It's a family affair
I really will have to get myself one of them thar new-fangled "tablet" thingies. You see, if I owned said device I would by now have a three hour headstart on writing this - instead of having to wade through page after page of hastily scribbled ramblings (straining to decipher my own handwriting as I go) that I penned as I travelled home from London.
So why was I visiting London? To witness Swing Out Sister's first UK performance of the year, of course. Forget The Olympics and The Queen's Diamond Jubilee (with all due respect, Ma'am!) - this was unquestionably THE event of 2012!
Can it really only have been nine months since my last close encounter of the SOS kind? It feels like an eternity since their fabulous show at The Lowry. Not surprisingly, the closer I got to D-Day (or S-Day) the more giddy with excitement I became, reaching a veritable fever pitch when a couple of days before the gig Corinne sent me a message inviting me to the apres-show shindig at The Blue Legume bar.
And so I set off full of beans (well, Nestle Raisin Oats & More to be precise) by bus to Derby and thence to London by train. Having sampled the good life by travelling first class for the first time in my life a week earlier as a birthday treat it was a bit of a comedown to be back amongst my fellow "peasants" in standard class. So I whipped out my portable DVD player, wallowed in the comic perfection of 'Carry On Jack' for about the billionth time and tried to ignore my comparatively lacklustre surroundings.
Our fair capital was blanketed by grey clouds spitting drizzle on it's weather-wearied citizens. A somewhat disjointed Tube journey got me to my hotel a little later than planned so I hurriedly checked in, dropped my bag in my room and headed off to Islington.
As Andy and Corinne had very helpfully advised us, the Underground station nearest to the venue was closed so I got off at Angel and went in search of The Islington Assembly Hall. For once I found it with comparative ease. Even my Google map wasn't too much of a hindrance! SOS's splendid manager, Jamie, greeted me outside, informed me that things were running a little behind schedule and suggested I grab a coffee and then pop back. Returning to the venue I bumped into a fellow SOS fan who to my surprise remembered me from a previous show where I had been manning the merchandise stall. And there's me thinking I never leave much of an impression on anyone!
A few minutes later Jamie emerged and invited me into the hall. He asked me if I'd be willing to lend a hand packing up the band's gear after the show. Naturally I said I'd be happy to. He led me into the auditorium where the sixteen strong SOS Big Band were beginning their soundcheck. I was most impressed by the spacious hall with it's art deco design, pristine dancefloor and broad balcony. In an age of soulless arenas and generic 02 Academys it harked back to the golden age of live music.
As always I felt privileged to have this "private view" of my favourite pop group, the only other person there who wasn't an employee of the venue or a sound tech being Jody's charming daughter. (I'm not just saying this but I was initially convinced that they were sisters.) As always the band rehearsed for hours. I often get the feeling that this is not so much for technical reasons but out of their sheer inexhaustible love of playing music together.
During this pre-gig gig Jamie issued me with a brightly-coloured wristband to wear which acted as a pass so I could come and go as I pleased. When the soundcheck was completed and the band left the stage I figured I may as well take up position at the crowd barrier and await the evening's entertainment. But Jamie came up to me and said, "You're not planning on standing here all night are you? Why don't you go and sit over there", indicating two tables adorned with "Reserved for SOS" signs. "But surely they're reserved for your guests", I replied. "Yes and you're our guest, John", he said, escorting me to one of the tables. I can't tell you how touched I was by this. A little later Corinne came over, gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and told me that her mum, Elaine, would be sitting at the same table. Illustrious company indeed!
Soon friends of the band took their places at the adjoining table. I was still the only one sitting at mine - which presented a bit of a challenge when the doors opened. For half the audience made a beeline straight for the table. Most of them read the "Reserved for SOS" sign and wandered off. But some read it and then still asked, "Are these seats taken?" I had to politely inform them that they indeed were - or rather would be. At last Corinne's family joined me at the table and I could relax. It was so nice to finally meet Corinne's mum. I'd seen her a number of times over the years but this was the first time I'd had the opportunity to speak to her. She really is a lovely lady (you can see where Corinne gets it from!) and I was knocked out that she knew my name and said that every time she'd been to see Swing Out Sister she'd seen me there. The rest of Corinne's family were really smashing too and made me feel so welcome.
The lights dimmed and we got to our feet as Noel Langley and his brass section took their positions. The packed crowd applauded wildly and then positively roared as the rest of the band came on stage before going into downright overdrive when Corinne appeared looking breathtakingly beautiful in a long, figure-hugging orange dress. From that moment on Swing Out Sister had the audience in the palm of their hand, every song greeted euphorically. After the first or second track as I applauded with wild enthusiasm Corinne's mum patted me on the arm and said, "You're lovely". It was so sweet of her. I glanced over at her a few times during the performance and it was clear to see how incredibly proud of her wonderful daughter she is. And who can blame her!
After an intermission SOS returned to the stage as an eight piece, later joined again by the Big Band. It's nigh on impossible to choose highlights of such a spectacular show but hearing them perform 'The Windmills Of Your Mind' for the first time since they played it at a soundcheck a few years ago was very special. Corinne preceded it by mentioning it was Bastille Day. At first I thought, "Hang on. What's this song got to do with La Belle France?" It took all of two seconds for the centime to drop. The music of this magnificent Oscar-winning song is, of course, the work of one of France's finest sons, not to mention one of my great musical heroes, Michel Legrand. I metaphorically slapped my forehead and shouted, "Doh!!!" And the new version of 'Forever Blue' with brass substituting for strings and harmonica was positively sublime.
The performance of all the immensely gifted musicians was astonishing. And one cannot praise flugelhorn maestro and Big Band conductor (both tasks carried out simultaneously, I might add) Noel Langley highly enough. As for our beloved leading lady, her voice has never soared so wondrously and her rapport with the audience was truly something to behold. With her warmth and wit she brings a whole new meaning to the term charismatic. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that Swing Out Sister just get better and better and better. No small achievement when you're already the best pop group on the planet!
I think we the audience should give ourselves a pat on the back too. I don't think I've ever witnessed a more enthusiastic response to an SOS performance. All too soon this magical show came to an end with a blistering 'Breakout' bringing the house down. (And I should just like to point out that each and every song was greeted with equal passion. Radio show producers take note: as spellbinding and anthemic a classic as 'Breakout' is, it's not SOS's only song!)
As the house lights came up I headed towards the stage ready to do my roadie bit. Jamie came out onto the stage and started handing equipment down to me so that I could then pack it away in huge flight cases. It was hot work but great fun. Afterwards both Jamie and the delightful lady promoting the show thanked me repeatedly for my efforts. And Jamie very kindly gave me the 'Tokyo Stories' DVD and the expanded 'Private View' CD. There really was no need - for me, making myself useful in whatever small way that I can is an absolute labour of love. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to do so. I should be thanking them!
After Jamie had left to take the first lot of gear back to base I accompanied Andy and Corinne back to the ladies dressing room to collect her belongings. Andy and I left Corinne to go and see her mum and took her bags over to The Blue Legume. (It's a good job we weren't in America - for as Andy quite rightly pointed out we were jaywalking as we did so. Remember, kids: crossing a busy main road ten feet from a Zebra Crossing is neither big nor clever!)
The intimate bar was crowded with band members, their families and friends. And a fine time was had by all. I stayed to the very end, seeing off Corinne and Andy with a hug and a manly handshake respectively. (Always best to do that the right way round, I find!) And so with a spring in my step and cheerfully whistling 'You On My Mind' I set off back to my hotel. It was gone 2:30AM when my head hit the pillow and as I had to set my alarm clock for 7:30AM due to catching an early train back home I really needed to get some serious shut-eye sharpish. Easier said than done, though, after an amazing day like that.
As my mind whirled with yet another set of precious new memories my thoughts of meeting Corinne's family led me to think that SOS are in some ways more of a family than a group. The bond of love and loyalty between them is so strong. And their unerring kindness and warmth towards me makes me feel a part of their extended family. And for that I will be eternally grateful.
I always enjoy your concert roundup! Thanks John, just wish I could have been there...
Cheers, Malc. It was an amazing night - but I guess NZ to UK is a bit of a trek. To say the least!
A wonderful 'write up' of the night and your memorable experiences John, as always! I was unable to attend this show (Bush Hall Feb' 2010 was my last one)..but reading this (and saving the Y'tube vids that are up) is the next best thing!.THANKS!...GREAT!
Nice one John.
Pretty much summed up a brilliant night. Have a look at my snaps if you have time
Thank you kindly, SOSforever!
Great pix, Steve. Trying to work out where you were snapping from. Everywhere, it seems!
tractorboy2002....I am the SOS fan who commented on your super clip on Y'tube (aknevomn).
brilliant pictures. thanks for sharing them with us