If it wasn't for the actual specific details of the arrangement, you could easily get depressed about forking out swathes of cash to sit on your arse and watch 60 year olds. In this case, however, the sexagenarians in question were nothing short of awesome.
Firstly there was Ladysmith Black Mambazo, supported by The Mahotella Queens. From what looked perilously like a scene out of Sister Act (although once they ditched the satin capes things got normal), an inspiring performance emerged. The harmonies were breathtaking, and their energy intense. The lead singer, Hilda Tloubatla, took a couple of opportunities to remind the crowd how long they'd been at this singing lark, and smiling and shimmying all the way they demonstrated what great shape they were in. There was never any hint of geriatricity about this trio, and they took a minute to lecture the ladies in the audience about the importance of living life and not going to sleep – “When you sleep, you get old”. The sight of ladies in their autumn years shaking their thangs around on stage was a little disturbing, but you couldn't help get caught up in it, and it certainly underlined the idea that age is a state of mind. If that's the case, these 3 have many years left in them yet !
Following the Mahotella Queens seemed an impossibly hard act, however Ladysmith Black Mambazo once again put down a soul-stirring set which blew their November 2004 gig out of the water.
It seems difficult to visualise that there's only 8 voices creating the thick & rich harmonies that Mambazo are famous for, and perhaps spurred on by the Queens, Joseph Shabalala (his full name is Bhekizizwe Joseph Siphatimandla Mxoveni Mshengu Bigboy Shabalala) referred to the fact that he formed their group 45 years ago. And again enthusiasm belied age, as the guys sang and jogged, danced, grooved, and threw high kicks (above head height) as part of their musical style, known as isicathamiya.
Their set included their well known pieces, “Hello my baby”, “Homeless”, and an arrangement of “Amazing Grace” which certainly took on a different complexion with the adapted time signature.
Most of the stuff you've just read tells you nothing really – just take my word for it, it was a bloody good gig.
However a more gooder gig was David Gilmour, the night beforehand.
Gilmour's new album, “On An Island”, is interesting in that while it's nothing particularly surprising, it is at the same time excellent and intriguing. The concert then was that, and more so.
Gilmour's guitar style favours the grandiose introspective solo, however his presence and demeanour are understated, giving the whole event a kind of laid back ease, allowing you to chill out and enjoy the music rather than trying to sweep you up in hype and showmanship. It was strictly no-nonsense, as the lights dimmed and the heartbeats echoed across the room. With no introduction or announcement, the band launched straight into “Breathe”, then into “Time”, then reprising “Breathe” again. With half of us still spinning from having just seen an icon playing hallowed material, he approached the mic and said “Right well that was the warm up – we're going to play the new album now, and in the second half come back to some older tunes”. And then away they went !
Being the first Gilmour solo album I'd ever heard, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, however as soon as he started it felt comfortable, and it became apparent just how much Gilmour brought to Pink Floyd.
Some of it was a little cheesy, like the ever-so-cool-and-tending-towards-easy-listening “The Blue”, but to counterbalance was the more rocked up “Take A Breath”. Collaborating with Gilmour on this album were David Crosby and Graham Nash, and both were on stage for the tour.
The interval started kinda funny, with a humungous Slavic bloke sitting next to me standing up as soon as the band left the stage, and urgently insisted in a thick accent, “Is break! Get up !”.
The second half was even meatier and more enjoyable than the first, kicking off with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, then “Fat Old Sun”. Gilmour once again with understated matter-of-factness back announced, and then added “If you thought that was old, try this one”, and proceeded to play “Arnold Layne”, really nailing home the versatility of the band and highlighting that they weren't just limited to “post-rock self-obsessed guitar wank”. They led into “Coming Back to Life” and “High Hopes” (with church bell in tow), before Rick Wright and Mica Paris took the centre lights for “The Great Gig In The Sky”. The lighting trick which worked really well was the use of 3 or 4 large rectangular mirrors on stands, which spotlights were bounced off at the musicians, and for some reason this really added to the cacophonic maelstrom of “Echoes”.
It was a full house singalong when Gilmour got out “Wish You Were Here” for the encore – singing along in the Albert Hall always makes you feel like you're a part of something big & important. They followed up with Crosby, Gils and Nash harmonising “Find the Cost of Freedom”, before easing into the home straight with “Comfortably Numb”.
When the Albert Hall disgorged its contents into the streets of Kensington for the long walk back to the tube, you could almost detect a sense of post euphoric dreaminess and a smile playing across the lips of everyone who had just been a part of a truly magnificent concert.