Stevie Wonder – 02, London (again)

Tuesday 30th September 2008

My very own Stevie Wonder ‘European Mini-Tour’ came to end with another performance back at the O2, London. And probably for the first time in my life I was lost for words, but not for reasons I thought possible.

The previous show at the O2 received mixed reviews. Fans of Stevie’s music enjoyed the show, whilst fans of Stevie’s hits enjoyed the hits. The feeling was that this show would be no different. We took our floor seats again, just 3 rows further back than last time out. However, we’d lost the massive dancing area, gained by having front row seats.

The concert was about to begin, when I spotted someone who looked vaguely familiar. After moments of deliberation, I had a feeling it was Milton Hardaway, Stevie Wonder’s brother. I instantly jumped out my seat and walked (quickly) to catch him up. Not really knowing what to do once I’d caught up with him. I tapped him on the shoulder and asked “are you Stevie Wonder’s brother?”. At first, he wasn’t really sure what to make of me and my sudden approach. “I was at your birthday party at the Globen in Stockholm”. He smiled. “Actually, this is my 6th night, as I’ve also been to Birmingham, Manchester, Stockholm, Paris and now the 2nd time at the O2”. You could now see in his eyes a certain element of surprise.

Milton then asked “Are you going to the shows in Birmingham [Oct 3rd] and Manchester [Oct 4th]?”, replying with “Unfortunately, this is my last one, as I didn’t get tickets”. At this point, I thought I was taking up too much of his time, but amazingly he was now the one asking all the questions. I’m not one to feel star struck by any personality, as we’re all humans at the end of the day, but I could tell I was starting to feel a bit nervous. Probably the feeling of being in a quiz, where your life depended on you answering the next question correctly. Stupid really as they were all simple questions.

This is best described when Milton asked “Where are you sitting?”. I looked round and said “er D Block, 3rd row, down there”. Why oh why didn’t I just give my seat number, rather than mumbling whilst pointing to a block in the distance? Who knows, by simply pointing to a vague area, I may have out on the opportunity to get VIP tickets to a show, meeting Stevie Wonder back stage or even getting a mention at the O2. In any case, I met and had a photo taken with Milton Hardaway!

And now to Milton’s brother, Stevie Wonder. Once again, Aisha brought her father on to the stage, whilst performing All Blues by Miles Davis, showcasing his Harmonica skills. Then straight into As If You Read My Mind, Master Blaster, All I Do, Did I Hear You Say You Love Me and Knocks Me Off My Feet.

Stevie Wonder then performed ‘futuristic renditions’ of London Bridge is Falling, Fool On The Hill, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, I Can’t Get Your Satisfaction and People Make The World Go Round. A storming performance of Higher Ground followed, before introducing his band with Chick Corea’s Spain and continuing with Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing, Visions, Living For The City, Part-Time Lover, Overjoyed and Lately.

Aisha’s solo I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out Of My Life, with Stevie taking over with My Cherie Armour. Joss Stone then joined on stage to duet on Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours. He closed with performances of Sir Duke, I Wish, Isn’t She Lovely, You Are The Sunshine Of My Life, I Just Called To Say I Love You, Superstition including So What The Fuss and finally As.

Another great show for lovers of Stevie Wonder’s vast back catalogue. One friend mentioned, that Visions was phenomenal. I was left with the impression others left enjoying part of the concert, as not all the songs featured were on their greatest hit CD. Whilst I never got to hear any live songs I hadn’t heard before, I did hear an enjoyable and well thought out UK medley of tunes, a snippet of So What The Fuss and of course, above all else, I met Milton Hardaway!

Stevie Wonder – Bercy, Paris

Sunday 28th September 2008

The European Tour continued with a trip to Paris. The 3 shows in the UK were enjoyable, whilst the performance in Stockholm raised the bar even further. I was hoping that Bercy would prove the best yet.

The day started with my first Eurostar experience, leaving in the morning from St Pancras. Of course, as I don’t really plan anything in advance, I arrived in Paris feeling like I was catapulted onto an orienteering trip without a map. At least I had the name and address of the hotel. I secured a map and eventually after about 30 mins, I was given some advise as to which station to go to.

I arrived in the centre of Paris and made my way to the hotel. Or so I thought. After 2 hours of walking up and down the longest roads possible, and with nobody able to help, I finally found the hotel. With 3 hours wasted, I had just about enough time for a shower and a quick change before the next adventure; finding the arena in Bercy. That turned out to be pretty easy. There was even time to haggle with a couple of touts over the extra ticket I had.

The crowd was building up nicely outside the arena. Locating the entrance to the block was another one of those tiny tests. I wished I had continued with French beyond the age of 13, as it would have helped throughout the day. Once inside, the arena was virtually empty. I think the locals enjoy arriving late or maybe just in time, something I can totally relate too. I wasn’t too sure why so many were allowed to leave their seats and sit on the steps for a better view. But then again, with Health and Safety issues rammed down our throats, I guess what is now normal to us, is still not normal elsewhere.

There was also a number of people from the UK in the block I was in, admittedly all waiting for Stevie Wonder and the rest of the audience to arrive. One thing immediately apparent was how passionate the Parisians were. The sound of the Harmonica was a sign that Stevie was on his way. The atmosphere was electric. He then performed 4 songs from Hotter Than July, in common with the previous shows.

This show was to be different from any other. I felt that Stevie and the audience in Stockholm worked very well together. In Paris, Stevie and the audience were sensational together. Speaking about the loss of his mother was very emotional. At one point Stevie Wonder broke down in tears, and thankfully, Aisha was there to console him. He eventually uttered the words, “I want to come back and film everything”. He felt the love here, more than in any place so far on the European Tour.

In Bercy, a couple of special guests joined him on stage. Admittedly, I didn’t know who they were, but I believe they’re local favourites. One of those was Frédéric Yonnet, who along with Stevie Wonder, had probably the world’s first Harmonica battle! It was exhilarating, and to be fair it’s best to call it a high scoring draw. What made it even better, well for me personally, was that the Harmonica was performed to Boogie On Reggae Woman, one of my favourite and most played songs.

Stevie had the usual mix of well-known and not so well-known songs throughout the show, with surprises that had yet to appear on any of the shows I had been too. A great performance of You Are The Sunshine Of My Life, along with an emotional Free were major highlights. He also performed glimpses of music by Miles Davis, Edith Piaf and The Stylistics, whilst Superstition, turned into Obama, turned into War and finally the show ended with As. I’m not sure Stevie wanted to leave and the crowd would have had him singing all night if that was at possible.

There is no doubt, that the performance in Paris was way ahead of any that I’d experienced on my mini-tour thus far. The crowd loved Stevie and Stevie loved the crowd. Even to the point, where he broke down in tears. Stevie Wonder and Bercy will live long in my memory. And I can now add Free, You Are The Sunshine Of My Life and Boogie On Reggae Woman to the list of live songs sang by the genius that is Stevie Wonder.

Stevie Wonder – Globen, Stockholm

Friday 19th September 2008

Following a week of UK shows at the NIA, MEN Arena and the O2, I felt the right thing to do, was to join Stevie Wonder in Stockholm. After all, this was his European Tour.

I’d bought a couple of tickets for the show, expecting my cousin, who had moved to Stockholm earlier in the year, to join me. But it wasn’t meant to be. Her boyfriend had got her pregnant and by the time the concert came along, she was only a month away from giving birth. Considering I didn’t purchase a seat for a pregnant lady and the risk of Stevie Wonder causing a premature birth, it was best I went alone for this one.

I managed to sell the ticket to a tout, even though it was an e-ticket. He was wary at first, as I guess I could have printed hundreds of copies. But I seemed trustworthy, so he bought it for virtually the price I had paid. Sadly for him though, and I genuinely mean that, I don’t think he sold it on as I had an empty seat next to me.

Of all the locations I’d seen Stevie at thus far, the Globen stood out. It didn’t feel as vast as the O2, but had a much nicer feel to it. The colourful lighting surrounding the arena as you approach from the station was very pleasant on the eye.

Stevie Wonder’s performance at the Globen was sensational. The crowd were almost as good. I love it when a crowd appreciates a genius at work. It felt like Stevie and the crowd were working as one.

By now of course, the main format of the show, along with the song choices, would follow a similar pattern. Thankfully, it’s the little surprises that make these trips worthwhile. The best of those little surprises was Part Time Lover! You can not even imagine the pleasure as soon as I heard the first few bars, realising that sometimes dreams can come true. A live version of Part Time Lover!

Stevie Wonder mentioned the passing of his mother and a paid tribute to Barack Obama, preaching for his election. A really nice touch was Stevie taking time out to celebrate his brother’s birthday. I’m sure Stevie Wonder has probably sang Happy Birthday to Milton Hardaway before, but it was great for us in the crowd to get the sense we were invited to a private family party. Of course, almost everyone joined in.

The whole performance was a joy from start to finish. Stevie Wonder working his magic again and I got to go to Milton’s birthday. Oh and I did I mention Happy Birthday and Part Time Lover live!

Stevie Wonder – O2, London

Friday 12th September 2008

Following the shows at the NIA and MEN Arena earlier in the week, I was really looking forward to going to the O2, especially as we had floor seats this time around.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, as this was the first visit to the O2. I was hugely impressed. I don’t think I have ever seen so many restaurants and bars in one place. When you enter the O2 arena itself, you get the sense that you are in a mini-stadium with a roof. Whilst not as close as A block, our front row seats in D block, gave us ample space to dance away.

To my great satisfaction, Stevie Wonder opened again with half the songs from Hotter Than July. Before the tour, I was hoping just to hear one of these, but to get 5 each night was more than I could have hoped for.

As with previous shows, Stevie took time out to address the crowd, in respect to the passing away of his mother. Not quite sure what the crowd at the O2 made of his pain. But from my perspective, it was once again difficult to hear, considering the parallels we both went through in 2006.

Stevie Wonder sang the usual collection of obscure and hit songs that I’d heard earlier in the week. I was delighted that he also performed We Can Work It Out, the outstanding Lately and one of my all time favourites Golden Lady. And just for fun, he also played a rendition of London Bridge is Falling Down!

Unlike the NIA and MEN Arena shows, I left with the feeling of slight disappointment. This had nothing to do with Stevie Wonder’s performance, as he was outstanding. The O2 was lacking slightly in atmosphere. Maybe the sound wasn’t as loud as it should have been or maybe large parts of the crowd turned up expecting to see him just perform his greatest hits. It was as if half the crowd had never even heard of Visions or All I Do before. I guess they were pleased when he sang I Just Called To Say I Love You and Signed Sealed Delivered, I’m Yours.

All said and done, it was another great experience. I got to see Stevie Wonder again, had much more space available to dance and was fortunate to hear Lately and Golden Lady live!

Stevie Wonder – MEN Arena, Manchester

Tuesday 9th September 2008

Following last night’s performance in Birmingham, there was no time to get excited about tonight’s show, even though it was day 2 of 6 on the Stevie Wonder adventure trail.

I managed to fall asleep around 3am, but was awake around 8am.  The reason wasn’t excitement, but the fact there were 8 men in the back garden starting work on a new patio.  The timing of both the work and the tour was a test, especially for an insomniac.

I can be impatient, so I aim to time things perfectly, thus keeping any waiting time to a minimum. Unfortunately, this means that I’m late most of the time. For a change, I decided to get the earlier train to London Euston, giving me enough time to collect the tickets for the trip to Manchester Picadilly. However, a long queue for the machine at the local train station, meant I had no time to purchase a ticket, thinking I’ll just buy one at the other end.  The train inspector begged to differ. I had the choice of getting off at the next stop and purchasing a ticket, thereby losing another 30 minutes or paying a £20 fine. Decided the fine was the only option, considering I had left earlier to enable a trouble-free journey!

Arrived at Euston to collect the tickets from the self-service machines. I tried a number of times, but no booking could be found. It then dawned on me, that I’d used a new credit card to make the booking and that was still on the coffee table back home! There was a long queue at the ticket office and time was running out before the train’s departure. The guy behind the desk couldn’t have made the situation more difficult and my stupidity any clearer. Eventually, he issued new tickets, minutes before the train’s departure.

Just to prove these things come in 3’s, at the hotel my booking of 2 twin beds, was somehow amended to 1 double. This felt like something out of the Truman Show or maybe I was on an episode of Beadle’s About. But after checking the original booking, the receptionist changed it back to the relief of both myself and my friend.

After a nice oriental meal, we went off to the MEN Arena. I pretty much gave away 2 spare tickets to a tout minutes before the show, who in turn made a tidy profit, selling them to a couple who turned up without tickets, just before 8pm.  So the tout made a profit and the couple still got in for half the ticket price.

Stevie Wonder was once again led on stage by Aisha Morris: his daughter and one of the backing singers.  My excitement was there for all to see, as he commenced with another array of songs from Hotter Than July.

Once again Stevie took time out to address the crowd, in respect to the passing away of his mother. Once again, the crowd listened to every word, feeling his pain.

Thankfully, unlike the previous evening at the NIA, where at times the show was broken up with a few too many interruptions, Stevie Wonder gave an amazing performance and the crowd loved him even more for it.  The fans in the arenas in both Birmingham and Manchester made him feel he’d made the right decision to tour Europe again.

The best thing about tonight’s show was that Stevie decided to mix things up a bit.  Whilst the majority of the songs were the same as those he performed at the NIA, the audience at the MEN Arena were blessed to hear 3 of my all time favourites songs: As, Do I Do and Knocks Me Off My Feet. Stevie also performed Isn’t She Lovely, a song famously written about Aisha, when she was baby. It was great to see Stevie joking about it with Aisha on stage too.

Once again, a superb show.  With a slightly different set, it flowed much better and I loved it!

Stevie Wonder – NIA, Birmingham

Monday 8th September 2008

I had hoped to see Stevie Wonder perform live in concert again, ever since the Natural Wonder tour way back in 1995. I didn’t expect to go to Birmingham, but when struggling to get tickets for the O2, I simply had to book the NIA.

In addition, I booked tickets for the MEN Arena in Manchester and two nights at the O2, as soon as extra dates were released.  The bookings didn’t stop there, as Paris and Stockholm were added.  A total of 6 nights to make up for a 13 year-long wait.

We drove up to Birmingham early, giving us plenty of time to grab a bite to eat. Ended up having gourmet burgers, accompanied with a bottle of champagne.  Arriving at the NIA, we took our seats in anticipation.  I had hoped that Stevie would perform a song from Hotter Than July, as this was my most played album since the mid-80s.

Stevie Wonder was led on stage by Aisha Morris: his daughter and one of the backing singers.  A Wonder Summer’s Night Tour began with As If You Had Read My Mind, All I Do, Rocket Love, Did I Hear You Say You Love Me and Master Blaster.  Wow, I had hoped for one song from my most played album of all-time, but amazingly I got five!

Stevie took time out to address the crowd, explaining what motivated him to tour again.  The next few moments were really tough. He began talking about the death of his mother in May 2006.  Only then did it hit home, when I realised that my mother had passed away 6 weeks earlier, in April 2006. For a minute or so, he explained the anguish he was going through, summing it all up with “I wanted to take all the pain that I was feeling and turn it into joy”.

There were a few odd moments, where the audience probably felt a bit lost during the show.  Notably, when Stevie introduced George Boateng, the ex-Villa midfielder. He arrived holding a statue, honouring Arthur Wharton, the world’s first black professional footballer, from 1885. The link being both players were born in Ghana.

It didn’t take long for Stevie to deliver some exceptional performances.   These included Visions, Ribbon in the Sky, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing, Higher Ground, Living for the City, Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours, Uptight (Everything’s Alright), My Cherie Amour, I Was Made to Love Her, Overjoyed, I Just Called to Say I Love You, Superstition, I Wish and Sir Duke.  Stevie ended with an extended version of Always.

I loved the show, then again I’m a biased Stevie Wonder fan.  To be honest, he had me at ‘the first 5 songs’!

Forest is the most successful team in European Cup history

Nottingham Forest is the most successful team in European Cup history.  This is based on on the number of times a club has qualified for the European Cup and the number of times that club has won the competition as a result of qualification.

Upto and including the 2009/10 season, there have been 21 different clubs that have won the European Cup/Champions League.  Of those, Real Madrid, Milan and Liverpool have managed to win Europe’s premier competition on 5 or more occasions.  But only 2 clubs on the list have achieved a Win Ratio of 50% and over: Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa, with Forest managing a 67% success rate.

English teams make up 3 of the top 5 positions, with Milan and Real Madrid joining Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and Liverpool.   It also appears very difficult for any club to overtake the top 2 sides.  One scenario for this to happen would, probably, involve a new winner of the trophy, who having qualified for the first time, then goes on to win it 3 times in a row, failing at the 4th attempt, giving them a Win Ratio of 75%.  Of course if a  new winner emerged, after qualifying for the first time, then that club would of course have a 100% record for a short period.

In addition, Nottingham Forest is the only club to have won more European Cups than domestic league titles (2 to 1) and the only previous winner to have played in the 3rd tier of their national league. Forest, along with Porto, are the only clubs who have appeared at least twice in a European Cup final and, as such, have a 100% success rate.  The success of Liverpool, Manchester United, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa also means that England is the only country to have 4 clubs from different cities win the competition.

European Cup/Champions League Win Ratio Table

	Club			Wins	Qual	Win Ratio
1	Nottingham Forest	2	3	67%
2	Aston Villa		1	2	50%
3	Milan			7	24	29%
4	Liverpool		5	20	25%
5	Real Madrid		9	40	23%
6	Internazionale		3	17	18%
7	Hamburg			1	6	17%
8	Ajax			4	26	15%
9	Bayern Munich		4	26	15%
10	Barcelona		3	20	15%
11	Manchester United	3	21	14%
12	Borussia Dortmund	1	10	10%
13	Marseille		1	11	9%
14	Porto			2	25	8%
15	Feyenoord		1	13	8%
16	Juventus		2	26	8%
17	Benfica			2	29	7%
18	Steaua Bucharest	1	19	5%
19	Red Star Belgrade	1	21	5%
20	PSV Eindhoven		1	23	4%
21	Celtic			1	25	4%

The table above includes winners and qualifications up to 2009/10.

Welcome to!

With the start of a new decade, it’s probably the right time to maintain a blog and also note down some interesting  things in the process.   Whilst waiting for the next chapter in my life to unfold, especially in terms of a new business idea, I am focusing on what can only be described as an entertainment tour and a darts career.

I’ll list full details of the tour, a sort of ‘to see as many things that can entertain me whilst it’s still possible tour’ and maybe include reviews of the events I’ve been to, including the venues themselves.  As for the darts, I’ll keep a progress report to see how far I can get in the sport, which may include things like practise routines, best finishes, averages and so on.

As a Forest fan, I’m sure to add some statistics to prove it’s easy to manipulate facts and figures to prove any argument. I also love gadgets, so I may do some reviews on my favourite ones too.