Bruce, The Beatle And Bamber Bridge

I had a piece almost ready to post at weekend about the Authorities’ completely unnecessary scuppering of the decades-old tradition of a few football fans amusing themselves in mid close-season by walking around the halfway house (between Blackburn and Preston) town of Bamber Bridge and burying a mock-coffin in a pub cellar, a “ceremony” which, doubtless accompanied by a pint or two, has been staged to mark a relegation for Rovers or North End (the coffins are similarly “exhumed” for a celebration on the occasions either side is promoted).

As you can imagine, a few lads and lasses walking up and down a main street between boozers bothering virtually no-one whatsoever has hitherto not really attracted any unfavourable public opprobrium or publicity or generated civil disobedience on a large scale.

There was some suggestion that a few of the Country’n’Westerners might have had a sherbert too many last summer and a handful of teatime shoppers may have been exposed to the unsightly spectacle of a few wobble-legged geezers slurring a chant but as far as I know no buildings were subsequently razed or burned down, neither was anyone killed, maimed or hospitalised.

Just imagine, a few landlords whose premises which might otherwise have been empty might possibly even have welcomed the fact that a sunny afternoon brought a few unexpected quid over their bars.

I thought the fact that this year’s planned Rovers requiem had been pulled – albeit happily relocated to the Ewood pub circuit under the strictest of guidelines to avoid unruliness and destruction – ostensibly under all manner of Health and Safety, Public Order and Risk Assessment nonsense – might be the daftest example of Nanny State interference I would hear all summer.

But the wrong-headed decision on Saturday night to bring a sudden, unwelcome and history-ruining end to Bruce Springsteen’s Hyde Park Hard Rock Calling performance spectacularly trumps the Bamber Bridge fiasco and causes you to draw breath at its sheer stupidity.

A Springsteen concert is a long, unpredictably epic journey with both running themes and the flexibility to veer off on impossible-to-predict tangents, light and shade, deadly seriousness and goofiness, predictable choices and complete surprises but very much with a beginning, middle and end, the whole amounting to much more than the sum of the parts.

To pull a plug on any Bruce show before it reaches it’s natural conclusion would almost be an art-crime in itself but to do so on curfew grounds when even the legendary E Street Band were practically transcended onto a higher plane by the presence of one possibly even greater than they was an act of wanton vandalism, almost like knocking the Acropolis down because the restoration party was a day late showing up.

When Paul McCartney sauntered onto the stage to join Bruce during his encores on Saturday, seasoned, hardened rock’n’roll masters like The Boss himself, Nils Lofgren, (Little) Steven Van Zandt, Roy Bittan, Garry Tallent and Mighty Max Weinberg were, it’s obvious from their tweets and comments, transported back to their formative teenage bar-band selves on the Jersey Shore, kids honing their R’n’B and soul chops night after night but also fired by the excellence and impudence of the English Invasion, the bands who had learned their Elvis and Gene Vincent licks and moves, spiced it up and and sold it back, cocky and confident, with interest, to their American cousins.

Bruce is 62 next month, McCartney 70, but to get the opportunity to play a couple of Beatles standards with a real live member of the Fab Four, however diminished his voice or reduced his powers, must have transported one of rock’s blue-chip acts back to a time when they were far from heroes themselves, when John, Paul, George and Ringo were the lords of all they looked upon and wished to be like.

I’ve heard all the dismissive “who wants to hear two old sweats well past it?” jibes but the simple answer to that is,well, everyone who was there witnessing the magic of seeing and hearing The Boss, His Band and The Beatle and anyone who wasn’t there with sufficient appreciation of rock history and enough poetry in their souls to realise this was a once-in-a-lifetime hairs-on-end shiver down the spine tears in the eyes spectacle.

For an already delirious 80,000 who had stood in a muddy field all afternoon, this was Wonderland – The Boss and A Beatle at half past ten on a Saturday night. What could top hearing “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist and Shout” in the London night?

Well, apparently nothing could. Or nothing could be allowed to. Bruce and co had already gone past the 10-30pm curfew. Yeah, that’s right, 10-30pm. Not 4pm when the pubs, nightclubs and bars are chucking out but 10-30pm. in an open-air venue near a few hotels and stores and, yes, we know, a few residential properties.

Now I know rules is rules and even rock festivals have to be governed by some laws, limits and restrictions.

Things have moved on a little from my teens when my abiding memories all seem to involve hours watching hairy-arsed roadies shift stuff about, plug and un-plug things and bark “one-two, one-two” until about five minutes to last bus time when the coke-addled, groupie-sated act might eventually dein to finally lurch onstage and begin the entertainment for the rest of the inhabitants of the hall/field.

And I fully appreciate that getting all those people out of the Park and onto the transport systems or back to their hotels or hometowns is a logistical nightmare. I’ve been to three or four Springsteen London concerts at venues like Wembley, The Arena at Wembley, The O2 and Hyde Park itself so I know it can be a long, long night after the party’s over.

But for goodness sake – would anyone really have been that put out by, say, another quarter of an hour’s music, maybe Tenth Avenue Freeze Out with its heart-stopping band-silent-poignant-images-projected-on-screen tribute to the deeply-missed Clarence Clemons, a pivotal late-show moment in every performance of the tour so far?

A few weeks ago in Florence my wife, eight-year-old daughter and I were privileged to be present at “The Frenzy In Firenze” when Springsteen played for more than three and a half hours, mostly in torrential rain which threatened to flood the city.

If ever it might have been forgivable to end a show early, Elton-in-Blackpool style, that might have been the night.

But, fired by the willingness of the crowd to endure absolutely shocking – and believe me, this was Ukraine v France style precipitation – conditions, despite the fact that surrounding streets were running like rivers and most of the public transport system had gone into meltdown – the Boss and The Band played on….And on, and on…

Although we were under the one small stretch of cover available, little Olivia was so thrilled by the theatre of it all that she decided late on that she wanted to go ONTO THE FIELD at the Artemio Franchii Stadium and join the thousands of diehards/überfans/lunatics dancing in the rain on the plastic sheeting cover.

I resisted for a while but then looked at her and looked at Lesley, and thought: “Hell, she’s eight years old. I’m 53. how many more times, how many more years, how many more chances will I get to do something completely crazy and rock’n’roll with her? How long have I got it in me to show her that this old frame and grey hairs disguise what was once, not so long ago, but long before Olivia came along, a young, wild, free spirit.

So on the field we went and danced, soaked to the bones, to a cover of an obscure 1956 Moon Mullican rockabilly hit “Seven Nights To Rock,” we watched the Clarence segment on Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and jived to Twist and Shout before the final “Who’ll Stop The Rain” usually a show-opener and intended harbinger of finer weather but this time a last show of solidarity by Bruce as he stood through the whole number as far front as he could get close to his sodden aficionados.

As crazy as it was for a 53-year-old asthmatic diabetic to spend half an hour in that deluge, it was a magical time for me, and I’m sure Olivia will remember that night and the soggy fun we had on that field long after I’m gone.

The night ran its course and came to a natural, if super-human on the part of the entertainers, conclusion.

We all tramped out into the Florentine night peaceably and despite the traffic and the rain and the long walk back to town, there was a calm and serenity about the dispersal of the crowd into the night.

A few days later in Manchester Bruce played till almost 11pm in a stadium with just as many homes around and far less exit routes and again good order was observed by all.

I’m unsure whose final decision it was to literally switch the power off in London, police, organisers, local authority, security, Health & Safety or whoever but it seems that for the sake of a few minutes a landmark denouement to a thrilling evening was forever sacrificed into the ether.

Someone tweeted that we have learned nothing in 43 years since The Old Bill whipped the Beatles off the roof, ending their final live performance. Ringo says to this day he wishes he’d carried on playing till they literally dragged him away.

To leave artists as totemic and important as Bruce and Sir Paul shuffling about looking confused, information being imparted to them by stage-hands while worldwide-respected musicians exchanged bemused glances was unthinking and unbecoming.

Everyone will always remember the night they saw The Boss and The Beatle.

But no-one will forget the officious jobsworths who denied them ten more minutes to cap a perfect night to regale their grandchildren with tales of.

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