Sunday, February 21, 2010

Postcard from the arena

Elvis, the ultimate showman, is still wowing the crowds.  Many of the musicians playing in Birmingham this weekend were members of Elvis's original band, but obviously centre stage was bare.  The star of the show made his appearance via archive footage from the early seventies and even in 2D his charisma filled the arena.  The fact that the projection of him is about 4 times the size of the figures on stage helps I suppose.

No one in the band even tries to outperform him; they just stick to what they do best: playing great music.  Several audience members had a go though.  Sales of quiff wigs must have shot up last week.  Eager to join in with the experience of the many girls the footage showed Elvis bending from the stage to kiss, one woman yelled out in a brief quiet spot 'I luv yow, El-vees!'  The man himself may never have toured the West Midlands in his lifetime, but he was made welcome here last night.

I normally hate gigs in huge venues because the distance from the band destroys the atmosphere.  So a show which makes a virtue of the fact you have to watch events on the video screens is an interesting alternative.  Of course, it takes a performer of Elvis's star quality to pull it off.  No need for a phone vote to tell Elvis he's got the X factor; the fact he's still packing arenas more than 30 years after his death says it all.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Postcard from St Pancras

In the 1960s there were plans to demolish St Pancras station.  The big idea was to replace it with something modern, something less hideously old-fashioned.  Times change; and so do tastes.  It's unlikely champagne will ever go out of fashion though.

A couple of years ago, the Victorian gothic splendor of St Pancras was refurbished.  As part of the new, slick station facilities the longest champagne bar in Europe was built.  How long?  Um, about the length of one of the Eurostar trains that pull in alongside to deliver passengers arriving in London from Paris and other points European.

Sipping champagne on a draughty platform might not sound immediately appealing.  Wait though: the booths are heated - press a couple of discreet buttons and the seats begin to warm.  Pink champagne was the decadent choice while the tartan blanket provided by the attentive (and feeling the chill himself) waiter gave a uniquely British twist.

Literary connections are essential for any station intending to make its mark.  King's Cross next door has the magical Platform 9 and 3/4.  Paddington has Paddington.   As you sit alongside the Eurostar, nestled in your warm blanket, the arched roof naturally draws the eye, as it did for John Betjeman whose statue, caught gazing up in wonder, stands nearby.  The experience is almost sublime.  Almost.  If only the platform announcements were for Paris, rather than imminent departures for the East Midlands.