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Sunday, 11 December 2016

The loneliness of the long-distance gig-goer

"So you go, and you stand on your own / And you leave on your own / And you go home, and you cry / And you want to die". Oh, poor lonely Morrissey, standing all alone at the nightclub. Looking down at his half of shandy as a lovely youth passes by on the stairs. Their eyes destined never to meet. The shame of it. The sheer heart-rending emptiness. The desperate, grinding sadness. Also ... the excellent opportunities for song-writing ...

But no, Morrissey's self-aggrandising melodramatics aren't really my topic here (an excellent one though it is). The going out on your own part, though, is. Specifically, going to gigs alone. Unless you happen to have a couple of especially like-minded - or pliable - friends always on tap, being prepared to go to gigs unaccompanied becomes an ever-increasing necessity if you're halfway serious about seeing a few bands.

Think that's a bit odd? Too anti-social? I suspect some people do. It's not exactly the talked-about thing to do, is it? The first gigs I can recall going to on my own were in my long-distant Manchester days, back in the first half of the 90s. Having done the usual gigs-with-friends thing during an earlier undergrad phase (late 80s), here I was stranded with a girlfriend who didn't care about the music I liked. What to do? Er, well I just had to face it: if I wanted to go to any live music I had to screw up my puny stock of 20-something courage and go to see bloody Billy Bragg or Half Man Half Biscuit. And do it on my own. It didn't come naturally though.

Now I think about, I may have gone to my first-ever solo gig in 1988 or 1989: Spacemen 3 at the Hacienda (of all places). This was to do a review - my first and last - for the student newspaper. It was "an assignment", though, so I had an excuse for being on my own.

Anyway, fascinating though I'm sure all this is to my many readers ("tell us about your earlier days, Niluccio!"), what I'm getting at is the necessity of doing things alone if you want to do anything any good. Especially with gigs.

So forget the cosy trappings of the "gig mate", the person you think will be up for that gig on a Monday night. They won't. Or won't for many Mondays. And don't reach for the safety net of dragging your partner along. This won't work and will likely destroy what little affection the two of you have for each other. My own long-suffering partner (not the same one!) started her gig refusals with the Buff Medways in about 2002 and hasn't looked back since. The Great Decliner has turned down some of the most memorable gigs from arguably the best bands of the last 15 years. And I'd be a fool to ask her to go to any gigs these days (though I do occasionally - maybe it's for old time's sake).

No, you're on your own with all this. Which can be easier said than done. The places you've been to before are relatively easy. You know the ropes - just get down there, buy your miserable half of lager and stand around looking at your phone trying not to look overly-pathetic. New places are a bit more difficult. The slightly daunting business of trying to find somewhere and then make a go of it in unfamiliar surroundings: this might be the difference between going out or staying at home (so much easier after all).

So you just to have to brave it, heroically ignoring the possibility that other people at the gig may assume you're a friendless (gasp) "weirdo". Given that almost everyone who attends gigs is utterly oblivious to everything except their own precious concerns (next beer, where their friends are, overloud gossip-cum-banter) there's actually not much chance of that. And, if that is someone's attitude you rather think they shouldn't really be at a small gig in east London anyway (wouldn't they be more at home in some godawful VIP lounge of an "exclusive" bar somewhere?)

Naturally solo gig attendance presupposes you've absorbed a key gig-going rule I blogged about a few years ago: that you must NEVER chat to the bands. Observe this and you won't be trapped at gigs having to make conversation with a bass player with whom you have absolutely nothing in common (or not going to the gig in the first place for fear of this happening).

Solo gigs, solo films. The first film at the cinema I saw alone was Fran├žois Truffaut's Les Quatre Cents Coups. This film's amazing atmosphere has never left me partly because I saw it one afternoon in an almost-completely-empty cinema. OK, it's easier in a dark cinema auditorium than in a lively bar or a basement club, but the principle's the same. If it's worth seeing it's worth seeing alone. And if you see it alone it will probably have a bigger impact anyway.



Like Tom Courtenay in his great borstal breakout film, you've got to endure the pain and loneliness that goes with it if you're a long-distance gig-goer. Anyway, if you see me standing around on my own at a gig any time in the future, don't say hello ...

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