My first gig changed my life - here's why we must fight to protect our music venues
To call it naive would be an understatement.
We arrived early. Very early. We didn’t want to miss the start. When we arrived - walking past people peddling earplugs, which ought really to have alerted us to something - we found ourselves in a pretty much empty auditorium. Just me and my best mate, standing right in front of the stage; at least the view would be good. There were maybe a dozen or so others, scattered about. It was quite warm. I was wearing a heavy black sweatshirt. It was 1996 at the Assembly Rooms in Derby and it was my first gig: Suede. I’d been in love with them for a few years and they’d just released a bright and punchy album called Coming Up.
I was apprehensive. My biggest fear was fainting. But there was plenty of space. There was a little less when the first support act, a solo artist named only Jack, took to the stage. I could cope with Jack; it was all going to be fine.
Next up were Subcircus. They were a cult concern at the time and would remain so. They had a bit more about them, a bit more flamboyance and verve. The audience was a reasonable size by now but I was increasingly confident that this gig business was something I could handle. Phew.
Like I said, naive. Although I had already realised, you know, maybe I wouldn’t need my jumper after all.
I am not being hyperbolic when I tell you that what happened in the next 90 minutes changed my life.First, the lights dimmed. Then the sound of strings screeching elegantly; “a-woo-hoo”, bellowed what was now undeniably a crowd, repeatedly, where the a-woo-hoos would be on the song, a sashaying stomper called She. The band weren’t even on stage yet and already I felt I’d been plugged into the mains.
My personal space had become personal no longer. Somewhat uptight, introverted, 17, awkward, nervy and gangly, I was not really one for the mass gathering or the communal experience; the adjective ‘tactile’ would have been applied to me only with the deepest irony. Yet here I was, enclosed and pressed against by bodies and bodies and bodies. And then the band burst on and blazed into the song and my ears were being stretched to the limit and the guitars felt like they were shredding my flesh and the drums seemed to be pummelling my internal organs. The band did not sound like they did on record: they were more raw, more loose, more savage. “We’ve got some friends in tonight,” said Brett Anderson, the band’s frontman, receiving the enraptured response. “About 2,000 of them.”
A few songs in, they played their first hit, Animal Nitrate, and I felt like I was on the rough seas, the crowd surging, tipping, swirling. Currents of force took hold, emanating from who knows where. It was impossible to resist but I didn’t want to resist. A crash on my head - a knee! What’s that doing there? - a body propelled over us. And another. It was all the most thrilling thing I’d known.
There would be moments of respite, a few slower songs, but not many. I was losing sensation in my lips; I had never been this hot, nor so drenched in sweat. Still tied around my waist was my jumper, a reminder of a more innocent age, which had ended about half an hour ago.
It was exhilaration I’d never known, all to a soundtrack of my favourite band. My inhibitions - I had an awful lot of them - had been shattered, for 90 minutes at least. I’d discovered someone new, a person I might occasionally be able to let out, at least whenever there are gigs.
For a while afterwards, the world sounded like it was underwater. My friend and I went to a pub and I drank some Coke and I was gently sick but that was OK.
I have wanted to recapture that night at every gig I’ve been to since. It’s been closest to happening not at big arena shows or in neat theatres but in venues like those which are most under threat today.
They are places where we lose ourselves and find ourselves. They bring new life to our lives.We cannot let them die.
* This article is part of The Show Must Go On, JPIMedia's campaign to support live arts venues