Saturday, May 14, 2011

SEVE

There have been three sports in my life. Motor Racing, Golf and Cricket. Put like that, the common thread between them is individuality. One person drives the car, One person swings the club and one person bowls the ball or one person holds the bat. Yes, there are others involved, but when push comes to shove it’s all down to one person either succeeding or failing.

I fell in love with Motor Racing when I was very young, and it was an absolute passion with me through my teens. I hoovered up information about it and followed it as best one could in the days when live TV coverage did not exist. The passion ceased abruptly on April 7 1968 when Jim Clark, the greatest driver I ever saw, was killed in a meaningless little race in Germany. After that, I was merely a fan of it all. If the pleasure I gained from it cost a man’s life, then it simply wasn’t worth it. I followed the greats who followed Clark – Stewart, Petersen, Senna, but it wasn’t the same. I admired what they did but they didn’t move me like Clark did.

From the ear splitting din and ever present danger of the racing car to the calm deliberations of the golfer. I’d been watching golf for as long as I could remember. Even as far back as the days of Arnold Palmer and the rise of the young upstart Jack Nicklaus, who was not universally liked when he was young – people thought he was a porky, jumped up rich boy then. The two of them plus the South African Gary Player became known as “The Big Three” as TV marketing of the golf personality started out on its faltering first steps.

When you watched them on TV, golfers came across as a bit impersonal, with only Palmer shining through as a personality, rather than someone who could hit a golf ball rather well. This feeling of golfers as automatons carried on for a good twenty years. I went to a fair number of tournaments, and watched a huge amount of golf on TV once they’d got the presentation sorted out, but you admired them rather than were excited by them.

Then, towards the end of the seventies a young Spanish guy hit the screen. He played in the Open, and was only beaten by Johnnie Miller, coming 2nd equal with Nicklaus. He was only 19, and his name was Severiano Ballesteros. He blew me away, and immediately I felt that here was a guy with the common touch, someone the average golfer (and I wasn’t even as good as that) could empathise with. This one got into scrapes just like I did.

Over the years, I became a committed and total fan of his. He was a stunning golfer, and for a few years there was no-one better than him on the planet. But it was the way he played that captivated you. He wasn’t that straight off the tee, so often he got himself in a God awful mess. But then he’d play a magical shot to get back into contention, a shot which simply wasn’t in the book.

Perhaps his record doesn’t quite match the Nicklauses and the Woods of this world, but anyone who manages to win 2 Masters and 3 Opens in the UK has got nothing to worry about. The thing about Seve was the way he did it all.

People should look at his record in Match Play if they want to see his true strength. He won the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth 5 times. And his Ryder Cup record is simply amazing. Beating the man, rather than the course, - he was simply the best there was. Quite frankly, if you had to pick anyone to play head to head for you if your life depended on the outcome, you’d pick him immediately.

One of my life’s little pleasures was getting an invite to the 1988 Open at Lytham St Annes. The invite was from the business partner of someone who handled the Insurances of the company I worked for at the time. It so happened that this man was a Member of the Royal & Ancient Committee, and the ticket allowed entrance into the Clubhouse during the tournament. “Would I like to go?” You bet.

Part way through the day, my Insurance man and I went into the hallowed ground of the Locker room, and just sat there on the wooden benches for a while. The golfers came and went either at the start or the end of their round, a few feet away from me. I kept schtum, as I thought that some chirpy comment from me would not be overly welcome. I did the nonchalant, seen it all before bit, not too well I suspect, until Mr Ballesteros walked into the room. I just sat there gawping like an idiot, simply registering that I was in the same room as my hero. I doubt if he even registered my existence, but I sure registered his.

There have been a blizzard of newspaper articles in his honour, and two of them, coincidently came up with the same thought. They were both written by sports reporters who played golf, of the hacker variety. They both headed their article of homage “What would Seve do?” Whenever they got into a golfing scrape, this is the thought which immediately went through their minds. In spite of Seve’s genius, they still thought he was one of them. The way he played his golf was vulnerable, getting into scrapes and getting out of them with a flash of brilliance. These two hacks got into similar scrapes, but the only difference was that Seve got out of them.

Thinking back through watching golf over 50 years, there are only three players who were universally referred to by a single name. Arnie, Tiger and Seve. The others, people like Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman were all players you admired. Seve was different. His smile, his audacity, his ability to bond with his fans made him very special, and to me a golfer apart. You just had to watch him, because you didn’t know what he was going to do. He seemed to make it up as he went along. If I went to a tournament and he was playing, the choice of who to watch for the day was trivial. You just got to the tee and trooped round following him.

It’s was very sad watching his demise, both in the late Nineties when he didn’t know when to give up playing, and recently as he battled the brain tumour that ended his life. Watching a great sportsman in decline is very sad. Then, when he announced his medical problems a couple of years ago, I had this horrible feeling that the Gods were going to claim him early.

Probably more than any other single player, he pushed European Golf forward and showed the Americans, some of whom can be a bit overbearing about the exclusivity of their own skills, that there are people over here who also know how to play the game.

But forget all that. I think he was simply the most exciting golfer I’ve ever seen by a country mile, and a man who gave me more pleasure watching a game than any other I know.  

RIP

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

THAT WEDDING, AND AN INFLATABLE PIG

Saturday.

Yesterday was a great day. In the morning the Royal Wedding, and in the afternoon and evening we went into Birmingham for a meal and a concert. Compare and contrast, as the Exam papers say.

What is there to say about The Wedding? As a partly paid up member of the “They don’t know they’re born” group, it’s all too easy to disparage such things these days. But, seen on my HD TV in Shropshire (my Invitation has still not arrived, by the way) it was an absolute, unmitigated triumph. I haven’t read the reports in the newspapers yet, but I’m sure they’ll all say that here’s something that we, in this country, do better than anyone else on the planet.

Apart from paying my taxes, a small amount of which presumably went into paying for it all, I had nothing whatsoever to do with it. That however doesn’t stop me from feeling proud that such an event can be staged by my fellow countrymen. Starting with my first view of the nave of Westminster Abbey, with that utterly inspired choice of six maple trees lining the aisle, and the breathtaking wide angle TV shot looking vertically down which panned slowly round on the couple and stopped, accurate to a second, as they reached the business end of the church, I just sat amazed through it all.

Throughout the brilliance of it all, I couldn’t stop a few rogue thoughts going through my head as the service progressed. Is it just me, or is Elton John starting to look like the Queen? Or is it the Queen starting to look like Elton John?

And the hats - scary or what? Especially those belonging to Andrew’s brood. Poor Beatrice’s creation looked like a Sky Dish supported by a couple of angry Cobras, while the other sister’s made me think that a large Bird of Prey with a fluorescent blue beak had climbed up her back and was just about to bite her head off. The only rational explanation I can come up with is that they were wearing them for a bet.

And, given the remorselessly detailed resolution of today’s TV coverage, you’d think that if you were going to the future King’s wedding, to be seen by one of the squillion TV cameras there, you’d make some effort to learn the words of Jerusalem, or at least read them off the songsheet as it was being played. Blake’s immortal, patriotic words do NOT include the line “La, La, La, La, La”.

The only thing “they” got wrong was not inviting Blair and Brown. In my view that was inappropriate and small minded, although I suppose at least we were spared the worry of what Cherie would have turned up in.

Anyway, it was a fantastic piece of pageantry, quite faultless in its execution. The Middletons played their part excellently, with their son reading the lesson to perfection. The music was spot on – good old Parry – and the Sermon was inch perfect in my view - let’s hope the happy couple were listening. And from a slightly baser perspective, Prince Philip wasn’t the only man taking a real fancy to Catherine’s gorgeous sister.

Marvellous, marvellous, marvellous.

So, onto the evening. An early Italian meal, and onto the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.

I’m never totally sure about “Tribute bands”, but we were off to see “Brit Floyd”, one of the best of this sort of band there is. When you think about it, at many pop concerts, you sit so far away from the stage you have no real idea about who it is on the stage, and for some sorts of music, and Pink Floyd definitely comes into this category, you go (or went) to a concert of theirs to hear the music rather than see the people playing it.

Mick Jagger or Freddy Mercury, they were not. But, they wrote some amazing music, music which sits right at the top of my personal List for a Desert Island. You can get a bit stuffy about plagiarism, or copying or whatever, but the simple reality is that if you want to hear music by such people played live, then this is the only way you can do it. And Pink Floyd is not something you can get the full flavour of at home, even on a decent hi-fi set up. You want the atmosphere, the light show, the whole, over the top sensory overload experience. They were the absolute leaders in the integration of visuals into a music concert, and even back in the late 60s, they were experimenting with visual overlays to all their performances when no-one else was even on the board.

Nowadays, it’s something most pop bands do as a matter of course, but even when they last toured, in 1994, the light show they put on in Earls Court was out of this world. Now, the Tribute bands put on a decent copy of it all, but do it so that they can erect it all, do the concert, and be in the next town within 24 hours. Such is Technology.

It all sounds a bit soul-less, but the alternative is simple. Roger Waters has been out on his own for nearly 30 years, and Rick Wright and Syd Barrett are dead. So, if you want to hear the music they wrote, played live, then this is the only choice.

These guys, and there were 10 of them, 2 guitarists and a Bass player, all who sang, 2 keyboard players, 2 drummers and 3 girl backing singers, sounded pretty well like the real thing. Yes, you could tell it wasn’t David Gilmour singing, but the quality of the musicianship was such that, close your eyes, and the original group was playing in front of you. If you opened your eyes, you saw vintage, iconic Floyd images. The cycling population in Us and Them, the flowing flags from The Division Bell, and the timeless and child-like Black and White film on the beach from the late 60s. We even had a 30 foot long inflatable pig appear above us.

DARK SIDE OF THE MOON

BRIT FLOYD IN ACTION

THE GREAT GIG IN THE SKY

THE INFLATABLE PIG
 
video
VIDEO OF THE CLOSING MOMENTS OF THE SHOW

Well it would wouldn’t it. It was a Pink Floyd show.

They worked their way through all the Floyd’s best music, including an excellent 25 minute long version of “Echoes”, something I’d never heard played live before. They did a set of two and a half hours and with a light show that was pretty mind blowing, they gave the audience a really good evening.

There’s undoubtedly something unique about being in the same venue as the originals band members, but the time has come when that’s no longer possible, and this must now be the best alternative. Anyway, I really enjoyed it, and as a “Rave from the Grave”, it was excellent.

I’m off to see Roger Waters performing “The Wall” in a couple of weeks in London, so we’ll see what a difference is made when the guy who wrote it all 30 years ago plays it. Am I looking forward to it?

What do you think?