Black Sabbath and the Art of The Fugue

In musical terms, a fugue is a compositional style using two or more contrapuntal voices, exemplified by Baroque composers such as J.S.Bach. But I’m talking about the other definition of fugue- that psychological state involving the loss of awareness of one’s identity and the flight from one’s usual environment, often associated with female hysteria.

I frequently fantasise about running for the hills. When I’ve been dragged out of bed for the twentieth time that night and it’s only 1am. When I’m driving down the motorway with four people screaming in the back, one of them repeatedly kicking my seat and the others throwing Cheerios at my head. When I realise I know all the words to Season 8 of Peppa Pig off by heart but can’t remember anything I studied for my degree.

The blissful imagining of a brief escape from my daily life has been my go-to daydream for the past ten years, but I’ve never actually done it. Until now.

January 29th 2017 was a landmark day in my life, not because I had tickets to see Black Sabbath at the O2 in London, but because in order to attend this concert I was leaving my husband and children overnight, for the very first time. Black Sabbath, the founders and godfathers of heavy metal, were coming to the end of ‘The End’- their last ever tour- and I felt this was a momentous enough occasion to take the plunge. In fact, yes, it was my moral obligation to attend.  I bought the tickets months ago, but as the day approached I began to wake every night in a cold sweat. What happens if somebody gets a stomach bug? What happens if my husband forgets to pack their snack for school? What happens if they miss me too much? What happens if they don’t miss me enough?  I began to secretly wish that something would happen to prevent me going.

I was in a parallel universe as I boarded the plane to London, and I kept patting my pockets trying to remember what I had left behind. Your Family. Once I got over this odd feeling of dismemberment, I have to admit that I barely gave any of them a second thought for the next twenty-four hours.

On a whim I had purchased the ‘VIP Soundcheck Experience’ package; the one where you don’t get to meet and greet the band, you don’t get to take photos, but you do get to feel like a criminal (‘line up against the wall please, I said against the wall’), and wonder whether you are a bit of a sad loser because you paid extra for this. However you also get a rather nice souvenir brochure with signed guitar picks included, and you get to stand right in front of the band while they churn out a quick Iron Man specially for you and a few other die-hards. I was leaning over the barrier directly underneath Tony Iommi, who exudes loveliness, and he gave me such a nice smile that it was completely worth it.

After a pleasant hour of people-watching and beer-drinking in the bar, I took up my position near the front for American band Rival Sons, the opening act. Rival Sons have the silliest collection of beards I’ve seen this side of Shoreditch. ‘We play rock and roll music’ the singer Jay Buchanan kept reminding us, and their brand of retro blues/rock is perfectly serviceable, if only just on the right side of hipster. However Buchanan’s phenomenal rock voice and stage presence made this worth watching.

Rival Sons were clearly very honoured to be there and did a good job, although I would have liked something a bit heavier, and I’m not convinced they were the right choice for a night of historic metal.

Black Sabbath began with the eponymous ‘Black Sabbath’, still menacing after all this time, and then proceeded with a setlist mainly from their first four albums. This gave the show a distinct Seventies feel, enhanced by the psychedelic backing screen effects, but the band’s doom-laded lyrics are somehow just as relevant today. Black Sabbath also had a new drummer for the tour- Tommy Clufetos- who kept the sound modern and had so much energy they gave him his own 10-minute drum solo.

Ozzy looked as confused and lovable as ever, exhorting the crowd to clap totally out of time to the beat. He had an array of drinks and medications lined up in front of the drums to help get him through, and he looked so pleased whenever he got the end of a song that he would break into an insane grin. But he was more in tune than usual and his eery voice was resonant.

Tony Iommi has been suffering from cancer on and off for several years, and this tour must have been gruelling for him, particularly tonight after just hearing of the death of Black Sabbath’s former keyboardist Geoff Nicholls.  However Iommi’s illness has clearly not affected his guitar playing, which was magisterial. His presence is somehow humble, despite the obvious influence of his riffs on the entire history of heavy metal. I realised that quite a few of his mid-song breaks have been entirely lifted by Metallica.

In keeping with tradition, here are a few of the un-metal ways in which I attended this concert:

  • I went with my best friend, who doesn’t know anything about metal, but who does like knitting and Welsh male voice choirs.
  • We felt like vomiting, not due to excessive alcohol consumption, but due to excessive consumption of a family-size pack of Yorkie giant chocolate buttons.
  • I sent several text messages to my husband during ‘Into The Void’ about not forgetting my son’s maths homework.
  • I didn’t know the words to War Pigs during the sing-along, which was embarrassing when the camera panned over me to reveal my metal failure on the big screen to 20,000 people.
  • We left before the end because our legs were tired, which conveniently allowed us to avoid the car park rush.

This morning I woke up naturally in a hotel bed, with no tiny limbs clambering on me, no voices in the dark solemnly informing me they have wet the bed. I am enjoying my first peaceful breakfast in ten years; I have been sitting down in the same position for half an hour without having to get up to wipe spilled orange juice or take someone to the toilet. And now I can’t wait to see the kids.

Thank you Black Sabbath, for giving me my first mini-fugue.  Oh, and for inventing heavy metal.

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