I am a music fan, my tastes entrenched by a love of the great singers, and songwriters, my earliest introductions were fashioned by my parents love of swing and jazz, not to mention a little country, via artists of the calibre of Sinatra, Martin, and Davis Jnr, that triumvirate of coolness known as the Rat Pack, other notables on the turntable were Bassey, Mathis, Nat “King” Cole, and Monro, on another spectrum was the beautiful mellowness of country legend Don Williams, there was Slim Whitman, a staple amongst many parents collections, I often heard Doris Day, and that seemed to be it, oh well, 'Que Sera, Sera', as the song goes, I never heard the pulsing and throbbing of sounds remotely connected to my age or era, not least until I looked beyond my parents record collection, of course I heard many of the current sounds on the radio, the kind of artists that dressed like girls as my father often said, “Glam Rock” as it was known, these were heady days, I liked the freshness of these sounds, Bolan, Slade, The Sweet, even the now infamous Gary Glitter was cool, as much as I liked this new breed, I felt something was missing, these were just sounds, there was no real connection, it was 1972, and I heard a catchy little tune by an artist that I was already aware of, but hadn’t paid too much attention to, Neil Diamond, the song was 'Song Sung Blue', it was a big hit of that summer.
I liked the song, it was infectious, almost like a nursery rhyme, I guess it made me look deeper into Neil’s work, of course 'Sweet Caroline' and 'Cracklin’ Rosie' had preceded 'Song Sung Blue' as big hits for Neil, and at that time Neil Diamond was gearing up for the now famous Greek Theatre stand, which would spawn the album 'Hot August Night', yes, the album depicting Neil in a rather compromising pose, he was about to be launched into the music stratosphere.
I started looking for compilation albums of his work, and found a couple, 'Moods', his current release, and 'Gold', Live at the Troubadour, which contained many of his earlier smashes, I listened and found myself finding something within the music, from the raucous 'Lordy', to the gentle 'Play Me', songs which said something, and made the connection I was missing, the following years was spent increasing my musical discernment, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, building My Diamond Collection, I had totally moved away from the sounds of my parents, although I still liked them, they were of another time, these artists had never made it onto the turntable until I introduced them into the family abode, I couldn’t imagine what my parents thought, meaningless rubbish no doubt, I had to choose my time when I could play them uninterrupted, our house was a busy house, me being one of five born to my parents, my siblings had their own tastes, Alice Cooper, The Jackson Five, The Beatles, Motown ... our home had now become a hive of differing musical sounds, like a carnival, and it was great.
I remember the summer of 1977 like yesterday, because it was wet, boy was it wet, the previous summer of 1976 had broke all records as being the most prolonged and hottest dry spell we had known, 16 weeks of uninterrupted sunshine, from May to September, it was fantastic, it was a momentous time being a kid that year, outdoors all day every day, doing as kids will, having a kick about, scrumping, days out, and ice cream, yes, those were surely halcyon days, but back to 1977, the rain, and more rain, and more rain, was it ever going to stop, it was around mid-June that we had a visit from an uncle, he used to sing in the pubs, he mentioned that he had tickets for a concert “Neil Diamond” at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, he said he won them in a raffle at work, but couldn’t go, and offered them to my Mum and Dad, they declined, what about if my eldest took one of your lads, it’ll be great, I believe this guy is really good, it was at that point I pleaded to go, I was fourteen years old, my mum looked at me, looked at my uncle and then at my Dad, what do you think, my mum was against any of us travelling so far afield, it was my uncle that swung it, let the lad go, he’ll be looked after, all the usual concerns were raised, how will I get there, how much does it cost, all those fears were allayed, my cousin drove, the tickets were a gift, and the only cost was for food and drink, the last words my uncle heard before he headed home, were, you better look after him, how embarrassing for me, spoken like a was a baby or something, I was ecstatic; over the moon.
So that was that, I was going to see my first ever concert, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was looking forward to it immensely, as the day drew ever nearer, the rain continued, which didn’t help my mother’s concerns, but what can you do, we didn’t have any control over it, the day before the concert the weather reported a slight improvement, still raining but not as consistent, then the morning of the concert, the weather was dull but dry, at least in soggy Manchester, I was picked up about 10:00am, and set off on the drive to Woburn, I had never been so far as our own neighbourhood without the escort of my parents, I couldn’t believe my mum had allowed me to go, but here I was, as we left Manchester and continued onto the southbound M6 the weather continued to get brighter, and getting towards Birmingham before turning towards Bedfordshire it was getting hotter, and the sky more blue, it was a good job we set off when we did, as the volume of traffic was unbelievable travelling towards and into Bedfordshire, and gave an insight into how popular Neil Diamond was, there wasn’t much conversation on the journey, I was a shy lad, quiet even, but there was enough to make the journey enjoyable, tales of family trials and tribulations, jokes at the expense of some of them, all in good humour of course, it was a nice time, we got caught in a jam which seemed endless, and amid a lot of frustrated sighing we started moving again, we stopped for some food a few miles from our destination, it was about 5pm, we spent about an hour resting, then off again for the last few miles, we reached Woburn at about 6:15pm and had to find a suitable place to park, once parked there was quite a march to the estate which would host the concert, the masses of people were somewhat alarming to this wet behind the ears fourteen year old, and was to some degree daunting, I had never seen so many people in one place, aside from Old Trafford football stadium on most Saturday afternoons, we finally reached the seating area, my cousin searched for where we would be sat, surprisingly we were not as far away as I thought we would be, about twenty rows from the stage, to the right, just off centre, I looked around in awe at the masses of people and the whole set up, the sun was shining brightly, and the whole atmosphere was of excitement and expectation, and then before anyone realised the band entered the stage, and launched into a lively 'Dance Of The Sabres', midway through Neil Diamond strode onto the stage to immense applause, strapped on his guitar and played through the rest of the prologue, with that unique and sensual style he has, dressed in a royal blue sequined shirt and black slacks with jewelled belt, he moved with ease, showcasing elements of his fencing days, dramatic poses and all, punctuated with cries of “Oh Yes” in acclaim of the music and the audience’s appreciation of him, he stood, stock still, milking the applause, hands on hips, and surveying his audience, and then the famous double fist pump so synonymous with Neil Diamond, a triumphant gesture, before launching into a raucous 'Soolaimon', the show continued well into the summer evening, not a spot of rain fell, it seemed Neil Diamond had not only cast a spell on his audience, but also on the weather gods.
The show was over before the moment had truly been realised, Neil Diamond lived up to every expectation, and as a first concert experience for myself, it couldn’t have been better, Saturday July 2nd 1977 had certainly planted a seed in me, and cemented a love affair with the music of a man I have admired for so long, since that day, I made it my mission to attend Neil’s concerts every year he came to Britain, and to this day, I have upheld that vow, looking back, it really was Woburn’s Abbey days.
SET LIST: WOBURN ABBEY 1977 Lament in D Minor/Dance of the Sabres Soolaimon Play Me You Got To Me Cherry Cherry Sweet Caroline Reggae Strut Solitary Man Kentucky Woman Red Red Wine Morningside Longfellow Serenade Beautiful Noise Stargazer Surviving the Life Lady Oh Tea For Two Song Sung Blue Cracklin' Rosie Holly Holy I Am... I Said Anthem Be Dear Father Lonely Looking Sky Anthem (Reprise) Skybird Be (Reprise)
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