Suzanne Vega @ Nottingham Royal Centre (02/07/04)

I love this venue and whilst I was excited about seeing Suzanne Vega, I didn't expect to be as impressed as I was.

She was amazing. I think this must go straight to number 2 in my favourite gigs of all time (Muse @ Nottingham Arena still holds the primary slot!)

We had some good seats, about 8 rows back in the stalls and bang in the middle. The sound quality was as good as I've heard (I'm ignoring the tiny bit of feedback which eminated from the bass player's amp when he left the stage for Suzanne to do a solo song - it was soon remedied at Suzanne's request)

The support (or 'warm up' act as he seemed to want to be called) was from a guy called 'Lach'. Weird name, I know. He was from "New Yorkcity". He was mildly entertaining, a sort of Buddy Holly on crack. I couldn't quite decide whether he wanted to be a singer/songwriter or a stand-up comedian. He was attempting both and perhaps as a result spreading himself a little too thinly. He was keen to establish some kind of rapore with the audience and tried (mainly in vain) for some crowd participation. Why do American artists seem to crave this so badly? Can you imagine the msucians of Radiohead encouraging the crowd to clap along to Paranoid Android??

Halfway through his set, some fool in the audience's mobile went off. It was a hilarious moment as Lach introduced his next song as 'Ode to a cell phone' or something similiar.

I'm sorry but it's rant time here. WHY, OH, WHY, CAN'T PEOPLE EITHER SWITCH THEM OFF OR NOT TAKE THEM AT ALL!!!? Do they feel that they might need to make an urgent call in the middle of the gig? I give up. Also, I know I'm a bit naughty with my taking photos at gigs, but the guy in the row in front took what must have been about 50 flash photography shots during the night. The artists were visibly not impressed. Neither was I. It's taking the complete Michael.

Anyway :)

Lach did finally win the audience over with a song called 'Former President Bush'. We all got quite excited about that and some of us even went as far as whooping! Anyway, nice idea Lach. He ended with a song (my favourite from his offerings) called 'Drinking beer with Mom'.

Lach wrapped it up and there was a short break and then Suzanne came on about 9pm. She was wearing a long-sleeved black top and some black combat pants which she kindly informed us were making their 'day-byoo'. She was accompanied by a drummer, an eccentric looking guitarist whose hair seemed to be rebelling against his head and a virtuosic bass-player.

They launched straight into 'Ninety-nine point nine farenheit degrees'. It was slower than the studio version and sounded brilliant, I was instantly assured this was going to be a priceless gig.

Sadly, the hall wasn't full. She really deserves to have more support but there we go - that's just my opinion. On completion of this opener, Suzanne greeted the audience and told of how that song title had proved to be a little baffling to those who heard it outside the US.

She then played 'Caramel'. Another fine song and reproduced with admirable accuracy.

Suzanne demonstrated her guitar skills on most numbers, choosing to play a big acoustic (with finger and thumb picks?). On some numbers, she put down her guitar and allowed the band to take care of business.

I know I've got the order wrong, and she played 2 or 3 songs I didn't recognise, but the rest of the set included:

99.9F degress
In Liverpool
Straight Lines
I'll never be your Maggie May
Marlene on the Wall
The Queen and the Soldier
Blood Makes Noise
Small Blue Thing
World Before Columbus
Heroes go Down
Tom's Diner

She played a few songs with just her and the bass player. Infact one was just the bass and her vocals which was both brave and very effective.

She spoke quite a lot in between songs and had a warming presence. I almost could have paid to listen to her "filler stories" alone.

She told us she'd been out with a guy from Liverpool which had inspired her to write amongst others, 'In Liverpool'.

She played two encores and received a standing ovation each time she left the stage.

Jamie Cullum & Katie Melua @ Blenheim Palace (01/07/04)

"Some people do shows - I just piss about"

Blenheim Palace was a beautiful place. We arrived early, parked up and sat and had a picnic under a tree. Very civilised I know, but that was the kind of event this was. There was quite a few stalls around the Palace entrance selling food and drink. We spotted the 'Hardys Wines' stall and made straight for it. One bottle of wine was then consumed sat on the grassed banks of the lakeside picnic area.

We then meandered into the grounds to take our seats. The weather had forecasted rain which was a shame especially since it was July and (apparently) summertime. So, we dressed for warmth and the possibility of wetness. What we didn't dress for was for bitter arid coldness. All evening the wind blew through my thin anorak chilling my bones as icicles formed underneath my beak.

There were large video screens erected either side of the stage for those (like us) who weren't particularly near the stage and you can only realistically squint for so long.

Anyway, a local radio presenter jumped onto the stage and whipped the crowd up (I couldn't see any spare seats) before Katie Melua took to the stage.

And she was simply gorgeous. That hair is to die for. She sat alone to begin with on a stool with an acoustic guitar and played 'Faraway Voice' dedicating it to Eva Cassidy if I wasn't mistaken. It was brave. Her voice was great though and it carried well. I was impressed with the way the sound engineers had got it all sorted.

After that first number she was joined by a fairly large backing band consisting of keyboards, piano, a brass instrument (trumpet I think?), guitar, drums and bass. Interestingly the bass player was a small lady who played some songs on a a double bass that dwarfed the poor girl!

Mike Batt was there on piano and he bantered with Katie inbetween songs. She mentioned him a lot. I got the impression that he had a large part in writing/arranging her songs.

Katie treated us to a new song off her forthcoming album. It was called Spiderweb and I seem to remember it being a cracker. Bring on the new album!

She played I think all of the songs off of 'Call of the Search' except 'Lilac Wine' which was a pity because I think that's one of the best on the album. Anyway, she played 'Belfast (Penguins and Cats)' and explained about how she had lived in Belfast for a while and that it suddenly clicked with naive little me that penguins and cats were infact protestants and catholics.

Katie played 'Closest thing to crazy last', obviously. She played for about an hour.

I wasn't expecting her and her band to be able to recreate the album so faithfully for some reason but they did and her voice was strong and smooth.

After a short break and some more shivering, Jamie came on. He was wearing a leather jacket which he removed after the first number. This was the second time I'd seen Jamie. He was even more cocky then before. I didn't think this was possible but it was. He loved being there, he marvelled at the views, he appreciated his audience, he spoke to us all a lot, he showed off jumping around all over the stage, he played some unusual songs and generally put on a classy performance.

He let slip that they were filming the concert and that a DVD was going to be made of it all. Suddenly the probing cameras on arms and a tireless roving film crew all made perfect sense.

Cilla Black was there! We were sat on the front row of block about 3 blocks back from the stage. She and her extensive entourage walked past right in front of us half way through the night. I was startled by the thinness of her legs.

Jamie was clearly bigging it up just that extra bit for the cameras and being back in the UK (he'd been in the US) and more specifically near his home town this felt like one performance he was really 'getting a kick out of'. And we got a kick out of him.

Jamie showed us a piece of carpet he was standing on the stage. He said it was his Gran's rug. He said Britney Spears had snakes and lesbians - he had his Nan's carpet.

He played one song which basically involved him attacking (albeit rhythmically!) from every angle including from on top of it and from below it. He carefully removed his watch first. He said he'd been in the papers recently because children across the country and been abusing their pianos in an attempt to copy him. He joked that this was the proudest moment of his life.

When he introduced the band, the camera team got confused between what a drummer plays and what a bass player plays. Subsequently the wrong people were being beamed up onto the video screens during his introductions. Jamie also forgot the mention the guitarist who was standing on the corner of the stage. Embarressing for a moment but Jamie soon pleaded forgiveness by grabbing the musician's leg and wrapping himself around it

They also played a cover version of the Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows' song. It was interestingly arranged to incorporate a string quartet and Jamie explained the bass player had done this deliberately in the style of the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby.

He also played a song on an acoustic guitar was a nice surprise. On one number he wandered into the crowd and procured a pink rose off of a fan.

Unfortunately we left just before the end due to hyperthermia and becuase we wanted to get out of the car park before all hell broke loose and what a difference a song makes.