The year was 2010.
And, sorry, I’m going to ruin the story straight away by assuring you that everything ended well.
However, it began terribly.
Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood announced a really unexpected joint tour – and by joint, I don’t mean two separate sets – they were promising a full show on stage together. I got straight on the phone to my bandmate Adrian and spilled a million reasons why we had to be there. He listened patiently then informed me that his arm didn’t need to be twisted up his back. And so, that was that.
The closest gig was at Birmingham LG Arena, so we booked tickets months in advance and excited ourselves stupid with every mention of it. After all, both these legends were getting on. Right?
The date of the gig was the 18th May, 2010. It was clearly written on the ticket. They had arrived at my house, and been filed away safely, away from reckless lurking hands ‘cleaning up’ or the overly-vexatious boxer dog. In fact, I’d slipped them inside my vinyl copy of The Beatles’ Blue Album. That was the Holy Grail in my house that no-one else dare touch.
I’ve always loved the feel of a concert ticket in my hand. They feel like freedom and possibility and exhilaration. I love the writing on them, big and bold…a famous name that promises to become a face, right in front of you. The curious hologram. The date – a moment of your personal history captured in print. That thrilling line of punched holes, ready to be ripped by a bored concierge with spots and sincere disinterest. The type that have no idea who the legends are you’re going to see.
Adrian, the great guitar player and co-singer in our regularly gigging duo, Little Wing, had nothing to do with the admin. I handled it, paid for it, and he simply reimbursed the cash. I was just about as experienced a gig-goer as anyone you could possibly meet from my generation. I’d watched hundreds, all over the world. I could reel a few off to impress you if you like? The Eagles in Melbourne, Australia. Chuck Berry in Luxembourg City. The Rolling Stones and Deep Purple in Paris. Paul Weller in Benacassim, Spain. Leonard Cohen in Montruex, Switzerland. I could go on, but I’m sensing you hating me already.
The point being, I’d been on trains, planes, ferries, trams, buses, cars…basically everything but horseback to get to gigs. Logistically, for a daydreaming technophobe, I was pretty slick. So what could possibly go wrong?
Well, how about this.
“Hey, Adrian, you ready for the gig this week?”
“You fancy driving? We’ll split the petrol?” (Tactical – he’s not really a drinker).
“No problem. Let’s set off early and get there in good time.”
So, off we went on our two-plus hour jaunt down the M6 to Birmingham playing Clapton and Winwood CD’s, riling ourselves up for the gig of a lifetime.
Upon arrival in Birmingham we were surprised by the lack of traffic.
“I knew setting off early was a good idea,” Adrian said.
I’d spotted a McDonalds, so my attention was otherwise occupied.
“Yep,” I said.
When we landed at Birmingham LG Arena a short while later, we were even more astonished to see no cars in the car park. In fact, the whole place was a ghost town. The barrier was down, and when we approached the gate a baffled looking security guy stepped out of a small hut and approached the van.
“Can I help, lads?”
“Hi mate, yeah, we’re here for the Clapton / Winwwod gig,” Adrian said since he lingered at the driver’s side.
I leant over. “Eric Clapton,” I reiterated. “And Steve Winwood. Here. Tonight.”
I wanted to shout THE FUCKING GIG! but the genuine concern spreading across the bloke’s face stopped me in my tracks. Adrian turned to face me and that sinking feeling melted me into my seat.
“No gig on here tonight, Lads,” the Brummy chap said, hands aloft in apology.
“Fucking hell,” I whispered, pulling the tickets out of the envelope. The guy stuck around for the climax. “But it says here, the Birmingham LG Arena, tonight.”
The guy leant into the car to see the tickets in my hand. Then he slowly withdrew.
“That ticket says 18th May, mate. It’s the 11th today.”
Well, my ass fell clean through the van flooring. Adrian laughed. I sank back into my seat, horrified by my own stupidity. Other people might have punched me. Adrian said:
“Let’s go get something to eat.”
The only compensation for such a mistake was that we arrived a week early and not a week late, but it wasn’t round the corner. We made the best of the situation, and had a rather nice curry before making the trip home.
The following week we made the gig, on the correct day. We even got there for the correct time and sat in the right seats. We did really well. Clapton and Winwood were superb – a raucous mix of tunes from both solo careers, Cream, Traffic, Derek & The Dominoes, The Spencer Davis Group and some covers too. A career spanning retrospective by two of England’s finest. Clapton’s slowhand was on fire, and Winwood’s voice better than ever. Well worth the two trips!
Anyway, we’re still friends. We still play music.
I don’t book the tickets anymore.