All the gigs of my life

All the gigs of my life: Gigs 96 and 97 – Manic Street Preachers, Monday 18th and Tuesday 19th April 2005, Hammersmith Apollo

My first gigs of my 30s saw me carrying on where I’d left off in my twenties, with another duo of shows from the Manics.

This 2005 Manics tour has some legendary status amongst their fans. Not promoting any album, just the “Past, Present and Future” of the band, it was a glorious celebration of the hits and rarities of their then 15-year-strong career. Which makes it all the more frustrating that it’s also the first Manics tour I attended for which I wrote absolutely nothing in my diary.

The truth is, my life had started to get very complicated indeed. I’d turned 30 the previous month, and had embarked on an extremely ill-advised affair with a younger colleague – referred to on these pages as Crush Boy – who just happened to also be my supervisor at work. Unsurprisingly, the ramifications of this took up far more space in the pages of my diary than anything gig-related during this period.

Said Crush Boy actually accompanied me to the first of these gigs, along with two other colleagues – a laid-back Aussie nurse and my Glam Best Friend who had already joined me in seeing Nick Cave and the Prodigy the previous year. It was great to be able to share my favourite band with some of my closest friends – an unusual experience for me, as music had always thus far been a deeply personal rather than social pursuit.

Support for these dates came from Delays, who I loved and had already seen a couple of times the previous year, at the Isle of Wight festival and their own gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. As their set started, I remember standing in the foyer of the Apollo, jumping up and down with impatience as the opening strains of “Wanderlust” rang from the stage and trying to herd my mates into order so we could enter the standing area.

As for the Manics, all I really remember is being lifted up by Crush Boy when they came on stage so I could see them better, which is very much the only time that has ever happened to me.

At the second night, where I reverted to my usual lone-gigging ways, I have no recollections apart from this: the “God Save The Manics” EP was given out to the crowd as we exited the venue. It’s one of the few Manics CD singles which remained in my collection, surviving the massive cull I’d eventually execute later on in my 30s, when I got to the point where I believed music no longer really mattered to me. Despite that, I have to say I’ve never really listened to it much, beyond no doubt a few spins when I got home from the gig.

So of course, writing this blog post made this the perfect time to revisit it. The first track “A Secret Society” retains some of the “Lifeblood” elements like the electronic beat and and icy keyboard line, but with a return to a darker, dirtier guitar sound. “Firefight” contains more of a driving barrage of guitar chords, somewhat reminiscent of popular tracks from the early 00’s from bands like Keane. Last on the EP is “Picturesque”, and of all the songs, it’s the most shimmering and “Lifeblood”-esque, but points to the more anthemic sound that would appear in 2007’s “Send Away The Tigers”.

It’s a great EP, and a lovely thing to rediscover all these years later. But what strikes me most when I look at this EP is what’s written on the back: “STAY BEAUTIFUL WE LOVE YOU”. It’s very likely that this message was intended to brace the fans for a few years’ wait until the next Manics album, while James and Nicky headed of for solo pursuits in 2006.

But in the context of this blog, where I’m reflecting on my entire gigging life, it seems to take on an extra meaning just for me. The gig where this was handed out was probably the last one where I considered the Manics to be the most important thing in the world to me. And this Manics tour was also the last one where I would go to every London date. By the time their next tour rolled around in 2007, I only managed one show despite there being three in London – a decade previously, this would have been unthinkable to me.

And throughout my thirties, my love for the band would wax and wane, dwindle and be rekindled only to dissipate yet further. I would still see them live from time to time – but only six more times during the course of my 30s, compared to a total of 21 times in my 20s. And I reached a point, around 2012 or 2013, where I barely even considered myself a Manics fan anymore. But I made it back once in my 40s, with my Manics fan flame reaching full fire again at the Royal Albert Hall gig in 2016. Amazing what a midlife crisis can do for you!

All these gig stories are yet to be told in future blog posts. But I do have to admit, when I reached for the EP to write about it in this post, and turned it over to read the Manics’ message on the back, it took on an unintended meaning: it felt like a note from the past reassuring my 2005 self that my fading love for this most wonderful band would one day return in its full glory.

This renewed love for the Manics gigging life is of course currently a frustrated one here in October 2020, with COVID crushing the live music scene for the past six months and the foreseeable future. I have tickets to see the boys in Cardiff in December, at their gigs for the NHS, but at this late stage with virus cases rising and no vaccine in sight, only a medical miracle would allow those gigs to go ahead. But I hold on to the knowledge that they will go ahead at some point, as soon as it is safe to do so, and I will be there screaming my lungs out once more.

And you can be damn sure that, unlike with these Hammersmith gigs of 2005, I will write down every last thing that happens at those gigs.

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