I look to the future it makes me cry / but it seems too real to tell you why

I had never felt so underwhelmed going to a gig before and especially not for a show by one of my favourite bands.  Going alone is only part of the problem.   The knowledge I will not be home before half one on a school night taints the event before I’ve even got there.

Much as I love the Manics they are rarely a band of surprises.  They play the hits and have always been honest about that. The Internet means that set lists offer the confirmation that the much promised ‘rareties’ are just largely album tracks they rarely play rather than the much loved b-sides they are known and loved for.

Expectations were already low and then I made the tactical error of checking the Royal Albert Hall to see what my seats were curious as why no one was even interested in the relatively cheap ticket for a show where standing tickets were £65.

The cheapness of the ticket should have been the clue. It reflects the fact that it will be in the most nose bleediest of the nose bleed standing area with no guarantee there will be even an approximation of a view of the band.

The last desperate emails, Facebook posts, Twitter appeals have all fallen on deaf ears.  I will be going alone and I will see nothing.

As I sit at work I start to seriously consider cutting my losses and going home.

Meanwhile in 1996

It shouldn’t be like this. Everything Must Go was my first CD. I remember hearing Design for Life on the Evening Session (in the days when I obsessively listened to radio) and knowing that this was a band I needed to hear more of. I listened to the stories of Richey and the band they were before and knew this was something special. A band that prided itself on being political, different and intelligent. I heard their live festival shows and the sound of songs like La Tristesse Durera and knew this was my band.

I quickly hoovered up the previous albums, sought out the b-sides from friends, immersed myself in the interviews, read everything I could about their history and learned to play guitar so I could play the songs and maybe be in a band of my own.

I listened to the album as others may read a book with undivided attention, scribbling notes about the lyrics and the music. I studied the lyrics, unpicking the guitar parts and chasing the quotes and references to find their sources. Each subsequent album I would be at the shop on the day to get a copy.

It was an education, inspiration and consolation all wrapped up in a package of amazing music and guitars, oh man, the guitars. It was my gateway drug to metal, post punk and beyond as I worked backwards from their songs to the band that had in turn inspired them.

My first London gig was to see them play the Royal Albert Hall in 1997. The Boo Radleys supported them, we had vertigo inducing seats and it was brilliant. I watched the top of the bands heads as they launched around the stage full of sound and fury signifying everything.

All we make is entertainment

Fast forward to 2015 and the announcement we thought would never come. The band would perform The Holy Bible in full. I got my golden ticket (tickets sold out in minutes) and listened to the album (both US and UK mixes) and the b-sides, blew the dust from my guitar and tried to see how many riffs I could remember.

The show was as close to a religious experience as an agnostic can get. The crowd were there because they wanted to be. They knew what they were getting after all they had been clamouring for it for years. Every playful heckle of “Archives of Pain” at the enormodome venues slowly chipping away at the bands insistence this would never happen.

The crowd knew all the words, immersed themselves in the references decked out in the band uniform of the era. This was not an experience to be taken lightly. It was special and not to be taken for granted.

The songs were physically and emotionally demanding for the band playing them. Playing as a 3 piece with no back up just raw sound. Songs where the pre chorus is an unbroken stream of words for 40 seconds all the while having to play intricate guitar parts. That’s before considering the subject matter of the very darkest extremes.

After the dust had settled they returned on stage for the much promised b-sides and rareties and it lived up to its billing. Among the obligatory classics they played new album tracks and true classics.  The new songs sound great in the absence of a full album tour.

It was all so incredible so when the 20th anniversary shows for Everything Must Go were announced I set a reminder and made sure I got two tickets.  Then…I forgot about it.

7:25pm – 16 May 2016

Greeted at the door:

“I’m not going to lie to you.  These are crap seats.  The worst.”

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“I know…”

“So we’re offering a free upgrade to seated if you want it”.

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Yes, yes I do.

In my lovely new seat three rows from the front I see the shadowy spectres of those standing where I should be.

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I feel the merest flicker of guilt as I consider my new seat..

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Any residual guilt is blown away by the wall of sound emerging from the stage as The Editors play their Coldplay plays Joy Division / New Order tribute act. To give them their due they work hard to rouse a typically apathetic London crowd from its torpor.

London crowds really are the worst. I scan the room for signs of the party faithful, the glitter, feather boas and homemade slogan t-shirts and come up blank. People clutch their overpriced beakers of beer as if their lives depend upon it and tap their feet politely.  That’s the best of them.

The others are the type of people I hated at the Silent Hill live show.  The type to spend a small fortune to get tickets to a show they know nothing about (“I watched the film.  I’ve never even played the games.   I didn’t recognise any of the songs”) and spend the whole time walking back and forth to the bar.  They are joined by people who left after the support act and those that left after 2 songs.

Finally we get the main attraction. The sound of the sea washes into the hall and a roar goes up as James Dean Bradfield steps on to the stage for a shattering Elvis Impersonator with just his incredible voice and jangling guitar before the full band crash in.

The first half races by. His voice as ever sounds amazing. The opening of Elvis is far more chilling than the album. Design for Life feels odd not being a set closer (although some choose to leave after its played, either they are confused or they genuinely can afford to pay £65 for two songs).

Kevin Carter sounds huge. The videos behind show the clips from the music videos stripped of the band miming giving the song the menace it deserves before giving way to Enola / Alone’s plaintive cry that ripples through me pulling me back to 1997.

I take a picture of you / to remember how good you looked / like memory it has disappeared / naked, alone and in my fears

The title track and mission statement of Everything Must Go takes me back to the days when I tormented guitar shop staff with my ham fisted renditions of this song.

James desperately tries to get a reaction from the crowd, gets some minor fire going…just in time for the slow, delicate and haunting Small Black Flowers.

Removables spiky Nirvana, leads on to the euphoria of Australia to the bubbling bass and jabs of Interiors straight to the not a love song Further Away to the Smashing Pumpkins arpeggios of No Surface, All Feeling where the line “no, not blood, just liquid from you” flashes me back to that hospital room but I catch myself.

A brief intermission and mass exodus for the bar before the next half opens with an acoustic Suicide is Painless and a surprise outing for Ocean Spray.

It takes Motorcycle Emptiness to get people in the seats to stand. This song was playing on the way to a family outing to a boot sale and it was only then as I sang along to the cubs I realised how completely odd the lyrics were for a Top 40 hit.

The tension and release of Walk Me to the Bridge is the only song from Futurology to make the cut. You Stole the Sun appears as it always does and gets people bouncing. A beautiful Your Love Alone keeps up the pace and urgency, its cheerful call and response vocals hiding a darker lyricism.

Natwest sounds surprisingly good live. Nicky Wire’s vindication about being right about the banks all along only slightly undercut by the knowledge the song was inspired by being turned down for a loan rather than an awakening about capitalism’s inherent flaws.

Roses in the Hospital sounds incredible. The chorus guitar sliding through this Sound and Vision homage until it explodes into a melodic solo.

The ugly duckling of Rewind the Film and self-proclaimed wedding reception song of Show Me the Wonder is a surprise joy.

By the time we get to the final song I’ve been standing, singing and cheering for nearly an hour all prior doubts forgotten.

I just hope that you can forgive us…

Of course I can.  After all the music, the lyrics, the politics, the passion and all the support and inspiration they have given to me over the years, how could I not?

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