23 January 2016

I Was At David Bowie's Last Evert Concert

David Bowie Hurricane Festival
On Monday 11 January I was getting my stuff together ready to leave the house for work and listening to the Today Show on BBC Radio 4 as usual, when it was mentioned on the 7am news that they were getting early reports that David Bowie had died. 

I was devastated and it left me in a strange mood for the rest of the day. 

The outpouring of grief exemplified just how important he was too so many people and how far and deep his influence reached. He always seemed to be present, even when he actually wasn't like in his later days, because his work is woven deep in to the fabric of our culture - he has helped to shape and define so much of it. He is our Elvis, our Frank Sinatra, our John Lennon. 

Bowie was ground-zero for a lot of the music I got in to while growing up in the 90s. Bands like The Cure, REM, and Smashing Pumpkins all cited him as an influence. He even tipped his hat to two of those bands when he invited Robert Smith and Billy Corgan to join him at his 50th Birthday Concert in New York in 1997.

Although he had kept a low-profile during the last few years of his life, and there had been rumours of ill-health for a while ever since his heart attack in 2004, he had been going through a period of productivity and creativity that started with the surprise release of The Next Day in 2013. 

Bowie was always there. You never thought of him not being around, it didn't seem possible. The news of his cancer was a closely guarded secret, we didn't know he was seriously ill. Only days before he had released Blackstar on his 69th birthday and receiving some of the best reviews of his career. The news of his death came out of the blue and probably hit harder because of it, we didn't have time to prepare. 

I'm still gutted to think that Bowie is no longer around. Although he has left a legacy that will live on forever. His music will always be with us. On the day that Blackstar was released I posted on my Facebook that I was at his (to date) last ever concert. He made a couple of one-off appearances after that, but it was his final full David Bowie headline show. 

It was at the 2004 Hurricane Festival in Schee├čel, Germany. He was one of the headliners of the festival along with The Cure. I had gone there with my friends Ben and Marc. I had just finished university that summer and we were all skint students and made our way to the festival in the cheapest possible way - by coach from Nottingham. The journey took 24 hours and was awful, but the festival was good fun, sunny with lots of cheap beer and great music. 

Bowie headlined the second night of the festival. It was part if his A Reality Tour, his longest series of shows for a few years. I wish I could say that my memories of his set are crystal clear, but they're not, sullied by beer and time with it being 11 and a half years ago. I do recall that I missed the first few songs because I was watching Mogwai finish-up on the second stage, but got to Bowie to see the majority of his hit-packed, career-spanning set. I definitely remember China Girl with Earl Slick's gloriously over-the-top interpretation of that songs main riff, so I must have been there from at least that song onwards. 
As this Rolling Stone article states, and if you look back at the videos of his performance, dressed in a hoodie (although it should be noted that he was suited and booted earlier in the set), he doesn't look great, and his previous show had been cut short. But from what I recall he was very talkative in between the songs and gave his all when performing. You couldn't tell from being in the crowd that anything was wrong with him. It's strange to think that he was actually having a heart attack up on that stage, but he gave a fully committed performance until the very end. A true and dedicated performer.

It's weird and sad to think that it was the last time those magnificent songs would be sung by the great man responsible for writing them. I'm just honoured that I got to see him and I was there to witness it. 

RIP David Bowie.  

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9 January 2016

Up Close & Personal With Paul Gascoigne Left Me Feeling Bummed Out

Up Close and Personal with Paul Gascoigne

As the title says. 

Tonight I went to Up Close & Personal with Paul Gascoigne at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham. 

The scheduled start of 19:30 was pushed back to 20:00 making for a few restless people queuing up to get in to the auditorium. Once everyone was finally able to seat it was obvious that the event hadn't sold very well with most of the stalls full, but the first tier noticeably sparse and the upper-tier not used at all. It must be said that I didn't actually see any adverts for tonight, I only found out about it as I was bought a ticket. 

The evening was split in to two halves. Like a throwback to a cabaret event, the opening act was a comedian who had apparently been on Britain's Got Talent. I won't write his name as he wasn't very good. In fact, it was some of the laziest comedy I have ever seen. It felt like being transported back to the 1970s. I thought so-called comedy like this had died out, but I'm sadly wrong. There were fat jokes, sexists jokes, an oddly insensitive moment (and let me reiterate, un-funny) considering the headline act, were he tried to shame an audience member who went to the toilet by saying they had been taking cocaine. And not forgetting the rather meta section that was essentially a comedian doing impressions of far better and much more successful comedians. It was really depressing to think that these kind of outdated 'jokes' are still considered funny by some people.

In the interval the audience had the opportunity to buy signed shirts and have a short meet-and-greet with Gazza for £250 or buy a signed print that looked like something you would find in a dusty corner of a discounted store for £150. It had the air of money grabbing vultures rinsing money out of honest football fans. I'm sure it's a great way of making some additional income, especially if the tickets aren't selling too well, but it didn't sit well with me and felt kid of cheap despite the prices being touted.
Paul Gascoigne was out in the second half for an hour of chat about his career that took the form of a on-stage interview. 

It generally stuck to his footballing career; from his time starting out with Newcastle, signing for Tottenham, playing for England at Italia '90 and Euro '96, through to his time in Scotland at Rangers. His stints at Lazio and Middlesborough were only briefly mentioned. Although there was time for his short-lived spell at Boston United,  but I think this was shoehorned in as it sets up a story about how in his drunken stupor he thought he was signing for a club in the USA. There's nothing about his time at Everton. 

It's obvious that his time pulling on the Three Lions and playing for England was a career highlight and meant the world to him. He doesn't have much time for the current crop of England players apart from Wayne Rooney. 

He didn't talk about anything that has happened to him since hanging up his boots. Perhaps to gloss over how much his career and personal life took such a nose-dive after drink and drugs took hold. This means we hear nothing about the 2010 Raoul Moat incident where her turned up at the stand-off scene with chicken and beers hoping to talk to the murderer who was on the run from the police - Which is weird because earlier in this run of shows he did speak about this. It obviously generated too many negative headlines in the tabloid press and had been pulled.

Looking at Paul Gascoigne's mannerisms on stage it is obvious that he is not a well man. Swarming with nervous tics, constantly twitching and shuffling in his seat, his speech slurred and muddled to the point where it could be hard working out what he was saying. Someone who at his footballing peak looked so free on the pitch now seems trapped within himself. 

On the surface his many anecdotes were funny and played up to the idea of him as a bit of a lad, a bit of a wild, but harmless character who liked having a laugh. But they pointed to someone who was clearly very selfish individual who didn't think about the consequences his outlandish actions might have on others. Sure, joyriding a tractor at your first training session at Spurs might have been a funny thing to do. But crashing it in to the training block isn't as it's going to cost someone time and money to repair the damage. Likewise, when he decided to take the brand new Middlesborough team bus for a short spin and ended up crashing it. These are the actions of an individual with flaws and issues that run deep, and it's surprising as well as sad that no one in football tried to help him before it was far too late. 

I grew up on football in the 90s. One of my earliest football memories is of Italia '90 and England reaching the semi-final. Gazza's crying Spitting Image puppet. Throughout the majority of that decade Paul Gascoigne was this talismanic and highly gifted England midfielder, the kind of footballer that only comes along once in a generation. I imagine that dealing with current day Paul Gascoigne and all of the demons and issues that brings with it has got to be a complex situation, so hats off to the people currently trying to help him out. I'm sure they have good intentions, but dragging him around half empty theatres and flogging overpriced tat to hard-working football fans probably isn't the way to do it. It left me feeling sad for that man on stage.
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