Since Saturday 6th April 2019 – in fact, no, wait – on Saturday 6th April 2019, during the first 2 minutes of Murder Capital’s short support slot and by the end of the first two songs from the headliners IDLES, I knew. I was actively reflecting, in the moment. Those gigs that have impacted on a life, seared themselves into one’s conscience. I remember and memories are what help us become more than just insignificant souls on this tiny planet, mere specks in the universe. Memories push us forward, reclaiming the past from the present and propelling us into the embrace of the future.
Moments of pleasure, drawn out into two hour tableaux, colours clashing and colliding: Orbital in a field in 1999, the night before the solar eclipse; Public Enemy on a flat, unending space in Reading, August 1993 when the turf became a sprung dance floor; PJ Harvey at Manchester Boardwalk in 1992, a tiny venue where a Dorset girl exploded into my view and life was never quite the same again; Buffalo Tom and Nirvana within months of each other in the same year – raw, yet tender, white noise transformed into heartrending melodies, perfect memories. Blue Aeroplanes, Jeff Buckley, The Go Betweens, the list cascades into view – and now we are here.
So, this writer is a 'Johnny come lately', comparatively speaking. Aware of IDLES from the music press but remaining indifferent for no other reason than I was maybe more into Sza or Solange at that time, glorying in the rhyme craft of J Cole and returning to forever with early Pearl Jam and captivated by Christine. I saw stills from the video for Mother. I was intrigued, of course. I didn't leave it too late, thankfully and when it hit me, it drove like a juggernaut for my solar plexus. Once bitten, forever smitten, or so it seems. Over and over and over and over again…
How I came to be standing in the Electric Ballroom emanated from a combination of simple, humane love from a small collection of people all linked in some way to AF Gangers, the 16k strong collection of healthy IDLES fanatics, responded with generous aplomb to my online pleas. I had hoped my esteemed editor might be able to wangle a ticket but no such luck. Instead (all names in lights at the end of this by the way), certain insanely wondrous humans gave up their time to contrive for me to have an invitation to the ball.
So, here we are and I am. Murder Capital [ably supporting] bring the fear. Declamatory vocals soar just above head height, penetrating the soft air, cries of FOUR, FOUR, FOUR ratcheting up the tension levels almost immediately – a concise riot that roots me to the spot. Next song references ‘green and blue’, doubled up with guitar noise and a bassist on the edge of possession, playing ‘thud thud’ at the lowest level on the fret, owning the stage. Other riffs obliterate everything in their wake, whilst I catch fiercely committed vocals, deep baritone invoking inspiration from our darkest thoughts – ‘Failing this, we remember why we die…’ set against, ‘So we flow together, we can change the tide.’ Fire fire, it’s akin to the sound of collapsing buildings but you can't and don't want to run and hide as it’s right here, in front of you. Don't bother trying to escape – fall into the void.
I’m reminded variously of Fugazi, the long lamented Fatima Mansions and The Fall, all bound up in frenzied melody and a palpable sense of desperation which is, actually, the skittering desire to communicate. Awake and alive, furious and relevant: make them mean more and matter – it is down to you, don’t delay.
Boys make lists don’t they? See above, how events are recalled, the moments that shape us, generate an aura; I’ve always made lists, mostly in my head, I carry them around, communicating them sometimes to any willing party that might be prepared to listen – the kindred fanatics. I know there are people here tonight who’ve watched IDLES 6 or more times, maybe even 20. I like these kinds of people – the ethos of following a band from town to town and, by all accounts, country to continent. It is heroism in its purest form – nothing else matters. And, for more than two hours, this is EVERYTHING.
Butterflies do their iridescent thing in my being – are they really that excellent? I need not have worried, even for a millisecond. There has to be a first time for everything in life. This must be close to my several hundredth gig … and Idles only go and start with ‘Colossus’ and ‘Perm’ – born again, not for the first time. Colossal cannot even begin to encompass this experience – a frothing sea of hands, hearts and heads greets the band as Joe screams ‘It’s coming’ into the lightning-charged air. I mean, really? ‘Perm’ is beyond belief, it feels like the walls might cave in and we’re only two songs from inception.
I’m checking my notes now – the scrawl makes no logical sense. I have firebrand [he’s a born again preacher], dervish [probably Bobo], GREAT!!! [an anthem for hope] … then the exquisite moment when Bobo mounts the stairs to within a few inches of where I am standing, guitar in hand, celebrating the idiotic joy of just being amongst the throng: this happens abut five more times before the end of the night! It’s all scrawl, but Joe is jogging on the spot, running around, beating his cheat with the mic, gleefully declaiming ‘I am a Sleaford Mod’ during the build up to ‘Scum’ and its gleeful, football chant chorus. UNITY.
Heal / Heel and Danny Nedelko rush by in a euphoric blur, yet the pervasive message is clear: we need to celebrate our individuality and humanity, embrace difference and put two fingers up to compromise.
Joe lends some superlative touches, urging us to all stay safe, introducing both tour managers and thanking the security for looking after the punters – for there is MUCH crowd-surfing and moshing this very evening. Hilarity later ensues when Joe lambasts the dull, leaden reputation of Oasis that might, in some cases, prove a step too far for some. A raucous terrace chant of ‘Wonderwall’ and a few lines from ‘Stand by Me’ reveal the average white band mentality of Britpop, the polar opposite of Idles’ brand of punk, never derivative, always entertaining – NEVER BORED.
The febrile atmosphere builds towers in front of the crowd : glorious, glittering towers of guitar madness, ready to be vaulted. Punters are invited up on stage to play guitar, the whole crowd goes apeshit crazy in unbridled ecstasy and, somehow, the band keep it together amidst this gorgeous chaos. I can hear the blood pumping through my veins – this is a superhuman experience, each soul incandescent in appreciation of a myth being formed from absolute truth.
They promise ‘Well Done’; they do it, it’s marvellous and laugh out loud funny, as you would expect. ‘Exeter’ is dedicated to a ‘small town full of narrow minded cunts’ and it just about blows the bloody doors off. In a bizarre interlude, Bobo clambers onto Joe’s shoulders for an impromptu rendition of Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer’. It is a teenage riot of hilarity.
As the two-hour mark creeps up, the rage of ‘Rottweiler’ is unleashed, morphing into what seems like a ten-minute excursion towards tribal noise; the urge to ‘keep going’ is ever present but all things must pass.
No encore and now on the way out but hold up, wait a minute. I’m allowed to go backstage where I meet bassist Dev [no hair, massive beard] and Joe [massively tattooed] – hugs and tears are exchanged on my side. I am nearing 50 and I felt like 25 tonight.
I’ll say it now, in a boy-like way – one of the greatest live performances I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. It would not have been possible without the assistance of the following: Maddie Davies [ticket provider - for FREE!], Brian Mimpress [ticket handover king] and Steve Muscutt [my esteemed editor and in-between man who texted and massaged the messages to make doubly sure it happened], as well as a lovely band of AF Gangers who revealed new levels of love and acceptance.
I can feel my heart aflame reminiscing about this night. It is burnt in my memory banks and the orange glow will keep me alive and eager for years to come…