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It’s A Wonderful Live

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The Floral Pavilion, New Brighton

We all know that films have had to be rearranged, rescheduled, and generally buggered around with. Plague 2.0 took no prisoners and everyone and everything was held to ransom.  Over a hundred films had their release dates delayed. Some, like Tenet, were delayed for only a few weeks but that was released as a test of the market and, if you read the right reviews, it paid for that hubris.

Top Gun: Maverick, was due to be released on 12th July 2019 but we’re still waiting. During shooting Tom Cruise was older than Tom Skerritt (Viper) was when the original was shot. At this rate he’s going to be older than the Air Force.  Other films proved that they didn’t have to wait six months after a theatrical release to make money as a disc or download. 

When the world was normal these two buildings were where I spent 95% of the time outside my house.

Some were released straight onto digital; Artemis Fowl, Enola Holmes, and Greyhound premiered on Disney+, Netflix, and Apple TV+ respectively. Others had joint theatrical and video on demand releases; The Addams Family 2, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Black Widow, and Bill & Ted Face The Music all had simultaneous releases. Still others had a much reduced period between theatrical and home release; Emma, Encantoand Birds Of Prey were all available for home consumption within six weeks of their theatrical releases.

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A Matter Of Live And Death

But, despite the impression we like to give here at RunPee Towers, the world of entertainment is not limited to the cinema. As well as frequent trips to the cinema I also like to go and see some live performances.  Music, drama, comedy all have a different vibe when the performer is standing a couple of metres away from you. Are they going to fluff a line? Was that supposed to happen? Will they look you in the eye? Did he really say that? 

Obviously, when you see a professional performer the answers are, almost invariably, no, yes, maybe, and yes. Sometimes amateur productions are more fun. Years ago I went to a performance of Coppélia that was being danced by a Russian company. When I bought the tickets it sounded like it was the feeder troupe for the Kirov or the Bolshoi. It turned out to more like the Volgograd VIth form college. 

Steeleye Span – 50th anniversary tour

Still, the majority of the performance was really enjoyable. it was just the bit when Dr Coppelius wheeled the doll, Coppélia, onto the stage on a wheeled stool. At this point Coppélia is supposed to be inanimate. Unfortunately, the chap dancing Dr Coppelius didn’t know that there was a trap door in the middle of the stage. It wasn’t a big dip but enough to wake up her up as she sprawled across the stage.

The Live Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Since I moved back to the Wirral one of my indulgences has been fairly regular visits to the Floral Pavilion which is, pretty much, on the top right hand corner. Once a month I’d go onto their website and see what or who was coming up.  Sometimes there’d be something vaguely interesting, sometimes there wouldn’t be much that I fancied, but, occasionally, there would be something that, quite literally, made me squeak with excitement.

Let me get something into proportion… the Floral Pavilion in New Brighton is a small venue; the official stated capacity is 814. Bigger, better known names tend to go across the water to places like the Liverpool Arena (currently known as the M&S Bank Arena) with its much more generous 11,000 capacity. Fortunately my tastes tend more toward the niche elements of entertainment. While they might still be going, their fan base tends to be diminishing.

That’ll be me with yodelling, Dutch Prog rock flautist Thijs van Leer

As a result, while Genesis, Peter Gabriel, and Elton John can still pull in the mega crowds, my sort of group tends to the more intimate setting. Having said that I have actually seen Genesis (while Peter Gabriel was with them) and Elton John but that was back in the seventies. Another act I saw in the seventies was Andy Fairweather Low. It was Fresher’s Week at the next door college and Andy Fairweather Low was the headline act.

Live Is Beautiful

It was back in October 1975 and I still remember it fondly to this day. I remember the hall was packed out but, at the back, was a mountain of trunks and other large luggage. My friend, Jeff and I clambered up on top of them armed with, about, a gallon of lager each. We stayed up there all night drinking and enjoying the gig. It still counts as one of my best nights out, second only to sitting about three metres from Elton John while he played in the college chapel.

So, late one evening in February 2020, I was looking at who was coming to the Floral and one of those was Andy Fairweather Low…that was one of the ones that made me squeak! I immediately booked a couple of tickets on the front row much to the disapproval of the current Mrs Williams. It’s not that she particularly dislikes AFL but my birthday is mid February and she was struggling for a present. A mention of the gig would have been enough to solve her problem.

Jimmy Carr – not on TV for a change!

Still, there were other acts to go and see. I bought tickets like a drunken sailor on shore leave buys drinks for lovely ladies. As well as Andy Fairweather Low, I also bought tickets for folk giants Steeleye Span, a live recording of the Two Pints podcast, Verdi’s Aida, Dutch prog rock group Focus, comedian Jimmy Carr, satirical cabaret act Fascinating Aïda, stand up Comedy Store, Friends: The Musical Parody, and a one man production of the Dracula story. I do enjoy a live show!

A Live Less Ordinary

And then it happened. I remember I was sitting in my local Starbucks when the news broke that we were heading into lock down. My local cinema is next door and and I went straight round to talk to the manager and she told me that she had just told the staff that, when they went home at the end of their next shift, they were to stay home until further notice. When I went back to Starbucks I was told that they too would be closed until further notice. 

COVID-19 had arrived. It wasn’t long before I started getting emails from the Floral saying that first one show, then another had been postponed and would be rescheduled. In some cases that happened a couple of times. Originally I had shows lined up to brighten up  the evenings over the next couple of years…all postponed. So…no cinema, no theatre, no live music. Fortunately, though, another door opened for me.

Fascinating Aïda – hilarious, topical, emotional

Still, I knew that, at some point, I’d be getting the chance to use my tickets and see some shows. Always assuming that I, and the performers, survived Plague 2.0. I managed to satisfy some of my live theatre needs by taking out a subscription to the National Theatre At Home. Then, on 24th March 2020, Disney+ launched in the UK. Having grandchildren meant that I had an excuse for taking out a subscription which was great as more and more films premiered via the streaming services.

Lust For Live

But then, gradually, the world started to open up again. The first date that “stuck” was to go and see Focus. When the date came through it was at the time when I was still expected it to be rescheduled. But then we got closer and closer to the date and I was still half waiting for that email saying “Sorry but, due to exceptional circumstances, the show has had to be cancelled…again.” 

Eventually the evening arrived and I toddled along with my son-in-law (wife and daughter both refused an evening of Dutch, yodel based, progressive rock and twenty seven minute drum solos) and had a thoroughly good night. I even got to meet Thijs van Leer afterwards; he seemed genuinely pleased that I remembered seeing him on The Old Grey Whistle Test back in 1972.

Friends: The Musical Parody

A couple of weeks later we went to see the comedy store as an end of term treat for my wife. But then things accelerated. The last days of January saw us watching Jimmy Carr. Considering the number of TV appearances he has over here I’m surprised that he comes to the Floral! But he does, at least annually. All the remaining events that had been originally booked over the course of eighteen months had all, presumably coincidentally, been rescheduled for February this year.

Live Or Something Like It

First up was Fascinating Aïda who are hilarious, topical, and thought provoking. Some of the more poignant songs reflect the advancing years of the performers and the audience. It was awesome the way that they could make genuinely funny songs about a funeral being one of the few social occasions you get to nowadays or the attraction of a newly arrived widower but then have you choking back a tear with a song about having to move around the table as another empty chair appears.

The following night was Friends: The Musical Parody. It was very entertaining too but Mrs W and I did wonder if anyone was there who hadn’t watched Friends from start to finish, several times over.  There were varyingly accurate impersonations of the original cast but they were close enough that they didn’t have to do the self introduction that tells you who they’re trying to be. The songs were good, the production was slick, and the dancing was exhilarating. It was the nearest I’ve ever been to an American, Broadway type musical.

Andy Fairweather Low – Who does Clapton trust to play guitar with him?

Then, a week later, was the show that started it all; Andy Fairweather Low. To me it was absolutely wonderful. It brought back so many memories. Although it was nearly forty years since I last saw him live, he’s one of the performers whose albums I’ve had on multiple formats; vinyl, cassette,  CD, and download. As a result I hear his music regularly. My wife hasn’t had the same level of exposure but she knew his songs from Amen Corner – (If Paradise Is) Half as Nice, His stuff with Fair Weather – Natural Sinner, and his better known solo stuff – Reggae Tune and Wide Eyed And Legless. 

Live Of Pi

The following night was the turn of my daughter to accompany me on a visit to watch James Gaddas perform his one man adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The conceit for this production was that the Dracula book that Stoker wrote was a bowdlerised version of the actual events. Allegedly, the original story was true but, Stoker was convinced, revealing the truth of an actual blood sucking monster walking around Whitby might affect book sales. Gaddas spun a gripping tale of how he came to uncover the truth aided only by lighting, sound effects and a few physical effects.

And as February draws to a close it seems that I’ve wrapped up my backlog. This weekend saw myself and my ever-loving wife off to see Kiki Dee in the more intimate setting of the Blue Lounge. Elton John didn’t turn up to join her when she did Don’t Go Breaking My Heart but I enjoyed the new arrangement for just her and her brilliant guitarist Carmelo Luggeri.  Fun fact…Dusty Springfield was supposed to join Elton for Don’t Go Breaking My Heart but was taken ill.

James Gaddas’ single handed take on the Dracula story.

And now things are getting back to something approaching normality. I’ve still got tickets lined up to see me through the rest of the year. There’s a tribute to Morecambe and Wise called Eric And Ern. A live recording of the Two Pints podcast in April. Stand up comedian and master of the one liner Gary Delaney in August. In October it’ll be Howard Jones. I’m particularly looking forward to Howard Jones. My maths degree was mainly done wearing a Sony Walkman and listening to The 12” Album, Dream Into Action, and Human’s Lib.

Kiki Dee & Carmelo Luggeri; a lot of music from just the two of them!

You Can See My House From Here… Wirral and the UK in Film

Back To the Movies We Go: Once more unto the breach!

Movie reviews don’t write themselves…

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