In October 2002, a massive change had come into my life – I was back studying at university part time. Having finally decided in 2000 that I wasn’t going to return to Australia to study, I began making plans to return to university in London instead. And in early 2002, I was thrilled to learn that my application to study a Conversion Diploma in Psychology at London Metropolitan University had been successful. So as of September, I’d been taking one day a week out of my hospital job to attend lectures and seminars once again, and my evening and weekends were spent writing assignments and essays.
Into this newly busy time came this gig, which contained a bit of a foreshadowing for how my gigging life would change a few years later in my 30s. Gigs in my early 20s had never been a social occasion for me – I almost always went on my own, because all I wanted to do was connect with the artists who had soundtracked my life, dragged me out of dark times and made the world a bit less of a perplexing place. Gigs were not a destination for a night out with friends – they were a far more important occasion to me than a gathering in a pub or a restaurant.
But here in 2002 I found myself at two gigs in a row with work friends. For my previous gig, the Pet Shop Boys at Brixton Academy, it was the case that a colleague had just decided to tag along to a gig I’d already planned to go to alone. But this time – for, I think, the first time in my life – I’d actually suggested to a friend that we go to a gig together. Over the preceding few years I’d built a close friendship with an older colleague Pat, who frequently invited me round to his flat for wine-soaked dinners with him and his boyfriend. He was much more accustomed to opera than pop, but had developed a fondness for “Spin”, the debut solo album from former Savage Garden singer Darren Hayes. So this autumn tour from Darren seemed an ideal opportunity to introduce Pat to the glorious world of gigging.
And so off we went together to the Hammersmith Apollo this October evening. But things didn’t quite go as planned. My friend was used to the finer things in life, spending much of his time at the Royal Opera House or at elegant gatherings with friends in Knightsbridge and Chelsea. When he found himself in the comparatively grotty surroundings of the Apollo, with people casually swilling beer all around him, he became distinctly uncomfortable. And when I explained that we’d have to watch a support act before Darren came on, his frustration was clear. He asked if he could take me for dinner instead of staying for the gig, but I’d become a bit of a fan of Darren myself, having heard the album so many times at Pat’s house, and I wanted to stay for the show. So he left, and I ended up attending the gig on my own anyway.
But then, sadly, I failed to write down anything about the show. October and November 2002 are very sparsely recorded in my diary, and it’s easy to guess why – with my new studies to attend to I would have had very little spare time to spend scribbling about the ephemera of the day. But it means that once again I find myself relying on scanty memories and a DVD to be able to write about this show.
I remember only two things. First, that when the support act ended, instead of the usual wait for the stage to be set up of the main act, the stage in fact swivelled round in some ingenious fashion to reveal Darren who immediate dived into his set. And second, that it was a fantastic, cheeringly energetic and hugely enjoyable show for which I stood and danced in my balcony spot throughout. But for details, I must go to the DVD.
The DVD of the tour is however a bit of an odd beast. It was recorded over all three of the London dates, so at least some of the footage within must be from the night I attended. And as a package, it is pretty impressive, comprising not just the film of the concert but a live CD, signed photo and miniature version of the tour programme. As I bought a programme at the gig I attended, it means I now own the exact same item in two different sizes, which is certainly a novelty.
But the concert footage itself shows a vastly cut-down version of the show I actually attended. Six songs from the setlist have been removed and the order of play slightly re-jigged. According to Wikipedia, this is due to Darren being in a bad place at the time of the show, and wanted darker performances to be omitted.
Which is a shame, because what we do get shows a fantastic pop performer. The opening tune “Creepin’ Up On You” tallies with my memories somewhat – Darren alone on the stage in a single spotlight, performing an intense, stripped back version of the song. This would have been how he appeared just after the support act finished and the stage did its magic. It’s a powerful performance, but what surprises me is how he presents himself with a somewhat guarded machismo, almost Liam Galllagher-esque with his sunglasses and leather jacket.
The DVD gives the option to watch either the concert on its own, or the tour film, which inserts between songs a combination of backstage scenes from 2002 and retrospective interview footage from two years later. It makes for an interesting portrait of the experiences of a pop star immediately following the breakup of a hugely popular band, full of anxieties an distress despite his massive success. Darren comes across as intense but likable, clearly feeling the pressures of his new solo status.
The documentary format does however make it a bit more difficult to fully relive the concert experience, for even when you choose the concert-only option, interview snippets still bleed through from time to time, and as mentioned, the show is considerably truncated compared to what I actually witnessed at the Apollo 17 years ago.
But it’s still enough to be a happy rediscovery of what an excellent pop performer Darren is, and what a strong collection of pop tunes his debut was. The stand-offishness that characterised his entrance to the stage was soon replaced by an easy affability. He speaks in the documentary of being a massive fan of Michael Jackson, and the influence shows in his vocal stylings, particularly in his use of his higher register. But for me, Darren is the much stronger vocalist, with some absolutely mesmerising and divine touches on ballads like “Insatiable” and “Good Enough”.
Meanwhile, more uptempo songs like “Heart Attack” and “Strange Relationship” combine a sexy soulfulness with a melodic agility that feels both very much of its time but also strangely timeless. And Savage Garden hits like “I Want You” and “Affirmation” are big, celebratory pop anthems. The latter track concludes the setlist on the DVD despite actually coming earlier in the show, but it works very well as an uplifting, arms-aloft closer.
As ever with gigs like this, I really wish that I had a record of my feelings about the gig at the time. But it’s been huge fun to revisit this forgotten section of my musical life in 2002, and to rediscover this most excellent, charming and let’s face it, pretty damn gorgeous pop star. I never listened to any of the albums that came after “Spin”, but I plan to rectify this as soon as possible, and look forward greatly to doing so.