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Several months before the 2005 Woburn Abbey show in England, in the IAIS chat room, I was asked the question, “Eydie, Are you coming to the UK for any of the shows?” I responded, tongue in cheek, “An act of God or a personal invitation from Neil Diamond himself would be the only thing that would get me there.” This was all I could think to say to convey an answer that really meant, “I’m scared to death to leave this country with the turmoil the world seems to be in, and the fear I have that if I were to ever leave this country, I might never be allowed to return,” having heard all sorts of horror stories about foreign nationals in other countries. And the conversation in the chat room was pretty much left at that.
Fast forward a couple of months, when I was diagnosed with a chronic disease that promised to change my entire life, and did. I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that a bit of depression set in that left me feeling totally empty at times. And it certainly left me thinking that I was going to have to curtail a lot of my Neil Diamond touring activities. (Not that I ever did that much in the first place, but I had come to enjoy them more and more in recent years for two reasons: The shows were getting better and better, and I just kept meeting new friends who are lovely, lovely people.) Over time, I had come to accept this fact and know that my opportunities to enjoy a Neil Diamond concert in a live setting seemed to be slipping away at best, and I feared they would become fewer and further between as the days and months and years tolled on.
Enter my friend, Lori. She and her husband, Joel, had planned to go to some of the UK shows, and bought tickets but had not made any travel arrangements. One day Joel (a young Diamond fan in his own right, but not “nutso” like Lori and I) casually mentioned to Lori, “It sure would be nice if Eydie could just go to the UK with you so I could get out of it.” I chuckled when Lori reported what Joel had said, but could tell she was a little serious about me giving it some consideration. I kept thinking about it, and although I could think of nothing more exciting than to be at the “reprise” performance of Neil Diamond at Woburn Abbey (he played there in 1977), I discounted the notion for quite some time.
The days turned into weeks and it became more apparent, because of all that is involved in booking travel packages, that Lori had to make a decision on whether to give up her Woburn and Earl’s Court tickets (which had already been purchased), or proceed with making more solid plans to go. All the while, she kept coaxing me to agree to go, and I kept waiting for a sign that I might begin to feel better, having begun a long-term treatment regimen that left me very weak and nearly tortured with pain. My husband even encouraged me to go. (Now THERE’S a surprise!! He NEVER encourages Neil Diamond activities, although he’s been good to “allow” it through the years, even if he does think the notion is totally without merit–you see…he’s not a believer.)
I had no sooner decided to take the plunge and the risk to my health and go with Lori (I knew what going meant to her, and I did not want her to miss Woburn), than I received an e-mail from another dear friend from the UK, Angela. The subject line of the e-mail was, “Act of God.” In it, Angela told of another friend Tracey, whose sister and mother were to have gone to Woburn with her, but the sister became pregnant since the tickets had been purchased, and could not do the Woburn show. She thought this might entice me to come to the UK for some shows (referring to the Act of God statement in my months-earlier chat room session). I told Angela that I had just decided to go with Lori to the UK and it sure sounded like a wonderful offer!
Then I talked with Lori again, who told me that now Joel had decided that he did want to go after all and not miss out on the Woburn experience (good man, that Joel—he knows what makes his wife happy!)
So, I accepted this offer from Tracey and Angela for the Woburn ticket, sitting next to Tracey (more on that later), and Lori set forth to make all the travel plans to get us there and back. She booked a lovely a vacation package that had us staying in a 4-star hotel, and all the accommodations were wonderfully on the mark and there was not a hitch in any of the plans she made—-right down to the lovely breakfasts included with the hotel, the transportation to the hotel from the airport and a ticket for the Earl’s Court show that Lori said was my birthday present!
I hit the ground running when we got to London, having endured an 8-hour overnight flight that got us to London at 7am. I couldn’t sleep if London wasn’t sleeping, so the first thing on my agenda after getting checked into the beautiful hotel was to meet Angela, Tracey and her three lovely children, along with Nick, Pip, Barb and Anne, Becky and Marilyn for a guided tour of London. With the River Thames always seconds away in London, just about any tour you take there includes a boat or water. The one my hosts chose for this day was “The London Duck Tour.” A Duck is an amphibious vehicle much like the ones used for the D-day invasion of Normandy in WWII. You start out on a London street, go around to all the sights and then take a plunge into the River Thames to have a view of all the landmarks lining the river. My going to London was a surprise to everybody but Angela and Tracey, as I did not want a big deal made out of my going—just in case something happened that might have kept me from going. (It’s pretty much day to day with the way I felt, having suffered a few difficult side-effects to the strong, ugly medication.) It was fun planning to surprise everybody, though—especially Nick (he hates surprises)–and the anticipation built as the day of my arrival approached.
I must say here that Tracey has three of the most beautiful and well-behaved children that you would ever want to meet. They are so friendly and those children have shared all of Tracey’s anticipation of the build-up to Woburn. Barb and Anne arrived several days ahead of me and got to spend more time with them than I did, but they are just so sweet! I took the boys baseball hats from the Kentucky Derby and hopefully started a collection of frog kings for little Gemma. She’s a future Neil Diamond fan; I can see it in her eyes, as they are just like her beautiful mother’s.
Later, after the Duck Tour, we had a late lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, where we took lots of photos of Harley and the group.
And then it was on to Earls Court. Ah, yes, what I had come to London for. Neil Diamond. My first show of the tour. I was not disappointed. The show was everything I’d read about and more, because, you see, all the words in all the reviews of all the previous shows just don’t–can’t–describe the richness of Neil’s voice….and the beauty of the set list….and the absolute flawless way this crew has of putting together a top-notch show. How do you describe Richness, Beauty and Flawlessness? You just can’t. As I sat in my birthday present seat at Earls Court, tears began to fall at the wonder of it all. How blessed am I to have such a wonderful friend who would go to all this trouble so I could be in such a special place at such a special time? Words just cannot express it. My tears were very humbling as I anticipated the start of the show. And, as happens many times for me, the show ended with a flurry of tears also, as Neil sang “some people never see the light until the day they die,” and “I’ve been this way before and I’m sure to be this way again…….one more time again….” It’s just a masterpiece of a song, and it will forever be for me the song that clenched my belief that Neil Diamond is the greatest songwriter of our time. And as I’ve said before, I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have lived in the same era as he and to have been able to witness performances of this masterpiece in a live setting.
Doing London is hard if you’re hurting all over, but I did my best to keep up with these younger fans. I fell behind many times, but they let me catch up. The next day was a full day of more touring. All of our UK hosts and American friends visiting them, met at the London Eye for an exciting aerial view of the city, followed by a jaunt out to Abbey Road, where Angela, Nick and I enjoyed some down time together, and where some friends from home were watching on a webcam. E-mails from them were filled with excitement for me that I got to visit such a well-known place and they were able to watch my every move! Later that day, Tracey called just as I returned to my hotel to invite me to join the rest of the group again, as they had ended up at Covent Gardens, an open air market of sorts, with fresh fruits and flowers, which would be equal to what Americans call a “street fair.” Street vendors, caricaturists, jugglers, all sorts of sideshow entertainment, and just good visiting with friends. The children absolutely loved it. At one point, they came running over to report that the juggler in the square, because of some sort of shenanigans, had stripped down to a thong! Just had us all rolling on the floor laughing out loud! The visit to Covent Gardens was just wonderful, it was an opportunity to spend some down-time with Pip, Tracey, Barb, Marilyn, Becky, and Anne, and enjoy cappuccino (which I love) and joyful friendly conversation, never forgetting that the friendships were formed and grown out of our common love for Neil Diamond and his music. It never ceases to amaze me, as I’ve traveled to far places, the number of people I meet who love him. There is no end to it. The whole world seems to love Neil Diamond!
Friday was a down day, of sorts, spent anticipating the Woburn Abbey show, but it didn’t keep Lori, Joel and I from doing the double-decker bus tour, which also included a boat trip up and down the River Thames. Buckingham Palace, Notre Dame, Globe Theater, and all the bridges of London were among the things we took in on this tour. Joel met an old business friend for dinner and Lori and I had dinner together at a tapas bar near Earls Court that was a very tasty and enjoyable experience. We wanted ice cream afterwards, but couldn’t find a good place for it, so we went back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep for the next day which we knew would be a long and exciting one.
The anticipation of the big day did nothing except make it seem like we were never going to get to Woburn. But get there we did, in the middle of the afternoon, hours ahead of the opening of the car park. I missed the fan get-together at the Black Horse Pub where many of my friends had gathered for lunch but I got there just as many of them were gathering in the pub gardens. There I met other new friends, including Alan, Pip’s husband, who I’m told had had a go at the Maker’s Mark Bourbon Balls (a taste of Kentucky) that I had brought to London as gifts for my friends. I think he hid them from Pip, as a matter of fact! I have to agree with him…..they are hard to pass up!!! It was also here that I finally caught up with Toni, who had made a long and strenuous journey to get to Woburn. Toni and I, who have been fans from the very beginning, knew how important this day was, and were both glad the day had finally arrived for the wonderful reprise of that warm day back in 1977 that made Diamond history. Woburn 1977 was arguably Neil’s shining hour. And little did we know how brightly he would shine this night in 2005.
Onward to the Abbey Grounds, we managed to get parking close to the entrance of the concert site itself. It was surreal as we watched the car park take hours to fill to its capacity. It seemed like heaven could not decide whether to rain upon us, shine upon us, or blow cold winds upon us, so it did all three in a matter of just a few hours.
We tailgated at Tracey’s and Pip’s cars and we visited with different groups having similar tailgate parties. I finally got to meet Evelyn, who for all intents and purposes, organizes and keeps the UK group of fans informed of Diamond doings. She is a lovely lady, and I don’t know how she does what she does, but she does it in grand style. Scott Kelly, Val, Angela, Nick and I shared a toast to friendships, and I also had very nice and interesting conversations with other new friends from the UK. We also got to watch (from behind the gated-off concert venue) Neil and the band do a brief sound check (Desiree and Sweet Caroline). It was easy to see that this was going to be a very interesting and fulfilling show.
At last, the gates opened, and we descended upon the place that we’d all come to be, Woburn Abbey. It was amazing to watch the place fill up to a capacity crowd. The Duke of Bedford and his daughter even walked the grounds among us. It was, without a doubt, an evening to remember. I don’t know what the official attendance was, but my guess was right around 43,000. And lo and behold, at the very moment that Stan Miller made the announcement that the show was about to begin, the sun, lying low in the sky, parted all the clouds and shone down upon the Abbey and it was blinding! All with perfect timing. It was just amazing!
Pip had prepared bags and bags of wonderful cheddar cheese sandwiches and hot coffee, which she offered up to the “after” concert tailgate party. They were just a wonderful treat and a perfect ender to the spectacular show we had all just shared.
Being there, in that particular seat, within reaching distance to some of the most beautiful and wonderful people in the whole world was, to put it simply, overwhelming. I could never have imagined it would be as good as it was, and cannot imagine that the 1977 show even held a candle to it. So, hopefully, that evening will go down as another defining moment in the life and career of the best songwriter on the planet.
You are blessed if you have half the friends I have. I feel enormously blessed to have friends like Lori, Joel, Angela, Tracey, Pip and Nick, whose generosity and hospitality are hard to top. I was overwhelmed by their outpouring of love, understanding, and I love them all.
And let’s not forget Neil Diamond, the one who planted the idea many years ago when he wrote “and the seed, let it be filled with tomorrow,” that we should live life today so that when tomorrow comes we will not have lived regrets…and tomorrow will become the fruits of today’s experiences.