It’s a story my dad tells too often. I was eleven, obsessed with Oasis (as any eleven-year-old should be allowed to be), and sitting in a field in some random place called Knebworth while the sun beat down on me and I watched the thousands of people coasting across the grass. The Bootleg Beatles had just played a short set but I paid little attention. And then, after a fifteen-minute interval, the ground shook. I felt a rumbling beneath me, and I turned to my dad with wide eyes, half wondering if we were about to be involved in a natural disaster. But we weren’t. And I knew that, really. It wasn’t mother nature that had caused that rumbling but was, instead, The Chemical Brothers. I stood up and stared. My dad stood beside me and laughed, watching the look on his eleven-year old’s face as they tried to get to grips with their first experience of live music.
That day in 1996 I saw The Chemical Brothers, Ocean Colour Scene, The Manic Street Preachers, The Prodigy, and Oasis. None of them feature heavily in my music collection these days, but back then it was like a wishlist.
It was a long, long time ago. But two memories stand out in particular. The one mentioned above and then, during the closing moments of Oasis’s show as they eeked out an extra-long ‘Champagne Supernova’, the thousands of people lifting their lighters in the air and creating a light show that seemed to warm the late-night air. I was transfixed. I was also, without realising it, at the beginning of something that has become incredibly important to me in the 23 years since.
Live music. I went to three gigs the week before writing this, two of which were uplifting and mesmerising and made me feel alive. One was an indie pop masterpiece and another was a quiet folk show. Honestly, though, it often doesn’t matter to me what the genre of the artist is as long as I’m witnessing a good show. Live music, at its best, is a salve. No matter the stresses and anxieties I’m going through, if you plonk me in a room with a musician or a band that I connect with, for that hour I’m floating. It might be the first time I’ve seen a favourite band, such as Radiohead, when tears of joy ran down my cheeks as they played ‘No Surprises.’ Or maybe it’s someone like Big Thief, much newer to me at the time, but doing something so special on stage that I almost forgot my name.
Gigs have become the thing that most of my money is spent on. I worry about that sometimes. Should I be saving for a mortgage, planning for a rainy day (every day is rainy in Manchester), or finally shelling out the cost needed to learn how to drive? Maybe I should. But would any of those things do what live music does for me? Would any of those things remind me, in times when I’ve had to fight pretty hard to see it, just how worth living life can be? I don’t think they would.
So while I might sometimes debate whether I can afford that extra bag of crisps with my lunch on a Wednesday, I will almost never even consider whether I can afford that £50 ticket to see Thom Yorke or Matt Berninger prance round a stage for a couple of hours. And sometimes for two nights in a row. Why is that? I think it’s because live music is the best way that I look after myself, the best way that I release the natural stresses of life and the added anxieties that come with my work. I may have been supporting someone through a mental health crisis in the day, but if Adrienne Lenker, Nadine Shah, or Kate Tempest are waxing lyrical to me on the stage in the evening then I’m going to be alright. Even if my bank balance isn’t.
I wasn’t thinking about bank balances that day in 1996, as ‘Champagne Supernova’ came to an end and I reflected on the nine hours of live music that had just unravelled before me. I was thinking about how I felt transported. I was thinking of how I had watched thousands of other people, many with worries that my eleven-year-old mind could not yet comprehend, be transported somewhere too. I was thinking of what my next gig would be (The Fugees supported by Jay Z, as it turned out). And my dad was thinking, as he led me to the car park and made sure I didn’t get lost in my dazed state, of a moment he would still be retelling 20 years later.
Words by Fran Slater