Started the day with a good, healthy breakfast at the B&B I was staying at: poached egg, roasted mushrooms and tomatoes. Together with some cereal and toast, that felt like a good way to start the morning. At around 9:45am, I bid my gracious host goodbye and went walking towards Bournemouth’s train station.
Lovely walk through a quiet neighbourhood, perfect weather all around and I made it to the train station way, way before the train’s due time (about an hour ago; Miriam, you can stop laughing now). As my British Rail pass has expired, I had to pre‐book a seat for this particular ride—bought a restricted ticket that was only applicable for one particular train; at last, I got to ride first‐class. Is it worth the extra few pounds? yes it does, if you’re fan of quiet environments.
However getting onto the train was somewhat tricky. The train leaving Bournemouth towards London has to connect (physically) with a train that arrives at Bournemouth 10 minutes earlier, and despite repeated attempts, the cars just wouldn’t connect. That caused a 20 minutes delay, after which the train made its way towards London’s Waterloo station.
Stepping out of the train at the Waterloo station, I could feel the sense of the big city. Part 1 of the European leg—the quiet, peaceful locations of the British isles—is over; part 2—London—begins now.
The London Waterloo station is a major transportation hub in London. Three Tube lines go through here, and connections are offered for trains going outside of London.
Having planned the UK tour rather well, I had a discounted one week pass for all Tube zones in my pocket (back when I bought it, I was under the seemingly wrong impression that I’ll have ample time to travel around). Those train passes are very handy… don’t plan a trip to the UK without looking into the variety of offered passes.
Was amazing to see how quickly the relaxed, simple, laid‐back atmosphere of Brighton / Bournemouth fades out of your mind, replaced by the hectic tempo of this mega‐city. Every individual walking around the train station has an expression on his face as if he’s on some sort of a mission; direct eye‐contact is rarely made in here (from a few resources, I have learned that establishing direct eye‐contact with people in London, and specifically in the Tube, is considered rude. What kind of a f’n stupid world am I living in, that looking at a person has become an offensive act?) and, while in the Tube’s system, everything happens so quickly and efficiently.
For some unknown reason I went off the Tube at the Hyde Park Corner station, about two miles from my hotel. That caused yet another 30 minutes delay as I had to arrive at the High Street Kensington station, which included changing to a Tube line that shows up once in a blue moon.
At last, everything sorted itself out; about an hour after arriving at London Waterloo, I arrived at the hotel—Copthorne Tara Hotel Kensington.
Jeroen Gerrits, my dear friend and companion for the USA / Canada leg of the tour, apparently got fed up with the grind of normal life and was very happy to be back on the concert scene after two weeks of absence. Hopefully, the six concerts in London will bring him back into shape so he can carry on with the daily routine once it’s all over. Was good meeting with him again; we will be sharing a hotel room for the time in London.
The hotel itself is way too cool for me to be staying in. Centrally located (20 minutes walk from the Royal Albert Hall, unless Google Maps is leading your way at night time. If this last remark doesn’t make any sense to you, then you should continue reading), it has everything I need except for Wi‐Fi at the rooms (wired access is provided… for extra charge, of course. Fancy hotels don’t give you anything for “free”).
Knopfler concerts in London—so I have learned very recently, as I am not active within the various Knopfler fan forums over the net—serve as a major meeting point for Knopfler fans from all over Europe. Most likely this is due to London being easily accessible from pretty much anywhere (Icelandic ash‐hole permitting, of course), however the venue being the Royal Albert Hall must have something to do with it as well (more on that shortly).
A few kind individuals from the fan forums, who have been following the nonsense I’ve been writing for the last couple of months, have invited me to join them for a drink before the concert; however, while catching up with recent developments over a good meal at a nearby Thai restaurant, I felt very tired and decided to get some sleep before the concert…
… which I did. Waking up at around 5:30pm, I decided to pay a visit to the pub where the Knopfler fan forums’ members were meeting. The Stanhope Arms in Gloucester Road was the place of choice—a large yet crowded pub in a very central location, about 10 minutes walk from the Royal Albert Hall. Was nice to see familiar faces as well as meet non‐familiar ones; some good chat and I went to get my caffeine fix before the show at a coffee shop two doors up the road.
Concert time came near; time to go. I was somewhat excited as I started walking towards the Royal Albert Hall… and for a good reason.
Walking towards the Royal Albert Hall, one cannot escape the sight of Hyde Park for the sole reason that it is right across the street. This park is famous for many reasons, one of which is its Speaker’s Corner which is the most famous Speaker’s Corner in the world (I am bound to check it out during this visit).
A sign outside the Royal Albert Hall was announcing Knopfler’s 6 shows at the venue… all sold out.
A text message earlier from Val suggested that markknopfler.com ticket pickup is at the eastern side of the venue, so we went there. Paul Crockford, Knopfler’s personal manager, was hanging out and about nearby the ticket pickup line. It’s the first time I see him during the European tour—the famous anti‐recording announcements were so far made by someone else; a quick hello and a handshake and I was inside the building, picking up the tickets.
Something must have gone awfully wrong with the markknopfler.com ticket pickup this time around. Usually, pre‐sales tickets are delivered inside envelopes carrying the buyer’s order number on them, however this time, some tickets were in envelopes and some laid in packs on the desk itself, with not much order and organization going on. My ticket (as well as many others’, as I learned later on) was nowhere to be found; luckily, these guys maintain printed lists with order numbers vs. seat assignments so I was issued a temporary ticket—not much more than a piece of paper with my seat details written on it.
From the entrance, a stairway leads to the reception hall where one can purchase all sorts of questionable food and drinks for pre‐show consumption. I met with Daria, her kids and her sister Valeria there; a few readers of this blog came by and introduced themselves—nice to meet you all; chat with Miriam and Wolfgang while the opening act (Kate Walsh) was playing, and it was time to enter the concert hall itself.
OK, I did have some idea what I was going see at the interior of the Royal Albert Hall (I have never been there before). People I have spoken to have, almost unanimously, vigorously claimed that this the most beautiful indoor venue in the world; pictures I have seen over the net appeared to agree with that statement; but hearing about it and seeing it in pictures is incomparable to actually being in there.
As you take the stairs from the reception hall into the venue, you can’t avoid having a “wow” sound being emitted from your mouth in one way or another. This truly is an astonishing venue; whatever I have seen so far in the USA / Canada really, really doesn’t come close. Sorry. Comparing the Royal Albert Hall to whatever I had seen in North America is like conducting some heavy research into the third soccer league in Nicaragua and then trying to compare it to Brazil’s national team. Definitely an inappropriate comparison.
If someone was assigned with the task of converting a palace into a concert hall, the result would most likely not differ much from the Royal Albert Hall. It is that amazing, and being there, you can feel the immense impact of the venue on the “air” you get from the show itself.
For this show, I had to part ways with the centre of the front row, as I was seated at the front row—left‐hand side. A little crowded there near the stage before the show, with many curious fans inspecting the stage and whatever was on it. I guess I should have taken that as a sign to what was going to happen later.
The band took the stage slightly after 8:30pm, kicking off the series of six concerts at the wonderful Royal Albert Hall.
What set this concert apart from all concerts I have seen so far, other than the breathtaking venue, was the audience. Long gone are the days of the predominantly polite audiences of North America; so were the days of the considerably restrained audiences of Belfast and Cardiff; enter the era of some seriously vocal audience.
(I was told that this is still nothing comparing to what awaits me in Italy and Spain. Should be an interesting anthropologic experiment coming the end of July)
Knopfler was born in Glasgow, moved to Newcastle when he was a kid and grew up there; however London, after all, has been his home for the longest time—and the audience certainly made him feel that way. I cannot recall an audience as vocal (in a very positive way, I must say) as the audience yesterday, cheering vigorously after each song.
Despite a slightly rocky start during the first song, the show went very well, featuring Mark in a good mood (still seated, however occasionally getting up for a short walk, mostly between songs). No new songs performed, however it was the first time that Done with Bonaparte, Monteleone and Marbletown were all played.
The cheers after Sultans of Swing took about 3 minutes (!) to fade; scary, considering the fact that Sultans of Swing has had better performances during this tour. I can’t help but wondering what would happen if this song was performed as magnificently as it was in Toronto…
Two Knopfler ultra‐fans from France whom I had met at the pub prior to the concert, were seated next to me and had informed me that they have strictly avoided any sort of publication regarding the tour as they wanted to experience complete surprise over the setlist—appeared to be very happy with the show.
Then came the churches, then came the schools, then came the lawyers… then came the rules… and then came the end of the first part of the show, when I realized what attending concerts in Europe is all about. The minute the audience sensed that this is the time for the encore, fans seated at the arenas sections came flocking the stage to catch a “good spot” right upfront.
Now when I say “flocked”… well, that may be a bit of a delicate term. Had Steve Jobs appeared on the stage, waving at a new type of i‐Something that allows you to travel through time, the rush of Apple fanatics to the stage would likely be done in a more courteous manner than the flocking of fans towards the stage. I raised my ass from the chair and approached the stage walking, as I am used to; some fucked‐up fan was rushing towards the stage completely oblivious to the fact that his elbow paid a rather painful visit to my kidney.
Now don’t take me wrong… I have nothing against approaching the stage at the end of the show; the contrary is true, I think it adds a lot to the show and that Knopfler’s concerts are more enjoyable when the ass doesn’t meet the chair (I have mentioned that many times in the past). Having said that, approaching the stage is one thing, and knocking people out cold on your way to your 15 minutes of glory facing a guitar player is a whole different story.
The idiot who punched my kidney wasn’t the only one—you could see some fair bit of aggression there, over the first 10–15 seconds right after Telegraph Road.
I feel deeply sorry for idiots who would go as far as running over, under and above other people to accomplish their definite goal of presenting a violent face in front of a band; from the bottom of my heart, idiots—f**k you.
Anyway, the show’s encore was sweet as always, beset with millions of photos being taken by the standing crowd that was obviously very excited with whatever was going on. The concert ended shortly before 11:00pm.
About a dozen of the fans who had attended the pre‐show drink at the pub in Gloucester Road have decided to go for a post‐show drink. I decided to come along; the first pick—the pub at a hotel nearby the venue called Gore—turned out to be problematic as there was no place to sit.
Therefore, I suggested that we all go to the Copthorne Tara Hotel, which is where I was staying. Everybody agreed, and I asked Google Maps to show us the way.
My Lord, was that a big mistake. Google Maps’ “optimized route” took us through a maze of small streets and alleys, most of which were actually closed for pedestrian access. After more than 30 minutes rambling through the streets of London, we realized that nothing positive is going to happen if we continue following any such “optimized paths” and resorted to the main roads instead. That’s how a walk of twelve minutes has turned into an hour.
At the end, we arrived at the hotel; Jeroen and I have decided to buy everyone the first round of drinks. Pleasant times, sitting at the bar of the hotel chatting about lots of things for more than two hours. Went to bed way past 2:00am, a bit fuzzy (had more than one pint of beer. Something’s going on).
Long, good day.
Signing off this post while sitting down at the hotel’s lobby; it’s 12:10pm now and I’m going to concentrate on planning the rest of the European trip.