Following on from last year’s Madness concert, this year Northants Cricket Club and the Liz Hobbs Group have brought us Sir Tom Jones, Welsh vocal superstar for many a decade, purveyor of positive coaching skills on The Voice, and boon to ladies knickers manufacturers around the world. I think it’s fantastic that we get these big names here in Northampton, so I booked on Day One to get two good seats for Mrs Chrisparkle and me, who have long been known for our ability to break out into “Why why why Delilah” in the shower or “Just help yourself to my lips” over the chip pan.
It’s easy to underestimate the time it actually takes to get into the cricket ground. This won’t mean anything to you if you’re not local, but we walked up the Welly Road and into Roseholme Road, expecting to enter the cricket ground from the southern end. Wrong. We had to walk all the way up Clarke Road to Abington Avenue from where we had to walk another two blocks away from the cricket ground simply to join the back of the queue of the people walking along the main road towards it. That was a bit frustrating, if I’m honest.
Then when we got to the ground we were harangued by charity collectors – shouting out demands for money in a manner designed to make you feel guilty if you didn’t donate. I hate being shouted at by a charity collector so didn’t donate, even though it’s an excellent local cause, and even though I had initially intended to. Note to collectors – brusque loudness can work against you. I expect the same charity will be present at the Dragon Boat Race on Sunday, in which case I will make a point of donating then (provided they don’t harangue me again). Once inside you had to have your bags checked – ostensibly to check you weren’t carrying any bombs or weapons I suppose but really so that they could take any food and drink off you so that you had to buy it inside (at inflated prices). Once actually in the ground, we joined the queue for the bar – which was at least well organised, by joining a queue from a choice of about ten and sticking to it – where we had the pleasure of paying £1 for a plastic “goblet” in which your beer would be served. The pound was redeemable at the end if you wished to queue to get it back; as if you would want to join a queue like that at 11pm. I know – I’m getting so curmudgeonly in my old age. I’m a great big grumpy old Hector.
Our seats were the apex of a triangle – A1 and A2 in block A6. We were as far left of the stage you could be whilst ostensibly still being in the front row. It was very comfortable actually, and with an excellent side view of the stage; a bit like being in a box at the theatre – very private, bags of leg room, and a skewed view. We also had the big TV screen right in front of us. We didn’t manage to take our seats until 7.50pm so we missed Sarah Barker’s warm up act, but we got the majority of James Walsh’s act, lead singer with Starsailor. He was great! Excellent songs and a suitably modest approach to being on stage before the Great Man Himself. He thanked each round of applause with the one word, “chiz”. I’d forgotten how good “Four To The Floor” is.
Even when you leave home in 22 degrees Celsius, it’s easy to forget just how nippy it can be sitting down for three hours on a cricket pitch, particularly when you don’t have people left, right and in front of you. Even three layers wasn’t really enough for me and poor Mrs C, who feels the cold more than I do, only had two. I offered her my jacket constantly through the evening, which she constantly refused in order to save face. Ah, the jollities of married life. Sir Tom needed to be very good indeed in order to take our minds of the wind-chill factor.
Fortunately, he was. The man can sing. It’s hard to think of any other of his mid-1960s contemporaries whose voice has lasted as well as his. Paul McCartney? Cliff Richard? Well past their prime, vocally speaking. Engelbert’s nowhere in comparison. OK, maybe Mick Jagger is still a brilliant performer, but their styles are very different, and Sir Mick doesn’t normally need to bellow to get his song across. From 9.05 to 10.55 Sir Tom’s fine voice rang out over Wantage Road with more power, resonance and pitch accuracy than you could possibly imagine. It wasn’t long before the knickers started coming out – a group of ladies a few rows behind us delved deep and produced some pretty pastel panties and swung them aloft in time with the music. A few rows back a slightly larger lady produced an enormous pair of drawers with “I heart Tom” on them, and after some decorous waving, ran to the front and shoved them over the security fence to the bemusement of the St John’s Ambulance staff. The guys in the crowd thankfully fell short of whipping out pairs of Y-Fronts bearing the title “Help Yourself”. But during the course of the evening, several ladies ran in front of us, hurled lingerie towards the stage, which then got caught in the windy through-draught and got flung back at them.
Tom did a very varied set – old stuff, new stuff; pop, rock, country, blues – you name it, all genres were there. We particularly loved the arrangement of Delilah (his band incidentally, were phenomenal) with lots of Spanish guitars and Latin influences – really creative and original. His earlier stuff was performed with a certain degree of reverence – It’s Not Unusual, for example, was a relatively quiet and dignified affair, but his more modern numbers, like Kiss, Mama Told Me Not To Come and Sex Bomb were flashy, raunchy and in-your-face. Of the other songs I knew, he sang The Green Green Grass of Home with great passion and sadness, and I’ll Never Fall In Love Again was also great – at least I think so, as I chose that as my “karaoke treat” of the night. It must be difficult to get the balance right of which old songs you perform and which you leave out, but I confess to being disappointed not to hear What’s New Pussycat, Help Yourself, Daughter of Darkness and She’s a Lady. And I guess the Young New Mexican Puppeteer has long had woodworm. Still, everything he did sing was incredibly good, and the crowd in general, and we in particular, had a fantastic time. Hats off to all concerned for a great night.