I hope your weekend is going well. I’m a bit tired. Got home from a concert in London at 3 AM this morning.
I went to see a band called The Heavy North, at The Old Blue Last, a pub (and former brothel apparently!) in Shoreditch
But I’m OK with this kind of tiredness. I used to live my life in a perpetual state of exhaustion.
I spent so many of my early years in a haze of undiagnosed depression. Every day felt grey and lifeless. I couldn’t let the light in. I’m not sure if my depression ever really went away, but it came back with a vengeance around 10 years ago. I was in a very, very dark place.
But finally, with the support of family and friends, I sought help. I found a much better place. If you are reading this, and it has any kind of resonance, please reach out to someone.
In the last 10 years, I’ve seen my children grow into the wonderful adults they are today, I’ve achieved many things that I never would have previously thought possible – both personally and professionally.
The future may seem bleak. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I’m in my late 50s. Old enough to have lost several friends and family members earlier than expected through accident, by their own hand or undiagnosed medical issues.
Our time here is finite. Most of us have no real idea when our time will end. The reality of this has been etched in sharper relief every year. I see more and more celebrities dying from natural causes at similar ages to me. They are no longer tragic outliers.
I’ve processed this information and now seek out opportunities for enjoyment and joy, far more than any material wealth. Our kitchen is over 20 years old. I don’t own my own car. I get the bus or walk to work. I don’t care.
I have always loved live music, live theatre, live spoken work events, live sports. But there have been times when the cost has seemed too much (and I appreciate that I am lucky to have any spare cash at all). Premier League football ticket at £40+, theatre tickets in the West End at £60+, concert tickets at a similar amount, and £100+ for the best seats and special events.
It all seems so expensive, so overwhelming, so out of reach. That’s what I used to think, particularly when I was skint. I’d stay at home instead.
But it doesn’t need to be this way. Over the course of a couple of weeks I am seeing three up and coming bands with growing national reputations (plus potentially excellent support acts). All in intimate venues with a capacity of less than 200. Cost of the tickets? £16.00. Not per event. That’s combined the ticket cost for all three gigs.
Of course this excludes travelling, eating and drinking costs. But the point still stands. The same applies with sport. Go and see your local non-league football team for £8-£10. Look out for local concerts, spoken word events, theatre and dance productions. A lot will be free or with entry costs below £10. I’ve seen amazing performances on many, many occasions at events where I was one of about 30 people there and I didn’t have to pay a penny.
My point is this. We spend our lives chasing bigger and ‘better’ material things, and paying for more and more expensive event experiences. But it doesn’t need to be this way. There is a world of wonderful entertainment out there for you, but you have to look beyond the obvious, the well-known.
Take a chance.
As for The Heavy North? It’s difficult to fully qualify against some of the megastars I’ve seen live at massive venues. Or other bands at mid sized venues who were on top form. But I’ll say this. They are one of the best live acts I’ve seen, and I got to have a few words with a couple of the band members and shake their hands at the end of the gig.
Try doing that at Wembley Stadium or the O2!
Here in Portsmouth, there is a thriving local music, theatre and spoken word scene. Go out and explore. And if you are a writer, or a musician, or a singer, or aspiring thespian, there is a group out there. There are events for you to attend, to perform, to try and learn your craft. Maybe you won’t become a big star. So what? You might make new friends and new connections, learn new skills, gain confidence that you can take into other aspects of your life.
The first time I read at a poetry event I didn’t know anyone there. Ditto the second time. I was, no doubt, pretty rubbish on both occasions. But I got through them, and some of those I read to at those events are now mentors and friends.
There’s no reason why your journey should be different. And whether your intention is to entertain or be entertained, you probably won’t have to travel very far.
I should share a link to one of the Heavy North’s songs.
This one’s called Awake, and is from their debut album, which you can find on Spotify if you enjoy listening to it.
And if you do like it, try and see them soon. I doubt they’ll be playing 100-200 capacity venues for much longer.
I’ll finish this post with a prose piece that I wrote several years ago, which seems to fit the general theme of this post. It’s part of a nearly completed sequence of prose poems / flash fiction that links driving with mental health, my childhood, the environment and music (primarily Tangerine Dream). I should complete it by the summer, at which point I’ll start looking for a publisher – which might be a bit of a challenge in view of the format and subject matter range!
Changing the Playlist
I am the designated driver. We are at a 60th birthday party somewhere in the north of England. It is at a working men’s club for someone I don’t really know. They have put on a lovely spread and everyone is very nice but I am not in the mood for slight conversations about how are you and what have you been up to for the last 5 years and football or rugby or the weather or whatever and
the DJ is spinning the old favourites: We’ve had Oops up Inside Your Head and Hi Ho Silver Lining and Rocking All Over the World but I am in the mood for some Radiohead, Nirvana or perhaps some mid-70s Tangerine Dream with the volume turned up to the max where the Moog is burbling and bouncing off the walls and the whole room is shaking and shimmering and dissolving in a kraut rock synth overload right before my eyes and I
am ten no eleven and back in my bedroom and in the moments between music when I am flipping the record over and cleaning the long single groove of all visible traces of dust. I listen to the house. Almost silent, overloaded with tension, waiting for the storm to break. It talks to me. Says stay in your room. Keep your thoughts hidden. Do not answer back. Shrink into the space between your headphones and immerse yourself in the synthesizer’s discordant howl.
But now I am back in this downbeat town and Amy Winehouse is on the deck her voice flowing is a beautiful river rising and falling in crystal clear clarity over everything, splashing over the optics, her words bringing light and colour and beauty to even the darkest corner of the room, she is calling out to Valerie and the whole room is on their feet answering, each one of them is Valerie, dancing and full of love and life and energy and joy and now I am standing up , moving towards them, joining in, joining in.
Originally published on the Abergavenny Small Press website back in 2021