Sep
15
1997

London, GB (Music for Montserrat (Royal Albert Hall))

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SHOW REVIEW

Montserrat Soufriere Volcano Tragedy Inspires Stars...

While final figures have still to be released by Sir George Martin's Montserrat Foundation, the September 15 concert and it's television and radio spin-offs look certain to break the target of £750,000.

The 4,500 tickets for the Royal Albert Hall event sold out within 90 minutes of the box office opening. The concert itself was a glorious musical celebration with all the artists coming on-stage for the finale of Hey Jude, to sum up the mood of the evening. Sadness about the tragedy which has hit the tiny Caribbean island, but hope that its inhabitants can start life anew.

The unanimous opinion of the managers of artists such as Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, and Phil Collins is that it could never have happened without the prime mover roles of Sir George and Lady Judy Martin.

"George and his wife Judy were such wonderful people to be with," said Clapton's manager, Roger Forrester. "I was in Antigua not long ago, which is 20 or 30 miles away from Montserrat, and the dust there from the volcano was horrendous. It's the first time I've worked with him in any capacity. And I would love to work with George again."

Damage boss Ed Bicknell, who manages Mark Knopfler, was equally unstinting in his praise. "Sir George and his wife were the people who were motoring this thing. He was the person who pressed everyone's button. When you get a phone call from Sir George Martin you stand to attention."

Bicknell and Forrester both noticed the good vibe that dominated the committee meetings which set up the event, and compared the easy atmosphere with the slightly more stuffy approach of the Princes Trust. "The committee meetings were funny," Bicknell says. "They were all held at Air Studios in Hampstead and a very nice little gesture was they provided us with wine, not something one gets at the Princes trust where you get sand."

Sir George was very pleased with the way in which the event went. "I am delighted that we look set to raise so much money for the long suffering people of Montserrat," he said. "I'm very grateful to all the wonderful musicians. "I'm going to Montserrat in the next few weeks to see for myself where the money raised should be spent to best effect."

But with the drama and tragedy unfolding its horror each new day, efforts may have to be concentrated on relocating the population. "Well of course since we organised the thing, the whole thing has moved on," explained Bicknell. "I would imagine that the island is not going to be viable economically." There is a possibility, Bicknell revealed, that although the managers had already kicked out the idea of an album being released, Sir George had asked what everyone thought of releasing the finale, 'Hey Jude', as a single in time for Christmas.

"We did agree to the television exploitation and, assuming a reasonable commercial deal, a possible sell through video. There was some talk about a 'Hey Jude' single. That was something George faxed us all on. Now I would have no problem with that, but I can't speak for any of the other artists," Bicknell added.

Across the board, managers and artists were keen to show a united front. There was no squabbling about billing, dressing rooms being shared, or what Forrester refers to as "grizzling", something he believes younger acts indulge in. Several artists even changed their schedules in order to fit in. Carol Willis Impey, who works with Phil Collins' manager Tony Smith, boss of Hit'n'Run, said: "Phil was actually on tour in America. And there was a break in the tour where Phil was spending time with his family which for him is the most precious time in the world. Fortunately, they changed their arrangements slightly which actually made a window. So he was able to do it."

Forrester explained that Eric Clapton was "in the middle of rehearsing for Japan, and he was in the middle of his own album. But we fitted it in." Midge Ure, who together with Sir George has lost his Plymouth house on the island to the devastation, also jumped at the chance, having just finished a series of dates.

"Midge has quite a lot of connections to the island," said Kate Hanson at Ure's management, Morrison O'Donnell. "His house and the fact that Ultravox recorded there. So he performed with the keyboard player who had been on his dates and it slotted in quite well."

Bicknell, who admits that he and Forrester allowed their dry sense of humour to come out during the committee deliberations, was also impressed by the backstage camaraderie. "The sight of Sting doing yoga in the dressing room we shared was quite something I can tell you," he said. "He suddenly said 'do you guys mind if I do my yoga?' Then he took all his kit off. Well, not all his kit, but enough of his kit that we knew what was left."

The concert was significant for Knopfler in that it was the first occasion he had played live with a full orchestra. "Mark loves orchestral arrangement and strings and stuff. He said, ' well I'll do 'Brothers In Arms' and we suggested the orchestra got used. They were young kids but they were a great orchestra. He said to me afterwards, 'oh, those strings'."

The managers also agreed that limiting the number of topline acts on the bill would preserve the concert's focus, which produced the magic moments which will hopefully be preserved forever via the sell-through video. Bicknell recalled how one such moment - the shuffle guitar duet between Clapton and Knopfler on 'Layla' - came about.

"Mark and Eric were sitting on the sofa in the dressing room rehearsing and Eric said to Mark 'let's do a guitar thing'. And Mark and Eric like a lot of artists will always take the sort of non-commercial view. And they couldn't think of what to do. Then Mark said 'let's do 'Layla' and Eric went 'oh, well maybe'. But they decided not to do it in the normal way, as per the record, but to do it as a duet - as a shuffle. I was the only person there and it crossed my mind if only I could sell tickets for it," Bicknell laughed. "I was thinking of the millions of punters who would like to be sitting where I was."

(c) Music Now

What's old, lies dormant for years then suddenly makes a big rumbling sound?

The Montserrat volcano of course, what else could I possibly mean?

As eruptions go, the Montserrat Charity Concert took a while to reach boiling point. But by the end of the night, the place was close to meltdown as the world's biggest stars came together for a white hot finale.

Led by Sir Paul McCartney, a supergroup consisting of Elton John, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Sting charged the Beatles' classic 'Hey Jude'. They were joined by Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler, pianist Jools Holland and 4,500 jubilant fans for a landmark in pop history.

I doubt anything will like it will be seen again - between them they're worth a hefty £870 million. I suspect a fire in the London's Royal Albert Hall would have done more damage to the insurance industry than 10 Montserrat volcanic explosions.

That's not to make light of the terrible disaster that has all nut buried the Caribbean isle during recent weeks. But while politicians sat around talking about the tragedy one man - Beatles producer Sir George Martin - actually did something. He asked for help from pop pals who'd recorded at his famous Air Studios on Montserrat - now buried under a crust of lava. And judging by the faces which turned out for the charity gig in front of the Duke Of York, few refused.

Fans - most of them as old the stars on stage - snapped up the £60 tickets within minutes of them going on sale. But it still took a while for us to go crazy when the gig finally kicked off, probably because the house-lights were left up for the entire show.

Montserratian popsters Arrow kicked off proceedings with calypso hit 'Hot! Hot! Hot!'. Midge Ure's Ultravox classic 'Vienna' followed but things only started picking up with rock'n'roll legend Carl Perkins and his hit 'Blue Suede Shoes'. The first standing ovation, though, went to Phil Collins who sang 'In the Air Tonight' and then went into a bongo fury, bashing out the beat on 'Take Me Home'.

An interval saw the rich and famous rush to the bar - I'd earlier spotted Nick Faldo, Queen guitarist Brian May, Richard Branson and Chris Tarrant mingling with ordinary fans.

The second half promised more - and delivered. Mark Knopfler's version of 'Brothers In Arms' was, frankly, beautiful. But the pressure really began to mount when Eric Clapton and Sting joined Knopfler for a blast through 'Money For Nothing'. We were all on our feet by then as Eric and Mark left Sting to work his magic, belting out 'Message In A Bottle' and 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic'.

Sir George took the stage to introduce Elton John who brought a respectful hush to proceedings. 'Your Song', 'Live Like Horses' and 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me' were everything you could expect from the Rocket Man - melodic, emotional and perfectly executed.

It was hard to imagine how anyone could better his brief spot - but then it's not every night you see Eric Clapton. Strumming an acoustic guitar, Slowhand played a hypnotically haunting 'Change The World'. It was a shame that when Mark Knopfler joined him on electric guitar for 'Layla' he almost drowned Eric's acoustic sound. The biggest cheer of the night was saved for Paul McCartney as the solo Beatle crooned through 'Yesterday'. It sounded as fresh as ever.

Clapton, Collins and Knopfler waited for the applause to die before supporting Macca in his 'Golden Slumbers' medley. It had everyone on their feet, dancing. And that's where we stayed as Elton, Sting and Jools Holland joined the crowded stage for 'Hey Jude'. It went down so well Macca asked his celebrity band if they fancied one more. After a few minutes hushed debate they burst into 'Kansas City' - catching TV crews and officials off-guard.

It might not have been Live Aid 2 but it is expected to raise close to £1 million for the victims of Montserrat which can't be bad.

(c) The Daily Mirror by Steve Wright

The best show since Live Aid...

We arrived at the RAH about 2.45pm, just after Sting and Dominic Miller had arrived and to learn that Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler, Phil Collins and Midge Ure had also been early arrivals. We hung around for about an hour, during which time Carl Perkins arrived and then Jimmy Buffet who may be big in the US but had never played in Europe before. Jools Holland walked up the street and into the Hall, whereas Eric Clapton was spotted driving his Mercedes around the back of the Hall and into the car-park, to be followed shortly afterwards by Elton John who arrived chauffered in his green Bentley.

As all was now quiet, we decided to do a bit of market research. We approached one tout and asked how much a pair of tickets were going for. For a pair of not particularly good tickets the going rate was £600 the pair (near enough $1,000). We smugly revealed to another tout that we had fourth row tickets: this immediately solicited an offer to buy of £300, quickly followed by £400. Another tout pursued us half way down Knightsbridge where he offered £500, and on being turned down immediately invited us to "name our price". All good fun of course winding these low-lives up, but of course there was never any intention of selling them, after all you can't put a price on something that's priceless can you?

About half an hour before show time, the Irish Guards (26 of them) started playing a selection of tunes (theme from Raiders Of The Lost Ark, 'Can't Buy Me Love', Colonel Bogie etc) outside the main entrance, a prelude to the arrival of Prince Andrew. After snapping up the t-shirts and programmes we headed downstairs to the arena area. Climbing the steps up into the arena, we were stunned to discover that our fourth row tickets were in fact first row tickets!! We had suspected they might turn out to be second row because of the RAH's habit of removing rows 1 and 2, but a third row had also been removed to allow the TV cameramen full manoueverablity The pleasure in taking your seat at the front of the hall ahead of celebrities like Richard Branson, Queen guitarist Brian May, Bond-actor Timothy Dalton, golfer Nick Faldo, comedian Rory Bremner and the minor celebs from Sky Television who were there en-masse, was immense.

The show started at 7.45 with a short speech by Sir George Martin followed by a brief film which was presented by Martyn Lewis the BBC newsreader. The main screen was lifted and it was time for Montserratian singer Arrow, who had just flown in from the island 24 hours before, to lead out his band and play two numbers - 'I Can't Run Away' and his old hit 'Hot Hot Hot'. Off to a great start then, and after a brief 5 minute interim to sort out the stage, Midge Ure came on to perform 'Dancing With Tears In My Eyes' and 'Vienna'. He promised us that we had no idea how good the evening was going to be - he'd seen the rehearsals and they had been great. Carl Perkins, resplendent in blue suede cowboy boots, then came on and performed two songs, 'Matchbox' and (naturally), 'Blue Suede Shoes'. Next, and making his first appearance in Europe was Jimmy Buffet, who sang two of his own songs 'A Pirate Looks At Forty' and 'Volcano' which was written on Montserrat and was inspired by the Soufriere volcano. The first part of the show was then wrapped up by Phil Collins, who was in great voice, playing piano and singing 'In The Air Tonight', and 'Take Me Home' on bongos, ending in a mass sing-along.

After a 15 minute break, the London Gospel Choir and the Foundation Philharmonic Orchestra took their places, and performed a stunning gospel version of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'. The lead singer, well she was amazing - what a voice! Next up came Mark Knopfler, accompanied by fellow Dire Strait Guy Fletcher on keyboards. After cracking a few jokes, Mark went straight into his instrumental 'Theme From Local Hero', before George Martin came out to conduct the orchestra on his second song, a truly superb rendition of 'Brothers In Arms'. When Mark announced that he'd managed to find a windsurfer on Montserrat to help out on vocals when recording his next song we knew what was coming, but had no idea of how great it would be. Sting came out on stage to the front dressed in thin black velvet trousers, a black Versace shadow stripe shirt and jacket), and almost unseen Eric Clapton came out to play rhythm guitar, while Phil Collins slipped into the spare drum seat. 'Money For Nothing' rocked, it was brilliant. Eric giving mock appreciative stares to Mark as he belted out the riff. Could things, can life, get better than this?

Another 5 minute break to swap gear around and Dominic walks to the front of the stage and takes a seat. Again, we know what's coming and out walks Sting, picks up his Chet Atkins and plays a great acoustic version of 'Message In A Bottle' - very poignant given the Montserrat situation. He follows this up with 'Fields Of Gold' and then 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', which although acoustic, also had the choir singing and was truer to the 'Ghost' version than the 'Demo' one we've come to expect with his acoustic take on the song. Needless to say his set got the rapturous reception it deserved.

Elton John then wandered out to play 'Your Song' - a great version - followed by an odd choice, a track of his last album called 'Live Like Horses', before closing with 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me'. Elton's ovation at the start seemed like it would go on forever - George Martin had announced that 'Candle In The Wind' had sold over 1.2 million copies in the three days it had been on release, but he would have got the ovation anyway after the past couple of weeks.

It was Eric's turn next and he didn't disappoint. Playing an acoustic song he said he had written on Antigua whilst looking out to Montserrat - 'Broken Hearted' - as he sat at the front of the stage. Mark Knopler then wandered out and took a seat, alongside Eric. With Eric on acoustic and Mark on his Gibson Les Paul they performed a great version of 'Layla', Mark Knopfler's guitar adding some electric melody to the song. Then it was time for Eric to strap on his gold painted Stratocaster as he performed a loud blues number called 'Same Old Blues'.

Well we'd had just about everybody, and we all knew who was next. George Martin introduced his "mate", Paul McCartney and out walked the fab one. Somewhere, in a dark attic must lie a hideous portrait of Macca, because he looked so youthful it was hard to believe. Here, literally no more than 10 feet in front of us was Paul McCartney, strumming an acoustic guitar and singing 'Yesterday'. After this, he strapped on a left handed Gibson, was joined by Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler on guitar, and Elton and Phil Collins on piano and drums and with the band ready, launched into a great version of the Beatles 'Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End' medley from 'Abbey Road', with George Martin leading the full orchestra. This was AWESOME. Watch it and tell us it ain't so!

Paul then goes to the piano directly in front of us. As Sting took the stage and walked to the microphone, and Carl Perkins added another guitar to the line-up a couple of Macca fans next to us were shouting at Paul and he looked over at them, pulled a few faces and smiles for them as they took pictures. Dave gave him the familiar Macca salute - one thumb held aloft - and he returned it! The band were ready, and Macca launched into 'Hey Jude', with Sting singing strong backing vocals. The audience was going crazy by this time. The photographers had been allowed in for these last two numbers, so it was a free for all with everyone getting their cameras out and either clicking away or singing at the top of their voices.

Finally, Sting slips on his Fender precision - the one bass player among six guitar players - and the whole band, joined by Jools Holland on second piano, jammed on Little Richard's 'Kansas City'. This was a great climax, Sting was laughing out loud with a grin from ear-to-ear as he and Mark Knopfler leant against each other at the back of the stage. It was great to see, he was truly loving every minute of this as was the audience.

The final notes died down and the audience went berserk with applause and cheering. The big five took a bow arm in arm, and Macca said "That's yer lot!", and he was right. It had finally ended - the greatest show since Live-Aid. It was time to find a taxi, take a train, get in the car and drive back home 220 miles. Here we are - 6am, finally starting to flag, having driven back from London buzzing all the way with excitement. Can't wait to see the video...

(c) Dave & Wendy for Sting.com

Better than All Around The World, better than Live Aid...

If you missed out on Live Aid, here was your chance to catch up. An uncharitable thought for a charity show in aid of beleaguered Montserrat but inevitable when confronted by an Albert Hall fervent with delight

at the announcement of... Midge Ure! And when Midge and his keyboards player unleash the straining vocals and cheesy synth chords of, gulp, 'Vienna', one is plunged straight back to the dull heart of the '80s.

What with Midge and Phil and Sting aboard, and Mark Knopfler twanging on about microwave ovens, the RAH fairly reeks of that grim decade, especially since many of the £60 plus tickets have been snapped up by city chaps who still wear their striped shirts with pride. Bolly in the corporate entertainment box! Hey, rock and roll!

The night's key figure is Sir George Martin, whose Montserrat studio played host to most of the starry ensemble here before its mixing desk vanished under several inches of volcanic ash. As ever the dapper Spitfire pilot, George brings charm and warmth to the proceedings with his keynote introductions, along with a whacking great orchestra and a 40-piece gospel choir.

Knightly charm aside, the first half of the show is a battle against drooping eyelids, despite the best attempts of Montserratian soca star Arrow to get everyone feeling 'Hot Hot Hot'. There's Midge there's Carl Perkins in his hairpiece, satin suit and blue suede rat-stabbers banging out 'Matchbox' and 'Blue Suede Shoes'. There's, um, Jimmy Buffet playing his first British gig, with some awful cod reggae song about the island's volcano, and, unbilled, there's - screams, audience arises in ecstasy - Phil Collins. "I'm afraid it's that bloody song again," says Phil blokishly as he sits at the grand piano. What, precisely, is coming in the air tonight remains, as ever, unanswered.

The post-interval big guns follow Phil's example, delivering an acoustic old fave before jamming with the back-up band on a couple more. Knopfler and his Gibson noodle elegantly before boogying through 'Money For Nothing' supported by Eric Clapton (Fender) and Sting (asthma inhaler). Sting delivers a lovely cameo version of 'Message In A Bottle', almost dissolving it in jazzy dischords, and Elton John, the whiff of Abbey incense still clinging to him, hammers out 'Your Song' and arches that eyebrow through 'Live Like Horses',

whose equine symbolism quickly gallops into absurdity. Clapton picks daintily through 'Layla' with Knopfler at his side before wading deep and dark into electric blues.

Finally Paul McCartney bounds on, impossibly boyish at 55, to strum through 'Yesterday' and lead a full-orchestra and choir version of 'Golden Slumbers', in which he even switches from piano to guitar to blast out those famous power chords. As Sir George waves in thunderous cellos and clashing cymbals, Clapton and Knopfler widdly diddle, Collins slams skins, Elton plonks solemnly and Sting just looks cool singing back-up. Suddenly it becomes clear that this is everyone's dream moment - they're in The Beatles, however briefly. Afterwards the rest of us get to join too, na-na-na-ing away on 'Hey Jude'.

Better than All Around The World, better than Live Aid.

(c) Mojo by Neil Spencer

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