New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Culture
  2. Music
6 December 2018

The night that changed my life: Sarah Hall on seeing Eric Clapton live

It didn’t make me a rock convert: but it hooked me on live music.

By Sarah Hall

As a young teenager, I wasn’t musically discerning or cool. In the late 1980s it seemed people chose their thing from a variety of big personalities, distinctive voices and sounds – synth, metal, hip-hop. But I didn’t. In a few years raves would be pushing out into the countryside, venues in Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle becoming more accessible. But, mostly, live music in the Lake District meant hearing old giffers singing in the pub, fiddles, folk. I’d not long emerged from the village disco scene hosted in church halls, with sneaky boozing, fights to get the sound levels up and snogs if you escaped parental monitoring.

Then, quite randomly, Dad decided to take me to a concert, in London, at the Royal Albert Hall. This was 1987. I was 13. Recently, Dad had been travelling to concerts with an old school friend, Pete. Pete, it turned out, had grown up with a musician called Ricky Clapton. The information didn’t quite register.

I have few surrounding memories of the event, like getting to the venue. But I remember the girth of the Albert Hall, darkness, signature blues chords, and a huge leonine roar from the crowd. Then, a bluish spotlight on the stage, and a man my dad’s age in it, sharp-jacketed, a two-tone guitar. Things got extremely loud, well over village disco decibels. I even complained to Dad (the irony). Fans obviously understood Eric Clapton’s skills, but I witnessed a new phenomenon.

To contextualise: I was having really dull flute lessons at school – the tunes involved were not, in any way, “White Room”. Here on stage was an instrument from the underworld, attached to someone who seemed possessed by it: fierce, seductive. About half an hour in, “Ricky” dedicated “Wonderful Tonight” to Pete and his new wife. That blew my mind. It seemed impossible we were connected, this idol and us. About an hour in, Mark Knopfler came on stage – also spotlit out of darkness – to another huge, and this time surprised roar. A lot of power-guitaring went on, and I confess I wasn’t 100 per cent interested every moment. It didn’t make me a rock convert. But the experience, the noise and force, the electrifying atmosphere hooked me on live music. I’ve been to a lot of gigs since, always hoping for that first feeling of stupefaction.

 A few years ago, I was reminded of this night. I found out Mark Knopfler had written a song inspired by one of my novels. My editor, who is now involved in the music industry, told me this quite casually. I couldn’t explain why I suddenly put my hands over my ears. Because it was impossible. Because I felt 13, connected to the mains, and totally mind-blown again.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

The night that changed my life: read more from our series in which writers share the cultural encounters that shaped them

Content from our partners
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce
How to reform the apprenticeship levy

This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special