Election Day 1997. A new dawn for Britain was approaching. And I celebrated the best way I knew how: by going to a gig.
On a bright sunny Thursday afternoon on May ’97, I went along to my second My Life Story gig. I’d been to see them at the ULU in February, but that night I’d been more interested in the support band Orlando than My Life Story themselves. However, I’d been sufficiently won over by the flamboyant, feather boa and bassoon brandishing Story that I jumped at the chance to see them at their next London gig. Which just happened to be on the day of the most anticipated UK election in decades.
Growing up in Australia, where voting is compulsory, gave me a strong sense of the importance of using the vote we have. I’d been very annoyed a few years earlier when an Australian general election had been held precisely one week before I turned 18. So now, at 22, I was ready and excited to vote in my first British election. Except it turned out that, despite being a British citizen, I needed to have lived in the U.K. for at least six months to be eligible to vote. On the first of May 1997, I’d been in London for precisely five months. Bugger.
Still, what did it matter when I had a gig to go to?
“My Life Story remind you of what really matters in life, ie: spectacular, flamboyant POP with feather boas.”
So I strode out instead to the Astoria, though I was not quite glam enough to adorn myself with a feather boa. For this gig, my diary reveals that I wore the Orlando t-shirt I’d bought at my previous MLS gig, and apparently I also had on glow in the dark temporary tattoos, though where I’d acquired these is lost in the mists of time.
This was my first gig at the Astoria, a venue I’d long been intrigued by as it was the site of the last Manic Street Preachers gigs with Richey. I was impressed immediately.
“My god what a venue! No wonder the MSP gigs of Dec ‘94 are so legendary, I don’t know what it was, but the venue really shrieks of rock’n’roll mayhem. It was so easy to imagine James, Nicky, Richey and Sean up there in their Holy Bible eyeliner and army gear.”
The first band of the night were Groupie, but I was not overly impressed. “Vague deviant touches couldn’t do much to disguise a rather ordinary indie experience. Most notable for the excellent cheekbones of the singer, really.”
However, this was no ordinary gig – My Life Story were playing two sets, and their first set, an acoustic one, came up next.
“Four acoustic tunes – the very nice “Claret”, the very nice one I didn’t know, the heart-tearingly achingly wonderfully beautiful “November 5th”, and the very nice “Silently Screaming”.”
And then, unusually, a support poet, none other than Murray Lachlan Young, now to be heard on 6 Music’s Friday morning breakfast show, rounding up the week in poetic form. My diary entry reveals that I didn’t know his name at the time of this gig, and just noted that he “regaled us with hilarious odes to supermodels, superstars, stalkers and beards”, but I’d go on to become a bit of a fan that year, buying his books and seeing him at a few different gigs.
“MLS finally come on in their full glittering glory to a truly storming “Twelve Reasons Why”. Jake is now his silver shirted leather trousered pop lunatic persona, in positively excellent voice and high-kicking form.”
And we were off into a truly exhilaratingly fun gig. However, I had just been to the greatest gig of my life less than a week earlier, and while it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the Story, I couldn’t help making a few comparisons to that explosive Mansun gig.
“The contrast between this gig and Mansun’s could not be vaster. Jake was in constant communication with the audience, the emphasis was on a good old fashioned show and they are certainly not on first name terms with the feedback demon.”
But not every gig needs to be life-changing. This gig was memorable for its own reasons – not just the brilliance of the tunes, but the historic nature of day it was happening, which the band took full advantage of.
“As it was election night they had their very own Swingometer which descended to the stage between songs, basically a wheel of fortune which randomly decided which tunes they were going to pay next. Celebrity swingers came in the form of the deviant David Devant lot and Martin Fry, as well as their earlier poet flouncing on in a silver 70s suit and mysteriously renamed Tony Blair”.
In my diary entry, I didn’t go into much detail about the various songs that were performed, just noted that they all were “undeniable unequivocal FUN.” But it seems I was quite taken with lead singer Jake Shillingford. ”Jake was of course an absolutely wonderful Pop Star throughout, flashy, flamboyant, showy, expressive, he positively DESERVES a string of number ones, if he were on the cover of Smash Hits perverting the nation’s youth with glitter and trumpets then it would be a much nicer world we’re living in.”
I did mention a few of the songs, in particular the stomping, theremin-pumping “Strumpet” which was due to be their next single. They treated us to “the most deliriously stormingly MEGA version of that song as their pre-encore finale. We all warbled “terminal groupie! horsey! horsey!” etc at the top of our lungs and drowned in a feathery frenzy whenever feather boas were mentioned in the lyrics. And as we all launch into the lunatic “bah! bah bah bah bah bah bah!” of the choruses, Jake launches himself onto the barrier and is mauled hysterically as he stretches his mic into the very heart of the crowd. For the first chorus it was the other side of the throng, but for the second it was – yes! – directly in front of me. Of course we all knew he was going to do it by this time, and it was one of the greatest pop thrills ever, screaming him on as he prepared to leap into our arms. Not to mention groping the wondrous man himself! and nearly being knocked out by his flailing microphone! Not that he really needed to go to these lengths to get us to sing along, for the crowd were so vocal some were even singing along to the brass lines and violin solos.”
The encore consisted of “Sparkle” and “Motorcade”, and at some point during this “about eighty nine thousand huge balloons, black ones and yellow ones, materialise above our heads and we jump joyfully about like deranged five year olds as we try to propel them towards the stage. And then the band are off, weaving their way through a demented sea of balloons and chucking their sweaty towels at us. Would have preferred a feather boa boys.”
And there it was, my gig no. 12. I’d been to three gigs in April which had catapulted my emotions to the moon and back, and I would go to three more in May which were at times even more astonishing. But here, on the first of May, was an oasis of unadulterated fun, something My Life Story would bring to my life for many years to come. And I love them for that.
”It was not life-changing, but it gave me a strong sense of this-is-what-it’s-all-about – crushed (even gently) at the front of a stormingly great gig, screaming at the stars that light our way. These are the moments that all the others in life lead up to.”
Not life-changing, maybe: but definitely, wholeheartedly, brilliantly life-affirming.