When the Millennium Dome was opened I was not one of those who flocked to Greenwich to join the celebrations. I hated the whole pretentious Blair thing which the Dome so perfectly symbolised, with its ethos of theatre and presentation over substance. The sterile, plastic, squeaky clean yet characterless atmosphere of this hideous monument to the confidence trick that is New Labour held all the appeal to me of a soggy pizza. When it went broke after just a few years it rather said it all.
Nevertheless it is not often that I get an evening off from council work and the O2, as it is now known, was where Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel were playing and I had a ticket. So along with my wife Caroline, three old mates from school and the 18-year-old son of one of them I made the journey across London to this curious building.
Steve Harley was one of my boyhood musical heroes. A lyrical genius who had overcome illness and hardship in his earlier life, his songs were and still are thought-provoking and intelligent. Whilst he certainly experienced his own period of fame during the early to mid 1970s (his Number One single Come Up And See Me remains one of the most played songs of all time), his whole demeanour and constant banter with his audience suggest that he does only what he enjoys, and enjoys what he does. Whilst there were over 1,000 watching him at the O2 yesterday, I've seen him equally content playing to a half-full Beck Theatre at Hayes before 200 people (one of whom, sitting a few row behind us, was his old pal Rod Stewart). His audiences cut across the age divide, but with something of a bias towards my own generation. I was cruelly reminded of just how ancient I had become when the lad in our midst casually admitted in conversation that he had never actually heard of Steve Harley.
We arrived at the O2 in good time and, not endeared to the prospect of standing in a line waiting for the doors of the absurdly-named "Indigo 2" to open, we opted instead to prepare for the event with a couple of pints from one of the bars in the public area. I say bar as it wasn't really a pub. Pubs were never part of the New Labour experience. The decor was plastic, the staff were attired in uniform and much wine was being quaffed. "Poncy" was how one of my friends, himself a former Labour Party member, described it.
As a result of our diversion we missed the support act, but also the queue, and the suited but surprisingly demure door staff seemed almost grateful for something to do when we presented them with our tickets. Inside the ample hall, dark but with strategic lighting something akin to a discotheque, the majority of the crowd who like us had opted to stand were squeezed up towards the front with the obvious objective of getting as close as possible to the stage. This left a very generous amount of space at the rear of the hall which, conveniently, was also where the bars were located. For a claustrophobic social drinker like myself, this was handy on all counts.
The "interval" during which we had arrived at the hall seemed to last forever, and it was when it was my turn to buy a round that it became evident to me why the bulk of the audience seemed to be standing as far away from the bar as it could get. At a mere £4 per pint, the lager was served in plastic pint glasses with an inch of empty space at the top, on an apparent "eight for you, one for us" basis. I needed a few drinks, and quickly, to numb my sense of displeasure over the fact that I was being so blatantly ripped off.
But when he came on, Steve Harley did not disappoint. Musicians like him who go back some years usually like to play their newer material, whilst their nostalgic audiences tend to feel more reassured by the old stuff. I recall once seeing The Stranglers playing on the undercard to The Who at Wembley Stadium, where they were booed off stage because none of the punters - few if any of whom had come to watch them anyway - recognised any of the songs. Although at four quid a pint it was never likely that much beer would be thrown in his direction no matter what he did, Harley played it safe and quite cleverly mixed it up.
As always he put his heart and soul into every number, his ever-reliable band giving a typically polished performance. His rendition of the classic Sebastian was especially brilliant. The sense of satisfaction at having attended a really excellent show was only slightly negated by the experience of being held prisoner for several minutes at the entrance to North Greenwich tube station after the event, before being herded like a naughty football firm onto the underground. But a good time was had by all.
Now, back to that casework...