It was chaos. Fun and entertaining chaos (mostly), but chaos nonetheless.
I'd been away from home on Friday 24th June, and called G before I started the drive back. He mentioned a couple of letters he'd needed to sign for, one of which had been from O2, one of the mobile phone networks in the UK. I don't have a phone with them and had no idea why they'd be sending me registered letters.
About ten miles later, the penny dropped. O2 had been handling the Live 8 ticket distribution. I pulled over and called G, telling him to open the envelope.
Tickets. Gosh. (Okay, those weren't my exact words, but that was the gist of what I said.)
There had been mention that some tickets had been reallocated because their original winners hadn't claimed them. Their loss, or idiocy; my gain.
We had a Plan. We'd consulted the TFL website and also scrutinised the map on the Royal Parks website. The map suggested that there would be an entrance at Hyde Park Corner (at the bottom right-hand corner of the map) available to those with both types of tickets -- those for the main concert, like ours, and those for the showing on the big screens on the other side of the park. Hyde Park Corner is a ten-minute walk from Victoria Station, which is easy for us to get to. So, dead easy. Right?
This is not what you want to see
on arrival at a gig Unfortunately, when we arrived at Hyde Park Corner, there had been a change of plan. There had been signs saying "Concert and Screen Tickets Entrance" at that entrance, but the "Concert and" bit had been hastily covered over with masking tape. Instead, we were greeted by the sign you see on the right-hand side of the page. 2000m? Ouch. (About a mile and a quarter, to those who don't do metric.) It seemed that the only entrance for concert ticket holders was now at Victoria Gate, at the top left-hand corner of the map.
So, a queue. Well, G and I are British; we can cope with queues (it's a genetic thing). We obediently got in line and started shuffling forward, very slowly. Really slowly.
They suggested this concert was
not suitable for anyone under ten By this time noon -- when the gates were supposed to be opening -- had been and gone, and the rate of movement was still to be measured in feet, rather than miles, per hour. Unless something radical happened -- the fence around the park fell over and everyone stampeded in, the organisers gave up on checking tickets, most of those in front of us decided to join the Gay Pride march which was assembling on the other side of the road (who seemed to be having a very good time), or the rest of the queue were abducted by aliens -- then the chances of us getting into the park by 2pm, the official start time, were slim to none.
Slow progressMost people in the crowd were at least moderately cheerful. The restrictions on what you could bring into the park in terms of food or drink -- you couldn't bring in glass bottles or cans; plastic bottles were OK but had to be 500ml or less in capacity, and you couldn't bring in bags larger than 18" x 18" x 12" -- at least meant that people weren't generally carrying tremendously heavy stuff. (I should add that G was carrying most of our stuff, and might dispute the concept of "heavy", at least after toting it for three hours.)
The first time we saw this, we smiled;
the last time was three hours later and
we were having trouble raising a grinThe police were making a valiant effort to keep traffic moving along Park Lane, with varying amounts of success. I imagine that their original idea had involved keeping everyone on the pavement. As the queue grew, this became increasingly infeasible, not least because the people standing in the road seemed to be making a lot more progress than those on the pavement (we defected to the road quite early on). There were occasional signs exhorting us to keep our spirits up (one said Are We There Yet? which, like the one at left, was funny the first time, mildly amusing the second time and, by the third or fourth repetition, would have looked much better inserted into one of the orifices of whoever had organised the queueing system).
The red-faced chap indicated by the arrow
was a ticket tout There were quite a few people standing to one side of the queue bearing signs asking if anyone had one (or more) spare tickets. (I think the person holding the sign requesting three tickets might have been pushing it a little.) Towards the end of our queueing experience, I saw a few people asking for spare tickets with the obvious intent of reselling them -- though quite who they were expecting to sell to, given that you'd've been in the queue for 2 hours and more by that point, I'm not sure. But I only saw one man attempting to sell tickets for cash; the tout in the picture on the right. (Unfortunately I wasn't sure that trying to get a clearer picture would have been a good move.) The two boys he is talking to in the picture were trying to rustle up the cash to buy a ticket from him. All I heard of the transaction was that they'd managed to scrape together £200 (about $365) and that that wasn't enough.
Still trying to keep some traffic flowing The police were definitely starting to get a bit concerned over the queue's lack of progress by this time. Along with the mounted police patrolling the side of the queue, there were also rather senior-looking police holding folders of, I assume, plans; plans of the "this isn't really going according to..." variety. Some of them were quite cheerful -- one enquired of our part of the queue "Anyone got a good singing voice? Some of us are bored" -- and some rather less so; the young policeman who I complimented on his ability to hold up a POLICE DO NOT CROSS tape thanked me for telling him he was doing a good job in a manner which suggested... in fairness, in a manner which suggested he'd been holding up that tape for some while already and that this wasn't really what he had had in mind when he had joined the force; he had watched The Bill and possibly reruns of The Sweeney and wanted to drink tea, arrest armed robbers, call people "guv" and probably tell them to "shut it!" on a regular basis.
By now, even the horse was looking boredWe shuffled along, we smiled through increasingly gritted teeth; suddenly, for no reason at all we seemed to put on a burst of speed, and made about 500m progress at a brisk walk, raising hopes that we might get into the park on time after all. But no... at the point where we passed a big screen showing Sky News, it was 1357 and we were still (best guess) 500m or so from the park entrance. There were some frantic texts sent to ask if anyone could set a video for me...
As a U2 fan of twenty-two years' standing (which is about what it felt like by this time), I'd dearly love to give you a blow-by-blow description of their duet with Paul McCartney, and how they rocked Hyde Park, and what a fine show they gave. Unfortunately I can't do so because while they were playing we were STILL IN THE DAMN QUEUE, and couldn't even hear their set (well, the wind might have blown a couple of notes of the bassline of Vertigo towards us at one point, but that doesn't really count). Had I not been to see them at Twickenham two weeks previously, missing this set would have made me homicidal -- as it was, I was just disappointed and rather irritated. I'm not quite sure how the organisers thought they were going to get 150,000 ticket holders in through a bag search and ticket check in two hours, given the numbers of people they seemed to have doing it.
By contrast, I really didn't care about missing Coldplay's set, since their music leaves me completely cold. I'd also heard that they were planning to play Bittersweet Symphony with Richard Ashcroft, formerly of the Verve. I'm sure it's a wonderful song if you only hear it occasionally, but after a holiday in California where every radio station seemed to have it on auto-repeat -- possibly including the Christian and country stations -- it has a place firmly at the top of my personal list of Top Ten Least Favourite Songs, not even quite having been dislodged by the Crazy Frog.
So, here's a quiz for you: which song was being played as we trudged up towards the entrance to the concert area, having finally entered the park itself? Which was the first song we actually heard of the much-vaunted Live 8 concert?
Go on. Guess.
Quite a long way back, reallyEventually we made it all the way through the bag check and the ticket check, acquired a programme and found ourselves a bit of grass to sit upon. (I still haven't figured out why they were restricting people to bottles of 500ml or less capacity; it can't have been to reduce litter since if you can only bring small bottles, you'll bring more of them.)
The crowd around us were, it seemed to me, more varied than those who'd been at Live Aid twenty years previously. I'm guessing that this had something to do with the way the tickets had been handed out; for Live Aid, the tickets had cost £25, quite a lot of money for a teenager at the time -- I had a Saturday job, but some of my friends just couldn't afford the tickets. For Live 8, where the tickets could be had for the price of a text or (as in my case) a stamp, they were much more accessible to those who perhaps wouldn't have queued for hours to acquire tickets if that had been what was required. (I would have been interested to see the demographics of those watching the concert on screens at the other side of the park, who had had to queue for the tickets.) But there were plenty of older people there as well -- some with their children, some on their own.
It wasn't 20 years ago on the 2nd and it wasn't
in Hyde Park, but the sentiment's close enough Before I get into a detailed dissection of the artists, I should perhaps insert a disclaimer here. At Live Aid, I think it's fair to say I knew pretty much all of the acts who played, and in the vast majority of cases I was familiar with the songs they played (one of the notable exceptions being Adam Ant, whose career never really recovered from using his one-song allocation to play the new single that nobody had heard before). However, things move on, I'm twenty years older than I was then, and I definitely don't pay as much attention to current music as I did back then. So you will have to forgive me for not necessarily being entirely up to date with the more recent bands; I am, in short, an old fart. (However, I don't think I'd've rated Snoop Dogg much had I heard him back then, either.)
Elton John seemed to be giving it all some welly when he got on stage. I don't recall him playing quite such pacy stuff at Live Aid -- while Rocket Man's a good song, it doesn't have the punch of The Bitch Is Back (we never knew you'd been away, Elton darling) or Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting (only if they make us queue that long to get out at the end of the show). I would love to know how much Pete Doherty, ex-Libertines, paid Elton to be allowed on the stage with him -- their collective cover of Children of the Revolution was, to put it bluntly, crap, and most of that was down to Doherty's lousy vocals. Oh well -- two out of three ain't bad, as they say.
There was a moment of confusion in our little bit of Hyde Park when Bob Geldof came on to introduce someone to introduce Dido -- and that someone turned out to be Bill Gates. Sorry, what? This is a rock gig (well, at least partially), and we've got the Official World's Biggest Geek on stage? We should really have tried to get closer to the stage -- the tickets might have said no glass bottles, no cans, no plastic bottles over 500ml but I'm reasonably sure that they didn't mention no high-powered rifles. Yes, yes, I know that he and his wife do lots of useful charity work and give plenty of money to deserving causes, but I'm sorry; that still doesn't make up for Windows. Really.
Anyhow, following Elton was Dido, whose Thank You is really the only song of hers I know (and thankfully it was the middle of her three-song set). Her duet on Seven Seconds with Youssou N'Dour wasn't bad but N'Dour was by far the better vocalist; they repeated the duet later on at the Eden Project and at the Paris Live 8 gig, which must've taken some organisation.
The Stereophonics seemed to get quite a good reception, and I'm reasonably sure I recognised at least one of their songs (see disclaimer above...). The last song they played -- the cheat-sheet I'm working from here suggests that it was Local Boy In The Photograph -- felt to me as though it lost the crowd a bit, however.
REM were one of the bands I was especially keen to see, never having caught them live before. I am still slightly unconvinced by Michael Stipe's fashion sense -- or should that be make-up sense? -- but damn, the man can sing. Pretty much everyone was happy to sing along with Everybody Hurts and Man On The Moon; I was half-hoping they'd finish off with It's The End Of The World As We Know It but perhaps that wouldn't have been entirely appropriate for the setting. I must see about getting some tickets the next time they do a tour... (okay, perhaps not the next time since that's apparently this coming weekend, as I write this; the week after Live 8).
Michael Stipe: dandy highwayman
Continuing the theme of People You Wouldn't Expect To See On A Concert Stage, next up we had Kofi Annan reminding us why we were there. I'm not bothering to mention the assorted comedians (yet) who were dragged on to introduce people, as they were -- almost to a man (or woman) -- not funny, even those who are usually amusing. Peter Kay deserves a special
seat in hell mention for assuming that everyone would be able to sing along to Is This The Way To Amarillo?, a capella, rather later on. But I digress.
Ms Dynamite followed REM, um, what can I say. She really isn't my cup of tea. Er, I enjoyed her set more than that of Snoop Dogg? Or am I giving too much away here?
Kofi Annan reminds us why we're hereNext up: Keane. Keane have been described to me previously as "a lot like Coldplay", though I don't think it was until the look of abject horror crossed my face that the person using that description realised how little that would make me want to listen to them. There was music; it was in the background; I had a book...
Will Smith was introduced from Philadelphia around 5pm, but there was some issue with the sound; unlike the bands playing in the UK, and some of the clips from abroad, the sound from Philly seemed to be a bit intermittent from where we were sitting. We could see that Smith was telling the crowd something vitally important, but we couldn't hear a word of it. Ah well.
I rather like Travis, though G is less keen (but he's a Status Quo fan, so what does he know...). Luckily they stuck to playing their well-known stuff; Sing, Side -- my favourite song of theirs, interestingly mixed into a cover of the Bee Gees' Staying Alive (which actually went down a lot better than you might think, in much the same way that Björn Again always get everyone dancing) -- and Why Does It Always Rain On Me?, always a fine singalong anthem. (It didn't rain, quite.)
Geldof couldn't resist
Travis were joined moments later by one Mr B. Geldof, who confessed that he'd not been able to resist playing on the stage. Sensibly, he opted to reprise the Boomtown Rats' moment of glory from Live Aid, I Don't Like Mondays, complete with a pause with arm uplifted after the line And the lesson today is how to die. It raised the hair on the back of my neck at Wembley in 1985, but to be honest we were expecting it this time, when we saw him on stage. Worth doing one song, and it really had to be that one.
Annie Lennox, large and smallAnnie Lennox was introduced by a disturbingly-articulate Brad Pitt. From Bob Geldof, possibly the scruffiest man in rock, to Brad Pitt, one of the best-looking men in film; quite a contrast, really. Lennox proved that her voice is still as strong as ever, singing Why (accompanied by a film of African AIDS victims), Little Bird (thankfully not accompanied by Demi Moore singing into her hairbrush a la Striptease) and Sweet Dreams, still a deeply menacing song.
Throughout the day, in between the acts on the main Hyde Park stage, we were treated to clips of some of the bands appearing at the other concerts around the world. Unfortunately, while they were happy to tell us where they were being beamed from, we weren't usually told who the bands were -- some of them were obvious enough (Pet Shop Boys in Moscow; Brian Wilson, a-ha and Green Day in Berlin; Bon Jovi in the US; Duran Duran in Rome) but others were unfamiliar and thus a bit lost on us. I suppose the solution to this is probably to listen to all of the international feeds until we hear the sections we liked... or, on the other hand, not. Bon Jovi and Brian Wilson definitely seemed to get the UK crowd going and singing along more loudly than for some of the acts live on stage in the UK (with Living On A Prayer and Good Vibrations, respectively).
The flag is flying over
Buckingham Palace; could the
Queen hear the show?Next on stage in London were UB40. I've never been much of a fan of theirs, mostly because I became very bored of Red Red Wine when it was at number one in 1983; only three weeks but it seemed to be getting saturation coverage on the radio. (Also, I'm not that big on reggae.) Anyway, the crowd seemed to like them, Food For Thought is still a good song, and I suppose it made up a bit for them not having been at Live Aid (I believe they were not invited).
Snoop Dogg came, swore a bit, sang a bit, and went away again. I'm sorry, I'm sure he's a musical genius, but he just doesn't do anything for me. I said I was an old fart...
Massed hordesRazorlight were a bit of a revelation to me (see, I may be an old fart but I can still appreciate these modern beat combos). I don't think I'd heard anything of theirs before, and I was rather impressed; they put on a very good and energetic show and I do believe I may shortly contribute to the rise in their sales figures...
Bob Geldof came on again to introduce a reprise of the "Drive" video first shown at Live Aid. He then brought on a young African lady, who had been one of the children shown in the video; she'd survived significantly against the odds, and her education had been sponsored by one of the cameramen who had filmed her. She'd travelled from northern Ethiopia to attend the concert, having just finished her agricultural exams. The poor lass looked a little bemused by the rapturous reception she received, but it really was uplifting to see that something good had come out of the famine. She doesn't appear to speak much (any?) English, but had a translator with her so that she could thank us all for coming and ask us to keep supporting the cause.
The Beatles reunion had
still not got them tickets
in the Golden CircleMind you, the slight bemusement at the crowd's applause turned into full-on confusion when Madonna decided to sing Like A Prayer to her. This was the first of three Madonna songs, which proved that the over-40s can still rock, if nothing else (not like we hadn't already figured that out given that we'd had Paul McCartney, Elton John and U2 (allegedly...) already). Next up was Ray Of Light with some energetic dancers and the crowd bopping along with her; finally we had Music which, by the end of the rather over-long outro, we were entirely willing to believe "makes the people come together" -- or possibly just unites them in thinking that seven or eight minutes is really a bit long for a song (unless you're Pink Floyd).
All gone!I hadn't heard any of Snow Patrol's output before now and -- unlike Razorlight -- I shan't be dashing out to acquire any of it. It was inoffensive enough, but bland background music. About the same level of interest to me as Keane (i.e. I got a bit further through my book).
I was really hoping that the Killers would do Somebody Told Me which is the song of theirs I like best -- however, not only did they only have one song, it wasn't that one (it was All These Things That I've Done). Now, question is, did they originally only have one song, or did they volunteer to drop one (or more) of them in an attempt to get the concert's timing back on track? It was originally scheduled to finish at 8pm, and then they said it'd be 9.30pm (this was announced a few days before the concert). By this point it was obvious that -- unlike Live Aid -- the schedule was slipping badly; it may even have been around now that the organisers started warning people that things were running late and that they should keep an eye on times of last trains etc. Possibly the Killers had another gig to get to?
Wave your hands in the air
like you don't care (I)Joss Stone followed the Killers. She has a very good voice but suffered a bit from possibly not having enough projection (or maybe not enough mike) -- she didn't seem as audible as the other acts. (Not too dissimilar to our last visit to Hyde Park for Proms In The Park last year. Evelyn Glennie, the percussionist, is clearly very talented but picked a very subtle, quiet piece for her last number which just didn't work in outdoor surroundings.) Stone's set went off uneventfully -- okay, possibly "unexcitingly" is the word I wanted -- and then we moved on to the Scissor Sisters.
Wave your hands in the air
like you don't care (II)It has to be said that the Scissor Sisters didn't get off to the best start with me, since the first song of theirs I recall hearing was their disco cover of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb and it nearly caused me to chew my own arm off. In the hierarchy of misguided cover versions, that one's pushing hard for the Number One spot if it isn't there already. However, they had the sense not to play that this time around -- almost a shame; I'd love to have seen what Waters and Gilmour would have made of it -- and instead serenaded us with Laura and Take Your Mama, both of which got the crowd going. They then announced that they were going to play a new song -- and those of us who'd been at at Live Aid cringed as we recalled Adam Ant's Vive Le Rock disaster -- but it turned out to be quite a reasonable ditty called Everybody Wants The Same Thing which went down quite well.
I had high hopes of Velvet Revolver, largely because they'd been formed from the ashes of Guns & Roses, who I used to rather like, thank you very much. (Even if I did get soaked to the skin when we went to see them at Milton Keynes many moons ago... but I digress. Again.) So this had approximately three-fifths of the original G'n'R lineup, and thus should have been worth hearing. Unfortunately Axl Rose must've been more of a guiding light to G'n'R than I gave him credit for, and without him involved the output was decidedly unexciting. Yes, Slash can still play the guitar, but the songs just weren't so involving. Oh well.
Wave your hands in the air
like you don't care (III)We were still getting regularly reminded at this stage that the concert was overrunning. By this point it was about 2115 and the original plan had been for the concert to end at 2130, but we still had five artists to go including at least two of the big draws -- Robbie Williams and Pink Floyd -- so it was clear that this was going to be a decidedly late one...
Sting: every breath he takes,
we'll be watching himI could have sworn that Lenny Henry used to be funny, but the jokes he was telling on the run-up to introducing Sting passed me by. Still, Sting himself did a good job of reproducing the whole Live Aid experience; he played Message in a Bottle, a song I didn't recognise but which my crib-sheet says was Driven to Tears, and a heavily-rewritten version of Every Breath You Take, assuring the G8 leaders that we would all be watching them. Whether that would, or did, sway their decision, history does not yet recall. I'm not sure it would have worked on me had I been one of the eight leaders....
Mariah Carey did a fine job of reminding me that I find her rather dull. Dawn French introduced her -- and was almost as unfunny as Lenny Henry; what were they putting in the water backstage? -- and Carey then proceeded to play her new single and faff around wanting a mike stand and a sip of water. Whatever. And it was too dark to read by this point...
Towards the end of a great dayThankfully it was now time for Robbie Williams (and I was even willing to give David Beckham some credit for just getting on, introducing Williams and getting off again).
Robbie started off with Queen's We Will Rock You. (I'm sure I had heard rumours that Queen would be playing the gig anyhow, but it just wouldn't be the same without Freddie Mercury and it appeared not to have worked out). Still, Robbie's almost as much of a showman as Freddie was -- though without quite the same vocal range, unfortunately -- and it worked out okay; pretty much everyone left in the park was happy to clap along. He followed that with Let Me Entertain You and Feel which were met with very enthusiastic approval from
me all present.
One of the ubiquitous
hovering helicoptersThe last song Robbie did was Angels, which was sort of interesting as he sang very little of it, being willing to let the crowd get on with it and sing it for him. And sing they did; it's a very powerful song on record, and even more so when there are several tens of thousands of people singing along ;)
Knocking on 2230 by this point. Peter Kay came on and tried to persuade everyone present to sing along with Is This The Way To Amarillo? without noticeable success -- he might have done okay at filling in, say, two or three minutes, but he dragged the pain out across about ten minutes until The Who came on stage, which was at least seven minutes too long. Why, Peter? Why?
but the crowd is thinningI was possibly less excited about seeing the Who than many of the people at the concert, since I'd seen them at their last reunion (which was, you guessed it, at Live Aid). But for a moment I was having flashbacks; the sound at Live 8 didn't seem to be quite right, and I wondered if it was all going to go pear-shaped as it had done twenty years previously.
Daltrey and Townsend seem finally to have accepted that singing My Generation -- specifically the Hope I die before I get old line -- is perhaps a bit daft when you're very close to drawing your pension, so instead they serenaded us with Who Are You? and Won't Get Fooled Again. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss seemed fairly relevant to the whole G8 theme. They have certainly mellowed, though; Daltrey now wears glasses (from where we were, we couldn't tell if they were bifocals...) and Townsend put his guitar carefully back on the rack instead of smashing it to smithereens...
Robbie Williams entertaining the younger
generation (her mum had come
to see Pink Floyd)And now, the moment we'd all been waiting for -- well, at least it was a fair bet that everyone still in the park had been waiting for -- the much-vaunted Pink Floyd reunion. (I won't say there hadn't been some jokes going round that, if they weren't starting to play until about 2300, we'd be lucky to get out by 0300 the next day...). The young lady in the photo to the right had fallen asleep by the time Floyd came on -- possibly she'd worn herself out dancing to Robbie Williams, or perhaps it had just been too long a day for someone of her age.
The Floyd did a four-song set, starting with Breathe to the accompaniment of flying pigs over Battersea Power Station (or at least photos showing that). I think they'd've liked to have the photographical -- or just graphical -- accompaniment shown on all the big screens, but someone evidently pointed out that there were a lot of people who couldn't see the stage at all, or at least not in a useful manner, so they went back to showing the on-stage action as well.
After Breathe came Money, continuing the G8-appropriate songs, and then Wish You Were Here. WYWH is probably my second favourite Floyd song of all time, and it worked so very well live; everyone was singing along. They finished up with my favourite Floyd song -- Comfortably Numb -- so I was, by this point, a very happy lady indeed. I'd never expected to hear that song live ;)
Um, okay, this should be where I tell you what a wonderful time we had watching Paul McCartney and how uplifting it was watching the masses singing along to Hey Jude, right?
Except we didn't. By the time Pink Floyd had finished their set, it was about 2330. We don't live that close into central London, and we'd already missed the last train back to our most local station. By the time we'd hot-footed it back to Victoria, we'd also missed the train back to our next-most-useful station (where we could have got a cab), so we wound up on the Tube. It could have been worse; we managed to get straight on to two Tubes and then didn't have to wait too long for a cab at the other end, but I'd love to know how anyone needing to travel and who stayed for the finale got on. (I suppose there would have been the possibility of a night bus, but even that wouldn't have got us within walking distance of home.)
We did watch the finale on TV a couple of days later, having recorded it. Get Back was good, The Long And Winding Road was fine, Drive My Car was fun (and I still think George Michael is very underrated as a singer). A lot of my friends really rate Helter Skelter as a song, but it's noticeable that there's a large overlap between the people who rate it and the people who've done way too many drugs!
And I never liked Hey Jude. Not even a stage full of talent can redeem that song from being WAY too long.
But still, a good show.
So, was it worth going? Yes, most definitely. The organisation could have been a lot better, but it was still fun.
Was it as good as Live Aid? No -- not quite the same consistency of good acts, but probably also the rose-tinted glasses of being seventeen colouring my memories of the original concert.
Did it do what it set out to do? Did it change the G8 leaders' opinion? That, I suppose, is still something of an unanswered question. Yes, more aid has been promised, but it remains to be seen if there's a general change in policy.
Will you go if they try to throw another big gig in another twenty years? Hmm, ask me then ;)