Last night, a tragedy occurred in Manchester. 22 people, who wanted nothing more than to experience the joy of a pop concert with their friends and family, did not return home.
It’s an event that leads us to question everything: why would someone do this, and why would they deliberately target a place of fun and revelry? Much like the attack on the Bataclan in Paris in 2015, it is shocking to consider that a place of music, community and enjoyment would be the place of such violence. Perhaps we can understand – to a point – a political attack, a strategic one; this seems so indiscriminate, and so much more evil.
Every terrorist attack is awful, but this one particularly hits home, because Manchester is a very special place to me.
I was not born or raised in the city, but I always wish I had been. Growing up, it seemed to me to be the centre of everything that was cool. It had the attitude, it had the clothes, but most importantly, it had the music. All my favourite bands were from Manchester – Oasis, The Stone Roses, New Order (OK Hooky – Salford) the Happy Mondays, the Smiths – and all of them could only have come from Manchester. They bowed to no one, they were fearless and they had that supreme confidence that came from knowing they were from the coolest place on earth.
I grew obsessed with the Manchester musical story, learning of the work of Tony Wilson, the founder of Factory Records who, I discovered, had been the mad genius behind many of these magnificent bands. When my older sister went to the city’s university, I could not wait to visit her and take in the sights and sounds – and to find out if it really was how I imagined it to be.
Finally, after years of dreaming of it, I got off the train at Manchester Piccadilly, walked down Station Approach and breathed it all in.
A whirlwind weekend of visiting Affleck’s Palace, buying giant gig posters to put on my wall at home, going to a City game at Maine Road, visiting the famous Ritz venue, going to a Northern Soul night, walking down the Oxford Road and visiting places I’d read about in Bez’s autobiography (still probably my favourite book). It was amazing. Even the old pre-Commonwealth Games Piccadilly Gardens, with its battered old ferris wheel, was somehow magical.
My obsession with the place grew stronger, visiting whenever I could. I even ended up writing my university dissertation on the geography of Madchester – and spent one of the most incredible hours of my life interviewing Tony Wilson – I say ‘interviewing’, it was more Tony just telling me one spellbinding story after another. It was an absolute privilege.
When I got a job in music A&R, I went up from London pretty much every other weekend to watch whatever gigs were on and eagerly looked forward to the ‘In The City’ festival that happened every year, hosted by Mr Wilson. I was desperate to work with a band from Manchester and I got my wish when I heard about an indie-electro act called The Whip, who were an utter joy to follow as they made their way through their career.
When the club night that I co-ran began to find sizeable audiences in London, there was only one place I wanted to go next: Manchester.
Up we duly went, and from the very first show, in the sadly-missed rough-and-ready Roadhouse, the city took us into its arms and embraced us. The audiences were enthusiastic, energetic and always – literally, without fail – up for a good time.
And that’s what struck me about Manchester from the very first time I got off that train back in the day, to the last time I was there to DJ at The Ritz in March: the people. The friendliest, funniest, most up-for-it people you could ever wish to meet. Always warm, and truly passionate and knowledgeable about their music.
And that’s why this attack hurts so much.
Because this was an attack on youngsters who were at a music concert; for many, perhaps their first ever gig. Their first experience of one of the greatest things in life: the shared, emotional, fantastical, transcendental experience of a live show.
A live show in the middle of, for me, the greatest musical city on Earth.
An experience which should have been one of nothing but wonder, love and amazement.
An attack on a music event in Manchester is an attack on the cultural soul of the city.
I may not be a manc myself, but I’d like to think I know enough about the city to know that there will be only one response to this: love.
You could see it last night as offers of shelter to those stranded came flooding in via social media. You could see it in the way cabbies immediately offered free travel to those who needed to get home. You could see it in the way people offered to donate blood. You will see it over the coming weeks as the families of those affected are comforted and helped.
I say one response, but in reality there will be a second. Determination. Manchester breathes music as its oxygen and, while those who have lost their lives will be mourned and remembered, and treated with respect, the shows will go on.
Music returned to the Bataclan in November 2016, a year on from those attacks, and music will return to Manchester.
Because what is the best response to an act of hate? The act of love and community that is the shared experience of enjoying music, in a room with like-minded people. Singing along to your favourite songs at the top of your voice: there is no greater thing, and no one should ever dare to think they can take that away from us.