Cardiff CIA ~ 14/04/2007

So here we are in Wales. Slightly shocked at the £ 5.10 that we were charged to pass Severn Bridge to enter Wales…we could swear it were 2.50 or similar when we took the very same route for the VERY wet Diffryn Gardens open air last year….We did not want to buy the bridge after all! Luckily they have manned booths or we'd have been lost.

Due to some misplanning and extremely busy roads we did arrive at Cardiff ever so slightly later than anticipated. We had it all sussed out soooo cleverly. We left Ipswich really early (this bit still worked according to plan) and thought we have ages to get to our friend Angela's house to drop a bag of German choccy which she and her lovely husband like, catch up with their adorable son Jayme (who could barley stand when we last saw him and now he actually TALKS!) and then drive on to Cardiff, arrive there at maybe 6 pm, explore the city for a while(we never managed that in our previous visits and were really curious by now!), take a swim in the heated hotel pool (oh yes, we did go for posh for these last two nights…before we had a lot of £ 15 Travellodge stays to save money!) and just basically relax before the buzz on concert day. So far the theory of it all. In practise we decided we had SO much time and due to silly work had to miss out on the south coast concerts and hence would not get to see some of our fave places (Bournemouth, Chichester, Portsmouth etc.), so we could just drive down there for a bit, walk the beach of Bournemouth, remember the last night of the 2005 tour and so on….hum yes, you can tell this is a bit of an ambitious plan at a sunny Friday….in retrospect we should have known. But we are greedy (as was established by the ticket clerk at Northampton, who found out we were to see BOTH of Michael's concerts there).

We had to find out that surprisingly enough we were not the only ones with the idea of spending a few hours at the beach. Suffice to say we had planned to arrive at Ange's at 3 pm…and had to text her many, many times until we finally arrived at around 6:30 pm! We lived our own private Savoy story (apart from the fact that we DID let the lady waiting for us know we were a teeny bit late…)! After having been stuck in about a million traffic jams (so many in fact that we never even GOT to the coast! We gave up mid-way down!) we got utterly lost on the narrow lanes surrounding Chippenham…it was all great fun to drive those as they are a bit hilly and you do get this roller coaster sensation now and again….until we realised that non of the villages we passed were actually on our map…well…eventually it turned out we had not discovered some white spots of Britain but were merely going in the completely opposite direction (back to London)…

Now you have to know that we never ever managed to pay just a quick visit to Angela and her family. We just stay and stay and stay….lovely people, great food…so it was 9 pm when we finally set off to Cardiff. Mind you, the roads were empty then and we made it to our hotel in just one hour. Our hotel was just a 3 minutes walk away from the venue and at a nightly stroll around it we found that Michael was already in town (his coach was parked in the CIA's car park….no, we did not spot him in the very busy town centre).

We dreaded the stage door of the following day as we have never ever been to Wales without getting thoroughly soaked. We have been a few times and it was ALWAYS pouring. But no need to worry there, it was a phenomenal day. Blue sky, blazing sun and the air of spring (or a very early summer) all around us.

We thought we better go early-ish as it might be a bit crowded seeing this was originally thought to be the final night of the tour. By the time we arrived at about 3 there was already a respectable crowd of fans waiting at the gates. Cardiff stage door is a bit like Ipswich: a big gate for the coach and equipment trucks and that's that. When we were last there they simply had us stood behind the gate to wait for Michael to come off the coach and meet us there. Now today was different. They had the clever idea to hold the masses back with barriers. Two on each side. Yeah…right…as if that'll be of any use. But at least it provided something to lean on in the sun while we met with all those who made stage dooring so much fun for us during this tour (apart from Michael who sadly didn't join in that early LOL). It was a weird experience. On the one hand we enjoyed every second of it, the chatting, the anticipation, the exchange of photos…just the usual buzz (which was added to considerably when we saw our friend Audrey from Scotland rushing up to us! She originally wanted to do only the two concerts up there but has talked herself into doing just this one concert more…we know the feeling! What a great surprise!). On the other hand your feet hurt, you keep staring up the road and you know you will be standing there for at least another hour in the boiling sun (oh yes, it WAS boiling) and you just want him to arrive sooner rather than later. We were two-faced bunnies indeed…And then after his coach left to pick him up, the security people became a little nervous. No wonder, the crowd had grown considerably. They brought more barriers out and ushered us all behind those. We still knew it wouldn't work, never did, never will.

And here he comes. He stood next to the driver, waving at us all. Some moments passed when the coach was inside, and there he was. He walked up the driveway and stood opposite us and talked to the fans behind the barrier. We must say we were impressed by us all. Yes, of course people started to move and walk around the barrier to stand on the driveway which forced us to join them or we wouldn't have seen a single curl. BUT no one rushed to him. All stayed next to the barriers. That's the key really. He stays ever so much longer when no one dashes up to him. The fans stood and waited. He eventually came over, posed for photos, expressed his regret about our broken laptop, signed things, said how much he enjoyed the whole tour and asked us to make some noise tonight. Oh, we were determined!

He really did take his time and we were devastated when it was over. That was it. Our last stage door at the 2007 Tour. But we did decide not to go to pieces as early as 5 pm but go back to the hotel, get changed, meet up with Angela who would join us tonight (only to dash back home straight afterwards and fly to Cyprus next morning). In the venue we were surprised once more how big it really is. Doesn't look it from the outside. We had seats in the second row but so far to the right you could watch the sound people more than Michael. But we knew that beforehand so it wasn't a shock. We did go and see Tara for our last night of course. She had so much more rapport with the audience now. Her confidence has definitely grown with the tour and we did enjoy the whole set a lot.

After a far too short interval (we had barely STARTED talking to Pat and Linda!) we were ushered back to our seats and here it was: our last concert.

The air was buzzing with excitement when we all sat with baited breath through the overture until the moment came and Michael appeared on stage. Oh, you should have heard the screams….! It was a party from the start. We were determined to make this one the best so far. After the opening song Michael asked whether everyone remembered the last tour? He told us how he has one of the best times of his life, got on stage in rehearsals and the voice was gone. He gave us all a broad smile and said: “I'm so happy you all came back!” Well, of course they did!

He clearly was eager to make up for the cancellation in 2005. Although this was a tiring week no doubt, with four concerts in a row, day off, Ipswich, day off, Cardiff, he excelled in all songs. He did some embellishments that were stunning and seemed ever so happy to be back in Wales, doing what he does best. And in front of his family, for his Welsh aunt and uncle were in tonight.

Introducing “Feeling Good” he told us about him having quit smoking 10 weeks ago and that he plans to make eating an Olympic sport by 2012. LOL

We wore the black suit (we think, don't sue!) and the glitzy tie, looking gorgeous as ever.

In case we hadn't bought his 14 th album yet, he advised us jokingly to go looking for it behind Tara's album out in the foyer, as the second she is off stage she'd dash to the stall and puts her CDs in front of his'. ”Can't blame her…I do the same!”

Although security was present (very much so) and actually did go to people stopping them from taking pictures you could see flash after flash. Will people never learn? Besides from being annoying and dangerous for those on stage, the result is simply not worth all the trouble it causes. You will get photos of illuminated heads in front of a dark patch. That's it. Utterly pointless. Unnecessary distraction. Michael obviously started feeling annoyed and actually looked at one unlucky lady and told her “Don't you take photos, no flashing at me, not in my age.” It got a bit better…but only a bit.

It goes without saying he got a standing ovation for “This is the Moment”…there is no way you cannot stand up afterwards, is there? We are sure he could stop mid-song and he would still receive one! LOL

On comparing Lord Lloyd Webber and Mr Sondheim he said that they were both born on the same day, “and that's where the similarity ends!” On an afterthought he added chuckling “It wasn't June 27 th , I can tell you!” We went aww, of course Michael is a genius to us.

We could swear this was the longest of all the concerts we've seen as he seemed to talk a lot more. It must be ever such a relief to know it's only one more show, you do not have to be too paranoid about those precious vocal chords and he seemed oh so relaxed. He chatted on telling us he was off to a really great party afterwards “but this is beside the point”.

Delivering the line about joining the ENO “only because the Welsh National Opera” hasn't asked he gave his usual remark about working with a proper orchestra. Dismissive glance at his band. An outrage of pity from the audience. “What? Oh them? They are lovely in their own special way, proving that care of the community really works!”

The Kismet songs brought another standing ovation (what else) and we managed a half-decent one for “Show must go on” (scandal!).

He went on telling us about his auntie Den being the funnies person he knew. He'd have to tell us a story…two stories in fact…”this will take a while…if you need to go to the loo, now is a good time”. And so he started his auntie Den story which goes as follows (his mum reminded him when they were talking on the phone…and he hoped his aunt wouldn't kill him for this!): He grew up in Dartmoor, beautiful place, lots of ponies everywhere. They lived about 2 miles from the bus stop. … So his auntie came to pick them up from the bus stop and walk them home, holding Michael's hand. It was a glorious spring day, and we all know what spring does to the animals. Suddenly she goes (all in VERY Welsh accent): "Dear God! Look over there. That horse has five legs..... Oh no, no!!" Desperately trying to shield the eyes of her innocent nephew, when she realised that this actually was not a new evolutionary development.

And here we go: The Savoy story. Now, we knew this would be big. He was in such a chatty mood and it was the originally planned last concert and in Wales….so it had to be big. And it was. He started harmless with advising the blokes never to give a time when you tell your other halves how long you will be away “That's when you lose it”. As it was a big laugh in Ipswich he again identified poor Neil as the awful cocktail pianist in the famous bar. “We have taken him away from all that and hi is working for me now.” *laughs* And he adds as an afterthought: “Yeah right, working!”

When it was time for the manager to make is grand entrance, we were laughing tears. He started telling Michael off by informing him they have a marvellous pianist, the finest in the West End (he kept turning to Neil, ever so doubtful) but mid-sentence he could not continue for laughing. You have to imagine his point of view. Looking at thousands of people collapsing in their seats with laughter. He turned away from the microphone, as he always does when he gets the giggles. Turns back to us, continues to chuckles and says “I cannot do it when I'm laughing!”

So they party along nicely (and at a greater length than before) and when he finally realises it is 11:30 pm and he'd better go home as he might be in the tiniest bit of trouble now, the cold air hits him and the world suddenly spins ever so much faster and “I was trying to keep up with it”. He finally manages to hail a cab and even remembers his address! Good start. But then the driver turns around to him, asking “You are that singer, aren't you?” Oh dear! “Can't you sing a bit of this Love Changes Everything song, I really like it!” Michael looks at him painfully desperate and informs him in a barely understandable slur that he happy he likes the song but “I cannot talk”, no way to think of anything as elaborate as singing.

She who must be obeyed awaits him in the doorway when he got his mantra mixed up and orders him to bed. This time she wasn't only making all that noise in the kitchen the next morning, this time she even yelled “Breakfast is ready!” up the stairs. His poor throbbing head…

And then there was party time. And boy, did we party! Luckily when it was time to dash to the front, we actually did manage to get a lot nearer to the stage (mind you, not very near, as people did rush too early again, but this will always happen, so we didn't waste precious time sulking about it).

It is always an amazing experience to stand there, so very close to him, look up at him standing there, right there, in front of you, singing these amazing notes as if it were a walk in the park, dancing away, smiling…for us, this simply is an essential part of a concert, to feel part of it, not a mere spectator from afar.

We tried to savour and remember every second of it, as this was our last concert. It was such a joy to see everyone on their feet, partying away and him enjoying it as much as we all did, because he got this amazing reception.

After Love Changes Everything, when he usually walks up the stairs between the band to turn to the elated audience just one more time and then leave the stage, he this time kept turning around and stood up there for quite a while. He sent us (the audience) kisses and mimed taking a photo of the sight of us all. He was very touched and you could see he felt so much better now, having delivered the perfect concert to make up for this dreadful day in 2005.

We couldn't believe it, the concert was over. Yes, we did go to see his coach leave and we did have a fun time with Pam, Rose-Marie, Linda and Pat while we did so. It felt like simply having another day off and then we would leave for the next venue and it would start all over again….it did take a while before the truth finally sank in. That was it. The tour was over for us. We cannot go to Bristol. It will not continue like that for ever.

After having said our goodbyes to everyone we sat in our beautiful hotel room and just couldn't bear the thought of packing. We decided to get up early and do it then. This way we could preserve the tour a bit longer.

The next morning came though, we really did have to make this journey back to Heathrow, check in and fly home. This all went swimmingly (which is unusual for us), but it felt wrong to leave the country when there still was another concert to go and you cannot even begin to imagine how we felt when we boarded our planes. This cannot possibly have been two whole weeks (and two days). I guess all good things have to come to an end….but WHY?!

This was the most special time for us. We never spent so many days in the most beautiful country in the world, we had our favourite car (Peugeot 307 cc convertible), met all our favourite people…okay, so we lost three cameras, a laptop and a hairdryer, not to mention three buttons (thanks to Joan for that sewing kit!!)…but that's peanuts compared to all the wonderful things that had happened to us in these two weeks. We met so many new friends, talked to so many fans. We just wish we had a time-turner (for those who have no idea what this is, you really DO have to read Harry Potter. It's about time!) and could go back again.

The laptop is being sorted and the cable we need should be delivered every day now. The camera has been sent in to its manufacturer (as are Pam's two), so the equipment is on the mend (we hope). 64 pages of notes were taken during the 11 concerts we attended. We had driven well over 2500 miles when we returned the car. The chap didn't quite believe his eyes. But statistics don't do justice to the experience that is a concert tour.

This isn't about seeing a string of concerts…or actually seeing the same concert 11 times (as many of our colleagues and friends asked)…it is a social event. You go to meet your friends which you otherwise probably only email with as they are scattered all over the world. You go to make new friends, you go to see the best performer in the world, you are treated to a very different concert each and every night. We haven't seen one concert that felt the same to the previous ones.

You go to see Michael and thank him for all he gives to us. You go to experience the thrill of a concert gone well, to join the cheers, to be part of an adoring crowd. You go to see the country, you go to hear those money notes. You go so hear the amazing band play those fantastic songs. You go for the dancing and the standing ovations. You go, because it is a unique experience you must not miss out on. You go for the sizzling anticipation when the overture finishes and you know it is only one more second before he will be on the top of this stairway. You go because the feeling of being among thousands of people enjoying his music is ever so much better than sitting at home and watching a DVD. You go to show you care. You go for the magic of live concert.

You go because nothing beats a tour. 90 minutes pure Michael. 90 minutes of breathtaking performances. 90 minutes of bliss.

For us, the most important part is to enjoy these special nights with our friends, to gush at the stage door before and after, to join the hype, to laugh, to cry…to just be there, being a part of something that you have to experience to understand. It is very nice to see him in a musical or in a one of concert, or in TV or hear him on the radio; but for us nothing, absolutely nothing, is better than seeing him on tour. We will be back.

Thank you to all who have made this one unforgettable. We started making a list of people but it grew so long and surely not all of them want their names published, so we will go with a big THANK YOU and hug to you all. You know who you are anyways. You are part of the magic.

And last but surely not least thank you to Michael, of course. This was just too good to be true!

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