That’s the kind of ‘text-speak’ that I usually never indulge in but for some reason it just seemed appropriate for this blog item. You see I went with my wife to the O2 arena, London, to see the band U2 in concert. I know, most readers really do not need that spelling out to them, but I just wanted to reassure myself that I had gotten it right!
I really like visiting London and usually try to go 2 or 3 times a year. I am not sure if I would want to live there, it is very hectic and the cost of renting or buying is certainly above my meagre means. I also think that actually living in such a place can rub some of the lustre of it. My brother used to work in London and never went in to see a show or visit a museum unless we were visiting.
When I and my wife Donna go down to London we like to pack as much into the visit as we can. Usually we stay in a rented apartment just off Euston Road as it is a quick walk from Kings’ Cross Station with our bags and it puts us in the easy triangle of Kings’ Cross, Euston, and Russell Street Underground Stations, which makes getting around very easy indeed.
Arriving on the Sunday gave us time to relax and swan about London. We headed into Mayfair looking for the rather swish Connaught’s Bar located in the Connaught Hotel, Carlos Place. It is not quite an Art Deco palace but it comes very close. Designed by David Collins it draws heavily on 1920’s influences and creates a genuine sense of style. We dressed up for the occasion but at £20 a drink we could only stay for one cocktail each.
Lunch on Monday was to be another outing in our glad rags as we headed for Pall Mall and
the sumptuous beauty of the Balcon Restaurant. Now this is a place that I could grow to love. The restaurant is light and airy but elegant and possessing a French chic. The food was excellent, accompanied with a very good house red. Service was friendly and prompt. We were using a Groupon voucher but unlike some other places where we have taken advantage of such offers the Balcon treated us no different to any other guests. I very much want to return there.
After a rest back at the apartment we headed out once more taking the Northern Line down to London Bridge where we interrupted our journey for a pint in the George Inn. It claims to date back to the 17th century and I have no reason to doubt it. There is also a suggestion that Charles Dickens visited the place when it was a coffee house, which was all the ‘cultural’ reason I needed to prompt my Donna into letting me visit the place. The George was surprisingly busy for a Monday night but we were able to get a table inside and enjoy some beer in an ‘olde worlde’ environment.
After this pleasant sojourn we returned to London Bridge Underground Station to pack ourselves like sardines into the next Jubilee train heading east towards North Greenwich. The O2 Arena was originally conceived as the ‘Millennium Dome’ by the Labour government of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Most of the country resented the place but it has proved more durable than any politician. Today it is one of the busiest indoor arenas in the world, which makes it all the more surprising that the whole peninsular is served by only one underground station and only one line. Arriving and departing the O2 is not a pleasant experience, especially if, like me, you have impaired mobility.
Fortunately this was our second visit to the O2, we saw Fleetwood Mac there a short while ago, so we knew our way around. The fabulous meal at the Balcon and the pint at the George meant that we could restrain ourselves to a simple glass of Becks’ before we made our way down to our seats, and that saved a few £’s in itself! The location of our seats were incredible. We were in Block 101, Row L, Seats 23 and 24. We were so close that Donna could look into the eyes of the man she loved; Bono!
I can’t blame her for that as I was mostly responsible for getting her interested in U2 to begin with. We first saw them for the PopMart Tour on the 28 August 1997 at Roundhay Park, Leeds. It had rained heavily and we had stood on the side of the hill to watch the show. This seemed like a good idea then as we are both of average height and not likely to see much from the floor and, besides which, I do not do well being shoved about in crowds. Due to the rain the hill turned into a mud slide down which people would suddenly disappear. Fortunately that we escaped that fate, I never realised how fortunately until Donna told me a few weeks later that she was pregnant!
Having fallen under Bono’s sway it was inevitable that, after I had bought her membership to the U2 fan club, we had to go see them again in 2005 for the Vertigo Tour. This time we decided that, as they had come to visit us in Yorkshire, we would go and visit them in their home town of Dublin. The concert at Croke Park was excellent, as was our time in Dublin, but although we had seats this time we were still a considerable distance away from the band.
So, here we are some 10 years later and I have to wonder if Bono, who is a contemporary of mine, is still up to the job. In fact that applies to Larry Mullen Jnr., Adam Clayton, and The Edge as well.
If anything age and experience seems to have moulded them into a very professional and capable group of entertainers. Bono is as skilled as the best of showmen when it comes to working the crowd. We were also impressed by U2’s use of technology in the shape of a massive video wall. Of course they are known for using large screens, principally so that the people at the back can see something of their show, but in this instance the video wall was an active part of the show. It hung over the catwalk that connected the two stages at either end of the arena and moved, ascending and descending, and even allowed the band inside it. This was first demonstrated by Bono who took a walk down Cedarwood Grove, the place lived at as a boy, as he sung about his mother Iris who died when he was still quite young.
On each side of the video wall a cartoon-like film was playing while the live Bono walked down the middle of it. It is a difficult scene to explain, Bono was not in the film but inside the wall appearing to be in the film – if that makes any sense!
Now some critics probably saw this as somewhat ostentatious, after all, Zoo TV was not to everyone’s taste, but then few critics get stuck in the back row at a concert and do not necessarily appreciate how such things as large video screens help include you in the performance. Even though we had such good seats we still found the use of the technology to enhance the show rather than detract from it, and perhaps that is the point of bands like U2, they are not just performers anymore, they are showmen. Like the Rolling Stones and any other highly successful band the large number of people who want to see them perform means that they are forced by necessity to play in arenas where the show itself has to become exaggerated. Purists might not like this but it seems to be a natural development of rock ‘n’ roll as a band rises up the ladder of success.
Me, I live in the moment. In this moment I was there watching U2 with my wife and we were enjoying every minute of it, along with the other 20,000+ crowd as far as I could tell.
All too soon the show was over and we headed for the crush of North Greenwich Underground Station and from there to Kings’ Cross and a midnight Burger King because we were still too high to go straight to sleep.
Tuesday was a day of coming down. We decided to offset this by going into town and taking in the sights. We had tickets to see ‘The Mousetrap’ at St. Martin’s theatre, the world’s longest running play. This proved an excellent diversion and we are now custodians of the secret of the Mousetrap. Finally we headed off back to Kings’ Cross and the train home, stopping off for a farewell drink in the Lord John Russell pub, which proved a very friendly place indeed.
Another weekend as passed me by without any writing getting done but I think I have a very good reason for being absent from my word processor. I might even be able to find inspiration for another story from all this as well!