As you get older everyday things will either get a bit more difficult or you’ll find that, having gained knowledge over time, you’ve become quite the expert. So for instance, as I’ve got older running has become harder. My knees aren’t what they used to be and out of nowhere I’ve developed a bit of a paunch that I now have to haul around as I run. However, as the years have gone by I’ve got better at sexy time. If you’ll pardon the pun, this comes with experience. I’ve become a passionate and considerate lover. Honestly, my passion can be measured by the fact that my wife can often no longer cope with its intensity. Lots of the time nowadays, unable to handle my passion, she’ll shout, ‘Get off me!’ because she knows that at my expert level, sexy time will almost be too much.
But enough of that. A man can only bare so much of his soul. I really hope that has been one of the most difficult paragraphs some of my friends have ever read though!
One of the things that has definitely got more difficult as I’ve got older is also one of the things that I seem to have spent most of my life doing. Going to gigs. Concerts. Watching a live band. Or, if you’re my dad, jigging. Whatever you might call it, it’s something I’ve been doing since I was about fifteen. The first band I saw live was Europe. That’s right, Europe of ‘Final Countdown’ fame. They of the big hair and leather trousers. And I can’t lie and tell you it was regrettable. It wasn’t. That gig made me fall in love with live music. I watched in awe as they completely commanded the audience and saw a potential future career as I watched ladies’ pants being thrown onstage at Joey Tempest. What was not to like about this?
While my musical tastes have changed over the years, my desire to go and watch bands has not. But what has changed is that my ability to watch bands has declined. In short, I’ve got worse at going to gigs. And it’s not as simple as retiring from being down the front and moving back towards the sound desk either. If anything I’ve got better and began to move further forward as the years have progressed.
Going to a gig can be an exhausting experience. The 15-year-old me left that Europe gig like a typically sweaty teenager having jumped around – and quite possibly indulged in some gentle head banging in order to get my long locks flowing a-la Tempest and co – like a proper metal-head for an hour or so. I wasn’t really a proper metal-head; I probably just got a bit carried away. But my point is this: getting carried away at a gig can be an exhausting business and this is OK when you’re under 30. In fact, if you’re fit enough, it’s probably OK if you’re under 40. However, at my age things have changed, gig-wise. Anything even slightly up-tempo, anything that represents a bit more than just shuffling about, and I’m faltering.
But a lack of energy isn’t the only that’s changed about going to gigs in your forties. Let me talk you through my most recent gig experience to illustrate my points.
On a recent Saturday I went to see the band Embrace at the 02 Academy in Leeds. This would be the final gig of a tour to promote the 21st anniversary of their debut album, The Good Will Out. Now Embrace are easily one of my favourite bands, I’ve followed them since they started out, written articles about them, bought their records and merchandise and attended too many of their gigs to mention. We even invited them to our wedding and received a lovely card from them politely explaining that they were out of the country and couldn’t attend. Our first dance was to one of their tunes. If all of that seems sad, then I guess you have to know the band, but believe me there’s a genuine bond between the band and their fans.
On the morning of the gig I just felt tired. I’d done a week at work and coached my football team on the Thursday night. A night out was not top of my list of priorities. That’s middle age for you, right there. Put simply, I was too tired to be bothered about something that I should have been genuinely excited about. I was too tired to be interested about something that I genuinely love. To give further context, this was and is an album that I truly love. There are so many songs on it and so many lyrics within those songs that mean something to me. I was 26 when it came out and pretty much starting to make a life for myself having moved away from home. It would have been around this time that we were planning to move back north from the Midlands and I would have been considering my career options, having not really had a ‘serious’ job after university. ‘The Good Will Out’ made a huge impression on me.
Tired or not, by the time we’ve got to around 5pm the privilege of babysitters has cost us around £200, so I’ll be going to the gig. In case you’re wondering, that’s not the going rate for babysitters, but these ones are my parents, meaning they need a hotel and we took everyone out for a meal on the Saturday; so £200. The doors open tonight at 6pm due to the fact that there’s a curfew in place, so by about 5.50 we’re heading off, safe in the knowledge that the curfew should mean we’ll be home early. How times have changed!
It has to be said that the main worry of this middle-aged couple on approaching the venue wasn’t the choice of clubs to go to afterwards or the ensuing hangover. No, the main worry was parking. I choose to drive nowadays, having left the wild days of drinking behind once children came along. Now we know there’s parking by the venue, but whether we’ll get a space is another thing entirely. This also leads to worries about clothing – it’s not cool to be going out in your coat, but it’s not warm in England in March either! If we get a space in the right car park it’s a very short walk, so at least we can retain an element of cool by not looking too concerned about the weather!
Inside the venue we head straight for the bar. For water. No, really. In fact, I don’t even want a drink of any kind for fearing of having to go to the toilet! Us middle-aged fellas don’t have the bladders that we used to have! But for all the practicalities, the absolute shame of going to a bar and ordering a bottle of water is almost too much to take. The shame is made worse as we’re told that it can’t be served in the bottle; it must be poured into a pint glass. Said shame is then multiplied when it looks like you’re the kind of bloke who takes a girl out and makes her share your pint of water. It’s all I can do not to explain myself to the girl behind the bar, but I stop, knowing that she doesn’t want to know about my bladder or my wife’s problems with dehydration. I leave the bar safe in the knowledge that she’ll find it all out in about 20 years anyway. This is neither the time nor the place for education.
It’s early and the crowd sparse as a result. We stand out like a beacon with our pint of water so we huddle round it just to keep it reasonably well hidden. At this point in time I’ve never felt so old. And this brings us to the next feature of going to gigs in middle age; the chance that you’re the oldest person there. We quickly establish that we’re not. Or at least we don’t look anywhere near as old as some. Some of our contemporaries this evening have actual white hair, so they must be older than us. But it’s still a genuine worry. No one wants to be the oldest swinger in town (and not that type of swinger, by the way).
Just when we’ve calmed our worries on this score though, we spot something that both unnerves us and sets us off in fits of giggles. Over to the side of the now ever-increasing crowd are three fellow gig-goers, who themselves stand out for all the wrong reasons. But they’re not huddled around a pint of iced water. Oh no. They stand out because their combined age can’t actually be a lot higher than mine alone. In fact, their combined age might actually be younger than me! And while their undoubted youth is one thing, it’s their attire that really catches my eye. All three are dressed in jeans, t-shirts and trainers. But it’s the kind of jean that makes it almost impossible for me to look away. Skinny jeans that sit way too high above the ankle. As my dad used to say, it’s like they need to put some jam on their shoes and invite their trousers down for tea. And as if to draw attention to the fact they’ve coupled their jeans with white sports socks. So you have jeans at calf level, followed by an inch or two of pale skin and then some bright white socks. It really makes for quite the sight.
This relates directly to being a middle age gig goer as well. On reflection, I realise that they were simply kids being kids. Who am I to judge their look? Perhaps they would have laughed at my attempts to look like Ian Brown when I was their age. And perhaps they’d have been justified. But for now, given my own middle age insecurities, it’s easier just to giggle a bit.
After a while, I feel more settled. We’ve taken turns holding the water, partly to lessen the impact on our image and partly because due to the amount of ice in it it’s too cold for our fragile middle-aged hands! The lights dim further and the support band enters the fray and it becomes clear that we have another middle age problem. It’s all too loud and too bright! The band is ‘Land Sharks’ and they feature two of tonight’s headliners, Embrace, so it feels rude to be behaving like a pensioner who wandered in through a side door by mistake. But it really is too loud and too bright! I’m beginning to question whether I can actually look in the direction of the stage when I realise I’m quite enjoying them. ‘Land Sharks’ are undoubtedly rocky (and that’s easily the most middle age clause I’ve typed in a long time), but it’s likeable; there’s a tune and a bit of a groove. And the singer is a proper old school frontman too. He commands the stage in a part Jagger, part Plant way and this means that I forget about the lights and forget how loud it is in favour of simply enjoying myself. I’m starting to feel a lot less out-of-place. I’m relaxed and although I can’t sing along, I’m definitely smiling.
By the time Land Sharks leave the stage I’m completely comfortable. Maybe they can add that type of thing to their posters – Land Sharks; relaxing the middle-aged since 2019. My thoughts turn to Embrace and I’m now genuinely excited by the prospect of seeing them again. But there are other middle-aged problems to contend with yet.
Firstly, my feet hurt. I mean really hurt. To use Geordie parlance, they knack. I’ve probably been standing here for less than an hour, but my feet are screaming that they’ve had enough. They’re telling the grown up section of my brain to go home and watch telly. I’ve opted for Converse footwear tonight and given their very flat nature, I think that they’re the problem. Mind you, I’ve had forty odd years of being able to stand up as well, so it’s no wonder my feet hurt. I decide to shuffle a bit from foot to foot to try and combat the ache. It doesn’t work – and I must look like an idiot – so I try to relax and shift my balance subtly to different sides of my feet in order to help. Whatever I do must be making me look like I’ve got bladder problems, which is unfair. I’ve got at least another decade before they strike. I have no option but to stand still and put up with it. I think of Land Sharks again and try to just relax.
As time creeps on yet another middle age gig problem arises though. Now I’ve never had the best of memories. However, if we bring spoken language into it, I’m lost. Lyrics, catchphrases, funny sketches from comedy…I can rarely remember it. At least not in any complete kind of form. So here I am, about to watch one of my favourite bands play their first album again in its entirety, and I can’t be sure that I’ll be able to sing along. I feel like my mother. As a child and later as a teenager, I’d be around the house while she was ironing or cooking and would be able to hear her singing. However, it was a distinct style that she had whereby she’d be able to sing actual lyrics for a short while, but it wouldn’t be long before she was just reduced to humming or other noises. Let me give you an example.
Picture my mother – short, dark, of average build for a lady – doing the ironing. It doesn’t matter what she’s ironing. She’s singing along to ‘Walk on By’ by Dionne Warwick. It goes like this.
If you see me walking down the street
And I start to cry each time we meet
Walk on by, walk on by
Dee, dee, dee Dee dee de dee dee dee dee dee dee deee De dee dee De dee dee Do doo doo As you say goodbye Walk on by
My mother can’t remember lyrics either. And she solved this by simply replacing them with noises when she’d forgotten. It seems it’s hereditary too. Although with me I don’t make noises; I just sing the words that either I think it is, or the words I think it should be.
Tonight though, as Embrace play through The Good Will Out, these are songs I’ve known – or maybe not known as well as I thought – for 21 years. Songs I can’t listen to without singing along to, after a fashion. It’s a genuine worry for me that I’ll forget the words to everything and look like some middle age civil servant on a work’s night out. Worse still, I’m about 5 metres from Danny’s microphone, so he’s bound to see me and wonder why I’m at his gig getting all the words wrong. Surely I should be off watching Scouting for Girls or something else equally shite? In my head the whole band are going to see me singing my own words and hate me!
As it happens, I surprise myself. I’m almost word-perfect in my singing along. Pitch perfect? Not so much. But who cares! I probably look a little too lost in the music to appear cool, but it’s an amazing gig. Embrace are, incredible and the songs still mean as much as they did when I first heard them all those years ago. As ever with Embrace it’s a bit like watching a group of old friends up on stage and there’s that wonderful feeling that the band are with us, rather than just artists performing for us. Songs like ‘One Big Family and ‘Retread’ are precious to me and they just sound immense tonight. Middle aged or not, I’ll never get bored of this band or these songs.
By the time the encore comes along though, I’m tired. I’m probably right when I say that I’m too old for this. However, the band play ‘Gravity’, the first dance at my wedding, and with my wife stood in front of me it’s an emotional few minutes and I think I’m safe in saying that it means the world to both of us. And then Danny McNamara has one last surprise. He starts by telling the crowd that he’s not asked us to be jumping up and down tonight and confesses that it’s partly because none of us are getting any younger. He’s not wrong! But then, he asks if we can jump around just once for the song ‘Ashes’. Now, while I adore this song, I’m not sure how long my legs have got left tonight, but I resolve to give it a go. About 5 minutes later, I’m elated, but I feel like I’ve run a marathon. I’m more sweaty than I’d like, but I’ve survived! My feet hurt, my legs ache, but there’s life in the old dog yet.
Let’s do it all again soon, lads! As long as I’ve had a bit of a rest. And if someone could remind me to wear sensible shoes next time, that’d be grand.