Wednesday, 24 May 2017

For the love of music

I can't recall the exact date of my first gig, but I know that it was at Wembley Arena at some point in 1987. My friend Nicki took us in a TR7 that her stepdad had built and given to her - he was an engineer for British Airways and it was his pet project. She drove us to the arena and parked in the massive car park and we went in to watch the Eurythmics I think. I hadn't been to a live music gig before and it was so exciting for me. The opening solo cello and the immaculate vocals of Annie Lennox were just magical and I was walking on air when we left in the cold night air to walk to the car. We sat in the car park for well over an hour queuing to get out and listened to the radio and sang along while we waited to leave. Neither of us had a mobile phone to call home and tell our parents we would be late and we must have been quite late as the curfew in those days was pretty close to 11pm.

My parents were not relaxed about me going out at all so even being able to go to a gig was a big deal to me. It was only because my friend was going - and driving us - that my mum even agreed. I doubt she even told my dad I had gone - he would have flipped if he'd known ! There was no security check other than to check you didn't have any canned drinks with you - good old Wembley always looking to sell you an overpriced drink and snack. This was in the days before everyone carried bottled water and no one had camera phones so actual cameras would be confiscated at the door to prevent piracy. Ironic when you consider the number of fake t-shirt sellers right outside the doors.

Every holiday at uni I worked as a steward at Wembley. I was on the turnstiles for a Michael Jackson show that never happened, showed people to their seats for Bruce Springsteen, stood on the pitch at the end of the match for the Charity Shield. I ran away from stampeding people when the crowd at a Bollywood spectacular went rogue and stormed the pitch at the stadium. This was far more worrying than the elephant that had earlier taken a tour of the stadium carrying a Bollywood film star on its back.

My regular job was showing people to their seats at Wembley Arena. Cliff Richard fans are far more bolshie than any other audience in my experience. I have no idea why. I fell in love with Prince when I watched him perform on stage at the Arena and I bought a knock off t-shirt after a Simple Minds gig  because - frankly - I wasn't going to pay the price they charged inside the venue. My mum used to pick me up from Wembley because she didn't want me to take the bus on my own late at night. She would park on a side road we had agreed before I left for work and I would always get there in time. We still didn't have mobile phones remember. If anything happened or I was delayed I had no way of letting my family know - unless I went to a phone box and had change to make the call.

On Monday night there were young people going to their first ever gig in a massive venue. Before they went inside the venue they will have had their bags searched for items such as drinks bottles, anything that could be used to record the event (other than mobile phones of course - we all have those now) and sharp objects. The tickets will have had anti-fraud markings on and there will have been professional security firms hired to work at the venue.

As many Ariana Grande fans are so young they will have gone to the show with their parents. They went to see a singer they love and they had a fantastic time. Then a terrible, horrific thing happened. People were killed. Children were killed. Families were separated. Local taxi drivers took children and their families home or to safe places to stay until they could find each other. Local hotels took them in and no one took a penny in return. Mobile phone footage of the terrifying scenes were online almost immediately and the next morning people went to donate blood to help the victims who had survived the bomb blast.

This is the memory that some children and young people will have of their first gig. This generation of kids who go to festivals with their parents. Who listen to music and download online rather than tuning in to the chart show on a Sunday evening while holding the pause button between tracks on a cassette player. These kids who went to watch a young woman who is a feminist and a campaigner for LGBT equality. Who was said to be 'broken' by what happened to her fans on Monday night.

It's not a memory I would wish on anyone.

A fund has been set up to support families who have been affected - you can doante here:

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