Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Bank Holiday Business

Bank Holiday weekends usually are awesome because it means extra time off work. For me this time around, that didn't matter as contractually I had the week off. I'm not complaining though, a week off is better than a day off. Thinking of the actual weekend though, I had some fantastic plans afoot. The Saturday involved going to Twickenham for the Rugby Union Aviva Premiership Final between Leicester Tigers and Saracens. The Sunday involved going to Coventry to visit the Warwick Arts Centre to see David Gray.

I wanted to book the train from London Waterloo to Twickenham before the day to save time when we got there. There wasn't much time between arriving at London and the next train to Twickenham so booking the ticket in advance just made sense. We had to get to the ground ASAP as kick off was 2.30pm. However I only had one option available which was booking the train in advance but with set times. This sort of thing isn't smart considering this game was nearly sold out and it would be impossible to know what time train we would actually get on. Deciding that booking in advance wasn't an option, it had to be done on the day. When we got off the train, we rushed to the ticket machines where there was no queue (you see what happens when you have more than 2 at a busy station...) which was a big help. It was sorted so quickly we had time to make the first train we could get. That train was unfortunately busy so we waited until the next one which was only a 3min wait. After a jaunt to some places I'd never heard of before, we arrived at Twickenham. When getting to the ground, we made the discovery that kick off wasn't until 3pm.

The atmosphere in the ground was electric. There were 80000 people there and the majority of whom wanted one of the teams playing to win (that might seem like an obvious thing to say but I was there as a neutral, as was Dave. When I think to big games of football like the FA Cup final, I think it's terrible that the teams playing only get 25k tickets each for their fans, in a 90k capacity stadium). We were surrounded by a mixture of Tigers and Saracens fans which made it so much better. The game itself was fantastic. There was only one try scored but there were a lot of tense moments along with a lot of frustrating ones. One gripe I had was the poor play on the wings for both teams. There was only one try scored but there could have been so many more had it not been for poor decisions made at key moments. Tigers fly-half Toby Flood scored a phenomenal penalty from close to the half way line. The main turning point for me was when Saracens were 19-12 up, and Leicester got two penalties in quick succession. If both of these were scored, the Tigers would have pulled it back to 19-18. The kick taker was Toby Flood, who is not only Leicester Tigers fly-half, but also England's. Both times he lined up to take fairly easy penalties, I turned to Dave and said "England's penalty taker shouldn’t be missing kicks like these" and then he did, both times. On the third attempt in quick succession, he took and scored a penalty which was significantly harder to score than the previous 2. Strange how things like that happen.

The ending to this match was simply epic. The score was 22-18 in Saracens favour, the clock was ticking down and the Tigers were on the assault. One try would make it 23-22 to Tigers and snatch the Premiership trophy away from Saracens. This final attack took the game well over the 80min mark and had everyone on the edge of their seats. Mere yards from the try line, Leicester went through 32 phases trying to push the ball over the line. Eventually, 6 minutes into added time, Saracens won a penalty for hands in the ruck and the game was over. Despite going into the game as a neutral, I found myself cheering for Saracens at the end as they were defending so well from the brutal Tigers onslaught. This truly was masters at play in this game. We hung around briefly for the trophy presentation before heading out to the station. We headed back to Waterloo, having witnessed some fantastic rugby, and although there could have been more points from both teams, it was so worth the journey. The second part of the day was watching Man Utd play reasonably well against Barcelona in the first half of the Champions League final. Apparently the second half was pretty dire for the Red Devils. That I cannot confirm as I didn't watch it but either way, it is a shame United didn't win. All reports after the game suggested that Barcelona were leagues ahead of Man Utd and clearly deserved the victory.

Time to skip forward most of a day to arriving at Warwick Arts Centre. Small things about a venue impress me and give me a positive feeling about it. Firstly, a free multiple storey car park across the road (well, free after a certain time and on certain days). Most events take place in the evening and that is just great. Another thing was the layout of the venue. There were other little rooms in this building but everything was laid out so well and seemed so clean and classy. Another small thing which impressed me was the bar prices. 3x500ml bottles of diet coke, a glass of red wine and half a pint of cider coming to under a tenner, in a gig venue! Unheard of! I heard from my cousin Steve (who works there but wasn't there that night) that the configuration of the room David Gray was playing in was either 1200 or 1800. I forget which, but I remember thinking when walking in that for an act as big as David Gray, this was quite an intimate surrounding. I will confess to not knowing a massive amount of David Gray's back catalogue but what I did know, I liked a lot. I felt we were in for a treat.

As with most gigs, there was a support act. Gray came out on stage (he got a massive response) to introduce Lisa O'Neill, saying that her voice really caught his attention when he heard it. I didn't mind her music at all, but her voice grated on me a little bit. By the end of her slot, her voice had really had grated on me. I think overall she would have been much better if there had been a band backing her up. Oh well. After a break in proceedings (and another visit to the reasonably priced bar), it was time for David Gray and his band. The gig was listed in the foyer as an acoustic gig, which I can't say surprised me as his music sounds fairly acoustic anyway. Anyway, the gig was really good. Gray was on perfect form, which after a short while makes you realise just how annoyingly talented he is. Moving seamlessly between keyboard, acoustic guitar and piano, Gray shows he is perfectly comfortable in what he calls "a new style of show" for him. His band was also fantastic, changing instruments between songs when required. Gray and his bands performance was top notch. The main songs from his White Ladder album attracted the biggest reactions of all. His setlist finished on a somewhat nautical theme, with the songs Davey Jones Locker and Sail Away. Gray was superb, and the only mystery to me is why he was playing to less than 2000 people when I'd imagine he wouldn't struggle to fill bigger venues. Perhaps he likes the more intimate surrounding for his acoustic shows or maybe he wasn’t sure if, having taken a lengthy absence from performing in the UK, he could fill bigger rooms. Whatever the case, I am thankful to have witnessed the first date on this intimate UK tour, because I completely believe when he comes back, it will be on a much bigger scale. I can’t make any more of the dates on this tour, however if you have the chance, I would definitely recommend it – you will not be disappointed.

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