Standing tickets, more like ‘WTF Am I Going?’  tickets. If there had been wifi, I’d have rage-Tweeted until I’;d gotten both a refund and a private audience with Chris Martin. Upon another confused audience member asking where the ‘pit’ was, the stewart replied “this is it” and walked away. Spotting another pit on the opposite side of the room - right in front of the stage set up - I hightailed it across the venue, hoping for a better spot. 

As I hurried through the crowd, I almost literally ran slap-bang into a figure sporting an impressive beard. I grinned and said “Hi!” rather enthusiastically, before continuing on my way, not stopping for a second to ask myself why I had just greeted Michael Eavis - founder of Glastonbury Festival - as though he were an old friend. I had other things on my mind. Luckily, I managed to find the real pit standing area and made it to the front easily. Now, there’s a reason I say ‘front’ rather than ‘barrier’. There was no barrier. Nope, the only thing separating me from Chris Martin would be my own self-control. 

Cue dimming of the lights and the ceremony officially starting. I glanced behind me, hoping to perhaps spot some minor music celebs, but my heart nearly stopped at the sight of a very familiar face: none other than Ricky Wilson of Kaiser Chiefs. I am not at all ashamed to say that I spent the majority of the first performance - Foals - watching Ricky and attempting to make eye contact. Which I did not manage. 

After performances by Foals (has Yannis always been that short?), The Maccabees (wonder if Ricky is enjoying this, I wonder if I can take a photo without him noticing), Rat Boy (is that Jay from The Inbetweeners?) and Bring Me The Horizon (who I have lost all my respect for after they trashed Coldplay’s table during said performance) and artists such as Wolf Alice and Charlie XCX collecting major awards, it was time for the Godlike Genius Award, presented by none other than - na na na, na na na na na, na na na… -  Kylie Minogue. 

Lo and behold, out walk Coldplay from the audience. I’m shocked, having assumed they had been backstage the entire time. Not having been able to see the back rows of tables from my spot, I’d missed that fact that Chris and co had been in the audience the whole time. In the speech, Chris’s self-deprecation is always close to the surface. “We started getting nominated for things like Worst Band, Worst Album…” But he offered a sincere thank you to everyone who listens to and supports the band, and a heartfelt thanks to NME for the Godlike Genius Award. All too soon the four members trouped across the stage to where their instruments awaited. I wasn’t mentally prepared. Somehow I survived through Viva La Vida - with drummer Will Champion inches from me, beating one of his massive drums. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine that I was living through this. Next up was Charlie Brown, and our Xylo Bands lit up the room, as even the bands left their seats and clustered forward to watch the Geniuses perform. Clocks was up next, but the sound quality left something to be desired, with Chris’s vocals being drowned out in places. Well, either that or he forgot some of his own lyrics, which is also possible. 

“I think the show’s finished, but we’ll keep playing… you don’t have to stay, but you can if you want!” Chris went on to quip about how the Super Bowl had just been a warm up show for the NME Awards. “Let’s do Yellow…” and the stage lit up in yellow and I was transported back to my first Coldplay show in Johannesburg back in 2011. There, I’d had to plead with a security guard to pick up one piece of confetti and hand it to me after the show - this time, I could have taken a bath in the amount of the stuff that fell on me. ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ came with the beautiful multi-colours of this Coldplay era, and I was finally able to replace some of the photographs I lost in the Great iPhone Fail of 2016 (details of which I won’t go into, let’s just say… church, Hackney, album launch show…). I knew ‘Fix You’ had to feature, and as soon as the first notes began I knew it was the end. Is there a more emotional song in the world? Perhaps only ‘A Dustland Fairytale’. 

I was left more excited than ever for the full tour in June - this and the Hackney show have been just enough to whet my appetite very nicely. And although I would have loved to have stayed and tried to meet the band afterwards, it was cold, it was rainy, and I know when not to push the limits of my own health. But what a night it had been. 

Not to mention Yoko Ono’s presence; or the way I screamed when a clip from The Killers’ ‘Shot At The Night’ played when they were nominated for Best International Band; or the Bowie Tribute, or Taylor Swift’s video acceptance speech; or the new friend I made in the front row (our selfies were the best). It was truly an honour to have been able to attend an event like the NME Awards. It was something I had only ever dreamed of doing, and now something I hope to do again next year. 

The first time I saw Coldplay, in 2011, I was so disheartened by the mean, offhand comments thrown around by people around me when I mentioned my excitement. “Worst band ever”, “How can you go see them?”, “So uncool.” And this time was no different - “Oh, are they still going?” was the most popular remark today. But I’m no longer in the pursuit of coolness or acceptance. I’m no longer going to apologise for or try to justify my music taste. I’m not going to play down my excitement for a show, or how much of an impact a band has made on my life, just so I can fit in with the cool crowd. It’s no one’s business but my own. 

Photos on my Instagram.