Having given up the day job exactly a month earlier (Yes, they finally had enough of my inane ramblings, golf competitions and storytelling of the good old days), on 22nd April I get an email from Rod’s fan club telling me of “Special Warm Up Show” @ Southend, Cliffs Pavilion – Next Tuesday!
Gaud blimey and knock me down with a feather, quick panic – “Do I remember my password?” – Excitement was tinged with reality though, my wife Alison’s aunt had been rushed into hospital with a stroke in Oxford only a week ago, we had dashed up there on the weekend and were unsure on how much she may be reliant on our help.
After a bit of a debate we decided, right place (well it would have been more up market and convenient had it been Dorking Halls rather than the Cliffs Pavilion) just wrong time – hence I didn’t join in on the call at 9:00 a.m. the next day. There was of course the “general” Ticketmaster sale on Friday 25th. Should we change our minds, but at that point we had decide not to be, plus I have to confess I got a bit of my geography wrong.
Now when you’ve worked in London all your life, in the line of business I was in, you get to mix with a very good mix of true Essex boys and girls, the banter I often had was always good hearted humour, the Essex / Surrey rivalry through sporting connections was there – especially cricket, plus a bit of football banter of my team Palace and the good old Hammers – Yes, tell me again, you won the World Cup in 1966 …. Back then aged 10 – I still remember it, and my team were still yet to grace the countries top division – So they always had the upper hand. The great thing about us though was we shared cutting humour, friendly insults that were never seen with any animosity.
So you see having bored the pants off me for 46 years of my working life, about “God’s own country”, somehow the map of Essex was never in the forefront of my mind, I had been to a mates wedding near Witham many years ago and played golf over at Brentwood and for the life of me, I thought good old “Saufend” with it’s all too glamourous title of “On Sea” was next door to Colchester – not bloody well opposite Rochester in Kent in the Thames Estuary. So, I had told Alison, it will be a pig of a journey and take ages anyway plus I can only get two tickets so Jacquie can’t come. Hence my weekend was focused instead on my beloved “Robins” (Carshalton Athletic) getting the win over Bishop Stortford and making the play offs (which is minus any Essex team – I hasten to add!!!) and my habitual game of Sunday morning golf.
Date line 28th April 2019.
As I settled down to see the next gripping episode of “Line of Duty”, - little did I imagine that “Hastings” would feature again nearly two days later. Alison was upstairs reading her latest book, when she starts reading, nothing drags her away. As reminders roll of previous episodes, the phone rings, well it’s never for me is it, so Alison answers, I hear talking as she comes downstairs, I put the TV on mute, as I hear I say, “Okay John, yes I will pass him over now” – As I say hello, with one of those puzzled looks as to who on earth this could be, Alison whispers “It’s John Gray”. Now John and Neal are two people that I would not expect a landline call from, and you know that feeling when your startled and sit bolt upright – well that was me – his voice excitedly said, “You haven’t got tickets for Southend have you?” – “No” – “Go on line now, there are some available, I’ve just got two”. Stuttering, in shock and of course honoured by the alert, it was now my time to perform my own “Line Of Duty” and see if I could get tickets – Each attempt though came back with the message “Sorry, we can’t find the details you are looking for, please amend and try again”. By 11 p.m. I was done as I start my Sundays early because of golf – so reluctantly gave up.
Date line 29th. April 2019.
Early morning I messaged John thanking him and said “What will be, will be, hope you have a great night” – Then having tried a few times in the day, I was fully of a mindset that I had really blown all hope last week, I just got on with what you do. Then at 8 minutes past 5 my messenger pops up – “That’s odd, Martin Burgin got one about 1 o’clock today, keep on trying” – so diligently I did, but nothing came back, I spoke to Alison and she said “Well try and see if you can just get 1 ticket instead of two, I’ve arranged to have my hair done now tomorrow anyway, I don’t mind if you go on your own!” – You girls and your priorities!!!! – Low and behold, changed to 1 ticket – bingo - it offered me a ticket!!!! – The panic sets in, get the credit card, what’s my Ticketmaster password – “Shit” I only had an account with my old work e-mail address – frantic, arms waving around like an octopus, the screens on my phone are not showing the full page to set up a new account, grab Alison’s tablet (No, don’t get me wrong – I was not at that panic state just yet!!!), why don’t I listen to her moaning about this thing being so old it hardly works these days – it freezes up – maybe the Valium bottle could be required after all!!! – I grab my laptop, create an account somewhat haphazardly in my frantic panic. By now of course I’m timed out… will it still be there if I go in again, I try and of course no, again and again – “Computer says NO”. Then just on 6 o’clock that destined ticket reappears – rigid calm sets in, get this right this time goes through my head, through each screen until the magic expression “You’re In” comes up.
I message back to John, who had eased my pain of how shall I get there by saying Neal was driving and I was welcome to join them if I drove to John’s first. We agree a time and swap seat numbers – only for an exasperated John to say – “Your 2 rows in front of us, I should have waited and maybe could have got nearer the front”. John referred the event as probably “A once in a life time experience and said he didn’t think he had ever seen him perform in such a small venue” – I questioned both our two Faces concerts at the beginning of our journey with Rod, Sutton Granada and Lewisham Odeon – of course, I had spiked a question to John that of course was too much temptation not to research – he came back and of course he was right – those two Faces gigs held 2,390 and 3,050 respectively – what a source of knowledge our fan club founder has – he amazes me.
Date line 30th April 2019.
And to the road trip, I think back and all those Facebook messages plus messenger posts of who had got their tickets, Yve, Maxine, Mark, Maureen, Sharon, Jeff and Joan – then there were those that originally suggested they hadn’t like Ken & Beverley. Little did I realise until we got there how many of the family that is “Smiler” had been gathered, much I believe by John’s initiative of late searches via Ticketmaster – if only those bemoaning locals knew the evening echo would be in melt down like the Academy (wait for it)!!!.
My Tuesday had started in it’s normal manner, I had to go to the gym with 3 of my football playing mates as last nights game had to be called off due to two late cancellations from guys, which may have been a blessing in disguise given the energy levels I needed for today.
Once home from the gym it was shower, make myself a nice scrambled egg on toast and a cup of tea and sit in the garden in the sunshine watching the hands on my watch tick by ready to head off to John’s around 3.
I knew I would be early, but that’s just me, it gave me a bit of time to say hello to Billy, thank John yet again for his call to alert me and of course see his lovely two Dalmatians.
Neal arrived on time, the customary hugs and we were ready to go. If I revealed every conversation had on that journey I may be liable to a court case – so what goes on inside “Steamies” car, remains inside his car. All I can say is the humour, and wonderful stories was almost as good over two and bit hours as the show we were about to witness – I love these two guys – both so genuine and I often feel humble just being in their company.
One of the most amusing facts was John’s need to check his on-line ticket was still on his phone every 15 minutes of the journey, and if I describe the panic alert as we went through the Dartford tunnel with the fear he would lose it, you would think that David Attenborough prediction of the world coming to an end was being brought forward to that very moment. Both Neal and I of course gave him comforting reassurance all would be well – Although it upset him when I said “I don’t trust my phone, so I paid the extra £3-50 booking fee to collect a “real” ticket from the box office” – something John lamented upon a few times later when I got my physical ticket.
Little did we realise, but John told us he was born in Essex – lived his early years in Gidea Park (hmm. That’s actually now in the London Borough of Havering – but I forgive him, as to me Carshalton in 1956 was Surrey – not a London Borough – of Sutton as it is now – and to this day I still write Surrey in my address) so of course it sparked more innuendo from Neal and I about the land you boys and girls always refer to as “Gods own country”. The traffic was what you expect at that time of day, we kept moving as did the destination time on Neal’s satnav. The nearer we got the more banter on the surroundings was exchanged – “Look at that lovely house over there” as we drove along the A127 dual carriage way, “Would be a snip about 50 grand” … before you throw the mud at me for down playing your county, it was one of your own that said it….
They obviously knew we were coming, as we got past the “Welcome to Southend-On-Sea” sign, a plume of smoke was spreading across the skyline – As John was checking his on line ticket had also not gone up in smoke as well, we said it was probably the Cliffs Pavilion on fire and the gigs been cancelled. As we reached the area from where the smoke was coming from (Cecil Jones Academy) we commented that it almost appeared everyone around it appeared oblivious – or simply it’s a regular occurrence in these parts to pollute the atmosphere. My own thoughts that someone had decided that Southend United (as the smoke appeared to be close to their ground) might get a bit of compassion in their fight against relegation from Division One proved wrong – It’s down to Sunderland to decide that it looks on Saturday – the Southend local news does hold a more detailed report if interested (Not really – in my case!!!).
Finally we arrived at the car park just down from the Cliffs Pavilion and at the same time as Martin Burgin and Dave Edwards. This coincidence soon opened up what was to be the warm welcomes to so many familiar faces, meeting Ken, Yve and Maxine outside, to Maggie, Maureen, Joan, Roxy, Sharon and Jeff inside – then there was Mark and Tom and Tracey soon to be joined by Beverley as well – plus a few more introductions – if I knew what your name was, I’d call you by your name…. so sorry if I’ve missed you. This was going to be some night and to think 25 hours earlier I had given up all hope. The three of us said we were hungry, but nothing was appealing, plus neither of us took a lead in saying we would do this or that – I guess the company and the real hunger to see Rod was far more in our mindset.
At 7:20 we decided, we better go in, what security there was on coming in was really only on “Ladies” bags, and Yve had said the security guy commented on her camera that she wouldn’t be able to take photo’s – with my own camera tucked under my arm, nothing said to me, although when I took my first photo and forgot to switch off the flash I did have a minor panic the long arm of the law might haul me out – not to be.
The venue was nice and compact and in row M – I certainly didn’t feel the 13th. Letter in the alphabet had been unlucky to me. Rod was dressed casual – unusually in jeans, and in a very relaxed mood, he said we could make requested (although said later he was surprised only one was made – how true that may have been I don’t know, maybe we were all entrapped in the moment and tongue tied). The official Smiler review is to be submitted by John – so I won’t comment in too much detail on what I remember.
There was the comment about “Georgie” on how many people had thanked him over the years to open up and expose that historic taboo of being gay was a way of life for so many people – and it should never have been labelled as a crime.
He would say how much playing in such a venue meant to him and it would be a night he would remember till the day he died (okay not so blunt – for the rest of my life was probably what he said) – and the fact that no touts had been able to get hold of tickets was a testament to the achievement of holding such an event. Message to Rod – Doesn’t have to be like your Plymouth concert 10 years ago “For One Night Only” does it?
The funny side, when he said Harry Redknapp was appearing there (at The Cliffs) tomorrow, then adding how really he should have been England’s manager at some point in his career, but wasn’t because of the hierarchy in the game and the fact that he is like “One of Us” just a man of the people… an interesting statement, but correct me if I’m wrong, he may have become king of the jungle, but has there not always been questions about his dealing in the game and certain tax evasion at some point – I personally like Harry, he’s character, but if you have a dark side, the press in this country will unravel it for you and make you out to be the villain that can hurt you – even though they are often half truths. Okay he may come across as “dead-pan” but “Our man from Palace” Gareth is doing a job we all can be proud of if you’re an England follower – so we may have got there finally anyway.
Flashes of the score from the Champions League semi-final between Tottenham and Ajax were relayed to Rod – now why was it in West Ham territory that a big cheer came out when he announced Ajax was winning? Rod seemed to suggest that maybe the audience was full of Arsenal fans – perhaps showing the fact that Scottish football was far more a capture of his attention – the love you Hammers have for Spurs is very apparent. He would comment on Celtics amazing achievements and asked where would we all be without football? I will leave that to most of you ladies to answer….
He told us forget Trump and Brexit and just enjoy yourselves – which is exactly what 1,600 people did thanks to an amazing show – maybe “safe”, but you felt you were in his front room.
I must say his voice was spot on, as perfect as you could wish, which was very pleasing. His 3 backing singers danced in the aisles next to us to Twisting the Night Away, Penny was just 4 rows in front of me (1 behind Jeff) and would go back and forth to the stage to take photo’s – flanked by security of course. She would get up on stage at the end of Sweet Little Rock ‘n Roller. It really was that kind of atmosphere around us.
It was an amazing night, please don’t moan about the set-list, we have to accept that maybe Hyde Park was the real one off variation. All that were lucky to be there saw a unique – up close and personal event – Yes, Rod should really get the vibe and consider that it shouldn’t just be a one off – but he is a mega star at the ripe old age of 74 – we are blessed that he can still perform at such a high level when many are really passed their sell by date and calling it a day.
Once the concert was over “the clan” gathered and were ushered outside as we blocked the pathways as we relived the dream amongst ourselves. The customary hugs as one by one we made our separate ways – the amazing thing was the show had finished after 2 hours so it was still before the 10 o’clock news… still time for a biscuit and cup of Horlicks!
And for me, Neal and John, the return road trip begun, again I can’t reveal too much of the in depth conversation – much would amaze me and fill me with admiration of the times gone by, but also sadly some of those wasted years, but of a hope that the Rod world from “our” angle has seen the “Darker side of the moon” – and now day by day “Another brick in the wall” is being built to put the house back together again. John was not totally convinced that the set list would draw him towards the O2 come Christmas – but there are forces here that may just influence that call. I believe we have a lot to look back on – and there is a lot still to look forward to – watch this space…
The moral of my story is, I’m probably never going to be allowed to set foot in Southend ever again unless it’s to be ushered to the end of the pier (according to Wikipedia – the longest pleasure pier in the world) and as I can’t swim, there won’t be that much pleasure in that trip for me will there be? As for Essex, well your lovely bunch, cutting good humour and salts of the earth – well that’s that bit of grovelling over with, I guess I just need to check that I don’t find a Robins head at the bottom of the bed!!
Enough of my story – just hope your still awake …. Because having looked through all Yve’s photo’s some how I still am and reliving the event all over again …. Take care all, until next time….
I’ve listed the set list below – not many surprises – I’m hopeful that a few more recent numbers appear on tour – plus some of the more classic older ones – but we shall see.
Some Guys Have All The Luck, Young Turks, Look In Her Eyes, Tonight’s The Night, Forever Young, Rhythm Of My Heart, Tonight I’m Yours, Georgie, Maggie May, Baby Jane, - Going Home – instrumental by the band, Grace, I Don’t Wanna Talk About It, First Cut Is The Deepest, Every Beat Of My Heart, You’re In My Heart, - If You Go Your own Way – backing singers, Twisting The Night Away, Da Ya Think I’m Sexy, Sailing, Sweet Little Rock ‘n Roller.
Watch for a review of the Southend On Sea warm up concert by SMILER founder John Gray coming soon
Didn’t we ‘ave a luvely time, the day we went to Saufend Part 2
I know what your thinking, there couldn’t possibly be anymore could there be?
But if I captured your audience, were you not left a little in the dark?
Or were you maybe more accurately thinking – This guy rambles on like some Daily Mirror reporter, rushing his “scoop” out to hit the headlines first, it’s not the quality reading of the same report you will get in The Guardian (Or Retro Blog in this case) where everything is neatly placed in chronological order….
You may have a point on that one – or was it all part of the plan to do a 2nd part?
So John, thanks for your brilliant review – and like the Part 2 in Georgie – You take our breath away…
But let me say this, if you write things, you hope people read it don’t you?
Take the four members of The Faces Autobiographies, were you captured by them all?
I know I was, and they are all worth reading over again, although Woody you do sometimes cringe at when you consider Jo Wood’s version of life in The Stones.
The blessing we have with Rod is he replays many parts of his life again in the songs on his last 3 albums.
If you write a book, once upon a time you knew (Or thought) how good it was either by the initial critics reviews, or exactly how many books you sold. With online reading, just like downloads to music can you judge anymore how successful your composition really is anymore?
Well before I get to my own let’s call it Final Acclaim – I guess my personal judge and inspiration came initially from the fact that more than one person on Tuesday night said they were looking forward to a review from me, when I said I was not in the chair on this event, but “The Boss” was, there appeared a slight sadness to their expression.
Plus if I live in the current age of technology “The review” which Mike confirmed was on the site around 6:30 last night, and probably soon after on Facebook – do I take satisfaction that it receives 141 Likes, 27 Loves and 1 Laugh …..Of course I do, so thank you…. If this article also gets on Facebook – can we tip the balance to be far more Loves and Laughs please!!!!
And so to that Final missing piece of the jigsaw – if you switched off too early, or maybe your one of those “skimmer” you may still be lucky on exactly where I’m coming from….. so read on….
Date line 30th April 2019 – approximately 22:20 hours.
Having rushed through “Gods own country” (As you naturally would try to do!) with clear roads we approached the Queen Elizabeth bridge, - You know the one, which the people of Kent call – The Dartford-On-Sea Crossing!!! - Sitting in the back I had been engrossed in the conversations from my two friends in front of me, when the mood changed – Neal exasperated said “Here we go, this happens all the time, you get on this bridge and the 3 lanes are condensed into one, the other two are coned off all the way across it and there is no one in sight doing a thing” … (Between you and me, and I wouldn’t want to upset my driver, but often after 10 p.m. you find motorway maintenance occurring! – and that quite appropriate term for this sort of job – Health & Safety – should really come into play – they hadn’t finished laying out all the cones on the Essex side of the bridge when we crossed – so you were unlikely to see the workmen actually working are you!)… Quickly, I think John comments “You know when they built this bridge, they said the toll would only exist for the duration of time it would take to pay for it’s construction, that was in 1991 and here we are today still paying to cross it” …. Now we travelled across the bridge within the stipulated 40 m.p.h. shown on the boards and not once had to stop …. Once off the conversation returned to Rod – John was telling us how badly Blood Red Roses had sold in the USA – saying his market is dead there (I think the quote was only about 60,000), then adding whereas in the UK it sold over 600,000 – and maybe it was time to realise more where his market really was.
Whilst I listened intently to these conversations, butting in with my small piece of knowledge once in a while, I did interrupt to say “Did you see on the board, the exit at Junction 5 is closed” – I’m not sure that registered with our driver, only as we approached did he start to realise and question, what should I do?
For those that are unfamiliar with Junction 5 on the beloved M25 – I will try and “briefly” explain, it’s the point where the road has come as far south as it will do and now needs to take a sharp right to turn west to remain within 25 miles of the centre of London. This is a bit of a complex interchange, because you appear to have to exit the motorway to rejoin it again but meet up with traffic from the M20 that have come up from Folkstone, hence often a “black spot” for crashes.
Back to the plot, I said to our driver “Just keep to the sign to Westerham (A25), that will take us where we want to go”. Which he did, only you see there is that little confusing part where the exit signs are in two parts – there was the exit to the A21 and there was the exit to the A25 immediately “after it” – Unfortunately in his confusion of having to go “off piste”, Neal opted to veer off on the first exit. With a slightly raised voice I said “No not this one, it’s the next one”, a quick swerve and a quote “Sorry guys, a bit of taxi driving for you, normally at this point you see a blue light flashing in your rear view mirror”. Error corrected, we exited then onto the A25 and soon after rejoined the M25 again and found ourselves on course to be back at John’s just after 11.
So your’e now thinking – Was there really any point in this “Added information”?
Here’s the connection which I had originally alluded to so I hope you have kept up with the plot – Where does the A21 take you to? – Answer – Hastings…
You see all of this was not to replace “The Boss’s” review – but simply like Kate Fleming and Steve Arnott – follow in my Line Of Duty ….. That’s all I promise …..
Words By Colin Baker
Photos By Colin Baker
Montage By Tommy Kevitt