Live Music: If it’s Out of Your Comfort Zone, it’s For Good Reason

I’ve been going to gigs since I was about fifteen. Back then, it was My Chemical Romance and Placebo, these days I prefer a smaller crowd. It’s not necessarily a conscious thing, but as I’ve grown older, my love of acoustic guitar and literary inclinations have culminated in an appreciation of folk music and a good, heady, sing-song. As my tastes have changed, so too has my social life. Once an unapologetic emo (sigh, I do excuse my behaviour with hindsight) I spent my days lolling around in our local skate park or attempting to break into Clitheroe castle at night to get drunk with my fellow ne’er-do-wells. These days I prefer to be in good company, drinking a decent pint and listening to some music. And much as any true millennial, it’s easy for me to feel smug about having “found” a band when they were unknown, or to assert my self-appointed ownership of them, but in reality it’s just about intimacy with gigs. These days I don’t really want to be punched in the neck in a mosh pit, or stuck at the back of a stadium intently watching the screened projections of the performing dot on stage.


Perhaps I’m old before my time, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. In a world where you can feel as though nothing is untouched, undiscovered, or uninhabited, it’s not hard to understand why people crave to feel like the explorer, the gap-year traveller, want credit for a new discovery. And in a lot of ways, my gig-going is one way of making that happen; after a long day stuck in the library, queuing along with hundreds of other people at the supermarket, that gig in that pub gives me a chance to broaden my horizons, find a new song I’ll download and play on repeat until I know every word, find a new place I want to take my friends to.


There was the beautiful, grand church in Brighton where my friend and I saw Keaton Henson. Cups of tea and coffee for 50p and sitting in the pews feeling faintly reverent as we waited for him to skulk out inconspicuously before stunning us with his haunting melancholy songs. Or the country pavilion in Falmouth to which I traversed across the country for the chance to see Ben Howard preview his new album. Adventures like these I indulged in because it was all too extravagant and held so much promise of new-ness and opportunity.

St Bartholomew’s Church in Brighton, venue of the inimitable Keaton Henson’s gig

Closer to home, when I lived in Cardiff I couldn’t believe my luck when my friend dragged me, on the cusp of a break-up, to Buffalo’s tiny little upstairs room to watch Admiral Fallow for a tenner, with change for pint. And in my lovely little 10 feet tall, home of many a Lemon Sherbet cocktail, I saw The Staves perform on the tiny stage upon which I had frequently danced with my pals, into the early hours. Every band brought a new fever of interest, a new support band I just had to look up and in turn, a new gig I wanted to attend.


When I moved to Edinburgh, terrified of leaving my comfortable flat, supportive circle of friends, my job, to pursue a Masters, I vowed to attend gig after gig so that even if I never made another friend again, I’d be fulfilled in some way. Of course the daunting isolation I anticipated did not last long, but with new friends came new gig buddies. I got the chance to explore different areas of my new city, stalking down Lothian Road to the infamous Picturehouse venue, reveling in the fact that the beautiful, cornflower blue, pillared Queen’s Hall was a stone’s throw from my flat. There was the night my friend and I wandered further and further into the depths of Leith, Google Maps leading us onto a foreboding industrial estate, finding our venue was the newly-established Krafty Brew warehouse and bar, complete with makeshift stage and delicious stout. And as I return again and again to The Caves, with its medieval, candle-bracketed walls and ominous black railings, I am reminded of the labyrinthine history of Edinburgh.


My trips across to Glasgow for gigs have afforded me the pleasure of feeling the buzz of a metropolis that I’ve never been comfortable with before. The Oran Mor’s stained glass windows and colourful muralled walls have been enough to turn a library fraught day into one of the best gigs of my life. A memorable night, bar-hopping at the West End Festival on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street resulted in an impromptu unplugged session with Johnny Flynn, where we were all invited to sit on the floor and listen to his raw, unrehearsed folk-tale stylings.


These gigs, and so many more, have shown me the vastness even of my own city. They’ve made me feel like an explorer in my own country. Live music has proven to be a sort of friendly guide, introducing me to new music and previously concealed places. There is no better way, in my opinion, to escape the mundanity of my daily routine and come away feeling refreshed and roused to learn, explore and travel. If ever I could offer advice, I’d tell you to try it. Look up a band you like, see when they’re touring. Or even go down to your local live music pub and enjoy some trad music played by musicians you might well bump into at the bar afterwards – in Edinburgh I’d recommend Sandy Bell’s or the Royal Oak.


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