Red, red whine: UB40 hit high notes but Hong Kong Sevens kick-off concert falls slightly flat

Legendary British reggae pop band put on a superb show to get Queen Elizabeth Stadium shaking their hips but alcohol restrictions and queues hinder the fun

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 April, 2018, 12:42pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 April, 2018, 1:11pm

Given the mildly chaotic organisation of the Hong Kong Sevens Kick-off Concert, perhaps I should have expected the bar to run out of red wine for a UB40 gig.

As one punter behind me in the bar queue put it: “Muppet show.”

It had just taken me 20 minutes to get into Queen Elizabeth stadium, with the queue snaking all the way around to Morrison Hill Road.

Then it had been another 20 minutes queuing up inside the lobby to exchange my two drinks tokens – the only alcoholic drinks I was permitted all night with my HK$288 ticket, which is tough going given the thirst you can work up during Sevens week.

“Red wine is a five-minute wait,” said the barman. You think they would have stocked up on the vino for a concert played by a band famed for their cover of Neil Diamond’s “Red, Red Wine”.

“Just put it in a f****** glass,” continued the man behind me, as frustrated concertgoers queued up to try and get their drinks with little time left before the show started.

Then came the kicker – you couldn’t even take the alcohol inside, with a flustered security guard flailing his arms and stopping confused-looking people carrying their plastic cups of booze upstairs into the arena.

It was a world away from last year’s kick-off concert, a raucous performance by Madness held in the open air at the Sevens Village in So Kon Po opposite Hong Kong Stadium, with no silly restrictions on alcohol or long queues to get in.

There is no blame to be placed on organisers the Hong Kong Rugby Union – they did everything they good to keep the concert outside.

But the noise police at the Environmental Protection Department caved in to residents’ complaints that they shouldn’t have to put up with a noisy concert that finished at 11pm one day of the year.

And so the show was shifted indoors to Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai, meaning boozing had to be curbed.

It caused a few logistical problems, with hundreds still inside the lobby drinking at 9.30pm when the MC announced UB40 would be taking centre stage in five minutes.

The magic of standing out in the warm night air with a cold beer in hand while listening to Madness last year seemed a world away.

“Don’t miss the show, it’s about to start,” continued the MC – but what choice did you have. It’s quite hard to down a couple of plastic cups of Pinot Noir.

There were still smatterings of empty seats with people still filing in after Ali, Astro, Mickey and Co had kicked off the show with their opening song.

“Hong Kong, are you in the mood to party?” asked vocalist Astro, and they certainly were.

The atmosphere picked up with large parts of the crowd up on their feet as the band started belting out “Here I Am (Come And Take Me)”, “Good Situation” and “Beautiful Woman”.

Everyone started swaying as lead singer Ali Campbell stepped forward to take centre stage, picking up his Fender Telecaster and led the crowd in a rendition of “Cherry Oh Baby”.

UB40 play “Can’t Help Falling In Love”

The crowd quietened down around half-way through. Perhaps those who had bought more expensive tickets and were entitled to more drinks tokens – a HK$488 ticket got you four, and a VIP pass at HK$888 got you an unlimited number – were a little thirsty and decided to dip out, and got held up in lobby purgatory again.

But the band got everyone going again with “Just Another Girl”, “Kingston Town” and “Many Rivers to Cross”.

Anticipation was building for the obvious climax to the show, and no one was having any of it when the boys walked off stage saying: “Thank you and good night”.

If I’d had another token, I probably could have downed another glass of red in the lobby by the time it took them to come back out and play “Red, Red Wine”, but the bar had already stopped serving by then.

Maybe the band had gone to exchange their last tokens.

But they eventually returned for the encore and had everyone standing on the chairs and dancing in the aisles, singing in unison to an emotional rendition of “Can’t Help Falling In Love” – there was a tear in my eye, although that could have been because I had no wine – before sending everyone home happy with the song they came to see.

UB40 play “Red, Red Wine”

“It was a great show,” said one of the organisers, who put the number of attendees down at 2,000.

Despite the organisational issues, everyone seemed to be buzzing after having a great night as they spilled out into the streets and on to Wan Chai to continue the party.