Being early doesn’t always pay…

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?”

“Yes, great.”

“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.

“The what?”

I leant over. “Eric Clapton,” I reiterated. “And Steve Winwood. Here. Tonight.”

What?”

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!

© Southport Reporter

Anyway, we’re still friends. We still play music.

I don’t book the tickets anymore.


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 1

Dexys Midnight Runners – Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980)

Released in 1980 at the height of the Northern Soul revival, this record by Birmingham’s quirkiest of quirksters draws on a profound Soul sensibility, whilst also experimenting with Funk, Ska, and booming powerhouse Pop melodies.

Searching For The Young Soul Rebels is truly a record of its time; a powerful statement of defiance and fun by Kevin Rowland and his eight-strong army of “boys”. It’s the intense, four-dimensional soundscapes that first grabbed me when I got my hands on a second hand, semi-battered CD copy in the early noughties. New wave meant fresh air; and in a music chart dominated by Punk bands and semi-irrelevant popsters, Dexys were one of the larger waves sweeping over a changing musical landscape.

The album begins with the brilliant, cymbal crashing Burn It Down – full of balls and lifeblood and culture-shifting-angst, it’s a passionate attack on all those who dare demean the Irish and their heritage. Rowland reels off a host of Irish literary giants in defense of this great nation – Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Lawrence Stern, to name but a few. The horns are exquisite, and the vocals thumping. One of Dexy’s finest ever recordings.

Followed by Tell Me When The Light Turns Green – a rousing shifter, once again brought to life by a brilliant horn section, it’s more The Team That Meets In Caffs that pulls the ear into the speaker and wont let go. A moody, edgy instrumental, it demonstrates the true power of this band, and the voice behind them without needing voice. In fact, I ramble. The true voice of this band are those compelling horns.

I’m Just Looking is a gripping song of longing with yet another stunning brass section, followed by the epic bounce of Geno – one of the band’s staple super hits. The beauty of this band is that their music gets inside you before you realise it has to somehow get out. I’ve had many a night pumping the jukebox with Geno, much to the delight of EVERYONE. Seven Days Too Long, quite simply a Northern Soul institution, is every inch as rousing as the original.

I Couldn’t Help If I Tried is a gorgeous ballad sang with deep, raw emotion by Rowland, who flirts with falsetto throughout. It is bluesy in parts, jazzy in others, but at all times grabs you by the shirt collar. A superb change in tempo on an otherwise lively album. Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire It Doesn’t Apply – just about the oddest song title of them all – certainly lends an ear to the Punk movement of the time with its machine-gun bass, but the organ, coupled with Rowland’s fascinating flying-falsetto, throws the overall sound back into the Northern Soul scene. There is even a suspicion of Disco influence in this track – and that is never anything short of exciting.

And so, it seems that the only way to review this record is track-by-track. There is a spinal cord throughout the music. Love Part One is a unique, spoken word track complemented by a solo saxophone in the background, with an intrigue and poignancy: “They all dedicate lines to you/Thin lines – easy to see through/Of course they do it to be like others who/All feel something I wont pretend just for you.” Now that is cool.

The closing track on the album, There, There My Dear, is an exuberant and emphatic closing performance featuring dynamic backing vocals and a great lyric. And so comes a shock when the vinyl stops spinning and the needle clicks because your world has been nothing but Dexys indulgence for that space in time. As a complete package there are one or two dips, and it’s not looking to tear your heart out and stitch it straight back in. But, damn, it’s a cool record.

Searching For The Young Soul Rebels is a powerful piece of work that captures its time so well – a time when music called for rowdiness and energy and all-out passion.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

© Jacob Sweetman

Top track trio:

Burn It Down

Geno

Seven Days Too Long