The Membranes

If you’re a punk fan, you’ll probably know that the Membranes were an integral part of the punk scene in the 70’s (and the post-punk scene in the 80’s).  If it wasn’t for the Membranes, and the other bands that started up at the same time, there wouldn’t have *been* a scene.

The band has always been about as DIY as you can get – to be any more DIY, their lyrics would have to be about plumbing.  Case in point – when the band first started, they didn’t have a drummer.  Not to be put off, they used two bin lids.

How many bands these days would do that?  How many of the school leavers who start a band would care so much about the fundamental soul of music that they’d make their own bass guitar?  Then, despite not knowing how to play, they invented their own chords and tuning scheme so that they could get the sound they wanted.  There’s a lot of people these days bemoaning their lot in life; the attitude of the ’70s was this – don’t wait around for things to happen.  That was the point of Do It Yourself culture.  In their most recent album, they’re reported to have used a plastic bucket, some rocks they banged together, and a fire escape (like, literally played the fire escape itself).

The Membranes embody everything I love about punk.  They don’t conform to anything.

And while I always assumed I’d catch them at Holiday In The Sun (now called Rebellion festival), I actually ended up seeing them at Thursday’s Therapy? gig.

Surprisingly, they were the supporting band.  Given that I’ve also seen Alice Cooper as a supporting band, that doesn’t really mean what people think it means.  Which pretty much sums up the Membranes.  They are deliciously obscure and delightfully inscrutable.  I love that.

The line up is: John Robb as the frontman and singing and playing the bass and mouth organ, Rob Haynes on drums (and apparently anything else he can hit) – there was also something that looked like a large greek vase with a skin stretched over it, which I thought was a stool until he started hitting it.*  There were also two guitarists – Peter Byrchmore and Nick Brown.

*I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about music, but I know what I like and I know that I like stuff that sounds good and I don’t care what instruments (if any) it’s played on.

Here’s some pictures (email invokedelight@gmail.com if you are in the band and want the full size versions of any of these at no charge for use on your website etc, the full size versions have better definition but they don’t fit on my site due to the cost of data):

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes.
The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes.

What I liked most was the amount of energy they had on-stage.  I mean, they were fizzing with more energy than calcium carbonate that’s had acid dropped on it (which is pretty fizzy).  They seemed to be playing their own thing, as if the audience’s lack of enthusiasm  was inconsequential (the crowd weren’t biting… until they suddenly were).

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes.

I said yesterday about how when I don’t know the music, I’m quite happy to go along with it as long as it’s sounding good.  Well I didn’t know any of the songs but I was headbanging from my vantage point in the weird side balcony beside the stage.

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes.

I’ve never seen a warm-up act manage to win over an audience like that… stepping back from my role as a member of the crowd, and going into analytical mode, I was awestruck by the audience’s transformation – at the start, the audience was mostly indifferent, then about halfway through, they very quickly got into it and suddenly there was bouncing and cheering and participating and all that sort of thing.

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes
The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes
The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes
The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes

Membranes John Robb

Membranes John Robb

My favourite part?  When the mouth organ came out.  I mean, I guess that must be what a mouth organ looks like – I’ve never seen one of those before.

the Membranes John Robb

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes

So by the time the band finished, I was sad to see them leave.  Before Thursday, although I knew of the band, I didn’t know anything about their music (except that it was recommended by my stepdad who played drums in a punk band in ’77).  I’d only really come to see Therapy? (I hadn’t actually looked at who was supporting, more fool me), at that point when the Membranes stopped, I would have been quite happy if they were the main act or if they’d done a long set.  All in all they contributed to Thursday being a very memorable and outstanding gig out of the long list of gigs I’ve been to so far on my quest to fulfil my Bands Bucket List, despite not actually being on the list because I totally overlooked them when I was writing it.  Don’t make the same mistake I did – they’re not a band to overlook.

Supporting bands get a lot of shit, and sometimes they get too much credit when they shouldn’t have any (the Last Internationale who were supporting the Who really failed to engage me on every level, I couldn’t believe anyone had hired them as a band for such a big event – perhaps this went a long way towards explaining why my patience wore too thin and I ultimately walked out of the Who early and got an early night sleeping on the floor of Dublin airport).  It’s a tricky line to walk, to be a good supporting band, because it takes different skills than being a good main act.  A lot of people think that supporting acts need to be new inexperienced bands who do it for the exposure to new audiences.  Sometimes this works out ok, other times it bombs.  Not many supporting acts understand their role well enough to really run with it.  I think of all the bands I’ve ever seen in their supporting role (rather than their headline act), The Membranes sit up there alongside Anthrax and Alice Cooper as the three best bands you could hire to really get the crowd stoked (and I’d actually say slightly better than Anthrax).

And, as with Anthrax and Alice Cooper, I was left wanting to see, hear and know more about this band.  I particularly liked the part when John Robb said to the audience “ask me any physics question” (I know for a fact that there were at least two physics teachers in the audience).  So someone asked something like “what’s inside a black hole” and the whole audience went silent.  Everyone’s attention was focussed on John Robb.  Everyone was waiting, thinking “what’s he going to say?”  He had clearly thought about all this stuff a lot and knew what he was on about, and I thought his answer was pretty impressive, especially since it was a random question asked by a member of the audience.  I like randomness (all my Youtube videos end with “subscribe for more randomness”), and I like thinking about the nature of the universe.  So I thought that was an excellent lead-in to the next song.

If the universe is being destroyed and remade from one moment to the next, then I never actually saw them because the past no longer exists.  Which means I need to go and see them again.  But when I see them again, they will be different and so will I, because you can’t cross the same river twice.  Hmm…

At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a testosterone-fuelled shoutfest using three (established) chords, go and see Agnostic Front or someone similar.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that side of punk, except that everyone thinks it’s the *only* side to punk, which just isn’t true.  If you’re looking for a thought provoking, entertaining, wide variety of music that defies definition (and thus becomes what punk is supposed to be about), the Membranes are for you.  Or you could take the blue pill instead.

Find the rest of my music articles here.

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…And now I’m deaf (Therapy? Band concert).

Last night I saw the Northern Irish band Therapy? (the cryptic question mark is part of the name) supported by The Membranes, in Leeds. My Dearest and I managed to get right to the front at one side where there were a couple of seats because everyone else assumed someone was sitting there already (thanks for the tip, Stanley Milgram). Naturally we didn’t sit down.

This meant we were standing right next to the speakers, and they were deliciously LOUD. I should have paid attention to my ears at the point where I was getting ear pain, or the point when I was getting dizzy. But I didn’t. So now it’s the next morning, I have a loud whistling noise in the ear that was closest to the speaker, a quieter whistling noise in the other ear, I can’t hear a lot with my right ear, but I do have some PHENOMENAL PHOTOS to share with you. If you’re a Therapy? or The Membranes fan, you’re in for a treat (and if you’re in one of these bands and would like any of the full size pictures – in higher definition – for promo purposes etc, drop me an email at invokedelight@gmail.com and I’ll work out a way to get them to you).  I’m going to split them into two posts, one for each band, and this first post is for the Therapy? pictures because that’s who we went to see.  I’ll link The Membranes when I add their pictures tomorrow.

Yesterday’s Therapy? concert was the first time I’d used my multi-shot function on my camera and I was quite pleased with the results.  Today I’ve spent a lot of time going through the 625 pictures and choosing the best ones then resizing them because I can’t remotely afford £89 a year for the unlimited storage option on WordPress.

We were actually originally going to see Therapy? back in 2014, when we went to Sonisphere two weeks after our wedding, but because we were both working on the Friday and the Monday, and it was the middle of exam season, we could only get down to Knebworth for the Saturday, and I believe they were playing on the Sunday alongside Metallica.  So when I came up with the Bands Bucket List, they were one of the first bands I added to it, not because they were in any danger of kicking the bucket any time soon (hell, they’ve got at least another 25 years before it’d become urgent to see them), but rather because we both really wanted to see them and felt we’d missed out by having to work before and after Sonisphere.  As teachers, you can’t really book a long weekend off.  Ever.  So anything you want to do outside the holidays is tough shit (and anything you want to do *inside* the holidays has to be so squeaky clean because there’s kids everywhere).  Work seems to get in the way of music (I was in before and in the next day after Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Motley Crue and Megadeth, both of which I haven’t written about yet), but I do want to get back to work again – especially since we’re broke and no immediate family members have died for 3 months straight.
For a Thursday night gig in Leeds, the venue was still pretty packed and I wasn’t sure how everyone had fitted.

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

It started out like this, the odd perspective of the venue made for some interesting shots.

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

If you’ve never heard of Therapy?, they’re classed on Wikipedia as a “alternative metal” band.  I would say they’re a bit more DIY (as in; punk-like, not as in; goes on stage and shows off plastering skills) than your average metal band though.  They generally play big crowds so this concert was nothing like I expected.  They were playing through their Infernal Love album, which included Epilepsy, Stories, A Moment of Clarity, Jude the Obscene, Bowels of Love, Misery, Bad Mother, Me vs You, Loose, Diane, and Thirty Seconds.  Had we gone to Sonisphere, we would have heard these tracks there, as they played the whole Infernal Love album then, too.  I think we got a better view at Leeds though.

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

The current line-up includes Andy Cairns pounding the guitar and singing the lead vocals, Michael McKeegan wielding the bass guitar and contributing extra vocals, and Neil Cooper smashing the drums.  To be fair, they haven’t got much of a history of line up changes.  The long and short of it is that they struggled to find a drummer hardcore enough to hack the tours, but not necessarily with the drama that you’d think that implied.  Their original drummer quit during the first Infernal Love tour in ’95, and since then they got a replacement who quit in 2001 and was replaced in 2002 by Neil Cooper who’s been with them ever since.  I’ve said it before about replacement members from when I went to Dublin to see The Who, but when a replacement member has been with the band for longer than the original member, why do they still get called a “replacement” instead of just “the drummer” or “the flugel hornist” it’s like it implies they’re second rate and I’ve seen time and again that this isn’t true while I’ve been to performances for my bands bucket list.  Consider Dave Gilmour as a perfect example (although I’ve not seen him). Regardless of your stance on this, it’s undeniable that Cooper is a phenomenal drummer who’s more than capable of punctuating the bold phrases of Cairns’ guitar and McKeegan’s whitewater rapids of bass.

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

They played great and I was over the moon to finally use my DSLR to take photos at a concert and the pictures came out quite well (but I can see room for improvement) and my Dearest got high fived by Andy Cairns and at some point my ear became very painful and I haven’t been able to hear properly all day.  I went to about 15 concerts last year and this has never happened before (said the bishop to the actress) so maybe I’ll have to get a hearing aid.  I’d totally go for one of those long trumpets.

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

They could probably have just played Infernal Love and two or three hits from Troublegum and gone home (which is what NOFX did when I saw them in Birmingham) but that wasn’t Therapy?’s style.  In addition to the Infernal Love tracklisting, Therapy? also played Teethgrinder, Screamager, Knives and Nowhere, amongst others.

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

All in all, if you want an excellent night of entertainment you should go see the band.  In fact, if you want music for a road trip, check out their back catalogue.  I can’t think of a bad album they’ve ever done, and at no point in the proceedings last night did I feel like I was adrift in a bog of “wtf are they playing?” unlike when I went to see The Who and ended up leaving.  Or Megadeth, which I also ended up leaving early (which I haven’t reported on yet because I’m still trying to work out whether I can be bothered) .  If I don’t recognize a tune, I tend to not even care as long as it’s good.  If it’s not that good, I’ll give them two more songs to sort it out, if it’s still crap I tend to leave.

At no point during Therapy? did I consider leaving.  Which puts them as better than The Who and Megadeth for a live act in the past 9 months.  And tickets are a fraction of the cost, and we didn’t get oppressed by door staff either, which was great.  So go and see them already!

The supporting band The Membranes were also pretty good, I quite liked them (my stepdad recommended them when we saw NOFX actually, we had a flyer for Blackpool Punk Festival and he was telling me all the ones he liked, so The Membranes’ve got the Someone-Who-Was-Actually-Doing-Punk-Before-Sid*-Died Seal Of Approval). *Vicious, not Barrett.  Barrett is not punk.  But then, The Membranes are one of the original punk bands so this gig was like that time we saw Alice Cooper supporting Motley Crue.

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy14.png

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe
This is possibly the best picture I got of the drummer. Maybe if I ever used Photoshop I could splice his face in somehow?

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe Towards the end of the performance, the audience really sort of lost their shit so some of them climbed onstage to try and find their shit again.  Then stagediving and crowdsurfing happened (which is one of my favourite parts of any good concert – whenever I’m at a venue and see a “no crowdsurfing” sign part of me dies inside (despite having no intention of crowdsurfing).

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

Therapy? band 2016 3rd March Leeds The Wardrobe

The two people above the audience have been pushed off the stage by the bouncer, who as you can see turned up after the stage got mobbed by crowd.  The band were thoroughly professional and continued playing.  And that was the end of the show.

It was so nice to see such a well-known band in such an intimate setting, I never expected this event to be this good when I bought tickets.  I also liked how close we got to the band and I left utterly deaf, but happy.  Maybe the deafness will subside with time.  We drove home and despite my lack of hearing, it was apparently in all the wrong places so I still ended up sleeping in earplugs.

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My favorite band: NOFX live in Birmingham 2015

After a whole year of so many different concerts, bands and gigs that I’ve been to (see here to see my other articles on various bands), I wasn’t holding out much hope for NOFX being any good live.
What I forgot is that they’re primarily a punk band, and like nearly every punk band (and riot grrrl band, for that matter), they ALWAYS sound better live.
I guess I wasn’t sure because I just didn’t know what could possibly sound better than NOFX’s recorded albums.

Well…. seeing them play live is a better experience. It’s like having someone playing your favorite music AND seeing them in person in front of you AND being surrounded by people who know their back catalog as well as you do AND do you know what’s better than that?
Fat Mike came on stage in a fucking MAID DRESS mauling his guitar like it was a toothpick and I could’ve died right then and died happy.

Can you tell it's from before I got my new camera?
Can you tell it’s from before I got my new camera? Click to enlarge.
Fat Mike in a maid dress while Hefe plays the trumpet for the trumpet solo that he plays why is my internet taking so damn long to finish uploading this stupid picture it's still terribly slow I don't know when we are getting it fixed but this is taking far too long to upload and if I stop typing it'll blank this caption when it finishes fucksake why won't it fi
Click to enlarge. Fat Mike in a maid dress while Hefe plays the trumpet for the trumpet solo that he plays why is my internet taking so damn long to finish uploading this stupid picture it’s still terribly slow I don’t know when we are getting it fixed but this is taking far too long to upload and if I stop typing it’ll blank this caption when it finishes fucksake why won’t it fi

It was literally the BEST concert I’ve been to ever.
It’s like everything I wanted all those other concerts to be, everything I was looking for in this quest to see all the bands on my bands bucket list, it all culminated on this one evening in July.

I took my step-dad and my half-sister, against my better judgement, because while her and I have had a pretty big rift that got even worse after my mum died last year, I’ve never really had any huge issues with him after I got over the whole “you didn’t want me when you went for custody after the divorce” (he didn’t).
That bit.
But we’re over that. And it was a milestone birthday for him this year so I decided to extend my good fortune of having enough time and money to go to concerts, and I bought 3 tickets for NOFX.

My half-sister didn’t really know who they were. But my step-dad did (I was brought up on metal and punk because he was the biggest ever metal fan when he married my mum then over the years moved more into punk; I still can’t listen to Sepultura or Slayer without cleaning my house, because that’s just what we DID on Sundays when my mum was still in bed).
I don’t know why I’ve always loved NOFX. I guess their sound reminds me of simpler times while their lyrics are so fresh and relevant (and I wonder whether my stepdad actually gets the lyrics).

Here’s some of their stuff (from one of my favorite albums – aw hell they’re all my favorite) in case you don’t know them:

From start to finish their gig was AMAZING. They were being supported by Lagwagon (who were the first band that Fat Mike signed to Fat Wreck Chords – aside from NOFX of course) and Alkaline Trio.

I thought Lagwagon were a good warm up band but their sound system was a bit loud (same as The Who – it was just so loud that it cut loads of the sound out of the audible range – what is the point of this?) as there weren’t enough people in the room by then to absorb all the sound, and they sounded totally different live than they do on their recorded stuff. I like them better recorded, they’ve got a good sound. They still had me bobbing my head though.

Alkaline Trio were a bit EMO if I’m honest. I thought their lyrics sounded very angsty and I was surprised because I thought they were one of the bands that was slightly more “out there” than NOFX. Like, proper American punk. Putting all argument about whether America has any “proper” punk aside because that’s elitist and it’s not my job to keep punk rock elite: That’s Fat Mike’s job:

After Alkaline Trio finished, there was an OBSCENE interval, in which my stepdad got VERY drunk (by normal people’s standards – not by his standards, he could’ve probably drank 3 times as much before he’d be as rowdy as he can get) and then complained that this is why he hadn’t seen NOFX when they’d played Blackpool’s Holiday In The Sun (or whatever it’s called nowadays. Google says: Rebellion Festival) – he just couldn’t be arsed with waiting around to see ’em. He also said that aparently NOFX were banned from this year’s Blackpool Rebellion Festival (the big punk one) because they’d been too offensive last year.
Too offensive to play a punk festival… whuttt???
Something to do with things they’d said being taken too seriously by festivalgoers.
Well, when NOFX came on stage and Fat Mike was punking his maid dress and Hefe was looking like he hasn’t aged since the early ’90s (in fact, they’re all doing pretty well in that regard), in between songs Fat Mike did make a few jokes which could have been taken to be offensive by the wrong crowd, so I guess if you don’t “get” NOFX then there’s no hope for you. Like, literally.
I say this in the full knowledge that my Dearest had seen NOFX at Leeds in 2004 and told me several times that they were “a bit meh.”
Fuck only knows what that’s supposed to mean. I thought they were the best band I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a LOT of bands.
Here’s a list of live bands that NOFX are better than (by me, Bender):
Iron Maiden,
Slayer,
Anthrax,
Slipknot,
Muse,
Kiss,
Billy Idol,
Motley Crue (but I’m seeing them again in 2 weeks so I’ll report back),
Slash (but only because NOFX has better lyrics than the old GnR stuff, if it was all like Anastasia they’d have to have a rock off for me to work out who was best),
Mallory Knox (by a country mile),
Marilyn Manson (by a country mile),
The Who,
Steeleye Span,
Judas Priest,
Lynyrd Skynyrd.

I’m seeing Alice Cooper on 4th November, Megadeth on 12th November, and Bob Dylan TOMORROW (24th October) so I will let y’all know how they size up against NOFX.

So what did they play?
Only the entirety of their album Punk In Drublic and when they started playing Linoleum I was just gone. GONE. Just… raving? Is that the right word? I was waving my arms and jumping up and down and banging my head and the whole universe just made sense and it all converged around a moderately sized man in his 40s wearing a maid dress and wielding a guitar, surrounded by other men in their 40s who were not wearing girly costumes and who were still equally mesmerizing. What impressed me most was that they knew their shit. They didn’t make any mistakes, didn’t lose their thread (unlike Bruce Dickinson when we saw Iron Maiden). They just sounded like they do on their records, but BETTER. That’s the first time I’ve said that about a band. My step-dad disappeared into the moshing and I later saw him crowd-surfing. They also did Franco Un-American and some other stuff I’ve forgotten because I was just totally lost in the experience which is why it’s taken me so long to get to a point where I could write about it. Putting it into words I’d say it experientially was like being in a BDSM scene. Which I’m patently bad at writing about (hence my other, VERY ADULT CONTENT DON’T GO THERE IF YOU GET OFFENDED BY BDSM, no reblogging, blog only having one proper scene write-up, DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU –it’s here– NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED although much less extreme than loads of stuff out there) when it’s something I’ve experienced rather than using my experiences to write stories.

Speaking of which… I was intrigued by the maid outfit but I thought Fat Mike was being ironic: I didn’t know that Fat Mike was like BDSM’s biggest fan. Then I found this interview and when the guy asked him the question, “you’ve got your finger in many pies, what are you first, are you a musician first?” And he said, “Oh, no. If I could only do one thing for the rest of my life, it would be, er…” [long pause] and I instantly thought about my own answer to that question, which would unequivocally be BDSM. I would literally abandon everything else going on in my life if it was a choice like that, stop writing, acting, traveling… anyway, I was whispering “BDSM, BDSM…” (the way you do when you know how you’d answer a game show question) then I took a gulp of tea, Fat Mike said, “BDSM” and I literally spat my tea. It happens around 28 minutes 30 seconds (although you can’t see me watching it and spitting my tea I guess).

I felt like such an idiot, there’s this punk guy being interviewed in a pink negligee with a chain around his neck fastened by a padlock and I totally MISSED the fact that he’s someone’s bitch. So anyway I did some googling and found out he’s actually married to a dominatrix (lucky him) and has a dungeon in his house (lucky him) and my respect for Fat Mike and all things NOFX just went through the roof. I thought S&M airlines (an album by NOFX) and all their dominatrix-themed shirts and him turning up to the gig in a maid dress and that song about Japan (Cool and Unusual Punishment) were all just another example of people incorporating BDSM imagery into popular culture. It happens a lot.

Mind…. blown…

It gives me another reason to place NOFX at the top of my list as my all time favorite band. It’s like there’s this fundamental rightness to the sound of NOFX that I have only ever heard when listening to Bikini Kill. *stares off into space thinking about Kathleen Hanna’s voice and feels a bit sad that Bikini Kill aren’t still touring* Bikini Kill were, in fact, the whole catalyst that started me on this Bands Bucket List quest, because I felt it was such a tragedy that I never got to see them live on account of being FAR too young. I need to see NOFX again. Like, every day for the rest of my life.

Anyway this article needs an ending. We staggered out of the venue and then went on a hunt for some food and it turns out there’s a deficiency of fast food in Birmingham on a Sunday night. So I think we got back as far as Stafford before we found a McDonalds and ordered large quantities of dead animal flesh to fill our faces with.

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

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.