The first time it happened was in 1991 in the Colston Hall. I was transfixed; absorbed in every single moment. Totally lost in any real sense of time or space. When it was over, something deep inside me had changed. Looking back I was probably too young to know what was going on, but the fact that I wrote in my diary “it was the best day OF MY LIFE” (underlined in coloured pen and in capital letters) gives some indication as to the impression it left on me.
I had gone to my first ever gig.
Admittedly the fact that I was totally, utterly and completely in love with the artist in question brought a certain heightened level of excitement to the whole experience. Whilst I now sadly realise that Chesney was not destined to be my One and Only, the feeling of being in that place, at that time, is still clear as day.
If you ask me, not only had I gone to my first ever gig. I had also meditated for the first time.
Now that I’ve got a few hundred more live music encounters to use as research, I’m even more convinced that being at a gig is practically the same as lighting the incense, crossing the ankles, and settling in for a session of beautiful breathing.
Ok – I admit that this isn’t necessarily the scenario for every gig. (For example, there were times during Basement Jaxx’s set when my mind and body were happy to do anything other than be in that moment.). But give me, for example, a night with Frank Turner (stay on topic – don’t be smutty) and I’ll come out of it feeling like my mind, body and spirit are basking in a karmic glow that would make the Ready Brek kid jealous.
When I’m there, jumping in unison with a couple of hundred other sweaty humans, busting our lungs to sing with all our hearts every single word, the only thing I’m focussed on is that moment in time. I have no thoughts of the past, none of the future. The only place my awareness rests is here; now.
There are songs which make you feel so full of joy your heart might explode. But others that bring up your sh*t and leave you with tears running down your cheeks. At times you get slapped in the face with a realisation about a past heartbreak, or you get a reminder of a time you really f*cked up. But you embrace these uncomfortable moments just as you do the wondrous ones because you know that nothing about the experience is permanent. This too shall pass.
You are doing nothing apart from just being. You look around and no one is separate. You are joined together with these few hundred other sweaty, singing, dancing human beings by a force so strong it defies explanation. You are all in this together (apart from the people who talk loudly through the quiet numbers and the tall bloke who pushed his way to the front despite the fact you were there TWO HOURS before the doors opened – they’re dead to you…) and life is beautiful.
Even at the end when you’re spat out into the real world, steaming and quivering like Red Rum after the Grand National, the experience doesn’t stop. That feeling of total perfection stays with you even as you fight your way onto public transport, desperately wishing you’d had a wee before you left the venue. Somehow, on some level, a little bit of you is better, bigger, and shinier than it was before. You’ll even tolerate the ringing in the ears which stays with you for two days afterwards. Like a rite of passage – if real transformation is going to happen there always has to be a little bit of ‘sacrifice’.
A few weeks ago there were reports in the news that some boffins have proved that listening to music is beneficial for our health. I can’t have been the only one who had a “no shit, Sherlock” reaction. Well, their research has shown that certain types of classical music can lower blood pressure and that regularly listening to music can improve short and long term memory for people with dementia. They’ve spotted that music lowers stress hormones, and can trigger the release of a nifty little hormone called Oxytocin (which does lots of groovy things including helping you to relax).
I don’t care if I get my mindful moments sitting on my yoga mat or standing in The Forum. I want to live the best life I can, and whether that’s through music or mediation – I’m a winner either way. After all….
“Life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings;
about fire in our bellies and furtive little feelings,
and the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering.
They help us with remembering that the only thing that’s left to do is live.” –
– Frank Turner, ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’
P.S. Don’t believe me? Try it – http://frank-turner.com/live-gigs/
P.P.S If you took the photo above, I apologise for not crediting you but I couldn’t find your name! If it helps, I found it at callumgilbraith.com.