Saturday, August 28, 2004

The mighty Embrace played a secret gig in Leicester Square on Thursday, taking on the establishment, flicking two fingers at The Man and winning. Sort of. If you've never heard of Embrace, well, you're not alone - but they're about to be massive. They were big before, back in the post-Britpop wilderness of 1998, when 'All You Good Good People' and 'Come Back To What You Know' were top ten hits and their debut album sold half-a-million copies. Then the world forgot about them (even though they released another couple of brilliant albums). Now, they're about to release their new single, 'Gravity', which is fabulous. And to whip up some publicity - and to give something back to us, the fans - Danny McNamara and the rest of the lads invited us to Leicester Square for a free gig.

For the hardcore Embrace maniac, their secret gigs are legendary - they invented the whole concept, long before The Libertines did it and the NME decided to call such events guerilla gigs. A few years ago, I found myself hunting for codes across the net in order to get a pair of tickets for their sixth secret gig, SG6, and then watching the band in the stately surrounds of Batsford Manor. The band even gave us free beer. It was the best gig ever. The Leicester Square SG, SG11, was a bit different - it wasn't even secret, for one thing, after being announced on Teletext and XFM. We were told to bring along a helium-filled white balloon with Gravity written on it. And because they were playing without a licence, they said that they would do as many songs as they could before the police bundled them into a van and shipped them off to Guantanemo Bay.

Several hundred of us turned up - I took Maggie and Helen; Butter couldn't make it - and crowded around Danny who was standing on a crate with a microphone and some kind of mini-amp which didn't appear to be working very well. As you can see from the admittedly rubbish pictures above, I could just about see Danny's head. It was the quietest gig of all time (perhaps someone should contact the Guinness Book of Records) but it was still brilliant because we were really close to the band and the crowd provided the volume for them. They played five songs, which we all sang along to, even the ones that haven't been released yet, and during 'Gravity' we let go of our balloons and watched them float skyward, some of them catching in the canopy of the trees for a while before sailing off into the blue. Or rather, grey.

Then some bastard turned up the volume on the big screen in the square, which meant it was even harder to hear the music. And then the cops turned up, threading their way through the crowd and trying to stop the show. However, rock 'n' roll - even really quiet rock 'n' roll - will not be defeated, and Embrace did one more number before dashing into the haven of the Capital Radio building and the arms of Dr Fox (who, foreign readers will be surprised to learn, isn't a real fox). Reports on that they ran off like scaredy-cats when they heard a siren are rubbish. Afterwards, a few tourists stopped us and asked who the band was. 'Embrace,' we replied excitedly. 'Oh,' they said, faces blank.

This time next year they'll be telling all their friends they were there when Embrace played Leicester Square.

Bizarrely, some opportunist has put a white Gravity balloon on eBay. If anyone bids on this it will prove that the world is insane.