As July neared its end, our glorious month (with interruptions) in the United Kingdom was about to end. One of the things we learned driving hundreds and hundreds of miles over motorways and A-roads was: Apparantly the summer had been equally hot and dry here than it has been in Germany (at least in England). You could see it clearly on all the fields and lawns everywhere. Should we have been suspicious as we arrived at Dyffryn Gardens and the lawns were all in a deep pure green?
However, the basic plan had been to get down to St. Nicholas, search some service station nearby and get some fuel for the car. Within England they were all selling rain gear, just what we needed, as the forecasts informed us that very morning. It was supposed to start raining during the afternoon, but apparently it should stop way in time for the concert. But then of course, Wales was not England and they did not sell any raingear at all at the sevice station we found. Great, fabulous. Anyways, surely it won't be that bad and we would be fine, after all we had our little umbrellas.
Arriving at the venue, we were quite excited to find we could park our car just in front of the queue. YAY, how convenient. We got our stuff out, put our chairs down and started queuing, nothing we really love. It was just half an hour later, that some guys from the security arrived and asked us to move our cars up to adjacent field, as this space infront of us was to be the disabled car park. Groan, all very fine, but could they not just have placed a sign indicating this a little earlier? So everyone started moving their cars and just when Bunny K got back into the queue it started to rain. When it finally stopped we were hoping that's it for today. Then we were still complaining about our jackets being a bit damp on the lower backside but apart from that fairly optimistic.
4:30 pm: heaven opens! Our clothes have not dried from the last shower, when the next one starts. Little did we know that shower would be the biggest understatement there could be! All around us you could hear different forecasts being spread amongst the dampening crowd, most of them guessed the rain should stop at around 6 pm. 6 pm approached and the gates were opened, once again not one second earlier, they are very strict about those opening times. Beforehand we were told, they'd search all the bags. Brilliant! We already pictured the concert starting while half of the audience was still in front of the gates getting their bags searched. If you've ever been to a picnic concert you'd know what we talk about, if not: Well, hardly anyone there is not equipped with a huge bag full of food and drinks and half their household! LOL
Security must have realised there was no way in doing this in the pouring rain, they finnaly gave in and just let us in, checking merely the tickets. Then we got on our looong walk around the building, past the toilets, past the hospitality tents and past all the food and drink tents to be presented with one of the strangest picnic concert areas we had ever seen. The lawn area was split into two equally sized halves by a long pond. It started somehwere below the stage. The security fences meant that 1/3 of the stage was in front of the happy fish living in the pond. When the tickets went on sale we learned the hospitality area would not block the view for the other ticket holders and was to the side. So you expected a tent at the far side of teh lawn, but here facing the stage it was the whole right hand side of the stage (Callum McLeod's side). The plebs had to squeeze into a space that was only about 1/3 of the stage in width. And you can believe us, despite the rain, there were loads of us and it was madness getting a patch of very wet grass without being squashed at the security fence (not so sure whether that was to secure us from falling in or the fish from...the fish anyways). Fabulous setting, not.
But actually, when we finally got to our seats and our role-model Pam generously offered us a place on her picnic duvet, we already knew this would be the last of our problems. The mood got more and more mad by the minute. Or desperate. You just can't help to think: We must be the most pathetic sight on earth! Drenched to the core, freezing, praying for the rain to stop! We could have left then, dignified, drying ourselves in our hotel room, enjoying some warm drinks. But no.... of course we could not bring ourselves to do that. How much worse can it get afterall? Little did we know...
Actually, at one point (it must have been when the rain started running down our backs into our trousers) we started counting the hours and minutes until the concert would be finished and we could just dash to the car and get to a nice warm hotel room. That was a first. We NEVER EVER wished a concert to be finished long before it actually began!
7:30 pm: The concert was finally about to start. Unfortunately we just learned Laura Michelle Kelly would start off the evening. Poor thing. She was really good and appeared to be a really nice person, it was just hard to appreciate her, while trying to keep some bits of yourself dry. Ever tried holding an umbrella with freezing fingers and clapping at the same time? Not an easy task!
Just when Miss Kelly finished her song the miracle happened. The rain faded and finally stopped. Seldomly was dryness greeted with more enthusiasm and ecstasy. YAY!!!!! Five glorious minutes of bliss, when life just seemed to be perfect, when those drenched clothes could not put a damper on everyones mood.
With a weather like this, we did not really expect many people to turn up (and stay), apart from the die hard fans that is. You know, the locals who wait for the day and see what the weather is like to decide if they turn up. Once the concert was about to set off, you actually had to wonder if the weather had been fine, could they have accommodated everyone? The place was packed. Or seemed so from what we could see.
Guess what happened shortly before gorgeous Mr. Ball appeared on stage? You are spot on! The rain was back at full throttle.
We could not wait for Michael to get on stage. Unfortunately it was for the wrong reasons. Soaked to the skin, we still could not believe we were doing this, sitting there with no rain gear at all (apart from tiny brollies, that could not cover us, our chairs and our bags, we tried but they were useless), slowly (actually not so slow at all!) soaking through. We kept wondering at which moment we could have done the decent thing and could have walked away in dignity? Whenever it would have been, the moment was gone a long time ago! We got this far, we hadn't drowned during the support act, so we wouldn't drown at the proper concert. We would survive, okay, maybe with pneumonia but we would live. When the going gets tough, the tough get going and all this. Some stemina was reuqired for this one. And afterall we were here to show Michael our support during this awful weather, our dedication (stupidity, madness, despair, the list goes on …..). Hum...how much more water this little pond will be able to hold? Afterall we were sitting right next to it...hummm
“I was born to love you!” were his promising first words and Michael, you'd better be! You can find the whole song list here. When Michael started we got our brollies down as did almost everyone who was sat at the front. It's the decent thing to do really. And there is a point where you simply, physically cannot get any more wet. We did not even mind the “One step” punches that caused the rain to go places underneath our clothes we'd rather not have rain, thank you very much.
Once he could start to talk, Michael was happy and certainly grateful we were there. There certainly must have been moments, when the rain got heavier and heavier that he feared he'd have to play to only a few dozen of fans at most. But there we all were. Soaked but enthusiastic. At moments like these he certainly knew why he was doing this job. And nothing could describe better what it feels like doing this job, than his slightly altered version of “As if we'd never said goodbye”.
Afterwards Michael introduced his guest Celia Graham with whom he duetted “Phantom of the Opera”. If anything that night was worth all the waiting in the rain for, it was this rendition! We had seen Michael doing this song with many “Christines” so far in a variety of versions, but this one was certainly the hottest, sexiest thing ever. How she could stay calm during his soft caressing, aspirating tangencies remains a miracle.
After this we got some time to get back down to earth and realise the rain had not stopped, the sun did not shine and no, it did not get miraculously hot (well not outside that is!). Michael sat down at the side of the stage and introduced one by one the guests he had that evening. Each of them singing one song on their own, before they all got back on stage treating us to an extraordinary “One day more”.
The unbelievable happened, when all of them left the stage, leaving us astonished at the dreaded interval. We couldn't believe they dared to make an interval. People would leave! And we were close to freezing! But no, they just did it. It seemed a bit curel to be honest. We had so hoped they would skip it...
Even the longest interval in the history of mankind ends eventually though and we were treated to some more Michael (in comparison to the first half). He actually came back on stage saying that he was so glad we stayed! He feared we'd have all left by the time they'd returned. For some of the highlights Michael was joined by his guests. Together they performed a terrific “Tonight”-Medley in which they were even joined by backing singer Dean Collinson, who was clearly having a great time.
Should I say the most memorable “highlight” of the night was, when I (Bunny K) suddenly thought about my purse and had not the foggiest, where I left it? It was last seen, when I got the programme just before the concert started. I put it in my trouser pocket, but then……? It was not there. So there I was, in the middle of Michael singing and whilst trying to keep my backpack as dry as possible, rummaging in my bag like mad, not caring for Michael (well, sort of). Just when Julia asked and I explained, she said, did you have a look at the ground? There it was! Dripping wet on the wet lawn only centimetres away from the fountain-cum-pond!!!! AAAAAAAAARGHHHH!!! But it was safe-ish. It dried eventually...a few days later....Anyway, back to Michael:
“The Prayer”, sung with Laura Michelle Kelly, once again treated us to Michael singing in Italian. We had enjoyed that bit a A LOT at Bath. Afterwards we got Michael almost completely to ourselves (meaning no more guests, but just him, pure Ball). I still can't believe that apart from having a great time during party time we got excited because it meant the show had to finish soon. YAY!!!!!
And no Michael. The rain did not stop at the beginning of party time. It just became less intense, but it was still raining. Michael's guests, apart from Laura Michelle Kelly, got back on stage to perform “Do you hear the people sing”. Just to be followed by Michael's last song. He told us that his Welsh family was present and friends who had never seen him perform in concert before (imagine that!) and he hoped they liked it and thanked us all for staying. You raise me up felt never more apropriate...it even made us forget the water running down our shiverring bodies for a few moments. I promise we felt like taking a cold shower fully dressed for six hours on end.
After the song something happened I could never have dreamed of: We were relieved that the show had finished (the first time we ever felt that way!). We grabbed our stuff, rushed our goodbyes and dashed away to the car park. And now we were so happy we were not able to get our stuff to the hotel prior to getting to the venue. We had our luggage with us, which meant, we could get some dry clothes out and change in the car (apart from the undies obviously!). Actually on the car park, we didn't care and we were not the only ones! LOL Dry clothes never felt better! No, not even after Chelmsford 2001 or Portsmouth 2003 (did we ever tell the tale of us standing in the pouring rain after the last show of that tour for about 2,5 hours, just to get a 15 second glimpse of Michael saying good night to us all while he rushed past, and then we were dashing to the car park, paying the ticket and the ticket was eaten by the machine. We had to call the hotline with my mobile and wait for ages for someone to let us out! That was the end of November, we were wet and cold and hated our lives…….). Okay close call between those two, but I think Dyffryn still wins. Nothing beats getting up for standing ovation, when you feel the water run in your undies! Well, it was a tough job, but someone had to do it. We were very proud of us all there, those brave (mad) fans who stayed and faced the Niagara Falls in Dyffryn Gardens.
I'm sorry this became more like “The rain tale of Dyffryn Gardens” than a concert review. Believe me, Michael was in great form, giving his best. His guests were terrific…. But after all, let's face it: For us, The JustBall Bunnies, there is no other person on this planet we would be doing all this for and still think we'd do it again and again. What did a colleague say to me after all this? “If I'd gone through half of all your travel adventures, I'd never fly to England again!”
Broken Airlines, broken planes, cancelled flights, storms, floods, flat tyres, spending fortunes…. Is it all worth it? Yes it is! Will we be back? You bet we will! Anytime.