Saturday May 16th
Today was the day I was looking forward to most and it was the main reason for us visiting London at this time because tonight was the concert at the Royal Albert Hall where Eric Clapton was starting his 11 night stint there. [Apparently EC is the Royal Albert Hall`s largest crowd puller as evidenced by the speed at which his tickets always get snapped up, whether this being a one night stand or a continuous run of 21 nights which he did a few years ago. In recognition of this achievement, they have given him a token set of keys to the Royal Box, although I doubt whether he ever uses it! ]
After a hearty breakfast I checked to see whether the concierge had brought my car to the rear of the hotel and lo and behold, there it was! They do this for me in order to avoid me having to pay for an additional nights [very expensive] car parking charges, and being a weekend, there is no Congestion Charge to pay, so it is ok for the car to remain just outside the rear of the hotel until we return home tomorrow.
My DW and I had previously planned on going to Covent Garden today which is a fun place to visit, especially over the weekend. It is around a 15/20 minute walk from the hotel, taking in Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall and Trafalgar Circus en route.
There are loads of stalls at the market selling all sorts of items in addition to the usual tourist “tat”, but we enjoy browsing there.
There are street entertainers…musicians, jugglers etc.etc. ..as well as an opera singer who belts out some pretty mean songs near to the café area, and it was here that we settled down to watch the World go by over a cup of coffee in the outside seating area of one of the cafes.
The route back to the hotel took us through St. James Park where we spent a bit of time watching the numerous type of birds in and around the lake. This area is quite a draw for tourists and locals alike, and even though the weather could have been better [it was a tad cold and rain was threatening to appear], there were loads of folk relaxing in the green and white striped deckchairs near to the bandstand.
Food was included in our tickets for tonight’s concert however we had no idea how substantial this would be. We therefore decided to err on the side of caution, resisting the temptation of a pub lunch and settling for a snack from the varied menu of the hotel`s bar which was delicious.
Soon it was time for us to get ready for the concert as we had arranged to meet Dave [the concierge at the hotel] and Paul [his pal], in Weatherspoon`s Bar at Victoria Station at 6.00pm as they were sharing the box with us tonight. It was therefore a case of returning to the room for a quick bath/shower before donning my “traditional uniform” for EC`s gigs…my denims! I also made sure that my DW took her large handbag with her which would contain Eric`s autobiography that I hoped to get signed should the meeting come to fruition.
We still had not heard any more from our friend in LA, so after checking [and double checking] that we had all of the tickets we set off for our meeting point just around the corner from the hotel.
Dave and Paul were well on their way towards finishing their second pint of beer by the time we met up with them and following the introductions [we hadn`t met Paul beforehand] my DW and I also partook in a few liquid refreshments before we caught a taxi to the Royal Albert Hall.
On exiting the taxi, I checked my phone and found that I had 2 unread messages [due to the banter in the taxi, I never heard my phone ring!]. Both messages were from our friend in LA just reminding me to get to the “will call” window as soon as we arrived at the venue.
We had only walked a few yards before we heard the familiar line “I buy and sell all tickets”. Ever likely that the genuine fans find it hard to obtain concert tickets when there are scum around like the numerous ticket touts in droves around the venue.
Anyhow it was on to Door #3 where our tickets were really scrutinised by a lady with an ultra violet light machine to discover any fakes.
Having passed the test I asked one of the ushers to direct me to the “will call” area where to my surprise I found that we had been assigned passes to the “after show party” which was to take place in a downstairs private bar following the show. The lady there mentioned that seeing as this was the first night of the 11 night “stint”, there is every likelihood that Mr Clapton would put in an appearance.
Knowing that he used to be an alcoholic, but is now a strict tee totaller I had my doubts about him turning up in a bar, but if he did I could at least offer to buy him some Coke….on second thoughts though, maybe not seeing as he is also a reformed drug addict too!
Passes safely stored in my wallet, we made our way up to Box 23 on the second level where we were greeted by our attendant for the evening who invited us to help ourselves to the beer, wine, champagne or bottled water on offer, all of which went down very well. He then brought us our food, one course at a time which we all relished. The quality made up for the lack of quantity, but we all enjoyed the meal.
During this time, the support act had began to play, albeit to a half empty audience as most folks were probably milling around the bar areas waiting for EC`s stint to begin. The band was a four piece rock band named Arcangels who were very good despite the inattentive audience.
There was just time for me to nip downstairs to buy the almost obligatory sweat shirt to add to my collection before the announcement was made “Please take your seats as Eric Clapton will be on stage in 5 minutes”…whoopee!
I know that I am biased, but yet again Eric excelled himself. Even it you are not a fan, no-one can deny his mastery of the guitar and he played some blistering solos to some of the numbers, totally immersed in his music. It`s almost like every concert is going to be his last.
Eric played a wide selection of old and new numbers including an acoustic rendition of “Layla”, and he even managed to squeeze in his version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”!
He had his “regular” backing band which included Andy Fairweather-Low [ex Amen Corner] all of whom were virtuoso’s in their own right.
All too soon, the concert came to an end so we bade farewell to our companions who were chatting to the folks in the adjacent box at the time [a family of 4 from Yorkshire who had paid £4,000 for their tickets off Ebay! ], and my DW and I made our way down to the party.
There were around 30 or so people at the party, none of whom I recognised and I thought that even if Eric didn`t show up, at least I would get to meet the rest of his band.
In the event, only one of the artists turned up. This guy was Eric`s black keyboard player [Tim Carmon] who was an excellent musician and came across as a really nice guy, happily signing autographs and chatting to folks. [He is on the left in the “group” photo.]
We hung around until around 12.30 am by which time I assumed that Eric would now be safely tucked up in bed with his cocoa, seeing as he has a house only a few blocks away from the Royal Albert Hall, where his wife and young family had been waiting no doubt for “Daddy” to return home from work, so we decided to leave!
After chatting to a few fans who were loitering around the stage door in a forlorn attempt to see their hero, we made our way back to our hotel via a taxi. Obviously disappointed that the meeting had not taken place, but on the other hand quite content having seen a fantastic gig.
On returning home there were several emails waiting for me from our friend in LA.
She had attached copies of all of the emails to and from the record company and Eric`s management in their attempts to set up the meet.
The head of the record company said that in all the years he has been handling Eric Clapton as an artist, not even he has been able to obtain a back stage pass from his management.
The head of the company in the UK who was responsible for the ticket sales for the entire tour was also not granted the privilege….he said that he would have gone to my box and given me his back stage pass if he could have been given one.
What is particularly annoying from their point of view is that only a few weeks ago, Eric`s management asked them to rush out a cd of Eric`s recent concert where he played with Steve Winwood, so they rescheduled their other artists to accommodate this request. They then received an email from Eric`s management thanking them, saying that they “were the best”, but they must have very short memories.
All is not lost though.
Our friend is now working on a cunning plan to arrange a meeting some day without involving Eric`s management. I can`t say much about this right now due to the skulduggery involved but watch this space, we`ll get there in the end!