Mercury Falling

Ho Chi Minh City, VN
Phan Dinh Phung Centre
Sting in Vietnam...

My first taste of Vietnam was the long, laborious queues at passport control. As I was on the same flight as Sting and the band from Bangkok, I decided to join the queue behind Dominic in the vain hope that he got preferential treatment and I could try the 'I'm with them' routine. No such luck, an hour later we were still waiting. The only person to get rushed through was Sting himself - next time I'll join his queue!!!

When I was checking-in to my hotel, I discovered it was the same one the band were staying in and more importantly, Sting was doing a press conference - time to explore the hotel I thought!! A quick piece of detective work soon led me to the spot where the country's press reporters had gathered. Sting was big news in Vietnam since he was the first western artist to play there since the war.

The reporters asked Sting how he felt about playing in Vietnam, what he hoped to achieve, would he be playing any old songs etc.? He was also asked how he felt about the pirating of CD's to which he replied'' that in a country such as Vietnam, it was better that people heard his music through pirate CD's than not hear it at all''. He even went to the extraordinary length of approving of the recording of the concert in the hope that it would be heard by those who could not attend!! I asked if it was true that the lyrics had to be sent to the Vietnamese Government beforehand as reported in the British press. It was 100% true - ALL the lyrics to ALL the songs had to be faxed along with a set-list before the visas were issued.

I also got a chance to see the soundcheck, which is not something that happens every day. I was invited in as the band were on stage running through a longer than usual rehearsal. The crew were unhappy with the PA system so insisted on a few more songs to help them locate the fault - I couldn't believe my luck as they played their way through half the set as the crew got more and more stressed. Eventually, fortunately, the technicians found the fault, but my luck was to continue when I was able to sit with Sting, Kim, Dominic and Billy as they described for me what they had done that afternoon. They visited the Cu Chi Tunnels, which are about 40km north of Ho Chi Minh City where we were staying. I was intrigued when Sting said the drive to the tunnels reminded him of being in the Amazon.

Phan Dinh Phung Stadium was the venue for the historical concert. Despite it's rather grand name, it was rather like my school assembly hall. The temperatures were in the nineties and there was no air-conditioning so as we entered the hall we were each handed a round cardboard disc which turned out to be a fan (it wasn't until I saw someone use it that I realised what it was!!). At 8.30, the most bizarre support act I've ever seen took to the stage. A 15 piece local band wearing traditional dress and playing traditional music. They had been playing in Vietnam House, the restaurant Sting had been dining in the night before, and he was so impressed with them, he asked them to play at this special concert.

I was wondering what sort of reception Sting would get when he walked out onto the stage, but I knew it would be a genuine response as it was the first time many of the audience had attended a concert. Just after 9 0' clock Sting took his centre stage position. The rather subdued crowd clapped along quietly to the first few songs of the set, before Sting announced ''Xin Chao Cam On Rat Nhieu'' in his best Vietnemese accent. I'll take his word for it that this means ''Good evening and thank you'' although someone could have played a very cruel trick on him and told him something completely different!

He played a few more songs from Mercury Falling before treating the crowd to an oldie - everybody was on their feet as the band played 'If You Love Somebody...' The crowd were suitably warmed up, but nothing could have prepared me for the response to the next song. Before Sting had even finished the opening line of 'Every Little Thing...' someone decided to throw their cardboard fan into the air as though it was a frisbee. The rest of the audience followed suit and before long there were 3000 frisbees flying all over the hall. As soon as one landed, it was thrown straight back into the air again. They were going in all directions many of them landing on the stage. Sting had to duck several times and one even hit poor Clark Gayton on the back of the head!! I have never seen anything like it before and I'm sure I'll never see anything like it again!

The tempo remained up-beat with a few more songs from 'Ten Summoner's Tales' before the band played 'Fields Of Gold' which slowed the crowd down a bit. I was very glad to see the section of the show where a participant from the audience gets on stage to sing 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying' with Sting, which started in America, continued to Asia. This time a woman was invited to join Sting but admitted that she didn't know the song but she was looking for recording contract and was willing to learn it - nice try! I do hope this tradition continues during the British tour and maybe we'll see Paul Carter get the five mintues of fame he deserves!

The concert continued with more up tempo numbers in the form of 'Synchronicity', 'Roxanne' and 'Demolition Man' before the first section was brought to close with 'Englishman In New York', during which Butch Thomas does a wonderful rap telling a story about Sting. But it wasn't long before Sting and the band were back for more.

'Shape Of My Heart' had been added to the set in Asia because it is on the soundtrack to the film 'Leon' which was a huge hit there. Sure enough although it was one of the slowest songs on the set, the audience were standing and clapping, demanding more. Sting willingly obliged by performing 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', 'Every Breath...' and the wonderfully optimistic 'Lithium Sunset'. The crowd demanded more so Sting returned to the stage for one final song. It seemed fitting to finish his visit to Vietnam with 'Fragile' before thanking the audience for listening and wishing them good luck in the future.

I bumped into Sting at the hotel later that night and couldn't pass up the opportunity to tell him how much I enjoyed what was truly a one off experience. He said he had a great time and he would consider it a success if he was invited to return one day. Having seen the concert, I'm surprised he hasn't been invited back already!

(c) Sue Bett for Outlandos/

Sting bcomes first major star to play in Vietnam...

British star Sting performed to a packed crowd in Ho Chi Minh City, becoming the first major star to play in Vietnam after months of doubts over whether the concert would go ahead.

Press reports had speculated over whether the country's conservative cultural authorities would approve the concert after examining the lyrics of songs performed by the former Police singer. Vietnam has proved a graveyard for plans by foreign performers to hold concerts here with gigs by James Brown and others cancelled because they could not get permission.

About 4,000 people attended the concert Wednesday at a basketball stadium but the audience was mostly made up of foreigners who could afford the 65 dollar ticket price.

Although Sting is well known here through bootleg compact discs made in China, few Vietnamese could afford tickets priced at more than most people earn in a month.

Sting brushed off worries about the number of fake CDs in circulation saying: ''It's true that most people in many countries only hear my music from pirated copies but that's better than not hearing my music at all.''

''At this concert I'll be playing a lot of material from my next bootleg,'' he joked.

One concert organiser said more people had turned up last year to see Boney M, the German disco band whose hits from the 1970s remain popular here.

(c) Agence France Presse