Music is great. If you have never been touched by music, you are either in denial after discovering that Gary Glitter was your first childhood gig, or you're probably dead. In the heart. In the soul. In the mind. In reality. Whilst the current state of "THE MUSIC INDUSTRY" is competitively discussed on a daily basis by journalists, wannabe-critics and fans all around the world, we are also always reminded of a rose -tinted time before when music was just... GREAT.
I am going to feel like Tony the Tiger after writing this, but there's a reason I'm using the word 'great' so often. Being a fan of charity, and saving children (I sound like David Brent today), it was to my delight when I heard of a new campaign to "celebrate the most iconic British live music acts throughout history" called Music Is Great Week. Although I think the name could have been a little more creative, like 'Acoustic Bebop Classical Folk Fusion Of Hard Rock Heavymetal And Instrumental Jazz With Ragtime Rap And A Rock N Roll Refrain Is Great Week', or something, it sounded like a no-brainer to support it.
As part of the Music Is Great campaign, a DVD and download compilation is being released that celebrates the most iconic British live music acts throughout history. It will include film footage and audio of legendary performances and will be available on 14 May to mark the start of Music is Great Week. I've been promised that all net profits will go to Save The Children, so it seemed only right to tie-in a good cause with a story or two of my own of legendary performances. Ladies and gentleman... this is my "musical" life.
Now, it would be incredibly egotistical of me to explore my own music career, that I will leave for Michael Aspel to do on a rainy day, but instead I felt compelled upon seeing the track listing of the Music Is Great compliation to share my own favourite and life-changing gigs. As someone who has been fortunate to see some of the world's biggest pop stars up-close-and-personal in intimate and odd settings whilst also roughin' it in the crowds (the best place to be if you ask me) to being side of the stage at festivals to only dreaming I was there watching old DVDs and VHS cassettes - music has been a fundamental part of my existence since I can remember.
It all started with my earliest memory of rock music. Of any kind of music, I'd say. There were three acts that really took me in when I was a little pipspeak young enough not to know better, even though I blatantly knew what I was thinking was better. The first song that ever took me in was whilst I was with my mother in an Argos store, situated in Croydon. They had their store radio playing and All Saint's 'Never Ever' intrigued me so much that even though my mum had left the shop, I was still stood, motionless, head up in the air, as if to look at the Pop Gods, listening to the song in full awe. It was a truly magical experience that I still remember as vividly today. Yes, All Saints = magical experiences.
Then there was a lazy Sunday morning when my mum and dad were still in bed. My sister and I had invaded their bedroom, where my father was listening to his cassette player and I grabbed the headphones (those awful ones, with the black felt-like things on - why were they ever invented?) and listened to a band I was tragically told I wouldn't really like who I actually fucking adore. The name of that band was Queen. It would be decades later before I discovered the sheer aptitude of Freddie Mercury's live performance, but as a consolation, I was allowed my own cassette player, and the innocent, unoffensive Glenn Miller Orchestra was the tape inside it.
Fast-forward to an age where I wasn't told by anyone who to like, and in my own little journey of discovery - aged sixteen, I had found myself a summer where the internet, piracy and a self-imposed reclusive-ness allowed me to find out for myself how just bloody great music can be. I remember I used to avidly post on a forum about The Office. It was one of my favourite past-times, and a lad on there, Dan - if you're reading this, thanks - was a pompous old sod, but also my musical Excalibur (now are you understanding The Office references?). He introduced me to rock n roll, back in an era where I was dictated aurally by the charts, the radio and general terrible pop-punk (Avril Lavigne) and rap-metal (Limp Bizkit) which I found to be more comical than anything influential that played in my school's canteen.
Thank the heavens that I found my all-time favourite band when I did. They were the band that changed my life, and rescued me at a time of teenage vulnerability that has helped mould me into the nightmare that I am today. They are also the band who have been capable of making me feel so completely content once their show has finished, that I return back to my tent at Reading festival and fall asleep, in the most melancholy state I have ever felt, most likely since I had previously spent nine months fertilising in my mother's womb back in 1986-1987.
Their name was Radiohead and they're the biggest and best band in the world, in my humble opinion. Their show at Reading festival in 2011 was the stuff of dreams. For a start, they opened with the rarely-played 'Creep'. Which was such a fuckin' surprise that I almost wet myself. I'd remained pretty sober for the day because I wanted to feel ethereal. So whilst I stood with a friend and my brother, also huge Radiohead fans, for the beginning - that song at the beginning tipped me over the edge, and I quietly found myself far further into the crowd, on my own, singing every word out from the bottom of my lungs to the top of the skies.
I wouldn't be able to go to a gig on my own, I suppose I'm just too insecure, or just enjoy the company of humans too much, but I definitely felt completely like Everything In It's Right Place by the end of their show. That was their final song in the encore, by the way. I could go through the set list and tell you all how each amazing each song was. In particular, the most haunting sight of a camera being placed upon Thom Yorke's lazy eye, flickering like an evil fire, whilst he sat on a piano and bellowed out 'You And Whose Army'. But that is what music journalists get paid to do and something I'd rather leave them to do.
Six years in the making, I had wanted to see this band so much since the age of sixteen and now I was 22 and it's the only performance I have ever watched back after I've actually been there. And it was still amazing second round. And the third. And the fourth. I've watched rock gigs before on DVD, on YouTube, on the television - I even caught myself playing a tambourine on-stage with Calvin Harris (he had persuaded me to do it) and being transmitted the nation on Channel 4. But unlike watching the likes of Queen: Live At Wembley, Michael Jackson's This Is It and Elvis Presley's 1977 Comeback show (three of my favourite DVD performances), this was a gig that filled me up like no intoxicant could ever do.
It would only be fitting that two years later I returned to Reading for another one of my favourite gigs. Pulp. Stood next to my girlfriend I screamed out Jarvis' lyrics word-for-word (she claims I got them all wrong, but alcohol does that to your ears, love), hoping that Jarvis would turn and thrust towards me, wink and nod as if to say "yes, I know". He knows, because they're a band who produce music I can relate to, laugh to, feel like an idiot to, and ultimately, dance my socks off to. I have seen them three times since they reformed, and each time has been as magical as the last.
There is a definite parallel when it comes to live music and my own enjoyment of the gigs I attend. I have two convincing factors, one is that if I know the musicians on-stage personally I'm more likely to involve myself emotionally within the performance - it's a lot easier to ignore a band or a DJ if you haven't a clue who they are, and a lot harder if they're your mates and they can spot that you're missing or watching the gig via Twitter on your phone (guilty, sometimes). The second is if I know the music inside-out and know all the lyrics and feel like I've grown up with the music in some way, even if it's prematurely.
So it's a massive relief when you go and see a friends band and their performance is spell-bounding. All these superlatives are deserved for an act like Hurts, whose first-ever performance in a church in the dark depths of Manchester was the beginning of a journey that, so far (they are currently preparing their second album), for me, culminated in an end-of-touring-their-first-album show that blew my tiny little mind when I saw pint-sized pop-star Kylie Minogue walk out onto the stage to duet with lead singer and old pal Theo Hutchcraft.
It's one of those moments when you feel like you've been part of the journey, as you've followed a band from their birth (listening to demos at their manager's house) to watching them grow and blossom into an act with the most-die-hard fans since Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, alongside making some of the most beautifully tragic love songs this side of emotional. Of course, I'm biased. But again I was biased when I went to see my friend Jay's band Fisticuffs when I was at college - who I would go around town raving about, not just because Jay was a bloody nice lad, but also because I loved them because I felt part of 'the crew' and that's the essence of music. They were a 'ska band' and even he'd say they were fucking shite (they weren't).
Music is something that you need to feel a part of. Standing in a field in Reading with eighty-thousand other Radiohead fans, wailing along to 'Just', I felt like we were all connected and we all felt the same loneliness, despair and ambition that originally attracted me to Thom Yorke's genius, idiosyncratic lyrics. I thought that if Elliott Smith had of been alive and come on to perform afterwards, we would have all just taken our clothes off there and then and proceeded to have an eighty-thousand-strong orgy, bonding over our insecurities and desires whilst Reggie Yates and Fearne Cotton looked on in disgust from the BBC studios.
That's why music is GREAT. Because it brings people together. Of all walks of life. Of all professions. Of all - well, you know this already. You know why music is great because there isn't a single person who can't say that music hasn't moved them emotionally. For better or worse. And given that children are our future, and some of them the most vulnerable creatures, I urge you to get behind Music Is Great Week (no matter how crap the name is), and at the same time, celebrate some of the best music the UK has produced in past years, all for a cause to Save The Children.
The compilation spans three decades of unforgettable live moments; from David Bowie's performance of Ziggy Stardust at Hammersmith in 1973, to Radiohead's 1997 performance of Karma Police at Glastonbury, right through to 2011 when Adele performed Someone Like You at The BRIT Awards. It officially starts on May 14th and will involve seven days of musical celebration, an opportunity for artists, bands and music fans to pay tribute to British music - past, present and future - through a number of exciting events and appearances.
For more information and news of these events, check it their on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/MusicisGREATBritain