It's summer, Sting is performing in Canada, which can only mean that Überfan Roger Puplett is on his adventures again...
"I had a dream last night..." It was a glorious summer's day, beautifully hot; I was strolling along the banks of the river Thames, lost in my thoughts. I was wandering off the path slightly, my mind was soon drifting to more immediate geographical decision making concerns, how do I get to Hyde Park from here? I'd already had my caffeine fix in Covent Garden and had earlier in the day visited St Pauls Cathedral.
I feel like I'm in a parallel universe, I ponder that I may be blissfully unaware of this fact, or be in a dream like trance, why would I think that? The fact is I am in London (not the place I spent the formative years of my life), but London, Ontario!
The reason for my visit was to enjoy a holiday in Canada that would also feature three Sting shows and a chance to catch up with all my wonderful Canadian friends again.
I have to say the immigration official was a little sceptical of my reasoning, (well, at first), until I showed her my schedule, which showed a precision to detail that Billy Francis would be proud of? (I suppose most people don't cite Sting as a reason to visit Canada for 14 days?) Just when I thought my interrogation was over, the official said "What were you doing in Canada in 2007 & 2008?" I promptly replied, "That was the Police tour!" The previous demure expression from the official had finally cracked open into spontaneous laughter. "Next...!"
I have the ambitious task of summing up three concerts in one review, so, here goes!
The first concert was at John Labatt's Centre in London, Ontario, not to be confused with its namesake in the UK "is anything not English here?" I joke. I try and be smart and think, "Well, there is no Regent Street here", I'm reliably informed there is one, so anybody joining me for a pint in the "Elephant & Castle then? "
London has a similar sized population to that of Halifax, and by all accounts, the locals certainly knew who was about to arrive in town? The previous night, I had spent some time sampling the local wine in the bar in the Hilton hotel; my English accent seemed to stand out a mile.
"Guess, who's in town?" the bar tender proclaims with much enthusiasm, "Mmm, Sting?" I proudly say with a big grin on my face, she looks surprised? I'm wondering why, is it my answer or the fact I'm not taking a blind bit of notice of that terrible "America's got talent" programme which is frequenting the large TV screen in front of me.
"****, they have exported Piers Morgan, and I thought the English version of the programme was bad, this is worse! "I mutter, I'm half-joking, but I must sound like a grumpy old man?
Privately I'm hoping that somebody might have the good fortune to pass out and accidently fall on the remote control, saving me from this drivel. Sadly I'm not in luck, I start to think this maybe a corporate policy by the hotel to get people to drink more, if it is policy, its working, the wine is good and flowing.
I start off a conversation, "I'm here to see the Sting concert", "Awesome, I'm going with a friend" she replies, cue the next three hours of Roger's Sting stories, the friendly bar tender had probably not expected to encounter a guest quite like this during her shift. Needless to say, I was the last to leave!
The day after the concert I get an amazing text from her, saying I'm the best thing ever! (It's not what you think, before I get accused of being a double-dating, cheating, womanizing plaything) It was all because I managed to get her into a front row seat at the concert. Sting's performance did the rest, and I'm given undue credit here, but I am flattered to think I have had such an impact, but, seriously, it's all down to the main man.
I arise the next morning thinking, did I actually sleep last night? Don't have a hang-over, so the wine gods are being good to me after all.
Time for some coffee and to check out where the venue was, whilst I was there, I bumped into Patti who was taking the first of many amazing pictures of the day. (I've been lucky enough to see her stunning pictures of Jo Lowry she took later that evening. They could easy grace the front cover of FHM or dare I say it Nuts magazine (don't you just like the British press?) was I the only person who noticed her costume changes during the gig? I've seen the way she looks at Sting during the concert; (I have to confess her smile melts me.) Time for a cold shower!
I returned to the venue and met up with friends Jim and Tracey and had a fascinating chat with Graham (tour manager for the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra (RPCO)) even if he did think my Canadian friends were American! (At least we weren't watching a hockey match, he may have had more than just a quizzical look to contend with?)
I bumped into Graham again in Montreal, and later discovered the orchestra were staying in the same hotel as me. The giveaway was the whiteboard in the hotel lobby saying RPCO coach leaving times, sound check information and the all-important don't forget your passport message (after Ottawa)
If the Scotiabank Place venue had offered the "Will Call" option, I would have ended up there as well! After previously being in the front row on the Police tour at the same venue, Ottawa probably still required a few more years to recover from my last visit?
Back in London, I saw the band enter the venue, but was too far away to talk to anybody, I did give a shout out to Dominic, but the fierce Ontario sun was blinding his view of me, he acknowledged the friendly greeting, with a wave. By all accounts the sound check was running a little late, as one of the coaches carrying the orchestra had broken down on route from Cincinnati, the other members of the band, including Sting looked like they had come straight from the airport.
Time flies, onto to the now legendary Canadian pre fan club get together... I'm introduced and amazed that I know most people around the table. Thanks to Patti and everybody for organising this, we had an amazing time, and I was also impressed at all Sting music playing in the background, I was starting to get very excited. Before you know, its concert time and we are under starter's orders.
I probably stand out a mile, dressed all in white, proudly displaying an England tee-Shirt and my lucky Sting style Tibetan stone around my neck (which I'm sure has mythical and babe magnet properties associated with it?) I can't thank Jim & Tracey enough for their amazing gift to me. Whether it's my attire or something about me, but within the first song Myrna is tapping me on the shoulder to say "Sting is pointing at you!"
To paraphrase Sting's Symphonic concert analogy of being like a child with a new train-set, well it's a huge train set (bigger than the Wunderland model railway in Hamburg) with all the bells and whistles blowing in splendid glory, with the elegance and splendour of the Orient Express.
I could succinctly sum up proceedings (already) by chanting the refrain "Magic, Magic, Magic!" from "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" the performance has something for everybody in the set list from the person who only knows a couple of songs to the (Sting) train spotter (Geek, usually lonely male, who hangs around railways/concerts for long periods watching for and ticking off trains/concerts he has seen from a comprehensive (Set)list/timetable; with a compulsion for fastidious detail and sharing of interesting facts nobody else knows about, generally a much misunderstood individual?) who is hoping for "I Burn For You" to be played out or a sighting of rare steam engine.
The song made it onto the album, It's mentioned in the tour programme as a song that has been arranged for symphonic pleasure; we wait with baited breath for delivery, when Sting said, I'm going to sing a song I haven't done for a long time... I almost blurted out "I Burn For You" very loudly, just as well I didn't, as the song was "All Would Envy!", a song I've never heard live before and boy was this samba styled song good. It was very obvious, the female members of the audience where enthralled with the way Sting was wiggling his bum during the song! (I can hear Patti's purrs of delight from here).
You never know, I'm still optimistic "I Burn for You" may hopefully (sometime in the fall, October 2nd 2010 anyone?) grace the set-list? Although it's impossible to second guess Sting, I should stop trying to make predictions.
If you think I'm missing out on some key detail, here, well I'm doing so deliberately, the show is so stunning; I don't want to spoil the plot for people who are eagerly awaiting Sting's touchdown on European soil. I can't wait to see people's faces at the Royal Albert Hall (RAH).
There are so many amazing moments and treasures in the set-list, also no support act, total Sting from start to finish with an intermission in between. (So I can get my voice back!)
After Montréal, the final show on my concert tour, I had almost lost my voice; I seriously needed some of Sting's vocal rescue spray, as I croaked for some coffee whilst having breakfast.
You could be excused to think this is a normal Sting concert, as it kicks off with "Faith" like in Quebec City last year. Several songs move up the order they usually appear in the set, including "Englishman in New York."
At this point, I must share one of many fond memories I have from my latest adventure, of listening to this track, on the way back from the Toronto concert. It's not every day I find myself in a car with five women, (all huge Sting fans!), the windows are down; the "Symphonicities" album is blaring out of the sound system in Larissa's car (UP to that all-important 11 volume!) as we are hurtling down through the streets of Toronto for a post-concert debriefing at the Irish Embassy pub.
Pedestrians and other motorists were probably wondering what was going on? (Although hearing loud music from passing cars is nothing new, it's just the music is usually Eminem or some indecipherable hip-hop or house music that's about to blow the bass bin off, not Sting!)
Not only that, there was a huge party atmosphere, everybody is singing and I'm shouting out these huge harmonies "I'm an Englishman in Toronto!" to much amusement.
It would make a great scene in a film, but who would play the part of me? Last year, I was stopped in a top Toronto restaurant by a couple who thought I was "Ricky Gervais!" If that is really the case, I feel sorry for Ricky, or unless I've suddenly got famous?
I've never thought of myself as a comedian, but the magnitude of Ann's laugh during my description of some classic British Children's TV at Mercurio's Italian restaurant (not the conductor by the way!) meant the (Angelina Jolie looking) waitress might still be suffering some hearing loss?
We drifted onto the subject after discussing some of Sting's introductions to his songs, he was very talkative, and in Montreal did most of the talking in French. These work so well, and during some of his intros, give rise to some great audience participation moments. Raconteur Sting, (not that I noticed at the time), but some of my appreciations were very noticeable to Sting and the people around me.
According to the 90's De La Soul Song "Three is the magic number", it pops up a lot on this trip, three concerts, third time I've been to the Bell Centre in Montreal, and CN Tower in Toronto and astonishingly, I knew the person in the seat next to me in three different Canadian concert venues, what is the probability of that?
Here I have to quote from Susan who was next to me in Toronto "...After London I was only too happy to be able to go to Toronto where I had the time of my life. I couldn't believe it when I realized I would be sitting right next to Roger. Now this is going to be exciting I thought to myself. And sure enough, there was Roger in his seat playing the guitar, playing the drums and conducting the orchestra just like a pro. It was fun groovin' to the music with such an uninhibited and enthusiastic fan. Let me tell ya!"
I thought at the time, by my normal standards I was being maybe too reserved, but on my best behaviour. I was heard saying this in Montréal, other members' in the audience couldn't stop laughing at my comments, what am I like?
I had seen a post on the forum awhile back, asking if people were going to stand up and dance at these concerts. Dance is not an exact science, I can't predict when I'm going to dance but there are moments in the set, that staying in your seat is nigh impossible, and the show does rock out so much, you can't stay still, well I can't!
What Susan didn't see was my performance during "Next To You" in Montréal. My very visible moment in the spotlight, or as the crowd were probably thinking, who's that guy in the Red England Tee-shirt in the front row?
I had been doing a lot of what I call "air drumming" up to that point, but it was clear, from the momentum of the song, I'm going to up jumping around soon from the very start of the song, here.
The moment comes, I'm up, I seem to be getting faster and faster, I look around, OMG I'm the only one up, what's wrong with the Montreal crowd! I can't stop, once I'm up, I'm up, Sting knows what's going through my mind, and nods approvingly at me (as if to say, don't even think about sitting down, carry on, you're doing a good job, my son) and then proceeds to follow my jumps, right in front of me, my virtual bass is in full swing mode!
I quickly glance over in the other direction; just in case the security think that taking me for a walk to get some fresh air might be on the agenda? They remain static, and unmoved, good, Sting's face is now beaming, I'm dancing like I was at the final MSG Police Show, and what's more, my timing is perfect.
At the climax of the song, I do this huge jump, (last time I did a jump like that was at RAH during "Roxanne" on the Sacred Love tour, and I thumped myself on a side railing on my descent, it took me a week to walk properly again?)
No repeat of that here, perfect unison, I don't think I've ever been so co-ordinated in the final jump before; I landed well, if only Jock and William had been there to see this I thought.
I felt on top of the world, Sting looked more than happy from the reaction of the audience, what an end to part one, people were saying (around me) Sting really came alive when he saw my dancing, I stand guilty as charged, I'm the happiest guy on the planet right now. John is cheering loudly next to me, Joelle comes over shortly afterwards and comments how brave I am.
One person even accused me of being a plant! I was trying to comprehend what sort of plant; was my dishevelled look similar to a new formation of Wisteria? Then when I gathered my composure and in a moment of clarity, then realised, they actually meant a plant in the audience not a plant!
It was more a case of Hysteria than Wisteria. You can't put a systematic measure of how good that felt, it's hard to fully describe the euphoric pleasure of Sting's music and a unified dance routine coming together so precisely?
Susan was suitably impressed in Toronto, when Sting said he was from Newcastle, and a loud cheer and claps came from me. You could hear a pin drop as Sting said the same thing in Montreal, I approvingly cheer, though it probably sounded more like "Whey Aye...!" My voice seemed to have amplified and appeared to fill the whole venue; Sting said "Well, Thank you..." and turned directly to me, giving me a "thumbs up" sign. If only Susan could see me now, I thought.
On the previous night Sting had recalled an interesting story from the 80's and a similar thing happened; where Sting had said that was the easiest cheer he had ever received! My fault again, how had I suddenly got so loud all of a sudden, this normally shy, reserved character, is now Mr confident?
These concerts were quite literally blowing me away on all kinds of different levels. One of the most poignant moments was during "Why should I Cry for You"; whilst Sting was doing his introduction I was already starting to well up.
Gloria to the right of Susan was giving her support, as I was moments later. It wasn't until the song was in full swing that the sheer intensity and full emotional impact of the song was to become hugely apparent to me.
My thoughts had turned to my friends who had lost loved ones this year, my neighbours who had passed away in the past two months, I can't really describe in words the full emotions, the tear glands on the right side of my face were flowing down in what felt like Niagara style proportions.
But this was not the only highlight, from the power of the orchestration during "Russians" to the swirling arrangement of "The End of the Game" Sting has never sounded better.
Again another song I have not heard live before, I know he performed it on the Broken Music tour, but I don't think it made it to Europe on that tour? (Well, not the gigs I went to.)
His voice was absolutely stunning throughout, has he been taking some vocal spinach? The power, the deliver in his voice, the numerous times he holds some of the notes for an astonishing level of time, that would even challenge the strongest cross channel swimmer in the breathing department stakes.
I was being moved beyond words, although some audience conduct was beyond comprehension to me?
Who gets up to get a beer at the beginning of "Shape of my Heart", do the opening chords of "Fields of Gold" have diuretic properties? I actually saw a woman in the front row in Montréal dart off down the centre isle at the very start of the song!
There were also lots of people movement in Toronto (especially during part one of the show) which was a great shame, as people were walking over metal grates, that made, what felt like a huge metal bang every time anybody walked over them, usually at the quietest moments in the set. The security staff weren't moving people on properly either, I was tempted during the interval to find some of the crew and get some gaffer tape and tape up these grates to stop them banging, luckily people's bladders settled down during part two and their urge to get a beer waned a little? I was so focused on the music, that I didn't let things like that get in my way of my enjoyment.
Dominic's guitar work as usual was particularly good during these two songs, which reminds of a lovely moment before the concert in Toronto.
Jock turns to me and says "Have I shown you this picture of Dominic before?" no, I reply, pretty cool, when did you take that? "A minute ago, he's around the corner!" Jock had been talking to Dominic; I thought he had disappeared to the toilet? I popped my head around the corner, sure thing, there's Dominic, big grin, when he sees me, probably thinking how many more fans are going to magically appear to talk to him? (Bruce was next) I keep my conversation brief, and he finishes by saying he will give me a wave in Montréal, which he did, Awesome!
I was having the time of my life, Sting's music is very much part of my DNA and it still makes me laugh the way some people give me strange looks during concerts.
One of the security staff in London, must have starred at me for at least ten minutes (non-stop) during the first half of the concert, it really did look like this guy was trying to work out, how the hell I knew all the lyrics to songs, he was having trouble recognising?
If I was worried that the Montreal crowd would never follow my lead, by the time of "King of Pain" my fears were over, even though I felt like I was the only person singing "That's my soul up there!"
The funniest looks I experienced were probably during "She's too Good For me", I'm in both full vocal swing and dancing mode like there is no tomorrow, (in Toronto I had to move into the aisle to do my full workout) during the "She don't like the drugs I take..." lyric, people were clearly thinking I'm on something!
It's totally legal, it's called Sting's music, it confuses the hell out of people, when they come up to talk to me, I think they automatically assume I must be drunk, the way I dance and react, I never knew this song could rock out so much, the visuals on the video screens are tremendous as well, here.
To speak in Carter language for a moment, I even had two fit French birds come and dance next to me at this point; but by the time "I was alone with my thoughts..." they had disappeared into the Montréal sunset.
Actually, talking of visuals (aside from the Bloor street babes in Toronto, walking to HMV has never been so pleasurable!), the footage on the video screens, were both visually stunning, arty and in sympathy with the songs all at the same time.
Although most people I talk too, didn't pick up on all the cool things that are going on, too busy watching Sting! Take a peek at the section in the tour programme about the video footage, you will find some interesting things out.
Sting does a tremendous job of highlighting the individual performances of the soloists from the orchestra, throughout the concert whether on "Englishman in NY" or the magnificent "Moon Over Bourbon Street" making sure they receive the much deserved applause for their fine work.
I must also praise both Steven Mercurio for the symphonic arrangements and Howard Page for the audio engineering, especially in London, the mix was spot-on, highlighted magnificently during "Russians" where the full power of the Orchestra reaches its maximum, to the subtle complexities of Jo Lowry's and Sting's vocals intertwining on "When We Dance", is quite simply, music heaven.
You could clearly see Sting was having the time of his life; Rhani was following my drumming moves during "Desert Rose" and clearly lapping up my enthusiasm, smiling throughout the whole song, the atmosphere was electric.
Amazing things always seem to happen to me whenever I'm in Canada, by the end of both the London and Montréal shows, I was doing the "high five" with Sting, (Also referred to as the hand of God!), my hand has never had so much scrutiny bestowed on it before or the topic of so much conversation.
I was trying to demonstrate this handshake type of movement to my mum in a restaurant when I returned home, only for her to follow my demonstration and promptly proceed to knock her glass of red wind flying across the table. (There was wine everywhere on the table and up the walls... it was very funny)
I have had such an awesome time (again) in Canada, even travelling business class on the train is a joy. "Would you care for a cocktail, sir (before your meal)?" you don't get that on the 10am train to Paddington, and free Wi-Fi as well, meant I could go totally 21st century and download the album whilst on the train.
Well, I had to have the bonus track "Straight to My Heart", in more ways than one, sums up my love for this tour. I also started writing part of this review on the train travelling back to Toronto, way to go.
Sadly I'm back home now, how I'll last till October before my next Sting concert, I don't know? It will be extremely hard, harder still to cope with, will be the length of time until I see all my amazing Canadian friends, I love you all.
Again I couldn't do any of this without the kindness and generosity of my friends or the fan club for my amazing seats.
I really do hope Sting comes back to Canada soon, although the story of my glass of Rose will be a talking point for some time to come, as will Sting saying "Thank You " to me at the end of the London concert.
The dream was, as you will have all guessed by now, in fact, all brilliant, vivid, reality. Although I would like my credit card statement to be a work of fiction, some "quantitative easing" is probably on the cards for the next couple of months, before my next travel extravaganza, now back to the real world of work.
© Roger Puplett for Sting.com