Les Misérablog

Last Friday evening, I attended the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, to see a guy called Jim Adkins (who you most likely haven’t heard of, but he’s the lead singer of Jimmy Eat World) perform a solo acoustic set to an audience of just a few hundred.

The Concert Hall at the RNCM is pretty spectacular, despite ‘only’ seating around 800 people (I say ‘only’, because that is quite small in gig terms, but it’s still a fair-sized, and potentially daunting, crowd to play to on your own).

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Aside from the fact I am a very big Jimmy Eat World fan, it was the intimacy of the venue, and particularly the fact it was seated, which first prompted me to get tickets.  I have reached an age where the option to sit down at a gig, rather than bounce around like a lunatic as I did in my younger days, is an increasingly attractive proposition.

You could argue that a small acoustic gig would not work as well if everyone was standing, and I certainly would have looked out of place had I been pogoing (screw you, spell checker, that’s an actual word) as I used to, but the fact we were sat down added to the sense that Jim had simply invited us into his – admittedly rather large and ostentatious – house, to hear a few songs he’d been working on. He chatted with the crowd and, unlike most gigs I’ve been to, he could actually hear what was being said back to him, so got a rapport going with the audience. It was all terribly civilised and polite.

As I sat there, enjoying re-inventions of tracks I’ve loved for years, interspersed with some of his new solo material, I realised how much I love live music in unusual settings. In fact, I saw Elbow perform a few years ago (despite not being a huge fan of theirs), purely because the gig was at Jodrell Bank.

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Don’t get me wrong, not all live music in unusual locations works as well – I once saw The Nolans at a Yates’s in Chester (not deliberately, we were in the ‘bar’ anyway as part of our Law School Freshers Week) and it was just about the most soul-destroying experience of my life.  They played I’m In The Mood For Dancing twice for fuck’s sake.

Anyway, I digress. The point is, it was nice to be sat down at a gig for once. No matter how much I have looked forward to a concert, or how big a fan I am of the artist, there will come a time when, because of my age, my legs start to ache from being stood for so long, and I start looking at my watch wondering about the best way to get home. I know this makes me sound like someone twice my age, but so help me I do like a nice sit down once in a while.

You might think, therefore, that with my love of live music, theatre-style settings, and especially sitting down, I would enjoy a musical, but you could not be farther from the truth. I detest them. In fact, if I did a top 10 list of the things I hate most (note to self: future blog idea), musicals would undoubtedly feature in the top three.

I’m not really sure what it is that I loathe so much about them, as all the ingredients are there for what I would ordinarily regard to be a nice evening out. And I’m not just pretending I hate them to save embarrassment, or out of some misguided notion that ‘real men don’t like musicals’, because I think we can all agree that particular ship has sailed. The final nail was placed into my camp little coffin around the time I started downloading Taylor Swift and Little Mix tracks.

My wife, in contrast, loves musicals, and since I am a doting husband who will do anything to make her happy, we have seen several over the years – and I hated almost all of them. Sweeney Todd was ok I guess (but the version we saw had Jason Donovan in the lead role, and I’m still undecided about Scott from Neighbours being a convincing killer), and whilst the music of The Who’s Tommy was more like it, I can’t remember a great deal of the story, so I could just have easily listened to the album.

Besides, these aren’t what I would consider to be typical musicals anyway. For me, a ‘typical’ musical can be summed up in three words: ‘Andrew’, ‘Lloyd’ and ‘Webber’. A little harsh, perhaps, especially when he has only been responsible for a few of the productions I have suffered over the years (it’s like blaming Pat Sharp for the mullet – he didn’t come up with it, but he certainly needs to share some of the blame), however he more than most has shaped my perception of musical theatre.

In fact, it was Mr Lloyd-Webber who took my musicals cherry (so to speak), as my first experience was Jesus Christ Superstar – and I remember using two of those words under my breath as we left the theatre. My only memory of the actual performance was during the crucifixion scene towards the end (I hope I’m not spoiling the plot for anyone who is yet to see it, but Jesus dies) when an old dear sat directly behind us loudly announced “that’s not how it happens in the bible!”, and then went back to noisily unwrapping another Werther’s Original. I was tempted to point out that there aren’t that many big musical numbers in the bible either, but she didn’t seem to mind that.

Next up, was Miss Saigon. After the ordeal of Jesus Christ Superstar, it was going to take a lot of persuading to get me to another musical, but as soon as my wife mentioned scantily-clad prostitutes, and helicopters, I was sold. If there are two things I demand in a theatrical performance, its barely-dressed women and large machinery.

As we took our seats in the Grand Tier (I’m not sure why they call it that, when there is nothing ‘grand’ about it, but I guess calling it ‘The Shitty Attic With Restricted View’ would put people off), my wife informed me that there was a very sad scene towards the end of the production and I would probably cry. This came as no surprise, as I am an emotional soul who can’t make it through Noel’s Christmas Presents without blubbing, but I‘d just have to man-up.

Towards the end of the performance, I was just beginning to wonder when this sad scene might occur, when I noticed that most of the people around me were crying. Some were hiding it quite well, discreetly wiping away a tear, whereas others were openly howling, but I was one of the few who seemed unmoved. This, as I’ve already explained, is unlike me. Ok, the fact that she shoots herself (oops, another spoiler alert, sorry) is sad, but I didn’t think it was sufficiently bad to warrant crying. It’s not like she was an under-privileged child, who has just been given the trip of a lifetime by the guy who does Deal Or No Deal.

Anyway, as I leaned over to my wife to whisper that I didn’t think it was that sad, my chair broke and I – very loudly – fell to the floor. Naturally, once I got over the initial embarrassment of having disturbed the performance for a large part of the Grand Tier, I found this hilarious and the more I tried not to laugh, the more the giggles came. So I did end up crying by the end of the performance, but they weren’t tears of sadness.

The fact that Miss Saigon was also, in my humble opinion, bloody awful, makes it even more surprising that my wife somehow got me to go and see Starlight Express not long after.  It can’t have been the very-loose link to large machinery which won me over, and there sure as hell weren’t any under-dressed hussies from what I can remember, so I must have been feeling exceptionally generous at the time.

I’m not sure what Webber was smoking when he came up with the idea for a musical based around a child’s train set coming to life, not to mention putting all the cast on bloody roller-skates, but suffice to say I’m not going to waste any more blog space discussing it. It was shit.

I have already mentioned that I have seen some ‘non-typical’ musicals over the years, and thankfully my next experiences chronologically were The Producers (featuring Peter Kay) followed by Monty Python’s Spamalot. These were both considerably more enjoyable than their predecessors, but they are also not what I was necessarily consider to be musicals anyway. There is something about adding the element of comedy which makes the awful music more bearable.

Unfortunately, my enjoyment of these two performances was short-lived, as not long after I was persuaded once again to accompany my beloved into Manchester for what was, and will always be, the worst few hours of my life. I took her to see Dirty Dancing.

I had not seen the film at this point, so I wasn’t fully aware of what an abomination it truly is, but the first thing that struck me, as we took our rather nice seats near the front of the stalls (I wasn’t a student anymore), was that there weren’t many men in the audience. It then dawned on me that there weren’t any other men in the audience. I was the only one. Alarm bells began to ring, but it turned out to just be the signal that the performance was about to start. Gulp.

I don’t wish to relive that followed, but I was so thankful to make it to the interval – and the bar – that I could have cried. As I stood there, savouring my pint, I spotted another man on the opposite side of the room. He also appeared to be shaking, and as he caught my eye he gave a very weak nod. He could feel my pain, as I could feel his. I felt the urge to go and hug him, but I’d only had half a pint and didn’t want to be too presumptuous. I’ve misread signs like this before.

Anyway, much as I pleaded for us to go home rather than sit through the second half, back in we went. Towards the end, I noticed that there was an audible murmur going around all the women in the audience, which began to grow in volume and excitement. I overheard whispers of something called ‘the lift’ and prayed this meant one of the cast was about to fall down an elevator shaft but, for those who know the story, you will appreciate how wrong this assumption was.

Suffice to say, the high-pitched, oestrogen-fuelled, squeal which erupted when man-dancer lifted up woman-dancer, shook me to my very core, and is still the basis for many bad dreams several years on. I half expected women to start fainting in their seats, but quite on the contrary a few actually got up and danced themselves. It was horrendous.

So, that’s why I hate musicals. They are, almost without exception, vile, and I hope to never see another one as long as I live.

There’s more chance of me setting foot inside Old Trafford.

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