It is one year since the terrorist bombing at the Manchester Arena, at the close of a concert by Ariana Grande. Twenty two people were killed, and over 800 injured. 2017 was a horrible year for terrorist attacks in the UK, and while I was lucky not to be involved in any, this one hit me much harder than the others. Like many people, I woke to the news the following morning. I also had an email from my mum in Canada, who just wanted to check that her gig-obsessed daughter hadn’t been at that particular gig. I was a tearful, nauseous, anxious wreck at work that day, and took advantage of a quiet workload to book the rest of the week off. I just couldn’t face the world for a while.
The loss of life from any terrorist attack is hard to bear, but this time, with so many young people involved, the pain was doubly sharp. It felt personal to me on many levels. I’d just been at the Manchester Arena three months previously to see the Pet Shop Boys in February 2017, and the attack occurred only two days away from the 20th anniversary of my first gig at that Arena, the Manic Street Preachers on the 24th of May 1997. This attack targeted people like me: music lovers, gig-goers, and more particularly, women and girls celebrating their individuality, their freedom, their joy of life, all through their love for music.
On top of the devastating loss of so many lives, I felt certain that the survivors of the attack would be so traumatised that they’d never be able to go to a gig again. Those young girls who found joy and expression and connection and affirmation in pop music would now connect it only with images of terror and death. But I was wrong: less than two weeks later, we saw many of those girls and young women smiling, dancing and singing at the Emirates Stadium, and it was all thanks to the remarkable young woman that is Ariana Grande. I don’t think anyone would have blamed her if she’d gone home to rest and recuperate amongst her family and loved ones, and not returned to the UK for a long time. But by coming back to Manchester so swiftly, and staging the One Love concert for all the fans who’d been at her show, she did so much to help heal the wound inflicted by the bomber. Given that I was a barely functioning human at her age, I am in awe that such a young person could have so much dignity, compassion and strength of character. My respect and admiration for her is huge.
So today I’m thinking about the 22 people who lost their lives a year ago, and the many more who were injured or traumatised by that horrible event. And I’m also celebrating the joy of music and of going to gigs, which remains undimmed despite the efforts of those who would shut us down, silence and subdue us. And I’m saluting the amazing woman that is Ariana Grande, whose wonderful, uplifting new single “No Tears Left To Cry” currently sits like a glittering diamond in a Top 5 full of coal.
All my love to Manchester.