Saturday, July 28, 2007

Live Earth: a personal view

If you missed my Live Earth post - its because its lower down the homepage. The flood story managed to overtake it. You can read it here.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Noah's Art

The citizens of West Berks were subjected to their own personal Armageddon today as torrential rain fell with a vengeance from before we rose at 7am through to 2pm. The weather forecast had been terrifyingly accurate, with no let up in the precipitation for the whole morning.

My lunchtime journey home prompted by a worried call from my family was a shocking adventure as I turned from the A4, itself covered with several inches of water into Fir Tree Lane. The sight that greeted me was like nothing I have ever seen before. I have used the expression 'the road was like a river' many times, but on this occasion it was never truer. The sight of a torrent of muddy brown water streaming between the kerbs, gushing from risen manhole covers, towards me will stay with me for ever.

Worse was to come though, as I drove through Manor Park I saw water coursing down Yates Copse and making a sweeping turn into Waller Drive, where it entered an impromptu lake which stretched as far as I could see past Passey's yard. I turned around and luckily found a passable route home. A reconnaissance mission later on when the rain had ceased revealed the true extent of the flood, which had claimed a car, the occupants of which had to be rescued by the residents of Fleetwood Close, by swimming to retrieve them.

Apparently the water level had been several feet higher and had subsided back to that pictured here, even though it had only just stopped raining. The cause of this was immediately obvious when we walked through the dried out area later on. A wall around the scrapyard was damming the water when it gave way under the pressure and allowed some respite on the drowned road.

Several houses in the area had been under water, at least one up to its letter-box, and so the clean up must now begin after what should have been a day of joy for the children of West Berks: the last day of term before the summer break. A day we will not forget in a hurry.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Live Earth: a view from the top tier

2007_0720Image30026There are some things that a middle-aged father of two shouldn't see... but Live Earth definitely isn't one of them. To arrive at the new, majestic Wembley Stadium on what seemed like the only fine weekend of the summer was an occasion, filled with anticipation of participation in a major planet-saving event. It was a shame that my own personal carbon footprint was erring on the 'size 12' - what with the fleeting visit to Birmingham for the Dan, and a journey to the Cotswolds planned for the very next day, but sometimes things just have to be done.

"Who are these old men?" asked my eldest when the first main band came on stage. Our seats were in the rarefied atmosphere of the top tier, whose gently curving wave arced over us a few rows back, where Chris Moyles' announcement sounded like 'Nghnges' by the time it reached us from the stadium engulfing PA system. The sunlight glinting off the lead singer's pate was a huge clue - "Its Genesis; old man's rock," I said. "Don't worry, there will be acts you've heard of later". Eighties classics brought out a long-forgotten nostalgic streak in me. (Don't get me wrong here - there was no getting my kit off and running around the stadium in my birthday suit.) There would be more of this to come (nostalgia, not streaking) what with Duran Duran on the bill.

We soon moved on to America - the Razorlight anthem that is - and at last the crowd were treated to material that had been created in the majority of their lifetimes. The lager was going down and the pulse was going up around the stadium and crowd singing filled the air like seventy thousand post pub Saturday nights.

The Black Eyed Peas pumped it louder as their frontman used the catwalk stage to maximum effect, and from our lofty perch in the upper echelons, the standing masses in the bowels of the auditorium rose and fell as one, conducted perfectly by the bobbing singer. Unfortunately the slowed down style and sophistication of next up John Legend's urbane soul was lost on the hyped up crowd - perhaps it was a hard act to follow.

We were then treated to the surprisingly nifty sounding Duran Duran, another band swinging the needle of the nostalgia-meter far to the right. They belted through a trio of greatest hits with only their waistlines to show that perhaps they were merely 'acceptable in the Noughties', now a couple of decades from their heyday. After all we were a long way from the action and the screen was tantalisingly out of sight at our oblique angle, so the wrinkles were rendered invisible by the diffusion of distance.

2007_0720Image30020The Red Hot Chilli Peppers reached a new standard in crowd lift off, as the riffs from the guitar thinned out from their opening chord medley to the opening bars of "Can't Stop'. The expectant punters locked in to a recognisable signal and you could feel a warm tingling feeling in your extremities as the palpable wave of love went zinging back to the stage. They were truly stunning, and the next real high after those crazy, energetic 'Peas.

At festivals you get used to queuing, but the effect of too many hits on the concession stands meant that I had to join a mega one for the ATM to replenish much needed funds. Consequently the hour long snake up and down the corridors meant that we missed Corinne Bailey Rae (no particular loss), Bloc Party (see previous note), and rather more importantly Keane. I suppose you could call it a near live experience here, since I could see the band on the handily provided screen (with a better view than from my seat) and I could hear the sound wafting through the openings into the seated bowl, but I couldn't face the thought of losing my place to check them out properly. Shame.

In the latter stages we went considerably down the metal route - that of the heavy variety. Now I must admit here that I have never actually seen Spinal Tap - the movie - all the way through. The usual clips have registered themselves in my conciousness, but the the mini Stone Henge sequence had passed me by and I had to have it explained to me afterwards - never a great idea. So the notion that the little people dancing around the henge were as a result of a scale cock-up and that they weren't children was completely lost on me. Consequently they weren't as high on my enjoyment factor as they were on their amp volume controls.

Metallica continued the rock vein and my notes for this section simply say: 'loud, damn loud'. My eldest wanted to see them though so we braved the assault on our ear-drums, which despite the band's best efforts, remained free of post gig tinnitus, which in my youth would have been the lasting impression left by the really iconic events.

The Foo Fighters are in the melodic metal category on their recorded releases, but in the stadium, with the sound muddied and distorted over a highly amped PA, Dave Grohl's urgent screams to the audience to get involved, over an industrial block wall of sound gave them a distinctly harder edge. This was no power pop, but a real thrash through their tried and tested tunes, which was appealing in its raw, un-sanitised state. The levels were getting to my youngest by now, and we had to take a breather before the pinnacle of professional pop came to the stage to deliver the most perfect slice of choreographed show-womanship that only Madonna can.

Her slick, polished delivery came as complete contrast to the fore-runners. Don't get me wrong - Madonna can do festivals - from the audience berating expletives to the guitar hero pose of 'Ray of Light', she rocked the rockers and funked the funkers at full remix version length with 'Hung Up' and La Isla Bonita. All of this was accompanied by precision choreography, the look of which had been honed so that it looked like she had set up home there on the stage, it was that rehearsed.

It was time to vanish into the night; to leave the dream-world of music shot through with lessons in carbon frugality, some of which will stick. Al Gore - job done.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Dan 'te Inferno

This must have been a first for the UK at least: a gig where the only smoke in the auditorium was of the artificial kind. They were slightly wider in girth and greyer in the locks: and that was just the audience. The symbiosis between Fagen and Becker was clear from the start as they strutted on stage, cocooned by the ten piece 2007 orchestra, which was driving a rhythm tighter than Gordon Brown's wallet. The cauldron of the National Indoor Arena, filled with funk-obsessed forty-somethings, were there for the infrequently touring Steely Dan.

The evening hadn't started well, after all, a dash up the A34 and M40 to Birmingham attempted after work on a wet Thursday is a real misnomer. We crawled along for mile after mile and arrived in the second city well after the support act had taken the stage. Still after parking and some cracking directions from some friendly locals, which took us on a short walk up the extremely picturesque canal side, punctuated by skinny locks and industrial heritage architecture, we arrived at the venue.

Now a feature of all public events, clouds of nicotine greeted us, as the smokers wheezed outside during the break before the main event. At least we had made it, and could let the old timers deliver up a slice of musical legend. The devotees, of which I must admit I cannot really count myself a member, were there in abundance, packing the blacked out space to the rafters.

The sound was tight - real tight - and funkier than I had remembered. After all the last time I had seen these boys was way back in 1996 in Wembley Arena. Then was the first time that they had visited these shores for many a year, and they played a lot of their favourites. But this time they eschewed such musical convention and went on a tour of their own, through their extensive back catalogue.

It also struck me that despite their obvious love of stardom and performing, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were also democratic, allowing their highly talented band the space to show off their own abilities. This even extended at one point to allow what would normally be called backing singers to take over vocal duties on the track 'Dirty Work' off their very first album. I was really impressed and we left after two hours of classy fusion music, which sounded as fresh today as it had when it left the pens of those viagra propelled jazz-funk superstars.

All in all a great warm up for the next big event: Live Earth!