SATURDAY 12 SEPTEMBER, 9.30am (Wembley Stadium, London):
This is it.
The big one.
Wembley. Flipping. Stadium.
Today we are performing on the pitch at Wembley in front of an estimated crowd of around 45,000 people. Once we’re done, Britain’s Got Talent winners Diversity will take to the stage and, shortly afterwards, Saracens and Northampton Saints will kick off what is likely to be one of this season’s best-attended rugby union matches.
So no pressure then.
On entering the mighty bowels of the UK’s most iconic venue, we are led through what turns out to be the least impressive part of the new Wembley. The catacombs underneath the stands have the unmistakable aura of an NCP car-park and are an unassuming epilogue to the moment at which you emerge from the tunnel onto the famous pitch and cannot help but gawp at the spectacular, looming grandeur of this 90,000-capacity stadium. The sun is shining intensely, the pitch is immaculate and there is an unmistakable feeling of nervous anticipation in the air. We all stand pitch-side, humbled by the experience, exchanging silent eye contact. This is the biggest thing we’ve ever done.
After sound-checking to an entirely empty stadium (which, take it from me, is a bizarre experience), we head inside to get changed into our carefully-chosen performance threads.
Tony heads straight for the van. “We can get changed in the van guys – I’ve put up curtains and everything”.
Now, in this band, we’ve always felt it’s very important to keep our feet on the ground, even when success of stadium-sized proportions beckons. I can’t help but feel that this, however, is taking that philosophy a little far. Plus there’s no way that Dave Grohl would express pride in curtains. Ever.
“Tony, mate… we’re playing Wembley Stadium. We’ve got a dressing room. You don’t have to get changed in a Transit.”
Tony looks almost crestfallen. His home-made curtains have been spurned. He’s a man of simple pleasures (quiche, cricket on the telly, Radio 4, vegetarian scotch eggs) and I think that being given a dressing room that a couple of days ago may well have been occupied by the England football team is perhaps just a bit too fancy for him.
Indeed, when we’re shown to our dressing room, the contrast is enormous. You could fit thirty enormous rugby players in here and still have room for twenty crates of London Pride. Which I suppose is the point. We scatter our belongings around the room in an attempt to claim it as our own, take a few pictures of ourselves sitting beneath clothes hooks pretending to be sportsmen and generally do our best to keep our minds occupied in the nail-biting hours leading up to the band’s most high profile performance yet.
We’re standing pitch-side waiting to go onstage. Wembley is filling up and we have a healthy contingent of Lightyears fans filling up Block 105 in the north-east corner of the stadium. There is something undeniably surreal about this whole experience. Are we really about to play Wembley?!
We’ve planned a set of upbeat, crowd-pleasing covers designed to kick the event off with a bang. The organisers want a party atmosphere and it’s our job to make sure the party starts as it means to go on. As the MC announces our performance and a huge picture of us appears on the stadium’s two big screens, I nod at George. This is definitely happening. We step up onstage, there’s a roar from the crowd, and we launch into our opening number, The Fratellis’ “Chelsea Dagger”.
In a move to keep the set fresh and interesting, we’ve choreographed a few instrument changes and I’m starting the gig on guitar, leaving George free to perform the lead vocals. We’ve never done this before so it’s a bit of an experiment, but I have to admit I’m loving it. I look across at Tony, who has the world’s biggest grin on his face, and mouth the phrase “We’re playing Wembley!”. He beams back at me. It’s pay-day.
Saracens have billed today’s match as a “Family Day Out” and so there’s an incredibly wide age-range in attendance. The crowd respond very warmly to our set and we’ve been careful to include a wide variety of tunes so that there’s something for everyone – Jackson Five, Abba, Kings Of Leon, Queen and so on. During “Mamma Mia” I whip out my vintage 1980s Roland AX-1 (or “keytar”, for those who aren’t fluent in keyboard-speak – which is basically anybody who can claim to possess even a shred of self-respect). This is essentially a keyboard shaped like a guitar that enables frustrated prima donnas such as myself to get out from behind the piano and strut about at the front of the stage with all the other posers. In theory the keytar is just about the most kitsch instrument in music, and as a result I really shouldn’t have been allowed to use it in combination with an Abba song. Too late now, however. In truth I just wanted to count myself amongst the presumably very select group of musicians who can say they’ve played a keytar at Wembley. Keep your eyes peeled for the Facebook group. 😉
After a short break, we return to the stage armed with around 80 pom-pom waving cheerleaders. I’ve been looking forward to this part. This is where we perform our version of The Beatles’ “Twist & Shout” whilst The Sensations and The Mini-Sensations (Saracens’ very own cheerleading groups) shake their thang pitch-side. It’s quite a spectacle, believe me. We follow this with our closing number, “500 Miles”, accompanied by world-renowned Crowd Conductor Steve Barnett, bedecked in bright red coattails and a top hat.
As the song is drawing to a close and it falls to me to address the crowd one last time, a cheeky impulse overcomes me. Normally this is the point in the set where you say “Thanks for having us, have a great day, enjoy the camel racing etc” but I can’t help but feel that that’s a little bit predictable. Plus this is after all a sporting occasion and I know how much sports fans love a little bit of gentle mickey-taking. So, instead, I say this: “Ladies & Gentlemen, would the owner of a green and yellow Northampton Saints team coach please make their way to the front desk. Your vehicle is double-parked.”
I was rather pleased with that.
As we stand pitch-side and watch Diversity wow the crowd with their second dance-number, I look around at the guys and find myself experiencing a heartwarming “Happy Days” moment. We’ve worked really hard to get here. Here’s hoping it won’t be too long before we back…