All the gigs of my life

All the gigs of my life: Gig 126 – Manic Street Preachers, Monday, May 16, 2016, Royal Albert Hall

I went in thinking this might be my last ever Manics gig. I was very, very wrong.

‘Here I go then, to MSP gig no 30. Possibly my last. Maybe? Anyway. This is IT. This is where New ’97 Life starts properly and 4REAL. So let’s go and see what happens.’

So I wrote in my diary just before heading out to the Royal Albert Hall this May evening in 2016. The apathy towards the band that had sprung up following my somewhat disappointing experience that was their 2014 Rough Trade signing was still with me. But it was now 2016, and I was on my New ’97 Life mission to reignite my former love for live music. I had to give the Manics one more chance, right?

My mood was somewhat different when I returned home from the gig with just one quote in my head, that seemed so perfectly apt for what I had just experienced that I had to write it down immediately:

“You have broken through my armour
And I don’t have an answer
I love you all the same"

Falling in love with your favourite band in the world is a wonderful thing. Falling in love with them a second time may just be the best thing on earth. Especially when it came so unexpectedly as it did this night.

‘What I forgot to write, when I was filling up that little pre-gig space in my diary, was some witty variation of “I can’t believe I’m going to see my boys tonight!” Because, to be frank, I didn’t feel that way. As I strode out to the train, the Manics felt so far from being My Boys that I found myself humming Kula Shaker tunes and looking forward to Wednesday’s gig from them. But how wrong I was. Last night, the Manics were My Boys again, and it felt like coming home.’

Despite said indifference on my journey to South Kensington, I still managed to make it to the venue in good time. ‘Got to the Royal Albert Hall about ten past seven. Just time to nip to the loo and have a quick look at the merch stall – nothing inspired me at that point – then head to my seat. Front row of the stalls, just behind and to the right of the mixing desk, and a great view. ‘

From this excellent vantage point I first witnessed the support set from Editors, a band I was fairly unfamiliar with.

Very promptly at 7.29pm the support band came on, Editors. They are a band from the 00’s and hence I know absolutely nothing about them but they were great, all tuneful and epic in an 80s kinda way. A brief flicker of a parallel universe shivered past in which I never gave up on the music life, and their tunes were all familiar and had soundtracked many key moments of the last decade and a half.’

However, back in this universe, the Editors were off at ten past eight, and in order to have something to do before the main event, I queued at the bar for a large CabSav. ‘Back to my seat to sip my drink feeling pretty great it must be said. The warm up tape was pretty epic, with “I Can Only Disappoint U” by Mansun, and various Super Furries, Roxy Music and Bowie tunes. Then again, very promptly at 8.45pm, the lights went down, and the three big square screens above the stage lit up.’

Thinking back to my very first Manic Street Preachers gigs, which took place during the “Everything Must Go” era, made me ponder how similar this night would be to them. ‘I wondered if they would start with the Stealth Sonic ADFL like the gigs of that era, but no, it was scenes of Blackpool and the sound of waves crashing, just as the album starts. With relatively little ceremony the band were onstage and we were off into “Elvis Impersonator”.’

The gig may have been off to a great start, but as is so often the case with seated gigs, I found myself in the midst of a bunch of static, statue-like gig-goers.

‘It sounds great and the crowd are up for it, except that is my section of the stalls, who were a bit staid it must be said. Still I didn’t mind sitting there peacefully and singing along, and even “A Design For Life” only gave me the slightest niggle, that I should be up and jumping with the devoted. “Kevin Carter”, “Enola Alone” and “Everything Must Go” all sailed by sounding as clear and fresh as when I first heard them live 19½ years ago. The stalls crews to either side of the stage were up and jigging, but us lot behind the mixing desk remained rigidly seated.’

It soon became clear that urgent action was required if I didn’t want to find myself plonked down in my seat for the whole evening.

So during “Small Black Flowers” (gorgeous, of course) I decided that if I danced to only one song it would be “The Girl Who Wanted To Be God”. So I jumped up as that song began and bounced my way through it. Then I thought, why the hell would I sit down now? And stayed up for the rest of the set. You know, maybe it was because the people to either side of me were like seated statues that I felt more and more compelled to leap and shout and point. I may not be as one with the dtf crew any more, but I sure as hell am not one of the lifeless, politely clapping herd either.’

(For the uninitiated, when I write ‘dtf’ in my diary I meant ‘down the front’, not the other thing.)

The album continued, sparking many sensations of travelling back in time.

‘“Removables” was surprisingly funky and there was a strange joy in singing “killed god blood soiled unclean again!” Then it was “Australia!, oh yeah back then it was my least fave Manics single, all plodding and trad, but last night all I could think was, this was the first MSP song I ever witnessed live, 19½ years ago, in my first fortnight in London, and it was AMAZING. I grooved to the jerky weirdness of “Interiors” and even “Further Away” was bloody great. Last of this set was of course “No Surface All Feeling” and even the statues stood up and had a shout and a point. If anything made me feel it was ‘96/’97 again, it was the Manics closing their main set with this song. Confetti exploded over the standing crew, JDB said “see you in five minutes” and I did not so much nip as sprint to the loo as my wine had taken hold by this point.’

I got back to my seat as quickly as possible, where the time warp continued. ‘Now they were playing the Stealth Sonic ADFL, with the screens now saying “However vast the darkness we must supply our own light”. I stayed standing for that, but when JDB roamed back on stage and strummed through acoustic versions of “Suicide Is Painless” and “Ocean Spray” I felt it was justified to sit back down for a bit. ‘

However, this respite did not last long.

But not even the statues could be unmoved by what came next. “Motorcycle Emptiness”! Good lord, it was like a rocket taking off in my soul, jumping and pointing and shouting “sorrow! sorrow! sorrow!” Truly, when they play that song, only the merest whisper of seconds separates me now, from my ’97 self, at that same venue, shouting along to this song.

And from this point on there was no sitting down again for me.

‘“Walk Me To The Bridge” restored me to lone boogier and I was quite happy with that as it gave me more space to leap and point, Even the infernal “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough” was triumphant and brill. Then it was “Natwest Barclays Midlands Lloyds” and I impressed myself by remembering all the words and felt an intense need for a GT anniversary gig. (2022, boys?) (or no! 2017 for 25 years, yes!)

We may not have made it in 2017, but there’s still 2022 for a GT anniversary gig. How about it, boys?

‘“You Stole The Sun From My Heart” was a complete rush and thrill, and to follow it with “Roses In The Hospital” was genius, two epic, rousing chants, “I love you all the same!” followed by “we don’t want your fucking love!” and not forgetting “forever ever delayed!” The statues stood for “Sun” but sat again for “Roses”, I guess the pre-EMG stuff is just a bit too tricky for some, but it was odd, ‘cos back in the day “Roses” would have been a surefire crowd pleaser.’

The end was now near, even though we had do get through some of my less favourite tunes first.

‘Well I bopped dutifully through “Show Me The Wonder” and the new cover “Feels Like Heaven” and then it’s the home stretch. Of all the classics, “You Love Us” was the only one which really didn’t work from such a distance, but I leapt and shouted nonetheless. Finally “Tolerate” was of course a huge epic singalong, and the mixing desk exploded with confetti during the last chorus and it was wonderful, reaching out into the confetti snow, hollering along with the “oh oh ah ah ah ah”s at the end.’

I’d just witnessed the most stunning Manics gig of my life since at least 2007. There was, of course, only one thing for it: merch frenzy! Even if a slightly more restrained one than in previous years.

‘I roamed back to the merch stall on my way out, to see if they’d stocked any mugs, ‘cos I thought a mug would be a fitting memento, of course. There were no mugs, so I bought a scarf! ‘Cos I don’t have an MSP scarf and you can never have too many scarves, can you?’

Well, not unless you are currently inhabiting Heat Wave Britain. Given the 31 degrees forecast for today, I hope you’ll forgive me for not modelling the scarf – I’ll let my sofa do the honours:

Despite feeling a bit creaky in my hips and feet as I made my way home afterward, I was in an amazing mood.

‘I’ve just been to a Manics gig as great as any I went to in the 90s. More than that, I felt a love and a connection with the band on stage that I haven’t felt for a long long time – perhaps not since their Dec ’07 show at Brixton. Yeah, I may not have been restored to my 22 year old self’s frothing rabidity of obsession, but why should I be? I’m not 22, I’m 41, I’ve had this band in my life for 23 years, and I put the rigid 30-somethings around me to shame.’

After a decade of not really being sure how much I loved the Manics anymore, this was the point where they were fully reinstated to their rightful position as my favourite band in the world. It was my 30th gig from them, and if all goes to plan, 2021 will see me witnessing my 40th Manics gig (depending upon the whims of the Pandemic Gods, of course). I may have missed out on so much during the years I didn’t really give a damn about the band, but then again, what would have been the point of forcing myself out to Manics gigs when all I felt towards them was apathy? And looking back on this night at the Royal Albert Hall from five years on, it feels wonderfully fitting that the concert that properly returned me to my Manics fandom is the one that revisited the era in which I first saw them live, nearly 25 years ago. So here’s to my next 25 years of Manics gigs.

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