Music is My Oxygen: Chris De Burgh

Chris De Burgh has the dubious honour of being both one of the best, and one of the worst, concerts I have ever seen.

The best was the first time I saw him, in 1996. It was an acoustic show with The Hungarian String Quartet, and it was amazing – so much so that even though the first half-hour was marred by a drunken group sitting a few rows ahead of us who were so disruptive they had to be removed by security, it didn’t ruin the night. There was something special about that concert, and to this day it ranks as one of my favourites.

The worst was in 2003. It was also an acoustic show, just him and a guitar, and while his performance was excellent, everything else was very much not. It was in a relatively small theatre, with seating for only around 1,000, and the effects were clearly designed for much larger venues. I wasn’t the only audience member who spent the entire show with their hand in front of their face to block the blinding, flashing lights, and at one point De Burgh actually addressed the stage techs directly, asking them to cut down on the dry ice effects because they were bothering his throat and hampering his ability to sing. My disappointment was doubled, because not only did I not enjoy the show, it was the first concert Ron and I ever attended together. He’d never heard of Chris De Burgh before we met, and I was excited to introduce him to one of my favourites. This … did not go well.

I actually saw Chris De Burgh a third time as well, in 2000. It was an arena tour, with a full band, and it was perfectly enjoyable. But that night wasn’t so much about the show itself. It had been announced a couple of days after my father died, and when my mother heard about it, she phoned me at work to ask if I’d go with her. This was a huge deal, as my mother and I had attended tonnes of shows in the past, but it had been a long time since we’d done so due to the estrangement between my father and I during the last years of his life. Had he still been alive, she’d never have been allowed to go to a show, period, let alone one with me. So when she asked, I immediately bought tickets, and a couple of months later my ex-husband and I drove miles out of our way through a blizzard to pick her up and get her to the show, where she gripped my hand tight through Lady in Red, and we even managed to convince her to stand up and sway around a bit to Patricia the Stripper.

Spanish Train and Other Stories, the album on which Patricia the Stripper first appeared, was released 45 years ago today. Considering how huge a part it’s played in my life, it seems appropriate that it’s damn near as old as I am. My parents had three sons in close succession, and then there was quite a gap before I, the only daughter, came along. I adored my big brothers growing up, and they were incredibly patient about having baby sister around. But their bedroom was their sanctuary, one which I understandably wasn’t allowed in.

Unless I was invited, that is. From time-to-time, one of them would come find me and ask if I’d like to hang out with them in “The Swamp.” The deal was always the same: I could stay for the length of one record album.

And I got to pick the album.

Spanish Train and Other Stories wasn’t the only album I ever chose, but it was in the top three. (Rush’s 2112 and Styx’s Paradise Theatre were the other two.) I’d sit on the bunk bed with the album cover and lyrics sheet, being as small and quiet as I could so I wouldn’t lose my visiting privileges, and read along with each song.

To this day, I know every word to every song on Spanish Train and Other Stories, and the opening strains of the title song always take me back to that time. Music was the cornerstone of family life. If records weren’t playing, the radio was on, and what genre you were hearing varied depending on where in the house you happened to be. And while overall my memories from that time aren’t terribly good, I consider myself fortunate that at least the days were filled with music. I learned it can be solace in the bad times, and an accent to the good ones.

As for Chris De Burgh, well … I’m a storyteller at heart. And if anyone ever showed me the value of telling a tale, it’s him.

To read more posts in the “Music Is My Oxygen” series, click here.

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