Last year I bought tickets for the 40th anniversary of Dare. I always liked this album and in 2020 I really needed something to look forward to. I remember when I bought them that I thought the covid pandemic would be over by then. After all it’s over a year away. How wrong was I? As the months drew closer and the news gave daily updates on how many have died, I decided I didn’t want to go. I had already got a refund on most of my rescheduled gigs and did not really want to risk my health. I put my tickets on Twickets. I had sold on there before and was happy to just get my money back. They didn’t sell. The problem was I had bought premium seats. Almost £200 for two tickets once you add on all the fees. I had started to resume theatre but this was locally and I didn’t have to get on a train or stay into a hotel.
However, after attending New Order at the O2, I said to my husband that we should try it. I said to book a hotel we could cancel in case I change my mind but otherwise let’s give it a go. On Saturday 4 December, I nervously headed to Milton Keynes train station for the first time since March 2020. My eldest son is currently living with us so he gave us a lift which I was grateful for as it meant no taxis. We had booked seats (as I am unable to stand for long periods), but the train we were booked on was cancelled due to a lack of staff. We spoke to the ticket people and they booked me some seats onto another train for 20 minutes later. I was glad that the government has brought in mandatory mask wearing on public transport as that helped a little with my anxiety. We got on the train and looked at the very crowded carriage. People were sitting in the seats we had booked and I politely asked them to move. They refused as they said it wasn’t showing on the display (which showed available). We walked further down the carriage and there were two aisle seats but that meant we would both be sitting next to strangers. I sat next to a girl with a mask on but she also kept removing it when she sipped her coffee. She had a terrible chesty cough but there was no where else left to sit. I was very uncomfortable with this and visibly recoiled each time she coughed. Hubby was sitting next to a woman with no mask. Yes I am aware that some people are exempt but this woman talked on her phone in a quiet carriage so I am thinking she just didn’t care. She also coughed but not as much. My anxiety was going through the roof. I couldn’t wait for the train to get to its destination. For those who say I should have got a train manager, firstly it would mean walking through many carriages and past many people to try to find one, and secondly, Avanti Trains don’t seem to think its their responsibility. They tweeted a response saying its up to the police rather than their staff, but there are no police on their trains so that is a stupid thing to say and I feel they are shirking their responsibility to keep people safe.
When we finally got to Birmingham, I was relieved. I had missed Brum. Yes, you read that right. I have spent the last eight years here and had so many good times with friends here. It felt a little like a return to normal. We got to our hotel and before we got comfortable in our hotel room I cleaned every touch point with my anti bac wipes. Even before covid I used to take them to clean things like the remote control, but now it was every surface, every light switch, every handle. We didn’t have much time so we got ready for the gig and headed to the restaurant. We had pre-booked Browns for dinner (at 4.15pm), and glad we did as it was fully booked even at that time of day. We had a lovely meal but service was slow and we were worried about timings to get to the venue. We left half an hour later than planned from the restaurant to get to the venue and it was raining. Actually, it was pouring. I had left my umbrella in the hotel room as I didn’t know if they were allowed in the venue. We made our way via the very busy Christmas markets (keeping our masks on even though its outdoors). Even with the rain it was ridiculously busy around the Christmas Markets and I started to feel anxious again. We headed past Town Hall (where we have seen Heaven 17) and Symphony Hall (where we have seen Georgio Moroder), and headed towards the Utilia building. We had been here once before to see Depeche Mode. That has been a dreadful gig because the venue had the heating up too high and people were fainting because of it. I knew this would be different as we were on the floor, five rows from the front. I had bought a see-through bag that fits their requirements. but the security guy was about to put his ungloved hands into my bag. I stopped him and said ‘please don’t do that, I am happy to show you anything you need to see but I do not want your hands in my bag’. They had airport security to get through so I stepped though that and he called over a supervisor who said my bag was fine. She didn’t even really look in it. We were in. Three people commented on my dress. I had made an effort, as it was The Human League and I don’t get out much anymore and love to dress up. We went upstairs and bumped into some friends. It turned out that many of my Birmingham friends (affectionally known as darklings as we all go to Only After Dark nightclub) were there. We went back downstairs and took our seats. I did not know that I had an aisle seat but was delighted with that. It meant I wasn’t sitting next to strangers. The seat behind me was also empty for most of the gig (until someone further back realised and filled it).
First up was Clare Grogan from Altered Images. I need to tell you that I love Clare. She is funny, very down to earth and very entertaining. I met her a few years ago and she called me cool. I was dancing in the aisles so much to her songs, that security told me off and said I can only dance in my seat area. The aisles, which were huge I was not really blocking them, have to stay clear. Clare not only sung her well known hits including I Could Be Happy, Don’t Talk To Me About Love and Happy Birthday, but also did a wicked cover of That’s Not My Name. She has a new album coming out next year and sung a song from that too, which was really good.
In the break another darkling friend came over to see me. She said she recognised me by my hair! We both had masks on but we hugged. I haven’t even hugged my mum but I needed that hug. I had missed Birmingham and my friends. We chatted what seemed for ages until the lights dimmed for The Thompson Twins.
I remember the Thompson Twins when they were an eight-piece band and still have my 7” of In The Name Of Love. Those who don’t know that song will recognise it from Love On your side (I’ll play you all my favourite records…). Tom was excellent, played a range of songs and also an exceptional cover of Psycho Killer (Talking Heads). I thought Tom looked a bit like Roger Daltrey from The Who with his grey hair and sunglasses. It’s a real rock star look. After this set I got talking to the couple in front of me who knew about OAD and recognised me and my friend. They kindly sent me the videos they recorded the following day. It’s a small world. I didn’t record anything. I just wanted to dance and sing and enjoy it. This is very unlike me as I always used to be there with my camera. I did take a few photos but mainly my camera was in my handbag.
Then it was time for The Human League. They were excellent. I loved the changes of outfits and would probably wear most of Joanne’s. Her last outfit would fit in well at OAD and I am sure she would be very welcomed if she wanted to attend (as would all of the band). Phil’s voice sounds just like his records and you can’t fault it. The Dare album is still fantastic and this was proven tonight. My favourite track is Sound Of The Crowd. Phil also did an original version of Being Boiled, and although I love his voice on it, I prefer the Heaven 17 version that they perform. Martyn Ware is a genius for music and I love his arrangements.
After the show, we walked back though the Christmas markets that were all closed and completely empty. What a difference from earlier on. It was lovely as it had stopped raining. We were happy and still singing Human League. And after eight years I finally got my photo taken with the bull at the bull ring with no one else around. It was a good night.
The following day, we were at the train station to go home. We realised that even though its mandatory for people to wear masks in the train station as well as on the train, about one third of people did not. Its quite shocking how people want to risk their lives this way. I certainly would not and we both kept our masks on the whole journey home.
I am not sure when I will be back in Brum, but while people still disrespect the rules, it may not be for a long time yet. I love you Brum but I am not ready for crowds yet.