It strikes me as I arrive at The Church Of St John in Hackney that there is quite a lot going on in the world of Coldplay today. We’re in East London getting set up for this acoustic show tonight, whilst on the South Bank, all the gear is going into a TV studio to record an appearance on the Graham Norton show. Meanwhile, somewhere in a vast hangar-like warehouse in West London, production rehearsals for the upcoming arena shows are already in full swing, with truckloads of lights, sound, staging and video getting up and running ready for the band’s arrival after the weekend. Given that the Bakery and the Beehive will be grinding away up in North London, I’d say Coldplay pretty much have London covered today.
The venue for the charity acoustic session is an old church. Huge stained glass windows, wooden floors, hymn books and wooden benches. Outside, the queue is already forming when I arrive. I learn that they’ve been out there since 7am. These are the same folks that were in the front row at Norwich UEA and that were queuing all day for the iTunes session in Camden, so you could call them dedicated. You could call them a lot of things, but you can’t help but take your hats off to their dedication…
Chris and Jonny have decided not to soundcheck. As we give things a quick once over, it turns out to be a pretty good thing, really. The huge, curved high ceiling makes for a pretty good echo chamber and there’s little you can do, but raise your eyebrows and say “it’ll sound completely different when the punters are in” – and perhaps pray that it’s true.
We whizz over to the TV studio, which is the same place we did the Jonathon Ross show last month. We’ve done so much TV in the past few months that it’s long since become a blur.
Soundcheck passes very quickly and the musical segment has been moved to the start of the show to let us get out and move the piano and guitars back over to Hackney. I’m the first to arrive and am immediately bombarded with questions from the Hackney crew. I explain that there isn’t really a plan. It’s Chris an Jonny only and they’re pretty much just going to turn up and busk.
Showtime comes around and they’re up in the dressing room, which fittingly, has that musty church smell and rather wonderfully a wall of photos of all the vicars who have served here. At the Fillmore, you get photos of the Grateful Dead…
In the corner of the room, Kevin McCabe, who navigates the band through all of their UK TV and radio is frantically scribbling in Sharpie on a sheet of copier paper. It turns out that it’s the setlist. This sets the tone for the whole night pretty much. It’s not the vast juggernaut of the regular touring shows. No radios crackling the setlist through to the production office who print dozens of copies to be circulated to all departments.
On stage too, the guys are completely stripped of all the machinery. No lasers, no video screen, no pyro – hell there’s only half the band here. Perhaps in reverence to the acoustic nature of the performance, the guys are dressed in outfits that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Christmas Lights video. Indeed, Chris has a watch on a chain that makes an appearance late on in the show when he’s trying to work out how much time they have left.
I don’t catch what Jo Whiley says in her intro. Perhaps it’s something to do with that, perhaps it’s a private joke, or perhaps it’s because they’re genuinely shitting themselves, but Jonny and Chris walk up the steps to the stage holding hands.
Things get underway and it’s clear that they’re enjoying themselves immensely. Some songs work better than others, some are a complete train-wreck, but when there’s a weakness in what a piano, a guitar and one voice can produce, the crowd’s enthusiasm bridges the gap. It’s a hugely warm audience and it feels a bit like the backroom of a pub. I’m half expecting someone to walk up to the front edge of the stage with a couple of plastic glasses full of beer. It’s that kind of an evening.
I’ve long maintained that gigs at their most fundamental, are a communal celebration of the songs. All these people gather together to share their excitement for this music that means so much to them. When Chris and Jonny kick off Viva, the chant takes off and the noise of all these voices in the room together is completely overwhelming. The fellas stop for a good few seconds and just take in the immensity of the noise – their contribution now no longer even necessary.
They smile, they laugh and then they join back in. For me, it’s the highlight of the night and a total moment to file away for when I look back on all of this one day.
Of course, down in the front row, the 7am posse are giving it loads and having a great time. It’s over in a flash, but it’s been a great blowout to end the promo frenzy before the arena shows kick in. I guess stripping it down to the tiniest of tiny is about the best thing you could do before it all gets very, very big again….