It was 21 years ago this month that I attended my first gig: Stryper at Hammersmith Odeon. To celebrate, or perhaps by complete coincidence, I was back there last night. Of course, the Odeon is now the Apollo and I’m no longer a head-banging 17-year-old. As Willie Nelson sang, funny how time slips away.
Willie – for it was his show I saw last night – is 75 years old and appeared to be in rude health. Backed by his regular band, he did 100 minutes that seemed like 50, rattling off classics from every decade of his career, many of which he imbued with his trademarked jazzy acoustic guitar licks and ahead-of-the-beat vocal phrasing (something that, having heard his studio records, can admittedly seem odd until you settle into the style).
When Willie Nelson asks you to clap along, you clap along.
It’s a thrilling experience, sitting in the front row at Wembley Arena, just 20 feet away from one of country music’s living legends as he’s performing a song by one of country music’s dead legends (Hank Williams, as you ask). But I’m tapping my boot when I should be putting my paws together, and I catch Willie’s eye. As he gestures towards me, I break into an ‘okay, you win’ grin and join the clapping throng. Before I know it, I’m singing choruses aloud and even embracing the spirit of Our Lord for a trio of gospel numbers.
As I’ve noted before, I’m happy to suspend my atheism for good gospel music – in this case the likes of Will The Circle Be Unbroken and Uncloudy Day. I’m surprised at how good the clapping feels, though, as that’s usually not my bag at all. I’m reminded of Eric Bana in the Hulk movie: “When I can’t fight it any more… when it takes over… when I totally lose control… I like it.”