Stay In Your Own Lane; first music gig

Last night I took my thirteen year old daughter and her two closest friend to their first gig. The band was their current favourite, Twenty One Pilots (their wikipedia page describes their sound as schizophrenic pop, in case you’ve not heard of them!) Anyway, the genre and the band are not particularly important to this post, although I will say I was enormously impressed.

My daughter has been to family music festivals before, but this was the first time she got to a see a band of her choice, a band she has discovered and fallen in love with herself. I have to admit, I felt kind of privileged to be able to experience this rites of passage experience with her, even if it was politely from the side-lines. I watched their excitement build as we finally arrived at the venue, and watched their confidence soar as they joined the massive, snaking queue of teens, who all looked just like them. (Checked shirt, skinny jeans, red beany hat.)

My daughter has a phrase she sometimes uses when I show an interest in her music tastes, or when we discuss our musical differences. She will say jokingly; ‘stay in your own lane’! Which basically means, don’t try to get it, don’t try to understand, go back to the 90’s where you belong!

So, with this in mind, I kept to myself in the over excited queue, whilst keeping a watchful eye over my hyperactive charges. I wasn’t there to enjoy the band, and had to keep reminding myself of this. I wasn’t there to join in, or embarrass them in any way. I was only there because under fourteens must be accompanied by an adult.

Once inside, they queued for their merchandise or ‘merch’ as they call it these days, we found the toilets, and then found our seats in the circle upstairs. Once seated, I looked around and felt immediately old and out of place. I go to gigs and festivals as much as I can, but I go to see either music from my era, the 90’s, or music I have gotten into lately. I was surrounded by teenage girls and boys who all looked remarkably like my strong minded daughter. I was also really tired and could have easily dropped off asleep at that point. I then started to notice the other parents. Dotted here and there among the beany hats and checked shirts, sat sedately and smiling gently while the excited chatter built to a crescendo around them, were parents, around my age or older. They were out of their lanes too.

Then the band started. The four teen girls in front of us instantly leaped to the feet and started bouncing and screaming, and pretty much didn’t stop. Everyone else followed suit, while us oldies remained seated, as we were only there because we had to be. We didn’t want to get too excited or too involved, no matter how good the band was.

I tried to mind my own business, whilst stealing the odd glance at my teen as she enjoyed herself. I’ll admit I had to choke back the odd tear or two, watching the utter joy on her face as she sung along to the songs she loved. It was more than just excitement though, more than just joy and the wonder of a first time time experience. It was their sudden sense of belonging, of being part of a tribe to while they automatically knew they belonged, of seeing themselves in the people around them, feeling a powerful sense of unity and without a doubt, pride in who they are.

It made me think back to my first gig. Pulp is always the one that sticks in my mind. I think it was 1994 and I went with my then best friend, a girl who had always been bullied and ridiculed at school. I remember how it felt for us, to walk among a crowd of young people who looked just like us, who loved Pulp as much as we did. We belonged. We’d found our people, and no one was going to laugh at us for being different.

That feeling was repeated for me many times over the years, and even more recently when I finally got to see the reformed Stone Roses at Finsbury Park in 2013. That smile you get on your face when you recognise the people. When you all sing along. When you jump and bounce and wave your arms all as one. A tribe. A belonging. Add to that the utter thrill of finally seeing a band you love, in the flesh, right there, and they are talking to you, and singing for you, and giving it all for you. Nothing can beat that! The only sad thing is that it ever has to end.

So, in the end, I was up on my feet like the rest of them. At one point a mini drum kit had been placed on a platform, and passed out on top of the crowd. The drummer then climbed onto it and drummed on top of the audience! The singer vanished, only to suddenly appear up on the balcony with us. Like all great front men, he had complete control of the crowd. If he had asked them all to jump off the balcony for him, they would have done so willingly.

I crept out of my own lane just a little bit, just long enough to be extremely impressed, and to wish I was young again! I didn’t sing or dance though. My daughter would have been mortified.

On the way home, the kids were buzzing and hyper. My daughter talked about the next gig she wants to go to. I can see now that she has the bug and I am happy for her. If anything can help you get through this confusing life in this crazy world, it’s music. It reminds you why you are alive.

I was left wondering if I would be welcomed along next time. By that date, she will be fourteen, and in most venues, won’t need and adult with her. I felt a brief stab of sorrow at the thought of being asked to merely drop her off and pick her up again. I’d miss out, but that is as it should be. She’s got her lane and I’ve got mine. I’m sure they will cross paths again at some point. Festivals are great for that.

In the meantime I will just savour the memories, of being able to witness one of her first experiences once again. Like watching her take her first steps, learn to ride a bike, and learn to read. I’m glad I got to be a part of it, even if it is unlikely to happen again!

Nightprowler-short story

Bill Robinson wasn’t the only one who roamed the streets of the estate by night, but as far as he could tell, he was the only one who did it for reasons not connected to living. The other shapes and forms who slipped in and out of the alley ways, were doing it because of life. They were stealing, or fighting, or prowling, or spying. One way or another, it was all about survival, because that was all they knew. Quitting, leaving, changing or dying on purpose were not things that ever occurred to them.

Bill Robinson considered that his purposes and reasons for roaming, made him different, but then Bill Robinson had always known that he was different, and he held that knowledge in his strong shoulders and steely eyes. Being different from them, being different from anyone he knew, was all he had ever wanted. Around here, being different was something that mattered.

Roaming and drifting took him around the messy edges of the small world he lived in. He remembered that when he was a child, it had seemed so big, so full, so noisy and bright. At one time, he had been certain that nothing else existed beyond the brick walls, concrete car-parks, and connecting alley ways of the estate. Now, he saw it differently. Now, he saw it mostly as it was at night; silent, jagged, black and white.

He left home in a dramatic fashion, which served no real purpose. His father worked nights, so was not at home. If his mother had hung around maybe she would have been the one to hear his bedroom window opening. Maybe that was why he did it. Because he could. Because no one ever heard him leave.

His older brother and younger sister slept through the clinging to the drainpipe which always sent his heart up into his throat. They slept through his leaping onto the concrete wall which separated their garden from next doors, and they slept through his cat-like pounce to the flag-stoned patio, hands and feet prepared in advance with boots, thick socks and woolly, fingerless gloves.

From there, it was a brisk walk to the back gate, which was always left open, as the top hinges had disconnected from the rotting post. After the escape, as he liked to think of it, the outside world was his. Their back alley led onto others, corridors of concrete and fence panels, separated by squares of parking spaces and lock-up garages. He could go left, or right. He could go anywhere. The night was his, and everything about it fascinated him.

The houses, all the same in size and shape, like little black boxes closed up after day. Chinks of yellow light shone behind curtains and blinds. He could see who left their kitchen light on for the dog, and who left the landing light on for the kids. The estate was like a massive, silent, sleeping secret…

Bill Robinson imagined himself to be feline, supple in shape and movement. All he really lacked was a tail. He wasn’t hunting prey, though he was hunting something. Some elusive, mysterious, transient something, which escaped him during the day. A something. A big, soft, sleeping, silent something.

In the dark, rats skittered and their eyes glowed behind wheelie bins and recycling boxes. Broken glass littered the ground. Cats watched him from the safety of walls. Every now and then he interrupted a scraggy looking fox from his scavenging. He often saw them trotting casually across the roads, unbothered in the dark by traffic. And as he wandered, he felt less human in body, like all the pretending that made up life melted away as soon as it was dark. He felt unburdened from all the expectations and disappointments which were heaped onto you from the moment you were born. He felt like he supposed the animals felt. Like all that really mattered was the moment you were in, and what you did while you were in it. One foot fell softly after the after, and Bill Robinson scoured the haunts of his patch, of his place of birth and life. From the school, to the playing field, to the shop shut up tight behind steel shutters, to the youth club behind and the community centre around the corner.

Passing the low red-brick building made his lips turn up slightly, as he thought about next Saturday, like he thought about every Saturday. Him, on the stage, if they let him. You’re not the only one around here who wants to do something, Marvin Grady liked to tell him. Bill thought that he was wrong. As far as he could see, he was the only one around here who wanted to do something. He sure as hell was the only one with any talent…

Beats filled his mind as he by-passed the hall. Beats from last week, beats from the next performance to come. He sometimes entertained the thought of taking his music with him when he roamed, pushing his ear-plugs into his ears and hitting play on his phone. But he never did. Silence was something too. Silence gave you time to just be.

He walked on, crossing an empty dark road, enclosed suddenly in the tight black darkness under a group of trees, before he emerged on the other side, illuminated by the street lights outside a block of flats. Bill Robinson courted danger at night, in a different way to in the day. But he was old enough to understand that danger attracted him, in all its many, complex forms. People were dangerous; he knew that. All of them. Especially the ones who knew you. Drinking was a form of self-destruction, albeit a socially acceptable one. Night prowling was anti-social and strange. It served no purpose, except he did it because he was hunting for something and he knew he would recognise it when he found it.

He wasn’t old enough to drive, but he somehow knew that if he ever got behind the wheel of a car, he would want to drive too fast. He would want to take a drink or two along for the ride. He would want to push it too far.

He felt this way about most things. His father and brother called him a bad-tempered wind up merchant. His younger sister, with her narrow-eyed knowledge of the estate, told him he was suicidal.

Bill Robinson, raven-haired and freckle-nosed, with blue eyes that pierced right through you, offering everyone the same rigid level of condescending contempt. Bill Robinson thought you might as well push things to the extreme. He had no illusion or trust in a better life, place or overseeing God. He knew that poor people mostly stayed poor, and angry people mostly stayed angry. He knew that whether you studied life and philosophy forever, or had the odd drunken ramble over beers with your mates, life was ultimately a chance, a fluke, a flash in the dark and in the great big Universe scheme of things, it was pointless.

Not that he wanted to leave. You’d have to be bored or scared to want to leave, and he was neither. He felt like you might as well push it a little, take your chances, enjoy risks and see if you could test the limits – how much were you really meant to be here?

On the night that the unfortunate Lewis Matthews felt his own young life rushing from him in a crimson flood, Bill Robinson, his heart thudding in his chest, was only two streets away.

He heard nothing and saw nothing.

The fifteen year old boy died on the ground with his face against the cold alley wall, and his hands under his chest, clutching vainly at the emptying vessel that was his body.

With the music in his head and his mouth silently singing along, haughty Bill Robinson passed by without knowing a fellow youth was spluttering blood in the very last remnants of his life. He walked on, leaving one alley to join another, and that was when he saw the other night-prowler.

They both stopped and stared. Bill, with his hands in his pockets, and his breath blowing out in front of him. The other form was familiar to him. Round shouldered and round eyed. Their eyes met, and they both squared up, anticipating something…and a decision was made.

You didn’t see me and I didn’t see you.

The figure moved on quickly, into the darkness, head down, feet light. Bill Robinson felt a chill and a thrill at wandering so close to a well-known evil. He had come off okay to still be standing. He chuckled to himself in the dark, and entertained the reasons Charlie McDonnell would have for roaming the streets at three thirty in the morning. Girls. Women. Threats. Drugs. He shivered, and moved on.

The next day, Bill Robinson woke at ten past nine and wondered if he still had two cans of Stella stashed away at the back of his wardrobe. He was rubbing his eyes and scratching his hair, and his lips were already moving quickly over the words they wanted to sing next time in the community centre.

His younger sister burst into the room without knocking.

‘Guess what?’ she cried out breathlessly, while he sat up in bed, yawning in confusion.


‘There was a murder last night!’


‘A murder! Cross Road alley. Lewis Matthews got knifed to death, Bill! The dustbin men found his body this morning! It’s all over the estate!’

(This is  a short story related to a book I started but never finished when I was 16 years old – I still have the writing in a suitcase under my bed, with all my other early works and ideas – it is about a teenage alcoholic whose only passion is singing in the community centre at the weekends – it’s been in my head a lot lately, so decided to write  a short, which is basically a prequel to what happens next, and get back to it when I have time, which won’t be for a while!)nightprowler.jpg


Me and The Music


Me and the music and the writing, we are linked, we are circular. Each feeds into the other. My mind is always full of both. I often feel that music should be constantly with me, and when I was a kid, I tried to make this so. Music in my bedroom, music in the kitchen where I used to sit next to the radio to write my stories, and music in my head. I still recall the agony of dying batteries in a Walkman. My favourite song whining slowly to a halt. Rummaging through the junk drawer in the hope that the loose batteries rolling around at the bottom would fit, and have enough juice left to keep the songs going.

When I look back at my writing, music has always been there too. Often without me knowing, it has shaped and influenced my writing, as well as who I am. When I was fourteen I wrote a book about a boy living in 1960’s America, during the Vietnam War. There is no doubt in my mind that my love of sixties music influenced me to write this particular story, and the songs and bands I had fallen in love with, are dotted throughout the manuscript. In my head, the book was in fact a movie, with an awesome soundtrack. Songs like All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix, White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane and Ruby Tuesday by The Rolling Stones all had their place. I had songs for fight scenes. I had songs for when the gang were running from the cops. I had druggy songs, and hippy songs, and I had Thank You For The Days by The Kinks, In My Life by The Beatles, and Catch The Wind by Donavan. In my head I could see it all and hear it all and it was perfect.

When I look back, I see everything in terms of what music was there for me. I remember buying a Bob Dylan cassette from HMV when I was about twelve. I used to write the lyrics inside my diaries and my school books. I even used to scrawl lyrics that meant something to me onto the surface of my desk at school with a compass. I remember a friend I was slightly in awe of playing me Guns ‘N’ Roses, and watching the videos for Welcome To The Jungle and You Could Be Mine on MTV at her house. I felt like an outsider peering in. It was something; but it wasn’t mine.

When I first saw the video to Smells Like Teen Spirit I thought Kurt Cobain was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. It was something I did not really understand. I bought the single on 7 inch vinyl from my local supermarket and played it as loud as I dared in my room. When I was sixteen Britpop exploded and I found something all mine. When I rewrote The Boy With The Thorn In His Side twenty years after it was first penned, I went back and made Danny’s journey through music my own. From Guns ‘N’ Roses to Nirvana, from the sixties to the nineties, with The Smiths and The Clash in between. It was my soundtrack and I am still adding to it.

Whatever music I am into most at the time, seems to seep into my writing. I had written a significant first draft of This Is Nowhere whilst listening to a lot of Neil Young vinyl. It suddenly seemed to make perfect sense that Jake’s mysterious mother Kate would have loved his music too. At the moment I am listening to a lot of Frank Turner. I have not made my latest protagonist Elliot Pie, a mad music fan, but I am curious to know how this phase will influence his character and the book.

The music has always been with me. I can’t go long without it. I can’t bear the silence or the hollowness that sometimes creeps in. A tight stomach is alleviated by jangling guitars. A worried mind unburdened by pounding drums, building up and up and up and up. The right chords, the right words, the right order, tingling down my spine, making me smile even when I really don’t want to. Music makes you move, it makes you remember how to breathe. It lifts your mood, sets you free, makes you remember you are alive and that great and beautiful things can happen.

When I was a kid I used to lie on my bedroom floor with the speakers on either side of my head. I was trying to locate every part of the song. I was trying to take it apart, understand every piece of it. I was trying to distinguish which instruments came in where, and I could never really understand it, and I still can’t, but I am still listening.

I still insist on loud music in the car. I search the CD collection before I leave the house, seeking out whatever my mood demands. The radio is on all day. Old music brings back a thousand memories. New music opens up possibilities. Makes me feel jealous of the young. If I am down sometimes I want to wallow in it, I want Creep and Fake Plastic Trees and Motorcycle Emptiness, and if I am angry I might want to stay angry, I might want Postively 4th Street or Karma Police or anything by The Smiths. If I want to be lifted up, if I want to feel instantly positive, I turn to The Stone Roses and Oasis. She Bangs The Drums and I can’t stop smiling and drumming. I Am The Resurrection as loud as can be with no interruptions, otherwise I have to go back to the start and try it again. It can’t be messed up. Gotta hear it all. Live Forever is my favourite song in the world, quite possibly. It’s simple and it’s basic but it’s got everything I need. It gets me right there. It says it all. I just wanna’ fly…

Nearly all of my writing has music in it somewhere. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side is a dark and hard hitting story, but is lifted up by Danny’s love for music. He gets to do what I have always wanted; work in a record shop. In The Mess Of Me Joe runs drugs for his brothers in order to save up for a drum kit. In the sequel he will have formed his band and be trying to get noticed.

Music helps me write. It gets the juices flowing. Lyrics inspire stories and invoke characters inside my head. I imagine that all my characters have a soundtrack; music that defines their life and their story. Songs that are all theirs. Songs they sung when they were sad and lost, songs that gave them hope and guts when they needed it most, songs they fell in love to, songs they had their first kiss to…

Me and the music, tapping away. I remember when I was nineteen, and I hadn’t gone to University like I’d planned, and I had a shit job cleaning offices, and my mother had this terrible man living with her, and all my friends had left and gone to Uni, and everything was over, everything was standing still. I remember drinking every night, alone in my room, just me and the music and my trusty old word processor. All I needed was a constant supply of CD’s and paper. I wrote non-stop, all through the night. I wrote whatever came into my head, streams of consciousness and near unconsciousness. I felt like if the music ever stopped then I would die. The music kept the words coming, one after the other, rushing out of me, releasing me from anger and disgust and fear of the future and the whole world. I could make sense of it; or at least keep the worst fear at bay, if I just kept writing, just kept listening to guitars and drums and lyrics.

Now I walk around and I don’t often like the sound of the world. I want to tape a soundtrack over it all. Life is much cooler if you are constantly singing along. If there are constantly words inside your head.

Sometimes I get a nervous feeling in my stomach and for a moment or two, I don’t know why. I can’t work it out. There is nothing to be nervous about. I am not about to do anything scary or important. But the feeling is there nonetheless. It’s like a breath I cannot take. Like the next move has been prevented and I’m stuck. It’s not horrible, or terrible, but it is strange and comes at any time, following me about my life, sudden tightness, sudden urge to take a deep long breath and try again.The other day I finally worked out what it is. It’s my stomach nose-diving, lurching, crunching up small, and its because its wondering what song comes next. What part of life is about to unfold.

Songs are stories. Songs are full of people. Songs are full of love, and fear, and regret and confusion and pure, relentless joy. My writing needs them all. The desperate ones, the depressing ones, the uplifting ones, the soul destroying ones, the ones that shine… They all help me write.

“I’d hear a song, and it would cause this utterly jolting and physical reaction inside of me. It would take me over and it would take me somewhere else. Set all kinds of things off inside of me. Some songs, they drag you down with them, they take your hand very gently and ease you out of the sunshine. They want you to feel their pain, and they want the shivers to run through you as all your hairs stand on end.And then there are the songs that set your hair on fire, and I mean, they fill you up with indescribably joyous energy, the kind that makes you believe you will live forever. Primal Scream’s Movin’ On Up was one of those for me during that time. When I heard that, or sung along to that at Chaos, my heart was exploding with hope, let me tell you, my body felt like it had wings, my soul knew that nothing bad could ever happen to any of us, ever again. Music can do that you know.”  – Danny, “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side”


Do You Remember? (Teenager of the 90’s)

Times change. And so does the music. But more than that, it breaks your heart- like The Bluetones singing where did you go? Or Garbage singing stupid girl, or Whale singing happy in you. I got old. And so did you. But we didn’t really. It’s only on the outside. If we didn’t look in mirrors, we wouldn’t remember that we got older. The music though…it likes to take us back. It grins and teases. Takes us by the elbow whispering; do you remember?

Do you remember fish and chips in the car? The car-park at the beach. We never got out because we didn’t want to be around other people. Let them have the beach. We had the music. It was always us and the music. We still do it now; leave the windows rolled down in pride. Yes, this is good.

I am older, and so are you. Jaded. More cynical. You didn’t used to worry about anything, and you still don’t, but you don’t care either. The world proved you right. I got older, but I fight hard not to get old. I insist the child in me remains loose. Vigilant at all times. In charge of my soul. No mortgage or nine to five for me. No hamster wheel or human treadmill. Music makes everything better.

Do you remember mix tapes? Personalised for the one you loved. But it wasn’t just about love or loving them, it was about telling them what music you loved, letting them in on a secret, telling them what music they should love too. I wish I’d kept them all, but times moved on. I can still see your neat handwriting, black biro, letters perfectly formed. I can picture you in my head; lying on your bed where you kept the hi-fi just above your pillow, so that when I slept over, the music was right there. I can see you writing out the songs one by one. Telling me who I should love. You gave me The Stone Roses and I will love you forever for that.

Do you remember love letters? Passed back and forth. Lyrics and hearts in smudged biro dotted around the edge of A4 lined paper. Ten Storey Love Song – I built this thing for you.

Do you remember The Beach Boys? First music we played in our first home. I remember a younger us in a teenage bedroom; wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long? But we didn’t have to wait long at all to get older. That happened in between songs.

Music is our connection. It links me to you and to everything that I see in my head when I look back. To every song I hear there is a scene, a memory, a feeling. Gomez singing get myself arrested after you did get yourself arrested. A thousand songs in a thousand moments in cars, bedrooms, clubs and festivals. Me and you. Cider and Hooch and Two Dogs. Empties lined up on the bedroom window sill, curtains blowing in the wind. Select magazine on the bed. TFI Friday on the telly. Ocean Colour Scene and Kula Shaker and Cast and Supergrass and Portishead and Massive Attack and Tricky, and I always preferred a slow sad song, and you always preferred fast and happy. Then you’d write me a little note before you left.

You can be yourself when you find the right music. Remember that? Remember that it was our time. And its so funny now when we find it again; when we find ourselves in the record shop, not drawn to the vinyl that was before our time, but to the cds in the flimsy plastic cases, to remembering how cool they seemed compared to tapes, until they scratched and jumped and jittered. The artwork, the song list, the lyric sheet. In an instant, we are excited again, worries forgotten, age meaning nothing. It’s just you and me and the music, set free, eyes wide, let loose, fingers flicking amidst exclamations of ‘we had that one on tape’, ‘we had that one but it got scratched’, ‘I’ve still got that one but it doesn’t work’, ‘do you remember this one?’ For a few moments its perfect joy.

Then in the car on the way home. Everything is made better by music, whether its new or old. Smiling without knowing that we are. We’ll be high on it for days. Classic finds. Cheap and cheerful. Would rather spend money on music than anything else. And I look at you and I think do you remember that you’re the same as me? That we see things they’ll never see?