This post has been inspired by this post by Emily Baker at The Pool.
I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical household. My dad, God love him, listened to The Fifty Guitars of Tommy Garrett and Sousa Marches. My mum listened to Radio Four.
The first pop song I really remember listening to was Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da by The Beatles. My mum was driving me back from nursery school. I don’t know why the usual Radio Four wasn’t on. Maybe she’d been listening to a play that had made her cry and needed some light relief. Anyway, I loved it. I loved it so much that over forty years later I remember hearing that song like it was yesterday.
It sparkled. It shone. I suddenly ‘understood’ what music was for and I wanted more of it. I wanted to dance. I wanted to sing. I wanted that uncomplicated happiness that music can bring. Later, when I realised it was capable of so much more I wanted to feel everything that music could throw at me. I wanted to listen to people who knew my pain and my joy, singing from their hearts straight to mine.
From that moment in the car all those years ago, I was hooked. I pleaded with my parents to be allowed to watch Top of The Pops every Thursday. After that it was a short step to taping the Top Forty every week and finally to the amazing experience of having a Walkman and being able to listen to whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted (funds permitting), as loud as I wanted.
Now Spotify is my constant companion and I marvel at the fact that I can find everything I want to listen to at the wiggle of a mouse.My days are full of music again, much to my delight.
Music was particularly important in my teenage years. Music offered a place where the vast, unwieldy emotions of adolescence were normal and you could just be yourself, even if you didn’t really know what that self was. In music I realised that I wasn’t a stranger in my own life. Books did the same thing, but they were a solitary pleasure. It was in music that I found my first tribe. Music connected me to myself and to other people.
Music was a gift to me and to millions of people like me. It continues to weave its magic on me and people like me and the generations coming after me. Tallulah, my ‘difficult middle child’, has always had music. It’s been her lifeline, her way of communicating when everything else fails. It has been her solace and her strength and her greatest passion.
She is fourteen. Just getting to the age where she’s starting to go to gigs properly.
A couple of years ago she went to her first gig. She and her dad drove up to Manchester to see Taylor Swift. She had been a ‘Swiftie’ since the beginning. She knew everything about her, everything. She was word perfect on the songs. Her room was a shrine. She even followed her cats on Instagram. We teased her, but I understood. My first gig had been to see Wet Wet Wet at Birmingham Arena. I loved them so hard, and when the tickets came I nearly died of joy. I know they weren’t cool. They aren’t cool. It doesn’t matter though, does it? It matters that you love and you love hard and every time a song comes on the radio you light up inside and it doesn’t matter if it’s The Wurzels or Bastille. It matters what it does for you. It matters that at that time in your life it completes you. So I got it.
She was sick with excitement for weeks beforehand. She made a costume, ordering battery pack driven fairy lights to twine around herself which she paid for with her hard earned money. She spent days painstakingly making a placard so big it took her and her dad to carry it. And he did, patiently and understandingly carry it and her to the gig of her life, because he too remembered what it was to be absolutely swept away by music that someone was making just for you.
She came home absolutely wrung out. It took days to recover because she had given those few, short hours everything she had to give, and in return she had received validation of her place in a world where she was perfect and everything was good and everyone understood her, because everyone was like her. While she was there she met a girl who lived hundreds of miles away, and they became fast friends, just like that, because they could, because that was what the music gave them.
I thought about that this morning when I heard the news about Manchester. I thought about all those children. I thought about all that love and excitement, all that joy and positivity. I thought about all that knowledge they had of how privileged they were to be in that moment and how maybe, for some of them, how they knew, like I once knew, that they had found their tribe at last. I thought about how someone believed that they had the right to take that away from those people and I despaired.
I thought about how easily it could have been my daughter.
My heart broke.
And I thought how easy it would be for me to stop her going to gigs, to ‘keep her safe’.
But then I thought about what we’d talk about when she comes home from school this afternoon, because I know she will be upset. But I know that that difficult conversation will be eased. It will be eased because we will sit around the kitchen table, in a house filled with music, and we will let it build a bridge between a worried middle aged woman and a scared teenager. We will let it help us find the right words or the right spaces when words won’t work. We will let it soothe our troubled minds and eventually we will let it slide happiness back where the sadness once was.
So I know I won’t stop her going to gigs when she wants to go. And I know it won’t stop me worrying, because I’m her mum, and that’s my job, but it will help. And it won’t bring all those poor, poor people back, but maybe it will help make a little sense of the sadness one day. And I don’t really know how to end this because there are no right answers. I just know I had to write it and all I have to offer is love, and music.
So maybe I’ll end it with the song I posted earlier on Facebook. You know Guy soothes my soul, and it seems fitting that he’s from Manchester, and that this song, about coming home, was filmed at Manchester Cathedral.