Two days after my 14th birthday, I went to my first gig. Well, that’s technically a lie. My first gig was on Scarborough beach when I was 9 for a band my dad loves and all I remember from it was building a sandcastle for drunk people to trip over. This was the first gig I went to out of choice.
I went to see a band called Kids in Glass Houses. The year was 2009 and they were about to release their second album. I couldn’t believe a band I liked were playing my hometown. I had no one to go with so my dad took one for the team and went with me. I remember being so excited to see this band who I would watch on YouTube and the thought of seeing musicians in real life blew my teenage mind. I remember wanting to be cool and wear clothes I really liked and I honestly don’t know how my mam let me out of the house that evening. This was before I could dress well. I wore my favourite blue checked shirt and purple skinny jeans (I know, I can hear you laughing – this isn’t my proudest moment) because if they were good enough for Pete Wentz then they were good enough for me. I also had my first pair of converse and chipped black nail varnish. I felt so cool when in reality I was far from it.
The gig was at a venue called Empire and is a place I hold close to my heart. I’ve been to terrible club nights there and I have also been to terrible gigs there – but it was my first introduction to the gigging community.
I was probably one of the youngest people there. Majority of the crowd were in their late teens/early twenties. I stayed towards to edges of the room but as soon as the music started and the band started to play, I felt this emotional connection with a group of strangers. We were all screaming the lyrics at the top of our lungs and jumping around. For months, I didn’t shut up about this gig and I wanted to go to as many gigs as possible.
From the ages of 14 to 16, I went to a gig every couple of months. It was mainly emo bands such as Paramore, Panic at the Disco, Madina Lake (a massive throwback), to name a few. I travelled to Newcastle and Manchester for the bigger shows but most of my gigs were in Middlesbrough. Empire was home to my music adventures. I got a pretend leather jacket from ASDA and danced and screamed until my body ached. For a few hours, I could escape reality and feel the bass vibrate through my body. I would show up to school the next day with a sore throat and temporary hearing loss because I stood to close to the speakers at the front.
It was my freedom and my rebellion in a way. I went to most of my gigs with friends and usually an accompanying adult. Going to cities like Newcastle made me feel grown up and made me realise a lot more exciting things were happening outside of the town I lived in. I knew my parents didn’t feel comfortable with me catching the train to different cities and going out late on school nights so a part of it felt like I was living the typical teenage life. I would come home stinking of cigarette smoke (it took a while for my parents to actually believe me when I said I wasn’t smoking) and going to school on a few hours sleep but it was all worth it for the happiness and escapism I felt in a crowded venue with my favourite bands performing in front of me.
Before cuts to the arts, my town had a couple of mini festivals. When I was younger, my “thing” was to find up-and-coming bands and be able to know who every musician was in Kerrang magazine. These festivals would always have small bands – with the exception of the headliner who would be someone like The Proclaimers – but that felt like heaven to me. These would be bands I would’ve read about on the ‘on the radar’ pages in music magazines and I would find it so exciting that they were playing my town. The more gigs I was attending, the more I would recognise people in the crowds and it made me feel this sense of belonging. I befriended metal heads, emos, and fans of classic rock. All of these sub-genres of rock music felt like extended family and I grew in confidence. Before going to gigs, I thought no one in my town liked the same music as me so it was exciting to see I was not alone.
I did love my emo music (and I still do) but I was very much a hybrid of emo and indie culture. I listened to My Chemical Romance but I also loved Arctic Monkeys. I had grown up listening to The Stone Roses and was a fan of Yeah Yeah Yeahs since I was about 7 because I thought Karen O was cool and she still is a person I greatly admire. As I switched from reading Kerrang to reading NME, my gig-going habits also changed. In 2011, I went to my first indie gig. Arctic Monkeys in Newcastle. It was Suck It and See era, Alex had just got his quiff a month prior to the gig and I was still mourning the end of his relationship with Alexa Chung. The Vaccines were playing and I was so hyper to be in the same room as two of my favourite bands. I still have the t-shirt from that gig and I’m proud that it still fits. That gig meant everything to me and it still does 8 years on.
I had just turned 16 but the summer before I had started a scrapbook of things I was into and images of what I wanted to be. I bought my first piece of vintage jewellery (a 50p brooch from a farmer’s market), bought Angles by The Strokes and listened to it on repeat, and I was trying to discovery what my fashion sense was. My scrapbook was a collage of badly cut out images of Hayley Williams, Alexa Chung and Natalie Portman – all people who I wanted to dress like. Stills from Wes Anderson films I was yet to see and photos of mods and rockers were also badly stuck into my scrapbook. I was building an identity around indie music, films and models. That scrapbook was the beginning of the person I now am. I graduated from Peter Pan collar 60s dresses to 70s flowing paisley floor-length dresses, band t-shirts to brightly patterned blouses. All of this made an appearance in that scrapbook. Going to that Arctic Monkeys gig allowed me to live a little bit of the dream I had created in that scrapbook. The people were real, the clothes were real, the music was real.
After finishing school, I went to Leeds festival for the first time. I feel like going to a festival is a rite of passage for any school leaver. 2012 was a vintage year for Leeds fest. I saw Bombay Bicycle Club, Foo Fighters, The Cure, Kasabian, The Black Keys, Florence and the Machine, The Vaccines, Foster the People and so many other artists I still listen to now because clearly I haven’t developed much since 2012. It was a weird experience and an exhausting experience but I discovered I love being in a massive field listening to live music. I still have my Vaccines t-shirt I bought at Leeds Fest and it is still a staple item in my wardrobe.
Around the age of 18, going to gigs was a weekly occurrence for me. I worked behind a bar and worked box office at a couple of local music venues. I listened to everything from washed out punk acts, indie bands, and psychedelic groups. I listened to a lot of psychedelic to be honest. Working there and going to battle of the bands every Thursday in a rundown pub in town was my escapism for the chaos I felt was surrounding my life. Live music drowned out my negative thoughts and worries for a few hours. I grew a lot from working in music venues. I certainly grew a thicker skin from dealing with drunk people and quite a male-dominated environment where I was often the only girl there. My music horizons broadened and gigs got me out of the house and felt like a safe space.
One of my favourite venues was a tiny working men’s club in town. A gig promoter who ran shows there always got bands before they got big to play this tiny venue. Over the years I had seen the likes of Pete and the Pirates (now Teleman) and Catfish and the Bottlemen before they had even released an EP. A gig that sticks with me the most though is seeing Palma Violets in 2012. Earlier that week, they had debuted on the cover of NME, who were raving about them and talking about how crazy their gigs were. I haven’t really heard of Palma Violets since 2013 (are they still going?) but that gig was one of the sweatiest, funniest gigs I have been to. The ceiling broke and I don’t think it has been properly fixed since.
When I moved away for university, I pretty much stopped going to gigs. I went to a couple of ones back home for indie stars I had loved since being a younger teenager, such as The Last Shadow Puppets, but I did not really attend many in my university city. Not many bands I listened to gigged in my city and I didn’t fully take advantage of listening to local bands. I did get more involved in the literature scene in my city but I missed music. During my undergrad I kinda lost my music identity because I wasn’t going to gigs or listening to new bands but other aspects of my life flourished. I wrote a blog post about it at the time but I started listening to older bands like the Velvet Underground to inspire me and as a result that has influenced my academic research.
When I moved to Sheffield, everyone told me I had missed its golden age but it was exciting for me. I went to Leadmill on my first night and was so excited when I saw the names of so many bands I liked written on the walls. I went from going to no gigs to attending gigs quite regularly. I saw The Big Moon, Miles Kane, The Wombats, and Bombay Bicycle Club – all bands and musicians that shaped me as a teenager. I even started to go to gigs alone which didn’t help my anxiety but it allowed me to see new bands I love, such as Pip Blom. I went to Birmingham and Leeds for gigs. I went to venues I remember reading about when I was 14 and wondering what they were like. I finally went to Rough Trade. I feel like I have experienced so many things my younger self could only dream of in her bedroom in a north east town.
Obviously, I am an adult now and I have a job so I have more freedom to travel to places and buy tickets to concerts but sometimes I catch myself and remember how visiting these cities and seeing these bands once didn’t feel like a reality to me. At gigs now I am more aware of my surroundings. I have no time for people invading my space too much or making me feel unsafe – these were things that didn’t really occur to me when I first started going to gigs but over time have realised when I go to see certain bands. Although I am in my early (we could maybe argue I’m almost mid-twenties now but we are not going to) twenties, I feel old at gigs. I no longer want to be at the front, I choose practical clothes over cool clothes, and everyone around me at indie gigs looks 12. I went to Leeds festival this year and realised I was the old person. Majority of the people I passed were younger than me. In the grand scheme of things I am young but ten years of my life is a large chunk of my life and I can’t help but reflect on ten years of attending gigs and how that has shaped me as a person. I love gigs and I am at my happiest when I am listening to live music. I just can’t believe I have hit the ten year mark. I can’t wait to see what gigs I go to in the next ten years.