Monday, August 17, 2015

The Soundtrack To My Life: 10 Songs That Changed Me

I often wonder what would be on the soundtrack for the movie of my life. For someone who feels as deeply about music as I do, it is a real consideration. For every era, ever event, every moment of my life can be defined by a song, a lyric, a band. Sometimes a song reminds you of a town, a trip or a person. You associate that annoying top 40 hit with the roadtrip you took with your besties back in 2010. You skip a certain band because an ex loved them. You hear a song from your childhood, and suddenly the world around you recedes, and it's 1998 again. And then sometimes you look back and you realise that those songs changed your life. They influenced you into doing - or not doing - things. They shaped and formed you, like clay in the hands of, not the musicians, but of your own interpretations. I've been moulded and shaped and formed by so many songs, and these are the most important. 
(In no particular order, then)

The Shins - Bait and Switch: It's no secret that I'm obsessed with this band. Although not my favourite Shins song nowadays (that honour goes to Turn On Me), this was their first that I paid real attention to. And it's my soundtrack of freedom and happiness. No matter how melancholy this band is, they're like my comfort blanket. I can turn on this song and suddenly it's 2012, I can smell my Starbucks latte and the hire car's air freshener. There's nothing in the world but laughter, and sunshine and somewhere over the next hill, or around the next corner is Stonehenge, Glastonbury, and a world of possibilities. 

Taylor Swift - You Belong With Me: Ever since 2009, I've been slowly morphing myself into Taylor Swift, and this was the song that started it all. I was never a huge fan of Love Story, but this song took me in from the moment I heard it. It started with headbands and glitter, and evolved into high-waisted skirts, crop-tops and red lipstick. I wanted to become this girl, but I suppose there are worse role models. And after all, Taylor Swift told me it's okay to be a cat lady. 

Boyzone - No Matter What: I was seven years old, and sitting on the floor of my living room. A music video was on the screen: five men in white, singing the most beautiful melody my tiny ears had ever encountered. They had to be angels. This was the first song I was ever conscious of knowing. My love of music bloomed and blossomed and continued to grow throughout of my life, and this was the very beginning. 

Savage Garden - Santa Monica: This is my favourite Savage Garden song, and as they were the first band I ever saw live, I had to include it here. Although my nine-year-old self was far too young to understand exactly what the song was about, I did my best. And the name Norman Mailer always stuck with me. This song is by no means just about plastic people in California. It's all about that lazy winter spent in a tiny patch of sun in front of my first computer; it's trying on shoes with my first best friend; it's an ice cold day in downtown Vancouver, and how we all ran to the window as the first flakes of snow began to fall. 

Coldplay - The Scientist: The year was 2008, I was a first year Bachelor or Science student, and suffering from what felt a hell of a lot like depression. I'd never taken very much note of Coldplay, but one day I got ahold of this song and played it on repeat so many times that friends started to ask what was going on. At least then they paid attention. But Coldplay changed my life in so many ways and brought my such joy. From an almost tearful realisation that they were playing live in South Africa, to a dash across the country to see them, to near hyperventilation at their appearance, long walks to their studio on the other side of the world, debates on their new material and long discussions of Chris Martin's love life, I wouldn't be who I am without Coldplay.

Bastille - Things We Lost in the Fire (Fire Fire): I'll cut to the chase, this song earned me a friendship. "Of course I'm going to see Bastille, I don't miss concerts", I smirked. But then it turned into "You like Coldplay?" "Wait, you're a fan of Lost?" "Taylor Swift, what?!" And what could a friend really be to me? It's the person who will sing with me on a roadtrip, use my favourite singer's name as an expletive, or just sit in a car with me, listening to a song from  my childhood, the rain pouring down onto the windshield, both knowing that Boyzone is better than the party we're on our way to.

The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound: I don't know how I lived years without knowing about this band. I don't know how my soul survived without this masterpiece of an album. This song helped me discover Springsteen, who would become a constant in my life. And discovering the Gaslight Anthem gave me a new favourite band, and with it a whole new world of excitement. A whole new realm of singalongs in the car with my digsmate, a whole world of laughter and in-jokes and that special part of friendship that can only be expressed through music. 

Westlife - My Love: This song didn't so much change my life as define it. I can see it now: it's 2001, the skies are blue despite it being midwinter. It's the closest my life has ever been to perfect, so far and the closest - I fear - it will ever be. This song is the smell of sunscreen, the roar of the ocean and the assurance that with three people in the world who care about you, you don't need anything else. And now, 14 years later, this song is the assurance that although everything changes, it'll all come full circle in the end.

Brandon Flowers - Crossfire: Back in 2010, I was trying very hard to keep my strange fangirl obsessions under wraps. I tried these challenges where I'd not mention music for a week, to see how normal people lived. And I just couldn't do it. It was time for my friends to accept my for who I was, and if they couldn't, then perhaps they weren't even friends at all. Enter Flamingo. Enter Flamingo into my car's CD player, from whence it was never removed. 

The Killers - A Dustland Fairytale: Of all the songs that have impacted my life, this is the one that completely turned it on a dime. After one listen, I had to know everything about this band, I had to see them, I had to be a part of everything to do with them. It took a love for music and travel that was bubbling just below the surface of my calm life, and released it in a great explosion. It took my mild interest in media and the internet and made it into a full-blown obsession. A new career path, and new city, and new inspiration to meet people - everything changed within those four minutes. And I never looked back. 

Brandon in Brum: The Desired Ending

In some kind of obsessive fangirl haze, I'd bought a ticket to see Brandon Flowers in Birmingham, without first considering how the hell I was going to get halfway across the country and then back without missing any work. Nor had I checked trains. Oh, and the person who had my ticket was - unbeknownst to me - driving from Wales that very afternoon. Somehow, I pulled off a £16 return journey to Birmingham, which would allow my to stride into the office the next morning exactly on time, if slightly worse for the wear. 

So around 3pm, I stuck my laptop into my drawer, picked up the handbag containing my pyjamas for my sleepover at Amii's house (lol, sleep), and legged it to Euston as fast as the Tube would allow (read: soul-crushingly slowly). Halfway to Coventry I started to get nervous. I had never cut it this fine for a concert in my entire life. If the train broke down now, would I be able to walk to Birmingham by 9pm? C'mon, train!

By 5pm, I was jogging to the venue, only to find Amii was taking a loo break with her queue mates, so I intercepted James and his mama in the balcony queue. I do apologise if I scared you with my over-bubbling enthusiasm and the screaming hug Amii and I shared when she arrived back. 

It is so, so wonderful to meet human beings who understand you. To have friends that you can be entirely yourself around, knowing that they like you for the strange, weird and quirky human being you are. Amii, you are one of those friends. And don't get me started on the hugs from Justine and Emma too, I'll just get emosh. 

And so my ticket arrived from Wales, and a little before doors, a mass of curly hair appeared out of the venue door, and with it, backing singer Danielle Withers. It took a few minutes, but I was brave enough to ask her for a selfie, and we bonded over a short chat about which shows I'd been to. Manchester had been my favourite so far, due entirely to the appearance of Jilted Lovers.

I made my way back to my spot in the queue, and before we knew it, doors were open. Amii and I managed our traditional Mark's-side-second-row spot, although I lost it after attempting to make a run for water 3 minutes before showtime. Stupid me. While waxing lyrical about the London and Manchester setlists, two ladies next to me butted with with a very un-British friendliness. "So, do you just like, follow Brandon Flowers around?!" They were intrigued. "Yep, that's why I'm in this country." They laughed, but I grimaced. "I wish I was joking."

Some would say seeing four shows in one week, with largely the same setlist, would be boring, but tonight couldn't have been less so. Hyper aware that this was the last time I'd see King B for a while, I soaked up every glorious moment. I held my breathe for the appearance of 'Diggin' Up The Heart', but I had nothing to fear. My favourite from the new album was firmly on the setlist, having only been left off of the first London night. I feel like this was the first time I was honestly able to appreciate 'Lonely Town', and lost myself entirely for Brightside.

After the show, I located Amii, who had been a couple of people away from me, and together we screamed and hugged Emma, most likely traumatising her plus one for the night, who came in the form of her dad. And although we didn't get to meet our guy after the show, we did glimpse him, signing the odd autograph, then waving and grinning before boarding the tourbus.

After following James and his mum to their hotel, Amii and I fell into a cab back to Solihull, where we thought watching Harry Potter until 3am would be a fab idea. 3 hours later, I was bundling myself back into a cab to the station, and trying not to spill my Starbucks latte as I climbed aboard my train back to London. Screaming children prevented me from catching up on any sleep on the train back, and although I strode confidently into the office, right on time, 3pm saw me dismissing my new intern and stumbling back to my flat for an excellent nap. My Desired Effect Tour was over, and I was so satisfied that I'd barely even checked the prices of the Eurostar to Paris for the next show. Nope, I was done. And I was happy. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Pilgrimage to Salford: Brandon Flowers Live in Manchester

My technoloy malfunctioned at Euston. One minute I was about to type in my reference number to collect my train ticket at the self-service machine, the next, said machine was rejecting my card and the email containing the precious reference had magically disappeated from my phone. Cue 3 minutes of panic before email was located and I managed to race to my train exactly seven minutes before departure. Hey, for me that's cutting it fine. I'd love to say that the two hour train ride provided optimal time for the perfect snooze, but nope. The countryside flashed by in a haze of exhaustion and The Shins on my iPod, but I never did drift off. Thank goodness for high-speed Virgin trains, because before I knew it, we'd arrived in Manchester, and I was being collected by the lovely Megan (in her lovely car). Isn't it strange and fantastic to come such a long way - literally and figuratively - with someone? All the way from Beit House's third floor in 2008, to Manchester, 2015.

Megan and Gordon live a wonderful, happy and real life in Manchester's trendy Northern Quarter. It's something I aspire to when I'm older - a kitchen full of food, a spareroom full of stuff. Sometimes I think that moving around constantly since I was 17 has left me with few possessions. But for now, I was here to make memories. We took a drive to Tatton Park for a picnic in the sun - the first time I'd felt actual heat in the sun since I'd moved to England. Not just warmth, actual burning heat on my bare arms. It was fantastic. The evening was occupied by a shopping trip to Chester Oaks and on the way back, we were astouned to realise it was after 9pm, though the sun was still shining. I excused myself to bed around midnight, and managed a good eight hours. I'd need it for Sunday's gig. 

By 10.30am, messages from Jess about the length of the queue started to get me excited, and I dashed out of Megan's car outside the venue to hug people and squeal while she drove around the block. I promised to be back around 5pm. And so we hit the science musuem, completely underestimating the size of the place and only getting through about a third of it before we headed home for fantastic home-made burgers (on the braaaaaii). And then it was queue time. Being the genius that I am, I neglected to save a spot for myself in the queue before joining Jess, Ryan and Charlotte for a chat until just before gates. The excitement is palpable - Bernard Sumner of New Order is here. By the time I did get my own spot in queue, I was far too late for barrier, but did make it to a second row position. Not bad.

Shout out to the girl next to me who looked bored the whole way, even through Brightside. Shoutout to the guy on the other side of me who literally only came for Brightside. Anyway. Nothing could ruin this. Nothing could ruin the appearance of Jilted Lovers and Broken freaking Hearts. I believe I may have out-fangirled myself. As with the past two shows, Magdalena comes with an intro chat, though this time it's slightly changed up: "There are all sorts of pilgrimages, some people make musical pilgrimages... I come here, to Salford - I think I wanna be blessed by Morrissey!" Brandon says, trying to sound ironic, but betrayed by his nervous giggle. It's Okay, B, we all know your Morrissey stories. And then Bernard Sumner appears, and Brandon may well have forgotten that Moz even exists. The feeling of playing live with one's idol is surely one of the greatest experiences of one's life.

And so I fall out of the crowd, and make my way to the stage door to bid farewell to the Victims. As I walked into Megan's front door, Twitter told me that Brandon had done an acoustic encore on a balcony outside the venue just after I'd left. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. Just being there had been enough for me.