It can take days before I finally decide whether or not I like a film, a play or even a concert. Whatever my initial feelings, all can be reversed as I re-run what I saw or heard and ponder over key elements that I realise I had missed or perhaps misinterpreted. Most often it is the sentiment of ‘dislike’ that is reversed and so it was after Rod Stewart’s recent concert at London’s O2 Arena – formerly the Millennium Dome.
It was the last night of his 6-month UK tour and when Rohan suggested we buy tickets I immediately agreed. I am, as Rohan knows, a recent convert to his fan club. He is now 75 and I re-discovered him last year when, at a friend’s funeral, we sang his 1970s hit ‘I am sailing’ (see ‘Safe in my Mind’s Eye’, 24 November, 2019). Singing it made me tearful and the words haunted me for weeks. When I searched the web to learn more about him and to remind myself of his other hits I realised that over the years his music had become part of my humming heritage.
Rohan was never such a fan but my recent revival touched her and she too was keen to go the concert. However, with the decision made I became anxious. I have never liked the Dome itself and the prospect of being in its vast auditorium far from the stage was worrying.
The architecture of buildings means a lot to me and I have always seen the Dome in Greenwich as ugly and with no redeeming features. As we neared the venue this sentiment returned. Here was a building created to celebrate the turn of the century and which, apart from its size, was required to meet two key demands – economy and alacrity. Accordingly, the architects designed a structure with a low domed, tent-like roof with a life expectancy of only a few years – thirty at the most! Its creation may well have required ingenious engineering and state-of-the-art technology but any artistic merit was always going to be at a premium.
Worse still, to remedy the lack of intrinsic elegance, the designers tackily incorporated dimensions to improve its appeal with its final proportions echoing its siting in Greenwich, ‘one of the world’s centres of time’. How corny is it that its dome was made 52-metres high (so the same as the weeks in the year) and its diameter 365 metres across (days in the year)?
Soon we were inside and climbing higher and higher to our seats. The O2 arena is enormous – it can seat 20,000 – and we ultimately sat perched high up in the gods where there were some real difficulties. First, the seating rows were banked so steeply that it felt as though we were on a cliff edge. Indeed, on looking down, Rohan had vertigo and I felt very vulnerable. Then there was our view; at over two hundred metres from the stage, Rod Stewart was tiny, indeed so small he could be missed. Ironically, thanks to a bank of giant screens we were presented with a home truth we should have expected – this one-time lithe showman was now older! With his knees, elbows and hips now stiff, his movements were stilted and what would once have been a strut across the stage was now a walk in slow motion.
Finally – there was the din. The amplification was so great that, despite fingers in both ears I was deafened and the lyrics were difficult to decipher. After discussion with Rohan, who decided to stay, I left and stood for an hour between two fire doors in a corridor leading away from the auditorium. I could not see the stage but could now clearly hear, and sing along to, all of my favourites hits. And, to my relief, it soon became obvious that Rod Stewart’s voice was its melodic and gravelly self of old.
After the concert was over Rohan and I met up and made our way to the train station and home. Rohan said how, despite all, the experience had been worthwhile. I, on the other hand, regretted going.
Over the next days Rohan’s view remained unchanged while I gradually mellowed. The awfulness of the building slipped into the background and I now felt that it was good to have been in the presence of an icon and to hear him singing some of my favourite songs ‘live’. Interestingly, a key reason for my change was the memory of thousands of fans singing in unison. In mid-song Rod Stewart and his backing group often went silent leaving the audience to continue unaccompanied. Re-hearing in my mind thousands of in-tune voices singing ‘I am sailing’ and ‘You’re in my heart’ in celebration of their idol was magic, enough to help erase the other discomforts.
The illustration shows a photo of Rod Stewart now in his seventies.
For helping me write this blog, I would like to thank Rohan and Vivien.