That greatest of things – a Manic Street Preachers gig in December – and even better, one in which they were going to play, for the first time ever, their complete back catalogue of singles. It’s just a shame that it happened in one of the worst years of my life.
Of all the Manics gigs I have ever attended, this is probably the one where I was least invested. My interest in being a music fan was at an all time low and to be honest I probably only made it out this night because of the novelty of it being a setlist comprised of every single they’d released, following their second greatest hits collection “National Treasures”. But that makes it all the more frustrating to reflect on. There never had been, nor probably ever will be, another Manics gig like this, and I have very little to remember it by.
In truth, 2011 was one of the worst years of my life. After finishing my Master’s in October 2010, I returned to my cancer team coordinator job in the NHS. But I soon started to find myself plagued with digestive trauma just as I had a couple of years earlier in 2009. Back then, I had been diagnosed with gallstones, but now in 2011 I no longer had a gallbladder to blame the symptoms on, and the doctors struggled to find any reason for my pain and nausea. My mental health deteriorated as a result, and in May 2011, not long after I’d turned 36, I started taking the anti-depressant Citalopram.
Such drugs are a lifesaver for many, and they did make me feel better for a while. But they also had the unexpected side effect, for me, of making me lose any sense of control around eating and drinking. So by the latter half 2011, I was several kilos overweight and a borderline alcoholic.
It was in this state that I’d started my PhD at UCL in September 2011 – not ideal, as I’m sure you’ll agree, and by the time of this gig I was struggling with everything, to be honest. So I guess, given all this, I have to be a bit lenient with myself for how little I wrote in my diary about this landmark gig.
‘Off to the O2 around six for the longest Manics gig ever. Three and a half hours, all the singles, and a cavalcade of nostalgia. I wished I was able to love them like I used to, be down the front screaming along to every word, but those days are gone for good I fear. Still, a magnificent gig.‘
Given everything I was going through at the time, I am happy to see that I did at least enjoy myself at the gig. But how I wish I had written down more about it. I’ve watched the footage that is available on YouTube and, as with the footage I’ve seen from the 2009 tour, it’s clear the band were in absolutely unbelievable form. There were so many highlights, rarely performed songs and unexpected treats at this gig that it pains me to have almost no recollection of it. How could I have forgotten, for example, that the wonderful Gruff Rhys, who has just broken my 2021 gig drought in spectacular style at the Islington Assembly Hall, was there to duet on “Let Robeson Sing”?
As far as my health issues were concerned, I tapered my dose of the anti-depressant over the weeks following this gig, and started 2012 off the drug. I had a rocky road ahead of me, as my mental health issues were not entirely resolved, and I have been in and out of therapy ever since. Physically, I’ve never quite returned to the way I was before taking the drug, and probably never will. It’s safe to say that taking Citalopram is the decision I most regret in my life.
But, all things considered, I take heart in the fact that there are far worse things in life that I could regret than an ill-advised drug choice ten years ago. And as for the belief I held when attending this gig in 2011 that the days were completely gone where my love for the Manics would see me screaming my heart out down the front, I was, of course, completely wrong. By the time I next saw the band in 2014, the adoration I felt for this band in my youth would be slowly, stealthily creeping back.