Category Archives: Concerts

Lena – how she lives now

You know how it is. The girl who lived down the road and who sang the most beautiful songs as you skipped rope together is discovered and becomes a star almost overnight. Your lives go in different directions, and forty years later one of you (that would be me) thinks it’d be good to interview the other one (Lena Andersson, or Lena Hubbard as she is today), to find out what she did after stardom.

Lena Hubbard

Lena always had a fantastic voice, so it was more circumstance – like the birth of ABBA – than any lack of talent that had her career fade away some years later. But I’m never sure if teen fame is a good thing, so it might have been for the best.

Ten years ago Lena married Tobe Hubbard and moved to America with him. And a couple of years ago we met up again, online, and I had my idea of interviewing her. She rarely travels to Sweden these days, and I travel to the US even more rarely, so an email interview was inevitable. But it’s OK; we have our shared skipping background.

This is mainly about her present life. We – some of us, anyway – know about her famous past. It’s interesting to find out what Lena does now.

(For good measure I interviewed Lena twice. Once for each language, so here are two interviews for the price of one! English. Swedish.)

Rolf Harris at the Lowry

Rolf Harris sauntered onto the Lyric Theatre stage at the Lowry last night, dressed in a white shirt and sun hat, looking for all the world as though he was in Provence. He wasn’t far out. It was a glorious day, even in Salford, and so much better for Rolf being there. Maybe he’d got the wrong postcode, maybe not.

That’s the thing with Rolf Harris. You don’t know how much is an act and what actually happened. Maybe they really did drive round looking for the Lowry. (It’s an apt name. One painter to another.)

Rolf Harris programme

He started with Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport, sticking to the same script he’s used for a while. We got emotional, we stopped clapping, we did everything Rolf told us to do. We sang. (Is there a discount when you become part of the act?)

Then he rambled a bit. Sang the intro to Kangaroo in Dutch. Spanish. Claimed he didn’t know the Japanese translation, although that didn’t stop him. Sang Kangaroo in Russian, which somehow turned into Kalinka. And Rolf finished with the Nashville version.

This all took a while, as you can understand.

A Japanese joke swiftly (no, pretty slowly in a roundabout way, actually) took us to Christmas and Six White Boomers. Then he moved via Aborigine art to Uluru and Raining on the Rock. He tried on his accordion for size. Several times. Then he finally played it, for tongue-twister Court of King Caractacus. The audience followed, still singing along. Was it an act, or was it for real? Rolf ‘completely lost it.’ Doesn’t matter.

You Are My Sunshine, with another slight hiccough. Who cares? We were all smiling in the sunshine. We sang Waltzing Matilda, and Rolf reminisced about singing it at Glastonbury with 130,000 index fingers counting ‘one, two, three.’ We found it hard to match this, having fewer fingers at our disposal.

Rolf Harris programme

We got a didgeridoo lesson, with Rolf doing unspeakable things with his glass of water and one belonging to a member of the orchestra. Basically, you blow raspberries while avoiding drowning yourself with the water. Don’t try it at home. This lead to Sun Arise, the most boring song the original musicians had ever played. Even George Martin felt it needed something a bit extra to counteract its mesmerising drone, and after three months on Radio Luxembourg it would have made it to number one had it not been for that upstart Elvis.

A short five-minute break for ten to fifteen minutes, meant we were back in 20-25. I’ll round that up to half an hour.

Rolf needed the time. He had a third leg to grow and clothe (orange trousers?) and a green tartan coat to put on. Yes, it was Jake the Peg, who had not only an extra leg, but sang the same bit a second time. Or tried to.

Rolf Harris programme

Once rid of the outfit and the spare leg, Rolf wore his cerise shirt, which he immediately covered up with a blue one so he could splash paint around. It was time for the painting. Fairly small canvas, for Rolf, but a great piece of work, nevertheless. Someone in the audience shouted out ‘can you tell what it is yet?’ I suppose it was worth checking he had some idea of what he was splashing the paint on. (Uluru, in case you wondered. With rain.)

The time spent painting, Rolf asked for permission to tell non-pc jokes. It was something about two Albanians, one of whom was called Patrick… He does do accents very well. You tend to forget this, in-between concerts.

Delilah and Stairway to Heaven raised the roof somewhat (we did sing very well, even if I say so myself). I now have a mental picture of Miss Given, for future use. Pavlova, on request, followed by Two Little Boys. I wondered how you can follow that with anything else, but Rolf did a rude version of it, which ‘lowered the tone’ sufficiently.

A lot of background information on Leadbelly, who wrote lots of songs, but not Sixteen Tons, which is why Rolf didn’t sing it. He forgot stuff. He dropped his money. And Leadbelly wrote Goodnight Irene, which will be why Rolf sang it.

Rolf Harris programme

Avoiding encores, we were firmly informed Rolf would finish with the British version of Kangaroo. We sat up straight and legs were uncrossed, and what we got was Kangaroo Elgar style. Or perhaps Land of Hope and Glory with dying stockmen. Seeing as it was the Last Night of the Proms, we felt we hadn’t missed out. And not a single varicose vein exploded.

Here he comes at last; Rolf Harris at the Lowry

We trooped out to the foyer where Rolf was going to sign. (They never said what, though. No merchandise, only programmes. And with no photography allowed inside, I have taken to photographing the programme to illustrate things. Sorry.)

It was a long wait, and a long queue. They had time to replace the pot of tea for a fresh one as we waited. I took a few photos and scarpered, so have no idea when the last ones left. This morning, I imagine.

Rolf Harris at the Lowry

I got to the tram stop as Rule Britannia was belted out on the façade of the BBC. Very nice.

Rule Britannia in Media City

It was all very nice. And if someone had suggested forty years ago that I would ever attend the concert of an 82-year-old, I’d have said they were crazy. But crazy would be not to go. This is feelgood stuff at its best.

Rolf Harris at the Lowry

I’d say come back soon, but I am a nice and generous person, so will say that it would be great to see you again, Rolf, but there are other deserving parts of the country, too. Probably.

Roger Whittaker tours again

Only a little, but still.

Roger Whittaker 2013 tour

There had been rumours. I even had an email from superfan Ane Marie the other day, musing about the if and the when. And now we know.

It is noteworthy that nearly every venue is in old East Germany. That’s where the fans are. As always happens when news of a German tour appears, fans ask Roger to come to their part of the world, without realising that he just can’t tour as though he’s 35 again. To be able to hear Roger live in concert at all is a blessing. To demand he comes to your city is not going to work.

Roger Whittaker concert

If most of Roger’s fans were to be found in Alabama (say), then I’m sure that’s where he’d go. But nowhere beats eastern Germany, and that’s a fact. Take a holiday. Find out what Germany is like. Roger is especially fond of Dresden. Beautiful old city.

You too can dance in the aisles, singing Ein Bisschen Aroma at the top of your voice. It’s good.

Roger Whittaker, Cologne

Concert for Utøya

Let’s hope the presence of so many new-Norwegians on the stage felt like a kick in the face of the man behind the atrocities in Oslo and on Utøya last year. Yesterday’s concert in remembrance of those who died was attended by many thousands of people, standing outside the Oslo Town Hall in the rain, holding their red roses high.

Presented by Haddy N’jie we got ninety minutes of songs and readings by many of Norway’s finest. Authors Frode Grytten, Karl Ove Knausgård and Åsne Seierstad had all written new pieces specially for the occasion. Crown Prince Haakon was there, and his Prime Minister made a good speech, urging everyone to honour the dead by making the most of being alive.

Among those who sang and entertained were Karpe Diem, Laleh and Bjørn Eidsvåg. There had been unconfirmed rumours that Bruce Springsteen would play. He did. He sang his own version of We Shall Overcome, which went down well. His wasn’t the most important name on the playing list, however.

The honour of performing last went to Lillebjørn Nilsen, and he got to do two songs, the last of which the audience joined in. It’s the same song the crowds sang outside the court in Oslo a while back, when thousands gathered there spontaneously, yet again holding roses.

Crown Princess Victoria is 35

and I am fairly sure only Mark Levengood would be capable of both spouting such sweet endearments at the heir to the Swedish throne, while also insulting her offspring ever so slightly. I believe I have just heard him say Princess Estelle has a very little brain (none, actually), but because she has a tiny bit of Finnish blood in her on her father’s side, Mark is sure Estelle will grow up a decent little pinecone. (The translation might leave something to be desired…)

Those loving Swedes have long celebrated Victoria’s birthday on the 14th July by throwing a concert outside the royal summer residence on Öland, letting people pay to listen, with the money going to ‘children in need’ to borrow a British concept.

Queen Silvia, Prince Daniel, Princess Estelle and Crown Princess Victoria

First we could see the King leading his people in singing and hurrah-ing (four times) to his firstborn, and then we saw little Estelle being walked round the park in the company of her parents. And as Mark began by talking about the day Victoria was born, he sort of called the King names. I believe the King missed the birth, but luckily the Queen was present.

They have lined up (some of) the cream of Swedish entertainment to sing and play for their Majesties, although my own Princess has voiced doubts about some of them. Nothing to do with me. I’ve been out of the country most of this time. And she is struggling with Mark’s Moomin accent.

At the start of the programme (did I mention this is all on television?) we could see Victoria play a game of wheelchair basketball with children who are at the receiving end of some of her trust money.

The royal family is looking pretty happy, with both Vistoria and Daniel and the King clapping and nodding and half singing. We have just seen a limegreen-trousered singer rush off the stage towards the Princess to engage her in his song. (In other countries people would be arrested for less.)

Eurovision winner Loreen is getting Euphoric, and other stars here are Ulrik Munther, Danny, After Shave, Agnes, and Rigmor Gustavsson, most of whom I don’t actually know. But it’s all nice enough. And although the rain has started, the Royal family is not yet covered in plastic.

Roxette in Manchester

Roxette

My, but we’re good at singing in Manchester! And by ‘we’ I don’t include myself, since I neither do voice or lyrics with any great success. But the rest of the thousands of people at the MEN last night knew their Roxette. I was both surprised and not surprised to hear this was Per Gessle’s and Marie Fredriksson’s first Manchester concert. Normally people don’t know who you mean if you mention Roxette, and they are probably less well known in the UK. But the crowd at the MEN knew the lyrics and – as I said – they sang well. Better than most audience participation I’ve come across.

Roxette

They got us in a good mood starting with Dressed For Success, Sleeping In My Car and The Big L, and let’s face it; we had already been hanging around for an hour and a half by then. Mim Grey who had the thankless task of warming us up, was perfectly adequate, but it wasn’t her we’d come to hear. Her songs were fine and she’s got a good voice, as well as the courage to chat to thousands who have little interest in the first act.

Roxette

Never having heard either Per or Marie speak English before, I was impressed. They sound good, and the Swedish-ism at the end might even have been intentional. ‘Our’ singing was encouraged by them, whether or not we knew the lyrics. But when they fell silent, the audience continued without faltering, and for some length of time. Well done, ‘us’!

Roxette

Grateful I wasn’t down on the floor, as they all stood up from the word go, and it would have involved nearly two hours of non-stop standing, and possibly dancing. Some people came to the empty bit of floor at the back and did their own dance routines by themselves.

Roxette

They promised us some new or recent material, but for the most part we got all the old songs. And to be honest; that’s what many of us came for. For a venue that doesn’t allow cameras there can’t have been more than a few hundred in constant use, looking like a friendly flotilla of little boats in the dark sea of the MEN.

Roxette

The stage lighting was very well done, with attractive colours and not too much strobing at the audience. Per and one or two of the others did a lot of jumping up and down, but that could have been boyish exuberance at work. I wondered if we too had to stand up when they burst into a rocky God Save the Queen. Had this been the good old days we’d not only have had to stand, but that would have been the – premature – end.

Marie Fredriksson

They ‘finished’ with Joyride, but the lack of houselights suggested we’d get more, and there were two more, before I suspected they’d done a ‘Roger Whittaker’ and bunked off for their hotel. But no, they had not. They were back for a final Church Of Your Heart, and they took their time over it. Good to see Marie and Per courteously leaving last, and not running either, but stopping on the way out to bow from the corner.

Roxette

Good stuff, from a neighbourhood close to my old one.

Roxette

Last Train to Tomorrow

World premieres don’t happen to me every day. And as Andy Ryans of the Hallé pointed out in his speech to the orchestra’s stuffers on Sunday afternoon, it was a first for our group. I’d been feeling despondent and worried he wouldn’t actually come and make his annual speech, but finally there he was, curtseying no less, and drinking two glasses of gin-free orange juice.

The Hallé did all right – but that doesn’t mean everything is absolutey fine and not worrying! – last year, and would have been stuffed without us. I think that’s what Andy meant.

This was a family concert, and the Bridgewater Hall was teeming with tiny future customers, but this was no Hallé light as far as the music was concerned. The theme was the Kindertransport, and conductor Carl Davis started off with Smetana’s Mẚ Vlast: Vltava, to signify where some of the Kinder came from.

At this point my companion, who shall remain anonymous, dozed off very slightly, but that’s why I have been equipped with elbows, and the situation was soon rectified. The livelier Brother Come and Dance with Me from Engelbert Humperdinck’s – the original one – Hänsel and Gretel, was beautifully sung by the Hallé Children’s Choir, wearing red shirts and really brightening up the choir seats.

The final piece of the first half was a lesson in orchestral instruments (which the stuffers had been deemed as not being in need of), courtesy of Benjamin Britten, assisted by six brand new actors from the MMU. Anyone who needed to know about woodwind or the banging of percussion players now do so. Hopefully this will have provided interesting facts for any newbies in the audience. (And on a personal note, I was very pleased to see Roberto Carillo-García in his original place where I could see him clearly.)

I have a dreadful confession to make. I was feeling pretty cynical about this world premiere thing. I felt that regardless of what Carl Davis’s specially commissioned piece for the Hallé Children’s Choir actually turned out to be like, a polite audience would applaud to order and we would be none the wiser.

Sorry about that.

Carl Davis admitted to being nervous. Maybe he was, but this showman always seems very sure of himself. Today he wore a bright blue coat, except for the second half when he changed into black, which was more suited to the occasion.

For Last Train to Tomorrow the children of the choir came onto the stage, to act as children on a train, and the actors, Amy Cameron, Jack Coen, Lowenna Melrose, Lucas Smith, Sinead Parker and Will Finlason joined them there. Their words as well as the songs were written by Hiawyn Oram.

The actors told the brief story of what the Kinder of the Kindertransport went through, from Kristallnacht until their arrival in England. The choir sang beautifully and with feeling, with the odd solo bringing the attention to individual children and what happened to them. There was nothing new in all this. We have all read the stories, and many of us know it from novels about this period in history.

But that didn’t detract from the effect Carl’s piece had on us. I’m afraid I have to say that after a while I didn’t hear his music, nor the doubtlessly expert playing by the orchestra. That’s because what the children sang and the actors acted out was so strong and touching that you simply had no room for musical excellence.

It is time to eat my words. Not only was this a fantastic new piece and a great performance, more than deserving of honest applause, but the audience had the good taste and sense to know that it required a standing ovation. This went on for some time, which was good, because there is much repair work that can be done with a sleeve in the dark. My cheeks were almost dry when the time came to leave.

I’d like to think that in years to come, I’ll enjoy being able to say I was present at the premiere.

Needless to say, after so much ovation, we didn’t make the five o’clock train home. But it’s good to remember that 10,000 children made it to their train to England. (Carl made a reference to what things are like today. I suspect he wanted to make a point about what has become of us.)

Oops,

that would be us, then. Euphoric over win. Sort of.

I don’t often think of the Finns as being terribly amusing. This one was. And it doesn’t matter if he wakes up tomorrow wondering what on earth he said, because none of us know for sure who he was. Masks are good, occasionally. Even the Swedes had a person reporting on the votes who could actually speak English. People seem to have caught on, realising the importance of not making fools of themselves, language wise.

The UK thought they were finally taking this song contest seriously enough. But they didn’t. Look at what everyone else does! Even the Russian grannies were better than Engelbert. And it goes without saying that we want Wogan back. Now. Or at the very least, next year.

The Swedish song wasn’t too bad. And let’s hope they can avoid the exam season for next year’s contest.

Baku calling

There is a strangely Transylvanian theme to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Lots of capes and menacing dark looks, as well as those weird wing things on people’s shoulders.

Somewhat unusual that so many performers appear to be fully clothed. And old. Older, I mean. Like Engelbert and the Grannies. What’s more, they sing in languages other than English. Unless the songs are written in very poor English and sung in even worse. But I’m guessing several countries have opted to use their own languages. Good idea.

The Nordic countries like having immigrant singers, unless going for the superblonde look like Iceland did. The German boy was pretty (so many of them were, even if they did look Mafia/Dracula-ish) but could somebody please tell him to take his stupid hat off!

Who do we dislike enough that we want their country to win? Please not Greece! Though their song makes that less likely.

Let’s go for the Grannies, cookies and all.

That’s disturbing

Let’s talk about bladders and other disturbing stuff! Are you sitting comfortably? Might be best to visit the toilet now, before we begin.

I was struck by the discussion about Bianca Jagger and whether or not she used flash to take photos at the opera. It doesn’t matter whether she’s famous. It’s neither more or less right for the famous to behave badly. And the way people use phone cameras or other digital cameras it’s often hard to tell if the bright light you see is flash, or simply the camera going about its business.

At the recent Joan Baez concert I went to, it said flash photography was not permitted, which I took to mean that photos without were fine, so I got my camera out. But after a while I felt the light visible when I used it was not acceptable to people sitting opposite me, so I put it away, and only got it out again at the end when absolutely everyone was taking pictures, with flash and everything.

John Barrowman

Daughter has been known to agonise over the legality of taking pictures at concerts. It often says you mustn’t. But people still do. I don’t feel there should be any ‘rights’ to images of someone singing on a stage. (Different for theatre productions.) What I do feel is that people shouldn’t disturb others.

The Guardian’s theatre critic Lyn Gardner reckons ‘people’s bladders have quite clearly got weaker over the last 20 years,’ and I know what she means, but suspect the answer is that they haven’t. What has changed is people’s habit of drinking indiscriminately at all times, regardless of what they are about to do, like go to the theatre. And also that they have got neither the instinct to try and ‘hold it in’ nor the inclination not to keep leaving their seats from – usually – the middle of the row.

If I have to ‘go out’ mid performance I tend to wait for a suitable moment both for leaving and for returning. I was a bit disconcerted at the National Theatre to find that the usher hovered anxiously outside the Ladies until I emerged again, and checked I was all right. Very caring and sensible, but I’m glad I didn’t know until then.

Went to the MEN arena for an S Club concert many years ago. Was startled by how the audience kept popping out for food and drink in the middle of the show. I suppose it’s the sports arena mentality, coupled with the sheer noise level at these events.

The understanding of what disturbs others varies from country to country. During Roger Whittaker’s concert in Cologne I waited for a song to finish before returning to my seat, only to have the usher urging me to just go in. She clearly thought I was stark raving mad for thinking of others.

And speaking of Roger; I once sat next to a woman, who was happily singing along to every single song. Having exchanged pleasantries on arrival, I felt it would be rude to complain, even though she was ruining ‘my’ concert. I thought if I asked her to shut up, I would ruin her evening instead. I gritted my teeth, almost cheered when Roger got to a song she didn’t know, and after the interval I asked the Resident IT Consultant to swap seats with me.

It is not always the audience who has mishaps, either. I recall the tiny St Paul’s chorister who was sick on stage and had to be bundled out by an older ‘boy.’

To get back to the bladders, it all depends on how long you have to sit through something. Films are frequently dreadfully long these days, with the added pain of too many commercials and too many trailers. With no interval necessary as cinema equipment improves, we simply have to pop out mid-film. And seeing as they want us to buy buckets of fizzy drinks, how can they possibly mind the running in and out? Nor is popcorn terribly silent to eat, and not odour free, either.

At least films don’t talk back to the audience when they rustle their sweet wrappers a little too loudly. Perhaps they should.