I went to two big live music concerts last week, Bauhaus in London and Suede in Edinburgh.
Both were so gloriously physical, euphoric and powerful that I left feeling I could take on the world.
This can only be a good thing when the world seems determined to hit us where it hurts right now.
In joining thousands of others at these celebrations I was mentally transported to a life pre-Covid.
Far beyond that, in fact. I found myself time travelling back to my teenage bedroom in our council house in Dundee.
That was our first dwelling with an inside bathroom, stairs and a bin shed.
Suddenly it was 1972 when my hopes and dreams were formed by Max Factor and the cheap potency of pop music.
Against the pre-Krautrock drone of the Kingsway I learned about love, lust, loss and feather cut hair.
I discovered how Oscar Wilde and Andy Warhol invented our modern world.
And I realised I was just the space cadet while Major Tom and Ziggy Stardust were the commanders.
Mum hopelessly tried to contain all this adolescent lust for life by putting a lock on my bedroom door and a supply of perfumed Air Wick sprays beside my stereo.
If she hadn’t occasionally made me wash my orange and purple nylon sheets I could have worn them as a cape to see David Bowie at the Caird Hall in 1973.
Music nourished me – then and now
Music has always been my saviour, salving my troubled soul.
That’s why, when Bauhaus performed a note-perfect cover version of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, I danced like a dervish – propelled back to my mis-spent youth, ablaze with the realisation that youth’s currency isn’t just the property of the young.
I’m sure I looked quite ridiculous but it was Halloween and if the dead can dance that night then please forgive this Dad-like figure struggling to bust a Gothic move amongst the living.
Last week’s shows suddenly made me 16, thin, gorgeous and defiantly, relentlessly unafraid.
They also reminded me how much I need people – not just as friends, but as tribes of strangers who give a sense of belonging when it’s needed most.
Live music is a unifying force
During lockdown I had almost dismissed the idea of communality, so resigned had I become to the idea of personal survival and inevitable loss.
It’s not the best of times right now, is it?
Even the sweetest smelling flower child would have to admit that the smell of patchouli and rosewater can’t quite disguise the stench of something rotten in our midst.
But seeing Bauhaus and Suede reminded me how music can reach places no other art form can.
They also made me acknowledge how much I prefer to be on the outside, even now at the age of 62.
Especially now at the age of 62.
Thank you to everyone that came out to Edinburgh's @theusherhall last night to kick off the Coming Up Anniversary Tour!
Tomorrow night.. @Rock_City_Notts! -SuedeHQ
Image: Gaelle Beri pic.twitter.com/cVvRLMshHu
— Suede HQ (@suedeHQ) November 4, 2021
Last week’s concerts felt like defiant gatherings of people who’d spent their lives gazing through the windows of “regular folks” and realised they’d rather remain freaks.
I’m with them always.
Suede wrote a song about this called Outsiders – indeed some would say Suede’s entire canon was built upon the idea of giving a voice to those who felt disenfranchised from the mainstream.
If music is a lifeline then live music is the buoyancy float and the lifeboat.
And all great concerts have one thing in common. They provide a platform on which to raise yourself above the rising tide.
Favourite shows: unforgettable memories
Concerts have a power beyond even the cumulative strength of four musicians playing as if their lives depended on it; they are experiential and transformative.
My favourite ever shows all share this suspension that sends you back into the world feeling less alone than before.
For me they include Sparks at Dundee Caird Hall in 1974, David Bowie at Earls Court in 1978 and Radiohead in Oxford in 2001.
Then there was Pet Shop Boys at the Hacienda in Manchester in 1992, Kylie Minogue in Sydney in 2006 (her first show after being diagnosed with cancer – yes, I cried) and Yoko Ono doing one song at 4am in a gay techno club in London in 2002.
My favourite ever shows were Siouxsie and the Banshees at London’s Roundhouse in 1978 and the Rainbow in 1979.
Nights of such frenzied teenage rampage they kick-started and shaped the rest of my life.
My friend, the artist Sue Webster, was at Bauhaus last week too.
I didn’t see her though. She was in the mosh pit.
After the show she wrote how she’d wet herself with excitement and reminisced about how she’d first seen Bauhaus in 1983 in Leicester, a show she attended alone – as she always did in those days.
Standing in the crowd at Suede in Edinburgh a few days later I was reminded of their lyric “alone but not lonely, you and me”.
I thought of everything we’re going through right now and the transformative power we have when we operate collectively.
People have the power and music can be the key that unlocks it.