Can’t really point my finger at what went wrong during last night but I hardly slept. Woke up every hour or so; I am starting to write this post as the train I took from Newcastle to Birmingham is stopped at the Sheffield station—about two thirds of the way—and I can already feel that today is going to be a particularly long day unless I get some sleep.
Woke up (well, opened my eyes; I don’t think I was really asleep, read above) at around 8:20am. There are direct trains leaving every hour on Sundays towards Birmingham, so I decided to get the 9:25am train and get the ride over with ASAP, and maybe catch some sleep at the hotel in Birmingham before the concert.
That was no easy task for a tired individual: within 30 minutes, I was all dressed‐up, packed and ready to go. Bid Ingrid farewell—well, for the next few days, as we will meet again in Bournemouth soon—and fled the scene towards the train station.
Not much unlike Glasgow, a beautiful Sunday morning in Newcastle was pretty vacant of living organisms and motorized vehicles. Within 5 minutes I was at the train station, already figured out the train / platform I’m supposed to be at. Starving, I went to a cafe inside the train station for a quick good sandwich and a horrendously failed cappuccino that I had no time to consume anyway as boarding already commenced once I got to it.
Having not reserved a seat for this train (BritRail’s website sent me to a dead link for reservations), I eventually found a seat that was marked as available only for a part of my journey. A respectable mature woman and another man sitting nearby informed me that this is not a big deal—as seat reservations are free at the moment (see footnote), reserved seats often remain unclaimed, and even if they are claimed, it’s no biggie as you simply get up and find yourself another seat. Common practice, I believe.
(Whatever’s written below this point has been written on May 24, the day after the concert)
It was a 3.5 hours ride from Newcastle to Birmingham, train riding full speed through pleasant views as I was laptoping away at my leisure. As we arrived at Sheffield, the train gradually became more and more crowded to the point that people had to stand; my beloved seat was reclaimed by its owner, which made me embark on quite the voyage to the seat right across the aisle next to a particularly eye‐friendly (yet snobbish) lady for the rest of the ride.
At 1:07pm, the train arrived at the Birmingham New Street station.
Trusting Google Maps for BlackBerry for the walk between the train station and my hotel turned out to be a waste of time. I ended up taking a walk twice longer than I should have taken. The thing is that the walkways around the city centre are somewhat convoluted, and there’s also a few highways (in the UK called “motorways”) effectively cutting through the city, requiring you to really know where you’re going if your aim is to get from the train station to the hotels’ area. Some of the walkways (such as the Fletcher’s Walk) run through shopping malls, and since it was a Sunday, the shopping malls were closed along with the walkways—adding to my frustration.
(Later, though, I realized which route ought to be taken so it wasn’t a problem anymore.)
I then arrived at my hotel, “Nitenite City Hotel” a minute walk down Broad Street, nearby the huge Hyatt. Birmingham’s hotels turned out to be very expensive so I ended up taking this hotel, which went for cheap but has a gotcha: it’s a new concept hotel, rather high‐tech and the rooms are tiny. The call it “compact rooms” and the total area for a single room is—drum roll please—6.8 square meters (73 square feet). It is brilliantly designed to contain a queen‐size bed, a 24” LCD screen and a full bathroom. How is it laid out, you’re asking? Well, click here to see.
If you’re ever in town, only need a place to sleep and don’t have too much luggage—trust me on that one; book a night in this hotel. Also, it is superbly quiet, despite the central location.
Despite my plans, I ended up not taking any sleep but instead went straight to the city centre, to grab a bite (I was starving) and check things out. That was when I learned the quick way to the train station—about 8 minutes walk from the hotel.
A short lunch (after a long waiting time) at Wetherspoon’s (Chicken Tikka Masala again) right at the Paradise Mall and I proceeded with my journey—about 50 steps forward, out of the mall and straight into where the action begins.
The above shows some scenes from Victoria Square, which is the starting point for a lovely walk at the city centre—a walk loaded with restaurants and businesses. Weather was beyond perfect, and people flocked the patios. Lovely sight.
A slightly failed latte at Bella Italia, and I decided to return to the hotel for a short nap before the concert. The concert took place at the Birmingham LG Arena, some 9 minutes by train from the city centre so I set the alarm clock for 6:00pm and spent the time, that was allocated for sleeping, for catching up with the world. A quick shower and off I went on my way to the Birmingham New Street train station, to catch the train to Birmingham International.
The Birmingham LG Arena used to be called The NEC but it had since purchased by LG, revamped and renamed. As you get off the train at Birmingham International, you have signs pointing you how to arrive at the LG arena. Makes you think it’s a short walk; it isn’t. It’s about 15 minutes walk through a tunnel, then a shopping centre (which was vacant; Sunday), then out of the shopping centre to the open air, and another 5 minutes walk to this huge arena.
Hotels nearby the arena are very expensive at event nights; as you leave the shopping mall into the open air for the last walk towards the arena, you encounter a pleasant sight of a small man‐made (?) lake, which is conveniently located right at the footsteps of the Crowne Plaza, where my American friends were going to spend the night.
Smooth ticket pick‐up process, got my front‐row centre ticket and proceeded to the entrance. High‐tech here… the barcode scanning is performed here by a standalone machine, rather than by a human holding a portable barcode scanner.
I was already impressed. Entering into the reception area, I became even more amazed and impressed (where are the pictures, you’re asking? well, as I mentioned many times in the past, I only look smart. No pictures taken, sorry) to find ample dining opportunities, cafe’s and whatnot. Quite the spacious hall; I have never been here before so I don’t know what this place used to be like before being revamped, but judging by the end result… good job).
A quick healthy meal (WOW. First time ever for me, being at a venue offering more than garbage to eat and drink) and I was went inside the concert hall. Show was scheduled to start at 7:30pm, but I already knew that it’s going to start at 8:00pm so, really, no rush.
Once at the venue, I again neglected to take photos (sorry). It took me a few minutes to convince a few simpletons that the seat numbering simply cannot go as “9, 8, 10, 11, 12” but at the end I got them all to shift one seat to the left so I can park my weary ass on the extremely unpleasant plastic seat. Jordan, Val, Mike and Steve showed up minutes later, seated to my immediate right; at around 8:00pm, the band took the stage and the show commenced.
In his diary, Richard Bennett often mentions that the band plays better and better as the tour goes. I agree to some extent; the word “better” is a bit vague here as, overall, there are ups and downs during the tour. I would interpret “better” here as “more and more harmoniously”; granted, the band reached a stage where everything is done perfectly right down to the T. Even when things go a bit wrong or unplanned, it is fairly impossible for the audience to notice. I suck at many things, but my perfectionist ear is one thing I do take pride in; even when Mike McGoldrick was signalling something to the stage staff during Telegraph Road (or was it to John McCusker? I don’t know), with a somewhat worried look on his face, I couldn’t possibly track what was going on.
Right down to the T, as I said; brilliant show with everybody doing a great job. No setlist surprises except for Going Home being skipped this time (Birmingham was never a home for Knopfler… I suppose that those who are going to attend a show in London would be lucky to be swept off their feat to the lovely Wild Theme arrangement the band came up with).
Get Lucky has been resurrected after a long absence.
The LG arena didn’t feature any physical barrier between the front row and the stage. All there was was a white‐painted line on the floor, about one meter from the stage, suggesting that no foot should present itself beyond it. I frankly don’t think it was necessary as, judging by yesterday’s audience, Birmingham concert‐goers aren’t quite the stage chargers. Standing ovations were infrequent, and often times while my American friends and I were dancing and prancing around in our seats, I felt as if I am being watched by the audience behind me and perceived as an uncoordinated monkey on steroids.
Well, screw that—the band rocked and the my random body movements (lest we insult dancers worldwide by referring to my movements as “dancing”) were well deserved following insane solos during Hill Farmer’s Blues and Telegraph Road. The band apparently has it set as a goal to reach perfection in their Marbletown jam session, constantly evolving it so it really is a surprise every day. Very well done.
The concert ended at 10:20pm to some good cheers from this altogether mellow audience.
My American friend happened to have booked the Crowne Plaza, right next to the LG Arena, for last night. We all went there, of course, for a few drinks, good funny chat and some food. As always, it’s been great spending time with those guys—thank you, again, for having me over. Always a pleasure!
Time passed quickly, as it always does when one’s having fun. The last train to take me back to the city centre has long gone already; a 20 minutes taxi drive was therefore in order. Back at the hotel, I crashed into bed and woke up at around 11:30am.
Today (Monday) is a day off, which will be spent in Manchester.
P.S: Congratulations to Guy Fletcher for celebrating his 50th birthday today. Guy, may you be as productive and prolific over your upcoming 50 years as you were so far. All the best and I hope you’re enjoying your birthday with your family.
P.S #2: Last night’s show was the 33rd show of the “Get Lucky” tour featuring neither “Before Gas & TV” nor “So Far from the Clyde”. This is my blog… and this is my own tiny, meaningless, private protest. :-)
P.S #3: About train reservations in the UK: I just came to realize that seat reservations in the UK are, for the time being, complimentary as the UK train system is revamping its seat reservation procedures. That said, seats have to be reserved at least one day prior to the time of departure.
P.S #4: It is an unwritten rule that having too many “P.S”’s in an article is considered a bad practice and implies poor writing skills. Just FYI.