Greetings from Richmond; I’ve just about worked out what time of day it is again and when I should be awake vs asleep, after a great two-week trip to Asia. We sung in Tokyo, then Hong Kong (2.5 concerts), then Zhuhai, Shanghai and Beijing. Japan and China are probably two of our regular touring countries where it feels furthest from home. We all love being there, but they’re both a big culture shift, dietary shift, time-zone shift, language shift, and particularly so in China (where Jules isn’t able to help and guide us with all of this!). With China in particular, the ‘great firewall’ — which separates the Chinese internet from the rest of the world’s — means that we have a huge fan base with which we can’t stay in touch easily online, like we do our other supporters. It’s remarkable and flattering to see the excitement, size, and joy of our audiences out there, who are so relatively disconnected from us for most of the year but who will show up in great number when we’re singing there and be moved by our music. Each year, we always come home saying ‘we really must find a way to stay in touch with these fans online’. This time, we mean it.
It was largely a wonderful tour, but I must admit – the final concert was something of a challenge for me. People always ask us ‘what happens if one of you is ill?’, and the answer is always something along the lines of ‘we put on a brave face, do the concert as best we can, and people rarely seem to spot that anything is wrong’. For Friday night’s concert at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing, I had to put on the bravest of brave faces I’ve needed in my three years in the group. Sparing you too many details, I woke up in Shanghai feeling a bit curious, and then over the course of the long train journey to Beijing through the morning it became apparent that I had some kind of grizzly food poisoning. By the time we were in Beijing I felt really unwell indeed and was barely able to stand up or keep any food or drink down.
When we got to the NCPA concert hall, the team there had kindly arranged for me to see the in-house doctor (an impressive facility for a concert hall, I know!). He gave me two tubes of extraordinary-tasting Chinese medicine to drink; it looked like soy sauce but tasted like engine oil. That seemed to settle my stomach enough that I was confident I could get through the concert without needing to run off! But part way through our rehearsal, it transpired that this doctor had subsequently called an ambulance to have me checked out. So I was fetched mid-phrase by the staff, who took me out of the stage door where there was an ambulance with blue flashing lights. The crew swiftly removed my shirt and hooked me up to innumerable monitors and machines and muttered in medical mandarin while things beeped away around me. The upshot was that I was basically fine, but with low blood sugar. I scrambled off the ambulance, slightly perplexed at how seriously they’d all taken it, and was greeted by the general manager of the NCPA who’d got word of my situation and come to wish me well. It was amazing hospitality, in slightly weird conditions. To be honest I was quite embarrassed by all the concern they’d shown, but so grateful for the lengths they’d gone to, to make sure I was alright.
To cut this (very) long story short, it was a rare but real test of my professional mettle to go on stage feeling rather unwell, but to give everything I had, to give the audience a great evening. I hope it’s a challenge I won’t have to face often, nor any of the other guys, but it’s a stark reminder that we are only human and that sometimes these things are unavoidable. In the end, it was a lovely concert and we met hundreds of very happy people afterwards at the signing.
Having got back home, it was of course great to see Ellie again, and I’ve been catching up with a couple of friends too. At the moment I have my best man, Tim Parsons, staying over to catch up about some wedding things and to talk incessant nonsense for a few days, like we do whenever we’re together. I’m hugely looking forward to heading to Cambridge at the end of the week, where we’ll be kicking off the 2019 Summer School at Clare College (with a cheeky service at King’s thrown in during the week, because how could we not?!).
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