My second ever Manics gig, in which I discovered the true nature of Home, and that Moshpits And Me Don’t Mix.
Sunday, the 15th of December 1996 marked exactly two weeks since I’d arrived in London. Although I’d spent the two weeks doing many things I’d dreamed of doing – buying a new Manics single on its day of release, for example! – I felt a creeping sense of disappointment, not in London, but in myself. I had imagined an Amazing New Me would spring forth once I had arrived in the city of my dreams, and of course, it turned out that I’d brought the old me along for the ride. On the 7th I had a little whinge in my diary.
“My real problem just now is not anything I’ve left behind, but what I brought with me. That is, me, in all its pathetic and useless forms. I thought by escaping everyone who knows me, with all their preconceptions and prejudices, I’d be free from all my hang-ups and inadequacies but instead I’ve dragged the whole squirming lot of them over here with me like they were chained to my ankle. What did I do wrong?… I don’t know what’s more frightening, the thought of trying to stay and make a life here with all my uselessness surrounding me, or the prospect of going back to Perth in 3 months, my life’s dream a complete failure.”
In hindsight, this outburst of angst was almost inevitable, for as the old saying goes, “wherever you go, there you are”. But it’s very evident, in my diary, that I was forced out of this pit of moroseness by my three amazing Manics gigs. It makes me wonder what would have happened, had the Manics not toured in December 1996. Would my sense of failure have stuck with me, and led me to trundle back to Perth in March 1997?
Thank god then, for the Manics, and here I was in the middle of my Manics weekend, arriving for the first time at Shepherd’s Bush station. I’d arranged to meet another Manics fan from the email list there at 6pm, but she was elusive. “I soon realised that there were in fact two tube stations of that name and at 6.10 I decided not to wait any more as I wanted to get to the venue as early as possible. So I asked the ticket collector the way to the Empire and after taking a wrong way down a dark spooky alley (no doubt full of chainsaw wielding maniacs and the like) I finally saw the word EMPIRE illuminated in the distance and I knew I had found my way.”
When I got in the queue, I was confronted with a vivid illustration of the Old Manics Fan vs the New.
“The people surrounding me were a bit disturbing. In front, a yuppie couple examined a pack of X-files trading cards they’d just bought. Behind, a gang of 30-somethings told crap jokes about the Welsh, laughed inanely, muttered snidely about how enthusiastic everyone was to have turned up early, hummed “Kevin Carter” and when presented a leaflet about a Manics fanzine of the culture, alienation, boredom & despair variety, scoffed at its “sad” nature. I was quite relieved to be informed by a passing security type person that the queue for the downstairs ticket holders was actually on the other side of the building. Yes! Here were the boys in eyeliner and fur coats, the girls in tiaras and erm, eyeliner and fur coats. Nearby a curly haired skinny boy in a tight silver shirt argued passionately that “if James was as tall as Nicky he’d be as skinny as Nicky”. In front of me, a Japanese girl carefully drew a series of stars into a notebook. This was the place indeed.”
Once in the venue I was astounded by its tiny size, having expected something similar to Brixton. “The actual area in front of the stage was so small that even if I’d stood at the back I’d have been closer than I was at Brixton. As it was, I positioned myself as close as I possibly could, knowing that I’d be upstairs the next night so this would be as close as I’d get to the Manics for now.”
The support bands came on and once again I was not very impressed. “The Stereophonics seemed marginally better the second time round, especially in comparison to the truly moronic and hideous Tiger who followed.”
And finally it was the Manics! And I would get to see them up close and personal, in the middle of the mosh pit, a mere few metres away from the stage! Or so I thought. “They blazed in this time with “Enola / Alone”, when I suddenly realised I was about to die. I’d thought I might be able to survive half the show in the mosh pit. I made it out of there in half a song, having actually begun my escape after about half a second.”
I found myself a spot a bit further back and to the side and attempted to recover from my near death experience. “I was still much closer than I’d been the night before, and more or less able to jump about / stand still & gasp for breath at will, but it was nonetheless a much more physical and intense experience being so close to the band. “Australia” was second and I screamed along, though already knackered from standing for three hours and indeed not sleeping the night before. My view was not so good that night, due to the many springing bodies packed tightly around me. I could see the top of James quite frequently when he stopped whirling about and sang, but I hardly saw Nicky at all, unlike the night before when I’d been on the Nicky side and had a good view of most of his antics.”
Once again I was moved by the sight of all the lyric quotes during “La Tristesse Durera”, and was able to articulate with more clarity than the night before, just why that was: “…some others being “We are blameless”, “I am nothing and should be everything”, “I stare at the sky and it leaves me blind”, and ending with “forever delayed”. It’s just such a testament to the band’s greatness that they can throw out a few lines from a selection of their songs and they come across like mighty proverbs that were cast in stone as the earth was crashing itself into existence. For me, seeing all these lines from songs that at various points in time I’ve clutched to my heart, it was like being confronted with a display of segments of my own history, my own self. The sight of those resounding words fading in and out of view in front of me is something that will be seared on my memory forever.”
I hate to admit it, but… it’s not actually seared on my memory. I can’t say I have any memory of that experience at all, and only know it happened because I wrote it down. Which is the way with most things, but it makes me wonder: how often in my life have I thought, ‘I’ll never forget this’, and then promptly do?
The most exciting moment of the night, which was in fact “THE major point of faint-worthy pop history in the making”, was when Kylie Minogue joined the boys to sing “Little Baby Nothing”. I’d become a Kylie fan in 1994 when I had my Great Pop Awakening to Take That, and Kylie was at the same time conveniently releasing amazing singles like “Confide In Me”. So it was beyond a thrill to see her singing with the Manics.
“Yes! The duet that the pop planet had been waiting for finally arrived. Kylie sang “we are the useless sluts that they mo-ooowoh-ooowould ooo-ooo-ooooh!” like she was always meant to and equilibrium was restored to the universe. She sang it brilliantly of course, rockin’ out as best she knew how and wore a slinky black Kylie-type outfit with hair especially spiked for the occasion. It was beyond a doubt a historic occasion and one which I could tell awe-struck grandkids if I had the remotest plans of having any of the things.”
Here is the audio from that momentous occasion which someone has kindly uploaded to YouTube – the pic is, however, clearly from a much later occasion.
Then alas Kylie was gone, and there was “Motown Junk” and “No Surface All Feeling” and then James’s acoustic turn, which was marred somewhat by “the guy behind me who sang loudly and annoyingly along to “Small Black Flowers”. He got a few annoyed looks and not just from me but that didn’t stop him.”
I rounded up the gig in brief style in my diary entry – well I was a veritable MSP live veteran by then, of course! “After that acoustic bit we were crashed back into mayhem with “Elvis Impersonator” leading directly into “Stay Beautiful” and finally rounded off with “Everything Must Go”, “A Design For Life” and “You Love Us”. Even behind the mosh it was a throttling, thrashing experience. My boots are still covered with the prints of the thousand feet that trampled upon mine.”
Leaving the venue I staggered to an offie to buy some water, then got on the tube, where I was in a contemplative mood.
“As I made my way from the Central to Circle lines, I truly felt for the first time here that I was at home, a native, a natural, a Londoner. It felt good. As I walked through deserted Old Brompton Road back to my aunt’s flat, with Perrier bottle in one hand and key spiking the other fist to ward off evil spirits, I pondered over the identity of my true home. Is it where I was born? Where I spent most of my life? Where the heart is? No, I would have shouted, if I were the shouting kind, Home is where the Manics are!”
Two weeks into my trip in London, I knew I was at home. The question was, did that mean I would stay?