The long walk back from Ally Pally
The last gig I went to before all this (gestures wildly at everything) kicked off was at Alexandra Palace. Anyone who has been to Ally Pally will tell you that it is an almost uniquely annoying venue to get to. Unless you happen to live in north London you are faced with a pretty lengthy tube journey, and then a significant walk uphill, or, if you’re lazy like me, a queue for a seat on the shuttle bus. It’s worse leaving, when the queues for the bus back down the hill are too long to seriously contemplate as everyone disperses at once. Almost every time I leave Ally Pally I take a wrong turn at some point and end up doubling my journey back to the station. The price I pay for having a few too many drinks and paying far too little attention. But after more than a year unable to go to a gig, I would do anything to be making that walk back down the hill to Wood Green tube.
The gig in question was Bombay Bicycle Club and, all being well, they will be my first gig post-lockdown. Come August bank holiday weekend I should be at All Points East, drinking and dancing to some of my favourite songs with an army of friends. (Incidentally, Bombay Bicycle Club are sharing a bill with Foals that day, who were the first gig I had cancelled by the pandemic. It’s all very serendipitous.)
For the first year of covid I didn’t miss gigs all that much. I’d have loved to be able to go to one, but I was preoccupied by missing slightly bigger things. Hugging my sisters, putting the world to rights with my mates at the pub, going on holiday with my better half. The absence of gigs was just a quiet, nagging thought at the back of my mind, overwhelmed by all the bigger changes I was living through.
But recently, as some of those bigger voids were filled once again, things changed. I found myself missing live music terribly. Two things really drove home how much I was starting to feel that particular absence. Firstly, when I was tidying up my phone gallery, I found myself watching videos I had taken of some gigs a few years ago. As with any footage of a gig captured by a mobile phone, the quality was lacking. The sound was unclear, the video was a blur of lights, and I had only filmed snippets of songs. But I was replaying them over and over, sinking into a snapshot of a world I hadn’t visited in a while. Secondly, I started compiling a YouTube playlist of live performances, and I was gravitating towards those that resembled my own, ropey videos filmed from the middle of a crowd.
I listen to music constantly. I’m rarely without my headphones in. I’ve been known to buy a new pair when out and about because the battery ran out in my wireless ones. I once lost my iPod (remember those?) and panicked more than on any of the numerous occasions I have misplaced my wallet. But recently the polished production of studio albums just hasn’t been hitting the spot.
Music is elevated by live performance. No song is better than when it is being performed by those who wrote it to a sea of passionate fans. Many of my greatest memories have been in the middle of a crowd, singing along to a song that touches some part of me in a way nothing else can. Because music is meant to be a communal experience, and after a year where communal experiences have been incredibly hard to come by, the return of live music can’t come soon enough. In the words of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon “this is not entertainment, this is a spiritual fucking thing”. I think we could all do with a spiritual moment after the year we’ve had.
The good news is the end is in sight. In the last few days there have been test events in Liverpool, officially the first gigs in front of a large crowd since we entered lockdown 14 months ago. My much anticipated trip to All Points East is set to go ahead. If it does, I will celebrate it. I will revel in every moment of it. I’ll dance and I’ll sing and I’ll drink. After being denied access to live music for over a year, I won’t take it for granted. And maybe, when I next visit Ally Pally, I’ll even enjoy the walk down the hill.