February 8th 2020. The last time I saw a live show. I didn’t know it at the time but it would be 19 months until I would be in a music venue surrounded by thousands of people again. And I’d have cause to be slightly nervous about it.
One pandemic later I’m buying tickets for Courteeners at Manchester’s cricket ground just so I can finally go to a gig. Sorry, I cant be bothered to remember what it’s called these days. Mostly because I’m not at all impressed with the venue. Fifty five quid a ticket to be herded in and served a choice of Fosters or Strongbow… What?! The toilet situation is basically a tiny village of porta-loos, absolutely decimated by the bucket hatted men that clearly cannot hold their booze at 4 in the afternoon.
I arrived in time to see Blossoms, a band I’ve grown to love over the last couple of years. Their songs burrow into your brain and will not be forgotten. Absolutely joyful to watch live, I savour my £6.00 strongbow (seriously) and enjoy every song of their set. The sun is shining as they play and it’s fitting. I feel happy watching them; their songs are so familiar and comforting – I don’t want their set to finish!
As dusk descends it’s time for Johnny Marr to play. As the man responsible for my musical awakening I am incredulous at the notion that I am about to see him live. And with my twin sister, Claire who experienced the same awakening with me. We look at each other in awe as he kicks off with The Smiths classic, ‘Panic’. And the excitement grows when he plays ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, ‘Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’ and ‘This Charming Man’.
‘Easy Money’, ‘Hi Hello’ and new single ‘Spirit, Power and Soul’, while not as well received by the majority, are a welcome addition to a well rounded set. Closing with Smiths classic ‘There is A Light That Never Goes Out’ provides a spine tingling climax to a fantastic set. I’m not shy about describing Johnny Marr as one of my heroes and I am vindicated in this moment. He’s sincere, inspirational and very cool.
Unfortunately we have to wait a good half hour before Courteeners come on. In that time we witness the most cretinous behaviour. From dodging piles of sick to avoiding hammered and drugged up creeps, we are starting to wish the whole thing was over so we could leave. “Are you on an E?” is our catchphrase of the night.
It seems like 80% of the crowd are mentally somewhere else by the time Courteeners open with ‘Are You in Love With A Notion?’ And I really wish they actually were so I could just enjoy the band.
Having been approached by a man who wanted “a sip” of Claire’s water (and was genuinely astounded by our reaction) And a couple of knobs who wanted to have a chat during the set I’d paid good money to see, we attempted to enjoy the Courteeners set.
‘Cavorting’, ‘Fallowfield Hillbilly’, ‘Acrylic’ and ‘Smiths Disco’ are personal highlights and there’s no denying the songwriting talent here. It’s been so long that I almost forgot how it feels to be at a gig where the music is loud enough to drown everything else out. In those moments I remember what I love about live music.
Unfortunately, tonight we have been told to “smile” (and heard several other women being told the same), been subject to many unprovoked, unwelcome conversations and when asked to be left alone asked “I bet you don’t even know who Johnny Marr is, do you?”
It’s 2021, the bands have been fantastic. However, it’s still apparent that women cannot feel comfortable watching live music. We have to have our wits about us. Be on our guard. We have to be aware of our surroundings and are expected to prove our credentials even to drugged up, fucked up, goggled-eyed pricks that somehow assume superiority. I wish more bands would speak out against this kind of behaviour and encourage their fans to respect and look after each other. We have every right to enjoy and FEEL SAFE at a show. But we don’t. And that’s the sad truth and the overriding takeaway from tonight.