It was a Friday night. I was at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen to enjoy Roger Waters – creative force behind Pink Floyd, protester, political provocateur, poet and progressive music pantheon.
My seat was at the extreme front left of the balcony, parallel with, and high above, the edge of the stage – almost the Royal box position. Carrying an obligatory beer in a plastic cup, I climbed the stairs, followed the signs to the correct entrance. I edged gingerly down the aisle towards my seat, unnerved by the lowness of the balcony wall and the sheer drop into the arena below.
There was a line-up of six large middle-aged Danish guys to negotiate to get to my seat. Each was undoubtedly wearing the very same black t-shirt they had worn for their first ever Pink Floyd concert, sometime in the last century. No doubt their bellies were much fatter, and their hair was much thinner.
I squeezed through the small gap in front of them, precariously close to the balcony edge. Mine was the final seat before the wall. All was dark. I placed my beer carefully down on the floor and sat down. Even seated, the wall still felt uncomfortably low. The adjacent Viking watched me carefully.
“Are you alone?”, he enquired.
“Yes”, I replied, a little sadly.
“You aren’t now”, he told me.
If he has been attempting to reassure me, it had exactly the opposite effect. I decided to end the conversation there and then. Maybe I have watched too many episodes of The Bridge.
My good friend, Jerry would have enjoyed that anecdote . Although he would have coloured it up considerably, slowed it down, and turned it into a much more entertaining (borderline infuriating) 20-minute monologue.
In fact, the very reason I was at this particular concert, and indeed alone, had everything to do with my good friend. Which is a story I want to tell, in his absence, as best as I can. I’ll try not to pad it out too much.
Jerry and I had been to two Roger Waters concert together. For the first one we drove down to Earls Court, where he played the whole of Dark Side of the Moon before the break. After our disappointment of seeing a disinterested and desultory Bob Dylan in Nottingham, and a fading Deep Purple somewhere I forget, we agreed it was by far and away the best “old rocker” gig we’d been to.
Roger was almost as good the second time we went to see him, in Birmingham, despite going initially to the wrong venue. That time he performed whole of The Wall, with another thrilling mix of music, message and theatre, compete with the giant inflatable pig. On both occasions he slowed the mood down with the deliciously acoustic “Wish You Were Here”
So, when, back in November last year, I saw the dates for his 2018 U.K. tour, I grabbed a couple of tickets for Manchester Arena in July, ready for our third pilgrimage.
I mentioned this to Jerry when we went out for a drink together the following month. He had chosen an unusual pub called the “Cap and Stocking” – one of a long string of unusual pubs we had tried over the years. It was great, as ever, to catch up and chew over a bit of politics, a bit of football, a bit of business, a bit of life.
We invited Jerry and Jane to our house on New Year’s Eve. More beer, conversations, stories and a glass of champagne at midnight. We wished each other a Happy New Year and the next day, as I filled in my 2018 diary, I texted Jerry. “Roger Waters is £110 each, Tues 3rd July Manchester Arena – ok?”. He didn’t answer – he was never very quick at replying to texts.
Jerry never did reply to the message. That early New Year’s Day turned out to be the final time I would speak with him. The night in the Cap and Stocking turned out to be the last of countless pub nights over many years. Jerry passed away suddenly and totally unexpectedly in February.
Through all the shock, loss and sadness of the months that followed, those two tickets lay in my in-tray on my desk for months. I couldn’t bring myself to move them or sell them. I didn’t know what to do with them.
I thought about finding someone else to come with me. I tentatively asked around but there were no obvious takers. Roger Waters is an acquired taste, and Jerry is an impossible guy to find a replacement for. I decided I would go on my own.
Then another issue started to materialise. To everyone’s surprise – and I know Jerry would have enjoyed this – England were making progress in the World Cup. If England won their group, their next game would be on Monday 2nd July. If they finished second in their group, it would be the 3rd – the same night as the concert. It would be impossible to watch the England game and still go to the concert.
On the Thursday before the concert, England had to avoid defeat by Belgium to win the group. With 20 minutes to go, we were drawing, and the concert date was still on. But then inevitably Belgium scored, England finished second. Good for them, in terms of their subsequent progress to the semi-final, but bad news for me.
I offered the tickets on Facebook, there were no takers. I stayed home to watch England beat Columbia dramatically on penalties and progress to the quarter finals. Jerry would have loved that. The two tickets remained attached together in my in-tray.
I still wanted to hear the concert. I found out Waters was playing in Copenhagen in August, at the arena next to the hotel I stay in there for work. I managed to buy one of the few remaining single seats.
In the end, maybe that all turned out for the best. It would have been too poignant going to the Manchester concert with an empty seat next to me. So instead I had my Danish friends, who gently gyrated through the old Floyd numbers, and went to get more beer together during the Roger Waters solo numbers.
It was very sad and moving nevertheless, to be alone at the concert, listening to the same songs, watching the same inflatable pig. Jerry was never one for sentimentality or outward displays of emotion, I think he would have forgiven me for shedding some tears for him through Roger Waters’ beautiful, melodic and poignant rendition of “Wish You Were Here”.
I sang along with it, because like so many others, I wished that he was still here. He was and always will be irreplaceable. I am grateful for all the great times we spent together, for the laughs, the camaraderie, his insights and his friendship.
It is a whole year since we spent New Year together with him and Jane. Like many others, I’ve thought about him every day since he left us. Whilst he is no longer here with us in person, he will always be with us in our happy memories and in our hearts.