Friday 10th September, 2021
A gazillion years ago I entered a prize draw via Passport Back To Our Roots to win tickets to this intimate gig. I forgot all about it. I’d entered never expecting to win, I cared about giving money to Save Our Venues, knowing venues would struggle to survive without income during lockdown. Then I got an email saying I was on the reserve winners list and I gulped. Was I ready to get on a coach to London and go to an indoor, non distanced show? I didn’t think I was, but I also knew the opportunity to see Public Service Broadcasting in a pub that holds 300 wasn’t one I was going to get every day. So I said yes. I calculated various Covid related risks, checked the price of the coach, how I would get around London and how much somewhere to stay would be. Then I looked at my dwindling savings and thought, sometimes you have to take a risk. A sensible, calculated one, but a risk nonetheless. Or an impulsive and ridiculous risk. Sometimes both.
I was so nervous about boarding the coach that I couldn’t and if it wasn’t for the very nice National Express staff at Bristol Coach Station I wouldn’t have even got to London. They let me transfer my ticket to a later time coach, and although I still didn’t feel entirely happy (please wear masks people is all I’ll say) I made it onto the coach after the coach after the coach I was supposed to be on and I was on my way.
Getting around London was easy-peasy and exhilarating thanks to scooters. I’ve been using them in Bristol, they’ve given me independence and confidence, I love them. The under 10 me, who lived in London, was thrilled and excited beyond measure to be bombing about on a scooter past Westminster Abbey, round Parliament Square and along the Embankment. However long it is that I’ve been away, and I love Bristol, I really do, the Thames flows in my veins and seeing it will always thrill me and make me feel at home. Actual home. So does the Docklands Light Railway, dinky toy trains I remember seeing being built as a small child and feeling like I was watching the future being constructed around me.
I’d found somewhere to stay in Limehouse (and yes, Mum, I pronounce the H), a Christian charity retreat/conference centre/B&B that also run a Yurt cafe and community centre; a weird little oddity just like me. It was calm and helped settle me and centre me back where I needed to be. I still wasn’t sure I was ready to be in a crowded venue, but I’d made it this far. Bit by bit, stage by stage, I found myself moving forward and then bam I was stood outside the Amerhsam Arms pub in New Cross. Deep breath, Emma, you can do it.
Through the door I went, and Laura, one of the organisers, smiled broadly at me and asked if was feeling ok. I shook my head but said I was here now, so lets try. She helped me orient myself (and had been brilliant over email at helping me feel a lot less anxious about the event before I’d even set off. Small acts of kindness and understanding go a really long way). I spent too much money at the merch desk, got myself a drink and decided to find a little Emma shaped gap somewhere. That turned out to be in front of the tech desk at the side of the plinth (to call it a stage would be being somewhat generous) where I had clear line of sight to the band and space behind, in front and to the side of me. Some of the people in this corner were, like me, wearing masks, which also helped.
I’d missed the support completely (I’m sorry whoever you were) as I knew that the extra hour in the venue would have been too much and had a nervy 20 minute wait for PSB. They came out and onto the stage right behind and around me, I could not have been closer. Wearing all white suits like pure musical angels they took to the stage nervously but to a very warm reception.
I’ve seen PSB play the Royal Albert Hall and at a Castle, being this close to them and being able to see the nerves at the beginning and then the relaxation on their faces as the gig went on; being that close that the warmth of the smiles and laughter between them could be felt was rare and special.
All Out, heavy, angry and searing, helped me release a lot of pent up emotions as I danced and let out the feelings that have been bottle up inside. Progress served as a beacon of hope, Theme From PSB is a slice of musical perfection and a manifesto for who PSB are and why I love them and Blue Heaven sounded so very, very good, live. I tried to dance, I can’t help myself, my body moves even when I don’t want it to and at times the joyous connection of heart, head and body floated me into a different space of consciousness; the place of being where I am floating free of everything and can simply be. The place I call home. Music. Live music. I become one with it, pure and free and feeling everything and nothing simultaneously, where colours and shapes and sounds merge to overwhelm and drown me in a sea of utter bliss. All the things I’ve missed and thought I’d lost forever. All the things that make me feel me, alive and vital and connected. PSB are among the small circle who’s music can take me to those places.
I had to force myself to stop dancing, pain was shooting through my nerves and I had to stick my arm up under the straps of my dress as an improvised sling. I lent back against the wall and allowed synaesthesia in, seeing music in colours is something I wish everyone could do; its so beautiful.
Go! is my boy’s favourite song, it does things to him neither he nor I can explain. I video called him, propping my phone up on the top of the pubs piano. His face was everything, having that moment with him was everything.
I’m not sure when I began to cry, or if I stopped, I just know that a lot of tears were shed during this gig. It was a really emotional and overwhelming musical experience that I felt deeply, right into the marrow of my bones.
At the end I was in some sort of gig induced trance, fugue or fog of admiration; this is the best bit, when the world actually feels quiet to me, when the whirl of my too fast acting brain actually shuts down temporarily. It’s a little like being lost in time and space, it takes me time to re-orient and come back down. I guess I’m also trying to cling to it, to make the feeling last just a little longer. It is why I hang about at the end of gigs to thank the artists. It is why, and this bit still doesn’t feel real, I got to meet J Willgoose Esq in all his bow-tie wearing glory. I’ve not met any of PSB before, yet they have been incredibly kind to my son. He is taller and more handsome in the flesh, by the way. I had to supress the desire to ruffle his hair (Mum’s gonna Mum). The combination of the pain medication I’m on, the Archers & lemonade I’d drunk (classy to the last, me), how emotional I was feeling and the fact that I’ve barely spoken to an adult in 18 months, probably made me come across as even weirder than usual and I’m sorry for that J. Words can express so much, but I can struggle in the moment to make sense sometimes; its why I write, it helps me process. Music live and writing about it have been the things that made me feel alive and without them during the darkness I’ve been very, very lost. For a couple of hours last Friday night, PSB helped me feel I knew where I was again.
I’ve been a very lucky girl in the past and had some wonderful, incredible and emotional musical experiences. This is up there with the best of them. I wish any of these words were enough to actually express how it felt.
Thank you to the tall man who helped me get set list, thank you Matt on merch for looking after my goodies all night, thank you Laura for checking in on me and making sure I got to thank J personally, thank you J Willgoose Esq, Wrigglesworth, J F Abraham and Mr B. Public Service Broadcasting make public service music and I love you for it.