I haven’t been letting the grass grow under my feet this year. March saw me make my first hop over to Ireland, for a weekend of debauchery in Dublin, followed a week later by my ‘epic’ three week trip to the U.S. (well, the account of it was certainly epic…). Having been back in Britain for a little under a month, I was back on a plane, this time however travelling to a different country in the same nation.
I’ve been posting on a forum dedicated to the Manic Street Preachers for a few years now, and when a North of England meet up was mooted, I decided to book a flight and a hotel. If I’m being honest, I’m not entirely sure why; I’d already spent a fair amount of money on travel, but I suspect that part of my brain that rails against everything I think I know is right was having one of its mad half hours. Maybe I just wanted to meet new people.
Due to a bizarre and unlikely chain of events, Rangers, the team I support, managed to reach the UEFA cup final, which just happened to be held on the Wednesday before the meet up, in Manchester. I tried desperately to get a ticket, by fair means and foul, but it wasn’t meant to be. I had formulated a strategy of getting down to Lancashire on the Wednesday evening and staying there until the weekend, but ultimately I had no need of them. Instead, I opted to try and get into Ibrox, which had been opened by the club for fans to watch the game live on a jumbo screen TV, apparently the biggest in the World, which had been hired for the occasion. 25,000 fans would be granted entry to the stadium on a first come first served basis, with doors opening at 6pm, giving me ample time to get there from work.
The doors did open slightly early, due to the masses congregating outside (apparently some fans did camp overnight), and while I did managed to get into the ground, my view of the big screen wasn’t great.
Looking towards the Copland Road stand.
The main stand.
The above picture was taken just before half time, when I left the ground. I was cold (having left my jacket in the car), I was hungry (the concourses had completely sold out of food), and I could hardly see the bloody game. Surmising that the roads would be quiet because of the game, I ran back to the car, and made it home five minutes after the restart. It was listening to the radio I heard the first news of the trouble in Manchester, and I felt a sense of impending doom.
The game, if you don’t know, finished 2-0 to Zenit St. Petersburg. I don’t know if I’ll ever see Rangers play in a European final again, so it was particularly hard to take. What was worse however, was the behaviour of some people wearing Rangers colours. I say ‘wearing colours’ as I’m not convinced that all fo them were Rangers fans, and secondly, those that were are not supporters of the club. If they were, they’d think twice about dragging the reputations of the club and the country through the gutter. The fallout from the final has been interesting, if uncomfortable to experience as a Rangers fan.
A Rangers fan that is an Atheist and a Republican. I mention this because delineation of Rangers fans has tended to tend towards one distinct stereotype; Rangers fans are all violent, alcoholic, loyalist, Unionist, Protestant Nazis, and so on and so forth. This stereotype had thrived in Scotland over the last 25 years, and I’ve noticed its growth in England recently, and while I can’t deny that there’s a kernel of truth in most stereotypes, and I’m not completely sure about this one. I certainly can’t bring myself to believe that the Nazi one is anything other than a playground variation of Godwin’s Law, but there you go. I’m judging the rest of the Rangers support on the kind of person I am, and while that doesn’t prove all Rangers fans are decent law-abiding citizens, it doesn’t prove we’re all knuckle dragging morons either.
So, three days after some well documented out-breaks of violence had marred Rangers defeat in the UEFA cup final, I made my way to the airport feeling very disheartened. I didn’t know what kind of reception a Scottishaccent would get in the city, but my experiences of living in England for five years had taught me that some English people don’t have an incredibly high opinion of the Scots in the first place, and they’d need no invitation to revise it. An article in the Times on the Thursday after the game certainly given this feeling some room to grow. A Great Big Crack in the Union Jack indeed as Mr. Anderson once said.
My flight got me into Manchester stupidly early, so I had nothing better to do for a while than wander around looking at the still not yet open shops and decide what to eat for breakfast that wouldn’t entail me imparting elaborate instructions to someone, revealing where I was from. In the end I opted for a Chicken Tikkasandwich from Subway, which I ordered with an odd softly Glaswegianwith hints of Wolverhampton accent.
If you’re reading this thinking “What a complete twat,” don’t be offended. I don’t think Englishpeople would have any problem withme, but I always have problems with myself. My embarrassment at the behaviour of my fellow fans and countrymen reflects more on me than the nation down the road.
The most famous Arndale Centre.
Manchester’s only Rangers fan?
The Munich Memorial Tunnel. No, I don’t know either.
The clock is permanently stopped at the time of the accident.
The names of those players that died as a result of the crash.
Matt Busby, Utd’s Scottish manager and Munich survivor.
He looks down from his vantage point in front of the East stand.
An attempt at art. See also, fail.
A Manics meet up?
From the Manchester Ferris wheel, looking North West (ish)
A more west wards view.
Looking down Corporation Street. The Printworks is on the right.
The Urbis Building.
And from Corporation Street.
The Beetham Tower, the tallest building in Manchester. Most of the apartments in this block were sold before the building was finished. Now, due to the downturn in the housing market, a lot of them are for sale.
Anyway, with a few hours to go until the meet up, I decided to kill some time (that appears to be a recurring motif in my blog entries recently), and caught the tram down to Old Trafford. I’m not a fan of the club, by any means, but Old Trafford does fascinate me from an architectural point of view, as most grounds do (I was avoiding the other one). I think mainly I went to get one over on my Manyoo supporting cousin; not only have I now been to Manchester two more times than him (from two visits), but I’ve been inside Old Trafford itself. Alright, it was only the club shop, but I that counts, right? And if not, I had a piss in a toilet underneath the East Stand.
By now everyone else had made it to the pub we were meeting at; the Atheneum in Spring Gardens, trivia fans, so I jumped back on a tram which made its tedious way back into the city centre. I remember now that I had just finished reading Pies & Prejudice by Stuart Maconie at the time the meet up had been arranged, and he had extolled the virtues of Manchester and Salford. I was piqued by his account of the Lancashire I hadn’t seen on my previous two hour visit to Manchester some seven and a half years previously, and had wanted to visit some of the museums and sites he mentioned. Still, I had most of tomorrow to explore.
The meet up lasted a few hours, during which time I was introduced to a few people from the board, but I didn’t really click with any of them. I can be quite shy even when I’m not feeling mortally embarrassed, and so I tended to only be able to talk to Jeanette, Tim and Kevin.
That’s the only time I’ll mention his name, mainly because I don’t think it suits him, he doesn’t like, and it just doesn’t feel right calling him that, so instead I shall refer to him as Jimmi-Sue. Anyway, I first became aware of JSthrough the late, lamented SB message board, before we both migrated to the other one. Around the same time, I stumbled across his LiveJournal, one of two main inspirations for me starting my own, Sarah’s being the other. We have been talking on MSN for some four years now, but this would be the first time we’d meet in the flesh, so to speak…
We’d arranged to share a hotel room to cut costs, and I’d accidentally booked us a double instead of a twin. I suspect there may still be some scurrilous rumours circulating in the North of England…
Soon our numbers had dwindled from 12 to four. Jeanette, Tim, JS and I repaired to another bar, this time on a side street on the other side of Market Street. It was cramped and very rustic; I say rustic, flea-bitten might be a more appropriate adjective. We sat at one table while a few feet from us two Mancunians discussed the behaviour of some of the Rangers fans. I just couldn’t escape it.
Come 8pm, Jeanette and Tim decided to return to the former’s house, where the latter was staying, and JS and I were free to kick up our heels. We did this by drinking a lot, eating terrible scuzzy takeaway food, talking wonderful bollocks and drinking some more.
JS left fairly early the next morning to drive home, which meant I had to find something to occupy myself with for the best part of eight hours. My initial plan of exploring Manchester and Salford had since been thrown into doubt by how tired I felt, and so I elected to watch Iron Man in the nearby Printworks Odeon. It’s a very nice cinema, with big auditoria with ample C values (the clearance between your head and the person’s in front). I didn’t even pay for one of their premium seats, yet the one I had was perfectly fine. The film was good as well, a daftly enjoyable two hours of set pieces and deadpan humour from a genuinely talented actor. Mind you, I always tend to like the first film of every new batch of Marvel films and then find that the next two or three follow the rule of diminishing returns.
So, having seen yet another film to kill time when I should be enjoying myself, I took a ride on the giant ferris wheel across the road from the cinema. It’s only when I’ve reached a certain altitude that I remember I’m not brilliant with heights. It’s not a fear, more of an anxiety, and it manifests itself when I’m flying, and when I climbed the mountain in Yosemite, and as my cabin rose high above Corporation Street those familiar beads of sweat began to appear on the palms of my hands. It faded by the time the wheel made its second pass, but it’s still something I’ll always have to contend with.
And from then, I did nothing much, save desperately browsing shops (and buying more football shirts) before giving up on the City and heading for the airport. It was about five pm, and I was allowing myself plenty of time to catch my flight. Too much time, it would appear.
For after checking in and finishing reading my book, a tannoy announcement informed a gaggle of Glaswegians that their 50 minute flight North would be delayed by three hours due to the wonderfully euphemistic ‘operational procedures’. I’m still not entirely sure what this means, but it did result in a very grumpy Jay having to spend £10 on a copy of the Monty Pythons’ autobiography (that apostrophe was a mental minefield there) in order to give me something to do while I waited. The airline did give us all a five pound food voucher, and then informed us that all the shops and bars were closing in 25 minutes. I eventually got back to Glasgow at 12:30am, three hours after I was supposed to. At least they were consistent.
The Long And Winding Road
Both my parents are huge Paul McCartney fans. This to me, is odder than you would think given how popular the Beatles are, as almost everyone I’ve ever canvassed offers their opinion that John or George or Ringo or Neil or Pete or whoever was the best Beatle and Paul was just a cuddly moptop that wrote dippy ballads. Nothing could be further from the truth; from I Saw Her Standing There through to Get Back, Macca was writing rollicking good rock songs, in addition to the wonderful ballads and he was experimenting with tape loops when Lennon was getting monged off his tits in Surrey. My mother and father went to a Wings gig in Glasgow in late 1979 when my mother was seven months pregnant with me, and so perhaps it wasn’t a great surprise that I would grow up to be a huge McCartney fan myself. Being constantly exposed to two of Macca’s early 80s solo albums in my dad’s car certainly helped.
When the Beatles Anthology project was unleashed on an unwitting world in 1995, I finally decided that I was going to make an honest woman out of the music I’d long carried a torch for. I was familiar with a certain portion of the Beatles music, but as I watched the Anthology series (blissfully unaware of the pun), I couldn’t believe how many of the songs that were second nature to me, so familiar to me, had been written and or sung by the Beatles.
It sounds Spielbergian, but my father and I bonded over our mutual love of the Beatles (and more specifically Macca) after years of not really getting on or understanding each other. My new found interest in photography at that time helped (his profession), but it was mainly due to listening to Beatles albums and watching McCartney’s live shows on DVD that really got us on the same page. So much so that he mentioned one night should Paul play a gig in Glasgow any time soon, we should go.
Earlier in the year, I noticed somewhere, I can’t remember where exactly, that Macca had announced a headline gig at Anfield to mark Liverpool’s tenure as the European Capital of Culture. It would also apparently be the last gig ever to be held at Anfield before the famous old ground was demolished, and I decided that I had to try and get a ticket. Or two. Ticket sales, like those of the Uefa cup final, were on a ballot basis. So I applied for two tickets and didn’t hear anything else about it…
Until the Monday evening after my return from Manchester. Getting back home from work, I picked up an envelope that had arrived on the Saturday morning, at the same time as my new laptop power adaptor and a package of items I’d left in Ru and Matt’s house in California. I’d initially thought it was just the paperwork for the adaptor, and didn’t really pay it much attention until Monday evening when I realised the power pack’s documents were taped to its box. Curious, I opened the envelope, and found two garish green tickets for Macca’s Anfield gig staring back at me. ‘Ah’, was about all my brain could process.
This was on the 19th May, which gave me just two weeks to get myself organised. I told my dad, and told him one of the tickets was his, only for him to regretfully tell me he didn’t feel physically up to the 400 mile round trip and standing for several hours. As I’ve mentioned before, most people I know couldn’t care less about Paul McCartney, so I knew I was on a hiding to nothing finding someone else that would want to go. Ultimately I ended up giving my spare ticket to my mother.
That might sound like I didn’t want to take my mother, and if I’m being honest, I didn’t. In recent years she’s developed a habit of acting like a five year old drama queen, which can get a little irritating at times. I didn’t know quite what she’d be like to share a car and a concert with, but ultimately she was generally well behaved. Ahem. We left Glasgow for Lancashire at 10:30 am, and we made good head way until around 25-40 miles from Liverpool when the M6 ground to a halt. My navigator informed that we could get the A59 from just north of Preston to Liverpool instead. This wouldn’t turn out to be the best decision we’d made, and it was a few false starts until we got onto the road we were aiming for, but we managed to roll into Liverpool city centre at just after 5pm, when the doors at Anfield opened. We parked at Queen’s Square, which astoundingly for my luck was not only the first car park we came across, but right next to the bus station where a fleet of buses had been laid on to ferry (though not across the Mersey) thousands of fans the two miles to the stadium.
It was as we disembarked the bus on Priory Road that I first encountered the infamous Scouse Wit. The bus company employee giving us direction upon alighting told us that he was the singer from the Kaiser Chiefs and he only did this on the side. Well, it was funny at the time. We crossed Stanley Park, where the new Liverpool ground might/will/could/has/hasn’t/won’t be built, and then the fun and games began. Upon reaching Anfield road, we found a queue heading in the opposite direction from the ground, which we were instructed to join by the stewards. The queue snaked along Anfield Road, doubled back half way along Rockfield Road, turned onto back Rockfield Road, turned down Gillman Street, and rounded onto Walton Breck Road before any of us had any clear idea where we were going. At this point many of us were concerned that the organisation was a bit of a shambles, and we got the impression the organisers hadn’t expected so many people to turn up.
As we had general admission (pitch) tickets, we gained access from the tunnel between the Kop and the Centenary stand. As ticket holders in those two stands were admitted through the normal match turnstiles, the facilities in those stands were off limit to us (unlike say, the Muse gig at Wembley last year). However, portaloos, and food and souvenir stands had been set up in the yard behind the Centenary stand, and it was here I bought some food to take the edge off my hunger. Misunderstanding what I’d asked for due to my accent, the girl serving me gave me some friendly advice; ‘Nah, it’s a berrrrrgerrrrr.’
Neither my mother or I were drinking as we planned to drive straight back after the gig, so after we’d eaten (and I’d bought a t-shirt), we made our way down to the pitch again, noting that as Centenary stand ticket holders were entering the stand from the General access enclosure, there was nothing really stopping them getting on to the pitch. Save the surly, disinterested stewards.
The most famous of all the Kops. Top of the Kops, you might say.
We’d missed most of the Zutons, for one reason or another; I’m not cut up about that at all, and I wouldn’t have minded missing the Kaiser Chiefs as well. I can tolerate them in small doses, but by the end of their 12 or so song set, I was getting fantastically, homicidally bored. Thankfully they soon departed, and I began to look forward to Dave Grohl’s publicised appearance, only for the crew to set up Paul’s equipment instead. Then Peter Kay walked out, told a few jokes, and introduced the man himself, and I stopped wondering or caring where the ex-Nirvana drummer had got to.
As you’d expect from a man who’s written several hundred songs over a forty-five year career, he had a lot of material to choose from, and a lot of great songs can be left out. I was pretty pleased with the setlist:
Hippy, Hippy Shake
Drive My Car
Got To Get You Into My Life
Let Me Roll It
Long And Winding Road
Follow The Sun
Band On The Run (with Dave Grohl on guitar)
Back In The USSR (with Dave Grohl on drums)
Live And Let Die
Let It Be
A Day In The Life
Give Peace A Chance
I Saw Her Standing There (with Dave Grohl on drums)
The man himself.
Live and Let Die pyrotechnics, or a ‘Nam flashback.
There are a few songs, personal favourites, I really would have liked to have seen, like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Maybe I’m Amazed and No More Lonely Nights, but I can’t really grumble with what we were offered. Some of the songs were a surprise though, like Flaming Pie and its album stablemate Calico Skies, C Moon, Hippy Hippy Shake and A Day In The Life, which I’m not sure he’s ever played live before. It was a curious experience being amidst 35,000 Macca fans, as I kept expecting everyone to be dismissive of his set list and banter until I realised most of the people I was standing with were bigger fans of or almost as big a fan of his as I am. Hearing so many people softly singing Blackbird was an amazing sensation to behold, and the pyrotechnic explosion that heralds the first bridge of Live And Let Die was a percussive landmine like assault on us standing several dozen feet back, so god only knows what it was like for the people near the stage. And Dave Grohl did turn up after all, assisting Paul’s well oiled and slick band for a few songs. I Saw Her Standing There closed the set once and for all and the Liverpool skyline behind the Anfield Road stand and the stage melted into a multi-coloured cornucopia of some of the most spectacular fireworks I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been to Disney World.
So, all in all it was a great gig. I got to see the musician whose work probably means the most to me, live and in reasonably close quarters. Maybe close sixths, but still in the flesh. I have a t-shirt and a concert programme, and I’ll probably put them somewhere safe, along with the ticket and every so often I’ll look them out and remember the time I travelled 400 miles to see who I consider to be the best songwriter in musical history play a stadium gig in the city of his birth. There’s not really much I can do to top that, apart from trying to convince Morrissey and Marr to get back on speaking terms.
The journey home was a little smoother, save for us both being knackered, and we crawled into Glasgow at 5am. Fortunately, I’d taken the Monday off work, so I had plenty of time to just sleep and dream, dream and sleep.