'Never Been A Football Fan'
London. Show 1.
I've never been a football fan. I did see Pele play in a Brazil v Sheffield Wednesday friendly at Hillsborough in 1972 but even that historic event didn't convince the young Williams that the cold and drizzly, red-thighed afternoons of soccer on the school top pitch were anything more than a form of legalised child abuse. A gig at Wembley still holds a certain something though, with memories of many great shows here and in the arena (the former 'Empire Pool') next door. The Police in '82 (I was working with The Alarm who were opening); Live Aid in ;85; Bryan Adams doing a full week here in '94; George Michael opening the reconstructed stadium in '07. Oh and T.Rex at the Empire Pool in '72, but I wasn't working at that show.
The stadium was torn down in 2002, and after an embarrassingly tortuous construction process eventually re-opened in 2007. It makes a reasonable enough performance space, a nice unbroken sweep of seats, high stands and so forth, though has none of the charm or finesse of the Stade de France or Berlin's reborn Olympic Stadium. The Germans particularly did a stellar job, by bringing an important, iconic building into the 21st century whilst preserving its original character. The Brits opted for total demolition including that of the 'two towers' which had been the symbol of Wembley since it opened. The big idea for a new 'icon' is a single curving white metal truss that loops above the building which, it has to be said, hardly puts it in the same league as Sydney Opera House or the Taj Mahal, though would sit comfortably enough in, say, a shopping mall in Huddersfield. (Although that's probably unfair to Huddersfield).
Anyhow, we came, we saw, we echoed. Another eccentricity about the new building is that it has a partial roof that is able to retract. The roof covers the grandstand areas and - according to one of our sound team - reflects the crowd noise back onto the pitch, which makes it a very exciting experience for the players. If true, it would be understandable that it might raise some problems for an event at which quality sound was paramount. The roof retracts but apparently part of the licensing agreement is that the roof has to be closed for concerts. Consequently, Joe had a real struggle tonight, though the sheer power of the sound did win the day.
The audience were great though and there was an undeniable feeling in the air of being at a special event. Unusually, the band decided to stay at the venue after the show to greet their countless guests. It took me a little while, but I found the party eventually...
Saturday 15th August 2009. London. Show 2.
We woke up to a great deal of newspaper coverage from last night. It was all positive, though many reviews were reluctantly good, in that begrudging English way which makes a man feel embarrassed to share a passport with these, ahem, critics. I personally rather scored as a result because, when faced with an undeniably great show, several writers who just couldn't bring themselves to actually compliment the band, settled for lavishing praise on the stage production.
When I got back to Wembley, the roof had been magically opened, transforming the building both visually and especially sonically. I can only imagine the conversations that had taken place behind closed doors but naturally I was delighted. I really enjoyed the night with the open sky above. This stage needs some space around it in order to breathe and feel comfortable. Good show, followed by a surprisingly early night.