Archive | June, 2011

Blunt tells Beirut that the real stars are those helping others

29 Jun

Beirut: Benefit concerts have become a fashionable phenomenon in recent years. From “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to the Live 8 performances, one would be hard-pressed to find a cause without a song or celebrity attached.

Not that that means the relationship is an insincere one. Monday night saw the now-legendary musician James Blunt perform in Biel to raise money for Tamanna, a Lebanese charity that grants wishes to critically ill children aged from 3-18.

Blunt, who since his debut in 2004 has sold over fifteen million records worldwide, was not just a poster celebrity for the cause. Rather than Tamanna (which means desire in Arabic) simply sponsoring a pop concert, the not-for-profit association arranged the concert and recruited Blunt for performance themselves. Why Blunt? True to Tamanna’s raison-d’etre, having Blunt perform in concert was a wish for one of the children the charity is working with.

Blunt’s Biel performance was his second in Lebanon and his first in association with Tamanna. In interview the day before his concert, however, his desire to embrace the cause was evident. 

“The real stars in the world aren’t the people sitting in a room with everybody’s attention focused on them. The real stars are the people out there, the doctors and nurses, the people on the street, the people who are helping others.”

It comes as little surprise that Blunt has such respect for people whose life work is dedicated towards helping others. Having been sponsored through university in England by the army, he was obliged to serve four years with the military and in the end served six.

His respect for the army remains untarnished precisely because of their efforts to improve the lives of others. When questioned in a press conference about the Western military presence in parts of the Arab world, Blunt responded “I support the soldiers, not the politicians, because they are trying to bring peace and stability and security.”

The thirty-seven year old also remarked “Life is short. It’s not a dress rehearsal.”

The musical metaphor is not out of place for a musician who in a single year (2007) received five nominations for a Grammy award. And luckily for his thousands of Lebanese fans, he more than lived up to his motto in performance.

Blunt, whose fame broke in Lebanon in 2005 with the release of his hit song “You’re Beautiful,” played to a full house of screaming fans in Biel. As requested by Tamanna the majority of audience members came clad in white.

Notoriously young-looking – late-twenties at a push – Blunt is an enormous hit with a younger, female demographic but nevertheless managed to please older audience members too.

Blunt played the best of his repertoire, from “Billy” to “Carry You Home.” Beginning with “Dangerous,” his first standing ovation came with “Three Wise Men,” when Blunt replied to his own lyric (“where are you now?”) with “We’re in Beirut baby!”


“Beirut,” he announced to screams and applause, “is one of the best cities in the world! You seem pretty happy, so I should warn you I have many miserable songs.”

Miserable though many of them are in theme and tune both, for the audience Blunt’s presence provided reason only for delight.

Even in “Carry You Home” – a song reportedly about a child with a terminal illness and certainly about death – an eager audience member leapt onto the stage during Blunt’s solo.

It was during “Carry You Home” in particular, that Blunt’s performance was at its most mesmerising. His talent as a performer is undoubtedly due to his dedication to his songs. Although some artists have performed their music so many times that the songs become routine, Blunt’s facial expressions during this poignant song and indeed throughout the concert were astonishingly mesmerizing. Evidently he was aware of every note, feeling the syllables in every lyric.

It was due to the manner of his performance that lines such as “I’m watching you breathing for the last time” took on genuinely moving significance.

Blunt’s focus as a performer endured through the concert. Singing with his head up, neck strained and eyes fixed upwards as he strives to hold his notoriously lengthy notes, his adoration for music was unmissable.

Predictably, considering the standard of performance, the standing ovations continued in a roll. The most popular songs were “Goodbye My Lover” and, of course, “You’re Beautiful.”

Faster songs like “Turn Me On” were also popular and brought the audience out of the seated area in order to dance. “So Long Jimmy,” the final song before the encore, provided Blunt’s band with excellent opportunity to shine. Paul Beard on keyboard and piano, Karl Brazil on drums, Malcolm Moore on bass and John Garrison and Ben Castle on guitar each took a moment for solos.

Blunt’s visit to Lebanon is part of his third world tour. Throughout his life he has visited over 120 countries and professes Beirut to be one of the best cities in the world. Above all though, professed Blunt in interview, “music is the bit I love.”

It comes as little surprise then that he uses it to secure support for causes close to his heart. The collaboration with Tamanna is not the first time that Blunt has worked with a charity. Since his tour duty in Kosovo in 1999 Blunt has been an ardent admirer of Médecins Sans Frontières and he has held several benefit concerts for the medical charity, as well as auctioning personal meet-and-greet opportunities.

The musician has also held benefit concerts for Help the Heroes, a charity working towards the provision of better facilities for wounded British servicemen.

Aside from cost, 100% of the proceeds from Monday’s concert will go to Tamanna, who since December 2005 have granted over 750 wishes to children living or being treated in Lebanon.

Naturally, Blunt ended his concert with a dedication of the night to Tamanna. His goodbye, though, set the crowd screaming once more.

“Beirut, as ever you have been awesome. See you soon!” If the crowd’s reaction was anything to go by, “soon” cannot come fast enough.

Visit Tamanna’s website at


“Music can be a great friend”

2 Jun

Beirut: “I have never paid attention to what is in fashion, in terms of music,” says Roger Hodgson, “and I have been lucky, because my songs have stayed. And now I need to give.

That is why I perform at the moment as opposed to record. I need to give.”

The former front man of legendary rock band Supertramp, Hodgson spoke to The Daily Star before his performance at Beirut’s Waterfront Arena Tuesday as part of the Beirut Music and Art Festival.

His musical message seemed focused on hope above all, that and “keeping faith in the good in life.”

“Music,” Hodgson continues, “is where I go to express the depths of my heart and my deepest life experiences. Joy, pain, confusion, questioning; they can all be expressed in music.”

The good things in life are something with which Hodgson has had some experience. In its heyday, Supertramp was recognized as a worldwide rock’n’roll phenomenon. To date, the band has sold over 60 million records.

After composing the music and lyrics of many of the band’s best-loved songs – including “Breakfast in America” and “The Logical Song” – Hodgson has established a successful career as a solo artist.

Though now 61, Hodgson’s solo career remains remarkably busy. In order to perform at BMAF Hodgson flew directly from a four-day tour in the U.K., to leave at dawn the following morning for California.

The Supertramp songster shows no signs of slowing down. In conversation, Hodgson is alert and energized, dedicated to fully engaging with each of his interviewers – in spite of lack of sleep and a succession of media calls. The source of all this energy, as he puts it, is his love of music and performance.

“I am lucky living the life I do,” he says, referring not to his fame and rock’n’roll lifestyle but to the power of music and the performance act itself.

“I love music,” he continues. “I love people. I love playing music. I love bringing people together – through music. That is how I am on stage. People can feel my love of playing and love for people. I’m a mirror for the audience, together we create this energy.”

He’s not exaggerating. Whirlwind as his Beirut trip was, his concert was energizing to his audience.

Opening with the Supertramp hit “Take the Long Way Home,” Hodgson did not introduce himself to the audience until after the song was done, announcing, “I am very excited to be in Beirut!”

The profession provoked wild cheers from his listeners.

The BMAF concert was Hodgson’s second Lebanon performance.

He played at the Byblos International Festival in 2005 and received a tremendous reception, to the extent that the former Supertramper expressed surprise at the popularity of his songs in Lebanon.

This too reaffirmed for him the possibilities of music.

“People are all the same everywhere,” he says in interview. “We all have hearts. We are affected by climate and history – but we are all the same. In Lebanon the spirit of hope is indomitable. It touches me, that spirit. It is incredible to have written songs that are part of people’s lives here. It is amazing that they have such a connection with my songs.

“What I love about Lebanon,” he continues, “is how much the people enjoy themselves.”

The concert lived up to the synergy between performer and audience that Hodgson anticipated in his interview.

While the audience swayed to slower melodies of tunes like “In Jeopardy,” they responded unhesitatingly to Hodgson’s request that they accompany him in whistling along to “Easy Does It.”

BMAF’s Grandstand venue, the city’s new open-air Waterfront Arena, seemed particularly appropriate for “Easy Does It” due to its exposure to the elements; the wind, too, joined in the whistling. Decked out with palm plants, the stage lent an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity to the evening.

Hodgson’s unique voice has lost none of its potency in the four decades that have elapsed since Supertramp was formed. As effective on stage as in the studio, Hodgson’s rendering of such hits as “School” was indistinguishable from the version he recorded so long ago.

His rendition of “Hide in Your Shell” was especially beautiful and weeping audience members waved their arms or simply swayed and hummed in thoughtful accompaniment.

It was with Hodgson’s best-known hits, “Breakfast in America” and “The Logical Song” that really got the audience going – rushing the stage, standing on chairs and dancing in any available space. It was no surprise that Hodgson got a standing ovation at the end of both songs.

Hodgson was accompanied by a band of four remarkably talented musicians: Aaron McDonald on sax, Ian Stewart on bass, Kevin Adamson on keyboards and drummer Bryan Head.

Mr. Supertramp himself alternated between synthesiser, guitar and piano.

Nowadays, Hodgson describes his music as “heart rock.” He continues to write tunes but is not recording, he says, “because I feel that in performance I can give hope. That is what I have to do.”

The importance of Hodgson’s interaction with the audience was obvious as he set the scene for each song before performing it, musing that “every night playing these songs is a journey through my life.”

Hodgson alluded to this business before the show.

“Performing solo gives a very intimate connection with the audience,” he nodded, “while a band has the advantage of the power of arrangements.”

At the beginning of the concert, Hodgson announced that “music can be a great friend.”

It’s a friendship that has accompanied the performer through seven energetic, globetrotting decades.