Gorillaz 11.8.21 London O2, Greenwich
This was exploring, as indeed was the previous 36 hours in ‘the smoke’. An opportunity to see Gorillaz, a Covid postponed gig, which intrigued me although I hadn’t previously delved into this now 20 year old project of ex-Blur frontman Damon Albarn. I hear stuff on the radio of course but hadn’t particularly gone looking specifically until I knew I was going to see them; then playing the first and most recent albums, not the middle five.
Described as a virtual band, and with cartoon characters featuring heavily in the visual presence of this …er .. band I was half expecting a focus on some unusual visuals without much focus on live vocals and instruments. Papier-mâché heads or holograms wouldn’t have surprised me – there were flags paraded at one point – but this was more of a musical carnival. Damon did introduce a couple of new tracks well into the set which he said were an attempt to create a carnival feel (‘Meanwhile’ and ‘De Ja Vu’) and they did just that – the whole set though had that carnival style celebration of music, drawing in sounds from different sources and with a wealth of guest input: DJs, MCs and rappers, plus Sean Ryder of the Happy Mondays; the heavy drums of Slaves; the low slung throbbing bass of Peter Hook and the whirling echoing guitar and pop-goth cries of The Cure’s Robert Smith.
Smith features as the main input on the second song this evening, or do we call them arrangements: ‘Strange Timez’, title track of the 2020 album ‘Song Machine. Season One: Strange Timez’.
Another recognisable guest as far as I was concerned was Peter Hook waving his low slung bass, again featuring on the latest album with ‘Aries’ and early on in the set tonight.
The procession of guests makes this the post-Covid restrictions carnival party that I guess everyone was looking for. I confess not to know of the rappers – I may be misusing this generic – that join in but everyone else seems to – each stage entrance greeted with a new burst of arm waving – a heartwarming sight from where we are sat, mid-way up on the rear banking, on the ‘deck’ at the top of the lower tier. A great view of the whole event which suited me for this spectacle.
Little Simz is the rap input that wins for me with two stints – yes I had to look her up. But it all works. No chance for lulls.
Damon remains as the conductor of about 15 performers on stage at times, up to 25 by the end, orchestrating this diverse 21st century sound. A jaw dropping feat. He is singing mainly but also plays guitar and the distinctive melodica makes an appearance – I think that’s what it is – my sisters used to play them.
When we arrived for this – with gig buddy Dave (DPi) for this indulgent excursion – and were sat in Pizza Express in the O2 outer concourse the diversity and cheeriness of the passing crowds was striking, a lot of different age groups – the different genres Damon has brought into Gorillaz does a great job at broad appeal without any pop blandness. The crowd feel outside translated into the party or carnival feel inside. As with the other recent post-Covid restrictions gigs I’ve been to, I’m left reflecting that there is no better time to see live performances. Everyone is so up for it and grateful.
A full set list gives more detail. ‘Kids with Guns’ (from the second album) for me made an impact and I noted Damon doing ‘Don’t Get Lost in Heaven’ from the piano (with the lyric “stick me in a cab to suburbia….”) but I can’t but help to like the most familiar ‘Clint Eastwood‘ best. That’s the earworm I leave this big carnival with.
The O2 Greenwich
This is the first time since doing these blogs of my gig going activities that I’ve been here. I am wary of such huge venues, they do have a place and the only time I’ve felt hard done by here is when sitting right up on the top tier for The Killers – and Brandon Flowers had a sore throat. I really wouldn’t bother with any seat above the mid-tier boxes. Everything else has been a good experience. This evening it was all standing on the main arena floor but if it is seated on the flat you want to be in the blocks in the front half or I wouldn’t bother. I took my mum to ELO and sat/stood by a chair in the front half and that was fine.
The lower tier of banked seating, ideally half way up, and up the stage end half is ideal. That’s the sort of view I’ve had for gigs here for Neil Young, Pearl Jam and the Stone Free Festival (Prog rock!) I’ve been to – the latter including Yes and Rodger Hodgson (staggeringly good) the voice of Supertramp .
Tonight we were on ‘the deck’ at the back of the lower tier which goes all the way round, and near the back.
The view is good of the whole proceedings with easy access and a few drinks or food included with the ticket piece. You sit on stools at a bar raised up a bit from the aeating in front. My pocket camera needs to zoom intensely but you get the picture picture.
As regards the food and drink if you’re new to the place I’d just get to the O2 complex early and embrace the false food quarter idea – it can be over busy and rushed so just give yourself time. O2 phone contracts win again with queue jumping priority and optional access to The Blue Room free, which is a more relaxed secret world, often with other live music and a decent haven for pre or post gig drinks. Camden Pale Ale on the tap. Cocktails on the mezzanine bar.
For this gig we were happy in the Blue Room as the support was listed as ‘DJ’. That’s no support in my book, whoever it is.
Earlier in Abbey Road Studios
Earlier in the day, being out in London for the first time two years, and seeing the visit coincided with a rare Abbey Studios open week, we took to opportunity to do a tour. Fascinating. Smell the music history: The Beatles, Oasis, Elgar, Pink Floyd… Mrs Mills….film scores…and the comedy recordings: Spike Milligan, Morecambe and Wise.
I was particularly taken with the Lennon and McCartney fag burns on one of the pianos on show.
No photos allowed inside but chances for a touristy pose outside and an opportunity to annoy St. John’s Wood motorists. I’m surprised more don’t get run over on the infamous zebra crossing.
A first visit to Ronnie Scott’s
We had arranged to be in London the night before so as to be at the rare Abbey Road opportunity in plenty of time. Obviously that gave the opportunity for more gig related entertainment. A late social isolation requirement on a Bruce Dickenson, once of Iron Maiden, diverted plans last minute and we found our way to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club for some jazzy rearrangements of David Bowie numbers.
Again – no photos during performances – fair enough in these tight and sophisticated surroundings. Doesn’t do much to enhance a blog though.
Bit of a departure from the norm and again a sense of history. Having started up in 1956 nearby it moved to its current site in 1965. Can’t believe I’ve never been to see anyone here before.
David McAlmont – he did an album with Suede’s Bernard Butler – has an incredible voice and the jazzy arrangements were certainly a novel take on some Bowie classics and lesser know tracks.
There we are then. A 36 hour music based excursion to the capital covering a fair bit of ground. After the Covid hiatus there’s no time to lose.