It’s not easy being cheesy: music to the ears as Sevens fans given a Whole Lotta Love
Simon & Simon music combo tuned in for a massive demographic and different music tastes
Rock and roll is a vicious game. It’s not for the meek, particularly when you are filling the ears of 40,000 demanding and slightly demented pairs of ears.
Fortunately, Simon Southgate has been here many times before. A full-time policeman, Southgate is one half of the Simon & Simon music combo behind the tunes that serenade, regale and occasionally agitate a stadium full of revellers.
Southgate and RTHK Radio host Simon Wilson say it’s not easy being cheesy. “You have such a massive demographic and everyone obviously has different music tastes,” says Southgate. “You have to find a song that we can whiz out and everyone can recognise within three or four seconds and entertain them for roughly 45 seconds.”
For some reason, and I am not entirely sure why, the music seems much more entertaining this year. Friday night, in particular, was a treat for the ears with tunes like Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin mixed in with some Simple Minds, World Party, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Guns N’ Roses, Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy and, of course, Lynyrd Skynryd’s Sweet Home Alabama.
The boys in the booth apparently understand that no self-respecting and world-class Bacchanal is complete without some vintage southern rock. “But it is a rugby tournament as well,” says Southgate. Oh yeah, I guess it is.
Still, it would be nice to hear more Allman Brothers, maybe a bit of Marshall Tucker and most definitely some pre-MTV ZZ Top because, admit it, we all play DJ at this event.
Naturally, fossils like me labour under the notion that everyone in the stadium is anxious to hear some iconic and classic rock anthems. No boy bands or club mix heads need apply.
Southgate has been running the juke box for 11 years so he is not on the hook for some of the dubious musical choices made at this event back when it seemed like an endless string of teenybopper bop.
Still, other completely calcified sevens fans actually remember how music evolved at this event from a simple rock DJ pounding out the beats at the old stadium. Back then the corporate partners took note and co-opted some of the upbeat songs into advertising jingles and videos with varying degrees of success.
These days’ music is as much a part of the event as the rugby itself with live shows from acts like the Beach Boys, the Village People and this year’s Madness.
Scott McLean is the production manager of the Sevens and has overseen the recent tide of live performances beginning with the Beach Boys in 2013.
“Obviously, the live acts create a whole new level of entertainment,” he says. It also seemingly creates more headaches having to construct and then strike a set for the band in the middle of the pitch all within about 30 minutes.
“I wouldn’t say they were headaches, it’s just a matter of logistics and moving a lot of people and equipment over a short period of time,” McLean says.
This year there is a permanent stage constructed next to the tournament control tower featuring Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater and the Beatles cover bands.
“Everybody seems pretty pleased with the permanent stage,” says McLean. “It gives us more entertainment options and adds to the event.”
Right next door to the stage neither Southgate nor Wilson has much time to notice the bands. Despite having arguably the best seats in the house, they rarely have a chance to look up. It’s close to a 14-hour shift on Saturday, one sound cue after another.
Southgate remembers having a lively seven-minute set all cued and ready to go last year when there was an injury on the pitch and the player was carried off on a stretcher. “Obviously, you can’t play up-beat music at a moment like that,” he said. “We had to scramble madly to find some real mellow reggae.”
Nothing wrong with reggae, mellow or otherwise, but Saturday’s in particular demand something that moves and grooves.
Something like ZZ Top’s La Grange, just an absolute natural for the Sevens with its Texan growl and piercing beat.
So are you taking requests Simon? “Sure,” he says, “do you have one?” One? No, I have hundreds because after more than 20 of these Sevens the monotony starts to creep in and variety in the music is a salvation.
It’s a sentiment that Southgate is also familiar with after all these years. While he claims he never tires of playing Sweet Caroline, the official anthem of the Sevens, he occasionally finds himself drifting during some of the less entertaining moments of the tournament.
“The monotony doesn’t happen often but when it does I just hit something like Sweet Child of Mine and the crowd goes nuts, its immediate,” he says. “There’s not a club DJ that gets that.”