Last Train to London…. Journey to Europe – part 3

I flew into London around 9pm on September 12th and settled into the lovely Park Grand Hotel near Hyde Park. I had taken the Heathrow Express from the airport, which I had to run to as the ticket-taker had informed me that the train was leaving at any second, then had walked the few blocks from Paddington Station to the hotel. I must have looked a fright being that I had slept on the plane, then ran to the train, then was perspiring as I often do with the humidity in London. When I checked-in at the hotel, the man behind the reception desk told me I looked tired. Then one of his colleagues rushed in with a glass of orange juice. The service at the hotel was stellar. The room I had was very small, but clean and modern. It was perfect for me. I would stay there again.

Saturday, Pat and I took a ferry to Greenwhich, toured the Cutty Sark, walked around town and had lunch there. It was a lovely day. We even ventured to the opposite side of the Thames using an underground pedestrian tunnel. It was a long walk, but worth it. We rested in a park, took some photographs of the opposite bank and walked back to catch the ferry back to London (click on the link below to see photos).

https://www.flickr.com/photos/10114819@N04/tags/greenwich/

The ferry ride was an enjoyable excursion in itself thanks mainly to the guided tour they gave while taking us up and down the Thames. It was interesting, and funny. They were not official, paid tour guides. They were mainly in charge of the ferry and the passengers, but decided to make the trip more interesting by narrating the excursion, giving us a tour of the buildings along the Thames.

At one point we passed a condominium where Cher had lived for a time. The guide said she had sued the ferry company years back, because they were pointing out her home to people, which led to her being stalked. He added that she no longer lived at that location, but he would point out where she was living now. He was kidding, of course.

On the way back Pat mentioned that at the Tower of London over 800,000 ceramic poppies were being planted in honor of the casualties of WWI. We ended our ferry ride by Tower Bridge and walked over. What a sight. Words cannot describe it. Thousands of poppies had already been planted with many more to go. It was an incredible sight. We joined the reverent crowds as we walked around taking photos and marveling at the display. It was very moving (click on the link below for photos).

https://www.flickr.com/photos/10114819@N04/tags/toweroflondon/

I couldn’t sleep on Saturday night. I worried whether we’d get a good spot at the concert. I felt badly that Pat had to lug the blanket and the food on foot to her bus stop and from the bus stop to meet me. I wondered if we were going to get there early enough to beat the crowds. I worried about how long we’d have to stand, what kind of lines we’d have to the bathroom, would I get trampled, would I remember to take the platforms, did I make a mistake planning my trip to Paris the next day, all crazy late night things one worries about.

I wasn’t panicking, just anxious and excited.

According to the BBC 2 website, people were going to be allowed in at around 11:30am. I told Pat the night before that I would get there early at around 10am in case people started lining up by then. The next morning I showed up at the park, but I was at the wrong gate. The map for the concert confused me as it looked like the entrance was at Lancaster Gate, but it turned out to be further down. My concerns were unwarranted, however. She joined me around 11am and we walked to the entrance. As we approached, we could hear music. Soon I could tell it was ELO. They were rehearsing, doing a sound check. I could identify the songs. I should have been excited.

I had mixed feelings.

I had just finished telling Pat that I have a rule against listening to a band’s music before a concert. I learned early on in my concert-going experience that I prefer to hear the songs fresh during the show, rather than hear it for the umpteenth time after listening to them over and over prior to the event. I also had an issue back in 1984, when I went to see Duran Duran.

I was very much into Duran Duran’s music after my brother brought home their first album (my brother and I share a similar taste in music, but we don’t always agree). One night in 1984 they had performed a concert at Madison Square Garden. The show was simulcasted on the radio, and I had recorded it (I had become very proficient at recording from the radio). I had loved what I had heard and had asked my parents if I could go to the concert when they came to New Jersey, because it was on a school night. They had agreed. During the next week or so before the concert I had played the tape incessantly to the point where I had inadvertently memorized every grunt, every phrase and every pause. When I had finally saw them on stage I was disappointed. Everything they did from every word, sound and exclamation were verbatim to the tape. I was convinced the concert was recorded. In fact, their subsequent live album from that tour solidified that belief. I was disappointed.

A few years later I saw INXS. On the way to the concert the people I was going with were playing the songs repeatedly in the car. By the time the band had played them I wasn’t as enthusiastic about them. It sounds crazy, but I had decided it was best not to play any songs too close to the concert date. I wanted to enjoy the experience.

So here we were walking to the entrance, hearing practically the whole set from ELO. It was muffled due to our distance from the stage. I reassured myself that it wasn’t going to ruin the fun. It would be hours before they came back on stage for real. Hours listening to other bands I looked forward to seeing including, Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders). It would be okay.

I recorded part of the audio on my cellphone while they played Don’t Bring Me Down. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to record anything during the show, so I decided to capture the moment just in case. You can hear it from the link below.

https://flic.kr/p/p7t9vy

I told Pat about my secret weapon that would get me a better view. “A book?” she asked. I laughed. Not quite. Platform shoes. We had a good laugh over them.

Getting inside was not a problem. The venue opened a little after 11:30am and we got through the entrance in a few minutes. I was surprised at how easy it was to get a spot close enough to the stage to see the people on it. What’s more, everyone had blankets and bags of food. It was a far more laid back atmosphere than I had expected. I was pleasantly surprised.

View of the stage

We sat a few yards to the right of a large tower, where they had cameras capturing the event for live streaming and to air on BBC’s Red Button, which was a specialty channel that often showed behind the scenes of their TV shows, as well as special concert events such as this one.

The lineup was as follows:

Chrissie Hynde
Bellowhead
Kacey Musgraves
Gregory Porter
Paloma Faith
Billy Ocean
Blondie
ELO

They had announced on the radio a few days prior that Jeff’s set was scheduled to start at 7:45pm and run for seventy-five minutes. This astonished and pleased me. I had no idea he’d have well over an hour to perform. The other acts had about thirty minutes to an hour, depending.

We stood and sat through a variety of sets. Chrissie Hynde was great. I loved hearing the Pretenders songs, as well as her new solo work. The sound was fantastic. Not too loud. We stood.

Bellowhead was a bit too much sea shanty music for my taste. I like sea shanties, but they all sounded the same to me after a while. We sat through their set, though if you saw the crowd shots on the big screen it looked like we all were standing when we weren’t. I thought that was hilarious.

Kacey Musgraves did a great job with her set. I knew a couple of her songs. They were nice, light and entertaining. I’m not much of a country fan, but I stood for her set.

Gergory Poter’s sound is more like R&B meets Jazz improv. I like the former, dislike the latter. We sat.

The sound went wonky at one point between sets. There was a pop and suddenly the bass became loud enough to beat against our chests. Not very pleasant. Paloma Faith commented that all she could hear was her bass drum. The problem was fixed soon enough. Her performance was very good. We stood and danced and enjoyed it.

We stood for Billy Ocean too. He did a great job.

There were still some sound issues when Blondie came on stage, but by the second or third song things seemed to be sorted. I was pleased by her show mainly because the last time I saw her (opening for Tears for Fears in the early 90’s), it wasn’t as good. We stood and danced.

At one point between acts I had heard they had special edition ELO T-shirts. So I took a walk to the stall only to discover that they were sold out and would get more by 9pm, and that we should order them at the table.  I chose not to.  I did not want to wait around after the concert to get the shirt, since I needed to be on the train the next morning.

I decided to go use the ladies’ room. I expected a long, slow moving line, but that wasn’t the case. The lines moved quickly and effectively to the porta-johns. I was in and out in about 5 minutes or so.

Walking around gave me a view of the rest of the venue. Along the sides were vendors selling all sorts of food. Toward the entrance was a second stage, called an Introducing Stage on which new acts were performing. I felt sorry for them. I had thought the second stage would be adjacent to the main stage and that the new acts would perform during the breaks between the major ones. Instead they were out of the way. They had a crowd, but most of the attendees were focused on the main stage. I’m sure it was a thrill for them to be there, but I felt like they didn’t get the attention they deserved. I had previewed a few of the artists before my trip and some of them sounded good. It would have been nice to have heard them, but I went back to my spot near the main stage.

The artists on the Introducing Stage were:

Ward Thomas
Jo Dolman
The Buffalo Skinners
The Cadbury Sisters
Sam Brookes
Nico Cara

When the last act before ELO finished, I pulled out the platforms from my backpack. Pat watched me with amusement as I put on the shoes and attached my makeshift straps to the back of them to keep them in place. I didn’t need the shoelaces. The ribbon worked very well. I tied it off with as much of a flourish as I could to make them seem stylish, and then stood up.

I could walk. It was a miracle.

I felt so much taller. What’s more I had no problem walking on the uneven ground in them. I was worried I’d fall over. Sounds crazy considering most women I know wore platforms and high heels without problems, and I do wear high heels. However, I often lose my balance for one reason or another and I didn’t want that to happen that night.

We spotted the crowds moving closer to the stage. No more sitting down for us. It was standing-room-only from now on. We inched closer, moving up several feet from where we had originally camped. Pat was content at watching the concert from the big screen, but she kept her eyes out for openings in the crowd so I could see the stage. The shoes were a blessing. There was no way I could have seen anything without them.   Granted, I had to deal with a whole crowd of people who decided to record the concert on their mobile phones and cameras, which meant their arms were extended over their heads, leaving me no choice at times but to see between a sea of elbows.

We moved a few times during the concert, whenever Pat spotted an opening for me. I could see Jeff clearly. Richard Tandy was more difficult to spot, because he was on the left on the piano. I gazed up at the video screens during his solos and vocoder parts or on the rare occasion when there were just too many elbows in the way.

I made a pact with myself not to record any portion of a concert on my mobile phone from now on. Based on my past failed experiences doing it and what I had to endure at this concert, it just wasn’t worth the distraction.

(Read my blog post: “Top Reasons Why You Should Not Record a Concert on Your Mobile Phone” https://stybz.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/top-reasons-why-you-should-not-record-a-concert-on-your-mobile-phone/)

When Jeff introduced Richard Tandy, I was the only person cheering in my area. No one in my area had a clue who he was. Oh well. I had told Pat about him before the concert, then pointed him out to her on the big screen early on in the show prior to the introduction. She asked me, “Is he an original (band member)?” I replied, “Yes.”

I remembered one of the other reasons why I wanted to watch the performance with my naked eyes and not on the big screen. ELO concerts are a sight to behold, full of lights, colors and visuals. In the 1970’s they toured with a stage set up like a large spaceship that opened at the beginning of the show to reveal the band, and closed at the end. This concert didn’t have a ship, but the rows of semi-circular racks of lighting on either side of the stage were a fantastic replacement, as was the large video screen on the back that provided a wide array of wonderful backdrops to accompany the songs, including the famous ELO spaceship that flew by.

This was the kind of thing that could not be captured on the jumbotrons. There was no way to see the full essence of the show on those big screens. One had to look at the stage and see it full-on. And that’s what I was able to do. I had tears in my eyes.

The concert was amazing. The sound was fantastic. And the visuals were great. My dream had come true. I saw ELO live finally after 33 years. I was so happy.

Some of the people around me didn’t know the lyrics of the songs but sang along anyway. We sang parts of Sweet Talkin’ Woman, Don’t Bring Me Down and Telephone Line to name a few. We cheered when Jeff Lynne did the quick verse in Turn To Stone. I was ecstatic when he performed Steppin’ Out. I looked at the big screen when Richard did his solos, including the hilarious “Please turn me over” at the end of Mr. Blue Sky on the vocoder. I loved it.

The people around me got a bit carried away after a while. At one point during Mr. Blue Sky, the people around me sang the operatic part. I had to grin and bear it, but when the band started the intro to Beethoven’s 5th for Roll Over Beethoven, a small group started doing “Doo doo doo doo.” I had to stop them. I wanted to hear the BBC Orchestra play it.

I turned around and as nicely as I could I said, “I came to hear them, not you.” To my amazement they clammed up really fast.

To them I extend a heartfelt thank you, and an apology if I sounded rude. I actually didn’t expect them to quiet up so easily. In the US I’d have gotten heckled. I thank you for your understanding.

After the event had concluded, Pat watched as I quickly changed back to my sneakers and asked, “So what are you going to do with the shoes?”

“Oh, I’m keeping them!” I said emphatically. I was so comfortable in them and they worked out so well for me. I couldn’t part with them. I needed those shoes for future events. They were my saviors.

“Good,” she said with a smile. “I knew you would.”

I walked with her out of the park and to the tube station where we said our goodbyes and exchanged warm hugs.  I always enjoyed my time with Pat and wished I could have stayed longer. I thanked her for coming with me to the concert. She said she had a great time. I was on cloud nine. The whole day turned out better than I had imagined. I’m so glad I went.

And so it was back to the hotel to pack for Paris.

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