So, having done the equivalent of move a mountain – ok, maybe not a mountain, but a broken down car – yes, having done the equivalent of moving a broken down car with my own two hands (which, in this case, means prevailing upon my dear friend Anne to look after Rosie until an unknown time), I go out to see my first proper gig since I moved to London 17 years ago.
I think: This is it, I’m going out, I’m seeing a real, live, indie band, and I’m going to love it. YES!
The first thing that hits me when I open the door to the venue is the unmistakeable stink of (apologies to the faint-hearted amongst you) PISS. Please understand that the anodyne words – wee, pee or urine just don’t work in this context. It’s PISS. I nearly faint. As I move towards the actual hall where the band is meant to be playing, I notice there is a bar and then the second noxious odour of the night thunks me over the head: beer.
Finally, I open the door to the hall and am struck not just by piss and beer, but B.O. The floor in the hall is carpeted. The ceiling is chandeliered. But the overall combination of stink suggests a stained corner under the stairwell of a Parisian train station.
I take a velour-cushioned chair. This is going to be one of those lovely, laid back type of concerts: a man and his guitar, soothing vocals, a violinist, double bassist, pianist… all making mellifluous sounds that lull you gently into –
I can’t get comfortable. I am knotted up on the chair, fingers over my nose, bum clenched because I’m now thinking that with all this carpet and velour and general lack of hygiene, there are bound to be bedbugs. I get itchy. I change seats.
As the minutes tick by, I check my phone several times, texting Anne to tell her how disgusting it is here and emailing my friend in Florida to tell her the same. She is also a fan of the guy I’ve come to see, and I want her to understand that she should in no way feel envious of me right now. I am definitely not enjoying myself.
In fact, time is dribbling by and he has not even mounted the stage yet. There are two opening acts, who have started ridiculously late, so it isn’t until 10 minutes to 10 that the main act – the guy I’ve come to see, Neil Halstead – finally comes on. He does a quick sound check, finds his mic doesn’t work, and gets off. As he walks by, I find myself screaming at him inside my head, saying: You spend your life surfing in Cornwall, writing songs and drinking beer. How would you even UNDERSTAND that some of us here have children we need to pick up, jobs we need to go to in the morning. GET ON THE F*@!!ING STAGE!!!!!!!
I guess you could say I’m tense.
Anyway, eventually he does get on the stage, along with his band, and although I am initially repelled by the fact that there is a beer bottle at his feet, which he dips into every now and then, the music he plays is stunning. His voice is stunning. It’s all just too beautiful. For a moment, I forget everything and duck inside the music. I am there, surfing on those moonlit vocals, lifting my face to piano notes that fall like rain.
And then the other smell starts asserting itself – cigarette smoke. It’s illegal to smoke in public places in the UK, but this is clearly a lawless space and people are lighting up in the foyer. I start coughing and wheezing, and by 10:30, I’ve had enough.
I run down the road, heading straight for Shepherd’s Bush Market station, making sure to avoid eye contact (this area is dodgy). Just over an hour later, I’m back home, Rosie is snoring gently, and my clothes are in the washing machine.
I’ve come away with the realisation that I have really left this kind of thing behind. In my youth, I went to gig after gig, watching every band there was to see (The Smiths, the Pixies, the Jesus and Mary Chain, The The, the Sugarcubes, David Bowie) the list goes on and on. I braved smoke and mosh pits, crowd surfers and screamers. But I can’t do it any more.
I want things to start on time and end on time. I want clean seats and smoke-free venues. I want excellent acoustics. And I don’t want to have to negotiate smells that are better left in a toilet. Above all, I don’t want to be around the stink of beer. I can’t be around that smell. I can’t be around alcohol. Period.
So, next time the bands come to perform, it will be the Purcell room for me – or some other rarefied venue. I guess I’ve just reached that era, hunh?
And for the curious among you, here’s a track from the man, Neil Halstead, playing with his old band Mojave 3. Enjoy, hopefully in the sweet smelling comfort of your own home.