Not content with being the new rock 'n' roll, football is fast becoming the new classical music, too. Last Thursday, for instance, two of London's leading concert halls featured more football than you could shake a Wagon Wheel at. In the past, football grounds have had to put up with appearances by Luciano Pavarotti and Nigel Kennedy; now Vinny Jones and Warren Barton are returning the compliment.
Both these international players joined a host of schoolchildren and para-footie figures (sports presenters Jimmy Hill, Tony Gubba and Dickie Davies and comedians Frank Skinner, David Baddiel and Tim Brooke-Taylor) as unlikely percussionists in a charity performance of Colin Matthews's Machines and Dreams at the Barbican.
Asked to pen a contemporary equivalent of the Toy Symphony attributed to Leopold Mozart, Matthews took a tour round Hamley's for inspiration. Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, the resultant work showcased perhaps the first known appearances in a serious piece by toy pianos, Harpo Marx-style car-horns and "Space Invader" computer noises. In his introduction, Jimmy Hill had expressed the hope that "the part we're in doesn't make you tone-deaf for the rest of your lives". It didn't, but pin-striped traditionalists may still have been choking into their Ferrero Rochers at the sight of Tony Gubba tooting a toy whistle at them.
More alarming still was the visage of Jones, introduced to the loudest applause from the youngish audience and assigned - perhaps to keep him out of trouble - to the xylophone at the end of the stage. Deep in concentration, he furrowed his brows under a ferocious number one haircut and gripped the sticks as though they were Gazza's privates. At the end of the third movement, he moved menacingly across the stage and mimed shooting a child who was making cuckoo noises. He didn't need to; his stare would have been enough to silence her.
The fifth movement - a cacophony of computer beeps echoed by the brass and percussion sections - climaxed in the footie celebs storming the stage waving rattles and scarves, blowing whistles and hooters, and letting off party poppers. The barbarians had penetrated the gates - and rattling good fun it was, too.
A quick dash across the River Thames and the fever pitch continued at the Royal Festival Hall, which was playing host to After Extra Time, the Michael Nyman Band's football-inspired collection of work. Nyman has said that his two greatest passions are music and football (not necessarily in that order), and here they fused most satisfyingly. His distinctive sound of repeated phrases power-driven by saxophone, violin and bass-guitar has the same mesmeric effect as the beautiful game at its finest.
Ranged in three rows as if for a team photo, the black-clad 11-piece tackled with evident relish The Final Score (dedicated to Nyman's beloved QPR), After Extra Time, Euro 96, and Memorial (a tribute to the victims of the Hillsborough and Heysel disasters, hypnotically sung by Sarah Leonard). Throughout, they communicated the same sense of commitment as the fist-shaking England defender Tony Adams - and considerably more flair.
After all these exhilarating warm-ups, the actual football in Euro 96 might seem a bit of a let-down.
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