Having just seen Placebo at the Brixton Academy the night before, I arrived in Manchester on a sunny Friday morning in May ’97 to find they had followed me there. So what else could I do but go again? However, I got a lot more than I expected that night.
At this point in my gigging career, I had become pretty addicted to the down-the-front experience, and didn’t want anything to get in the way of my chance to spend the entirety of a gig crushed against the barrier. Therefore, I had adopted a technique to ensure that I wouldn’t be struck by the urgent need for the loo mid-gig. This genius technique was to not drink anything at all on the day of gigs: no water, no tea or coffee, certainly no booze.
Having seen Placebo from the distance of the balcony the previous night, I was determined to be right at the front at my second gig of theirs. So, on this blistering Friday in May, I had no hydration whatsoever. I think you can see where this is going. From my diary:
“I was off to the Apollo at 6pm to join the queue. I was v. thirsty, and because of the gig the day before I hadn’t drunk more than one or two sips of water in the past two days. I can only assume that this is why, in the middle of the second support, as I was crushed down the front, I was struck by the intense need to lose consciousness. It was quite horrific to suddenly become completely weak – limbed, vision clouding over, unable to escape. Then all was black, I couldn’t see, probably I had closed my eyes but I had no clue as to what was going on by then, I tried to call the attention of a security bloke by holding out my arm in their general direction, whether this worked or not I can’t say, but something must have. Those few moments where I was blind and weak and pinned to the spot were very horrible. When the next thing I knew was that I was being gently lowered to the floor in the bar area, and could see again, relief was overpowering any embarrassment I felt at this undignified state I’d gotten myself into, and any distress I might have felt at no longer being within a whisker of Brian. Security bloke who carried me out got me some water, checked that I was okay, and left me to recover, sat there shaking with my back against the wall.”
This experience was unsettling enough, but if this had been the only unusual thing about this gig, my memories of it would be much more benign. What happened next was, the bloke I’d been plonked down next to at the bar decided to become my Gig Boyfriend for the night.
He was about 30, and had chatted to me for a time, and was “exceedingly friendly”. Then, he kissed me. In my diary I wrote that he “asked so nicely”, but what I remember is more along the lines of him leaning over to me, saying, “now, if you don’t mind, I’m gong to give you a kiss”, and doing so without waiting for me to respond. This does not seem to the old, cynical me of today really like asking nicely. And then, for the rest of the gig, this guy – who I referred to as ‘H’ as I hadn’t quite caught his name – never let me out of his sight. He went to find his mates, and a few moments later I went back into the crowd myself, only to find H reappearing and leading me to his group. Later, when I went to get a bit of air in a less crowded spot, H followed me to check if I was all right. At the end of the show, I felt him putting his arms around me as the cheers rang out and the lights went back on. And then he and his mates gave me a lift back to my hostel, which, happily, is the end of the tale. It could have turned out much worse.
It’s worth noting that, at 22, I was hugely inexperienced when it came to relationships with men. I’d had one pretty disastrous attempt when I was 20 with a bloke who quite frankly was a complete waste of oxygen. Beyond that, I simply wasn’t interested. Who cared about dating when there were gigs to go to? As such, I didn’t really have that inner sense to tell when things were Not Okay. I interpreted H’s actions as nothing more than friendliness and concern. And I’m sure there was an element of that there, but there’s also this: who on earth would look at a young woman, who’s on her own at a gig in a strange city and recovering from fainting at the barrier, and think, now is the time to make a move?
While this was not exactly a ‘me too’ moment – and I’ve certainly had those in my time – thinking about what happened that night still makes me uneasy. I didn’t ask to be looked after during this gig, or to be kissed and hugged by a stranger. And yet, like many young women, I had clearly cultivated a sense of obligation when it came to blokes: if they were nice to you, they were entitled to your time, attention and affections. It didn’t even occur to me that I could politely decline his interest and move away to enjoy the gig on my own, as I had intended.
Still, as I said, it could all have turned out much worse. And despite being a gig that sits uncomfortably in my memory, that has nothing to do with Placebo, who were, in fact, pretty brilliant, as my diary entry attests.
“Placebo were awesome. It was, as I’d suspected the night before, much more intense in the midst of the throng where you could sing along and cheer wildly whilst being blinded by the blue strobes. I wasn’t really up for jumping up and down, so I just danced a little new grave dance in my own little space. The set was exactly the same as at Brixton, and in fact just about everything Bri said was exactly the same as well, making what seemed highly witty on Thurs seem rather scripted on Fri, but well, he is an actor, isn’t he? And Placebo moved up in my affections from strong but wary liking, to outright burning love, and “Burger Queen” is now one of my favourite songs ever after two hearings.”
And I’m happy to say that, despite being not quite the gig I had bargained for, it didn’t remotely dampen my excitement for gigs. And while I’ve certainly had other unwanted interactions with blokes at gigs over the years, I am lucky that none have been more than annoying. Many women have experienced worse things at gigs such as harassment and assault, but hopefully, with the ‘me too’ movement and Safe Gigs For Women, these will slowly become a thing of the past.
And as for me, I never, ever went to a gig dehydrated again.