Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Michael McDermott - Greenbelt 2010

My blog page has become an annual affair over the last couple of years as I moved into Facebook and then Twitter territory. But when I was reading some old blogs yesterday, I was reminded that I have always blogged about Michael McDermott’s visits to Greenbelt. So in breaking with my new found laziness, here is my take on Greenbelt and specifically Michael McDermott.

It’s been 3 years since Michael last graced Greenbelt with his presence. Last time round he had been booked to play a couple of big gigs and I had launched a mini gorilla campaign to ensure no one at the festival had an excuse to say they didn’t know he was on. Wall to wall posters plastered the site, so much so they even got mentioned in one of the main festival reviews that year.

The tactic worked and Michael played to packed houses all weekend and lots of new fans were made. This time round there were no posters. Pre the festival various Facebook sites were used to remind people who Michael is, and Steve Foster wrote a beautiful piece for the Greenbelt website on why he was excited by Michael playing the festival.

Coming to England to play when you live in Chicago is expensive, so the choice of gigs and venues was very important to ensure people would see Michael play and and then buy the CD. So thanks go to Rachel and the music team for Performance Café and The Rising, Last Order’s team for their show, and also the CD store guys for giving Michael a good afternoon slot.

I met Michael shortly before he was due to play Saturday night in the performance Café. He had already told me how tired he was - combination of jet lag and lack of sleep from being a proud new father. He looked weary and I wondered whether this could impact on the performance.

Come kick-off time the Performance Café was bursting at the seams with not a chair or space on the floor to be found. I made do with a space at the side of the stage, with two of Michael’s biggest fans, Mike and Hannah, just behind me. I spend half my time at a McDermott gig scanning the audience, watching their reactions, soaking in the emotions that they show from their listening. Even before the show started it was clear this was an audience that included people who already knew and love Michael’s music. Yes, even in England there are hardcore fans!

The front of the stage was packed with youngsters seated on the ground. One of the most notable bits about this weekend was the impact Michael clearly had on teenagers and I would love to see him do a workshop/show in the youth area at Greenbelt in the future.

So it’s showtime. Another of Michael’s biggest fans over here also happens to be the compere for this venue, so after several superlatives from Paul in the build-up, Michael hit the stage. Don’t ask me for the track list - I don’t remember. Total running time was 45-50 minutes (thanks Paul). Favourites such as So Am I, Wall, LA Woman rolled of Michael’s tongue. And it was all very weird. Michael played with such ferocity and emotion you might have expected this to be the start of some rallying cry to go forth into battle. Except that the audience was silent - totally silent. None of the constant background chattering you get in videos on YouTube of Michael playing bars and clubs in the States. Here was an audience that was totally stunned and shaken by the outpouring from Michael.

Quieter moments came with Wounded, which in itself carries such weight and power, and I was pleased that Carry Your Cross was chosen to be the closing song as Michael brought us gently back down to earth. He intertwined this with an old American gospel song which he sang un-miked as he strolled off through the crowd and off into the moonlight. Take a look at Flickr for pictures of Michael in the Performance Café - it’s a great venue, by far the best looking one at the festival.

No polite applause for Michael at the end of the performance, just an eruption of yelps and cheers.

Michael was to perform one song later that night at the Last Orders show - a kind of chat show/video and music event. Big venue and fairly full which is never easy at 11pm. I like to catch a bit of Last Orders each year as I was involved with them when they first got going. I have always wanted to see Michael play on the show so it was great to be sat amongst so many people to witness this. To be honest it was all over a bit too quickly and I cannot remember what he sang (may have been a new song).

Greenbelt for me is very much a time to catch up with old friends. I don’t have the luxury of many who go off on holidays to exotic places - my sole holiday each year is 2days spent at Greenbelt. It’s a strange place to go and try and unwind but most of my life long friends are also there and there is much catching up to be done. So for me, the rest of the evening was bar-side chats and early to bed. Michael, I believe, kept others entertained with his Springsteen repertoire. Would love to have heard it but life is about priorities, and for me that was sleep.

Sunday at Greenbelt is dominated by the coming together of 20,000 plus people for a morning service. So often in recent years I have been busy doing other stuff (last year I was arranging the communion taking place after the service, busy opening wine bottles) and only manage to dip into it. This year I was able to be there in its entirety. For the last 30 years I have always been with the same group of friends when I go to the service, and this year was no exception. Sadly the service failed to have the impact on me that it did on others. Poor sound and lack of video screen to the left of the stage made it difficult to follow the proceedings. But it is still a great feeling to be stood amongst so many.

The next chapter of Michael at Greenbelt was about to unfold. There is one "must-do" gig in my eyes for Michael at Greenbelt, and that is to stand alongside Martyn Joseph at The Rising. Three artists are chosen to appear with Martyn, and get to discuss their inspiration etc and sing a couple of songs. Martyn talked about the passion Michael puts into every word and note when he performs, and Michael duly delivered. This is a gig that is impossible to get into, such are the sizes of the queue, so grateful for friends who enabled for me to have the best view in the house. From memory Michael sang Wall and LA Woman (OK Still Aint Over You Yet - but LA Woman is easier to type). Michael then joined in on harmonies with Martyn on a Springsteen song. As with the Performance Café, Michael gave it everything. The messages from the States were true - he is singing the best people can remember. Audience reaction told you that he had nailed it.

A quick bite to eat and then it was off to the CD store for his final performance that weekend. A decent crowd was there to see him play and he gave 20 Miles an outing as his closing number. This was followed by a CD signing session, using his very own ("Michael McDermott Autograph Pen" - I kid you not!). The queue was great, and as with the rest of the weekend, Michael showed a warmness and engagement with fans that I had never witnessed before. None of the nerves that had been present on previous trips were evident and Greenbelters went away happy with their photo with Michael memento.

The weekend was almost over for both of us - I had to go home early the following day, Michael was flying back to Heather and Rain. There was time for an interview at the press office, and whilst Michael was doing that I had an interesting discussion with a journalist about music stuff.

Michael was clearly shattered and I dropped him back at the hotel. I caught up on some paperwork that I had promised myself I would do during the weekend and then met up with friends back at the festival. Later I joined the Pip Wilson crew in the bar and we chatted to the small hours with Gil Scott-heron’s band - wonderful stuff from them. Sadly Gil failed to show on the Monday, but that’s another story.

Monday morning I dropped Michael off at the coach station, said my farewells to people and headed home in a record 3 and a half hours, helped by the tribute show on Radio 4 to Humphrey Lyttelton.

I was away from home for about 52 hours. Not the longest holiday I have ever had! It had moments of joy, sadness, reflection and at times was just plain weird. Was it all worth it - YES.


Isn't it unbelievable? I had never heard of Michael did this happen? Saw him in the Performance Cafe and was knocked out by him. What a performer! Such raw emotion! Amazing!
I should have added one other unsung hero - Matt, Michael's manager, who put in a lot of hours to make it all happen.
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