Heartfelt performances at the benefit concert for the Manchester bomb victims impressed Aidan Smith
I can’t be alone among dads of small girls who woke up yesterday morning with an altogether different view of Ariana Grande.
In our house I do breakfast, which can go one of two ways, out-and-out chaos or merely heavy disruption. The out-and-out chaos results when I ban the iPad and try to get some conversation going. The lesser of two evils happens when I give up on that ludicrously idealistic desire and allow my daughters to rev up Netflix. The catch is having to endure their favourite show Sam and Cat and in particular the helium-high voice of the ditsy, daffy Cat in this tweenie update of Laurel & Hardy, played by Grande.
Irritation doesn’t end when the episode concludes. Stella and Sadie will then perform their instant spin-off tribute version, complete with diamond-sharp accents and slang, and demand I take time out of my hectic schedule of trying to get everyone to school on time to style their hair just like Cat. But yesterday morning there was no squabbling. Over the pancakes we all watched some of Grande’s benefit concert for the Manchester bombing victims recorded from the night before. Everyone was tremendously impressed, including my son and especially me.
“How old is Ariana?” asked Stella. “Twenty-three,” I said. Stella instantly did the maths, or as Cat would say and she would concur, math. “So she’s only 16 years older than me and, my God, five million and seventy-teen years younger than you, Dad, and she organised like literally all of this?” Piers Morgan was impressed, too. The TV presenter had criticised Grande for not immediately visiting the injured in hospital following the terrorist outrage which claimed 22 lives. But, watching the concert and marvelling at it, he was forced into a climbdown on Twitter: “I misjudged you, ArianaGrande & I apologise. You’re an admirable young woman & this is a magnificent night. Respect. #OneLoveManchester.”
For all these big names from the bright and shiny pop world to have mustered at such short notice was impressive. For them to have hit the right tone, and found the right words to say between songs, was remarkable. It’s 32 years since the global jukebox of Live Aid, the original pop telethon, when George Michael insisted that the rule among the performers was: “Check your egos at the door.” Yet I remember being disappointed when Bryan Ferry - my original rock hero - sang tracks from his latest album as if the Wembley spectacular was just another gig and there were other acts who barely acknowledged the cause and the real reason they were all there.
Maybe the scale of the human disaster - the famine in Ethiopia - overwhelmed them. Perhaps they thought that whatever they tried to say would be clunky, or worse, crass. Well, such concerns didn’t daunt Pharrell Williams. “You know why I’m bowing?” he asked. “Because despite all the things that have been happening in this place I don’t feel or hear or smell or see any fear. All I feel here tonight is resilience, positivity and love.”
No one was too mawkish or droned on too long or said too little. Justin Bieber has sometimes said the wrong thing. I mean clod-hoppingly, crash-bang-wallopingly wrong. Touring the Anne Frank museum he wrote in the visitors’ book: “Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a Belieber.” But on Sunday night he praised the audience for their bravery in coming out less than 24 hours after the London terror attack and closed with the tender words: “To the families, we love you so much.”
This is supposed to be a pretty self-obsessed pop generation, which for the business is saying something. And this is supposed to be a pretty entitled generation of fan, never wanting for anything. But there was real gratitude from the crowd at the Old Trafford cricket ground who deserved and got a special event, where children - possibly survivors of the bombed gig among them - danced with police officers in a beautiful moment which went right round the world.
It was special because almost everyone on the stage dressed down in sweatshirts, emphasising the urgency of the concert. The exceptions were Little Mix and I’d like to know, in these grim days of heightened security, how they got into the stadium sporting those heavily-studded dog collars as part of their “Private Shop” fetishwear. Lots of today’s acts use studio trickery to embellish their singing but Sunday’s cast mostly performed acoustically or acapella. When voices occasionally cracked, or high notes couldn’t quite be reached, it only served to make them sound heartfelt and indeed as real as the plooks on Bieber’s cheeks.
“I’m not going to get that one,” sighed Robbie Williams, of the toppermost part of his song Strong. But, like others, he’d shown he cared by re-working the lyrics to suit the occasion: “We’re still singing our songs/Manchester, we’re strong.” And then there was Ariana, emceeing, duetting, running around on crazy heels, reducing the audience to tears with accounts of meeting mothers of dead fans, breaking down herself many times, but always getting to the end. Compared with others from the Hollywood re-processing plant which turns child actors into pop stars, she gets called “subversive”, which only endears her to me some more. Of course now that they know she sings, too, my daughters want to see a Grande show. From my original position of outright dread, I’ll be happy to hang around up the back.