David Lister: The Week in Arts

Thanks for the memories (whatever they are)

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But the book does offer an interesting overview of half a century of gigs, not least because of the identities of the various people doing the reminiscing. Take John and Yoko's legendary recording of "Give Peace a Chance" in a Montreal hotel bedroom - not technically a gig actually, but who's counting? The person doing the reminiscing of that event is Petula Clark. Yes, somewhere in that crowded bedroom of hippies, anarchists, drop-outs and hangers-on was the ever so wholesome Sixties singer chanting away with the best of them. The Beatles had a wider circle of friends than we, or possibly they, remember. Petula says: "I wasn't even aware that we were being filmed or recorded," which is rather sweet.

It's interesting, too, to note that concerts were cross-cultural long before the mixed media events of later years. Billie Holiday's concert at New York's Carnegie Hall in November 1956 included four lengthy extracts from her autobiography, not even read by her, but by a critic. Such a vulnerable and troubled soul was evidently not beyond a dose of self-indulgence, or worse, a marketing sop to her publishers. Must have killed the show stone dead.

My favourite is the memory of the first Glastonbury Festival in 1971 by Daevid Allen of the band Gong, who were appearing there. Of his first night in his tent, he says: "I slept superficially, dripping and dipping in and out of consciousness until I became vividly aware of hearing a single voice singing the most beautiful song I could ever possibly imagine. The experience was breathtaking. I gave myself utterly to the beauty of it and it produced in me an ecstatic state like a slow but inevitably building spiritual orgasm."

It would, of course, be funnier if he then revealed that he had been listening to Cliff Richard or an early incarnation of the Wombles. It was in fact David Bowie who had been playing at dawn. Perhaps significantly, when Allen eventually obtained a tape of the dawn serenade, he found that it bore no resemblance to what he thought he had heard.

That's the thing about rock concerts and rock concert memories. They are often experienced in a haze, either of shared euphoria or hysteria or indeed a haze such as Daevid Allen was experiencing. They are affected by who you are with and by how much you have had to drink.

They also tend to take on greater significance in hindsight. Those who attended very early gigs by The Strokes or The White Stripes only much later realised they had experienced small corners of rock history, just as it took Petula Clark an inordinate amount of time to realise she was not just at a singsong with some mates. Gigs do have that unique I Was There quality and it's only right to look back in a hazy glow.

That's why it would be a curmudgeonly book that chronicled the terrible acoustics, the lousy sightlines, the fat bloke blocking your view, or his friend who spills beer on you. I dare say that after reaching his spiritual orgasm, Daevid Allen yelled from his tent: "Shut up, I'm trying to get some sleep here." But who wants to remember that?

Another West End farce

Few things irritate me or readers as much as booking fees for theatres. Whenever I think I have heard the worst example, an even more absurd one rolls in. Mr A J Maguire from St Neots in Cambridgeshire writes to tell me he was given £60 theatre tokens and tried to book seats with them for the Billy Joel West End musical Movin' Out, right. The seats nearest this value came to £70. He was told that in paying that extra £10, he would still have to pay a "service charge" of £1.75 a ticket. To post each ticket would be an additional £2.25.

Mr Maguire offered to collect them from the box office, but this made no difference. He would still be charged the £2.25 as they would be "looking after them". I particularly love that bit. We now have to pay theatre box offices extra money to "look after" our tickets.

Mr Maguire did the maths and realised this amounted to a total of £5.75 on a £10 transaction. He decided not to go. There must be a song in that somewhere, Billy.

* The Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell hasn't had a happy time of it recently. It can't always be easy to concentrate on every word of every speech to every arts body. So we should be understanding about a seemingly incomprehensible remark in her address at the launch of Museums and Galleries Month.

She made a particular point of highlighting a key event in the museum calendar. It was, she said, the "celebration of the bicentenary of the Islamabard (sic) Kingdom". The arts trade magazine AI speculates in its latest issue on whether this is a celebration of a forgotten West African culture, accompanied by a display of treasures from the region. In fact, Ms Jowell mispronounced or misread the word Isambard, and forgot altogether the word Brunel. It is indeed the bicentenary of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

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