Thursday, June 14, 2007

Fantastic Place

I'm too busy to write anything here very regularly, but tonight I'm at work, having been asked to be present during an IT upgrade, in case anything goes wrong and my system access privileges are needed to fix it. I think this shows a slight failure of nerve on someone else's part, and I was even required to create a pretext to be involved, because there's no specific reason for me to be here.

It's at least a chance to spend some quality time with my new toy, a Creative Zen V Plus 8GB digital music player. It's the first one I've had with a proper screen, so I now take great pride in tagging my mp3 files so they declare themselves nicely. The killer feature on this model are the bookmarks, which means I can pause during 2 hour concerts or Saturday Plays and come back later, without agonising searching to resume.

Last week, I went to see Marillion. I think this must have been something like the 25th time I'd seen them. The previous time was the first I'd seen them sober, and I'd turned up late just to avoid being with a bunch of beery blokes while waiting. I actually missed the first half of the opening number. Standing at the back near the bar, I was horribly distracted by drinkers, talkers, and texters. So, this time, I decided to get there early, queue outside, and try and make it to the front. I'd never done this before, for any artist.

I arrived in Glasgow at about six, in good time for the doors at seven thirty. I killed a bit of time by walking the length of Sauchiehall Street, and drank in the incredible urban intersection that is Charing Cross, an amazing place where you can see the M8 slicing through the heart of Glasgow, and an office building above and over the slip road, where a bridge or lights would normally be. I also walked around a few of the backstreets in the evening sun, listening to Marillion on my wonder-phone. With its steep hills, it reminded me of Vancouver.

Joining the queue of a couple of dozen people outside the venue, the ABC, I was struck by how young some of them were and how not exclusively male, as well. It was a good atmosphere, and several members of the band, and the people who work for them were greeted cordially but not harrassed by the fans. The doors opened promptly, and as bags were searched, I thought I had better volunteer my penknife. I received a raffle ticket in return. There didn't seem to be a proper cloakroom though, and as soon as I made it up into the main ballroom, I headed across the floor, to a point just in front of the centre of the stage, with only one person in front of me. Turning round, I saw there was in fact a cloakroom and deposited my bag and jacket. I did keep my phone and earphones though - with 90 minutes until Marillion appeared, I wanted to stay occupied mentally, and listened to my recordings of Radio 4's Loose Ends and I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. I believe this makes me the most middle class person to have ever gone to a rock gig. The people around me were familiar from the queue outside, and appeared in some cases to have been following the band around the country for years. They reminded me, in fact, of the Albert Hall's keen promenaders, but without black tie.

I unplugged for the support act, Ainsley Henderson, a young Scottish singer-songwriter and his diverse band, who went down a storm, and commented on how receptive and polite the Marillion audience was. Great stuff. Plugs back in.

Watching the crew switch over was diverting. Having watched an excessively long, detailed, and idosycrantic documentary about these guys a year or so before, I recognised a lot of them, and also knew what they were doing, down to the function of every last cross of gaffer tape on the stage. At nine o'clock, synthesiser-wallah held down one key on Mark Kelly's ivories before scuttling off, as the racks behind, looking as if they'd be more at home in a data centre, started to deliver the sequenced introduction to Splintering Heart.

The gig was great. In 28 years of live music, I've never stood so near a rock band in full flight before. I picked up on loads on non-verbal interplay between the band, and noticed small looks of disapproval or anxiety on the few occasions when beery twats in the audience threatened to disrupt things. We had a lovely communal vibe down at the front, and I found myself exchanging smiles with total strangers whenever there was cause to. A couple of scary blokes with comically dyed hair and yards of tattoos pushed forward to take photos, and, as soon a security had seen them off, we collectively gathered closer to stop it happening again.

Here are some pictures taken from more or less where I was:

Marillion Glasgow

During the last song, King, in which singer Steve Hogarth plays the role of public icon, complete with pink guitar and tongue-in-cheek rock god poses, he dived to the front of the stage to land on his knees at the very edge, only to overshoot and fall into the pit between us and the band. It happened literally under my nose, and I couldn't quite believe it. In this order, pink guitar-wallah scuttled forward to retrieve the instrument, security helped Steve up, and he climbed back on to the stage, shaken. In-ear monitor-wallah, who's a bit more flamboyant, walked erect as he came to plug Steve's radio back into his plugs. He was shaken, but finished the song. During King, a woman about my age had pushed her way to the front near me, and as the band walked off, she vaulted the barrier and tried to get to Steve. Security grabbed her, but before she could be led off, Steve gave her the kiss she was after.

At the end of Neverland, the first encore, Steve silently acknowledged someone in the balcony. I later read that this was none other than Fish, the band's previous singer, who Steve succeeded 18 years ago. It was an acrimonious departure, so as fans, I think we see occasions like this as akin to divorced parents making an effort at family events. Fish had been in the news a few days earlier, with his imminent marriage being called off, so maybe he was taking the chance to see some old friends and remind himself of his blessings.

They didn't leave the stage until 11, and my last train was at half past but I managed to recover my posessions and get to the station in good time. It was sparsely, but exclusively occupied by Marillion fans. All couples.

I had a fantastic evening. Front row for me, from now on. With the smoking ban, and being so far from the bar, and so near the PA, most of my gripes about standing, licensed gigs just didn't apply. It's Peter Gabriel in Hyde Park in about ten days, so I'll see how close I can get then.