Forgive the unusually personal blog here (I very rarely write in the first person) but it is highly probable that without Bon Jovi, Rocking The Midlands would not exist.
In the summer of 1986, I was 10, nearly 11 when I was sitting in my room, taping the best songs on the top 40 like we all did every week when something came shooting out of the speakers: “Shot through the heart,” came the voice, “and you’re to blame – you give love a bad name.” A couple of weeks later there was another track on the radio. You might know it, it starts “Tommy used to work on the docks….”
That week, I gave my mum my pocket money and she went to Discovery Records in Solihull to purchase – on vinyl – an album called “Slippery When Wet” and a rocker was born. In 1988 for my thirteenth birthday I was given the bands fourth album – a record called “New Jersey” which I still consider to be the finest record of its type ever made, it is – quite simply – the perfect hard rock album.
It is twenty years since the band played Birmingham. That show, in May 1993 was the second proper gig I had been to and it was absolutely incredible. And (again, asking for forgiveness for the personal thoughts) in 2009 when my aforementioned mother was buried, it was “Livin On A Prayer” that was played as filed out of the funeral room. It had been her favourite song. It is still one of mine.
Let no one be in any doubt that, whatever else I am, I am absolutely not a Bon Jovi hater. I owe them many things, I owe them my love of rock music and years of happiness. I owe them the last happy memory of mum, days before she died, listening to the band and being genuinely content for maybe the last time, so you had better really believe me when I say it is with heavy heart I have to write what follows.
I didn’t know whether to get a ticket for this show. I had seen them (along with my best mate – with whom I have been friends for slightly longer than I have loved Jovi) a few years before at the O2 Arena and, whilst the show was ok, we said we wouldn’t go again as it was tarnishing our memories. But this, this was cheap (my seat cost £25), it was at Villa Park (about five miles from my house) and it was Jovi. Jovi, my band, my boys, before Skid Row, before The Wildhearts, before Maiden, before them all and I couldn’t say no….
I thought about not going when I heard the utterly execrable, appallingly bad new record “What About Now” from which about five songs are played during the course of the three hour set including opener “That’s What The Water Gave Me.” It sums up the band in 2013. It is safe, homogenized pop music, which is designed not to offend anybody and be played on Radio 2. The band would no doubt say that they have grown up, but briefly, with 1995’s superb “These Days” album they moved into a really interesting new direction, before eschewing that in favour of MOR pop with the occasional flash of talent like “It’s My Life” (which is played tonight) and “Last Man Standing” (which isn’t)
The elephant in this particular stadium is that Richie Sambora isn’t here. Always my favourite member of the band and definitely the coolest, he has fallen out with Jon and replaced by Phil X. X is a decent fill in, but he isn’t Sambora, any more than this is the band I used to love.
Once or twice – when they play “Dry County” for example in the encore, the band are fantastic, but for the rest of it, they are just another pop band, and if they weren’t called what they were called then I wouldn’t be here.
Of course, they play “….Prayer” and they do so twice, more or less, with Jon doing an acoustic rendition before the band plays the whole thing. And it sounds like a cover to me, it lacks the excitement it used to – but then I am clearly in a minority of one, given that all around me 30,000 people go mental.
Fittingly the last song is “Blood On Blood” – a track about lost youth and sticking together through adulthood in spite of never seeing each other anymore – as a metaphor it seems just about perfect for my thoughts on the band who are playing it. Like its first line says: “I can still remember, when I was just a kid…”
Thanks for everything Bon Jovi, we had a good run, and part of me will always love you. This time, though, it is over.