It’s 08:30, there’s sunlight streaming into the room, a tv news crew making a racket beneath the window, my ears are ringing and I can only find one sock. I know for certain that I had two when I returned to the room last night, and last night came to an end far too quickly.
The previous day I’d travelled by train in to Victoria station, which has Manchester Arena immediately adjacent to it. The two structures have been integrated in recent years, so that the foyer where a suicide bomb detonated following an Ariana Grande show last year is immediately above me as I leave the train and walk along the platform. Tomorrow is the first anniversary of that event and there is a very sombre atmosphere pervading the station as preparations are being made throughout the city to mark the occasion the next day. I head to my digs for the night, 2 minutes away, and dump my bag. A beer in one of Manchester’s many traditional pubs restores a brighter outlook with the chance to savour the prospect of Screaming Females playing on my home soil. The pint wasn’t bad either.
It’s not too long ago that I thought that the only way I’d ever get to see Screaming Females play live would be to travel to the States. The opportunity to do so arose in February 2017, which was a bit of a leap in to the unknown (I was the guy who turned up at a deserted Monty Hall at 10:30am looking for a ticket office), but everyone was so welcoming that I just had to make a return visit in February 2018. The second trip was even better as I had time to spend exploring NJ Transit and time to knock about with Charlie and meet other fan club members at the shows. I even took in my first NHL game and nipped over to Brooklyn with Charlie and Todd to see the Jacuzzi Boys play. So, the thought of Screaming Females in Manchester seems a little too good to be true. Thirty eight years ago, in this very city, my fifteen year old self saw the Ramones walk on stage and rock my socks off. Tonight ranks right up alongside that evening, and Screaming Females have even managed to go one step further and make one sock vanish.
I headed towards the venue which is located in the city’s Northern Quarter and only a few minutes’ walk from Band On The Wall, the venue for the band’s next visit this coming September. This is a former industrial and commercial area that fell in to neglect for a number of years but with a little TLC is now benefiting from a bohemian feel with plenty of quirky shops and businesses, and all manner of places to eat and drink. There’s a van parked outside, perhaps the band have arrived, which is immediately confirmed by the sound check blasting out from the basement. A few minutes later I spy Marissa getting a coffee so wander over to say hi and it takes her a moment to recognise me. I’ll never forget the first time I met her, February 2017, at Monty Hall. I was in rapture having seen the band belt out Bell whilst I was stood a mere six feet from Marissa. She heard my broad Lancashire accent and broke into a huge, dazzling smile. I get an after image just thinking about that moment, and she treats me to it again. We have a brief chat and I pass a small gift to Mike before leaving so that they can go for something to eat.
A phone alert summons me to a nearby bar. I’d talked a few friends from my local pub in to buying tickets and they have just arrived. Think you can guess what happened over the next hour.
Heading in to the no frills venue, which is a large cellar, there are two support bands for this evening’s show (to my eternal shame I never noted their names) before Screaming Females take to the stage. They sounded good from outside during the sound check but Empty Head would have blasted the plaster off the walls had there been any. Screamales have played over 1200 shows, and boy can you tell as they have the packed cellar enchanted, many singing along to Hopeless. Time flew by as they belt out Agnes Martin, Step Outside and Bell. It was over way, way too quickly before they returned for two encore tracks, Glasshouse and Boyfriend. I hang around afterward to bid farewell to the band and to say hello to Kristina on the merch stall, before heading back to the digs. I hate saying goodbye to Mike, Jarret and Marissa, as I never know whether I’ll get to see them again. This time I have London to look forward to in two days.
My room overlooks Manchester Cathedral so I have woken to racket of the tv crews setting up for the memorial service taking place that afternoon, my ears still ringing from last night’s majestic performance. Time to head home. I never did find that sock and had to trudge the streets of Manchester commando fashion.
I feel I should end with a personal note as there was a recent tweet from the band regarding comments some reviewer had made regarding “All At Once”.
If there’s a repeat Monty Hall weekend in February 2019 then I feel almost obliged to be there as following Screaming Females is no longer just about the music, it’s about the people as well. It’s about Marissa’s dazzling smile, it’s about Mike’s spontaneous show of appreciation that I had travelled over from the UK, it’s about Jarrett and his quiet friendliness, and it’s about Charlie and his merry band of fan club members – Pedro, Melissa, Morgan to name a few, then Hoboken Jack and Todd-O-Phonic from WFMU, and many more. Thank you to you all, it’s been such a fulfilling and rewarding experience.
I hope the band get to see that last bit as it represents something that their music has achieved and something that the hack who made those throwaway comments, probably on the basis of a free promo copy, will never understand.
Next stop Oslo. The one in Hackney, London. Not the one in Norway…..