Saturday, 13 September 2014

A Constant Companion

After my piece about Kate Bush (and other geniuses) a couple of weeks ago I have been constantly asked whether music really is that important in the grand scheme of things. Okay, two people asked me something along those lines in passing.

The truth for me is that my answer would probably be 'yes'. Music has always been around me, from cradle (dad was a drum player in a jazz band and mum liked pretty much everyone on 45 from Bernard Cribbens to Adam Faith) to the fast approaching grave. It has comforted me through the 'occasional' relationship break-up, inspired a whole novel by me (no joke), joined me in various celebrations and generally provided a back-drop to more activities than I care to mention - including one or two that I daren't say anything about on grounds of decency and/or libel...

The prime subject of my blog led a few people to question whether I was musically living back on the ark, particularly as I referenced one of her contemporaries and two individuals who have been dead for around a quarter of a century (Jeff Lynne, Freddie Mercury and Roy Orbison respectively), but my tastes really haven't atrophied or been stuck in the last century.

Recent purchases - as in within the past couple of months - have seen me acquire music published by Leah McFall, Jessie J and Paloma Faith, none of whom I imagine even remember much about the last century. As well as the crystal clear and unusual female voices that all three of these young ladies possess, I've maintained my interest in the rockier, more masculine, part of the market and follow the likes of The Kings of Lyon, Kasabian and the Kaiser Chiefs - although the proliferation of 'K's' has started to make me wonder what Freud is up to.

Regardless of my tastes now or back then, music can be cathartic, can modify a mood in the most amazing ways, and one evening it showed me what mass hysteria is all about and the true power of music...

The 9th December 1980. It was the evening of the day we woke to learn of Mark Chapman's assassination of John Lennon the previous night, and I had tickets to see Queen perform at the Wembley Arena. Naturally, although there was a buzz of excitement in the air, there was a muted quality to it. Twelve thousand music lovers were together to share in the experience of hearing their heroes perform live, but they were also there to mourn a tragic loss.

The concert started an hour late and by then the excitement had mounted to an oddly muted fever pitch. As the first chords crashed through the speakers, the entire Arena seemed to roar; people flew from their seats cheering, whistling and clapping. The stage, dark until that point, suddenly lit up as bank upon bank of coloured lights burst into brilliant life.

The first few tracks were frenetic, upbeat numbers that had the entire crowd keeping time with their feet, hands and even the plastic seats. But after the fourth track every light in the Arena went out, leaving us all in total, inky darkness. As one, the crowd seemed to hold its breath and after a few moments, a single, piercingly bright white spotlight lit a small circle on the middle of the stage.

Freddie Mercury stood within its glow and looking up he started to sing very gently. “Imagine there’s no heaven….”

The audience, released now from those long moments where time had seemed suspended, let out a roar that must surely have been heard across the entire capital. Mercury’s voice went silent as the crowd cheered and cheered.

I could feel every single hair on my body stand erect, electricity coursing across my skin. I remember looking around and every face I saw held similar expressions; a cross between pure joy and the most terrible mental agony. Most people that I could see close by had tears coursing down their faces and I suddenly realised that I, too, was crying. I looked at the stage, where Freddie Mercury was standing motionless and saw the bright sparkle of the great singer’s tears. 

I'd heard the term “mass-hysteria”. I had now witnessed it first hand, and doubted - correctly - that I would ever be able to accurately describe that feeling to anyone else.

After two, five, maybe even ten minutes, Freddie Mercury’s voice rose once more, and the entire crowd joined him in a momentous tribute to one of the greatest musicians of his, or any other, era. Whatever had happened after Freddie had started the first line of Imagine, it seemed to act as some form of catharsis and the rest of concert became a joyous celebration. After their third encore, the strains of God Save The Queen announced that the entertainment was finally over. 

To be truthful, I scarcely remember the Queen tracks that they performed that night - but I will never, ever forget the power of that first line of Imagine, and the myriad emotions it brought out of me.

Other than sharing such a powerful experience, my point here is that for me, music is a desperately strong thread that has bound my life across the decades. I often hear people, young and old, debating the merits of one performer or another and it reassures me - reassures me that music is an important thing or so many, as I believe it should always be. I can't imagine life without it.

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