Even Cheesy Costs Too Much in 2009 for BSI Speedway’s Showpiece Event in Cardiff
A snippet about entertainment at Cardiff that appeared in the lengthy coverage of the Prague Grand Prix (the first of the 2009 series) in this week’s Speedway Star inadvertently yet again reveals the desperation of the cost-cutting measures that BSI Speedway appear keen to undertake. Arguably, it also signals they have already planned for 2009 Cardiff revenues and/or attendances to decline from previous levels.
Since the inaugural Cardiff Grand Prix, the organisers have dictated that our pre and mid meeting entertainment should be of the cheesy faded, fallen star variety they apparently deem appropriate to the collective emotional and cognitive outlook of the average speedway fan. Though they might not be everyone’s fifth choice of musical artiste, the performers we’ve seen have enjoyed some element of name recognition and, often, a reasonable sized back catalogue of their own previously successful material.
To name but a few, some of the artists we’ve seen at Cardiff have included: Bonnie Tyler, the late great Edwin Starr, Belinda Carlisle, Chas & Dave, Tony Hadley (without Spandau Ballet) and Tony Christie. (We’ll ignore X Factor losers like the McDonald Brothers or Ray Quinn) Obviously, there have been equipment problems (and some pitiful spiders with legs on stilts) but the veneer of genuinely wanting to put on a show at the Millenium Stadium has remained intact. You also have to think that all of these haven’t come (too) cheap. John Postlethwaite laong with Paul Bellamy and his esteemed management team have hummed their cheesy, retro tune and we’ve dutifully sung along. This year – along with the traditional poor track surface, predictable format and field of participants – we’re informed that we’re now going to be treated to the pre-meeting entertainment sounds of a Queen tribute band!
Next year the ongoing logic of further BSI Speedway cost cutting at the SGP would dictate that the entertainment offered will probably decline even further to become karaoke with some extra coloured flashing lights. *
Why would anyone even think to bother to book a Queen tribute band? Hold on, actually, companies founded by John Postlethwaite have some previous here (and probably thinks “We are the Champions!” is the ideal signature tune to accompany BSI Speedway PowerPoint presentations of the SGP financials to IMG). Indeed, it’s less than three years since BSI Reading (during their ill starred attempt to ‘revolutionise’ the Elite League via their rebranded ‘investment vehicle’ of the Reading Bulldogs) tried and completely failed to entice/entertain the 2006 EL Play Off Final (first leg) crowd with – a Queen tribute band! If it’s good enough for Smallmead, I say it’s good enough for Cardiff. Obviously, I have no idea of the band booked then will be the one we get to witness at Cardiff. There are so many tribute bands, after all.
To give a flavour of what’s in store here’s a snippet – that also features dedicated Oxford Speedway trackman Nobby Hall – from my book on the 2006 speedway season Shifting Shale (now available for a bargain £10) that captures something of how the band at the Cardiff GP might sound:
“Far from seeking to innovate when it comes to the choice of music played to the punters at the premium speedway meetings they stage, the BSI as an organisation appears to pride itself to only offer music stuck in a time warp for a certain bygone era of mass entertainment. At Cardiff they at least have the decency to make ironic or slightly fey choices – though I must admit that the 2006 combination of Bonny Tyler and Tony Christie did appeal in a kind of kitsch-cum-retro type way – but tonight at Smallmead as a crowd we appear to have become trapped at speedway’s equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. We’re definitively a captive audience as we wait for the action to start and BSI Reading appear keen to infantilise us as well as beat us into psychological submission with some loud, garish and atonal music we haven’t actually chosen or can’t turn down. In fact, we have no choice but to sit passively and listen since it drowns almost all conversation. Judged by his coat, maybe a Queen tribute band is in fact John Postlethwaite’s favoured choice of music to relax to, though, much more likely, they’re somehow related. If none of these explanations apply, they’re probably just a rather condescending reasonably priced choice of what they think speedway fans would like to listen to. Whatever the reason, the lead singer greets us with a cheery “Hello Reading!” as though he’s mistaken this gig – so strongly redolent of an end-of-the-career booking – for the headline slot at the Reading Festival rather than its reality of the centre green at Smallmead. It must be a nightmare engagement – the chance to play to the older demographic in the form of an audience of uninterested speedway fans who really just can’t wait for you to stop. The volume is set at deafening so we’re all along for the ride, except for those with adjustable volume on their hearing aids. Sadly the singer affects to persuade himself, if no one else, that we’re actually all here to specifically see him and the band. He frequently implores us to rise above our default setting of catatonia throughout the ’gig’. “If you want to boogie feel free!”, “Show your hands” and “sing it” are uttered/screeched with apparent sincerity and great regularity, though without any appreciable impact. Apart from a touching lack of awareness, another factor that disrupts the performance is an apparent unfamiliarity with the basic lyrics and mechanics of the Queen oeuvre. “I’m going to sing something – sing it back to me” requests the lead singer before he noisily murders the rather appropriate choice of Another One Bites The Dust. Nobby isn’t impressed, “I can’t hear myself think, let alone speak”. With a few more failed imprecations to action or reaction from the stunned captive crowd, the band launch into the most famous Queen song of all which tonight, I think we can call, Bulldogian Rhapsody. Nobby shouts above the cacophony approvingly, “They’re all out of key now!” When the singer fails to simultaneously hit the high notes and introduces some unusual quavers into “mama, I just killed a man” you really hope that his mum isn’t here or, worse still for long-term future embarrassment of the whole family, isn’t a Smallmead regular as she’d never live down the horror and the shame of this execrable, almost post-modern performance that unintentionally verges on so-bad-it’s-good levels of irony.
Nobby shouts, “They’re better on Stars in their Eyes than here”. A short while later he points out a celebrity a row and few seats away, “that’s the dog that was on TV at Peterborough last week”. Boy, it is a cutely distracting dog and it sits throughout with its paws on the handrail to apparently follow each race with an intensity that is almost as absorbing as the on-track action. Before we get all the blessed relief of the loud roar of the bike engines rather than the loud violence of the ‘music’, we endure a final fruitless appeal from the lead singer, “come on Reading – big finish” before they grunkily segue into an atonal unintentionally post punk version of the Queen standard Radio GaGa. Nobby shouts wittily, “It’s all been GaGa!” At a different volume there might be a career for this band on the chicken-in-the-basket pub and club circuit but based on this display, to paraphrase Alan Partridge, their music would be better suited to the less discerning “spinal cord in bap” crowd.
When they finally mercifully kill the set, the silence is golden……”
* This might not be such a bad idea since I’m sure the always enthusiastic, good value and professional Cardiff presenter Kevin Coombes would definitely draw a considerable crowd into the stadium early to hear him croon a few choice numbers. If we could sponsor him and the monies raised were given to the Speedway Riders Benevolence Fund then things might really take off! And, indeed, also vaguely give something back to speedway rather than line BSI Speedway’s pockets.