It was the first gig in over 16 months for both the band and the venue. First night nerves or back to pre-covid fervour?Julia Mason was down the front to find out.
Exactly 512 days since my last “proper” gig, the day finally dawned. There was some synergy in the fact that both gigs were Fontaines D.C.
I had no idea on 25 February 2020 that after their gig at Brixton Academy, the band's biggest headlining show to date, the world would come crashing down.
However with my negative lateral flow test recorded I set off to drive 340 miles from Edinburgh to the Northampton venue, Roadmender. This was one of the Music Venue Trust's ‘Revive Live’ gigs with funding by The National Lottery – yet another step taken by this wonderfully supportive organisation in an attempt to get the music industry back on its feet.
With temperatures during the day touching 30 degrees, I didn’t know whether to be excited, nervous, apprehensive, relieved or all of the above so the distraction of the drive cleared the mind.
Meeting up with gig buddies is of course all part of the experience of live music. The initial stress was to make sure we were at the front of the queue. However we were slightly concerned we were standing in the wrong place, especially as others were queuing behind us. The responsibility!
Relief arrived when the gate opened and, after a bit of faffing finding both ticket and Covid negative test confirmation on the phones, we were in. The venue staff were patient and polite, and the dash for the barrier was successful.
Roadmender is a relatively small venue, especially considering Fontaines D.C. are now both Brits and Grammy nominated. The stage seemed tiny after Brixton Academy and very close. The excitement was now building, this was real (too real for ya? Ed.).
Support came from Willie J Healey who seemed to be utterly delighted to be back in front of a live audience with his band. His 30 minute set was bluesy, funky and entertaining and he was gracious enough to acknowledge that this was Fontaines D.C. night.
By the interval more gig buddies we hadn’t seen since Brixton Academy joined us. It was surreal and emotional. “How are you?” and “How great to see you” exchanged, but tonight is not for long conversations. Tonight is about being back at a gig, about standing up, about dancing, about loving the music being performed right in front of us.
And then, after all this time, it's time.
The lights go down and with The Pogues bellowing out from the speakers the band come on to a rapturous reception. The electricity in the room ramps up a notch and we are straight into 'Hurricane Laughter'.
The set was a mixture of tracks from the debut Dogrel and the not yet toured A Hero’s Death, released almost a year to the day.
‘I Don’t Belong’ was received by the crowd with equal euphoria to ‘Chequeless Reckless’ (with its wonderful line “What’s Really Going On?”, now the title of the Facebook Fans Group Page) and ‘Big’. But it was ‘A Lucid Dream’ that set the room alight. The moshpit went mental – no other word for it. And it was SO GOOD to be in this energy again created by live music.
‘Roy’s Tune’ with the two most emotionally charged words sung by vocalist Grian Chatten “Hey love” was as emotional as it was heart-rending. And this was followed by ‘Oh Such A Spring’ from ‘A Hero’s Death’. Grian somewhat redundantly asked the crowd “how are you?” This band simply owned the room. It was a privilege to be here and I just didn’t want it to end.
Dogrel's ‘Television Screens’ was neatly followed by A Hero’s Death’s ‘Televised Mind’ with its opening earth-shaking bass of Conor Deegan III.
‘Sha Sha Sha’ led to more more moshpit madness and by now the band were smiling, lapping it all up. Grian prowled the stage full of intensity and feeding off the energy from the crowd – it must have felt so good to get back playing live and have this reaction. ‘You Said’ was a goosebumps moment as the crowd sang along to this beautiful song.
Anyone who has seen Fontaines D.C. live will know that guitarist Carlos O’Connell is the band member who likes to engage with the crowd and when ‘Too Real’ started we knew it was going to be utter mayhem. Leaning in while playing guitar with a beer bottle – the crowd loved it, especially the lucky lad who was given the bottle at the end. The track exploded and its electrifying guitar riffs just left the crowd breathless, but the band were not done yet.
‘A Hero’s Death’ followed with its powerful lyrics which seemed so relevant particularly after the last 15 months or so. “Life ain’t always empty” is the mantra repeated over and over and it contains statements which can be held close as little gems to be remembered and acted upon. It also speaks on an individual level and my personal favourite is “When you speak, speak sincere, and believe me friend everyone will hear”.
Carlos wanted more, much to the consternation of the poor security staff who earned their money. A crowd favourite ‘Boys In The Better Land’ saw him deep in the crowd. He was having a total blast and the band were grinning from ear to ear. ‘Proper’ gigs have only returned this week and so people just let rip.
‘Liberty Belle’ and ‘Dublin City Sky’ were interspersed with chanting of “Fontaines D.C.”, something I have never heard before and it was wonderful, a message to the band that they were truly appreciated.
With a thanks for coming to the gig, it was time for the final song 'I Was Not Born', another raucous track with a vocal style that always reminds me of P.I.L.
And that was it…..all too soon it was over. 1 hour and 15 mins of pure adrenalin-inducing joy shared by a few hundred people in this small venue.
And let’s remember that a lot of the media attention appears to have been focussed on us gig-goers and what a loss it is for us not to have had these experiences. But the bands are human beings too. I suspect most artists and musicians will experience an element of nervousness at playing again after such a long time, but it only takes a couple of songs and the response of the crowd to remember why we all love this collective experience.