Very Personal Notes From The 'This Time...It's Personal' - Tour
I just reread Trudy's York posting on the MBFC forum and I wish I could put things into words like that - but I can't. Knowing that, I have put something together which approaches the concerts from a very personal perspective - so things are as close to what has happened as I can remember - and I hope that it will not put anyone off and that it will capture the atmosphere a little bit.
Thanks must go to my beta-reader Ulli - thank you J .
So, here goes...of which Kerstin at the bottom of the Northampton review so nicely said: '...more of her will come later...' - yeah, MUCH later... J
Personal note: I don't really expect anyone to be brave enough to read all this gibberish...if you do and you don't fall asleep: Congratulations. If you notice any mistakes, let us know. Heck, if you enjoy it, let us know. If you don't, well...sorry for wasting your time...
Beginning of August 2000
The year has 52 weeks, 365 days - and my new boss wants me to go to a conference in Italy from 9 th October - 13 th October. There is no way in hell I'm going to be able to go from Edinburgh to Udine early Monday morning, BUT: the new boss says the choice is mine, whether to go to the UK or to Italy. Yeah, right. Cancel Aberdeen? Cancel Edinburgh? Cancel Glasgow? Cancel Italy?
A colleague who I tell about my problem asks me, whether I couldn't go to a concert in Italy if I were so keen to go to a concert. How to tell a middle-aged, male, German engineer that this is not quite the same????
What to do: Email friends (they say: UK - but then again we are to go together, so I guess they would say that...), phone parents (they say: UK - you've been looking forward to it for ages - which is unusual for them, because they usually say your work and future are more important), tell friends (they say: be careful, although new boss says there won't be any repercussions, there might be anyway). The following two nights are not very restful since I always said that job comes before Michael - but a decision is made...go to the UK. When I go to tell the new boss in the morning, he takes one look at me and says: 'You want to go to the UK, don't you?' 'Ah, yes, please?' 'That's ok.' Sighs of relief can be heard in the whole of the town.
The day of departure. I have carefully avoided reading any of the reports on the web since my first concert was going to be a real first concert - well, for me anyway. I was glad to see many people saying the same about not reading anything before their respective first concerts. Concert tickets (as far as I have them - some are with friends), luggage, passport - just about everything is packed, so a 3.50am start (UK time) to the day to catch my favourite airline going into Luton seems a lot easier than getting up for work...for once EAE are on time (hooray) - which is typical since I planned a 2 hour safety margin for the coach. But a newspaper always makes a nice read...
When the coach finally arrives I approach the driver with my confirmation email since he was to be notified by National Express that my ticket hadn't arrived before my departure (in retrospect - it hasn't arrived, full stop). Does he look as if he knows what I'm talking about? Of course not. He decides to not leave me, which is nice...
In Northampton where I go in search of my quarters and after one slight misjudgement arrive safely only 20 minutes late. The landlord is very chatty and wants to know whether I'm here for a function or a conference. Well, neither really, but when I tell him that I'll be at the Derngate in the evening he immediately knows what's on: 'Oh, you've come here for Michael Ball??' - 'Well, if you put it that way, yes...' - 'Oh, that's good, you'll enjoy yourself.'
Oh, really? J
Now, I had arranged to meet with Pam at the stage door in the afternoon, mainly because she still has my tickets for Northampton, Oxford and Birmingham and what I don't have in my hands, I don't really believe (it's hard enough that the Edinburgh Playhouse doesn't send tickets out to Germany).
Pam had told me that she had lost a lot of weight, but said that I'll recognise her without any problem. Still, it has been over a year and when I'm getting closer to the crowd the scanning is not really successful until I pass what must be a lady bearing the closest resemblance to 'my' Pam - and she obviously has the same thought...'Ah, Pam??' - 'Sabine?' - 'Yes...' Well, that's sorted J .
Pam introduces me to Penny, who had been persuaded to come (yeah, right...), Sheila, who's doing the whole lot and Louise, her friend, who brought her mum along. We do the usual bit really, where do you come from, have you come here especially to see him, that's so good and so on and so forth.
Pam sees my frog with his special tour T-shirt (my concert venues on the front and the 'This time...it's personal' picture on the back as well as a Union Jack on the sleeve) and is impressed (or pretends to be, anyway...) and says that it is so cute that I could make them to order really. Listen, Phil, hey, here's a marketing idea! I'm sure we'll be able to agree on my percentage J .
It seems bizarre that after all this time you board the plane and in no time you are in a place where you are going to see 'the man' on stage again.
All the while people have been passing the little group that has gathered with the strangest mix of looks. We really must make an interesting display.
Later in the afternoon, in comes the bus - out comes Malcolm, kindly looks at us and says - 'Oh, he's not in there.' You're such a bad liar, Malcolm...there is music coming out of the coach and eventually Shéna, Mick and Annie step out which is my cue to move behind Pam again, earning me a smiling 'You're never going to meet him this way, puppy, he doesn't bite, you know?' from Sheila, when Michael himself, dressed in a white sweater with hood, baseball cap and sunglasses (yes and jeans probably, but I didn't see those...hang on, just reread that...don't get any funny ideas...), comes out and whizzes past, not before giving a kiss to Louise's mum - and off he goes. But he's in!
Since Pam finally returns from chatting to someone else, the market has a nice pub and we go in there to sit down and generally chat about this and that. I think it is around 7pm when we head back to the theatre via the pub where Pam is supposed to meet the friend with the tickets. Want to know what happens? Pam goes into the pub and comes out empty handed. Oh, here we go...she is certain it is the right pub, the right time and the right town...might as well go to the theatre where Pam goes in search of our tickets once more.
On her fruitless return she then decides that it is time to ask for the return tickets for tomorrow. She is certain I'll get a ticket - I'm not, but then she has already asked the lady at the box office and she nods her head 'yes'. Oh, YES! I get my ticket in row Y, but on the aisle, so here's to the rush...Pam is nearly as delighted as I am.
It's 7.30pm now, there is no sign of Sylvia and Ralph who allegedly want to be here (she said 'See you in Northampton' to me) and not a sign of Pam or the tickets. Pam returns eventually to look a little puzzled herself, but she is determined she will get us in anyway since she knows where we are sitting. Or hopefully will be sitting.
But suddenly, out of the blue, oh, could it be?? Pam seems delighted at somebody's arrival and next thing I know I get my much wanted ticket (we've got 20 minutes to go - so pleeeeenty of time) and while Jacky and Catherine disappear again, we wait and Pam introduces me to yet another couple of ladies, one's named Karen (I hope), the other's name escapes me (sorry), but our conversation is short lived since there is an announcement that the show will start soon and there is no support act - so we begin our journey.
In the auditorium, Pam actually stands up hoping that Sylvia and Ralph will spot her - with her pink top I assume that just about everyone sees her - but we don't get any reaction from the people we initially want to see. What I do notice is that 'The Corrs' are on again, maybe we should give them a new CD to play...
8pm and there is an awful lot of smoke on stage (call it dry ice, call it smoke, I don't care) it seems they want to give us foggy London in Northampton. Pam told me earlier to be prepared as I'm going to be blown away. The band appears, closely followed by Callum and Shéna, Annie and Mick, the lights dim - and we have lift off.
At the back of the stage there is a black curtain while closer up front there are three white curtains draped in a semi-circle. They can be lifted and lowered - at the moment they are lowered. The trademark staircase has been replaced by a ramp which ends in a slightly elevated platform with a grill on it. The microphone stand is on there and in front of the platform and the stand is a fan. Not what you think, I mean there are loads of fans in front of the platform, but only one to be defined as 'technical equipment' and blowing some air onto the stage.
The overture begins with snippets from well known songs and thunder and lightning set in - it all ends in a bunch of spotlights lighting the area behind the white curtains - and already people start laughing. Now, as this is my first entry, I'm not sure what is supposed to happen, but the curtains lift and when Michael suddenly appears fighting his way through beneath the black curtain I think it is safe to assume we are witnessing a major hiccup here J . Doubts are resolved as Michael is killing himself laughing even throughout the first couple of lines of 'Let The Rivers Run' and looking back at the offending curtain. Without being declared evil or anything, but I personally LOVE when things go pear-shaped, because that usually treats us to a full dose of 'Michael-humour'! Anything to get that infectious laugh going...
I even get the proof that Pam wasn't exaggerating about Michael being croaky, the final note of 'Let The Rivers Run' is probably the shortest I've ever heard. Is that a detriment to the performance? No. Even if not in best form he always gives more than 100% and so we are treated to 'Millennium' (and we get a 'Welcome to the Michael Ball Millennium Tour'), which seems a bit quicker than last year (never believe any rumours as to what he will or won't sing I can only say J ), 'I don't want a lover' and 'You're still the one'.
While I like the latter one the next song is even better, because I haven't heard it before and it's just great to hear him do either stuff I don't know because I'm not getting out enough or stuff that is brand new in the first place. This is roughly the time where the tie is discarded - which encourages someone to shout 'MORE' to general laughter of the audience and an answer in the form of 'How did I know that was coming'...
I also like the introduction to the next song 'as the music we are about to hear for lack of a better word can be described as 'New Country' and not the sort of hoe-down stuff you usually associate with the word Country. It also appeals to me because it tells a story and the songs are similar to the ones I come from, songs from the musicals. And they touch a nerve and wear their emotions on their sleeve.' This is not exactly what he says, but hopefully close enough to the real thing to get the content across, I hope - and I hope he doesn't mind me trying to do this.
The next song Michael discovered while being in New York in 1990, far away from the family and feeling a bit lost and lonely and apparently it struck a chord with him. So, this is the cue for 'If tomorrow never comes' - and it definitely gets the thumbs up from me. Great lyrics. Great song. Since my notes after the show are a bit messed up I stand corrected to my previous report that 'No matter what' is in the second half, it must have been the introduction to the musicals medley in Northampton as well. It is amazing how different one and the same song can sound, more gospelly and I'd like to agree with a remark I read somewhere - more 'grown-up'. As the poor Andy Lloyd Webber needs all the help he can get in producing a hit ('And boy does he need it') there follows the introduction to the musicals medley, 'featuring songs from three famous composers, namely Andrew Lloyd Webber, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Stephen Sondheim', Michael of course having worked with all of them at one stage. 'The songs are linked by the theme of love and describing the different aspects of love which is a really clever link for our first song, because talking of aspects of love we have to do this song' and we hear the opening bars of 'Love changes' closely followed by 'Last night of the world', 'All I ask of you' and 'Losing my mind', with personally the latter being my favourite, because he seems desperate and lost while singing it, losing his mind - and the only live version we had is with the Michael Ball Trio on 'The Musicals & More' (I've got 'told off' by my beta-reader for this, because I forgot the great version on 'Hey, Mr. Producer' - *blush* - she's right). 'Losing my mind' closes the musicals medley and 'the next two songs are from one of the best shows ever and will lead us into the interval.' The show of course is Les Misérables and the two songs are the 'Café song - Empty Chairs at Empty Tables' and 'I dreamed a dream'. It never ceases to amaze me how much emotion he can still get out of the first one having sung it probably nearly as often as 'Love changes'.
The last note of 'I dreamed a dream' is held and we are returned to 'Love changes' and with the 'money note' we go into the interval after giving Michael the standing ovation he so well deserves.
Throughout the first half Michael is drinking a lot and seems to have some sort of problem with the fan, resulting in its disappearance in act 2.
The second half starts with 'Something inside so strong' which leads into 'Walking in Memphis' a song Michael heard on the radio and he could see himself being in Memphis, 'smelling the smells and hearing the sounds'.
I love the tie that goes with the dark suit and the white shirt for the second half, it sparkles - but then again it is gone before we can enjoy it too long, aaaaaaaaaah ('Do you mind if I strip?' - You don't really expect an answer to that, do you...). There is another new song from the new album, one especially written for Michael by Mr. Paul Carrack, the voice of 'Mike And The Mechanics' and as Michael says 'I'm sure someone will take it and turn it into big hit, but I'm really pleased that I get to do it first'. Ever considered turning it into a big hit yourself, Michael? 'You bring the best out of me'. And on one hearing I like it. It's just so him, one big powerful Michael-ballad. Suits him perfectly.
Next up is 'Oh what a circus' and because of a lack of a speaker to sit on like last year Michael sits down at Annie's feet during the second verse, giving us a very cynical performance of this song.
I don't remember exactly where 'Never coming back' fits in, whether it is after 'Evita' or not, but I do remember it being a haunting song, something I didn't expect him to write really. I don't get all the lyrics, but I think I will in the next concerts. 'Never coming back' is followed by the equally great but very contrasting 'Just when' which describes how things can and do get better after a time when they are bad.
Are we getting hot? Yes, thank you, it is definitely hot where we are sitting and we don't have any spotlights on us...'You like the set?' 'Yeaaaaaah' 'Yeah, it's really nice, isn't it...you see this ramp, yes, very nice and down here (pointing at the grill) it ends in this sort of grill. And there are lights underneath it and it gets really hot, it gets SO hot, I go like (lifting his feet from the grill in the sort of way you do when you're barefoot in the hot sand)' Laughter from the audience. 'That certainly ruined the mood for the next song' - oh, not really, as there is a proper introduction for 'Love on the rocks'.
Now, I also had a chance to have a look at the Chippenham video, and there was one song on it I didn't like at all (dare I say)...and I was hoping for it not to be on the CD at that stage. Yes, the one that's next. And I am in for a big surprise.
I wonder whether it is because of the great band playing it, but 'Why haven't I heard from you' is definitely a song to remember! It's good fun, gets everyone going and now I almost regret not having it on the CD but 'it doesn't fit in'. Kerstin had been telling me about a 'sexy song' in emails when coming home from the Café de Paris video shoot and with all the movements going on during that one I assumed it is this one - but I stand corrected, she didn't mean it J - which could mean we need to compare notes on the definition of 'sexy' one of these days...
The movement on stage indicates another new feature as we are treated to the band and Michael doing an a-capella version of 'Why do fools fall in love' with a little rhythm from Neal the drummer who has a 'note from his mum that he cannot sing - and believe me, it's true' (boooo, that's not a very nice thing to say, is it? J ) and Roger with his saxophone, who 'always has his things with him'. The band have apparently been complaining that 'it's alright for you, you see, you are up on stage, all the girls staring at you...' (delivered in a way I won't even try to get across in writing) and so they are invited to share the limelight, which I have to say they do really well!
After everyone has returned to their respective place Michael actually takes the chance to thank them 'because we have been on the road and playing together for a while now and no matter what I want to do and no matter what I chuck at them, they say 'Yes, Michael, we'll try it' and they do it professionally and with dignity'. Yeah, right. Whenever there is a bit of a lengthy introduction which seems dead serious you can be certain that we are getting the complete opposite - as we indeed do with the band donning the sombreros for 'La vida loca' this year's 'rush to the stage' song. If we were hot before this we are getting even hotter now, with the Rock 'n' Roll medley hot on the heels of Ricky Martin's song. I don't know many of the songs in the medley, but likeable they are anyway, from the introduction 'Fat bottomed girls' to 'Rock 'n' Roll Music' to 'Do you wanna dance' to 'Oh boy' (what does Mick do with his fingers during that song...) to 'Johnny B Good' to 'Tell him' (the look on Michael's face when doing backing vocals standing right next to Shéna is priceless) to 'At the hop' (featuring this year's equivalent to last year's Blues Brothers dance routine) to 'Great Balls of Fire' (where Geoff is all over the place) and 'Rock 'n' Roll Music' again.
Where he gets the energy from I just don't now...but a final burst is spent for 'Help Yourself' which ends the official half. But not the show.
While Michael is off stage the whole auditorium continues cheering and clapping and we are helped by Annie, Mick and Shéna to get into a rhythm and the 'Michael' cheers are added by the audience for free. The rhythm neatly links into 'Hot Stuff' and out comes Michael again delivering 'Hot Stuff', having changed into a black shirt and a black leather jacket!
'Will you sing?' 'YEEEEES' 'Will you dance?' 'YESSSSS'. Then do it 'One Step out of time'. And the audience does! Great moves, great voice(s) and - still one more. 'We haven't done this for a while' and although being knackered and all Michael sits down on the grill again and asks 'You like the jacket?' (the tease) 'Yes' - 'It's real, wanna feel?' (the tease) holding his arm out to one lucky person who is allowed to feel the leather herself. What a great way to end the show with 'You made me love you - I didn't wanna do it' - 'Yes, you did' (grin) -'You woke me up to do it...' And with the tune of 'You made me love you' as the play-off and a quick 'see you tomorrow' we end a great show to thunderous applause.
What did Michael say in one scene of the Albert Hall video? I think it was something along the lines of 'you can't do too much before a show, then you get on stage for two and a half hours - and bang, it's explosive - and afterwards you sit there and think, what happened there'. I think it's virtually the same for us, I for one am in the state of 'what happened there' for the rest of the night. It certainly is explosive. And hot. And sweaty. And my hands hurt...
Outside the theatre Pam tells me that the two songs missing are 'Titanic' and 'Someone Else's Dream'. As much as I miss the first one I think I miss the second one even more...Pam and Penny, after some chatting outside the theatre and numerous questions of what I think, offer to take me back to my hotel and so we go and trek for their car which is parked - somewhere. In a car park not too far from the theatre. Oh, great...due to the amount of time we have spent chatting there are not many cars left in the first place and when Penny and Pam finally agree on where they left the car we are on our way fairly quickly. And thanks to my map we get to the hotel in no time, quickly say our goodbyes and off they go towards Oxford while I go to my room trying to remember songs but most of all comments and details for use in a story like the one you are reading now...and trying to make sense of the fact that this morning I left home and hours later I've been to a Michael Ball concert - again. Tired, but definitely happy.
Why is breakfast served so early! After an unrestful night I've got to get up for 8.30am - far too early for my liking, but then again...afterwards it's back to the room and a proper wake-up ceremony with Olympics on the telly and - a landlord who's always sort of whistling when he passes my door and knows that I'm in. It takes me three passes until I notice that not only is he whistling but he's whistling 'Love changes everything'. The rat... J
Just after 12 o' clock I go hunting for an internet café and am advised to check the library where they provide Internet access for free - but only for the web pages they think are interesting for research. Needless to say I am not successful in telling them that my email account and various Michael Ball web pages are the most interesting research you could possibly do.
In as little time I have for my report to Kerstin, it is not a proper review - for one it's in German and it's not complete because little things keep coming back all the time. And it's not the way I usually do it, because the sheer song list cannot get across the atmosphere so I actually prefer passing on the little snippets of what he says, when he laughs, when things go wrong...
But it's great to be in touch anyway. Pat Stearman beat me to it though - and there was me thinking I was fairly quick with the review.
Pam wanted me to be at the stage door again in the afternoon and so I join her there at 3 something pm after bravely fending off a guy who wants to introduce me to his spiritual leader...and we wait and wait and wait and wait. I am introduced to another of Pam's friends, Linda, who is a really nice lady. A number of musicians arrive including Geoff who says something to Pam about Glasgow not being a terribly nice venue. Ah well...
Finally it is 5pm and still nothing happening (and frankly I am getting a little bit bored - and wet, even the red poncho doesn't help).
Time goes on and slowly you get the feeling that something is not quite right here. At around 6pm Phil Bowdery arrives and goes in but says nothing (well, apart from 'Hello'). Only about 25 minutes later does he reappear and comes out to say what probably everybody dreaded: 'Ladies, I don't want you to get cold (or a cold), but there will be no show tonight. Michael's got laryngitis and he's in bed now. At the moment we are hopeful that we'll have a show tomorrow. (giving us the fingers crossed)'
What a blow! It's difficult to describe how you feel apart from worried (about Michael) and sad (for yourself - is that selfish?) and anxious - but mainly empty. Really strange. But there it is - a cancellation experienced first hand. And dare I say that I personally think that the fan yesterday probably didn't help at all...
Sylvia and Ralph are devastated as well (they never intended to come yesterday as I learned in a phone call earlier on), but the people at the box office are good, doing refunds for the tickets and promising early notification for any rescheduling (if at all). Still, it is no real consolation to have the money back when you're more than willing to spend it for two and a half hours worth of great entertainment.
I really don't want to know how he himself must have felt. One thing I don't find particularly good is the wording on the official notes which are put up on the doors of the Derngate, where it says: 'Due to the indisposition of Mr. Ball etc.' I personally find 'indisposition' to be a particularly cold word, for me it conveys the message of him having a broken finger nail and deciding: 'Naaaaah, I'm not gonna perform tonight' which is definitely not true. I would have said it differently, but then again what do I know...
The evening ends far earlier than expected and hoped for with a phonecall to my German friends waiting to join me in Scotland for the last leg of our own tour. One of them actually sounds awful herself and it probably doesn't help much that I am delivering the news. It feels almost like somebody pinching your balloon full of hopes and expectations and dreams and it deflates...
For some reason thoughts always return to one question: Where do we go from here??? ......