Artisteer

Together - Summer 2017


Euston Hall, Thetford

It was so good to be back in the UK again! We touched down on Friday night, collected the rental car and then had to make a mad dash to central London (Covent Garden) to drop off our Adele tickets for Wembley on the 28th as the dynamic duo had decided to schedule a concert in Scarborough that day and we had to sell them (they really should coordinate with Adele in the future! It did break our hearts a little, but Ball comes first. Always. Even when it hurts, like this did.). We made it with 5 minutes to spare (they had to be dropped off at a shop which closed at 11pm) and found our hotel on the north-eastern outskirts of London okay. On Saturday that day was here: our first concert in six whole months. On the one hand, we couldn’t believe how quickly the time had passed, how much had happened after our final night in Sheffield (double-platinum!), on the other hand, we did feel each and every day of withdrawal acutely, so it was an emotional day. We stayed in a tiny place called Mundford in an Inn from 1650, very quaint and cozy.

We had purchased parking at the venue beforehand (16£ !), so once we got near onto the estate we popped our little hanger up and joined the queue of cars, all seeking sublime entertainment on a meadow that night. And even though we hardly every stood still, the car was always moving, it still took us 30 minutes (!!) to park the car as the distance was immense (most of it on sandy field tracks) and there were so many visitors. We had allowed plenty of time to arrive but still barely made in into our seats in time once we had braved the loo queues inside. The concert started a little while later and still we could see countless of cars coming down the gently slopes. We never took that long entering a car park. It took about three songs for everyone to have arrived.  

Also there was so much easily avoidable confusion surrounding these open air concerts as the promoters chose to only print the gates open time onto the tickets and not give the actual start time of the show (add to that the confusion of the concert at Lincoln Castle starting one hour earlier than all the others due to it being set in a residential area…). This worked very well for having people on the concert grounds to buy food and drink, or at least did at the other venues; Euston Hall really has to re-think their entry policy. This was highly inefficient.
Anyhow, having people there to in theory drink from 5pm for a 7:30pm show naturally meant that there was, shall we say, excessive merriment going on. The crowds were quite noisy and there were some people who were frankly very, very drunk. Nice little money spinner, especially when you forbid people to bring your own food and drinks, but doesn’t necessarily help to create a respectful atmosphere when two professionals work very hard to entertain those who actually came to see the show itself. Lots of talking going on, rowdy shouts into the songs, constant movement as people go and buy more drink/food. In the front row two ladies sat down when the first notes started, both having a huge burger and fries on their plates. The smell alone was in all honesty sickening… we thought it would have been better to stop serving food well before the concert began, but then again, these stalls are there to make money so that will never happen.

Rant over. Focus on the main attraction. BB on the road in the countryside. It felt so good to be back and see the familiar BB logo on the red screens, the white stage still as elegant as it was six months ago and they have added two big screens on either side of the stage for the people further away to the sides or the back. We were amazed at the picture quality! They were high res, perfect. And they had plenty of cameras so that you got amazing close ups and unfamiliar perspectives, like seeing them from behind their shoulders for example. A view we never usually get. We were lucky enough to sit centre block for all our shows but really couldn’t help looking at the screens every now and again. Great camera people!

We knew the song list beforehand as we can never wait and have to ask the minute the first concert of any tour is over. So no surprises there but plenty of anticipation. We have lost Incurably Romantic (not too sad about this, sorry to those who love it), Kick in the Head and Mack the Knife and gained Anthem, Luck be a Lady and New York, New York. Anthem was the one we looked forward to the most from the new ones. Also the new finale of the Les Mis medley, which now finishes on One Day More, as any Les Mis medley should. Perfection!
Another change that came as quite a surprise was Alfie having changed his solo song from Love Reign O’ver Me to Run. This being a “Michael song” to us, it was very interesting to hear his interpretation. Very different feel to it all, much rockier.

So, for those who haven’t yet seen it, here is the song list once more:

Song - List

Act One

Overture/Somewhere

Tonight

For Once in my Life

Music of the Night

Speak Softly

A Thousand Years

Tell Me It's Not True

What a Wonderful World / Somewhere over the Rainbow

Anthem

Elvis Medley:

I Just Can't Help Believin' (Michael solo)

That's Alright Mama (Alfie solo)

Suspicious Minds

Act Two

Stairway to Paradise

Me and My Shadow

Luck be a Lady

New York New York

James Bond Medley:

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Overture)

Live and Let Die

Goldfinger (Michael)

From Russia with Love (Alfie)

Skyfall (Michael)

Diamonds are Forever (Michael)

Thunderball (Alfie)

Nobody does it Better (Michael)

Keep me in your Heart (Alfie)

Run (Alfie)

Gethsemane (Michael)

Love Changes Everything (Michael)

Les Mis Medley:

Overture

Bring Him Home (Alfie)

Empty Chairs (Michael)

I Dreamed a Dream/Bring Him Home/One Day More

You'll Never Walk Alone (Encore)

Song-List Courtesy of Joan Johnson

 

We felt that the sound was really well balanced; a pleasant surprise, as open airs can be rather tricky when it comes to sound.

Stage outfits, well, a photo says more than a thousand words:

Example for Michael and Alfie's Tour Outfit first half

No outfit changes for the second half.


The ultimate highlight for us will always be Michael’s Gethsemane. And this night made no exception. A very good reaction from the crowd, too. It’s just a shame that people often scream into the first moments when he comes on (he’s already in character, so really serious, no idea why this would elude lewd comments…?) and eruption of applause in the quiet moments, as we assume, people don’t know the song and don’t get that it’s not finished yet. No tie this time, so at least no whistling while he undoes it, as this is what happened during the winter tour.
But we loved everything about the show, the new additions, the little choreography they had for Me and My Shadow and Luck Be a Lady. The dynamic duo at its best! Plenty of laughter and fantastic singing. Also no photography announcements. Photo heaven! Lax security also had its downsides though as it meant that many people simply walked up to the stage and stood there, filming whole songs with their mobile phones. Very distracting. Also we will never understand those who want a selfie with BB in the background, so they turn their backs to the stage!! And then there was this one lady who came down again and again to film them and take selfies, all alone, in front of the stage. You could tell the lads got a bit fed up with it after a while. It’s fine once, they even posed for her, which was very kind. But she came back again and again. Why??

There was much banter but fewer than in the winter tour and in the light of current events the introductions to the songs like Anthem and What a Beautiful World were much more serious and poignant than before. That said, there was much, much laughter throughout. It was always funny when they did their little choreography for the opening of the second act Alfie got so caught up in it that he now and again forgot that the next line would be his or that he was meant to be joining Michael in the singing, just smiling broadly into the crowd, very pleased with having done so well. Very endearing. Michael than waited and said “Feel free to join in at any time” (to which Alfie dryly replied “No.” but then laughed and did anyways) or “This is your line actually.” “Oh is it? Oh yes, you are right, it is!” These small moments delight the audience, of course, Especially as you know these two can pick up any line at any given moment and turn it into musical magic, so it really just ads to the fun of it all.

The boys also introduced New York, New York and asked everyone who wanted to, to come forward and form a kick line. That was fun to watch but then ushers had to come and shoo people back to their seats so that those still sitting could see… toing and froing ensued.

So do not come to a summer concert when you are a purist and just want a peaceful evening of undisturbed music and singing. Having said all that, when you made the effort to focus on the two Bs you were treated to a delightful concert of two consummate professionals on top of their game. We had a truly wonderful evening in great company. It was so good to be back!

Lincoln Castle, Lincoln

We had another great place to stay. We slept in a converted old church right next to the famous cathedral, with wonderful views of the surrounding countryside (Lincoln’s old town is situated on the top of a very steep hill, climbing is a challenge but the views more than make up for it). As the rooms were not ready when we arrived we were allowed into the lounge of the actual Bishop, as he wasn’t in on weekends. Picture your average picturesque castle room with huge paintings, fireplace, amazing views and beautiful wall paper. We still did not stay but used the time until the concert to roam the castle grounds (open to the public for free) and inspect the layout of the stage and seating arrangements.

The minute we stepped into the courtyard where they had set up we knew there would be trouble: Instead of the seating blocks being in front of the stage, as advertised on the seating plans when booking, there was a huge concrete path leading directly to the stage.

Lincoln's exotic seating arrangement

Apparently they have to use this for emergencies (if an ambulance has to be called in etc.) and the seat blocks were formed on the grassy bits to either side of that wide divide. Our first thought was that it will be most peculiar for Michael and Alfie to be playing to nobody whatsoever when performing centre stage and how they must rearrange their performance to be playing to side blocks only. Then it hit us that all of us who thought had centre block seats were now in side blocks. We counted the seats and with the help of a very friendly security steward (who also told us that the venue holds a shocking 5,500 people! You’d never guess it were so many seats) found out we’d be fine. Alfie’s side but still close enough to the centre aisle. Much further to the side than anticipated but these things happen with open airs. The only issue would be that the outer ends of the would be centre block were now not in front of the stage but in front of the screens. You could still see the stage, of course, but had to lean forward and when they take a few steps back or perform on the staircase at the back of the stage, you’d only have the screens to look at. At least they were good screens. But naturally that led to plenty of discussions with the stewards before the concert started. We think everyone on the outer seats should be entitled to the discount, as the seats were definitely no longer full price. We’d advise to take the complaint to the promoter. Some insisted on re-allocation and were obliged with returns and unsold tickets nearer to the centre aisle, which we thought very good of the staff.

Cliff Richard had played the venue the night before and apparently had called people forward to stand on the concrete path in front of his stage. In the end it worked all out okay for our concert, too. After New York, New York, where again people were called forward they then decided not to send those standing there back to their seats and throughout the concert more and more people joined in and sat on the ground (or stood). Since there were no views to block, this was fine and we are sure everyone had a great night after all.

The weather was so great that evening, the sky treated us to ever changing patterns of white clouds before deep blue skies, the sun sinking slowly (as it was an hour earlier than usual) and when the show was over and we left the castle grounds, walking towards the cathedral, she was bathed in golden light in a spectacular sunset. Most people had to stop to take photos; it was a sight to behold and a worthy end to another fantastic concert.

Lincoln after the concert

Even with the strange seating arrangements we’d go back in a heartbeat as the setting is just so very beautiful.

Scarborough Open Air Theatre, Scarborough

We spent the off days in York just because it’s our favourite place after London and Edinburgh. Such beauty and steeped in history…and plenty of wonderful shops. Our little party of three (we travelled with honorary bunny Joan) naturally did raise a glass to Mr. Ball on his birthday (not in person, alas).

But mainly we spent our day exploring the city and anxiously watching the weather forecast for Scarborough. We knew from the moment go that Scarborough would be wet. Whenever we checked the forecast it got worse. Light rain became heavy rain, wind became storm, dry-ish evenings became flood warnings…Well, no summer concert series without drowning once, right? It just wouldn’t be right. How lucky that all outdoor shops in York had a sale and, since we would be in Scotland for two weeks in September, we needed new wet weather gear anyhow! So we shopped for the occasion and ended up with several extra layers, water and wind proof jackets and shoes. The rain ponchos we had already bought in Germany as you have to come prepared.

We left York in light rain and arrived in Scarborough with raging seas, very strong winds and pouring rain. Our hotel was situated directly at the sea front, so the views were really impressive. This time by the way we would not rush back there; this marked a steep decline in our accommodation standards after the last few days. There was leakage from the roof, lack of heating etc. etc. also chaos in allocating rooms and coming up with alternatives when things were not quite right. But it was only for one night, so we could just laugh it off and feel like adventurers, braving not only the elements but also sub-standard sleeping arrangements.

Luckily our hotel was only a five minute walk from the venue. We had expected that not many people would turn up with weather warnings and rumours of impending cancellations popping up online (apparently they never ever cancelled a concert before, so we felt quite relaxed) but we were wrong. Loads of people have turned up. There were empty seats, but not many in the stalls. Only the upper bleachers were half empty, but those will have been tickets that are sold on the day to locals – not happening in that kind of weather.

As we were dry and warm it really was fun sitting there in all the rain gear, interestedly looking and what others were wearing and how they tried to keep as dry as possible. The rain itself had eased off a little, but winds were still going strong. They were sweeping water off the stage several times while we waited and one of the screens caved in and had a smoldering short circuit in one of the cells. Impressive smoke but they simply switched it off, issue resolved. We only felt bad for those sitting on this side of the stage and not having their own screen now.

The boys came on stage to great applause by a grateful audience. We had decided not to bring any electronic devices as we didn’t want to spend the evening worrying about water seeping in. Now we instantly regretted this as they wore completely different outfits! Both in black jackets and black jeans, sturdy black shoes (sensible, it must have been wet and slippery up there). We wish they’d have kept this for Greenwich as they looked great. And for once they got wet, too. Normally the performers have a large overhang from the stage, so even when it rains they are safe. Not so this time. No overhang and gusty winds that carried plenty of rain on stage. It must have been quite a novel sensation. The kept going on about freezing and admittedly it was difficult to feel particularly romantic in the ballads, when suddenly the wind picked up and blew into their faces. It was hilarious. Hair flying, jackets wet (not drenched mind, just a little wet every now and then). We had an amazing time. You could tell they had loads of fun and were quite proud of themselves for performing under adverse conditions. Also you noticed just HOW MANY weather references there are in songs. Blue skies, starry nights, soft breeze… not possible to sing or listen to with a straight face. Then came What a Wonderful World and Alfie started singing about skies of blue, deeply steeped in irony, the crowd was howling. Michael turned to him when it was his turn asking “You want irony? I can do irony.” And boy, he could. It was wonderful. A whole song about the beauty of the world while their jackets were blown up, hair messes up, shirts got wet and the huddled together for warmth.

At some point, a group of fans started singing happy birthday for Michael. Alfie stopped his song and turned to him, saying they were singing for him (he seemed happy enough to join in and make everyone sing) but Michael just stood at the back of the stage saying “It was yesterday, and I am cold. Get on with it!” so no birthday chorus for the Ball. They did hurry through the songs, but everyone was grateful for it. There was still an interval and in the second half the rain really started coming down heavily. You could tell the novelty had worn off for Ball & Boe turned WET WET WET. Still, the voices were as beautiful as ever, the musicians were great sports (there were no bar stools on stage, they never sat down for a song and the piano was moved to the side and covered from the rain) and we all had a truly unforgettable night. Only once or twice Kerstin and I turned to each other (as best we could in all that wet weather gear) and thought of the dry night at Wembley we would have had with Adele otherwise. Still, we wouldn’t have missed this for the world. Such a unique experience to see the performers “suffering” with us. It all ended on a high as they were so grateful that so many people had not only turned up but willingly stayed until the end. A night to remember for sure.

We were more or less dry and warm the whole night, so there are no wet concerts, just wrong clothes!

Old Naval College Greenwich, London

We couldn’t believe it when the day of our final concert had come. Luckily it would also be the final concert for everyone else. No worse feeling than leaving when everyone else (or so it feels) continues having fun on the road! We have been coming to London for almost 20 years now, regularly and passionately, but for some reason or another we have never made it to Greenwich but had always wanted to. Silly us! It’s lovely there. When you step off the DLR train after driving through Canary Wharf with its impressive skyline defining skyscrapers you feel like entering a different world: a cute village with a lot of character, craft shops, markets and the Thames (the Cutty Sark is moored there). Overlooking the Thames we saw the O2 in the not so far distance and couldn’t believe that in December we would see the boys there. Surreal. We had to smile when, a couple of hours later, Michael came back on stage after Alfie’s solos and say he had just had a bit of a moment there, standing backstage, overlooking the Thames, seeing the O2 and thinking about where their journey with this project had led them. This summed up our emotions perfectly.

The setting once again was breathtakingly beautiful.

Greenwich settings

 

All day long we heard music playing as the university there hosts the conservatory for music and dance and they had several master classes going on. Most appropriate as they could witness a master class in concert performance in the evening.

After Scarborough it was a joy to be sitting in summer clothes in the balmy evening, soaking up the pre-concert atmosphere. Mind you, when we wanted to join the queue to get into the concert area we almost had given up hope of ever seeing the lads on stage as not only did the people queue through the entire complex but also outside on the pavement past the next bus stop! Security checks seemed to take too long or there was too little staff. The queue didn’t move for what felt like an eternity but then something changed and suddenly we were moving. They probably got more staff in. We were seated within 20 minutes.

It was the perfect concert night. The audience loved the boys and apart from Alfie messing up his line in the Bond Medley (“And on the last night, too!” he exclaimed) everything went swimmingly. This time security was obviously told not to interfere whatsoever as it was the last night. This did result in the usual coming and going in front of the stage but we were used to this by now. Those standing in front of the front row were told to at least sit down on the grass by those whose view they blocked and this was respected, too. Only the sound was not as good as before, we felt. We could hear the sound directly from the singers when the microphones weren’t picking it up properly, so we didn’t mind too much but are not sure how that sounded a block further down the line. Inevitably we thought about this being the last time we would ever hear this arrangement again with every song. This added a bitter sweet aspect to it all but also helped to enjoy it even more and experience it consciously without the usual floating through a delicious sound cloud until it suddenly stops. As is the norm with this show by the last song everybody was on their feet and showed their appreciation for this outstanding double act. We were buzzing on our way outside. What an amazing week – and now we are already counting the day until we see them again. Then with a new album and an arena tour. Wow. We’ll be seeing Michael play the O2. And it’s (almost completely) sold out. What a journey indeed!

 


 

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