Tuesday, 24 May 2011

RUSH - Time Machine Tour

For anyone that knows me, or for regular readers of my blog, it is no surprise that I am a huge fan of the band Rush. I have already written two blogs about them: Rush - the biggest band you never heard of and Heroes - Rush.

When I first heard last year that Rush were going to tour the UK, I knew I wanted to go and see them. I've seen Rush twice in concert before. I saw them on their Show of Hands and Presto tours. They were amazing on both occasions. They are one of the best live bands I've ever seen. They are faultless musicians who can play the most complex music to a live audience without missing a single note.

I arranged to go with a friend of mine. I bought two tickets last November for the LG Arena in Birmingham (formerly called the NEC Arena). The date of the concert was 22nd of May 2011. I'd heard from their web site that they would be playing the entire album Moving Pictures from start to finish, as well as playing old and new material. The concert would therefore be around 3 hours.

As the concert got closer, I still hadn't received the tickets, and was getting a bit worried. In the week leading up to the concert, I rang the ticket agency, and they assured me the tickets were on their way. On the Friday before the concert (which was set for the Sunday) I received an email from the ticket agency informing me they would not be able to supply the tickets after all. To say I was frustrated, gutted and disappointed is putting it mildly. I rang up my friend and gave him the bad news.

On the off chance, my friend rang up the venue and asked if they had any tickets left. By a stroke of good luck, they had a handful left! He immediately purchased two of them, and a ticket for parking too.What a result!

We arrived at the concert in plenty of time. We parked up, and then went  for a bite to eat and a drink. There were plenty of people wearing Rush T-shirts from various tours. We made our way to our seats on the Showdesk, which is just above the restaurant. We had plenty of room to sit or stand up, and had a good view of the stage too.
As is usual for Rush, the concert started with a video projected onto the back screen. It was a short comedy spoof about a band manager (played by Alex Lifeson - guitarist) trying to get his band a gig by impressing the venue promoter (played by Geddy Lee - bassist and vocalist). Listening in on the conversation was the unimpressed bystander (played by Neil Peart - drummer).

Eventually, the band came on stage and erupted into Spirit of Radio, to a huge roar from the crowd. At last, our heroes were on the stage! No matter how many times I hear this song, I never, ever tire of it. It is timeless, and judging by the reception from the rest of the crowd, they agreed with me.

They then launched into other favourites including Time Stand Still, Subdivisions, Marathon and Freewill, as well as new tracks including BU2B from the as yet unreleased Clockwork Angels album.

One thing I noticed was an air drummer to the far left of the stage (to the right from the perspective of the band). Rush concerts are the only time where you'll see far more air drummers than air guitarists. What struck me about this particular air drummer was that he air drummed during every single song, and his hands were perfectly mimicking Neil's hand movements (which is not easy as his style of drumming contains many difficult segments and notes, making even air drumming difficult). Not only that, but he was hitting the correct drums and cymbals. When Neil hit a right hand cymbal, the air drummer would be hitting a cymbal to his right. He was perfectly shadowing Neil's every movement, even to the songs that were unreleased. My guess is that he must have been a roadie, or even Neil's drum technician. His enthusiasm and abilities to perfectly shadow Neil were impressive.

There was a short interval, where my friend and I went for a  quick drink. We got back to our seats just as the band were about to come back on stage. When they did, they played the entire Moving Pictures album, including tracks they have never played live before such as Vital Signs (the track was deemed to difficult to play live). They opened the second half of the concert with Tom Sawyer, then straight into another of my favourites - Red Barchetta. Vital Signs was the last track from Moving Pictures.

As the band closed the track, Neil launched into his drum solo - Love 4 Sale. Each tour, Neil adjusts and changes his drum solo. Although I recognised sections of it, much of it was new. Unlike many drum solos (where the drummer just hits everything as hard and as fast as they can), Neil's solo is a musical set piece, with different parts of the kit played in different styles and tempos. Throughout the solo, the cameras gave us close up video shots of him (overhead and side cameras), and played these onto the huge back screen so we could see him playing. His level of technique is phenomenal, and well beyond the skill of most drummers. Most can only sit back, be amazed, and hope to be one tenth as good as Neil.

Other songs played included Closer To The Heart (which my friend betted me they wouldn't play), Caravan (from Clockwork Angels) and 2112. They closed the show with Far Cry.

Naturally, they got huge shouts from the audience to come back and do an encore, which they did. They played La Villa Strangiato (which I've never seen them play live before), Working Man (a rock track which they updated to include a reggae intro - which worked remarkably well) and finally Cygnus X-1.

The concert was amazing, which is what I would expect from a band of the caliber of Rush. As soon as the album Clockwork Angels is on sale, I'll be buying it!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Gonk and Dork go to a bicycle race

Dominic's bit (Dork)
The latest edition of the Lincoln GP was Sunday 8th May. I've been to watch this bike race several times in the past and have always really enjoyed it. I first watched it in 2004 when David O'Loughlin won it for Team Recycling. It's changed slightly over the last few years, but in its current incarnation it consists of 11 laps each of 8 miles around the city. In previous years it started from the Yarborough sports centre, this year it started from Breedon Drive, just off Burton Road.

As a spectator's event, this race is difficult to beat. You can stand and watch anywhere along the course, and while Vicky and I walked from the start at Breedon Drive over to the Castle Square, we took up several vantage points as the cyclists came past. The cobbled climb of Michaelgate is always packed. This is a steep, leg sapping 1 in 6 climb up to the Castle Square. You can get a great view of the cyclists as they ride up the climb, as they're obviously not riding at full race pace. It never fails to surprise me how quickly they can ride up this steep climb.

I had my daughter Holly with me, and so eventually myself, Vicky and Holly all made it to the Castle Square, where we took it in turns cheering on the riders at the top of the climb on Michaelgate, and looking round the shops in the Castle Square in between laps.

The field consisted of 160 riders, representing over 30 different teams, including international teams and riders. I was particularly excited at the prospect of seeing Magnus Backstedt, a former winner of the extremely tough Paris-Roubaix (nicknamed The Hell of the North). He was riding for Team UK Youth. Each time he rode past me, I shouted out his name. He's quite simply a legend!

In the end, it was Scott Thwaites from Endura Racing who took the honours at the finish, and a very well deserved win it was too. Chapeau Scott!

Here is the full list of winners, and here are some photos I took of the race.

Vicky's bit (Gonk)
This was the first cycling race I have ever watched. If I'm honest I thought it would be a bit boring - but I actually really enjoyed it! Luckily I did not have the issue of where to park - as the start line was only 2 minutes walk from my house! As the race started and the cyclists came speeding out of Breedon Drive, there was a group of about 20 of us there to cheer them on their way. My friend Rob joined us for the first 45 minutes of the race too.

From Breedon Drive, we walked along Burton road to the roundabout just in time to catch the cyclists about to complete lap 1. We then walked briskly down Yarborough hill to the top of Long Leys road, which is a fairly steep climb about halfway through each lap.

I was sat on the edge of a traffic island so I could take some good photographs, and as the riders came up the hill they were maneuvering in and out of the traffic cones which were right in front of me. One of the Irish cyclists was headed straight towards me but veered off to the right at the last second. I know he would never have hit me, but I let out a bit of a yelp!

This is where Rob left us, and me, Dom and Holly walked up to the Bailgate. Again, our timing was great as we made it there in time to see the riders pass on on lap 3. We then made a very important stop to the ice-cream parlour :-)

From here we made our way through Castle Square towards the Drury Lane/Michaelgate area. I was amazed to see how quickly the cyclists were making their way up this steep, cobbled climb - I hate walking up it myself on my way home from town!

In between laps we walked around the few Bailgate shops that were open and alternated our viewing location between Castle Square, Michaelgate and Drury Lane. We also bumped into several more friends we knew - Pip, Jethro, Vicki and Glen - and enjoyed watching several laps with them too.

As the final lap got underway, we made our way to the finishing line in Castle Square, which was packed! I didn't see Scott Thwaites cross the finishing line but I heard a roar of cheering erupt from the crowd.

I really enjoyed the Lincoln Grand Prix and would definitely watch it next year if I get the chance to.