We’re the only people in the queue. People are looking at us like we’re not wise. They’re especially looking at me with a mixture of “is that guy homeless?” and “he should have more sense at his age” type glances…
I’m sitting on the pavement outside the SSE Arena in Belfast… in the queue for tonight’s Vamps concert. Yes, I’m 43 years old, it’s 9am, and I’m queuing outside a venue for an event that doesn’t kick off for another 10 hours. I’m not alone. I have my teenage daughter and her best friend chattering beside me like a couple of chimpanzees on coke. They made me a batch of Vegan Scones as a Thank You for being the coolest Dad on the planet. I was tempted to say “a batch of Pot Brownies would have been more appropriate for this crazy trip.” but the Vegan Scones were pretty tasty. Let’s back up…
So my teenage daughter and her best friend are avid concert goers. They’re also diehard fans. It’s a badge of honour to them to be first in the queue at any gig they go to. Front row is the only option for them when it comes to supporting their heroes. I get that, I totally get it. The reason I’m here in the queue beside them? Well my little niece couldn’t miss school today and unlike the two maniacs I’m sitting with she could only arrange to get out of school after lunch. That caused all sorts of worries for the two diehard fangirls beside me. A plethora of “You won’t be able to get to the front of the queue with us if you come up that late!”; and “We can’t risk not getting to the front of the stage!” type teenage soliloquies were delivered with all the drama and tension of a Shakespeare Play. In the interests of keeping the peace I took one for the team and promised to go sit in the queue to keep my darling little niece a place. When she arrives up after lunch she takes her place in the queue and I go home with the knowledge that the girls are together, nobody’s worried about not getting to the front row, and everyone’s happy. I also get to tick off the “never done that before”; “do something crazy”; and “do something in service of another human being” items on my daily to-do list. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now? Not so much. I’ve had 3 hours sleep, and I’m coming off the back of the usual busy gigging weekend. I need this cold pavement and chilly Lagan wind like I need a shotgun blast to the nuts.
Like I said at the beginning we’re the only people in the queue. People are looking at us like we’re not wise. I should have more sense I suppose. I mean it’s Monday morning and any self respecting 43 year old should be sitting in his warm car, cursing traffic, lamenting the fact that it’s Monday, and driving to a job he hates, caught up in a rat race that he doesn’t realise he can opt out of, all in the name of responsibility… because that’s good parenting right? No, not for me. No f**king way. Monday is NOT the worst day of the week for me. Monday is mine to use, abuse, and make my own. Today I choose to sit with two teenagers, showing them that growing up doesn’t mean you stop living and showing them that life is about making your own rules. Life is about always looking for an opportunity to do something different and do something that serves someone else other than yourself. Parenting for me is simply about living the lessons. If I live my philosophy my kids will take it seriously and maybe adopt that philosophy for themselves. What philosophy is that? Simple – Life is to be lived on YOUR terms.
I’m super proud that my daughter commits fully to her interests. I’m super proud that she gets excited about this stuff and that she doesn’t give a hoot how cold it is or how long a wait it is till the doors open. I once stood in the same spot at a concert for 7 hours, no toilet breaks, no food or drink breaks, and not even the slightest thought of moving. It was in Manchester and it was a U2 concert. I warned all my travelling buddies “I’m not here to drink. I’m here to see my heroes and I’ll be going round to the venue to queue up at 4pm with or without you” (pardon the pun). Sure enough when I got there I was one of the first 500 people at the venue and I got into the “inner circle” at the front of the stage. I firmly secured my feet to the floor and mustered up some serious Zen-like mindset to not budge until U2 had rocked the stadium and left the stage. It was one of the best concerts of my life. I was fully prepared to make my trousers my toilet if duty called. Food, drink, rest and comfort were not gonna distract me. Not even the summertime heat and hay fever could deter me from my mission. I got to see my heroes in action from a prime spot in the stadium. I saw the Edge and could almost touch his guitar – one of my all time favourite guitarists. I got to soak in the evangelical surrealism of a U2 concert. I got high on nothing but music, adrenaline, and a feeling of collective euphoria. After the gig I staggered back to the hotel and lay awake all night loaded up on adrenaline and rockstar dreams. I couldn’t believe the rest of my travelling companions chose to spend their time pounding down beers, ales, and food. It was alien to me that anyone would choose alcohol or food over seeing U2 from the best seat in the house. So yeah, when I see my daughter, her friend, and my niece get all excited and maybe a tad ‘stalker-ish’ when it comes to bands and concerts I totally get it and I totally respect and honour it.
I’m not proud of my daughter because she seems to be on the same path I was on. Nor am I proud of her because her interests lie so firmly rooted in music just like mine always have. I’m proud of her because she commits and because she seizes these moments with relentless passion. If I can be some sort of influence, encouragement, aide, or inspiration to that then I’ve succeeded as a parent. Letting her take the day off school for a pop concert isn’t irresponsible in my opinion. She’s a hard working, studious, diligent wee girl and she surpasses both mine and her Mum’s expectations on a daily basis. Both our daughters do and it’s not through any special parenting skills on our part – it’s just because they are two very special individuals and if that means I gotta get up at 6:30 on a Monday morning and freeze my ass off just to ‘keep the peace’ and make sure they’re safe and happy then get out the crayolas and colour me tickled pink. I’m certainly the man for that job.
These days I would hardly cross the street to see a band let alone queue outside a venue or stand in one spot for 7 hours. I’ve swapped my spandex wearing, guitar slinging heroes for sandal wearing, robe adorning heroes. I still love music and I still love the thrill of a concert but concerts just ain’t what they used to be. The alcohol mentality and mobile phone mentality that has permeated live concerts was the last nail in the coffin for me. James Bay was the last gig I attended. There he was pouring his heart and soul out in The Ulster Hall while all you could hear was the constant chatter of a distracted crowd, the flashes of selfies being taken, the glow of mobile phones as people chose to watch the gig through a screen rather than connect with the guys on the stage, and the frenzied consumption of alcohol like we had just come out of 100 years of prohibition. That was when I realised a musicians job was becoming impossible. The whole point of being a musician is to pour out your soul in the hope of connecting with someone else’s soul. Hard to do that when there’s a phone and alcohol in the way. My solution to the problem would be to stop selling alcohol at venues, ban mobile phones, and provide everyone with a huge reefer on their way in the door. That would be one surefire way to get back to ‘soul connections’ in my opinion. But what do I know? I’m just an old dude dreaming about days of yore when people could go out for a few hours without needing a drink. Back in the day we had a name for anyone who couldn’t go a few hours without a drink – an alcoholic. Now it’s just a socially accepted given that people want alcohol everywhere they go. One mention of the demon weed though and they’ll cart you off to Guantanamo Bay. “What? You want to legalise a natural plant? You think God’s natural Cannabis plant is a better option for humanity than our man made poisonous alcohol?!!” F**k yeah I do, and if you don’t you’re either brainwashed or you’re an idiot.
The world’s changing but that’s ok. I’m no longer the fan but I’m still the crazy teenager. Long live rock’n’roll… and please open these doors quickly before this old ‘teenager’ shivers himself and his bladder into embarrassment and oblivion.
To The Vamps – you guys better rock this place like it’s both your first gig and your last gig. Leave it all on the stage. There are kids here who have been dreaming about this show since they were lucky enough to get tickets last year. Knock it out of the park for them.