Picture the scene. Tea time in an ordinary three bedroomed semi in suburban Leeds. The telly’s on. A family – mine – are sat around watching a bit of post football television.
“You’re not going out again? Really?”
“You’re always going out! It’s ridiculous. What about me?”
Now if you’re thinking that this is perhaps my middle aged reaction to my teenage daughter heading out on some shopping trip or hanging about with ‘the girls’, then you’d be wrong. Horribly wrong. This is in fact the kind of dialogue that my kids hurled my way on Saturday evening when, without warning – unless you count the many warnings that they simply didn’t listen to – me and my wife headed out to watch The Bluetones at Leeds Stylus.
The sense of outrage is palpable. The sheer horror undisguised. The grief is multiplied by the fact that it’s Uncle Richard babysitting and not fun loving, just out of his teens cousin, Martin. Thankfully though, it’s mostly put right by the simple fact that we’re having pizza for tea. This serves to calm the nerves and rationalise the fears of what might happen should your parents have the brass neck to go out for the second time this year, for a few hours. Kids eh? Possibly the simplest and most complex things ever to walk the face of planet Earth.
As I’ve documented in a previous blog, middle aged gigging is fraught with tension, pitfalls and problems. The first of these is brought to light fairly quickly this evening when we realise that we don’t know where the gig actually is. Well, we know where, but we don’t recognise the name of the venue. And this was never the case when we were young and cool. A Google search allays a few of our fears, but even when we’ve parked up, we don’t really know where we’re going. For a start it seems to be part of the student’s union and sadly, it’s been a long time since either of us were students.
And this brings into play another fear. Will there be actual students at our gig? Are we about to have to watch an entire gig from one of our favourite bands while simultaneously hiding in a corner trying to disguise the fact that we’re the oldest swingers in town. And by ‘swingers’ I mean people attending a gig, not people conducting illicit sexual relations with the partners of other middle aged folk. I mean, even the image of me naked, let alone other more out-of-shape-forty-and fifty-somethings is enough to prompt you, dear reader, to be sick in your mouth. So come on, pull yourselves together: stop picturing me naked and read on!
Thankfully, our first element of tension, is dissolved when after a relatively short walk I find memories of my PGCE at the University of Leeds come flooding back. I know – sort of – exactly where I am and before we know it we’re heading into the building and down the stairs towards the Stylus. We don’t have a ticket though and instead are relying on picking them up on the door, so there’s an anxious wait while the girl scans the list before finally finding our names and highlighting them. She stamps our hands and we’re in. However, here’s another potential crisis point if you’re a middle aged gig goer. How can you preserve the memory in the time honoured fashion if there’s no ticket? What do I put in a box of memories that’s destined for the loft? What do I frame with other tickets in order to attempt interesting artwork that the wife will not allow on our walls?
Overcoming this tiny existential crisis we go into the gig. It’s early and the crowd is sparse so we head to the front. Sort of. I’ve always been too polite at gigs. It’s got worse as I’ve got older. So now, in middle age, while I’ve got a bit bolder in moving forward I’m still unlikely to stand straight in front of those people who’ve left a gap. Don’t get me wrong, it’s their fault if they’ve left a gap and someone’s inevitably going to stand there, but it most likely won’t be me. So we stand and ponder for a couple of minutes. My wife is a lot shorter than me – a clause that will undoubtedly get me into trouble – while retaining her status as an intellectual giant – a clause that might just get me out of jail – so she likes to be as far forward as possible. So we’re caught between two stools, so to speak.
I’ve been going to gigs with my wife for a very long time. It’s a wonderful thing. We like much of the same music and it helps us get on. I’ve noticed my wife has certain mystical powers that only come out at gig time, but I’ll only let you in on the one in case you’re ever at the same gig as me and we need to use her power’s for the greater good. She can levitate. Genuinely levitate. And as such, while I’m worrying about standing in front of a couple near the front, she levitates into the space, forcing me to follow. I’ve let slip that she does mind control as well now. But she’s levitated and I’ve not even noticed her moving, which in turn helps me overcome my middle aged gig politeness. We’re now just three people from the front of the stage. If this was someone like Take That I could reach out and touch Mark Owen’s testicles as he gyrated in front of me. But it’s not and I doubt Mark Morriss would enjoy such over familiar fandom. Anyway, we’re no longer between two stools. Just metaphorically within touching distance of Mark Owen’s scrotum. It’s been quite a journey in a very short space of time.
As a younger man I had a reasonably encyclopedic knowledge of music, especially with what was new at the time. So during what are referred to generally these days as ‘The Britpop Years’ I knew my stuff. And of course, this is where my love of The Bluetones came from. Nowadays however, my grasp of things has slipped. Having a career, a marriage, children etc; these commitments will get in the way of any kind of interests and my knowledge of bands has suffered. Hence tonight, even though I’ve read who they are, I still have no idea who the support band are. In fact, there are two support bands, but being middle aged these days, the temptations of having a proper tea and staying in the warmth for a little bit longer meant that we weren’t out in time to be queuing at the doors and being two of the 23 people who may have watched the first support.
We make it in time to catch the second support though, although due to middle aged hearing and a lack of annunciation on the singer’s part I couldn’t tell you what they’re called. However, I can furnish you with a few observations. Firstly, they sound and dress a bit like Joy Division. There are hints of The Fall in there too. Secondly, they swear quite a bit. ‘Fuck’ this and ‘fuck’ that and no doubt ‘fuck’ the other as well. Risqué. Thirdly, they’re quite brave. Why? Well they follow one song that has a chorus of ‘this in not a joke, not a fucking joke’ with another that asks ‘Can I speak to a manager please?’ If you think about it there’s a certain level of confidence there, right?
Once they’ve left the stage a glance at my watch tells me that we’ve got about 25 minutes until our heroes, The Bluetones arrive. They’re touring their album Science and Nature, released in 2000, which for fans is a bit of a classic. Not only that though, having played the album through in its entirety, the lads would be back with a second ‘Greatest Hits’ set afterwards. This is great in theory; a real treat. However, given my age, it actually throws up another middle age gigging problem. By the end of these two sets, while I may experience a certain euphoria, to misquote Khia, my legs, my back, my everything is going to hurt. It’s bad enough having to stand still for this long, but tapping a foot, raising the odd hand, arm, pair of hands to clap, actual dancing, well of this is going to take its toll. And that was never a worry when I was a younger gig goer. And this is before we even give a thought to what state we’ll be in the next day.
Age is a constant concern at gigs these days and as such I find myself turning around to check the rest of the audience. I scan both balconies – although their more like ledges in the Stylus – and have a good look at everyone behind me and I’m more than a bit pleased to see so much grey and white hair, as well as many a bald head. We’re all middle aged gigging together and as far as I can see there’s not a hipster student type in site!
There is one more slight problem of a middle aged nature, however. It’s cold out tonight and I’m feeling the cold a little bit more these days – another reason to revoke my Geordie membership as well, I know. So I’m wearing a jacket. It’s not quite sitting at the football with a tartan blanket round my knees, but I feel that it marks me out as old. It reminds me, once again, that middle age has well and truly hit, but there’s nothing else for it. The days of being cool are sadly long gone.With a two hour set ahead of me I’m going to get hot, but there’s no way that I’m tying my jacket round my waist. I can’t avoid feeling like a bit of a twat though. That said, I’m surrounded by middle-aged gig goers, so I can afford to relax a little bit and it wouldn’t be a surprise to find more jackets knocking about. As long as there are no gilets, eh?
Whatever my age, the pre-gig excitement remains the same. So as 9pm approaches, I’m watching the door at the side of the stage like a hawk. And when it opens a fraction, letting in a tiny bit of light, my heart leaps a little bit. Seconds later and our heroes are taking to the stage. Without checking I’d say it’s around 24 years, maybe more, since I first saw them live, but just the sight of The Bluetones walking onstage still makes me smile. In fact, as I get older and especially as a few years ago we attended their ‘farewell’ tour and I thought I’d lost this forever, I think it makes me smile a whole lot more. It’s widened a little bit more tonight as well as the lads are resplendent in white jeans and white lab coats – Science and Nature, you see?
The gig is an absolute triumph. Frontman Mark is on top form, regaling us with tale after tale of life in The Bluetones over the years. And the songs don’t sound bad either! First up it’s Science and Nature and we’re treated to a number of favourites. It’s an album I’ve always loved and the sound of opener Zorro immediately lifts my spirits a little bit more. Suddenly the self consciousness of the middle age gigger is gone. I don’t feel like a mature student or in fact a bloody English teacher and I’m shuffling from foot to foot in something that resembles at least a kind of rhythm.
We’re quickly in to ‘The Last of the Great Navigators’ and Mark is crooning the line about believing ‘there’s something good around the corner’ and do you know what, he’s never sounded more convincing. The beautiful ‘Tiger Lily’ is next before drummer Eds takes centre stage – kind of – with the ‘Ch-ch-ch-ch’ refrain from ‘Mudslide’. We’d been listening to this round the tea table before we came out and bizarrely none of the family can actually do it, apart from me. As I’m the bloke who always sings the wrong lyrics this is quite the achievement, believe me! As the song kicks in and I’m doing it – obviously – my wife turns around with a knowing smile. A knowing smile that says, ‘Yes, you can make a noise, but face facts love, when it comes to actual words you’re like a four-year-old.’ I don’t care and I’ll take any victory I can get, even if it is that I make noises better than anyone else.
Perhaps the last time I heard ‘Blood Bubble’ live was when we saw this album toured originally, although given my age and my memory, I could be wrong. But it’s sounding great tonight. I’m a sucker for an instrumental. And then we’re into the wonderful run of ‘Autophilia’ and ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’. By now I may well be singing – loosely – at the top of my voice. This makes me a little self conscious as you don’t want to spoil anyone else’s night, but gig after gig after gig I can’t help it. I suppose after all these years these songs just mean a lot and I rationalise my brief worries with the thought that the band’s amps and mikes might just make them a bit louder than me anyway. If you’re reading this and thinking you were stood near me as I yelled along and it spoilt your night, I’m sorry. And I’ll extend my apologies for getting the words wrong so much as well. I was in my element though!
The set ends in frankly remarkable fashion, even if it was completely scheduled and not a surprise to many present who simply know the album. I’d like to think I speak for a lot of Bluetones fans though when I express my total and utter undying love for ‘Slackjaw’, the band’s humble, beautiful and wonderful ode to lost love. It’s a song I could listen to again and again and not ever tire of, with the added bonus that it’s short enough even for a perennial lyric loser like myself to remember all the way through! And with that in mind, if you’re reading this Mr. Morriss (either of you) I’m available for back up vocals on this one in the future.
A brilliant set is ended with the wonderful ‘Emily’s Pine’ and the band are off stage as quick as a flash. We’re into what Mark has referred to as an interval for the benefit of an ageing audience and he’s even given us permission to retire to the foyer to purchase drinks and locally sourced ice creams, but apart from a few middle age bladders being emptied, as you’d expect, we’re going nowhere. (And I hope you appreciate the lack of a ‘never’ in there to avoid using an awful pun, Bluetones fans).
Before there’s time for my joints to seize up the boys are back on stage and we have the second half of the show to look forward to. This time it’s a ‘Greatest Hits’ set and we’re treated to a few that aren’t always played, like ‘Freeze Dried Pop’ – revealed by Mark as a potential top 27 hit that never happened – and ‘Fast Boy’.
But it’s the old favourites that dominate and put the perfect glaze on tonight’s gig. ‘Bluetonic’, ‘Never Going Nowhere’ (with Mark chanelling The Eurythmics), ‘Solomon Bites The Worm’ and many more, as they say, are played to the delight of all in the crowd. We end with ‘If’ and a brilliant moment of Bluetones magic as Mark asks for the phone of the woman in front of us in order to film the whole thing for her. There are cameo appearances for the rest of the band including a lingering shot of Adam’s crotch before it’s handed back. Tomorrow, the video will ‘go viral’ as they say, albeit on a smallish, Bluetones sized scale and thousands will view it on Twitter. I will spend much of the day ruing the fact that it could have been me and thinking about the benefits it would have had for this blog! I gather myself, forget the blog – knowing my luck Mark wouldn’t have pressed ‘record’ anyway and look to the stage. After a well deserved bow The Bluetones are gone and it’s almost time to head home. But what a night!
We end the night with a visit to the merchandise stall to make some apt age-related purchases, including a tea towel and some fridge magnets. Never has gigging felt so middle aged and yet so bloody brilliant. I’m shattered, my feet hurt, my ears are ringing and I know that Sunday is already even more of a write-off than usual, but boy am I happy! The Bluetones are a band to be cherished and thankfully – and you promised, Mark – they’ll be back again in 2020. And there are new songs to look forward to as well. Can’t wait. The battle for renewed gig fitness starts now for this middle-aged gig goer!