Gil Scott-Heron, 1949-2011, and the best concert I’ve ever been tosimon gray - 2011-05-28, 18:10:24
It’s not my custom to publicly mourn the death of famous people; generally, it’s a thing other people do which makes me feel a bit icky – I didn’t know the famous person, and the famous person didn’t know me, so whilst it’s always sad when anybody dies it seems pointless to outpour grief for somebody one didn’t know and who didn’t know you.
I’m not going to break that habit and publicly mourn the sad death of Gil Scott-Heron, but instead I’m going to talk about the best concert I’ve ever been to in my 41 years of life, and what perhaps will remain the best concert I’ll ever have been to in what remains of my (hopefully at least another 41 years!) of life.
It’s a story I’ve told people in person more times than I care to count; there’s some people who’ve heard it more times than they’d care to count. I tend to present a fairly robotic, sentiment-free face to the world, but telling this story is one of only two (and you can read the other one on birmingham-alive!, if you want) which genuinely brings an emotional tear to my eye, rather than just my allergies to the many airborne particulates where I live.
I can’t quite remember if it was late 1989 or early 1990 (it was definitely that academic year, because I was in my second year as an undergraduate at Birmingham Conservatoire) that I went to a concert at the Birmingham Hummingbird. Myself and my best friend at the time arrived at 8pm, the doors open time printed on the ticket, got a drink each, and waited. And waited, and waited, and waited. It’s fair to say after that we waited some more, followed by some more waiting.
Eventually at about midnight(!) a band came on – it was the a-capella group Black Voices, doing what I think might have been their first ‘proper’ concert in a big venue. They sang for about 40 minutes, and it’s fair to say that considering the ticket price, we felt we’d got our money’s worth just for that.
Then, at about 1:00am another band came on – Microgroove – who played for about an hour. Unquestioningly, it was easily worth the ticket price just for them – so much so, by about 2:00am when they finished we assumed the concert was over, since back the Gil Scott-Heron had a particular reputation for not turning up (or rather, being detained by airport security…). But the stage manager announced over the PA that we should rest assured, the concert we were going to see was going to happen.
Then about 2:30am, the man himself came on to the stage, sat in front of his Fender-Rhodes electric piano, leading us in what was his at-the-time concert opener, Five Miles Down. And then the rest of the band came on, treating us to at least two and a half hours of the most amazing concert ever, including a 30 minute version of the song Angel Dust. At the close of the concert, myself and my friend walked back home to our flat in Kings Heath.
I’ve not told you how much the ticket cost yet.