Bob Dylan, Professional Mumbler.

The sky opened and started pouring sheets of rain over London as we hurried towards Albert Hall to see Bob Dylan.  We were running a little late, and not being terribly familiar with that part of London, we had a bit of trouble finding where we were going. Was this a sign from the Weather Gods that we shouldn’t be doing this?

We arrived drenched and I spent the first half of the show shaking with cold because the temperature inside the Royal Albert Hall was not warm enough to dry off from the October rain.

Bob Dylan Albert Hall rain London 2015
Two drowned rats at a silly angle: This was after we arrived at Albert Hall and my Dearest had a sausage roll. Sorry about the blacking out but he works in a job where he might get into trouble if he gets found on the internet.

Before we go any further, I need to make it quite clear – I have no idea what 80% of the songs were that Bob Dylan sang that night. It didn’t really make a difference. The guy’s a genius. Do you know any other musical artist who can professionally mumble for 2 hours in the Albert Hall, London, and get a standing ovation? No profanities, no “I’m so pleased to be here” no “without you there’d be no us” it was just a man with a sparkly suit (a beautiful ensemble in black with a lovely teal embroidery-and-sequins accent, that was co-ordinated with the rest of the band wearing the same in the opposite colors, I really loved the outfits) doing whatever the damn hell he pleased on stage.  There were a couple of songs I recognized from his latest album – Shadows In The Night – a re-imagining of sorts of some Frank Sinatra classics.  Aside from that, I recognized Blowin’ In The Wind.  The rest was a mystery.

I got the distinct impression that he did this tour out of a sense of humor – he was entertaining himself rather than the crowd, he didn’t feel he owed the audience a single thing. You had to admire his audacity. The amount of time and effort that went into putting this show together, and the music was great. It didn’t really matter that we couldn’t understand what he was saying – consider Enya, for a moment. She invented her own language to make her songs’ vocals sound more lyrical and fluid. She doesn’t perform live tours, of course, because her whole act is so post-processed that it wouldn’t be do-able as a live act. Bob Dylan seems to have taken the concept of music and once again turned it on its head. Do the audience need to be able to discern the lyrics? Are discernible lyrics part of what it takes to make a legendary show? Apparently not.
A thoroughly good time was had by all.

His re-interpretation of Blowin’ In The Wind was phenomenal. But then, it should be – he wrote the original.

One thing I didn’t like from my vantage point, sat behind the stage, two rows from the musicians, was the amount of people who flouted the no flash photography rule. If there hadn’t been a rule, I probably wouldn’t have cared, I dunno. But because of where I sat, it meant there were dozens of people getting photos and I couldn’t get any. Right at the very end of the show, when the band and Bob Dylan took a bow, I got my phone out and caught a couple of quick snaps, but they’ve mysteriously disappeared from my computer.  Maybe the reason he didn’t want any photography is because he’s secretly a vampire and doesn’t show up in cameras or mirrors?????  Or maybe the idiots who left their flash turned on just bugged the hell out of him.
I felt like the night was complete, since I’d also acquired two patches for my battle vest.

Bob Dylan concert London 2015 Royal Albert Hall
Bob Dylan concert London 2015 Royal Albert Hall

I feel incredibly privileged to have seen Bob Dylan (especially with the harmonica) and I don’t think I regret going in any way at all, but I think it’s not for everyone and you have to go in knowing that he probably isn’t going to spend 2 hours singing catchy tunes.

This review of Bob Dylan’s concert is quite short, so I thought I’d ask my Dearest to weigh in with his perspective on the Bob Dylan concert, since he was there too.

DH Says: “Bob Dylan was using his voice like a musical instrument, not like a voice.  It was interesting being behind the stage because you could see all the stuff that was going on that the audience don’t normally see, such as that the whole band used ipads with all the scores, you could see the technical adjustments on the sound set, and exactly how the drummer was playing, that I really liked. It turned it into a very sit-back-and-listen, rather than sing along. Was it because Bob Dylan maybe didn’t like people singing along? I suppose you have to ask, would the same effect have been done if he’d just played an instrument such as the piano or guitar rather than singing. He was using his voice as a musical instrument, I think, rather than a voice. To some extent it worked. Do you think if you had expected the Bob Dylan gig to be like that, then you would have felt differently? I knew the concert was likely to be like that, Bob Dylan’s known for mumbling, so I don’t think that’s the case. But I think part of that is not knowing anything, so you can’t sing along, different music, unintelligible lyrics… I don’t think the Bob Dylan concert was ever going to be an outstanding night, but neither was it a disappointment – unlike Megadeth. I think it comes down to: Do I think its a shame I wasn’t doing something else that evening? Certainly not.”

So there you have it.  We both had a great time seeing Bob Dylan in concert but I think his act can possibly be classified as avant-garde; don’t go if you’re expecting to hear Subterranean Homesick Blues.  Another one for me to tick off my Official Bands Bucket List – the list of bands and musical acts that I need to see before they kick the bucket.

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Battle Vest

In particular musical subcultures, especially heavy metal, thrash and death metal, the concept of the battle vest is well established, and you will see many 30-40 something men, usually bald and walking around built like a tank, sporting a battle vest at particular concerts and festivals. In the course of trying to work through my Bands Bucket List, I’ve seen quite a few. I’ve even got one of my very own.

I would go so far as to say, you can tell how metal a festival or concert is by the number of people wearing battle vests (and motorcycle club attire).  I was the only one at Bob Dylan (but there was a guy with a mohican a few rows away).

What is a battle vest?

It’s a jacket, usually made of denim or sometimes leather, often with no sleeves (particularly in colder climes such as Nothern Europe, where slevelessness is metalness), which has patches affixed to it.

I feel very strongly about the procurement of patches.  The patches in question are not just a collection bought on the internet declaring which bands I like (well, it can be, but that’s for amateurs, and if you’re 18 and have emblazoned your jacket with a Pink Floyd patch, you’re clearly just making a kindergarten collage out of a perfectly good piece of clothing), they’re all representative of the bands I’ve actually seen.  Hence “battle vest” because it’s a chronicling, in embroidered patch, of the battles I’ve survived, the moshpits I’ve been crushed in, the number of times I got trampled by enormous 30 something bald men or had to sleep in a tent that should have been marketed as a child’s swimming pool.  Sounds like hell?

That’s metal.  And there’s nothing like it.  The battle vest is a modern day Bayeaux Tapestry, and you just can’t buy them (well, you probably can, but that would defeat the point of the journey).  Every single one is different, and those patches will stand up to a lot of damage before they need replacing.

The denim ones are usually faded blue or white (bleached) thick denim – the thick denim is integral because the battle vest will need to withstand wind, rain, spillages, moshing, the occasional vomit, and all the steps taken to purge the remains of the aforementioned.  A deep blue cottony shirt that’s been done to look like denim (or girlyfied, as I call it, because you rarely see this crap being foisted on men) is not going to cut it.  I bought my base jacket from ASOS.com and have added the patches as I’ve seen the bands on my bands bucket list.

On the leather ones, more and more people sew patches these days.  It used to be the case that people would paint an album cover and band logos on their leather jackets, but for some reason (probably skill shortages) that’s gone out of favour in exchange for sewing patches.  Or perhaps gluing them.

The glue-on patches are a bit annoying, to me – I try and press them on my jacket but they invariably go brittle and start coming away, so I end up sewing them down anyway.  What’s the point of the glue, apart from to stain my jacket with the residue??

I have also seen people add badges and rhinestones, and this can work really well, but it can also look dreadful.  If you want to look like a school kid from the ’80s, then go ahead and make a badge-only battle vest.  But please don’t make a scene when the old-skool cause-ists (you know, activists, feminists, environmentalists, etc) in their woolen attire and sandals turn up and absorb you as one of their own and carry you away leaving the vague scent of cabbage in their wake.

I like sandals.  But not at a concert or metal fest.  I’d hate to lose a toe.  I also know quite a few environmentalists – although, as with anyone who has a “cause” they tend to over-exaggerate their spiel to a point where no normal person can take it as seriously as the environmentalists would like, because otherwise we’d have to drink our own urine and only eat from dumpsters.  It’s a shame.  I’d like the environment to still be here in 100 years, and I separate my recycling like a compliant citizen, but you’d never find me handing out leaflets (the irony) or harassing people about it.  I also like animals.

One of the big problems with putting a battlevest together has been that some of the bands I’ve been to see didn’t actually have patches.  In some cases (Alice Cooper, below slash in the second picture), I got around it such as buying a fabric “wristband” for Alice Cooper and sewing it on.  It won’t last as long but ain’t nothing ever permanent.  In other cases, such as Billy Idol and Steeleye Span, there’s just no patch available, so they are notably absent from the thing.  In the case of Steeleye Span, I bought a t-shirt.  In the case of Billy Idol, I did not.  I think some bands think they will make more money off you if they don’t sell a patch in their official merch, but the amount of bands I’ve seen this year, I’d need a whole new cupboard to put t-shirts in if I’d bought one for each of them.  It would have added £15 to £25 to the cost of every concert, and that would have severely reduced the number of bands I could have seen overall.

Given the nature of my quest, to see as many of the bands on my Bands Bucket List before they kick the bucket, for me the battle vest was the only solution.  I guess that’s one of the things about it; the battle vest is called a kutte in German because it’s a word play – a kutte is the name for the vestment a monk would have worn, when they had such things as mainstream religion in Germany.  In a way, committing to seeing through my Bands Bucket List seems like a calling – a purely self-indulgent one, but still something that seems to at times touch upon the transcendent and help me make sense of the world around me and my place in it.  It might not be a religious calling, but there’s certainly a spiritual aspect about it.  I can’t explain it, except that I get into a trancelike state when the universe just becomes clear… or irrelevant.  Either way, this whole task has given my life meaning again which I was distinctly lacking before I made a more-than-half-assed commitment to do this.

So what makes a really great looking battle vest?  Well, one thing to bear in mind is (if you’re doing it right) it’s a work in progress, not a destination to race to, and it’s going to be “in progress” for quite a while before it’s completed.  That usually means wearing it while it’s unfinished.  Like how you have to be on the train before you arrive at your destination.  Enjoy the process; if you never see yourself getting tired of bands of the sort who release patches, if you really love metal, I suggest you make your train seat cosy, because your jacket vest may never reach completion – and that’s a good thing!  I’m looking forward (if money permits) to going to Bloodstock in 2016 and seeing some awesome thrash/death metal bands.

The rear of my battlevest.
The rear of my battlevest.
The front of my battle vest.   As you can see from the pictures, I currently only have 14 patches.
The front of my battle vest. As you can see from the pictures, I currently only have 14 patches.

Also I’m adding Children Of Bodom and Asphyx and Murderdolls to my bands bucket list and will update it accordingly.  Children of Bodom are supporting Lamb of God who are supporting Megadeth on Thursday (and it’s going to be awesome).  Listen to them here:

Asphyx just sound excellent on Youtube (I saw their patch on someone else’s battle vest… see how this works now Billy Idol???), give them a listen, I really want to see them live now:

And this is the reason Murderdolls have made it onto the list.  It’s probably old but I only got round to listening to them for the first time today and this was the first thing I picked, it’s the best. Cover. Ever (miles better than Tainted Love):

My Official Bands Bucket List

So I keep referring to my bands bucket list when I write about things I’ve been up to.  Today I wanted to go back and explain what it is.

You are probably aware that a bucket list is usually something written by people of all ages to ensure that they get to do all the things they’ve dreamed of doing in life – all the things they want to do before they “kick the bucket,” to coin a term.

In my case, that would be my ever-dwindling 30-list and my currently being written 40-list, which are the things I want to do before I reach age 30 and age 40, respectively.  It would probably not surprise you, then, to know that, when I was eighteen, I started this whole thing by writing a 20-list, a set of things I wanted to do before I turned 20.

The Bands Bucket List is very separate.  My age-lists are really more a set of things I feel would be achievements, accomplishments, or that I have some control over.  Things you can get with work and dedication.  They are lists of things that are within my power to make happen, however unique the circumstances would need to be for the achievement to be made.

The reason I don’t include bands on my 30-list and 40-list is because anyone can buy a ticket and travel to a gig.  Yes, some bands only tour in their homeland of Japan or The Faroe Islands, but by and large, live music is a capitalist, class dependent commodity (ooh er) that anyone with time and money can engage in.  For that reason I don’t think it’s an achievement to see The Who or Lynyrd Skynyrd, in the same sense that it would be an achievement to climb a mountain or get a master’s degree.  It would certainly be an achievement to play in a band, an honour that I have never been privy to (flutes tend to get stuck with orchestras rather than popular music bands, and ukuleles are the sonorous pariah unwanted in most ensembles), but seeing a band?  I am responsible for quality control of my lists and I decided it would cheapen the accomplishment of a PhD or climbing Everest to liken them with going to Download Festival (sorry, Download, it’s not that I don’t think your wonderful, but you are very easy).

I did need to keep track of a large set of data though, to make it possible to organize, and as I was spending more and more time on the internet typing different band names into Google, I thought I needed a spreadsheet.  I do love a good spreadsheet.

So I wrote them all down in alphabetical order, every band I could think of who, if their members died in a plane crash and they ceased to exist, I would feel like I’d missed out if I had neglected to attend them.  I know I won’t see all of them, but I wanted to make a concerted effort to see as many as I could while I could.

The list doesn’t distinguish between bands who have been apart for 30 years and those who are still coherent, it does separate out individual artists who are known to currently have a solo career and also link them to the band they used to be in (so, for example, the entry for David Gilmour states “Dave Gilmour/Pink Floyd” and Roger Waters’ entry is “Roger Waters/Pink Floyd”) ensuring that the musical genius that spawned the bands are placed to be seen even when they can’t be in the same room as one another.  Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are another example, where their entries are “Jimmy Page/Led Zeppelin” and “Robert Plant/Led Zeppelin” respectively.  Either entry can be ticked off once the required people have been seen, so if I’d seen Jimmy Page, it would then be at my discretion whether I decided the performance was sufficient to tick off Led Zeppelin, or whether I also wanted to see Robert Plant first.  I have ticked Guns n Roses off because I’ve seen Slash, and his performance with Myles Kennedy would be sufficient to tick off Guns n Roses (although GnR weren’t on my list) even though I haven’t seen Axl Rose and the band he’s put together when he kept the name Guns N Roses.

This list, and the ticking off part especially, has raised two very interesting dilemmas facing the modern music fan of older bands:  To what extent does the name of the band matter if none of the original members survive, and what actually counts as having seen a band?

The naming question is difficult.  So for example, there’s only one founder member of Lynyrd Skynyrd left in the band, but when I went to see them you could tell straight away that it didn’t matter.  Trying to define a band as who they were when they first signed on the dotted line of that fateful first record deal in the 1960s is a constrained and counterproductive way of going about things.  Take Pink Floyd again – guitarist Dave Gilmour wasn’t even in the original line-up, but for many people, he IS Pink Floyd, moreso than any other member.  Likewise, I need to be cautious about letting too many things be defined as the correct band.  It gets to a point where the only member of a band worth seeing is the drummer, and unless it’s Ringo Starr or Keith Moon, you might as well go and see a tribute band and tick off the real thing.  It’s false.  So somewhere between these two polarized opinions lies the way forward.

With The Who it was easy – the lead singer/guitarist and the lead guitarist are both still knocking around, the drummer is Ringo Starr’s son, and the bassist is an excellent session musician.  Hearing them play, you can tell they’re the real deal not some tribute band which have learned their songs meticulously to the letter and never deviate from the script.  They had the spark of Who-ness that made them Who-lesome.  I make no apologies for the wordplay.  Not all wordplay is a pun.

With Guns N Roses it would have been harder, since Axl kept the band name but is the only remaining member.  Seeing Slash play was such a jaw-droppingly stirring experience that I decided there was no way any replacement guitarist could ever possibly outdo him, unless Axl had hired Hendrix or Jimmy Page (which he hasn’t, which is a good job because Hendrix is dead and in either case, they’d want to play like themselves so you’d not get the same result).  It’s all a matter of style and substance.  Tribute bands and lesser replacement musicians can copy the style but have no substance.  Replacement musicians who are greater than the original will have substance but a differing style.  It takes a rare genius to walk the line between these two and still come out on top.  So I ticked off Guns N Roses.

The second dilemma is also one that I could spend years obsessing over if I wanted to:  How much of a band counts as “having seen” a band.  Here are my criteria:

1. It has to be live.

2. I had to be close enough to see and hear the band, not just watch the video screen, because that defeats the point.

3. I have to have heard the actual band play at least one full song.

4. Televised appearances are lovely, but there is so much loss of quality and atmosphere that they can’t possibly count, and the same goes for Youtube and other ways of seeing them.  For example, I watched the Pink Floyd Live 8 performance live on the BBC as it happened less than 20 miles from where I was sat (2 days after my mother had tried to kill me resulting in my being removed and never returning home, and 5 days before the 7/7 bombings), but it doesn’t count as having seen them, even though it had a profound and evelasting impact on the course of my life after that moment and probably stopped me killing myself.  That bit where they played “Wish You Were Here” and dedicated it to Syd had me in tears.

5. It doesn’t matter what they play:  If I wanted to hear a specific song I could buy and listen to the proper recording studio version.  That’s not what I’m looking for in my quest to see these bands.

Then there’s the single criterion for removal from the list:  If there are no living members of a band or if a solo artist dies, they are taken off the list.  Here is the list so far, there are currently 60 entries, and things are always being added:

Click to enlarge, again to zoom.
Click to enlarge, again to zoom.

For planning purposes, only the bands in white/orange matter:  The ones in pale grey are supposed to be ones who are just not touring at all, so they’re discounted from planning purposes (but breakups/reunions etc are so fickle that I don’t exclude reunion tours until the last member has kicked the bucket).  The ones in dark grey are ones I’ve now seen.  The ones in lime green are currently not attainable due to either dates, cost, or some other factor of sheer preposterous awkwardness that makes them unachievable such as announcing on the day of sale, selling out in 10 minutes and placing ridiculous resale criteria on the tickets, that only means that WHEN the tickets are resold, they’re triple the price they would have been so the resellers make even more money.  The ones in lime green are generally ones I’ve written off for this year.

So that’s my bands bucket list.  What do you think?  Who would be on yours?

Bob Dylan, Dave Gilmour and Apocalyptica

It’s been an exciting 8 hours, and I have learned that Bob Dylan and Dave Gilmour are both touring in the UK this year (we’re definitely in 2015, right??).

So my favourite favourite band of all time is Pink Floyd. If I got stuck with one band on a Desert Island, they’d be it. If I could build a time machine, I’d go back and see Syd play “See Emily Play” along with my other favourites from their first couple of years as a band. They’re number 1 on my bands bucket list: The bands I need to see before they kick the bucket
So I regularly check the listings to see whether Roger Waters or Dave Gilmour are doing tours in 2015.

I was, in fact, checking them today, when I was crashingly disappointed to find out that Dave Gilmour’s first tour in years sold out within an hour of being announced on 6th March.  All the dates are in October.  I must have last checked hours before that got announced!  I would have known this in April if my dad hadn’t died as I was totally caught up with that until now.  To top it off, Dave (or his management, because it’s not a standard ticket condition) has insisted that to prevent ticket resale, the person who booked the tickets MUST be present with photo ID on the day of the event! So people can’t buy tickets as birthday presents, and if you’re in a group and the person who booked them is sick and can’t go, you’re going to get turned away at the door! If your circumstances change or you have a bereavement? Your tickets are non-refundable, voided and non-resaleable. This seems unreasonable conditions to impose on people who are paying to see someone perform. So no hope of last minute re-sales. I don’t think disappointed covers it. I thought I was going to start spiralling down into the blackness of depressionland again (and I’m not due for at LEAST another month or so), I mean, literally, I would have sold my car to go to this concert if that was a way to make it happen.  Or blown my meager inheritance.  I know my dad would have implicitly approved; Pink Floyd were his favourite as well, along with the venerable Bob Dylan, The Who and Jimi Hendrix.

I checked Roger Waters (because they often used to plan dates to clash with each other, back when they had a bit of a feud), and all his dates were in America (I might go to America to see him at some point). So I went to look at the Royal Albert Hall’s tickets page in case there were still some left at the venue and the “sold out” thing might have been a mistake.
No they were sold out of Dave Gilmour on all ten dates.

But they did have a scrolling banner of upcoming acts and Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan were both billed (not together, although that would have been epic).

I’ve never been the biggest Clapton fan although I totally appreciate what he did for the field of guitar music. Bob Dylan is one of my favourites, though, and the one that I never thought in a million years that I would ever get to see play live.
I excitedly went to the listing and looked at this:

Bob Dylan 2015 tour dates UK screenshot from Royal Albert Hall.
Bob Dylan 2015 tour dates UK screenshot from Royal Albert Hall.

There was only one UK date left for Bob Dylan, and best news ever, it was a Saturday sometime in October, so I looked at seats to see about getting some tickets. The only seats were those ones BEHIND the stage, that I remember looking at year on year back when I used to watch TV, whenever there was a televised performance, because I remember thinking, “why would people buy tickets to sit where they can’t see?” I still don’t understand why you’d do it to see, like, the Spice Girls or something (and y’know, when I was 11 I used to dream about being their long-lost sixth member, Jasmine Spice. Like literally go to sleep and dream this), but for Bob Dylan, I would do it.  Bob Dylan is a freaking LEGEND.

This was all about 8 hours ago, then my husband came home from a party and I excitedly bounced up to him and said, “Bob Dylan, Albert Hall, 24th October, it’s a Saturday, they’ve got a few tickets left.”
He said we’d talk about it in the morning which is responsible-person-speak for “no. And I don’t want to talk about it.” Okay, London is very far away and train tickets are generally stupidly expensive and its neither of our favourite place, in fact we both have it at the bottom of any list of places we’d like to go, next to Slough and Luton (Paris is only slightly higher on the list, give me Salzburg or Rome ANY day), and he doesn’t tend to love 60s alternative hippie music as much as I do because his parents worked for the man their entire lives and mine tuned in, turned up and dropped out, and grew me in a cloud of narcotics and other “plants.”  We are Dharma and Greg (except for the whole Kitty thing).  But Bob freaking Dylan!!!

Anyway, it’s the morning (or it was when I started writing this) and we talked about seeing Bob Dylan live in concert in October, and I pointed out that although it was in London, it WAS a Saturday, and he agreed that this WAS a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a musical legend and that even choir seats were better than missing it since we missed out on so many concerts this year due to late announcements and tickets being held for fan clubs, and that’s how he very generously bought two Bob Dylan tickets, one each, and said that mine can be my birthday and Christmas present for a couple of years.

See?  We can has tickets!!!
See? We can has tickets!!!

Excited doesn’t even cover it.  And I know this sounds awful but things happen for a reason and if I’d checked Dave Gilmour in April I wouldn’t have seen Bob Dylan’s tickets because he didn’t announce until 1st May.  So something slightly good came from losing my dad when I did.  I know my dad is looking down on me going “yay! Tickets!”

Ooh and the third band I listed in the title, what about them?  Well, I’ve had my Download 2015 tickets for a while, it’s in 2 weekends’ time, and I was looking at the line-up last night when I saw Apocalyptica were confirmed.

Which put me in mind of one of my favourites of theirs:  The Hall of The Mountain King.  Which is an awesome interpretation of a classic and reminds me of when I used to work as an Ice Dancer at Alton Towers (because they’d licensed the classical version as their “ambient music” for some areas).  Enjoy:

Why I Risked My Job To See Lynyrd Skynyrd in Concert

I went to see Lynyrd Skynyrd on Wednesday in Manchester.

The day after I received news that my mother had died, in December, I saved Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” to my bookmarks bar – so I could reach it from anywhere on the internet. My anchor. Hotel California was next to it – that had been there a little while longer. I may have contributed two to three hundred views to both videos over the last four months.

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert Manchester April 22nd 2015

I knew that The Eagles’ Hotel California had always (to me) represented the death of the ideals of the sixties, the death of “the revolution” and all the rest of it. To my mind, it’s a song about how some people came to the party bringing innocence and were changed by the process they got intertwined with, then one day they wake up and realise the party’s over, and what’s left? What are they without the thing they thought they wanted? I’ve always felt this song very poignantly describes the loss of idealism and the crashing down of reality that eventually (in the UK) birthed both the punk movement and the reactionary new wave music. And before that, the angry young men genre of popular culture (you know, A Clockwork Orange, etc etc).

I digress. My point is that I understood why Hotel California was a present and perpetual influence over my emotional landscape. My mum had introduced it to me. Although she’d explained it as “a bunch of people who wake up one day and realise they’re addicted to drugs then they die.” I guess that interpretation was influenced by the way she lived her life.

But what about Free Bird? I only heard it for the first time last year, around January/February time. I was re-watching Dharma and Greg and realised that I couldn’t call to mind how the song [Free Bird] went. So I Youtubed it. And in the biggest oversight of my life, I realised I’d never actually heard it before.

When my mum died, then, I wasn’t too familiar with the song. I didn’t even know all the words. So why did those mournful chords reach into my heart and resonate so deeply?

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert Manchester April 22nd 2015

I couldn’t work it out. I just kept listening over and over again, through the pain and sadness, through the regret and wishful thinking, the “if only’s” and the “why didn’t I’s” and it seemed to calm me, to bring me into the present, to centre me. I can’t explain it. It made me feel profoundly sad and utterly calm at the same time, like it was a dance I knew well. It remained a mystery, even as Lynyrd Skynyrd made it onto my Bands Bucket List, and even as I debated whether £90 for two tickets was affordable. I just knew I had to go and see them. Something was drawing me towards them.

This is how, on a school night, I dragged my husband out on the motorway to Manchester and back again, forsaking tea, the night before I had a work trial for a new job, because nothing else was as important as this. I didn’t know why.

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert Manchester April 22nd 2015

I was enraptured by the whole set. Rickey Medlocke played the guitar with his teeth. Mark Martejka seemed to be playing his guitar with his charm. I stopped counting after Johnny Colt changed into his third hat of the set; a goggled top hat of the Steampunk variety, superceding some sort of furry animal. Gary Rossington’s black hat was far more rock-n-roll.  They did all their big ones – Simple Man, Tuesday’s Gone, That Smell… Someone a little closer to the front than me passed forward an adorable bear who was holding a card. Rather than discard it like any other band would have, Johnny Van Zant personally took it from her, thanked her, and showed everyone what it was before carefully putting it somewhere safe.  The level of interaction between the band and the crowd made you feel like this was all just a musical conversation, like you were catching up with old friends who you’d known for your whole life.  People you’d want to grab a beer with.

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert Manchester April 22nd 2015 Johnny Van Zant

I noticed the confederate flag finally made an appearance at some point but I couldn’t tell you when, it wasn’t out for long, and it sat along side the stars and stripes which was out for the whole show. They’re really into their flags – they had the Union Jack out at one point as well, for Simple Man, which was dedicated to the American and British troops. I’ve heard (in the past) a lot of mumblings about associating the Confederate Flag with racism. Well, I’ve only ever associated it with the South and with the Dukes of Hazzard and with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Without getting into historiography, by taking the symbol and using it in this way, they are making it symbolize wholesomeness – the comparative freedom of the South, it’s values and distinctly different culture than that of the North. Perhaps I feel parallels between the American South and the English North. Anyways, we got to Sweet Home Alabama and the band all left. I started to wonder if they were going to play it. The suspense was tense. But the energy of the crowd buoyed me along – they seemed to be in on the joke.

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert Manchester April 22nd 2015 confederate flag

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert Manchester April 22nd 2015 Sweet Home Alabama Confederate Flag

I didn’t know at the time that they always play Free Bird for the encore.

Anyway, they came back out, and Peter Keys started a little something on the keyboard, and I didn’t really recognize it. Perhaps they were going to play something else instead.

Then the tune he was playing somehow morphed into the opening bars, and before I knew it, Free Bird was starting. If I could have saved one moment of my life to relive again and again, I’d choose the next twelve or so minutes. Johnny Van Zant nailed the lyrics (of course), it was just as perfect, no, it was more perfect than I had imagined. During the first chorus I started to cry a little, and I must have imagined it, but it seemed like Johnny had caught my eye, then got misty-eyed himself. I had to pull myself together. The rest of the verses went by too fast, I was hanging onto his every word, to every note, every drum beat. Then the extended instrumental solo started to rise up like a wave. Now, I’m not a surfer, but I think I got a good feel for what it’s like to surf just then. I started to feel buoyed up by the music, I marvelled that there were actual living people in front of me playing a song I’d only heard through my speakers. Michael Cartellone’s drums underscored the guitars that were weaving waves; I got higher and higher… then right at the crest of the wave, there was a light show. I got a little bit mesmerised with the lights on the ceiling (like a cat with a laser pointer) and I was just waving my hands above me and staring at the ceiling feeling like I was on some kind of acid (but I wasn’t).

Then it ended. I don’t know how it ended, it just washed away again and I was treading water in a sea of people. Then I managed to get a t-shirt. Having people selling merchandise out in the car park was pure genius to stop a bottleneck.

lynyrd skynyrd empty stage

I went home. I let the feelings settle. I was awestruck that those guys do that EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Just… wow. When they were playing, you genuinely believe that you are the only person in the audience and that they are playing just for you, that you are special and somehow, the world has been a brighter place since then. As I said before, it’s like going for a beer with some longtime friends.

If I never get to see another band off my bands bucket list (the bands I need to see before they kick the bucket), I don’t think I’ll feel like I’ve missed out. I don’t think any band I ever see after this could blow me away more than Lynyrd Skynyrd did on Wednesday.  I know that lots of bands were being referred to in Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music, but for me, Lynyrd Skynyrd are officially The Band With Rocks In.

I was listening to Free Bird again on Friday via my mobile phone, stuffed into the car ashtray for volume, as my car has no sound system, and on the second replay, I suddenly understood why I’d stuck to it. It wasn’t that it felt like a message from my mum to me. It was from me to her. I was the Free Bird.

Back in 2005, I told her I wanted to go to university, she took it very badly and tried to kill me (she was in complete denial of some very big mental health problems and, despite the fact she’s always had a personality disorder, she literally wasn’t the same person or people who I’d grown up with – or taken care of since she ended up in a wheelchair when I was 9 years old), and when she failed to kill me, she called the police on me. They arrested me for breach of the peace even though she was the one who was shouting and screaming. When they let me out (no charges pressed, not even a caution, because the desk sergeant knew what she was like), they advised me not to go back. So I had left, I went away, I had to move on because otherwise I was going to die inside like a caged bird. So I spread my wings, I went on my own way, made a life for myself, it was hard having nobody in the world, and I felt awful for leaving, and worried about who was looking after my mother, especially after my sister ended up in a children’s home, and then ten years later, after struggling with anxiety for a year and paying for counselling, the very DAY after my last counselling session when I’d made my peace with what had happened, out of the blue I got a call from my sister who said she’d died of cancer. I went manic for a couple of weeks. Then when I came back down I just felt so bad that I had ever left.

I think the line that really made me realise why I’d fixated on this song is “If I stay here with you, girl, things just wouldn’t be the same.  ‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change.” I was always conflicted over leaving but there was no possible way I could stay any longer than I did because I couldn’t keep looking after her. I’d tried to stay, and things hadn’t been like they were before. I hated myself but I couldn’t stay. I had to go out and see everything and do everything and climb mountains and fall off high things and fall in love and protest against fascism and finish school and get a degree and work for minimum wage at 4am and get married and be down and out in a capital city and work as a professional ice skater and learn the ukulele and drive across Europe and go on a train across Europe and eat weird stuff and publish books and lose religion and find it again and lose it again and find it again and go to festivals and be in a film and…………..

so many things.

And I’m crying as I write this. Because I know that my mum – the persona who was motherly and caring and who occasionally tucked me in bed at night and would tell me a story or pre-set my keyboard with a lullaby, that mum would want me to go and do all those things. And all the other things I’ve done and am doing and am going to do. She would never have wanted to know she was causing me so much pain and anguish by making me stay and physically and mentally abusing me. That wasn’t the same person. And if I’d stayed, I wouldn’t have been able to look after my mum who read to me, I would have been hiding in a box from the mum who I ended up on three categories of the child protection register because of.

All through my childhood she was two different people, and one of them I cared so much about and didn’t want to leave behind, not ever. But the other one was nasty, and was just filled to the brim with vitriol and hatred and cruelty. And one day the nice one went away and never came back, and the nasty one got worse than she’d ever been before.

And that song is how I would explain it to her if I could. I know she can’t hear me. I always hoped she’d live to 80 and that the nice part would come back one day and that she could be part of my life again and I could make her proud.

And instead of feeling so full like it’s going to overflow with the lava of loss and pain and confusion, my heart feels quieter when I hear Free Bird. It’s like someone’s found out how my soul resonates and they’re playing it out loud.

I know they’ll never read this, and I know that there are probably millions of people who feel the same way about this song, but it just means so much to me, like no other song I know. Thank you, Lynyrd Skynyrd, for keeping your music alive, and for keeping the band going again after that first tribute in the 1980s. You guys are just so much bigger than the rest of us. I’m so glad I got a chance to see you perform and that I was only four from the front.  If anyone else is debating whether to see them or not, just go for it, they’re well worth the time and effort.

Oh and the next morning? I got to work on time and at the end of the day the manager didn’t even ask if I wanted the job, they just asked me for my bank details and gave me shifts for next week.  And I reckon that if I can get through a housekeeping shift after getting to bed at 2am and getting up at 6am and walking there, then I can probably keep doing this job for at least a little while.  Which is all I can ever commit to anything, except my dear husband who I have promised to always come home to, wherever I go to in the meantime.

See what’s on the rest of my Bands Bucket list
Other concerts I’ve reviewed.