All the gigs of my life: Gig 57 – Manic Street Preachers, Wednesday, September 12, 2001, The Scala

The three Manics gigs I went to in 2001 are all memorable for reasons other than the music. In March, it was personal – the weekend of gigs at the Brixton Academy coincided with a health crisis that led to my eventual diagnosis with a lifelong chronic condition. But this gig, on the 12th of September 2001, occurred in the aftermath of the most shocking and horrific terrorist attack the world had seen in my lifetime.

The previous day I’d been at work at the Royal Brompton Hospital, in a slow mid-afternoon lull of quiet clinics. I remember the Outpatients Sister gliding past with an odd expression on her face. New York’s in flames, she was telling us. Planes had crashed into the World Trade Centre. My colleagues and I went first to the internet to look up the awful events on the BBC news site, before making our way up to Children’s Outpatients, which was the only part of our department at the time that had a TV screen. Luckily there were no paediatric clinics on that afternoon, so we were able to watch the repeated footage of the towers collapsing without worrying about disturbing any young patients.

As I sit typing this in 2019, staring at the planes hurtling over South London in their descent towards Heathrow, I remember one of the most eerie things about that day: There were no planes. The South Kensington sky, usually blaring with the engines of a new plane every 90 seconds as they made their way towards landing, was empty. Transport had come to a complete stop, with fears of repeated attacks on a global scale. As I only lived across the road from my workplace in the staff accommodation, I was much luckier than many of my colleagues, who had a slow and difficult trek home that shocking day.

But the next day life went on, and so did this Manics gig, part of a series of shows to celebrate Q magazine’s 15th birthday. If I recall correctly, on the 11th itself the Stereophonics were due to have played their part of the festivities, but that gig had of course been cancelled. But London never comes to a standstill for long, and happily for me, the Manics gig went ahead, and so on this Wednesday night I ventured out to “MSP gig no.13 in my glittering MSP gigging career.”

It had been an eventful four months for me since my last gig in May, seeing Nick Cave at the Brixton Academy. I’d been undergoing a series of scans and tests and finally surgery, which revealed that what had caused the intense pain I experienced on the day of my last Manics gig in March was endometriosis. Following all this I had a restful month of recovery in Canada with my parents in August. However, the Manics could not stay away from my attention for very long, and they popped up a few times during my holiday. First, I had the entirely new experience of watching a gig over the internet, when the Manics’ Reading Festival set was broadcast live online. And towards the end of my holiday, when this exclusive Manics gig at the Scala had been announced, I made my first attempt at ordering a gig ticket online, rather than marching to the venue’s box office or Stargreen to buy my tickets.

I was sceptical as to whether this online shipping thing would actually work, but much to my relief my ticket arrived in the post a few days after I got back to London, and so off I strode this strange September night to the Scala. I don’t recall any mention on the night of the bizarre times we suddenly had been thrust into, from either the comperes or the Manics themselves. But everyone in the crowd seemed more than usually ready to go absolutely wild for our favourite boys, perhaps in an effort to rid our minds of the intense fuckery that the 21st century had just swerved into. From my diary:

Yes! All the best bits I missed at Reading in strangely matchbox sized surrounds! Oh GOD are my ears buzzing, that was LOUD, and I was naturally in my traditional front of the speakers Nicky side position.

The Manics faithful were out in force, and were overall not impressed with the party accoutrements on offer for Q’s birthday. “Oh we were all given party hats as we walked in, but only about 1.5 people wore them. These are MANICS fans after all! Far too stylish for crumpled paper headgear in bright orange or ‘hot’ pink. There was indeed a huge concentration of the eyeliner tiara featherboa leopard print crew, not surprising really given the exclusivity of this gig.”

There was no support band so the wait for the Manics to appear felt interminable. “Bloody hell, we waited and waited ’til the End of Time was yawning, so when the Q announcers finally came on they were not greeted overly kindly, well kind of half screaming euphoria ‘cos you knew it was nearly TIME, half impatient hyperactive glitter kids at the end of their bloody tether.”

And of course, once the band came on, it was time for my obligatory Nicky Wire appreciation moment complete with detailed appraisal of his outfit of choice for the evening.

“BUT! JESUS! NICKY! He was THERE! So close you wonder why we all didn’t just reach out and lift him gently from the stage and keep him forever and ever, and yet, so untouchable. My GOD! I have never seen him look like this! He was in a white suit! And he looked so goddamn stylish and just plain GODLIKE that I had not the merest quiver of longing for his flirty tennis skirts that he’s recently favoured.”

The set began with “You Love Us” which was “so frantically ecstatically THRILLING and we are in that arms stabbing the air frenzy (“YOU! LOVE! US!!!”)” But this was nothing compared to to the euphoria that gripped me as the next song started, “the moment I haven’t even dared hope for for ages. ‘I write this alone on my bed…’ Oh GOD!” “From Despair To Where” was the song that had made me a Manics fan in 1993, and nothing can quite compare to the feeling of witnessing your favourite band playing the song that started off your love for them many years before.

“That they chose to do this song, and at this of all gigs, I could not believe it, quite frankly. It was like I was given a secret glimpse of what an MSP gig of ’93 would have been like. I could almost believe that Richey had just ducked out of sight behind a speaker stack.”

There was not much in the way of banter or chattiness from the boys this night, but it was still a dynamic, vital performance. Nicky was completely silent, but “sang along often, even audibly at times.” James’s first comment was “a promise for a straightforward rock’n’roll show, ‘no cabaret’.

After “From Despair To Where” they veered into an ebullient “You Stole The Sun From My Heart”.

My god it just seemed so demented, these arena-sized anthems in such a miniature space. None more so than when they resurrected “Enola Alone” later on. It was still massive, empowering: ‘all I wanna do is live, no matter how miserable it is’. Timely, both personally and universally.

“Frantic hollering mayhem!” was how I characterised this gig. Every song seemed to beat from the very core of what it meant to be a fan of this most vital band. None more so than “Little Baby Nothing”: “surely the very essence of being a Manics fan is distilled in those few seconds where we are shouting “rock’n’roll is our epiphany! culture alienation boredom and despair!” in the presence of our Almighty Three (four in spirit).”

As for “The Holy Bible”, still then my favourite album ever, James teased people who shouted for “Revol” before affirming that they wouldn’t play it, but what they did play was “Archives of Pain”, which I’d witnessed them play a few weeks previously on the Reading webcast. “Oh GOD! I was there, actually THERE this time! God these Holy Bible songs are so fucking incredible live, so powerful. They infiltrate your SOUL with blackest truth. “Faster”, “Yes”, “Of Walking Abortion” and now “Archives” – they all have the same effect – they grab you, seize every sense with their desperate, merciless, majestic darkness.”

“Kevin Carter” was “total bouncing euphoria” and “Motorcycle Emptiness” “ruled. You can’t top it“. Despite the fact there was no acoustic bit (“How weird!”) there was still “glorious ‘Robeson’ and brooding ‘Ocean Spray’ and euphoric ‘Tsunami’! “ I’d found myself a space in the crowd with a little room to breathe, and so “I must admit I didn’t leap about like a lunatic for the whole gig, sometimes I just stared in awe as you do. But when it comes to “in between in between In Between IN BETWEEN!!!!!” you just gotta leap through the ceiling, really.”

And then “Motown Junk” was, of course, “MAYHEM!” It seems that even at the very young age of 26 I was starting to notice that a lot of newer fans were much younger then me. “The kids were ecstatic even though they were probably not even born when it came out!

The gig was now nearing its end (“The dismay!“) and James introduced the band. “GOD do we do our throats in for Nicholas Gorgeous Wire! But time to do our throats in even more. “Tolerate”, so powerful, but subdued in comparison to “A Design For Life”, just so wonderful, so many arms reaching for the stars, reaching out with every word their owners are hollering. Hollering? That’s “Masses” for you! Jesus did I SCREAM!”

Then I recalled that this “totally WILD” gig had been filmed for channel 4.

Gonna see myself acting like a lunatic on telly in a few weeks! YES!!!!

Actually, I am completely absent from any of the footage that ended up on telly, which some kind soul has uploaded to YouTube here:

I feel I should close this blog post with some kind of pithy, incisive remark on how the world had suddenly, irrevocably changed just before this gig, and how those changes reverberate into the extreme fuckery of the world we find ourselves in today. But that would be a disservice to the enormity of the tragedy the world had just experienced in 2001, and indeed, to the immense complexity and confusion of the current state of the world, let alone how the two are connected.

And it’s also not what this blog is about. This blog is about the all-conquering joy that comes with being a music fan and seeing your favourite bands live. And how even in the darkest, most perplexing times, they can make everything seem all right, and seem to make sense again, for the 90 minutes they are on stage. So I’ll conclude this entry with my closing words from my diary entry, as nothing sums up how this gig made me feel better than they can.

“Moment of the gig: The one, or two, or three times, where Nicky and James leapt simultaneously into the air in time to the totally, completely, apocalyptically BRILLIANT barrage of noise they were creating.

If this world’s gonna go down, I’m gonna be listening to the Manics as it does.”

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