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.
11 thoughts on “Rod Stewart Versus the O2 Millenium Dome”
Hello Joe Interesting. I only rarely go to big events like that. I am put off by having to travel/large crowds/being far from the stage/the quality of the music not being what I expected. But I do wonder if I am missing out on something by not going. As you’ve described there can be an experience to be had that you can’t otherwise get – like the unison singing of a massive crowd of people. But actually, on the whole you have not persuaded me that I should make an effort to go!
Dear Andrea, I am glad you are not persuaded. Unless you have a very special reason you are right to keep clear of these giant venues. Many thanks for your comment. Love, Joe
I avoid going to the O2, as getting there and more so getting out at the end of the show, queuing to get on the tube and being crushed (being just over 5foot) is stressful and an unpleasant experience. The price and steepest of the seats, the limited view all add to my reasons not to go… especially as you say, you end up watching the artist on a big screen most of the time.
There have been two times that I have enjoyed my O2 experience, both in a corporate hospitality box and opting to pay the price of staying overnight in the hotel next door, that you can access in a very VIP and exclusive way!
Dear Carolyn, In view of this recent experience I don’t think a hotel Room and a hospitality would entice me to go again. Many thanks for your note. Love, Joe
I share your distaste for the O2 centre. How could some bright architect and engineers totally disregard the user experience aspect when designing this building. It looks like an enormous circus tent but cannot even compete with one of them in terms of comfort! In the winter, walking around the restaurants and bars is not very pleasant either as it is not sheltered from the cold. I can imagine it is too hot in there in the summer too. It would take an exceptional event for me to go back. I’m not in a rush to do so …
Dear Thierry, What a pleasure it is to hear that someone else finds the O2 centre so unattractive. I feel better already. Amitié, à bientôt, Joe
I didn’t have time to reply earlier but I really enjoyed this article. I’m not familiar with the O2 centre but know the feeling of walking into places that don’t feel quite comfortable! I listened to Rod Stewart’s song “I am sailing”- had never heard it before and really loved his voice.
Dear Robin, Thank you for your comment. Isn’t it odd how buildings can alter how we feel about what goes on inside. I suppose the immensity of ancient cathedrals, or any of the other religious centres, was designed to inspire wonderment and awe. Love, Joe
I try to avoid large music venues. Unfortunately I will be attending the O2 in the Summer to see Diana Ross. I won’t be able to see her any where else in London.
Love Grace xx
I’m responding to this blog very tardily – sorry! It is thought-provoking, as always. Never having been to the O2 (and now having no desire to do so!) what jumped out at me was the first paragraph in which you talk about how your feelings about an event can change afterwards. I’m thrilled to know I am in such august company with this tendency. I know I am very much a reflector so whilst I note my immediate, emotional reaction to a film, play or event I always know that will only be part of my final answer to the question “Did you enjoy it?”. That’s the point I go away and process my thoughts, perhaps read reviews or do a bit of research, put other considerations into the melting pot and generally mull it over. So I can only truly answer the question a little while later. How interesting to read that is often your experience too.
And yes, “I am sailing” continues to drift through my head too.
Dear Jeni, I have always believed that our minds, although very different, tick to the same rhythm. It explains a lot. It imagine that it is much the same with all close friends. Love, Joe