The Madcap’s Last Laugh, Syd Barrett tribute concert – May 10th, 2007

I’ve been trawling through my diary from ten years ago, chronicling my trials as a writer, but every now and then I find something very special that has nothing to do with my scribblings. Ten years ago today I was lucky enough to go to a gig with my nephew Chris which exceeded all expectations…

Last night Chris and I drove to the Barbican to attend The Madcap’s Last Laugh, a tribute concert to Syd Barrett. I had been looking forward to this since it was first announced. All sorts of rumours had been flying around about who might show up, but when names like Robyn Hitchcock, Chrissie Hynde and Martha Wainwright were officially announced I realised that it would be a sincere tribute from people genuinely influenced by Syd. I had wondered if anyone from Pink Floyd might show up. Guy (Pratt) told me that David Gilmour had been approached and had politely declined. I guess he felt that he had made his tribute already with his very moving rendition of Dark Globe on his last tour. David saying no effectively ruled out Nick and Rick, too, and as for Roger… I knew that he was in the country on tour, but who knows if he had the time?

Anyway, the traffic was terrible and we were fifteen minutes late but, thankfully, the show was late starting and we were in our excellent seats (second row, just right of centre!) in plenty of time for the start. The show was wonderful in a very English and slightly shambolic way. Everyone was just a little under-rehearsed, singers had scraps of paper with the lyrics, roadies wrestled with mic stands to ready them for the next artistes, all of varying heights. The line-up was great. Captain Sensible (looking alarmingly like Paul O’Grady), Nick Laird-Clowes, Damon Albarn, The Bees, and then, to finish the first half, on strode Roger Waters.

Well, Chris and I jumped to our feet as did the rest of the audience. He looked very nervous – he was shaking like a leaf even when he was playing – and he played Flickering Flame on an acoustic guitar accompanied by Jon Carin on keyboards.

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Roger Waters – Flickering Flame

What a great first half. I even saw Storm Thorgerson queueing for the loo in the break.

The second half was even better. Vashti Bunyan, more Damon Albarn and Captain Sensible, Robyn Hitchcock, John Paul Jones, and Chrissie Hynde. Then Joe Boyd came on and told us he couldn’t think of a better way to round off the evening than to ask David, Nick and Rick onto the stage… Well, we were blown away. I had totally convinced myself that this was not going to happen and here we were. There were shouts of ‘Roger Waters!’ from the crowd, to which David replied, ‘Yes, he was here, too…’ So where was he now? Never mind… They played Arnold Layne – it wasn’t the greatest rendition, there were problems with Rick’s keyboard and mic, but it was just terrific to see them playing again.

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From L-R: Richard Wright, Andy Bell, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Jon Carin

And that was it. There were cries for more, not least from me, and they did join everyone else for the final Singalonga Bike. An amazing evening and Chris and I left on a real high.

I later learned from Guy that David had called him at 2pm that day asking what he was up to that night. Guy had a Bryan Ferry gig in Cambridge and couldn’t attend. He was gutted. He also explained Roger’s no-show with the band: apparently he had to get back to his hotel to meet his girlfriend. I hate to think that I missed my one opportunity to see the classic Floyd line-up because Rog’ fancied a quickie with his bit of stuff*…

Anyway, it was a great evening, a worthy tribute to Syd and I got some good photos. I had hoped to meet Matt Johns from the Brain Damage website, but I couldn’t get a signal on my phone in the Barbican. Turns out he was sitting about four seats down from us.

*I realise I’m being very uncharitable here!

For a full setlist, the wonderful Brain Damage site has it all here.

All photos by Mark Stay

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My First EasterCon – My Writing Diary Ten Years On – Easter Sunday, 8th April 2007

Ten years ago I enjoyed/suffered/endured my first ever Eastercon as part of the Gollancz team. Looking back at my diary it’s interesting just how little of the actual conference I chronicled — mostly because I was away filming authors — but I must have liked it, as I’ve been back for more several times since, even getting to attend as an author a couple of years ago! It’s generally a slicker affair these days, but some of that ramshackle charm remains. I won’t be going this year, but I’ll always have Chester…

Easter Sunday, 8th April 2007

I’ve spent the last couple of days in Chester for Eastercon – the British science fiction convention. There were engineering works on the trains all weekend, so I decided to drive the 240-odd miles to Chester. Points of interest along the way included a sign directing tourists to a Secret Bunker, and a pub called The Headless Woman.

I arrived at around half-six and made contact with the rest of the Gollancz gang. We had dinner at an Italian place called Piccolino’s. The author Roger Levy was there with his wife Tina. Roger is a very pleasant guy, quiet-spoken, but with a quick wit. Also with us was Dave Bradley, editor of SFX.

On Saturday morning I was up fairly early for a stroll around Chester to film its more interesting bits (I had come along to film our authors in conversation, and I thought I might need some links). Chester is completely charming. It has wonderful two-tiered shopping arcades with plenty of independent shops. Even the chains look more interesting, although once you get inside they reveal their usual indentikit selves. One highlight was an evangelist busker who played a five-string bass guitar while singing Amazing Grace at the top of his voice. He was joined by a man with a harmonica, another with an acoustic guitar and a woman in her seventies with a mandolin. They looked like the worst Led Zeppelin tribute band ever.

(Gollancz publicist) Jon Weir grew up in Chester and gave Gillian Redfearn, Sara Mulryan, myself and Marcus Gipps (lovely guy from Blackwells… looks like Paul McCartney circa Let It Be) the grand tour. We saw the ancient walls, the excavations at the amphitheatre and had lunch by the River Dee, which looks a lot like Putney and Richmond, but less crowded.

In the afternoon I filmed Richard Morgan in conversation with Ian McDonald, followed by Roger Levy and Jon Courtney Grimwood. All were great and very pleasant to work with. I like that they didn’t shamelessly plug their books, but instead discussed the issues that inspired their writing.

In the evening we had a Chinese meal at a restaurant called Raffles which had French airship murals on the walls, so we figured it hand’t been Chinese for very long. There was a heated debate between Richard Morgan, Jo Fletcher and Ian Drury on the historical accuracy of the film 300. I was way out of my depth and just listened, learning an awful lot about ancient Greece and Persia.

We followed the meal by attending the British Science Fiction Awards. It was a fairly ramshackle affair, with more in common with a village fete raffle than a glitzy awards ceremony, but that seems to be how the hardcore SF fans like it.

Today we ended the conference with a trip to Jodrell Bank. A very pleasant way to spend an hour or so. We took a 3D trip to Mars, then stood and stared at the mighty dish.

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From L-R: Me, Sara Mulryan, Jon Weir, Bragelonne’s Stephane Marsan, and Gillian Redfearn

I drove with Jon Weir back to London. We discovered a mutual love for John Williams’ movies scores and sang along with Muppets and Disney show tunes. In all the weekend was less a conference and more of a weekend break. Chester is a lovely place, though, and I’d love to go back one day.