The other day I was having a conversation about the price of concert tickets “back in the day”—in this case, that would mean the early 80s when I first started going to shows.
Back then you could see acts like The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Elvis Costello, PiL, Suicide, Devo, Joe Jackson, B-52s, Gang of Four, The Residents, etc., for between $8-12! When I moved to London, it got even cheaper: You could see anyone, save for a superstar act for about three to four pounds.
But, the best price I ever got on a concert ticket was when I went to see Frank Sinatra in 1984 at the Royal Festival Hall. I didn’t have a ticket, but I figured that there would be touts outside of the venue hawking them. I was confident enough that I’d get tickets to take a date. If it didn’t pan out, we’d do something else.
When we got to the Royal Festival Hall, there was no one outside except for the ticket scalpers. It was an older crowd, of course, so everyone was in their seats at the appointed time. 100% of the folks outside were touts, save for us.
I offered the first guy who approached us ten pounds for a pair of tickets, less than cost. He said twenty, I said no, ten. I gestured to his fellow scalpers and asked “You gonna sell them to one of these guys? I’ll give you ten pounds, and if not, I will see what one of them has to say to that same offer. Up to you.”
He was furious at my appalling American cheek (in my defense I was 18 and living in a squat) but saw the logic in what I was saying and we exchanged tickets for money, he with bitter reluctance and me with great delight.
The opening act was already onstage—if memory serves it was Buddy Rich—and we were seated, in the first balcony, right next to actor Gregory Peck and his wife. When I whispered who was seated beside us to my date—and this is probably as good of a time as any to tell you that she was dressed from head to toe like Elton John at the height of his 70s flamboyance (including a glittery silver cap, silver platform boots, diamante-encrusted sunglasses and a cape made of feathers)—she replied (loudly): “Gregory Peck? Who the fuck is Gregory Peck?”
That was a little bit awkward, as you might imagine. Though the Pecks took it in stride, I shrank into my seat for a while, but when Sinatra came on, I recovered. I think he was 68 years old at the time and still in very, very fine voice, although he had to sing with sheet music in front of him and made a joke about forgetting the lyrics.
There actually aren’t all that many concert documents of Sinatra in his prime and in the below video, shot 13 years before I saw him, in 1971, but in the same venue, he was just 55 and would soon announce his retirement (which obviously didn’t last that long).
Sinatra was introduced by Grace Kelly, who had sung with him in High Society (Noel Coward was to have introduced both Sinatra and Bob Hope, who preceded him on the bill, but had fallen ill). The event was a fundraiser for the National Association For The Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
The set list includes mostly Sinatra standards, and his magnificent take on George Harrison’s “Something,” which the Chairman of the Board called “the greatest love song of the past 50 years” even though he often described it as a Lennon-McCartney composition. You’ll notice that he was flubbing lyrics back then, too.
If you are so inclined, Shout Factory put out the definitive Sinatra DVD box set in 2010, Frank Sinatra: Concert Collection
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Frank Sinatra’s haunting, beautiful (depressing!) ‘lost’ masterpiece, ‘Watertown’