Musings on the return of live music in the lockdown age with The Blinders' beer garden gigs at our local

It’s a Monday in early October. I’ve finished a week of nightshifts and I’m lucky to now have a full week off work to myself. I’d usually spend this time heading to a gig in town, going to the pub with friends, visiting family, the usual stuff. Yet, it’s a Monday in early October in the height of a global pandemic. No gigs, no late night trips to the pub, no visiting family, no usual stuff. I get a message from my friend “they’re doing a gig again!”. The ‘they’re’ is The Blinders, a band I’ve seen live several times, reviewed, interviewed, praised. A few weeks ago, The Blinders held a gig at The Rose & Monkey pub in Manchester, a pub I visit often. It sold out instantly, no guest list, no press tickets. I was gutted, the chance to attend a live gig is a rarity in these times and a job I miss working. Yet, the message my friend sent me gives me hope, they’re doing another gig. I set a reminder on my phone to purchase tickets the following day at the dreaded 9am ticket launch time. I feel like I did in 2011 when buying tickets for One Direction’s performance at Manchester’s O2 Apollo, if I don’t get these tickets I’ve failed the younger me who could get a ticket for any gig despite the fear of the website crashing mid purchase.

It’s the following day and I have an awful feeling in my stomach. I haven’t felt this nervous about buying gig tickets in a while, it’s a feeling I both dread and love because I know in the following minutes I’ll either be thrilled to be attending a gig or heartbroken I missed out on the chance of seeing a musician I adore live. I’m privileged enough that my career as a freelance music journalist has seen me attend various gigs, walk up to the box office and say “Brigid Harrison-Draper +1 on the guest list”, sometimes I cringe saying it, sometimes I feel a sense of pride that I’ve made it mum, I’m on the guest list. It’s not about getting the ticket for free or the sense of feeling like a VIP, it’s knowing that someone, somewhere values my words and criticism and sees it as a job. I’m left in charge of buying these tickets, the guest list is rightly so non-existent for this gig, it cuts down on people turning up to the gig that don’t have tickets and provides an income for musicians and those involved in the music industry who have been neglected during these awful times. The clock ticks past 9am, I’m in. I grab the tickets, input my payment info and proudly post the email confirmation on my Instagram should anyone care that I’m going to a gig.

A few days before the gig I receive an email and my heart sinks, has the gig already been cancelled? It’s an email explaining the rules and etiquette of the gig and how things will work. Table service for drinks and food, mask on if you get up and go to the toilet, sit with people in your bubble or household. It’s clear that both The Blinders and the staff of Rose & Monkey want me to have a fun but safe time at this gig. I start to think about the reality of this gig and how it’s actually going to work. The Blinders are a band you expect to see in a dingy venue that serves Guinness and has a sticky dancefloor, you get sweaty in the heat of the crowd jumping around, the toilets are harrowing but you don’t care because you are seeing one of the best bands to see live. Yet this gig will be different, how can they channel this energy whilst everyone is seated and staring right at them. I think about the time when I was 14 and attended my first ‘indie’ gig, away from the screams and hysteria of a pop concert. I had a panic attack in the middle of a crowd, I didn’t know what was happening but I didn’t like it. Since then I had a fear it would happen again, and it did. Every gig I attended I would repeatedly worry I’d pass out, that nobody would notice and I’d be left on the floor with the plastic beer cups and torn tickets. I’d consider buying a seated ticket for the gigs, knowing that my fear is routed in standing for too long. But the idea that you would be seated for an indie gig was strange for me and my friends, you want to be in the centre of the action, jumping around. There’s a sense of relief for this gig, knowing I can be myself and won’t have to worry about passing out or suffering from a panic attack as I’m guaranteed a wooden bench to sit on. I think about it for a while before worrying about more important things, like what I’m going to wear.

Photography by Sam Crowston

It’s the day of the gig and I’m sat in St Ann’s Square with a Pumpkin Spice Latte and a tote bag filled with my M&S reduced cost food. This isn’t how a gig would start for me. If it was 2011 I’d be making a banner hoping that Harry Styles would catch a glimpse of the cardboard with my Twitter handle written in glitter pens. If it was 2015 I’d be downing a bottle of Echo Falls on the bus, singing Oasis and thinking I was the missing female member of The Libertines. If it was 2017 and onwards I’d be more mature, it’s a pint of craft beer from my boyfriend’s favourite pub, contemplating if I should have worn the faux fur coat and red heeled boots or something more cooler. Yet, it’s 2020 and I’m sat watching the world go by whilst I start to worry about whether going to a gig right now is the best thing for me. Mentally, it’s what I need, I live for hearing and seeing live music. Physically, I hear the voices of the NHS advert that appears between my weekly catch up of Coronation Street and question if I should be going. Regardless, I tell myself I must go because I have spent money and I know that it will be much safer than the gigs of the past. I turn up to the venue 10 minutes before it starts, order a pint via my phone and sanitize my hands, just to be safe. The Blinders, made up of a mixture of the current line up and friends of the band who are musicians in their own right walk onto the small stage that would be the entrance to the beer garden I have such fond memories of being in.

Despite the awkwardness of having to get up and walk past the band to go to the toilet, the gig was a success. Compared to the large drive in gigs and socially distant concerts created by big brands, this gig feels a lot more special and monumental. It’s very much a ‘I was there’ moment, like The Beatles performing on the roof of Apple Corps, The Blinders performing at The Rose & Monkey Pub in Manchester is a gig I will be sharing with friends and family for a long time to come. They might not know who they are or care to listen to their music but the act of attending a gig that isn’t commercialised and feels real is a moment I wish to share with anybody who would care to listen. The Blinders perform with energy that I’ve never witnessed before, it’s all the passion but without the need to throw yourself around too, it’s hypnotising. As the gig ends and the band walk off with a glass of red wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other, I think about the review I will give of this gig. Would anybody have thought that in the height of a pandemic live music would exist? Would anybody have thought that just a few days after the Government suggest that those in the Arts should retrain as a cyber security assistant for a big corporation, that a band would be performing to a sold out crowd? At a time when live music seems so distant and a moment set in the past, The Blinders and friends have proven that music can survive if it is given the chance and support to live.