Dear Diary… : Saturday 17th December 1994 Symphony Hall, Birmingham. The Roy Wood Big Band

FTM has reviewed gigs from all sorts of angles – front stage, backstage, sober, drunk, hanging from the lighting rig… You name it, we’ve tried it – and all for the sake of our lucky reader(s)! Now, for the first time, w have a completely different view; an exclusive excursion into the pages of the concert promoters’ diary! The promoters, who shall be known hereafter as “Harvey” and “Mel”, kept a timetable of events of the day. An adaptation is therefore reproduced here, interspersed with comments from FTM’s on-the-spot reporters.

11am – Arrive S. Hall Loading Bay C to locked gates. Spend 15 minutes explaining to security who we are.

11.15am – Sweep majestically into S. Hall, meet staff and are shown to Concert Management office on 4th floor. Hang up brown, mohair coats, fight over nice big boss’s chair (Mel wins), sit down, feet on desk and have a cigar.

11.30am – Check out vast, very posh backstage area. Up and down in lift. Up and down, up and down etc. Get completely lost. Nice man in uniform explains general layout and points us in right direction. This man could be useful!

11.45am – Mel: Make quick plan of building. Don’t want to spend all day getting lost and looking foolish.

11.50am – Harvey :Check out stage. PA engineers already arrived. No gear as yet. Should be here any minute. Have a cigar.

12am -Harvey :Meet S. Hall Technical Manager. “I thought load-in was at 11am” he comments. “It’s be here any minute” I reply, confidently. Mel joins me on expansive stage. “Cor!” we explain. Share a cigar.

12.15pm – Mel:  Finish counting seats and smugly envisage every single one with a bum on it. The gig is a total sell-out. Not a ticket left. Worry that, if Lord Mayor of B’ham were to arrive ticketless at last minute he’d have to stay in the bar.

12.20pm – Mel: Balloon Man arrives with van full of inflated rubber (ooer!). Harvey is facinated! Much more balloon inflating goes on to fill giant net for balloon drop during show’s finale. Closely inspect several balloons for printed Woody logo. Nick some for dressing room. Begin to seriously consider whereabouts of PA gear. Harvey starting to sweat now! Have a cigar.

12.30pm – Mel: Risers for drums, brass section and backing singers magically appear onstage to my precise specifications. Very nice. Nod sagely and strut around them importantly. Man arrives to dress risers. “Where’s all the gear?” he asks. “Erm…”

12.35pm – Harvey: Sweating  buckets now. No gear. Message to say truck is stuck in massive traffic jam on M6. Oh deary me. Roy due to arrive any second. What do we tell him? What do we tell S. Hall Tech. Manager who is now becoming concerned – very concerned indeed. Offer slightly soggy cigar.

12.40pm – Mel: Can’t stand stressful situations. Hide under table in the office making little signs for dressing room doors (as once seen on Blue Peter).

12.45pm – Harvey: Balloon man finishes suspending net full of a thousand balloons high above auditorium. Mr. Tech. Manager and I need to inspect net and check release mechanism. Mr. T.M. leads way into lift. Suddenly remember my acute fear of heights. Don’t panic! Up to top floor of building. Along corridor. Up flight of stairs. Up another flight of stairs. Mouth becoming dry now.

12.50pm – Enter small room with ladders. Palpitations! Ascend ladders to door. Mr. T.M. opens door, revealing concrete ledge which appears to be The Very Edge Of The Universe. Head spinning. Must be 150 feet sheer drop. Desperately try to look cool as balloon Man and Mr. T.M. stroll nonchalantly along ledge to balloon net. Back against wall, I shuffle along to join them, eyes tightly closed against vast, vacuous space gaping before me. Balloon Man explains how to lean precariously over edge to cut string attaching net. Instant decision! This is definitely job for delegation!

1pm – Harvey: Knock back stiff drink. Have a cigar. Have another stiff drink…

1.15pm – Mel: Wander off to check out dressing rooms. Get lost. Find Nice Man to help read my map. Big band rooms in basement. One for boys, one for girls… 4th floor has smaller posh dressing rooms. Have trouble choosing one for Roy, one for Nigel Kennedy, one for Kim Wilde (Super, Secret, Special Guests!). Should Roy have room with flowers or should the lady guest?

1.17pm – Harvey: Gear arrives. Oh joy, Oh thank you God, thank you. I will come to church next week, I promise…

1.17.01pm – Mel: Load-in begins. Ramps clatter into place and roadies scurry back ‘n’ forth. Hernias abound as Harvey joins in with the humping (as usual), forgetting all about promoters’ general rule of standing around smoking cigar, shouting “Get a move on”, his head filled only with cherished aspirations to roadiedom he’d held until at least last week. Manage to sneak off back to office.

1.25pm – Stick lovely handmade nameplates on dressing room doors, finally deciding upon flowers for the lady, bunch of balloons for Roy, room with a view for Nigel. Run back ‘n’ forth between rooms. Check which looks most welcoming – all lights on, table lamps on or just those rather exciting bulbs they put around the mirror. Difficult one, this, but plump for the mirror lights. Most theatrical.

2pm – Harvey: No sign of Roy yet. Good job really, as gear is still being set up. Man attempting to trim risers gives up and goes off to do shopping. Roy’s equipment co-ordinator, Mr. vince O’Malley strides on stage, his mighty reputation towering above all. “Mr O’Malley, your dressing room, sir. I trust it is to your liking.”

2.05pm – Jules & Andy (Merchandisers): Find Mel  & Harvey, and get passes and tickets for show. Admire pretty nameplates on doors and wonder why Harvey looks green… and if it’s anything to do with the overpowering smell of cigars.

2.10pm – Mel: Safe in office again. Start to write out stick-on guest passes. Mmm, which pen should I use? Thick one or thin one? Black or blue? Ooh, too many choices. Unfold important-looking seating plan to designate guest tickets. Should man from Central TV sit next to woman from Radio WM, and if so, would they be best in stalls or circle? Sigh. Ponder. Can’t decide. Have a cigar.

2.15pm – Jules & Andy: Led into back room to pile of boxes containing t-shirts, badges, programmes, posters, and other Woody paraphernalia. Spend next two hours counting everything, making pretty piles, knocking piles over, re-counting, yelloing at each other, and folding poster. Just glad some other poor ba**ard has been roped into stuffing badges into crackers.

2.27pm – Mel: Rather disappointed that phone has not rung yet. Start to mess around with handset and press a few buttons. Almost jump out of skin when voice says “Hello, International Convention Centre, Can I help you?”

2.30pm – Harvey: Mr. Tech. Manager is strolling around snow machine ,stroking chin and making dubious noises. Is it safe? Will it make srtage slippery and dangerous? Hold breath. Snow machine is my piece de resistance. Promised to get one for Roy. And hiring a snow machine at this time of year is like trying t ostuff a turkey wearing boxing gloves.
Mel: Why is the turkey wearing boxing.. ouch!

2.33pm – Harvey: Mr. Tech. Manager informs me that snow machine can be used only at promoter’s risk. Mixture of relief, tempered by horrible visions of Roy, Kim and Nigel spending Christmas in hospital, after ending show in far more spectacular way than planned.

2.45pm – Mel: Take snapshots of dressing room doors with lovely handmade nameplates. Go for several different angles on door which reads “Symphony Hall Concert Management – Harvey and Mel”.

3pm – Mr. O’Malley appears in office. Quickly remove feet from desk, hide fish ‘n’ chips in drawer and waft away cigar smoke. Pick up phone and pretend to talk to Someone Very Important. Damn! Left copy of Beano on desk. Mr. O’Malley suggests “restrained distribution” of alcohol before performance. Hide some in filing cabinet, drink quite a lot.

3.10pm – Harvey: Gear in place but not yet wired up. Lots of frantic uncoiling, hoisting and plugging of leads. Roy has yet to put in an appearance. Just as well, really.

3.15pm – Mel: Still sorting out guest tickets and sticky passes. Carefully write names on envelopes and put tickets inside. Change mind. Start again. Run out of envelopes.Search entire International Convention Centre for envelopes. Or Tippex.

3.20pm – Jules & Andy: Sounds emanating from holding room, reminiscent of Batman “Yes I’ve already counted that pile”, (BIFF!) Look if you can’t do this properly then don’t do it (KAPOW! ZONK!)…

3.45pm – Mel: Whiteboard needs filling in with dressing room details and on-stage times for artistes. Not easy, wobbly, up hill writing! Do a few Rolf Harris doodles instead.

3.59pm – Woody’s extremely wicked, well-pointy, heavily chained, winklepicker boots arrive on stage.

4pm – Woody arrives.

4.10pm – Nigel Kennedy’s smart, ple blue Jag purrs into car park… well, it would be smart if it wasn’t for claret-coloured aerosol graffiti all over it proclaiming “Up the Villa”. Nigel is an Aston Villa supporter. Nigel later produces clraet and blue electric violin. Hmmm, Nigel’s hair, somewhat disappointingly, is not claret and blue.

4.12pm – Roy and Nigel exchange polite greetings. “MONSTERRRR!!!” they roar at each other.

4.15pm – Harvey: Politely offer Nigel’s assistant drinks for dressing room. Confidently claim to pander to any whim – beer, lager, spirits, mineral water, coke (that’s coca cola!) etc. Nigel likes lime juice. Lime juice? Where on earth do we get lime juice from? Desperately rush off in search of aforementioned tipple.

4.20pm – FTM’s Ed is lured to show on the promise of a free ticket, but on arrival Wicked Promoters throw him in dungeon (well, the instrument storage room actually). Tell him he will only see show if he undoes sphincters of a million Christmas crackers and stuffs Woody badges in every one – a nigh on impossible task, as they well know. “Bloody ‘ell”, says he, “I’ll never finish in time!”

4.25pm – Mel: Band begin to arrive. Can’t wait to give them super new fluorescent pink laminate passes I made at Laminate Pass Making evening Classes. Ooer! Problem. Band have between them seven cars. Car park has room left for one. Harvey!!.

4.30pm – Jules & Andy: Relocate pretty piles to merch stand. Get creative with the blu-tack and sellotape and finally agree on what is stuck where – not all suggestions are constructive…

4.35pm – Mel: Support band arrive. Ask for dressing room. Ooh dear. Forgot all about them. Dash off to find broom cupboard.

4.44pm – Man returns to trim risers. “Erm, can you come back after sound check?”

4.45pm – Sound check – two hours later than planned – not bad really… Roy and band run through a few songs – brilliantly! Nigel Kennedy joins them to rehearse Blackberry Way and all work stops to listen. Stunning! Nigel’s violin sounds like it’s been possessed by Jimi Hendrix. Roy is delighted and initiates complicated handshaking session with Nigel lasting several minutes.

5pm – Jules & Andy: Hungry. No time to eat. More pressing things to do. Like argue about whether the stand is pretty enough.

5.45pm – After a stupendous effort, FTM’s Ed finishes stuffing crackers. “I never want to shove my fist up another sphincter in my life”, says he. Amazed at his feat, Wicked Promoters set another impossible task. He can only see show if he fly leaflets entire venue. Andrew stands back to stage and looks up at setas… and up… and up! “Guess I’d better get cracking then”.

5.50pm – Jules: Check out hall. See strange looking bloke closely inspecting every single seat, leaving a trail of litter behind him… don’t like to ask!

6pm – Sound thoroughly checked, band wander off stage. Man returns (again) to trim risers. Roy does not like risers over there. He would much prefer them over here. Much untapping of leads and dragging of stage furniture.

6.14pm – Mel: Man grasps desperately at last chance to trim risers. Brings box full of lovely red paper, goldbows and sparkly stars. Very impressed! Run away to get crimping shears and offer help. Man refuses.

6.15pm – Support band begin sound check. Man trimming risers sighs and carries on amongst saxes and keyboards.

6.20pm – Jules & Andy: Stress City! Where did all these people come from? Was that two t-shirts, three programmes and five badges, or five programmes, three t-shirts and two badges??? If it was three t-shirts and two programmes, you can have an extra programme for just a bit more dosh with our mega mega deal…

6.30pm – Harvey: Begin to feel rather strange. Too much running around? Too much stress? Aha! Not eaten all day. Must check out food rider. Stagger down to backstage bar to findrider, ordered for 6.30 pm, already completely scoffed. Order same again. Blow expense! Order even more.

 6.45pm – Mel: Pile of towels appear in office for use of band. All bear initials. S.H. Cna’t find any with R.W. You’d have thought they could have had some done for him. Ah well… Sort out really nice, fluffy ones for Roy and take to dressing room. Am confused when he says, “Thank you Nurse”.

6.50pm – Andrew finishes fly leafleting seats! Silently fuming. Wicked Promoters have one last task for him. “Go out and sell Woody merchandise or there’s no show for you, young man!” they cackle. Andrew takes to his task like a born again Arfur Daley.

6.55pm – Jules & Andy: Who is that bloke with armfuls of posters doing his Barra Boy thang: “Git your posters here – show Woody just how much you love ‘im”. Well, nothing to do with us…

7pm – Harvey: Hall Manager asks if I’d like the house doors open. (Good job he didn’t ask Mel – “Ooh, shall we? Shan’t we? Can’t decide. Let me think. Dip dip dip…”). Oh the power! The excitement! Check watch dramatically and coolly reply, “Yeah, why not?” Secretly consider fact that support band only finished sound checking thirty seconds ago.

7.15pm – Mel: Ask Roy for his guest tickets and passes to take down to Box Office. “What was I supposed to write in the white space on the passes?” he inquires. “Well, Guest or After Show or something like that. Why, what did you put?” “Bollocks!” he replies, innocently.

7.20pm – Mel: Notice, “Up The Villa” scrawled across whiteboard. I wonder…

7.30pm – Mel: Roy decides to go out for walk with Nigel. “Erm… you will come back won’t you?” “Ha ha”, he says. Leaves me playing with mobile phone. Have trouble switching it on. Have trouble switching it off again. Funny, Roy doesn’t have that trouble.

7.50pm – Harvey and Mel: Peep out at auditorium. Ooer! Suppor tband in full swing. Rows of people right up to rafters. As someone said, “Promoting a concert at the Symphony Hall? It’s not big and it’s not clever.” It might not be clever, but bloody hell, when you’re in charge, it’s BIG!

8pm – Top Boss of S. Hall could not contani curiosity at Local Hero who sells out venue in advance and has come to see show. Best behaviour tonight, then!

8.05pm – Serena, FTM: Support Band. I Want Your Sex profered set of slick soft jazzy pieces – most uninspiring. Brightened up considerably towards end with rendition of Sade’s Smooth Operator during which volunteers from audience were invited on stage to help out on various percussive instruments. Fame at last! Yours truly played a mean maraca…!

8.30pm – Gill, FTM: Sort through camera gear. Am very excited. So excited that I load up films all wrong, get them stuck and have to start again. Cool, huh? This is a special gig for me. Always wanted to photograph the world’s most spectacularlooking. Rock Star in one of the world’s most spectacular concert halls! Must go check out that snow machine.

8.35pm – Mat, FTM: This is my big night. I get to operate the snow machine! Had a little practice earlier and almost got it right. Good job Roy has a sense of humour! Also, might get to meet Kim Wilde. Wow! She’s a bit of all right! Spoke to Nigel Kennedy this afternoon. He’s a decent bloke, really friendly and easy going. Hope I remember when to start spraying snow. Half way through Fire Brigade would not be appreciated! Gill, I’ve told you before, stop sniffing round that snow machine!

8.40pm – Jules & Andy: Panic. Suddenly realised that we’ve got to shift all the remaining merch back to the holding roo so we can watch the Master at work.

8.45pm – Harvey: R.W. Big Band due on stage. Band is ready. Roy is… erm, nearly ready!

8.58pm – Mel: Mr. Wood’s Dressing Room. Roy, now fully attired in stage gear, straps on guitar then suddenly remembers he is one guitar solo short of a full song. Calmly sits on sofa and, in the time it takes most people to tune a G-string (!), works out terrific run. I lean against wardrobe, humbled in the presence of genius.

9pm – Mr. O’Malley checks Roy’s radio mic. Roy checks hair. I check bus timetable. Roy considers telling very naughty “Man At Dentist’s” joke to audience. Have heard Roy tell this joke before and teeter on edge of nervous breakdown. Roy decides against naughty joke but refuses to promise not to say rude words like “shit”, “bastard” and “poo”. Everyone remembers presence of Top Boss and suffers nervous breakdown.

9.03pm – Leave dressing room. Squash into lift, guitar headstock poking in right ear. Up, down, up, down etc. Find stage. Theme music playing. Tum tiddle tum. Band are waiting in wings. All a-buzz and excited, they take stage. Roy takes can of lager. Band launch into intro riff. Roy awaits his cue, hopping about, boots jingling, adrednaline flowing. “Good luck”. “Cheers, mate”.

Round about 9pm-ish – Gill: Waiting by side of stage. Fantastic atmosphere. Everyone in festive mood and really up for it tonight. House lights dim and Thunderbirds Theme suddenly spills out over PA. Electric surge rolls across audience. Shadowy figures of band mount risers and explode (not in Spinal Tap sense of word!) into Brontosaurus Intro. Powerful or what?! Dazzling “object” blazes its way, comet-like to centre stage, all silvery sparkly and fluffy red. Thunderous roar of 2,000 voices as a hero is welcomed by his home crowd. Masses leap out of seats and rush stage… and they’re all taller than me! Oh well, that’s buggered up my chances of stunning photos tonight!

9.04pmish – Serena: Hmmm, where’s the sax player then? Where’s that Terry Bean? I liked him.

9.04pm – At last, Andrew the gallant FTM Ed completes his merchandise quota and, seeting with fury, Wicked Promoters hand him crumpled envelope containing Woody ticket. Delighted, he skips to front just in time to see Woody take stage. “Woody, Woddy”, he cries. “Let down your crimson hair!” (Erm… are we not getting our fairy tales a little confused here?)

9.05pm – Neil Hardie (Guest Reviewer): Woddy makes his entrance and launches intro traditional opener, California Man. Immediately gets those seated on their feet, where they stayed until end. New brass intro to Ball park Incident sounds incredibly complicated. has people thinking its a new song until it thunders into well-known pattern. One of night’s many highlights is a new Woody song, House Of Love, witch its soul-type feel and delicious horn work from girls. If ever a song deserved to be heard by a wider audience this is it!

Serena: Oh yes. House of Love! My favourite new one!

Neil: Anyway… Back on familiar territory with Fire Brigade, given reggaeish tinge by horns before segue takes us effortlessly through Angel Fingers, Forever and Flowers In The Rain. How many artists could tuck away a No. 1 hit in a segue? Next, another new song, Kiss Me Goodnight Boadicea, a rollicking rocker with very witty lyrics. Horn section evident again on 1,2,3  – perhaps weakest song in 90 minute set. Back to top of charts moments later with See My Baby Jive, again a polished performance proving everyone on top form. Roy then hands vocal duties to Naylor Twins who turn in particularly fine version of Santa Claus is comin’ to town, as indeed, he was getting ready to do! Back on mic, Roy keeps hits coming through I Can Hear The Grass Grown to new no. Lion’s Heart with stunning fanfare opening by horns. Half expect Ivanhoe to charge across stage! Special guest treat in shape of Nigel Kennedy playing brilliant classical piece to earn standing ovation. Nigel stays on stage adding violin to Blackberry Way, joining audience in singalong bit, then taking solo spot on R.U. Red E 2 Rock along with three Thunderbirds who come down to centre stage to add their party piece. Woody adds final touch with bagpipes suitably attired in Chistmas tinsel! Yet another surprise in store when Kim Wilde fronts band for old Fontella Bass song Rescue Me, given wonderful arrangement by Roy.

10.15pm – Mat: Ooh, it’s nearly time for my bit. I’m going to be a star! I’m going to stand on stage with Woody, Nigel Kennedy and (tremble) Kim Wilde!

10.16pm – Santa: Bloomin’ Christmas shows! Bloomin’ Woody! Always gets me out early, every bloomin’ year since 1973. Got to throw bloomin’ crackers at the audience. Bloomin’ silly idea if you ask me. Hmmm, she’s not bad though. Might have a little waltz with her. What’s you name, darling? Kim ?That’s a nice name…

10.17pm – Mat: “Well I wish it could be Christmas…” Sodding snow machine! It’s going mad! I’ve nearly drowned ’em all. im’s not going to even speak to me, let alone go out to dinner with me! Hang on. Ah, that’s it. Just about controlling it now. “Why don’t you give your love for Christmas” Oh! It’s finished!

Neil: If I may continue… Christmas Everyday (complete with Nigel, Kim, Santa, crackers and snow machine) has everyone shouting for more… and more there is, as Roy encores with new album-to-be title track, Electric Age before whole ensemble re-group for another bash at Christmas One.

10.20pm – Serena: Well, what a rip-roaring rendition of Christmas Everyday! What on earth is Mat doing down on his knees with tha tdust pan and brush? Oh, he’s sweeping up that dreadful mess he made!

10.32pm – Jules & Andy: Never seen a Woody concert before (amazingly!) and ashamed that we actually said “Oooh, did HE do that one ?once. Not telling which one. Sang along to most, and though the whole thing was brilliant. Very impressed with the twins’ voices. Get carried away and only just remember to leave concert during The Christmas One to re-set up the merch stand. Just make it in time for floods of people exiting concert hall.

10.33pm – Serena: What a wonderful way to kick off the Christmas week. Next time, can I have a go on the snow machine?

10.34pm – Neil: On the evidence of this performance, Roy still has so much to offer. If the Big Band come your way in 1995, do yourself a favour and go see them. You won’t be disappointed!

10.35pm – Gill: It’s all over. Seemed to pass really quickly, as all the best things do. Highlights – Roy’s red hot guitar solos (ever yone a winner!) and his vocals mixed right up front, where a great voice should be. Sharron and Michelle’s wonderful performance as lead singers on Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Roy’s emotional reaction to Nigel’s beautiful solo intro to B. Way. The brass section splendidly swinging and swingingly splendid. Nigel’s violin weaving inventively around Roy’s guitar, and later duelling with the bagpipes. Kaye’s terrific trumpet solo in R.U. Red E. 2 Rock. Roy’s stunning arrangement of soul classic, Rescue Me and him joining in on chorus. Kim’s fine vocal delivery of aformentioned song. Roy and Kim getting mobbed on stage. The “Christmas One” with Mat’s Amazing Snow Show! Santa Claus-In-Shades dancing with Kim. A thousand Woody balloons floating down from above and half the audience fighting over them. Woody being very naughty and getting away with, “Me coffee takes like shit… not that I’ve every tried…” along with other threatened unmentionables, on stage, in front of posh people. He’s a rebel and he don’t care. He’s also the best this country has ever seen. And probably the world.