Rock concerts that drive a lad insane

arts notebook

Grown men and grown women cried this week at David Bowie's semi- private gig at the ill-named Hanover Grand in London. Seven hundred of us, packed into a tiny room, experienced the rare pleasure of having a genuine superstar within spitting distance. When Bowie came on and went straight into "Quicksand" - yes you do know it, the one on Hunky Dory with eat your heart out Spice Girls lyrics like "I'm tethered to the logic of homo sapiens" - everyone began a highly esoteric sing-along and tears flowed.

Maybe a few were tears of pain. My left leg could not share in the undoubted delights of "Jean Genie" and "Queen Bitch" or even the arguable delights of the new stuff because it had cramp. Even the illicit thrills of a secret gig could not disguise how wretchedly rock fans are treated at rock concerts everywhere. Queue in the street even though you have tickets and the doors were meant to have opened half an hour ago, stand sardine-style in sweltering conditions for an hour watching roadies touch amplifiers and gaze intently at wires - I mean what do they actually do that couldn't have been done during the afternoon - then have to leave early because the concert actually ends an hour after the last train.

And this was one of the good ones. Rock concerts obey none of the rules of other art forms. Starting times printed on tickets are a joke; supposedly spontaneous encores are planned down to the last detail; usually when booking you are not told which row, block or even part of the arena you are in, and worst of all there's barely a decent, comfortable, acoustically good rock venue in the country, one that can allow those who want to stand to stand, and those old enough to remember Ziggy Stardust to sit. The Shepherd's Bush Empire in London is a rare exception, managing to fulfil most of those criteria.

It is astonishing that the one arts award not yet considered by the national lottery is for money for a national rock venue. We lead the world in rock music, it now attracts at least two generations of fans, so why not a national venue on the lines of some theatres, which would have a main house for the big gigs and studio spaces for the smaller concerts and David Bowie's post- birthday bashes for his fans? I know it's unspeakably unhip to admit that at most rock concerts you're uncomfortable and can't actually see or hear very well, but next time take a look at the expressions on the faces around you.

The English National Opera usually has a large press conference to launch the programme for its new season. But this year there was nothing. The programme was simply slipped out under plain wrapper this week. Surely the genially combative Dennis Marks, ENO's general director, wasn't worried by the prospect of a few awkward questions on such prickly subjects as using lottery money to move out of the much-loved London Coliseum.

As it happens, the forthcoming season is one that the ENO can actually crow about. Not only is the company welcoming back several old stars, it is also welcoming several new directors including the talented theatre director Jude Kelly directing her first opera, Donizetti's The Elixir of Love. And it is actually reducing seat prices in the stalls and the balcony. Mr Marks should be less sensitive. There are a lot of good things happening at the Coliseum. It's just a pity he's determined to leave it.

Bob Dylan is out of hospital and even promising a new album this autumn. Now that he has introduced the world to his rare disease, histoplasmosis, I suggest this be the title of the new album. The word has a certain ring to it, and with Dylan's elongated nasal vowels could take on cataclysmic qualities as the title-track.

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