On my 11th birthday, my parents gave me two tickets to my first-ever concert. A week later, my dad and I were at the Manchester Arena, singing along to Avril Lavigne. I was ecstatic, high on how loud a guitar could go, and at the end of the night we drove home still singing.
Last night at the Manchester Arena, that joy was ripped away. After an Ariana Grande concert there, 22 people – including children – were killed by a suicide bomb. Fifty-nine people were seriously injured. People are still missing and unaccounted for. The most innocent of all events, where teenage girls and LGBT kids celebrated their idol, was transformed into a scene our worst nightmares couldn’t even imagine.
Manchester kicked into action immediately. Sixty ambulances were at the scene, with eight hospitals on standby to treat the injured. Locals are donating blood. The Greater Manchester Police kept the public updated with regular statements and advice. As trains and trams were cancelled, I saw friends begin to share the #roomformanchester hashtag, offering brews and rooms in their Northern Quarter flats. Taxi drivers stuck makeshift signs in their windows, offering free rides to those travelling away from the area. I wasn’t surprised. This is Manchester, I thought – we’re doers.
Taxi drivers stuck makeshift signs in their windows, offering free rides to those travelling away from the area. I wasn’t surprised. This is Manchester, I thought – we’re doers.
That this attack targeted a music concert in Manchester is all the more gut-wrenching. We might have split the atom and invented the first computer, but it’s our music we’re known for. In Manchester, there’s no such thing as a bad song, where The Smiths, 808 State and Take That all sit at a level pegging. The city harnesses an unbridled joy of sound, a place where dreamers and newsreaders will open nightclubs that will inevitably lose money because of an “excess of civic pride”. If you’ve ever left Piccadilly Station to make your way to the arches of Store Street, or the sticky floor of Band On The Wall, or the ballroom of the Apollo, you will have felt the warm welcome of a supersonic city.
Since that first Avril Lavigne concert in 2004, I’ve been to the Manchester Arena more times than I can remember. I kissed my first-ever boyfriend watching Arctic Monkeys, a gaggle of us spent hours painstakingly crafting T-shirts spelling out BANANAS for Gwen Stefani, I first got drunk at a Green Day gig on Halloween. Though the videos of me singing along to Spice Girls are lost and the bruises from where Damon Albarn kicked me in the head mid-stage dive have gone, I still have all the tickets with the little silver Manchester Arena logo faded into oblivion. More than that, I have memories, each one a building block of my growth. Teenage girls are built, shaped and changed at pop concerts.
There’s nothing more Mancunian than a resilient spirit. Today, our northern souls are aching for those lost, but we will think too of Manchester’s symbol of a bee – a hardworking, community-driven insect with a sting in its tail. It’s no coincidence that bees communicate through dance.