Manchester Arena anniversary: women share first gig stories



It’s the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena attack on Tuesday, Getintothis’ Cath Bore hears personal stories from music-loving Merseyside women about the first gigs they attended and why they mattered so much.

First gigs are important. The first time we take something and make it ours, is a precious thing. The first gigs we choose to attend as teenagers or younger are a sign we’re growing up and staking a claim away from the home andour parents. It’s when we realise there’s a world outside school, our bedrooms and friend’s houses, and that there are possibilities out there for the taking. A massive step towards adulthood.

Many of those present at the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena on 22 May last year, part of her Dangerous Woman tour,  were young and female and at their first gig or thereabouts, so it seemed appropriate to acknowledge that on this, the attack’s one year anniversary. To mark the twelve months since that night, women writers and photographers at Getintothis plus Merseyside female musicians and those involved in the local music industry have shared their stories of the first gig they ever attended.

It’s frequently the case that our first gigs won’t earn us many cool points as adults and the honesty from those who have shared their stories for this has been admirable, heroic, even. The temptation to claim gigs we’d like to have been our first but are no such thing is immense, but we all stood strong and proudly confessed. The thing is, it doesn’t matter if we haven’t listened to the artists concerned – or even thought of them much – since we’ve grown into women. What matters is that we were there, and took that step.

Growing up in the sticks, in a remote village in Lancashire, my first gig wasn’t the same as if I’d been brought up in a city. Life is slower in rural areas, it ambles on at a different pace and you exist in a weird other-world vacuum. There were no music venues where I was, and still aren’t as far as I’m aware, meaning I’m not sure what my first one was, exactly. All I know is that it is one of two candidates.

Our school had a disco on Friday lunchtimes. One week they presented us with a singer who sang some songs. He had a strong tan and very white teeth. He gave out signed A4 photos, and kissed all the girls on the cheek. The latter wouldn’t happen now, would it?

Even then, in my early teens, I knew he was a bit too old to make it as a teen pop star and that he simply wasn’t good enough.  I do wonder what happened to him, but all I know is that he was never on Top of The Pops.

The other possibility was the direct influence of my Auntie Lilian. She wasn’t my real auntie, a school friend of my mum’s instead, but closer than real blood. She had a record player in her front room, one of those nylon-fabric covered boxy types resembling a suitcase, with a handle. The record player never went anywhere and neither did her modest pile of records. Most of them were by the rather earnest and folky Houghton Weavers.

She took me to see them, I suspect probably because she had no one else to go with.  I hadn’t thought about them for years until I started thinking about the Manchester Arena anniversary so looked them up on YouTube, and as a colleague consequently said, ‘they’re like The Lancashire Hot Pots, without the irony’.  But what I did notice is that they sang – and continue to sing, as it turns out – around Northern, working class themes, working class identity and issues around displacement, housing, poverty and gentrification. I had zero idea about all this as a kid, or perhaps I did take some of it in; lots of things they sing about are the very same subjects that grind my gears to this day.

So I reckon my first gig had more influence on me than I thought, whichever one it was; I still take a dim view of musicians who are half arsed and a bit rubbish. And also I complain a lot.

In this roll call of Merseyside music loving women below you will read touching, funny, and sometimes sad stories of the first concerts we attended, each one is bloody beautiful and, most importantly of all, in our own words. Enjoy. Cath Bore

Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue

  • Laura Brown – writer and PR

In the official narrative, my first gig is in 1995, it’s Pulp and it’s at the Royal Court in Liverpool. I’m an awkward teenager, filled to burst with anticipation for the start of forever. Jarvis Cocker is my muse, he flicks a light switch that plugs me into the hive mind. He is political, politicised and cool. God is he cool.

But this is not my first gig. My first gig is when I’m 9, it’s the Birmingham NEC and it’s Kylie Minogue on the Enjoy Yourself tour. She opens with Loco-Motion, the seventh track is I Should Be So Lucky, her encore is Dance to the Music, Better the Devil You Know and Enjoy Yourself. Because the internet is a wonderful thing, the setlist is here.

This was my friend’s tenth birthday. There are three of us, and her dad. Her Dad drove us from Wirral to Birmingham. His car had a car phone and the only other place I’d ever seen one was Dynasty. I was wearing a RaRa skirt my nan had made. This makes it sound quite twee but it wasn’t. It flared and swung in all the right places. It was bright and colourful. I felt like a dancer. I felt like a grown up. At one point in the concert, enthusiasm gets too much and girls flock to the front of the stage, screaming.

I remember as we looked expectantly towards my friend’s dad, he nodded and off we went, running on our own to the stage, holding hands, to Kylie. “I love you” someone screamed. “Aw”, she replied, in her familiar Aussie accent, I love you too”. This pop goddess, this icon was right in front of me. And Kylie was my friend.

I’d watched her grow from wearing dungarees as the wannabe mechanic in Neighbours to marrying the love of her life, Scott. And they’d been together in real life as she’d gone off to be a real bone fide pop star. And now she was here, so close, well I couldn’t touch her but I could wave and she could SEE me. Her picture was on my wall and now, here she was.

We danced, we sang, it’s the first time I think I wore lipstick (I don’t think my mum even knows that). Despite the parent hovering to the side we felt independent. It has been said before, but this was my first glimpse of glamour, of celebrity up close. Kylie was the fourth in our little trio, our little trio that sang, and knew dance routines, of dreamt of one day too being up on a stage, of being a grown up woman in this fawning world. Because Kylie/Charlene was smart, talented, beautiful, loving and loved, funny and brilliant. And we were in her gang.
Amy ticket copy

  • Amy Chidlow – Getintothis photographer and writer

When I think about my very first concert, I’m taken back to over eight years ago in grungy downstairs stage at Liverpool O2 Academy. Despite being accompanied by my dad, it was an intimidating venue for a small thirteen-year-old that barely even knew what a mosh pit was. The gig itself was an AC/DC tribute act called Live Wire, who I’m happy to say are still doing shows to this day.

I have vivid memories of listening to the live album If You Want Blood, You Got It on CD in my dad’s car and even though the gory image on the cover of a guitar being plunged through a fan’s chest really freaked me out, I loved and still love every track on that album. To this day I’ve never seen my Dad sing, but that was the one album I’d catch him quietly murmuring the lyrics to himself while driving.

I remember standing near the stairs at the back with my Dad behind me, almost protecting me from those meddlesome fans who want to shove each other about. The band resembles the original group so well I was almost convinced it was them.

The guitarist, who fully embraced that crazy Angus Young, was shaking jets of sweat out of his hair as he pranced about on stage in the classic schoolboy outfit. They play my one of my all-time favourites, High Voltage, and for the first time I felt that excitement you get when a song comes on that you’ve listened to a thousand times. Pointing the mic to the audience, the urge to throw my hands up, punch the air and scream every lyric fills my body, but being fourteen, sober and unfamiliar with the “gig etiquette”, I stood sensibly in awe.

I recall dropping my phone on the floor halfway through the gig and it then sticking of stale beer for weeks, my first taste of the personal sacrifices you make at gigs. The whole band blew me away as their sound was so true to the original and the energy in the room was electric. After the show, I walk past the bar and spot the band walking backstage and the guy wearing a grey flap cap (presumably imitating Brian Johnson) catches my eye and smiles at me. That feeling when an idol/rock star touches your hand from the stage or throws out their pick and you catch it, or what I experienced that night with just a simple look is unexplainable, I was smiling all the way home.

I look back at that gig as a fond and precious memory with my dad, one I will remember for a very long time. The man who opened the gate to all the great music I know today and who still accompanies me on my musical journey. So many gigs followed after that one, The Who, Cast, The Hollies, Paul Weller and not to mention our yearly tradition of the amazing Australian Pink Floyd. I’m forever grateful.

Jamelia (from artist's Facebook page)

Jamelia (Credit: Artist’s Facebook page)

  • Jess Borden – Getintothis writer

It was 2003, I was nine years old and in the top tier of seats at the Royal Court, Liverpool. Many months after my mum had bought tickets for me, my sister and her to go see Mis-Teeq supported by Jamelia.

This would be the first gig I attend, the first late night where I would walk out into the cold night air and get a train home, talking about every moment that happened, holding the concert program like it was the Holy Grail (my treat so I could remember the night, which is now packed away in a box).

That same concert program would then come with me to school the next day as I showed my friends and told them the songs they sang and most probably spent my day distracted from whatever you are actually taught in year 5.

Seeing three strong female artists (four including the support) commanding the attention of the entire venue was my first gig and most probably the most fitting first gig for me, now I can’t remember the set list (it’s been nearly 15 years) but I remember how it made me feel, like I was invincible and had absorbed some of the confidence and energy of these women just from being in the same room as them.

I had a glimpse at a world which I would later fall in love with and live music would become part of my soul.

I may not have understood what their songs where actually about (I could tell you all the lyrics but not what the meaning behind the songs I was belting out was) but high energy pop/hip hop/ RnB/ rap has always been a huge part of my love of music. If I need to bring my mood up those genres will always be what I put on.

For years I wished I’d had a ‘cool’ band like Green Day or Arctic Monkeys or some other as my first gig because I was embarrassed that my first gig wasn’t seen as a great band or an acceptable answer to that question. I now realise that is bullshit.

Mis-Teeq was the perfect band for my 9 year old self to see. Four women stood on the stage in front of me and opened up a world I didn’t know existed. Occasionally after walking out of gigs now, the same feeling of cold air after being in an unspeakably hot room and the buzz of the crowd will remind me of my first gig and how much those women made me fall in love with gigs, music and the entire joyful atmosphere around it all.

Blink 182

Blink 182

  • Zuzu – musician

BLINK 182 at the Manchester Arena

My big brother Anthony was super into them and I basically copied everything he did. (I thought he was cool at the time, I’m way cooler now). My dad took us because I was 10 and my brother was 13. I don’t remember the details of the night but my nan got me the record for my 9th birthday so I remember being beyond excited.

At the time I didn’t think about the fact that I was a girl. I just saw the crowd screaming along and I wanted to make people feel what I felt. My music taste has matured but that feeling of connecting with a band or artist was the same then as it is now. Pure joy.

McFly fans (from artist's Faceboook Page)

McFly fans (from artist’s Faceboook Page)

  • Lizzi Doyle – radio producer (Radio City Talk)

I’ll never forget the excitement of my first concert. I went to see McFly in the Summer Pops on the docks in 2005. A couple of years before that, my friend went to see Justin Timberlake, my absolute idol, and I wasn’t allowed to go! I’ll always remember her calling me up on the house phone (yes it was that long ago, it wasn’t even cordless) and her holding up her phone so I could hear it. It was literally just muffle but to me I was desperate to go to a concert.

So when my mum had bought me tickets for my favourite band, that was it! I researched the support act, bought new clothes and even debated buying a new sign. I remember standing on the chair the whole way through, screaming my head off with my flashing light toy of some sort. It’s something I’ll never forget and from that day on I’ve had a love of live music. On average, I’d say I probably go to around 20 or more live gigs a year now and I love every second of it. Literally wouldn’t change it for the world.

  • Lauren Jones –  editor, The Music Manual

My first ever gig was watching McFly at the Pier Head during Matthew Street Festival and I didn’t even have a ticket. I must have nagged at my parents for tickets for ages, McFly were everything to me back then. For a girl pop music was like the holy grail, throw a couple of young, good looking lads and there’s a winning concoction.

Guitarist Danny Jones was going to be my boyfriend after I wowed him some day, just like every other McFly fan.

It was Monday, August 29, 2005. My Dad took me and my sister on the ferry from Birkenhead to Liverpool, the day was packed full of young girls like me who couldn’t wait to see the band who had shot to fame off the back of Busted. I was so made up, butterflies in my tummy. I was so ready to see the boys I had spent day dreaming about. The thought of sharing the same air as them, taking in the same surroundings, it was all too much.

At that moment we were all one, when singer Tom Fletcher spoke to the crowd, it was as if he was talking just to me. As a young girl this band formed my view of what I believed relationships and love should be. I can still remember how happy and excited I was…I went on to see them more than another 15 times.

It was the whole experience that was perfect, I even ended up on the front of the Liverpool Daily Post, right in the middle of a crowd of McFly fans.

I can’t ever imagine going to see my favourite band and then never coming home again, no-one should. It breaks my heart that young fans who had their lives ahead of them just like I did, never got the chance to experience music like I have gone on to.



  • Sally-Anne Watkiss – music fan

It’s 1980. I’m about to do my O Levels and have discovered Kid Jensen and John Peel on Radio One. I’m living in Wolverhampton which despite having two great concert halls doesn’t get many gigs.

OMD announce a tour & they are playing our Civic Hall. My friend Dawn & I use some of our Saturday pay to buy tickets & the rest to buy new outfits. I’m 54 now, but I remember the excitement of being 16 and planning for my 1st gig. I can even remember what I wore, a Fair Isle sweater & skinny cords with a reversible red and black coat from C&A.

We entered the hall and the cool kids ( from our equivalent boys school) were sat on the floor in their Joy Division overcoats, we thought we’d arrived and in many ways we had.

That night started nearly 40 years of regular gig going for both of us and as I write this I can feel the buzz of live music and the part it has played in my life. As a footnote we have the NME advert for the gig framed in our kitchen as the Liverpool concert on the same tour was my husband Jeff’s 1st gig too.

Queen performing at the BRIT Awards with Paul Rodgers

Spice Girls

  • Lucy McLachlan – Getintothis photographer & writer

May 1998, NEC Arena, Birmingham

My first gig was quite a let down. When the Spice Girls took over the whole country in 1996, being 10 years old I followed suit. So did everyone else. If you were a girl my age and reckon you didn’t like the Spice Girls in 1996, I’d say stop trying to sound cool!  Even I had the t-shirts…

So my parents bought me and a bunch of friends tickets to this show in 1997. For some reason they were playing a massive 12 dates in Birmingham alone, I guess such was the demand.  We were all super fans and still at primary school with posters all over our bedrooms, however the actual concert wasn’t until the following year when we’d all be in high school.

It’s safe to say that when the gig finally came around a whole year later Geri Halliwell was in the middle of leaving the group and the mania had somewhat died down.  Now I was nearly 13 and wasn’t that bothered anymore, by this time I had Leonardo DiCaprio posters in my room.

I don’t remember much about the actual show at all but the build up and the let down was memorable, we had use of a friend’s Dad’s black cab for the 40 minute drive from the suburbs of Birmingham to the Arena which felt kind of exciting. 

People took homemade banners, signs and posters (is this still a thing?). But at the grand old age of 12 and a half and after waiting nearly two years to see the Spice Girls perform live I had already memorised all the songs and worn them out.  I think that show finally killed off my Spice Girls phase once and for all.

On stage and under age – mosh pits, stage invasions and blagging your way into gigs as an under 18
  • Sarah Pitman – Getintothis writer

My first gig is one of my earliest memories. I can remember scaling the steps of the upper tier of Manchester Arena and peering down at the crowd below waiting excitedly for the Spice Girls to take to the stage. Decked out in my Spice Girls t-shirt and being a mega fan at 5 years old it was the best birthday present I could have received.

Its an experience that stays with you as you grow up and your music taste develops. It doesn’t matter how small or large the venue is, it’s something special seeing your idols performing right in front of you. Being exposed to live music at an early age has made me appreciate the amount of time and effort these artists put into their music and their performances.

I recently took my younger brother to his first gig and it’s the most excited I’ve ever seen him. He did have his doubts before entering Manchester Arena due to the events that took place the year before but as I told him it’s an experience that should be enjoyed not feared due the actions of one individual. He had the ‘best day of his life’ seeing his favourite band perform and singing his heart out. He can’t wait to go to his next gig and is desperate for me to take him to a festival.

Gigs are a celebration of art and creativity and it should be shared by many people. I love attending gigs as you feel a sense of belonging, jumping around in the crowd with fellow music fans and sharing in that experience. You can feel the passion radiating from the stage which is just not what you experience listening to the artists on CDs or Spotify.

Maine Road photography at the Oasis exhibition

Maine Road photography at the 2016 Oasis exhibition at the Old Granada Studios in Manchester

My first gig was Oasis at Maine Road, a fully tracksuited up, happy hardcore toting teen.

Me and my mates were some of the first in the ground and managed to get into the front pen, I remember being made up with myself for being in the 2nd row and as soon as the band come onstage everyone went wild. I got dragged under the crowd, pulled over the top and was breathing into a paper bag in the St Johns ambulance area before the first song had finished. Then I was back out there singing my heart out with a load of strangers for the next hour and a half.

I think the power of the gig was I actually felt part of the whole Oasis movement which seemed to change the North of England at the time, loads of lads wanted to play guitar and be in bands, everyone loved The Beatles again.

I was hooked on my It’s Easy To Play Oasis chord book – it’s how I learned to play. I can’t really put a value on it but that gig just made me fall in love with live music, the two-way experience of crowd and artist, and boss songwriting.Oasis were a gateway drug that would lead to a permanent habit.

Britney Spears - photo credit artists Facebook page

Britney Spears – photo credit artists Facebook page

  • Bronnie – musician

I attended my first concert was when I was 8 years old. I went to the show with my parents to see Britney Spears, coincidentally in the same venue as the Ariana Grande concert.

I remember everything about that show. I remember how excited I was in school in the days leading up to the concert, telling my school friends that I was going to my first concert. I couldn’t wait to finish school that day and go to the show. I remember picking out my outfit the week before and being really excited to see Britney, one of my idols as a child, and wondering if she’d see me in the crowd. And I even remember the journey and telling my mum that I felt like a grown up going to see a concert in an arena, my heart was racing the whole journey from Wirral to Manchester.

It was my first experience hearing live music and it was one of the best times of my life. The fact that thousands of people were all singing together made me really happy and I remember going into school the next day and telling EVERYONE about the gig.

I’ve reflected a lot on that first show, particularly as it was at the Manchester Arena and so many young died in the attack there last year. It breaks my heart that it was a lot of young girls’ first concert at the Ariana show and instead of happy memories, they came home confused, sad, some of them lost their friends and parents and some of the girls didn’t even make it home.

For me, first concerts are a huge thing in life. I loved my first concert and I loved taking my younger brother to his first show seeing McBusted a few years back. I really hope nothing like the attack at the Ariana show happens again. A live music event should be a happy and safe environment. It’s made me do everything Incan to ensure that I make sure the atmosphere at my own shows is happy and as safe as possible.

Take That (credit the artists Facebook)

Take That (credit the artist’s Facebook)

  • Kate Moore – radio presenter, IWFM Radio

Take That- Manchester Arena 1995

The lights dropped, the screams rose, a man with a painted face surrounded by flames appeared on the big screens and his deep laugh echoed around Manchester Arena welcoming us to the show. I was utterly terrified. I clung to my mum, staring at her with huge eyes and for a moment she thought she’d have to take me out.

But then, the music kicked in, the stage lights went up, and there they were. Four boys from Manchester, revealed one at a time, with Mark Owen (kitted out in red flairs and purple platform boots) appearing last. I began to jump up and down on my seat and joined in with the screaming, I didn’t stop jumping or screaming for the restof the night. The opening bars of Relight My Fire began, and it was quite simply the most exciting thing that had ever happened during my eight years on earth.

Take That meant everything to me; their faces were plastered over my bedroom, I joined the fan club, listened to their cassettes on car journeys, and spent a great deal of time re-watching their TV performances which Mum recorded for me on my Take That Tape (this was pre-YouTube band obsession).

My memories of the show are hazy (of course I got the official tour video for birthday or Christmas and watched it endlessly),but I still remember the thrill of being in the same room as my heroes, with thousands of other girls who loved them just as much.

I kept the over-priced light-up wand we bought outside the gig that I waved around whilst Mark Owen sung Babe, eventually placing it in my memories box, along with my Take That scarf that I used to keep under my pillow. I still have the tour T-shirt, originally worn as a nightie but now it’s more of a skinny fit.

That gig changed everything, and ever since I’ve been hooked. I went back to the arena multiple times over the next few years to watch my then feminist heroes The Spice Girls and the more ‘edgy’ boy band 5ive (they even ‘rapped’). Eventually my tastes changed, posters of my pop heroes were replaced with black wall paper and pictures of Manic Street Preachers, Placebo, Marilyn Manson and the Libertines.

One thing remained the same though, me and my Mum going to watch live music together. We pushed to the front to stand in front of Nicky Wire at the Manics and we waited anxiously together to see if Pete Doherty would turn up or not. I still feel the same rush whoever I’m seeing, when the lights go down and one of my heroes walks onto the stage. I still love being in a room singing along with thousands of fans who love music the way I do.

Mum and I are still going to gigs, we’ve just got Father John Misty tickets. It all started that night in Manchester Arena. I still love Take That.

Tears For Fears (Credit: Jake Walters)

Tears For Fears (Credit: Jake Walters)

  • Debbie Johnson – author, and former pop music editor for the Liverpool Echo.

My parents were older than average, and I grew up listening to Nat King Cole, Roy Orbison, Elvis and country and western music. Glorious as all that was, I had to find my own tribe – and that happened the night I went to my first gig.

Revealing my ancient years, it was Tears for Fears, at the Hanley Victoria Hall in Stoke on Trent. 1985, when I was 15. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that Tears for Fears changed my life. There was a key moment when I remember going to a record shop with my friends, and them all buying things like Gloria Estefan while I perused the sections that could be loosely titled ‘must wear black eyeliner and experience emotional agony on a daily basis’.

It was a sign that we might be treading different paths when it came to our musical taste – and that, of course, is a big deal. While they were wearing Benetton and rah-rah skirts, I started looking for trench coats in Oxfam, growing my fringe over my eyes so I didn’t have to see the world as clearly, and dying my hair with food colouring. I was listening to Echo and the Bunnymen and Bowie and discovering whole new worlds.

That night at the concert, I realised I wasn’t actually that weird at all. In fact, the only thing that made me weird was that I also liked Wham! I still like Wham! – except now I’m not embarrassed about it.

I still remember the excitement of holding the concert ticket in my hand; waiting outside; being in the packed room with fellow black-clothes-fans, a sense of overwhelming anticipation as the band came on. Everything felt huge – the crowd, the stage, the amps.

I still remember the thrill of seeing Curt Smith in the real world, and listening to their songs performed in real time. I actually fainted during my favourite song, Suffer The Children, and spent the rest of the gig sitting in a corner with a security guard. Nothing quite rivals live music – sometimes it’s disappointing, sometimes it’s amazing, sometimes it’s a revelation when a band who only sound ‘meh’ on recording completely blow you away live.

Tears for Fears was the first of many gigs. Then festivals. Then work – becoming the pop editor at the Echo. After that, life was a whirl of gigs. I ended up marrying someone I met while ‘interviewing’ him; he still performs, and my son is in a band. I now write books for a living, and one of my recent novels was split into sections named after David Bowie songs.

I’ve no idea how different this life-long association with music might have been if I’d not gone to that gig, on that night, all those years ago. Maybe I’d have found my tribe some other way. Maybe not. All I know is that I’ll remember it forever.


Steps (photo from artist’s Facebook page

  • Lauren Wise – Getintothis writer

Growing up in amongst the pop-culture of the noughties guarantees a first gig featuring churned out pop hits, questionable hairdos and downright embarrassing dance moves that you’ll live to regret loving as a youngster.

Of course, that’s what seeing Steps at the (then) Manchester Evening News Arena will get you. If you didn’t own the baggy, pocket covered bright pink trousers and the tiny spiral hair accessories that your mum would later spent hours untangling then you simply weren’t living, and seeing Steps live fitted neatly in the middle as the main spectacle. 

At the time of course, it seemed like the most incredible show ever. The few vague memories include peering at the tiny characters one the screen from a crowd of similar aged kids, enjoying their red-clad rendition of Better The Devil You Know. It’s best kept in the past.

  • Abi Dot – musician.

Having never ventured too far from Liverpool or Manchester my life is a tale of two cities, the best and worst times played out in the human experience of life lived in the North West of England. At the heart of these two cities is a musical culture that unites and provides joy for people beyond borders, bands transmitting songs and creating the soundtracks for lives, rites of passage sharing in the animation of memories through musical recollection. The best times for many are when they are at gigs with friends and family, looking at stars drawn on the kitchen calendar, waiting for the gig dates to arrive.

My earliest memory is a musical one, being on my dad’s shoulders as a two year old watching as Michael Jackson performs during the BAD tour at Aintree Racecourse, baby bopping and jumping about looking out across a sea of people to a tiny dancing figure on the stage. Growing up during the 90s I wished I was older so I could go and watch R.E.M with my dad and uncle but I had to wait.  It wasn’t until 2000 at high school that I was able to organise my first live music day out with friends.

This was the age of SMTV and CD:UK, Live and Kicking’s Hit Miss or Maybe, Atlantic 252, Wear Sunscreen, Big Brother so much we could talk about in school I’m surprised we learned anything from the syllabus….did we? Instead it was choreographed dancing on the field and making up comedy songs to the tune of dance hits about classmates, it felt easy to find the common ground and laugh all the way on the walk home.

So during the summer holidays me and a group of friends kept in touch using our Nokia 5110s and arranged to go Party at The Pier at the Kings Dock on the August Bank Holiday 2000, you could buy your tickets from Virgin Megastore Clayton Square for £7, acts on the Bill included Artful Dodger, Steps, S-Club 7, Billie Piper, Lolly, Honeyz, Louise, Atomic Kitten, Stephen Gately and Sonique. A bumper pop line up, I was obsessed with Sonique‘s It Feels So Good so that was going to be the moment of the day for me.

The calendar’s star date in August had arrived my mum helped me get ready in the morning and did my hair, pedal pushers were the outfit for the day and Bon Bleu sweatshirts, my best friend’s mum gave us a lift there and upon arrival we had our first mass queuing experience, being part of such a big crowd makes you feel part of a shared cultural communion, we were unaccompanied but the atmosphere was family friendly and safe.

We decided to head to the front as the main acts were coming on, but it wasn’t long before my friend in lemon pedal pushers was lifted out, there she goes, someone bumped me and my lip got cut I was lifted out with a bloody chin during S-Club 7‘s feel good classic Reach after a quick trip to the First Aid tent somehow we all found each other again and headed to the safety of the back, positioned on a pile of rocks I’d made into a mound to help with my view, looking out over another sea of people the sun set and Sonique appeared and soon was performing It Feels So Good with stage lights flickering and flashing and everyone singing along tothe chorus, together, feeling the joy of a inspiriting melody.

My friends who were twins had arranged for their mum to pick us up and we all got chips on the way home laughing at our eventful day, this was the best of times, we’d been given the trust and responsibility to go out there and look after ourselves, our friendships became stronger as we could recall together this collective memory of the performances plenty of topical fuel for talking at school.

My best friend got married last month, the wedding playlist conjured up so many memories, and lives in  Manchester and I live in Liverpool. We have, in the intervening years, been to many festivals together and our music tastes have changed as we grew and discovered who we were, the chance to express just the sheer fun for being young and silly, without fear, at gigs is so important and that is why the attack in Manchester last year really was the worst time as victims were robbed of their chance to live their lives and share in the joy of music.

Backstreet Boys (from artist's Facebook page)

Backstreet Boys (Credit: Artist’s Facebook page)

  • Janaya Pickett – Getintothis writer

My first gig was a Backstreet Boys concert at the G-Mex Centre in Manchester.

This was no chance encounter for I was absolutely besotted with the BSBs. It’s a period I look back on with bemusement, as if all of a sudden I lost my mind. At aged thirteen this obsession took over my life quite quickly and then one day, some time before my fifteenth birthday, faded just as fast.  In thinking about this first gig I’ve re-listened to the Backstreet Boys and cringed but also wondered what purpose these teen obsessions serve.

In my sweet naivety I thought I might actually meet the Backstreet Boys on June 22nd 1997. I spent a good chunk of 1996 -98 in a state of fantasy, imagining scenarios in which I would meet and run off with the BSBs.

On the night I wore my best floral dress and beloved, pearl coloured, jelly shoes. I was going with some posh girls from school. Christine’s Dad was driving us in his Mercedes convertible. Setting off from our council house I felt like my luck was in.

It’s hard to recall the gig itself as I haven’t given much thought to the Backstreet Boys in about twenty years. What I do remember is my disappointment with the nose-bleed section seats and the realisation that I wouldn’t run off with them that night.

To add insult to injury the Mercedes convertible broke down before we got out of the city centre. We had to wait for help in a hotel bar.

But as we waited we spotted Lee Brennan, the lead singer of 911 who’d supported the BSBs that night. He walked from the bar right past us to the lift into which he disappeared. Lee was no Backstreet Boy but the excitement was palpable. Wait until we tell the 911 fans at school, we said. And if 911 were there then the BSBs might be too!

We pressed a random button in the lift and got out onto a floor – quickly chickened out and came back down to the foyer. When the car was fixed we rode with the top down until we got to the motorway with BSBs blaring, singing at the top of our lungs. These memories remind me how precious those years of first experiences are.

My Backstreet Boys fantasyland, as temporary as it was, was really a happy place when real life was not.

For many girls like the one I was, your chosen passion is a chance to safely explore the woman you’re yet to become. A place to catch your breath so to speak and collect yourself before being swept off into adulthood. For girls and boys these are times to revel in idealism before the demands of reality take hold. In every sense these spaces are essential and in light of this tragic anniversary not only of our consideration but protection.

No Doubt (from artists's Facebook page)

No Doubt (from artist’s Facebook page)

  • Orla Foster – Getintothis writer

Sure, I’d sat through Steps and B*Witched concerts as a child, but my first proper honest to God rite of passage gig was Move Festival in Manchester. This was an all-dayer at Old Trafford crammed with various Kerrang! favourites, climaxing with Green Day and No Doubt.

It was very, very important to my friend Zoë and I that we stood at the front, so we fought through the dense crowds, acquiring various battle scars as we went. Pressed against the railings, my hips quickly looked as though they’d been through a cheese grater, and the schlop of somebody’s sweaty ponytail whipping against my face as they headbanged is a really evocative texture that still repeats on me to this day.

I seem to remember that I braved the portaloos at one point, and temporarily lost Zoë, which led me to panic about how I would manage to get home, even though I’d borrowed the family BT cellnet in case of emergency (which really makes this sound like a period piece).

We bounced up and down to Rival Schools, skanked to Less Than Jake, endured Hoobastank. We even joined the euphoria of the crowds as they screamed along to Starbucks, A’s shrill and bratty loser anthem. This was pre-recession, so nobody realised just how difficult getting a job in Starbucks was going to be.

Later Gwen Stefani shinnied all the way up the stage rig and we gazed at her in amazement, wondering how a human being could be so poised, so bold, so fearless, when we couldn’t even apply mascara. She was also the only woman on the bill, which was pretty standard during that era of fart jokes and flame shirts.

I remember at this point in time I had a difficult relationship with the song Time Of Your Life, because every summer when the Year 11s went on study leave somebody would wheel out the violins and acoustic guitars and do a rendition so earnest it would give you appendicitis.

Still, there’s nothing like seeing your heroes for the first time, so I took the hit and managed to worship every second of Green Day’s set, squashed and bruised and sodden with sweat and what I hoped was water. In the car ride back to Birkenhead, we had so much to tell Zoë’s Mum.

cast sue bennett

  • Sue Bennett – writer and PR

If I’d have had my way my first gig would have been Kylie Minogue at the Liverpool Empire Theatre in 1989.

She was on my walls, my jumper, the tape deck of my Mum’s car and she was the reason I was sleeping in rollers and curling my hair. If I wasn’t listening to her I was making up dance routines to renditions of her music.

She was repeatedly the unlikely number one of the indie charts, and as a kid in the 1980s I was oblivious to the fact that this was really pissing off the independent sector. Either I was too young to go to her concert, or it had sold out (I don’t remember), but I do remember that Radio City 96.7 were running a longstanding competition for tickets. I tuned in every day. I didn’t win.

Instead I was busy making my first and last appearance as a ballerina in the same park that The Beatles played their first gig as The Quarrymen. It was the same place that years later in 1996 I would lie on the grass as a sixteen year old indie kid at the height of Britpop breathing in my first cigarettes and the pheromones of lads that knew how to play the guitar.

It was completely unconscious but we lived in a place that understood the opportunity for anything to happen is real and that it is inextricably linked to music. There are over 460,000 relatives to this knowledge in Liverpool. John Power is one of them. In the winter before that image of me lying on the grass I attended my first gig to see his band Cast at Liverpool Royal Court on 22nd December 1995. I was 15 and in my last year of school.

I was going to that gig because my friends were. I was not living in the age of information; my friends were my wifi. Mix tapes weren’t a vintage novelty yet – they were hard work. If someone passed their favourite tracks onto you on tape it’s because they’d discovered something and they wanted you to live in the same world as them.

Sometimes the people you received these tapes from came as a surprise and contrary to the popular myth they didn’t always 100% like you. I didn’t know it but we were actively creating each other through that sharing. It was neither competitive nor was it generous. It just was.

At the time I knew one Cast song – their single Alright. When that song was played live at the Royal Court I also got to understand that at gigs people jumped up and down and pushed forward and smiled at you as they did it. It was bonding.

I think my teenage rebellion was fuelled by being marked out as different rather than thinking I was. People let me know quite bluntly and often on the street exactly what they thought of how I looked and which crowd I was supposed to be a part of (hippies, goths etc) and for that I’m grateful because I found out who I was quite quickly and I used what they saw as my differences as a point of pride.

This for me became a lot of fun and in the summer that followed this gig it manifested itself in a pair of hair clippers, a subsequent undercut and a pair of Doc Martens. In 1995 however, I had a full head of hair and I was into Rubine purple hair dye from Quiggins, blue Converse all stars, vintage Levi flares and t-shirts with white rimmed collars and sleeves.

However, there are no photographs of that evening.

The songs and the gig help me to remember the things that lived apart from the visual image of myself. I can trace my own inner processes that felt happy or moved or stuck in some place that might tell me something about how far I’ve come and how differently I can move through life today.

It’s of value to me to observe myself at one point in my identity to another through this gig and to understand that at the time I had no idea that any change was happening between 1995 and 1996. Being invited to observe this has also made me conscious that I must be in that process now in different ways and with different symbols as I write this and wait for my next gig to see Ezra Furman in Manchester. I’ve come to realise that it’s probably a good idea to landmark my life with music in this way. To help me remember what the photographs can’t see.

Sexual harassment, upskirting and assault at live events and why it must stop

At the Cast gig I was hearing the All Change album in full for the first time. I remember being in the standing section and the sensation of waiting for them to come on stage. I was within a wall of other people as they multiplied older and more experienced around me. How did everyone know what they were doing?

Me and my friend didn’t know but we just keep moving forward towards the stage quite amazed to be making conversation with strangers. Even now 23 years later I can remember that Walkaway was the stand out moment of that set. I can remember feeling stopped by that song and maybe the crowd was too.

I also remember John Power’s curly hair and his scouse accent, and the image of him with a guitar. His Mum was sitting in one of the private balconies on the right hand side. I know this because he spoke to her between songs and everyone in the Royal Court looked up to see her. He said he couldn’t swear because she was there and I thought he was funny. Of course, I know exactly who John Power is now (he was in The La’s when I was buying Kylie records – sorry John), but back then this was the first time I was seeing him.

Via the limits of my pocket money and being 15 in 1995 his live songs were finite to me and that added to how good the experience was. When I heard Sandstorm after the gig again, on some completely forgotten day, by chance on the TV or the radio – I couldn’t tell you which – I know that I was excited to find it again.

That first gig has left me knowing that actively discovering new music will always give me a unique experience and that it can score itself into who I am. This knowledge comes from my own sense of nostalgia and it’s a progressive lesson; being open to new music can return you to the mental entry point of first experiences no matter old you are – just like my 15 year old self at that Cast gig tasting the dirty grass of beer for the first time. So whenever you read this you can find a way to pick up a new thread. If you feel like you’ve lost the ability to be present, or to create new energy in your life, find new music to listen to and give it the time of day.

At live gigs I stand and sing the stories of other people over the moments of my own life with everyone else and that collision continues to make its own meaning. Sometimes when I see someone with long hair and a band t-shirt walking past me on the street I often smile at them. It’s a really old memory; an old habit.

Music was how I used to make friends. It was how I looked out and saw myself when I was young. That habit of smiling at strangers with the same taste in music always returns to me when I’m in Liverpool. The place where I was that girl and that first gig happened. On special occasions, to this day, I still curl my hair.

If you haven’t been to your first gig yet, as coincidence would have it, Cast play in Liverpool this year on the 22nd December and Kylie Minogue reprises an October date on the 3rd.

911 (from artist's Facebook page)

911 (from artist’s Facebook page)

  • Chrissie Willis – radio station manager (KCC Live)

It’s difficult to pin point my first ever gig as my parents were musicians and spent most weekends gigging around the UK in various bands. My earliest memory of a gig turns out it was possibly a dream, or I’ve fused TV and memories together, but I’m convinced I saw Status Quo live. My Dad is adamant it was one of his mates rehearsing at a social club.

Fast forward to about age 10, I remember being at a holiday camp in Wales somewhere and my parents and their friends were the evening’s live entertainment. Me and my brother had hidden at a table to watch before being kicked out. I was upset, not at leaving my parents but at leaving the live band and loud music. I’d gotten used to hearing them practice, have jam sessions when not working, cringed at knowing other people in the street could hear them, but that was one of the first times I saw it all come together. The instruments, the lights, the excitement and the expressions of faces around the room.

I think that is when the love of live music began, and I could see what it can do for people and how it united everyone. It doesn’t matter what type of music, it’s more the live music aspect that excited me.

Which leads me on to my first ‘proper’ gig as a teenager. It wasn’t even to see a band I particularly liked at the time. I was in the final year of primary school/first year high school. I was trying to be more ‘girly’ and less weird. I’d already made myself a target previously by liking East 17 over Take That and had to make up for it before ruining my life.

I found myself at a MIZZ Magazine gig with 911 as the headliners. For someone who loves music and has since attended many AMAZING performances, I’m a bit gutted 911 was the first (not counting Status Quo/Dad’s friend with a ponytail). However, the memories of that night have stuck with me, despite me still trying to act cool at my grand old age now, I must admit that night was great.

I got to sing my head off with my friend, dance about like no one in the world was watching, make friends with other girls there who also knew every song lyric and had convinced themselves they too would marry Lee.

Happy, excited, carefree, so hopeful of what life might bring after the gig, wondering if I’d end up on stage too, they’re just some of the feelings I had at that time and probably what started a love affair with live music to this day.

Garbage (from artist's Facebook page)

Garbage (Credit: Artists Facebook page)

The first gig that I remember going to see was Garbage live on Plymouth Hoe in the summer of 98/99, so I would have been eleven or so. It was part of an outdoor festival and I just remember sitting on my Dad’s shoulders watching them. It was quite a memorable moment for me, the energy of the crowd was a positive one and everyone seemed really happy.

I was completely in awe of Shirley Manson and thought she was unlike anyone I’d ever seen before. I’d always been brought up in feminist household and seeing a woman performing live on stage for the first time was a very powerful thing. It made me think that maybe one day I could do it too.

The issue of safety wasn’t even an issue that crossed my and that night, as people and young women going to a gig is where you escape, enjoy and be free. I hope that is a feeling that everyone, the world over, can get back to one day.

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

  • Mersey Wylie – musician

I grew up going to gigs. One of my earliest memories is sitting on my dad’s shoulders when I was four to see over the crowd at the Royal Court as Debbie Harry performed Heart of Glass and I was completely mesmerised. I’m sure she performed many songs that night but that’s the one that has forever stuck in my mind.

There were others after that (let’s try and forget PJ and Duncan shall we?) but my first proper big gig experience was seeing Michael Jackson at Wembley when I was seven.

I remember so many minute details about that day. I’ve been a huge Michael Jackson fan for as long as I can remember so this definitely felt like it might just be the highlight of my life.

We got the Tube and I was squealing with excitement. We started seeing people wearing t shirts and talking about the gig along the way. When we got off, I marvelled at the knock-off merchandise lining the street, the millions of people that seemed to be joining us as we approached, the images of Michael that surrounded us. I was in awe as we entered the stadium, I never could’ve imagined so many people in one place.

#WeStandTogether with Manchester and why first gigs are priceless memories which last forever

The stage was huge and flanked by two massive screens and as Michael Jackson entered, I remember a distinct feeling of wonder that he was so small – that is, that he was just a regular sized human.

Everything else about the day was so much larger than life that I expected he would be too. As everyone in the stadium screamed and cheered and clapped and sang, I joined in, discovering the rituals and customs of gig-going for the first time and the buzz of that first proper experience has never left me.

The anticipation, the awe, the pure joy. How you become part of something so much bigger for those couple of hours and how it stays with you and you carry it around for days or weeks after, buoyed by the lingering adrenaline as you re-live each moment.

Kilimanjaro album cover

The Teardrop Explodes’ Kilimanjaro album cover

  • Jackie Lees – Getintothis writer

The first gig I bought a ticket for was The Teardrop Explodes at Manchester Apollo on their 1981 Out Of The Culture Bunker tour. I was in my mid-teens and had saved up from my Saturday job to buy the ticket. I absorbed every detail in advance from the sparse information printed on it, the promoters were Outlaw & Kiltorch, who were they? What was their role? Even back then I liked to know who was doing what.

I had a seat number and row but no way of checking where it would be, these were the days prior to the internet when you just had to hope for the best, the only way to view a seating plan was to visit the box office in person. The Apollo was still entirely seated then, the removable stalls seating option only being introduced in the 90’s.

The concert was in June so it was mild but there were still a lot of leather jodhpurs and flying jackets being worn. The support band were The Ravishing Beauties, I couldn’t wait to see the back of them and get to the main event. I remember being dizzy and ridiculously excited all the way through, listening to Kilimanjaro still makes me a little woozy – psychotropic post-punk pop at its best.

It’s strange the things that stick in your mind; my Great Aunt had recently given me a gold signet ring which had been hers and was too big for me. I decided to wear it to the gig anyway and then became worried it might slip off while I was bouncing around, I stuck it on my right thumb for safekeeping and it’s been there ever since, it’s getting a bit thin now.

I specifically remember feeling the hypnotic thudding bass in my chest for the first time, an experience unlike anything the Amstrad sound system in my bedroom could deliver. Then there were the trumpets- you still don’t often hear a band with brass and the only current band that spring to mind are Red Rum Club. It always adds an exciting dimension and I do feel elements of their sound are reminiscent of The Teardrops’.

A few years later, in the absence of a suitable picture, photographer Graham Smillie kindly shoved Julian through the photocopier for me and I remain the proud owner of the resulting image, although he does look a little like the Tollund Man. I had to take it off the wall for a few years when my daughters were little as it scared them, but he’s now been reinstated.

The Teardrop Explodes closed their Apollo set with Treason. It was everything I could have hoped for in a first gig, exciting, loud, packed, sweaty and with the overwhelming realisation that the band were real, actually there in the flesh in front of my eyes, we were under the same roof, breathing the same air – heady stuff.

All my friends were into Haircut 100 so I’d had some trouble persuading anyone to go with me. Consequently, my Dad was waiting anxiously outside to pick me up. Spilling out of the Apollo in my joyful, delirious state, I was struck by the idea that it’d be a great place to work and imagined what it’d be like to do this every night and get paid for it, which is what I went on to do – the seeds of my future career were planted that night and I was hooked into live music for life.

The Waterboys' Mike Scott [Image credit: Paul MacManus, via artist Facebook]

The Waterboys’ Mike Scott [Image credit: Paul MacManus, via artist Facebook]

My first gig was The Waterboys at Brampton Live in 2006. It was near where I lived in Cumbria and was my mum’s choice being that she was/is a big folk fan. My memory isn’t great but I remember dragging her to the front and being pretty mesmerised.

Funny really cos now I go as far back as I possibly can whilst maintaining a view. From then on we went to loads together and eventually I’d start going with my mates. Now I spend all of my wages on gigs. Cheers, Waterboys. But in all seriousness, it introduced me to something which is now a massive part of my social life and identity.


The Pogues (from artist’s Facebook page)

  • Ellie Montgomery – Getintothis writer

At aged eleven, I was lucky enough to be taken by my mum and my uncle to see The Pogues. Near the front, amongst the drunken crowd, we danced and swayed to the infectious Irish jigs and laughed as Shane MacGowan bounded around on stage. I distinctly recall at one point him furiously, and inexplicably, bashing his head against a metal baking tray.

To this day, I refuse to understand how someone who is so inebriated that they can barely talk is still able to fluently sing and remember an entire set.

I also fondly remember how my uncle was very keen to move close to the front to be right in the centre of the action. My mum, however, was slightly more reserved – in true mothering style – worrying about me faring okay in this environment for the first time.

Being encouraged by those closest to me and sharing their enthusiasm for live music has always been very special. I was taught that it was okay not to like the music that my friends listened to or what was being played in the charts. I was taught that there was other music out there and it was okay to listen to that instead.

Also a member of an Irish rock band, Microdisney, in the eighties and both suffering with their relationship to alcohol, I suppose, ironically, there were some parallels between my uncle and Shane MacGowan. My Uncle Nick sadly died in the December of 2011.

Funny, intelligent, gifted, always passionate and animated; recollecting Nick fervently singing along to The Pogues’ Dirty Old Town is one of my favourite memories I’ve shared with him and it is something I will never forget.

A few years after that first gig, on a memorable holiday in Turkey, my uncle and I performed a version of Fairytale of New York he as MacGowan, I as MacColl in a packed karaoke bar much to the amusement of the locals.

I will always fondly look back on not only that evening, but that first gig experience. So much of what I do, particularly my love of music, I often think is derived from my uncle’s influence and his passion for those raucous and visceral live performances.




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