The world of show biz can often be quite complex and intricate. Transparency is rarely part of the game and it can make dealings difficult for everyone involved, including an admiring public. I’ve long been a participant in the celebrity world in one way or another. My fandom goes back to childhood. I’ve met some great folks in my time and have had some awesome memories as a result. Most recently, I went to the United Kingdom for the entirety of the Alfie Boe Arena Tour. Eleven dates were scheduled. The tour was phenomenal, thanks to Alfie who puts everything he has into every song no matter what.
Many of my tickets were what they called the VIP Experience which meant some type of potential interaction with Alfie, a buffet before the concert, and a piece of merchandise or two. The promoters for the tour were SJM Concerts. Representing them was a man named George and his assistant, Joff. I met them at the first concert in Newcastle and thought they were both very nice. They explained the procedure for the event and were very pleasant. When I found out they would be at all the events heading the VIP Experience, I let them know about a couple of issues that would be coming up, ticket wise. Both said no problem and not to worry; everything would be fine.
Indeed, I enjoyed seeing these two at the events and found them to be very approachable and about as fair as fair could be with situations that arose. Saying this does not mean I agree with everything that went on during the tour, but given their jobs, I think they did the best they could. George had to coordinate between the venues, Alfie and his staff, and the fans. It wasn’t easy. I believe the high number of VIP attendees was in London at the O2. There were 88 of those. The low was in the high 30’s or low 40’s. That’s a lot of people to satisfy, especially when everyone thinks they have a right to this or that.
When the VIP tickets first went on sale, the promotion as respects Alfie’s time was that he would come in sometime during the buffet and would be around for no more than 20 minutes. I hated that idea. I knew I wouldn’t eat. I would not only be too nervous, but who wants to be mid-meal when Alfie appeared? It would have been a nightmare in my opinion. There was no guarantee of getting a picture with him, having him sign anything, or even having the chance to say hello. When people spent their money on the VIP Experience, that’s what they were given: just an appearance by Alfie and nothing more.
Just before the tour began, however, emails began to go out for each venue. Change in plans. Now Alfie would be present before the buffet. Everyone would have a chance for a picture and a minute to say hello or whatever. I was thrilled and appreciative. I became even more thankful when I learned that Alfie was coming straight from sound check to the VIP. It was taking him out of his normal pre-show routine. He didn’t have to do that. I don’t know who actually made the suggestion, but ultimately, he had to agree to it, and he did. This meant the buffet would be after everyone had a chance to talk with Alfie and get a picture and/or sometimes something signed. It was awesome.
Then came Manchester, the sixth venue on the tour. It really upset some folks as, in spite of the email that went out, Alfie just did a tour around the room. We were told there would be no pictures. He was just going to walk around the room and try to say hello to everyone. The reason given, which feels like rubbish to me, was something about Alfie walking around and taking pictures in a room with food would be unhealthy. Huh? I don’t blame George for that explanation, but it never held water. Let’s just say there was a definite lack of transparency on that night.
The good news was that very early on in his walk, a fan familiar to Alfie asked for a picture. Folks, if you know one thing about Alfie Boe and his fans, it’s that he very rarely says no, especially to something like that. Natch, he said yes. Well, that started it. When he reached my area, I shoved my camera into the expert hands of super-videographer Linda and asked Alfie for a picture. “Of course,” came the response. Gotta love that man!
The long and short of it is that many folks did get a picture and brief hello from Alfie that night, but not everyone did. More importantly, he was out of that room in under ten minutes. Mission accomplished from one side of the camp, anyway.
Here’s the thing. We don’t really know what the true reason was for that change in the plan. I don’t think SJM would alter something after having sent out the email. It is quite possible, in my opinion, that the request came from Alfie’s team. There could be many reasons for it, the top two being other demands on his time and his health (more on that later and possibly in a future blog post).
Here’s the thing, number two. Alfie had a tour manager, a woman named Abigail or Abi for short. I like Abi. I found her to be approachable and quite nice. Over the two weeks, I watched her help a number of fans in need of assistance, me included. Regardless, Abi had a job to do: protect Alfie and his schedule. After Manchester, a few folks really raked her over the coals on Twitter and I thought that was a wrong thing to do. I understand the disappointment and maybe if I hadn’t gotten my picture and moment with Alfie, I would have felt more negatively. However, I do think that the ones complaining did also get a moment, though I’m not sure. They were regulars, though, people who see Alfie in the UK fairly frequently. Again, I get the upset, but I don’t believe that blaming Abi was appropriate. Abi did her job. It’s quite possible Alfie wasn’t up for the whole thing and made the request to go to this abbreviated version. Everyone loves Alfie. As I said, he doesn’t often say no, which means it’s Abi’s job to push him through, to make the excuses, and to safeguard him. Abi did her job and, maybe what bothered some, was that she smiled and tried to be friendly while doing it. Look, I didn’t like the occasional rushed quality or forcefulness either that happened here and there, but I repeat, Abi had a job to do. Abi did her job so that Alfie could remain Mr. Nice. That’s one reason she was there. She takes the hits so that he doesn’t have to. It’s a big part of how that whole thing works.
I told George about that at the next concert and we talked about the original plan. That was another reason why I was disappointed but not angry or upset. When the tickets were purchased, what happened in Manchester is what we had all agreed to. The change that gave us photos and a minute with Alfie was a new twist designed to give us something more. Alfie said yes. Thank you, Alfie, but in Manchester, for whatever reason, they reverted to the original plan. I just don’t think Abi deserved to be taken to the slaughter over it.
Fortunately, that scenario never occurred again. No matter what, Alfie continued to make time for the VIP Experience, even when he had family in town and maybe even more importantly, even after he had developed a throat infection. If ever he had an excuse to back out or just do a fly-by, that was it, but the man is a star, a human star. He continued to meet with his fans, chatting with them and taking pictures with them. I will say his smile was sometimes a bit more tired, but he was there, with his arm around everyone, giving it all he had in those moments. He didn’t have to do that and that’s what folks need to remember.
My friend Annie and I talked about how people often forget to say “thank you,” to let Alfie know that we truly do value his time. At one venue, she made a point of telling him that, to make sure he knew that we were appreciative. “Sometimes we forget,” she said. I always tried to remember that the time Alfie gave us was time he was under no obligation to give, but gave anyway. He said yes and went out of his way before every gig to give back to his fans. As I said, he’s a star human being.
The venues played a role in how the meetings with Alfie turned out, too. They had to give a room or place where the meet and greets could occur. Sometimes, they yanked promised rooms right out from under George, who then had to make the best of things. All in all, I think he did the best he could do to satisfy the fans, the venue, and Alfie. I’m not saying it was all transparent, but everyone in line had their minute and their picture, if they wanted it. It was often rushed, but the moment was there.
I also liked how George took time at check-in to greet all the VIP Experience goers and to explain how the night would progress. He often pointed out where we’d be going to see Alfie, how/when the buffet would take place, and where/when we’d get our free merchandise, which turned out to be a mug. I have a collection of these mugs. I believe this was one of the complaints from those who went to multiple VIP events. Why not give us a program? Why not one of the signed photos that were given to the Up Close and Personal group (a second tier of ticket buyers who were assured of good seats; they just did not get the buffet and the opportunity to meet Alfie)? More thought and variety should have gone into this. Perhaps a voucher for a piece of merchandise to be picked up at the official merchandise stand would have been better than asking people to lug these mugs around with them all night. One of my mugs is in frequent use now with my hot chocolate. The rest are still in their bags. I had to buy a program, T-shirt, recipe towel, and key chain. I did get the photo as I had purchased one of the second tier group tickets at the O2. We all got a lanyard, which was nice except I have to second guess the choice of picture. Alfie is way too photogenic for them to have used the one ‘they’ did (perhaps that is Firebrand Merchandising’s fault since they handle the official items). The point is that SJM Concerts and whoever is responsible could have come up with a better solution than the same mug. Maybe they didn’t realize how many people repeat, but even so, the program is the natural choice for a freebie and really should have been the merchandise presented to VIP Experience buyers.
Now my biggest arguments with SJM Concerts comes from their association with Gigs and Tours which sold the bulk of the VIP Experience tickets. I mentioned there were 11 scheduled dates and Alfie’s throat infection. Sadly, the December 9th concert in Brighton was postponed (or cancelled; no one really knows at this point though Alfie has recently tweeted that a new date will be announced soon). However, there is no way I can return to the UK from America for one concert. I called for a refund and explained why. Gigs said I would need to return my ticket by secured mail. You’ve got to be kidding. All they have to do is invalidate the ticket, something easily done in today’s technological world. I know they can do it because they did it on a ticket for another venue that I didn’t think would arrive on time but did. I couldn’t use the original ticket; I had to pick up a replacement at the box office. Gigs conceded they could do that, but they said SJM Concerts was demanding the tickets be returned.
Why? What is the point in that? Why should I have to spend $20 to send the ticket by “secure” mail when it is quite logically explained why there is no way I can attend the concert, should it happen. Hey, if I had Alfie’s bank account, I’d keep my ticket and go in a heartbeat, but I’m at the bottom of the financial totem pole. Believe me, I was devastated by the loss of that concert, but there was and is nothing I can do about it. Alfie was sick, and his health always comes first. Since Gigs was blaming SJM, I asked for their information so I could talk to them. Gigs, however, wouldn’t give me contact information for SJM. They told me I could find it, though, by searching the Internet. I did, but all SJM Concerts information I found referred back to Gigs as the authorized seller of the tickets. It was a vicious circle. What’s more, Gigs didn’t care squat about the situation. There was not a sympathetic tone in anyone I talked to there. Well, easy solution for me. For a concert that didn’t happen, a refund makes sense. My credit card company agreed, so I have my unused ticket as a souvenir and I have already received my refund, including the service charges. Gigs and SJM should not have made that a problem and I hold them accountable for unpleasant and sour customer service.
Many people complained about the prices for the tour. In the UK, the price was usually 199 pounds for the VIP Experience. Converted to the dollar in America, that worked out to about $346. That’s a hefty charge for one concert. No one is totally sure where the pricing came from, but it was challenging. Clearly, though, in the end, people bought the experience. A minute with Alfie is priceless, after all.
Putting it all together, I’m not all that fond of Gigs and Tours. They are difficult to deal with when it comes to customer service issues. As I prepared for my trip throughout 2014, it was always a chore to get the answer to a question from them. I also have a pending matter with them and until that is resolved, there’s no way they are on my nice list.
SJM Concerts is a company I’m on the fence with because of the ridiculous need to have the Brighton ticket returned. However, I’m a full supporter of George and Joff who in my estimation did try to keep everyone happy. I know I had one really sad time at Nottingham when Annie and I didn’t get to the venue on time. We’d left Glasgow too late and traffic was horrid. We arrived in Nottingham just minutes after Alfie left the meet and greet. I was sobbing, tears galore. A couple of the staff were super kind and trying to comfort me about it. One had said they’d see what they could do and I had the impression they were going to see if Alfie had another minute. Ultimately, I think George vetoed that idea. He did come and talk to us and apologized. He said they’ d delayed the start a few minutes, knowing we were arriving late. It was just crushing to lose that moment with him and I wish selfishly they’d asked him, but I can’t blame George for not following through with what the other officials had said. Like Abi, he had a job to do and it’s not his fault we didn’t leave Glasgow earlier.
As for Abi, she had personality and was as friendly as she could be. Yes, she helped to push things along, but as I’ve said, that was her job. If she hadn’t kept the line moving, we’d still be in Newcastle, talking with Alfie. He’s just that nice … and that’s why he needs a few folks around him to not always be that nice. There’s a fine line between doing the job well and being rude. In my view, Abi did her job well.
Finally, Alfie Boe was magnificent. He did his best to give every person, even those of us who came time after time, a true minute of his time. Listen, he had a lot riding on this concert tour. He needed it to be successful for a number of reasons. He’s known for being nervous before a show and I can attest from my personal observation that especially in Newcastle, he had a lot going on in his mind. You could sense it all around him. By the end of the tour, he was fighting his throat. I’m not so sure he had doctor approval to continue the tour, but I think he did it anyway. He’s such a trooper. He was fighting it, but wow, most wouldn’t even have a clue. That’s how good Alfie Boe is. His sub-par is still so much higher than anyone else’s 100 percent that it’s phenomenal. His wife told him once to just sing with what he’s got, and that’s what he has learned to do when his voice has issues. He makes it work, goes softer here, lower there, uses alternative notes, and just does whatever he knows to do to deliver a song beautifully no matter what. It’s just incredible to watch him work.
Alfie needs promoters and agencies to sell the tickets and I suppose the ones used on this tour and past ones he’s done are about average in the industry. His tour manager was successful in her tasks from my view and in talking to others closer to the action, she did indeed do her job well. As for Alfie, he is a fantastic performer and a kind soul. Perfect? Nah, no one is, but as respects his star status and relationship to his fans, I don’t see how anyone could do a better job than he does and not on the consistent basis that he does, too. I’ve always said he gets it, that he understands the fan thing. He himself is a fan. Maybe that’s another topic for a blog. The real point is that Alfie cares. He may be limited in how he can show that, but he does a pretty good job at it. He is one of the few who when you talk to him, he focuses on you, truly, and he listens.
One last silly story based on my line. As I’ve said, I’ve been wrapped up in the fan world my entire life, so we’re talking decades here. I’ve met some greats in show biz. Depending upon your age, you may not know them or not, but I’ve chatted with folks like Charlton Heston, Maureen O’Hara, and James Stewart. I don’t get tongue-tied. Yes, I get excited, but I’ve never not been able to say what I intended and have a decent conversation with whomever. There’s something about Alfie, though. Fans have told me this from the beginning: you can have it all planned out in your head but when the moment is at hand, you’re lucky if you remember half of it. I think it’s his eyes. Seriously, he focuses on you, not Abi or George or what is going on beyond you, but you. So in Cardiff for the last time, I approached and said, “Alfie, I need to tell you something.” I had it all planned out, in super speed mode even. He looked at me and said, “Okay.” I swear, it flew right out of my brain. He was there, listening, and I was a kid who couldn’t think. I blurted out about a third of what I intended to say and not at all how I had it planned. Groan! But truly, “Okay” and he focused solely on me. My brain just stopped. Oh well!
Alfie Boe may be a singing star, but to me, he’s much more than that: he’s a star of the heart and the soul! I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see him again, but if that magic opportunity occurs, I’ll gladly deal with all the promoters, ticket sellers, and tour managers around. Alfie’s worth it all!