There’s something that feels inherently wrong about strongly getting into a new musical artist at my age.
I’m not going to go into details, but I’m older (and fatter) than Ronaldo was when he was embarrassingly decrepit and past his prime at World Cup 2006- which was once my very barometer of shameful over-maturity- but younger than Diamond Dallas Page was when he first started wrestling, so that dream isn’t quite dead yet.
People my age have already long decided the six or seven artists that they will listen to for the rest of their lives, and proper adulthood offers scant time to invest the commitment needed to get properly emotionally attached to anything else. People my age have a proper job, and a proper family, and when they’ve spent all day designing databases to backfill the leverage paradigm shifts (or whatever it is those adults in suits do) only to come home to find their eldest son- who they freaking hate by the way- has been sent home from school for headbutting the district nurse, they don’t want to exert any further effort into searching out new music to love. They want to listen to music that’s been with them all their life, regardless of its quality. ‘The Queen is Dead’, ‘London Calling’ or ‘Blood Sex Sugar Magik’: music that has been comprehensively bettered since its release and/or was absolute tosh in the first place, but the artistic value is irrelevant as it takes adults back to the comfort of their youth and offers the security of the never changing past. Adults might buy the new CD by Liam Gallagher or The Darkness to play in the car, like they’re checking up on how old friends are doing, but due to time restraints any new artist outside your monkey cage is treated with the same disregard that you afford your husband’s new secretary that he’s spending a lot of time with.
Which is fine, of course, people consume art in many different ways and they’re all equally as legitimate: nobody’s going to tell me that me only enjoying the films of Werner Herzog as background accompaniment to me attempting to make my two nipples touch as somehow improper. However, it makes it more difficult to convince people that you’ve unearthed one of the world’s greatest bands.
I’m nether intelligent nor articulate enough to explain why The Hotelier are one of the greatest rock bands I’ve heard for years. They manage to scale emotional heights (and depths) with such deft that manages to be deeply effecting without ever seeming mawkish or manipulative, managing to strike that near impossible balance between earnestness and humour. Musically, they’re subtly experimental and expansive without ever jeopardising their inherent accessibility. Also, like, the tunes are really good.
I can’t convince fellow adults of this though, so last night I went to see them on my own, at Gorilla in Manchester supporting Cloud Nothings.
Going to gigs used to be a near weekly expedition for me when I was more appropriately aged. Gig attendance was such a necessity for me that I managed to see Goldie Lookin’ Chain twice. I once had sex with a woman in the car park outside a Squarepusher gig, which admittedly proves nothing but I just thought I’d mention it. The last gig I saw was The Future of the Left at Norwich Arts Centre in late 2009, before moving to, in order: Guangzhou, Xinjiang, Urumqi Hospital, Salford Hospital, Sheffield Hospital, Mum’s house, and finally the tiny but lovely council house I garble this bilge from. I had taken a medically induced eight year break from gigs, but fallen in love with The Hotelier so comprehensively that I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to see them.
Margret Thatcher once said that “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure”*. As I waited for the 101** I console myself with the probability that if anyone were to see me- a (cough) 29 year old man with one leg in cast and managing to hobble along only with the support of a stick- that it’s unlikely they’ll consider me a failure because I’m waiting for a bus. I see an extremely attractive woman at the bus stop, laughing with her friends at some internet video***, and try my best to admire how beautiful she is while not looking like/being a horrible old creep. Back in the day I’d probably start up a conversation with her, make her laugh with suggestive statements. It would unlikely lead anywhere but I’d feel happy at having made a pretty girl laugh today. I grow nostalgic thinking about the confidence I once had.
The bus arrives and the woman moves next to me as we both squeeze in the queue. Close up I see that she has braces, and is possibly 14 years old. A really attractive 14 year old, don’t get me wrong, but that kind of argument only stands up in court if my legal team proves she’s a bit of a slag . Now, I did English at school, I understand subtext and hidden meanings- I know that when Macbeth says ‘Is this a dagger I see before me?’ he’s really talking about his penis; I know that when Lennie like soft furry things in ‘Of Mice and Men’ he’s really talking about penises; and I know that the ‘mockingbird’ in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is really a penis- so I could easily read the messages here. You’re far too old for this, the Gods were telling me, and any attempt to prove otherwise will result in huge embarrassment and perhaps jail.
My ticket said the doors opened at 7:30. Did that mean the bands started at 7:30? It had been so long since I’d been to a gig that I honestly couldn’t remember what the system was. The Hotelier were the support act, so maybe I’d arrive at 7:45 and miss the start of the gig. The bus arrived at Gorilla at 7:25. I’d never been to Gorilla, not even in my footfree and fancyloose age appropriate days of hard-drinking and desolate yet intensely validating casual sex. I pass it on the bus every day on my way to MRSN, but it looked like just a bar that I couldn’t imagine any band being able to fit into play, unless it was a Coyote Ugly style bar performance, which I was very much looking forward to. The bar was ridiculously packed, a horrible seething mass of younger and prettier people than me. That many humans in one place is far too many to handle, whatever the physical attractiveness. I was relieved to see a poster advertising the entrance to the Cloud Nothings performance being round the back.
I arrived just in time for them to open the doors. A bouncer asks to check my bag. He sees that I’m reading a book that betrays an abnormal interest in the 20th century history of Eritrea, but sees no reason to refuse me entrance.
He tells me that I can’t take in my bottle of Lukazade.
“Is there a bar inside?”, I ask.
It’s really been a long time since I went to a gig.
I’m one of the first people in. I take that photo, because I know I’m going to be writing this, but no others. You’ll have to trust me that I was at the gig, my tablet takes crap photos and there really is no need for me to insert constant visual bookmarks into the evening to somehow authenticate it.
I go to the bar and order a coke. There are no plausible seats in the arena, so I prop myself up against the end of the bar to help alleviate pain in my legs. My doctor said I should keep my right foot elevated above my heart as much as possible. This is rather beyond the realms of possibility for me standing at the bar at Gorilla, so I occasionally lift my knee up to my chest, hoping it has similar positive effects on my blood stream.
I look around at the maybe two dozen people as early as me. I’m not definitely the oldest person at the gig, which was my big worry, but there are people here who are definitely younger than me. However, nobody had braces, as far as I could see****.
I turn back toward the bar. I’m confronted with my own face in the mirror behind it. I stare at myself and wonder what exactly I look like. Am I attractive? Do I look ridiculously too old to be at a gig like this? I don’t look old at all, do I? Am I a handsome young man waiting for his equally hot date?
Am I the old man at the bar?
Am I just what all old men at bars are? Are old men at bars just men whose friends have all outgrown music? Are they all just lonely old people who haven’t found anyone who loves them hard or long enough to still offer companionship into their old age? Are they all probably too old to logistically find a woman who’ll love them for a long enough to start a family with? Is this their life now? Will the rest of their existence be marked by growing more and more obviously the oldest person at gigs as the rest of the crowd get younger and have more and more fun that their not allowed to share in?
A poster says that The Hotelier are on at 8:30. Say that on the ticket!
It’s 7:37. My feet really hurt. I’m an old man.
The venue gets more and more full. I timidly squeeze further and further into the corner of the bar in order to take up less space from all the cool, attractive young people ordering proper drinks like ‘Lagersteiner’ or ‘double rocks up a slim’. I order another coke. Times like this are why people drink: if I were drunk then standing on one foot at the end of a bar on my own would somehow be entertaining.
I move closer to the stage as 8:30 approaches. I look around the crowd. These are proper Hotelier fans: they’ve been into the band since ‘It Never Goes Out’ in 2011*****, they know all the lyrics of all the b-sides, they must look at me- who only fell in love with the band after hearing ‘Goodness’ maybe a year ago- with the same disdain I used to view Manic Street Preachers fans who only knew ‘Everything Must Go’ and ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’******- fucking casuals!!
But, then the band come on launch straight into Two Deliverances and my fears are immediately dispelled: these songs are mine.
The songs from ‘Goodness’ always turn knots in my stomach, they ignite feelings of deep nostalgia within me despite me only living with them for less than a year. Perhaps it was the circumstances surrounding my discovery of the album. This time last year I experienced a violent and debilitating emotional crash. I had convinced myself that I had found a way of curing my depression with a certain drug and so stopped taking my antidepressants. This had the predictable effect of dumping me far lower than I had often been before. At the same time I was informed by the DWP that I was no longer considered disabled and so my benefits were stopped just before Christmas. I suddenly stopped enjoying listening to music, and perhaps as a result stopped enjoying near enough everything. It was about a year ago that I began thinking about what the simplest and least painful way of killing myself was
“A guy came up to me today and asked me ‘are you Christian from The Hotelier’…”
“That was me!” a guy in the crowd shouts.
I had no idea what the singer’s name was until this point.
At the start of 2017, I started to volunteer at refugee and immigrant charities, believing that I may as well get experience in areas appropriate to the pipe dream of Immigration Adviser. Around this time I started listening to ‘Goodness’, and the more I grew to love the album over the next few months coincided with me growing more into my ‘work’ in immigration, the more experienced and confident I became in my ‘job’ coincided with The Hotelier’s third album burrowing into my subconscious. It became the soundtrack to my rehabilitation: not exactly being a reason to live entirely, but at least soundtracking my new appreciation of life.
There’s a woman behind me who sings along to every word. I begin making wedding plans.
And yet here I was a year on from that low point, watching the band live, wary of staying up to late because I have a course on Immigration Law in the morning that will hopefully lead to full Immigration Adviser accreditation. So, yeah, kids: you can have your Introduction to the Albums and your Your Deep Rests, I’ll let you keep those.
‘Goodness’ though, those songs are mine. I dance as much as a man in a cast and on a walking stick feasibly could
Then they play it…
There’s far too much attention paid to what songs were intended to be about. It irritates me to the extreme when fat idiots make jokes about couples playing Every Breath You Take at their wedding, laughing at the idiots for not realising that the song is really about stalking. It isn’t though. When Janet and Craig play Every Breath You Take it’s about how much Janet loves Craig. That’s what songs are. That’s what art is. When you laugh at Janet and Craig you’re really poking fun at them for not agreeing with Sting. I don’t want to live in a world where disagreeing with Sting is legitimate grounds for mockery.
I love Soft Animal as much as I have ever loved anything. I have no idea what it was intended to mean when it was first written down. But I know what it means to me, I know what it represents.
A huge white light suddenly turns on the opposite side of the stage, silhouetting Christian as he leaps to the microphone and belts out the song’s chorus.
“Makes me feel alive, makes me feel like I don’t have to die”
I literally start crying. I’m a (cough) 29 year old man crying at a gig like I was a 12 year old girl seeing Liam Payne in the flesh for the first time. Thank God I came here alone: I’d never live this embarrassment down if my friends were here.
“Play some oldies!” the woman next to me shouts. I cancel the wedding plans: that’s the kind of thinking that made Brexit inevitable
After The Hotelier finish I leave the venue. My legs are aching for standing for so long, and I feel far too emotionally wrung to watch Cloud Nothings, a band I have little to no emotional connection to.
Outside, the bus is already pulling away, but stops and waits when the driver sees he hobbling across the road in a cast.
The driver lets me on for free. I already have a weekly ticket so it wouldn’t have cost me anything, but it’s a nice gesture, isn’t it?
* Well, she probably didn’t, it’s all apocryphal and shit, but just go with it
** Or 102, 103, 104 or 109: Manchester has a very decent bus/failure system
*** More than likely an ISIS beheading video #KidsTheseDays
**** What’s the weirdest Tumblr you’ve found today??
***** Before writing this review, I honestly thought they only had two albums- that’s how much of a disgusting casual fan I am
****** That is an atrociously long album title: sort it out, Manics*******
******* Nah, I love you really********
******** Talking about ‘atrociously long’ (fnarr!!): eight asterisks is a bit excessive, isn’t it?
I actually went to a John Cooper Clarke gig with my Dad a few weeks ago, but I chose not to count that because:
a) It didn’t fit the narrative
b) It was really shit