I was 9 when I attended my first concert. After begging my poor Mum for tickets to go see PJ & Duncan (I know, I was so cool), she surprised me, and took me to go see them. My wonderful, spectacular Mother. I was so excited about the show that I can still remember the date that it was on, having written it down on every notepad I came into contact with: July 22.
And it was special, you guys. Though PJ & Duncan themselves were less than amazing, and spent most of their time lifting up their tops at screaming girls, than “wrecking the mic” as they promised in “Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble,” their golden hit, the experience was one that will stay with me forever.
I still treasure the memory of my Mum dancing away next to me during the gig, and of how the teenage girl stood on the other side of me gifted me with a brand new whistle when she noticed I was the only one in the audience without one. I remember how the floor vibrated, and how security tried and failed to contain the excitement of a pack of young girls jumping on velvet seats. I remember the energy in that room, and the astounding, shrieking camaraderie of young women. We were loud, and powerful, and wild, and valued. I felt part of something in a way that I never had before, and that came with terrific significance.
I realised that music was capable of providing the parallel pillars of unity, and solitude. That, if you wanted to be among a crowd of people that you shared something tangible with, you could do it at a gig. And if you wanted to just get away, and find some peace, and forget about the World, you could genuinely lose yourself to the music and atmosphere of a great gig. I realised that early in life, sometime around that first gig, but also with all the shows that were to follow in my life. But the gigs of my childhood, and my teenage years – they genuinely meant, and continue to mean, something gigantic.
Which is what makes the tragedy of the Manchester Arena bombing on May 22 all the more savage: It feels personal, somehow. Tangible. And having just read about the first two named victims from the incident, 18 year-old Georgina Callandar, and 8 year-old Saffie Rose Russos, I feel completely crushed. These were young girls sharing something special with their loved ones. These were young girls who probably believed, quite rightly, that the arena was a safe space. That their joy was a safe space. These were young girls with a palpable innocence, who sweetly, and simply, just wanted to experience the live show of their favourite pop star.
It’s beyond my capacity for understanding why anyone, regardless of perspective or agenda, could specifically target such an event. An event that would be full of innocence, of young people, and of friends and families creating something special together. Possibly even for the first time in their lives.
It’s a genuine, heartless tragedy, and it hurts. But it also stings for how close it feels to personal, and universal, experiences. Of our family members who grabbed our hands tightly and never let go of them as they led us into and out of pop concerts as kids. Of the excitable, awe-struck children we take to such events ourselves. Of the friends we save up money and splurge on tickets with, trusting that if we lose them in the crowd, we’ll reconnect later. Of that crucial teenage rite of passage, where you finally have the freedom to attend something without your parents. They were all in attendance. We know all of them.
I can barely make sense of any it beyond this, and I’m sorry. All that I do know is that Manchester, as a city, will always remain strong, and resilient, and compassionate despite whatever attacks it faces. That live music will always be special, and provide that most sacred of safe spaces that cushion and guide all of us as we grow. I also know that no amount of threats, or attacks, can dampen the camaraderie of the North, or of young women, and young people, overall.
My heart goes out to all of the people, and loved ones, affected by this tragedy, and to the further fatalities who are yet to be named at the time of writing.
Continue to be loud, powerful, and wild.