This week I attended a gig at Mandela Hall in Belfast. It has been a long time since I’ve gone to a gig. My recent musical excursions have all been concerts. What’s the difference between a gig and a concert I hear you say? Well, concerts tend to be at seated venues with crowds whose main purpose for being there is to listen to music. Gigs take place in venues with sticky floors and poorly lit smelly rooms where the people come to drink lots of beer and generally stand tightly packed or jump around and scream the lyrics back at the artist.
The event on Tuesday was definitely a gig. The venue was Queens University Student Union, the artist – Jamie T. There were about 800 people packed into this little space - The majority of the people younger than me. I assumed my usual position in front of the sound desk (for two reasons the first is it’s usually the best sound and second, there’s a barrier to rest against). Doors opened at 7pm and I turned up about 9pm. I wasn’t interested in getting to the front of the stage or listening to the support act. I usually like watching the support act but as this week is so busy I decided to put my wee boy to bed before heading to the gig - it wasn’t a tough choice really : get a hug and kiss good night from my son or spend 2 hours listening to music I don’t know while all around me students get gradually more drunk and more stupid.
My favourite part of the gig is the minute right before the band come on stage – the lights are dipped and the crowd start to cheer in anticipation. I like to try and guess what song they’re going to start off with. Bands usually choose something familiar and crowd pleasing. If an artist gets the first song right they can do whatever they like for the next 3/4 songs. If they get it wrong it can take 3/4 songs to get the crowd back on side (a prime example of this was the last time I saw Counting Crows they started with the song Speedway which is a great song but a terrible opening song). Jamie T kicked off with The Man’s Machine – perfect start. The crowd went mental.
I’ve been going to gigs since I could memorise a fake date-of-birth but I’ve noticed a recent trend that really annoys me. This may just be a Northern Ireland thing - this may have always happened but I just hadn’t noticed it before. The phenomenon is the throwing of your drinks over the crowd. Why would you spend £3 on a pint only to throw £1.50 of it into the crowd? I felt sorry for those people at the front of the stage who took the brunt of the beer barrage.
I caught myself looking disapprovingly at some young man beside me who with his back to the stage nonchalantly tossed his beer over his head – not too dissimilar to Begby in Trainspotting. When we made eye contact the scorn on my furrowed face abruptly put an end to his smug chortling. I was beginning to feel like a school teacher who had taken his troublesome class on a fieldtrip.
In one break between songs, after the keyboard player had been hit clean in the face by one expertly pitched half-pint, Jamie T addressed the crowd. “We remember” he stated “when we would go to gigs and throw pints at the band...” I thought to myself, Here we go, he’s about to tell everyone off. “...we didn’t do it out of malice; it was just part of going to see bands. It was a sign of how much we were enjoying ourselves...”. Arms crossed over my chest I was confident of the scolding that was to follow and I even allowed myself a little smirk as I looked down on the unruly youth around me. “...well we want to say that it’s okay to throw things – in fact during this next song throw everything you’ve got!”
What followed could only be described the joyful anarchy of youth as beer, clothes, people and even mobile phones were thrown towards the stage. I couldn’t help but watch and laugh as I rounded my shoulders and lowered my head in anticipation of a bombardment from the balcony above me.
I would never knowingly volunteer to be showered with beer but I can’t help thinking that if I were 15 years younger I might just have been at the front of the stage, topless, sticky and hoarse from shouting at the bass player to throw my mobile phone back!!!