Happy 2018!

Another year… gone, as Dumbledore would say. I usually write this post on the last day of the year that passed, but here I am now writing it on the first day of the one that just started. So maybe I should start this a bit differently.

Another year has just started. I want it to be a good one, with less war and hatred, more cooperation, understanding, kindness and peace. I hope I do not want too much, even if in the end I am watching the news every day and know what is out there, times are not always as dark as they seem. No New Year resolutions here for me, as always. I hope I can make myself a better, wiser and smarter person this year. Hopefully this way I will be capable of getting things done, whatever I will have to do. Not much changes within a night, just the date in the calendar, many things remain the same. And as always I hope to be healthy and happy, the same thought that I send to you, the one reading this. And to end it in a less serious mood, I will now also add a collage of my 2017. It was a good year to make memories.

Happy New Year!

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Christmas Day

Millions of voices raise carols to the sky, they’re happy and warm and so true,
But from far away the prayers do the same but they’re weeped and the voices are blue.
There are children who want a brand new toy train to go all around the bright tree,
And kids who just want some shelter from rain and some hope to be one day free.

There are lovers who walk in the snow hand in hand and look at each other in love,
And lonely hearts praying for someone to hold as sent by a force from above.
There are soldiers in war who miss their dear ones and want to go home straight away,
And people who travel around the whole World to be home with loved ones this day.

There is hope and there’s kindness in this holy night and they’re there for each on this Earth,
There’s happiness, joy and there’s love in our hearts, let’s not splatter all with sore dirt.
Take a moment to smile, to give and to be kind, but don’t take the moment for granted
Cause you’re loved and you’re warm and in this world you have everything you ever wanted.

The silence is frozen and stars fall from the skies, they brighten the world, make it white,
There’s glee and there’s prayer and peace in our minds, let’s keep them for more than tonight.
There are cats by the fire and lights in the tree and Santa is soon on his way:
Just like the ones who miss their loved ones the goes round the World on Christmas Day.

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10 x KajHolst @ Stockholm

Another kind of exciting world of rock concerts is offered by the fact that they are in essence a series of events where I feel comfortable. The comfort itself is given first of all by the music, the rhythm and energy it transmits and also by the people that are around. While I have the habit of writing a lot about events that draw together hundreds if not thousands of people, this time I want to focus on a different musical experience, same rock music, different vibe and a band I haven’t written about in quite a while: KajHolst.

KajHolst @ Kafé 44

They popped up in my playlist some three years ago and two years ago I saw them live for the first time. Their concerts can take place from some well known pubs in Söder to some obscure (to me) places where I’d never think I’d ever end up in, but it’s a good exercise to find cool spots to hang and listen to music, especially if this matches my taste or is somehow appealing. The audience of the concerts, most of the times made up of the same faces that you learn to recognise (and follow in case you have no idea where the actual spot of the concert is or how to get there), varies between a few of us with enough space around to feel safe and move right or left to snap a shot of the stage and the band playing on it, to more of us where skills in taking overhead photos are needed for immortalising a frame of the band. Probably one of my favourite gigs was one where we weren’t too many around: @PSB in June 2016.

KajHolst @ PSB

The vibe of this kind of concerts is not something that you encounter too often, they create a feeling of closeness where the focus falls on the music. It’s hard to talk about the music in one word since it goes from melodic guitar riffs to fast paced punk-like tracks that make it impossible to stand still. The lyrics can either be simple and go along the melody on one track to switch to something more complex for the next song or something totally crazy. I sometimes find them easy to relate to as I always try to offer each song I listen to a meaning of my own. When listening to them for the first time I kept having David Bowie in mind but the style of the music expanded to some uncharted territories for me so the sound of it all is a rather new addition to my playlist, but it’s good music hence my interest in every new track. Fortunately for me there is a new track at almost every new gig. And going back to these, besides the concert I mentioned above, my other favourite gig was a (semi)acoustic one played in Loch Ness Tavern & Pub. That was mind-blowing from the simple fact that you can hear the music differently. Different sound, different vibe, different feeling, same songs.

KajHolst @ Bar Brooklin

All in all, counted with the help of my Instagram feed, I’ve seen them live 10 times. I am already over that moment when I know I will hear all my favourite songs from them because not all of them make it in the setlist these days. After a few EPs and singles the band released an album, or part one of it (Album Part 1:Finite), I’m still waiting for part two, which means that the songs multiplied to the situation when they can’t be played all in one gig, to my disappointment. Yet again when it comes to music that I like I never have enough. Even so, Album Part 2: Infinite, if I got the name right, should pop up in Spotify at the beginning of next year, which means new songs to ponder upon, one of which I’ve had the pleasure lo listen to recently at another gig @PSB.

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Nitto ATP World Tour Finals 2017

Since we are in between seasons and I miss it very much, and also because I am behind with a blog post about it, I think it is the right moment to talk about the ATP Nitto World Tour Finals. Tennis.

This involved a trip to London, carefully planned since months ago (or maybe just the moment Roger Federer won Australian Open) but was certain sometimes after Rafael Nadal won Roland Garros. Those two have been dominating the tennis world for over 10 years now and the #fedal rivalry is already going down in history. To my bad luck Rafa Nadal pulled out of the tournament due to injury right after his first match, so I didn’t get to see him, but my ultimate goal was still there: seeing Roger Federer play would make the peRFect birthday present. Plus the most awesome team in the world, Rojer/Tecau, was also part of the doubles tournament and an absolute must see since it is always a pleasure and a thrill to cheer for my countrymen, and Horia, alongside Sweden’s Robert Lindstedt, was the reason I went to the World Tour Finals in the first place in 2012.

London’s great! Flying to and from London with two different aircrafts, two different airlines and two different all-men crews was a first, from all perspectives. But wandering on the streets was left for the last day, my main goal was the tennis. That deviated a bit when I found myself in front of the Thomson Reuters building reading the daily headlines on their displays. There’s something about news that… Yeah, but tennis. So reading the headlines became a custom since I was changing from the DLR to the tube at Canary Wharf, but going to the O2 is slowly becoming a habit. The arena is in full renovation which means that this year the tennis village didn’t exist. I was a bit disappointed by security as well.

But the tennis itself did not disappoint. First match of the day was Kontinen/Peers against Klaasen/Ram. The South African/American team replaced the french duo Herbert/Mahut, but last year’s ATP World Tour Finals champions from Finland and New Zealand, managed to get away with a tight win: 2-6, 6-1, 10-8. The second match of the day was the reason I was there: Roger Federer vs Marin Čilić (6-7(7), 6-4, 6-1). A replay of this year’s Wimbledon final, a bit more challenging for Roger, this time, the match was a thrill for every tennis fan in the house. They don’t call Federer the G.O.A.T. for nothing, he has an absolutely incredible out-of-this-world game. My mind doesn’t know and wouldn’t understand how much work is really behind it, but when at his best the man is hypnotising. Quite a birthday treat!

The evening session brought on the centre court Rojer/Tecau against Harrison/Venus. The US Open champions had a really bad end of the season and they gave away this match 3-6, 6-7(7), though they had the possibility of taking it to a decisive tie-break. They just couldn’t play the biggest points and that was it: no Romanian victories this year in London. The last match of the day: young Alexander Zverev against Jack Sock. The first one is very talented and had an amazing year, going all the way to number 3 (4 at the end of the season), the second one is a fighter. The match had the benefit of a full house and of very devoted fans, for both sides. It was also a very exciting encounter, more exciting than Federer’s game, which became quite obvious at a certain moment. Both players took control of the points and fought bravely until one of them gave in. At the end of the evening the American tennis player won: 6-4, 1-6, 6-4. And by the end of my day 1 at the O2 I got stuck with an earworm, the song below, though I didn’t bother looking for it until today, when they played it at the gym and I actually paid attention to the lyrics in order to figure out what song it was.

The second day of tennis started with Marach/Pavić defeating the Bryan Brothers 6-4, 6-4. That was also the time when I thought it would be interesting to go all the way to the last row to enjoy the full view of the court and the arena. I think my knees got weak halfway up, I made it to the last row, sat down and didn’t move until the next match started. The Bryans are not playing their dominating tennis anymore but they are still the audience’s favourites. Marach/Pavic, the Stockholm champions, enjoyed being at the O2 for the first time. The morning session’s single match brought face to face Austria’s Thiem with Belgium’s Goffin. This match rolled out quickly: 4-6, 1-6 and the Belgian man, after defeating Rafael Nadal, was ready for Saturday’s semifinal against Roger Federer.

I’ve impatiently waited for the evening meeting between Kubot/Melo and Murray/Soares, mostly because I like the Polish/Brazilian team a lot, I like how they are playing. Of course the crowd was cheering for the other team as Jamie Murray, Andy’s older brother, is from the UK. Kubot/Melo had already qualified for the semifinals so they didn’t really seem to focus on the game, nor aim for a victory, so they gave away the match 2-6, 4-6. Still, doubles is more exciting. The last match of the day was the singles between Dimitrov and Carreño Busta. Dimitrov is a Stockholm Open sweetheart and former champion, and I’ve also seen him win in Bucharest, back when Romania still had an ATP event. He won the match with a double 6-1, and he went further to win the semifinal against Jack Sock and the title on Sunday in a match against David Goffin who defeated Roger Federer in the semis. In the doubles, last year’s winners were this year’s winners as well: Kontinen/Peers defeated Kubot/Melo. Unfortunately I wasn’t there to see the finals, nor the semis. As much as I would have liked to be. But as a note to myself, if I ever go to the ATP World Tour Finals again, I am going to go in the first days of the tournament, when things are uncertain, unpredictable, when players give their best on court and are not yet tired or injured. All these things make the matches more exciting, especially when, again, David Bowie’s “Heroes” is played as celebration hymn.

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Pumpkins United: Helloween @ Partille Arena

Kiske & Deris (Happy, happy Halloween!)

I couldn’t even speak English when I started listening to Helloween, and funny enough, I really liked them. I liked them so much and listened to them so many times that, years later, when I found the old tape in the tape drawer and put it in the cassette player I realised I knew the lyrics, and even better, the guitar riffs. Besides the excitement of each song, the cherry on the top is waiting for that guitar solo in the middle of the song, and almost every song has one. Their 1991 album Pink Bubbles Go Ape is a trademark for my childhood. The sound of Helloween from my childhood had the voice of either Michael Kiske or Kai Hansen, it depended if I listened to Save Us or Judas which for a long time sounded about the same in my head, name-wise.

Kai Hansen

A few years ago I saw the band live in Bucharest, with their current singer, Andi Deris, and it was that type of concert: “20 years later I finally get to see the band live”.  But the voices of Helloween, for me at least, as I already said above, were Kiske and Hansen and they decided to join the band for a world tour: Pumpkins United. And seeing and hearing them play live was a chance I was not going to miss. This involved a trip to Gothenburg. So here I was last Saturday on a train to the above mentioned city, a train half-full with metalheads, all of us going to another city for the same reason. Two gangs met in the same coach where I had my seat: first group was formed of 4 rather young guys, maybe not older than 40, who met each other for the first time just to go to this concert, and the other group was formed of 7 old friends, all Helloween fans who decided to attend the concert together. And people had leather jackets and chains and Helloween t-shirts and you could hear Helloween playing in their headphones. Even the lady on the train took the time to emphasise on the topic: “We are passing through Partille right now, there’s a big rock concert here tonight, if you are heading there, enjoy the evening!”

After trotting the streets of Gothenburg, a good meal and some rest, it was time to head to the arena. I managed to get there quite easy: follow the other rockers!

I Want Out!

And now, the concert. WOW! It’s like I was 8 again. They opened with Halloween sung by the track’s original singer, Michael Kiske, and current singer Andi Deris. And those guitars, and the energy of the music! Helloween play power metal, which if I really have to say it, is loud and has a fast tempo, guitar riffs and some epic songs, real anthems, or rock operas, as Kiske described Keeper of the Seven Keys. Some songs can be very political, others can be quite humorous. And Helloween have a way of putting funny bits in their music, especially if the songs have names as Heavy Metal Hamsters (soft and mellow sitting in the field and play like hell”). They didn’t play this song, unfortunately, it’s funny, it sounds good, it has the guitar riff and the irony of being written after bad experiences with a record label. The second song of the evening was Dr. Stein (“grows funny creatures, let’s them run into the night, They become great rock musicians and their time is right”) during which the visuals on the screen behind the band were showing Dr. Stein experimenting and creating the members of the band, among others. Seth and Doc were there for the breaks (two silly pumpkins walking the audience through Helloween history), and practically this was the whole concert: 3 decades of heavy metal history. The truth is that seeing 3 guitarists and 3 lead singers on stage during the same concert is quite impressive. My favourite part of the concert was when Kai Hansen took over the stage both as guitarist and singer and did a medley of Starlight, Ride the Sky and Judas. Another impressive moment was the tribute the band paid to former drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg who passed away in 1995, using old footage of him playing the drums so he can have his own drum solo and drum battle with the current drummer. The moment was followed by a tribute Kai Hansen paid to some of the rock legends who are no longer touring this world. I was fearfully waiting for A Tale that Wasn’t Right. It might be a good song but I don’t like it, probably because I listened to it one too many times and because it’s the type of song you listen to when you’re drunk and broken-hearted. Instead they played another song that you can listen to when you’re drunk and broken-hearted: Forever and One (Neverland), but at least this one is a bit more bearable.

Helloween

The concert finished in full force at the two encores with Eagle Fly FreeKeeper of the Seven Keys, a 13-minute long track that passes from ballad, to heavy guitar riffs, epic vocals to become a Helloween masterpiece, Future World and I Want Out (probably their most popular song). And I think we didn’t really want to go home just yet. I think everybody there understood the importance of the moment: all three voices of Helloween were there, it’s like after 23 years of playing with Andi, when you already gave up on waiting to hear Kiske playing your favourite Helloween track with Kai Hansen on guitar, something happens and you see all three of them performing live in the same show. So now I can say 25 years later… I saw Helloween, what I understand by Helloween. It was an epic show! Hail 🤘🐹🐹🐹!!!

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