Mr. Blue You Did it Right…. Journey to Europe – part 1

I got into music very late as a child. I liked music, but it wasn’t something I with which I connected emotionally at the time. Maybe it was because I wasn’t really exposed too much to the current music scene of the early to mid-1970’s outside of what I saw on TV on variety shows such as Sonny and Cher, Donnie and Marie and others. When I did listen to the radio it was usually in the car with my parents choosing the stations.

I was more of a TV kid, glued to the tube watching all the big shows of the day. So it wasn’t surprising when a commercial came on TV in December of 1976 on Channel 5 (WNEW-TV in New York) promoting their New Year’s Eve special event programming. It intrigued me more for the comedy than the music.  I asked my parents if I could stay up on New Year’s. They were happy about it, as they were hosting a party that night, so having me planted in front of the TV in their bedroom and out of their way was a blessing. So that night I was introduced to The Beatles. The program was the film A Hard Day’s Night.

That night at the age of nine my view of music changed forever. We didn’t have VCRs so I had to rely on my memory and whatever I could find on radio, TV and magazines for my Beatles fix. I immersed myself in everything Beatles and even got into The Monkees thanks to TV reruns at the time (4pm weekdays on WCBS, Channel 2 in New York at the time), just because they reminded me of The Beatles. Soon I liked their music too.

A year after my intro into The Beatles, channel 5 repeated the film on New Year’s Eve in 1977/78 and followed it up with Yellow Submarine that same morning. Bleary-eyed but entertained at 4am on January 1, 1978, I asked my brother and father, who had stayed up with me to watch the films, if I could get an album of the songs from Yellow Submarine.   My brother went to the store the next day and couldn’t find the album, so he brought home a tape of Sgt. Pepper. I played that tape repeatedly. He also got me the compilation album 1962-66 that had a few more songs from the film, plus ones from A Hard Day’s Night. I loved it and wanted more.

We borrowed albums from the library and copied them onto tapes. When I was 12, my parents gave me a stereo for my birthday that had a turntable and a tape deck. I immersed myself in Beatles music, got up early on Sunday mornings for the Beatles Breakfast show on the radio. I recorded songs off the radio and bought more Beatles related magazines and albums.

After a while my brother decided I needed to move into the 1970’s. One day he came home from the library with two albums in his hands and said to me, “If you love The Beatles, you’ll like ELO.” He then put a record on the turntable and placed the needle on the first cut. The song was “Turn to Stone” (Out of the Blue, side one). He was wrong. I didn’t like ELO….

I LOVED THEM.

I listened and recorded those albums (the second one was A New World Record). Sometime later my brother bought them.  I soon got immersed in the whole catalog and my record collection was beginning to grow.

The Electric Light Orchestra became my second most favorite band after The Beatles. Soon after that I got into Queen, Supertramp and it went on from there. I fell in love of multiple genres and styles.

The one day in 1981, when I was fourteen, my parents and I visited my brother at college. When we arrived at his dorm room, he handed me a T-shirt. On the front was an image of the cover of the Electric Light Orchestra album, Time. On the back a listing of concert dates under the title, “Time Tour ‘81”. Tour? What’s this?

Until that day I never thought the average person could go to a concert. Somehow I thought that was out of reach. That day I discovered I was wrong. My brother had gone to see ELO live at the Philadelphia Spectrum. He had sat in the ninth row. What’s more, keyboardist Richard Tandy, who aside from Jeff Lynne was my favorite member of the band, had taken part in the sound check. I was so jealous.

“You owe me!” I said, rather than thanking him for the T-shirt . He understood and the following year took me to a Queen concert. That was fantastic, a very memorable night. It fed my desire to see other bands, including ELO.

Years and two albums went by with no tours. Then in 1987, Jeff Lynne disbanded the group. I was disappointed. No ELO concerts anymore.

Then in 1991, ten years after my brother saw them, there was a full-page ad in the newspaper for The Electric Light Orchestra on tour. I bought tickets, got great seats. A few weeks later I discovered that Jeff Lynne wasn’t involved. This surprised me, as Jeff had released a solo album at that time (Armchair Theatre) and I thought it was coinciding with the tour, but I was wrong. Oh, well. I had tickets, so I was going anyway.

Then the tour got canceled. I soon found out that Jeff had ordered the band to not use the name as he had the legal rights to it. They subsequently changed it to ELO Part II, since the drummer, Bev Bevan still had partial rights to the name, being that he was one of the founding members. Then when he left a few years later and he sold his piece to Jeff, they become The Orchestra.

Meanwhile, Jeff became a successful producer working with nearly all four Beatles, plus other artists including Tom Petty and Roy Orbison who joined Jeff, George Harrison and Bob Dylan in forming the Traveling Wilburys.

Ten years after the 1991 tour fiasco, Jeff decided to release a new album using the ELO name. It was called Zoom. Pretty soon tour dates were announced. I bought my tickets for the Meadowlands Arena gig as soon as I could. Again, I got great seats. In the meantime Jeff and the band appeared on VH1 Storytellers. The show was fantastic. I couldn’t wait to see them live. I was thrilled to see Richard Tandy there too. What a bonus!

The concert was scheduled for September 28th, 2001. Sometime in August the venue changed to the PNC Bank Arts Center. I had to drive an hour each way to exchange the tickets at the box office. Once again I had great seats.

Then two weeks later the concert was canceled. This time it was due to poor ticket sales.

On September 11th, the World Trade Center in New York was attacked. I firmly believed that even if the concert hadn’t been canceled prior to this tragic event, it would have after that, since I lived in close proximity to New York and since it would have been in bad taste for Jeff to compete with the benefit/tribute concerts at the time. PBS did continue with its scheduled airing of the live performance Jeff had recorded for them. I watched that with tears in my eyes. Not just because I missed out once again, but also because it was such a great show.

I resigned myself to the possibility that I just wasn’t destined to see Jeff or ELO live. I knew I would be content if Jeff joined Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, but that didn’t happen. However, he did always manage to join the band on stage when they performed in Los Angeles, where Jeff was living. I kicked myself for not booking a ticket to LA just to see that much.

Early in 2002, a few months after George Harrison’s death, a tribute concert was held at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Jeff was actively involved, singing lead in two songs and playing with the band throughout. Jeff also performed with Tom Petty, Prince and George’s son Dhani when George was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

Despite the performances, I conceded that Jeff would never tour. I started to hope for Classic Albums Live to do a performance of Out of the Blue, I wanted The Orchestra to tour in my area, I wanted another tribute band to come to the US.

From 2002 through 2010 Jeff worked mainly as a producer, while releasing remasters the ELO catalog. Meanwhile, I went to see a local ELO laser light show and the Broadway production of Xanadu. I even stayed behind at the end of Xanadu to watch the stage band finish their closing number which they played as audience members departed the theater. I told my friend that this was the closest I was going to get to seeing ELO music performed live in any way, shape or form.

Sometime in 2010 Jeff Lynne announced plans to release another ELO album. I wondered if this meant another attempt at a tour in 2011, ten years after the last one. This was becoming a pattern for me. Every ten years I’d miss my chance.

2011 came and went. In 2012 Jeff released two CDs: Mr. Blue Sky and The Long Wave. The first was a beautiful reworking of classic ELO songs. The latter was a collection of covers of his favorite songs. Jeff also was featured in a documentary titled Mr. Blue Sky. He also did several interviews.

Then in late 2013, Jeff reunited with Richard Tandy and performed with members of the BBC orchestra at the Children in Need concert in the UK. They did two songs: Livin’ Thing and Mr. Blue Sky.   I watched online and was thrilled by the performance.

Early in 2014 Jeff was honored in his hometown with a star on the Birmingham (England) Walk of Fame. More interviews followed. He even performed on the Grammy Salute to The Beatles, singing Something and performing on two other songs including a duet with Dave Grohl.

Then came the Chris Evan’s radio show in March.

Chris Evans is a popular radio DJ in the UK (BBC Radio 2). He is a big ELO fan. During the interview he asked Jeff if fans were to text their desire to see him perform live, would Jeff do a concert? He agreed. Chris asked Jeff for a number. He said, “2,000.” The response was overwhelming. It far exceeded that. I had heard the interview online and texted my interest as well.

Then on one fateful day in June I found out that “Jeff Lynne’s ELO” was to be the headline act at the BBC Radio 2 Festival in Hyde Park on September 14. Unfortunately for me I found out five hours too late. Tickets were sold out.

I went on Stubhub. I checked daily. Most tickets were selling anywhere from £100-180 apiece. Keep in mind the face value was £38. I couldn’t bring myself to spend that money as that meant close to $400 US. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to spend that much. Add to it the airfare which was over $1,000. I felt uncertain what to do.

So I told myself that if the price went down below £100, I’d consider it. Then one day in August I saw it. Someone was selling their tickets for £45 each. I couldn’t believe it. I had seen another seller offering a child’s admission for that price (face value £17). I worried it was a mistake, but I triple checked the entry before I purchased the tickets.

I contacted my friend Pat and told her what I had done. The tickets were to be sent via UPS, so I gave the seller her address in London. I was all set to go alone, since I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about it. I invited her. She said yes. She’d love to go. I was thrilled.

I bought my airline tickets and booked a hotel near Hyde Park. The concert tickets were not going to be mailed until days before the event, so I was nervous, worrying that they were a mistake and they were children’s tickets. As the date grew closer, I kept checking Stubhub, wondering if I should buy a backup set just in case. I almost did when I saw another cheap pair, but my gut instinct told me not to do it.

I’m glad I didn’t. Pat contacted me when she got the tickets and they were correct. We were going to Hyde Park! I was so excited. I was finally going to see ELO.

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