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Having survived a life threatening operation to remove your pancreas, where the odds of survival were 2-1 against, you have the right to live life the way you want to. Chris Rea chose to record the album he wanted to. Dancing Down The Stony Road. An offering of the Delta Blues played immaculately by a small band of musicians who have been with Rea for donkeys years. While the £10.99 handed over to www.cd-wow.com for this superb double album is money well spent, I also chose to part with over £50 for two tickets to see Rea at Manchester's intimate Carling Apollo venue. A venue I far prefer to the impersonal arenas that dominate indoor concerts. Sited in Ardwick, just 5 minutes walk (if you are foolish enough to risk your safety in this way) from Piccadilly Station in the City Centre, there are plenty of car parks charging between £3 and £5. I was lucky enough to park on the main road for free. Numerous buses and taxis also pass this way. The venue itself is a throwback to the sixties and probably hasn?t had its décor changed since then. Holding 2,500 in an all seater theatre, a well sized stage can be clearly seen from just about all seats. So, what did Mr Rea have in mind? Well, a support act to start with. The very impressive Chris Difford (formerly of Squeeze) and the brilliant guitarist Francis Dunnery (formerly of It Bites - you may remember Calling All The Heores). They put on an enjoyable acoustic set lasting 30 minutes, taking tracks from Difford's latest solo album as well as Squeeze material such as Cool For Cats and Pulling Muscles From A Shell. A short break, and Rea appeared to a somewhat muted reception from an ageing audience. This is a thinner Chris Rea compared to the one that hit the big time in the late eighties, where he collected numerous Brits nominations. But there is certainly no lack of talent here. Screeching slide guitar. Booming gravely vocals. And new songs. In f
act, too many new songs. While I love the new album, Rea is a man with pedigree. There was no Fool If You Think Its Over. No Lets Dance or I Can Hear You Heartbeat. Auberge and Looking For The Summer were lost in the back catalogue. No place for Loving You Again. So, of the eighteen tracks played, 14 came from Stony Road. References to his brush with death. References to Delta Blues. And a blues show this certainly was. The influences of Ry Cooder clear in the exquisite slide guitar. Rea knows how to build a song. Opening with Changing Times, he quickly merged this in to Dancing The Blues Away, recently performed live on the Parkinson show. The gospel feel of Sun Is Rising is an example of building a song though. Layer upon layer of instrumentation culminating in a superb crescendo of blues and classic guitar pose. While spending most of the show switching between two marvellous sounding guitars, midway through the show a peculiar looking rectangular guitar appeared. In a (far too) rare acknowledgement of the audience, he pointed to the Shell logo and explained that he had found this guitar in South Africa, made from a petrol can by a guy who couldn't afford to buy his own guitar. It sounded fantastic, perfect for Catfish Girl, a simplistic ditty that lifted the mood. But as Rea has done to me before, he immediately took the mood down to the depressingly doleful I Ain't Going Down This Way. Heading For The City led us in to the older Rea material. But this was restricted to just On The Beach, played with an almost Hispanic tinge, Josephine, with an additional verse acknowledging the developing life of his eldest daughter and the unsurpassed Road To Hell (Parts I and II), with Robert Ahwaii playing the rhythm guitar that laid the foundations to the superb slide guitar that is Rea's hallmark. A brief departure, loud applause, and a two track encore. Straight back to the new stuff. My Peace W
ill Come, a beautifully sung ballad at a moment that demanded something up tempo, followed by the concluding track The Hustler, lifted to heights well above those it offers on the album, brought the show to a close. Crys for a second encore went ignored. It was, all in all, a frustrating night. I had witnessed a new Blues star in the making. 51 year old Chris Rea is treading in territory that delivers music of the highest quality. And there is no doubt that the musical content of this performance was of the highest quality, vocally and instrumentally. But I felt let down. A lack of talking to his appreciative audience. The repeated habit of raising the tempo only to kill it stone dead. And you simply cannot justify the omission of Stainsby Girls in any circumstances. 95 minutes is too short a gig for an artist with such a marvellous back catalogue. I?m told the tour is sold out. Dates at smaller venues in Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Glasgow, Newcastle and other towns remain. If you have tickets, enjoy what you see. But do not expect to see a showman. Rea is a musician who plays live. Not a live performer. More information from www.chrisrea.com or www.ticketmaster.com
It is some years since I visited The Manchester Apollo and I knew I would get lost. The last time I was there I was going to see Bros! Remember them? They hadn't hit the big time yet but I thought they were gorgeous all the same. I managed to persuade a friend of mine to tag along and the concert was actually pretty good. I had this vague recollection of the building and the seats being like those you get in a cinema but the memory isn't what it used to be and we are going back a few years. You may be questioning my taste in music at this point and believe me it is rather bizarre. I have records from ranging from The Damned to Barry Manilow and it really depends what mood I'm in as to what I listen to. On this occasion it was to see Prince, the pint-sized man of pop himself. I saw him some years ago in an open-air concert at Main Road, Manchester and the atmosphere was fantastic. He has one of those unique voices and the range of his vocals is tremendous. He can reach those very high notes without the need for anyone to squeeze his balls although there are a fair few people who wouldn't mind obliging. It was a concert that I hadn't planned to go to although I was keeping my eye on the tickets on ebay. Last Thursday while listening to the excellent Manchester radio station, Key 103 they were holding a charity auction. My mistake was tuning in all day and making bids that ended up costing me a fortune. I told myself it was all for a good cause and it was, Manchester Kids! This is a charity that supports the kids of Manchester, people from all walks of life and I was particularly interested as it was close to home. Low and behold there was an auction for Prince tickets with overnight hotel accommodation at The Thistle Hotel, Manchester. In the heat of the moment I picked up the phone and placed a bid, it was successful at £180! The other pair of tickets went for over £300. I'd well and truly done it now. Th
e day after Manchester Kids phoned me to confirm the details. I had a choice of Monday 7th October on Tuesday 8th. Monday night was in the circle and Tuesday night was in the stalls. I had done some research beforehand and decided that the stalls were usually the best seats as they were on ground level. You can get a view of the seating plan by visiting most of the ticket selling agents like www.ticketmaster.co.uk The stage is and end stage and there are six blocks of seats in the stalls and six blocks in the circle. The seat numbers go from 1 to 47 which was fair enough but I was a little confused over my seat number. If you look at the seating chart the letters go from 'a' to 'v' in the first set of 3 blocks and then to 'w' and 'aa' in the second set of three blocks. As my seat was on row 'y' I was a confused. You simply had to imagine where it was, as all the rows weren?t listed. It was as I imagined and if you do the same what happens is the rows do continue through to 'z' and then start at 'aa' and so on. The same thing appears to happen in the circle which is up above. The best block is in the middle with seat numbers 16-32 rows a-v. You are then more central; as I was in seat one you had more of a side on view. The same will apply to the circle although you are slightly more set back than the equivalent seat in the stalls. One thing I will add about the Carling Apollo is that it is only a small venue. Don't think that because you are in row pp' for example that you will need binoculars to see the stage. It is very similar in set up to the cinema and the seats are layered just the same. When everyone is sat down I would say that the view is excellent, unless your 4ft tall with a 6ft bloke in front of you. The seats aren't as stepped as what you might find at the MEN for example but at least you don't feel like you?re going to fall over the person in front of y
ou. If you managed to get a stage seat the view would be fantastic and definitely an experience to remember. Whatever your seat numbers you should have a pretty good night. There are no giant screens that you get at the big venue's and you don't need them, the sounds carries well and even from the side angle you get a clear view of the stage. Its full seating capacity is 2693 so it's a lot smaller than the MEN! I believe it is possible to have the arena standing and seated but I'm not sure how they do this. If you have a disability then phone the Apollo direct on 0161 242 2560 they do have access for disabled patrons. If you wish to book tickets for events the major online retailers like tickemaster and ticketline can accommodate, but beware of booking fees. The box office is open from 2pm to Showtime on show days only and I'm sure you will be able to get tickets from them direct without paying a booking fee. The venue does have a licensed bar but like most places the prices are over the top. A soft drink was £1.20 for the small plastic cups and bags of sweets like fruit pastilles were £2.20. Merchandise was extortionate, around £20 for a T-Shirt and £15 for a programme. There were the usual sellers outside the venue selling T-Shirts for £5 but I don't know what the quality was like. I always think that they seem to concentrate more on making money than looking after the ticket holders. The toilet facilities were scarce. They were situated upstairs and downstairs but there were only 2 ladies toilets in each facility. You can imagine that the queues were quite big. It says on ticketmaster that there is no air conditioning but I found it much cooler than the MEN so they must have had something. It was very comfortable although the seats were your basic cinema seats. I am always to hot at the MEN and this just makes you want to drink and drink. I could take my coat off and wasn't too hot or too cold.
They do say that no photographic equipment is allowed. They do check your bag and they do take camera's from you. My friend took hers and they took it off her. They did give her a ticket so that she could get it back afterwards but they hold no responsibility if anything happens. She had a digital camera that was worth quite a bit so you're well advised to keep them at home. It does say that no drinks are allowed also, I think they are more concerned with glass bottles as they let me in with my bottle of Fanta Fruit Twist! For those of us that are parents you have to leave children under one behind, although I couldn't imagine taking a baby to a rock concert. If I haven't put you off yet you might one to know how to get there. If you do, you're asking the wrong person. I somehow managed to come on to Stockport Road too far down and completely missed the venue. You cannot miss the Apollo if you're travelling in the right direction, as it is a large white building virtually on the edge of a roundabout. You will also see people queuing, as there are only a couple of double doors to gain entrance. These are of course manned with security. They check your tickets on the way in and then you get searched as you go through the doors. I can give you the address though! It is situated on the A6 Stockport Road, Manchester, M12 6AP. This road seems to go on forever so make sure you are travelling in the right direction, not like me. There is supposed to be a car park in Aspley Grove for £3 but we were directed to one in some school grounds which cost £5. It was patrolled until 20 minutes after the show ended. The nearest metro is Piccadilly Gardens and the main rail network is also Piccadilly. Mini Cabs and black cabs are available and it is probably a 5-10 minute drive outside the city centre. Be prepared to spend around £5 in a taxi, it is not walking distance unless you?re very fit! I would say that the venue is easily acces
sible although not directly in the city centre, the seats were good and the view was better than at the larger venues. I was surprised that acts were still performing at the Apollo after the construction of the MEN arena but I suppose it attracts a different class of entertainer. Forthcoming events are: Fast Show Live! Pokemon Live! Paul Weller Bryan Ferry Motorhead A-ha Gary Moore Many more could be mentioned so it appears that the Carling Apollo is alive and kicking and still a venue to be reckoned with. The cost of the Prince tickets ranged from £35-£60 but this is based on the artist and not the venue. If you do decide to take a trip there, have a great time but keep those cameras at home.