Saturday, 21 July 2012

Growing Up At Gigs

Well, the first thing I clearly have to do, dear readers, is apologise for taking so long to write a new blog. I knew it had been a while, but I had no idea it had been so long. My only excuse is that, in late April, I started a job that I hate. Have you ever had a job like this? A job that you start dreading going back to the moment you leave at the end of the week? A job that you don't want to talk about because even thinking about it makes you cross? A job that makes you cry on a regular basis and feel sick even more often? Well, I have a job like that now and it's made pretty much everything - exercise, eating properly, not drinking, spending money properly, taking photographs - go out of the window. And it would seem that writing blogs is one of those things.

I have made a couple of attempts to start new entries, but they didn't really go anywhere. In particular, I was trying to write about not wanting children, but writing about an absence is hard, and doesn't make for terribly thrilling reading. The crux of that particular blog, if you are interested, would have been that you might as well ask a sated person why they don't want dinner. They could, if they wanted (although that would be a bit weird) think up all kinds of reasons that sound logical and make sense, but that isn't really the reason. The fact of the matter is, they just don't, because they are full. I have spent years telling myself that I don't want children because I have too much to do with my life or because the world is over-populated, and so on, and all of these reasons are, in their own way, accurate. But the actual truth of the matter is that I'm just not (and I know this sounds a bit weird) hungry for children. I have as much interest in having one as I would do in a plate of risotto after I've just eaten a roast. My friends' kids? Cute as kittens. My own? No thank you.

I've had a list of potential other blog topics swirling around in my head for a few months, but what with the hated job, all I've wanted to do when I get home is lie under a soft blanket, sobbing gently and watching episodes of Come Dine with Me. However! It is time to take myself in hand, and remind myself that writing is something I enjoy, not something to be scared of, so I shall ease myself back in gently by writing about something that's been in my head for about seven or eight months now.

So, the preamble will end and the actual blog will begin (are you ready?)... NOW!

1. Morrissey, Kilburn National, Kill Uncle, 1991.

The gig on which I cut my baby teeth was probably one of the most exciting things that has ever happened to me. I couldn't quite believe that I was going to be breathing the same air as my idol. I don't think I've ever thrown myself into a gig with quite such aplomb since.

Almost immediately that His Royal Highness, Sir Morrissey of Misery came on the stage, my brother, my friend Alison and I were swept asunder from each other, but I was so entranced by the music that I barely noticed. Alison lost a shoe. My brother caught a bit of Morrissey's red gauze shirt when he threw it into the crowd and was generous enough to allow Alison and I a small piece it. I framed mine and kept it on my wall for decades.

I couldn't now tell you for sure a single song that was played (although I'm pretty sure it was the Kill Uncle tour, so I guess both Our Frank and There's is a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends at the very least would have featured. What I do remember is the feeling of immense love for Morrissey, the feeling that I would die to defend his lyrics (well, possibly not the slightly dodgy is-he-being-ironic-or-is-he-actually-a-racist ones), and the feeling after the gig was over, as if I had just done something hugely important like give birth or write a novel. I was hooked.

2. Julian Cope, Kentish Town Forum, Jehovahkill, 1992.

I went to this gig with My First Boyfriend, TM. I think this gig particularly sticks in my head because Julian Cope was one of the first people I liked off my own bat. Most of my early music loves are directly inherited from my brother, who has immaculate taste in music. Said brother has nothing against Mr Cope, but isn't a big fan, whereas in those days, good ole' Droolian was probably Morrissey's biggest rival for my heart. 

I listened to Jehovahkill again and again and again at this time in my life, and this was the tour supporting that album. The gig was about three hours long (which must have been torture for the boyfriend, not such a big fan himself) and featured Julian playing most of the different instruments on stage and running into the audience dressed in a fox outfit during Reynard the Fox.

As I left the gig, I remember turning to the boyfriend and saying it was the best gig I had been to thus far - and at that point, being cheap as chips and fairly plentiful, I was going to gigs most weekends (Suede, Verve, the Sisters, the Mission, Verve again - I saw that something crazy like eight times around this period of my life), so this was quite a statement. And having gone to see My artist, with My boyfriend, this was the adolescence of my gigging days.

3. Madonna, Amsterdam Arena, Confessions, 2006

Yeah, so that's quite a leap forward in time, but I only want to write about five gigs, otherwise you'll all pack up your suitcases and go home (if you haven't already), so forgive the fast forwarding.

This actually was the greatest gig of my life - I can very comfortably say that nothing will top it. It was also a massive step in my growing as a person because I went on my own to the Amsterdam Arena, and, more importantly, got myself home from there as well.

I am terrified of navigating myself to new places alone even in London. Getting lost is one of my biggest fears, probably because it happens to me a lot. My head is teflon for locations and directions, and even thinking about things like that stresses me out. I'm a pretty timid, scaredy-cat kind of person who only speaks English, so trying to get about when in foreign climes on my own is super duper difficult for me.

However, it was so supremely worth it. Those few hours in the Amsterdam Arena were probably the best of my life. She had themed the show around horses. There were roller skating breakdancers. Even being on my own was actually pretty damn cool as I could squeeze into smaller spaces and not worry about losing people. It was just amazing. I cried pretty much all the way through it. And then nearly got on the wrong tube home.

4. Death Cab for Cutie, Hammersmith Apollo, 2011

I had heard the name Death Cab for Cutie for a few years, but didn’t really know anything by them. I came to them via my love of the Postal Service, a duo made up of Ben Gibbard from DCFC and a guy called D’ntl who makes electronic music, kinda like a souped up Pet Shop Boy, in my humble opinion, on his own. My love of the Postal Service was something of a whirlwind romance – we looked into each others’ eyes and immediately eloped. I stayed up late at nights pouring over Gibbard’s amazing words and being thrilled when I spotted solutions to his lyrical tricks. I listened to that album until I had worn it out but, as is often the way with whirlwind romances, I find I’ve now gone off it a bit. I still love four or five tracks on it (most notably Clark Gable, Such Great Heights, that heart-wrenching duet), but some others (This Place is a Prison, Recycled Air), I could take or leave, really.

However, I the main thing that stuck with me from my Vegas wedding to the Postal Service was that Mr Gibbard joined the pantheon of Stephen, Lily, Mike, Leonard, Tom and Richie et al (points if you know all of those surnames!) of Lyricists Who Somehow See Into My Soul. And so, even though I was pretty anti-guitar music at the time, I decided it had to be worth looking up Death Cab, who have albums and albums and albums to their name, as opposed to the one Postal Service effort.

It’s really hard getting into a profilic band late in their career. I have all of their albums on my iTunes now, but I really only know three of them, and it’s very hard trying to get to know the others as it’s all a bit overwhelming. Albums are much better when they’re fed to you one at a time, over a period of years, not when they all arrive on one day and confuse you. In my experience, some will always get forgotten about when it happens that way! However, what I do know is amazing, and actually, I think, has more longevity than the Postal Service stuff. 

So when I went to see them (feel very grateful for my seat as standing up at gigs totally does my back in these days… plus, where do you put your bag and coat? Annoying!), I estimate I knew about half of the songs – and to my eternal shame, what with Mr Gibbard having lost a lot of weight since the I’ll Follow You Into the Dark video (the only time I’d looked at him properly) and seeming to effect a quite different voice – I didn’t even think it was them when they came on. I thought it was a really late support act.

Oh, the shame!

Is this what being old means? That you’re happy to go to gigs where you sit down, only know half the songs, and don’t even recognise the singer? I had a brilliant time. Those boys are amazing musicians, regularly switching instruments without even turning a hair, and so it didn’t really matter that I didn’t know all the songs. And it meant I could go to the toilet without worrying I was missing something. But… it felt so different to that Morrissey gig. Different isn’t bad, necessarily. It’s just… striking.

5. Paul Simon, Hyde Park, 2012 – 25 years of Graceland.

This is the gig you go to after you die? If the afterlife feels like a voice that is so deeply ingrained within your soul that listening to it feels like the warmest hug you ever had (which I really hope it does), then yes. Bring on the sweet release of death!

I’ve been wanting to see Paul Simon for pretty much as long as I can remember. My dad is a huge fan of Simon and Garfunkel, and so we were bought up listening to it all, from Wednesday Morning, 3am up to Bookends… from the Paul Simon Songbook up to Rhythm of the Saints, which was the last solo album to come out when I still lived with the aged Ps. I gave Surprise a go, but didn’t really love it… I was keener on the new one, whose name I can’t even remember (it had Rewrite on it – was I the only person in the park disappointed he didn’t play that? Probably so!), but have still only listened to it two or three times. Bless him, he jumped the shark with Graceland (although my own personal favourite has always been Hearts and Bones, the album before it), but I still will never hear a bad word said against him.

I went to the gig with a group of buddies, but with two of my best friends in particular. We were winning from the moment we got into the park, joking around and drinking a shot of jager to get things going. We had a particularly epic trip to get sustenance in which two of us got undercharged at the bar and another found a £20 on the floor, so we came back with drinks, chips, a hotdog and a tidy profit. How often does that happen?  

We started off near the front, but it was rammed and quiet, so we ended up nearer the back, watching on a big screen, and singing and dancing our hearts out. We counted ways to leave your lover (five, actually, Paul, not 50). We pondered what the sign of a teaspoon actually is. We looked back on all the crap we’d learnt in high school. We slip slided away. We listened to the sounds of silence.

As the sun came down over the crowd that was of all ages and all walks of life, I don’t think I saw a soul who wasn’t grinning fit to bust. Yeah, Hyde Park is way too quiet a venue for gigs (I was pretty disappointed to not be able to hear Madonna over the chatter of morons when I saw her there two days later), but at Paul Simon, the volume of the crowd singing along to every last word helped things along. If Paul Simon’s voice is like a cuddle, the sound of Ladysmith Black Mombazo’s collective voices is like a duvet teamed with the best mattress that you ever lay on. The words, the music, the people – it was pretty special.

Yeah… I would be happy if the afterlife was a big Paul Simon gig in the sky. Wouldn’t you?