To go along with this blog, I made a playlist of music, trying to make each song a song that meant something to me during each year of my life, while also having a relevant song title. It ends with honourable mentions that didn't quite fit in elsewhere.
Music means something different to each of us. Each song makes your heart beat in a different way, as you find your own way to relate to it. We dance through life with the help of the songs that keep us going. Since we all have different life experiences, the music that get us through it all is varied and complex. I’m going to talk about what music means to me, and my life. How have songs impacted on my life? Let’s start at the beginning.
The first time my parents properly spoke to each other – and indeed started dating – was after a screening of Live Aid, when my dad offered to drive his coworkers home. It makes their anniversary rather easy to remember. My mum was (is?) a massive Bay City Rollers fan, coincidentally moving from a village in Germany to Edinburgh, the city the band is from, as soon as she possibly could. My dad grew up in Edinburgh, and went to a variety of concerts at weekends.
Fast forward to the mid 90s. I’m a baby, the fourth child in a slightly messed up family. My mum takes me to Bay City Rollers concerts, bundled up and strapped to her front. She gets in front of the barrier. She goes back and talks to the band. Years later she’ll tell me she doesn’t think they knew she had a baby on her.
Growing up, some of the first songs I heard were from Scottish artists. We had a compilation CD called “The Best Scottish Album in the World… Ever”. Classic songs like Caledonia, Stuck in the Middle With You, Shout, Donald Where’s Your Trousers?, Let’s Go Round Again, Mull of Kintyre… There was the Proclaimers, and Big Country. There was Flower of Scotland and Auld Lang Syne. These were the soundtrack to many long road trips over my childhood. It blended with the scenery we passed, reminded us of the great accomplishments of our small country.
There was also the Beatles, because of course there was. I remember watching their film Help! on TV and finding as amazing and ridiculous as I still do. My dad introduced me to ska: Madness and Bad Manners. He once gave me an entire recording of a Madness concert, excited to find someone else in the family that enjoyed it as he did. When dad would drive us to school, he’d play music from the various mixtapes he had lying around. “It’s My Party” resonated with me for some reason, perhaps it just sounded like something I would do. And have done. Cry at my own party, I mean.
By the time I was nine, my older siblings were old enough to start discovering music for themselves. The brother five years older than me started recording songs off the radio, and then buying CDs. There was punk, and metal, and funk. I was almost ten when American Idiot was released, and my brother recorded those singles, and Green Day’s previous singles that were getting increased airtime, off the radio. For years I had a six minute radio edit version of Jesus of Suburbia. At this point we had computers, and each our own accounts for them. Our own iTunes library. My brother bought Dookie, and I listened to Longview as an innocent ten year old that didn’t yet know what masturbation was. In the years to come, this brother also introduced me to the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Linkin Park, Wednesday 13, Good Charlotte, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Blink 182, Bowling for Soup, Sum 41… He never got too focussed on one artist, but my heart fell for Green Day.
The lyrics were simultaneously catchy and meaningful. They appeal to people of any age, and the songs carry enough variety that there is always a song you are in the mood to listen to. When we got internet, I spent hours on youtube listening to Ha Ha You’re Dead and She’s a Rebel. Youtube was a great way to let me, still a child with no spending money of my own, to discover more music by myself. When I started high school, I quickly became friends with another Green Day fan, who gave me Green Day albums for birthday and christmas presents. My first real foray into the community that surrounds the fanbase began when I was 12. I joined a forum, and a year later, a quiz making site. Someone messaged me on the quiz making site saying they liked my Green Day avatar, and initiated a long conversation about life. My mental health wasn’t always great, so knowing there were other people like me really helped.
My sister, three years older than me, preferred more pop style music: KT Tunstall, Sandi Thom, Lily Allen, the Holloways, Pink… When I was 15, my sister convinced me to visit her at her first year halls at university by taking me to see Bowling for Soup acoustic. It was the first concert I had chosen to go to, and it truly was an experience. It was an intimate show, but still introduced me to the chants of rock concerts in Glasgow (“here we, here we, here we fucking go”).
High school, and the friends I had there, introduced me to Simple Plan, Tokio Hotel, My Chemical Romance… No major change in what I liked, but always people to talk to about the music. The first CD I actually bought was Foxboro Hot Tubs’ Stop Drop and Roll!!! 21st Century Breakdown came out when I was 15. I had to do a talk on a person I would save for English, and chose Billie Joe Armstrong. I was surprised by the number of people in my year that knew 21st Century Breakdown. People talked about going to see them live, but I hadn’t even considered that being possible for me. It wasn’t like I really had the money or independence to be able to. I vowed to see them live one day, and tried not to be too jealous. My little brother was about eight, and loved the music video for Know Your Enemy. He started off very picky with music, only keeping the few songs from albums he definitely liked.
Near the end of high school, I stumbled across Emily’s Army (later to reinvent themselves as SWMRS), and later asked my friend to buy me their debut album as an early birthday present. Them being around my age made them more relatable, but them growing up rich made them less relatable to me.
University brought many new joys for me: student loans giving me the money and independence I needed, new friends, new opportunities… The next concert I went to was a wizard rock concert in 2012. It was an event held at the university, party to raise money for charity, with a variety of Harry Potter themed bands. I had become a regular member of another Green Day forum, and gained close friends there. There were skype calls and birthday presents. I had an opportunity to see Green Day live in London, but assumed they would be back for a full UK tour later, and chose to stay in town and do something for a friend’s birthday instead. I later regretted that decision when their tour was cancelled for various health reasons, and I stopped talking to said friend.
The next year, Emily’s Army announced something I had not been expecting: their first UK tour. I bought a ticket to the Glasgow show quickly, and was easily persuaded to take the long journey down to the Nottingham show as well. I stayed with people I’d met on a Green Day forum, and without them I probably would never have had the courage to get photos with, and hug, the band members. I had a cleaning job that summer, and the Emily’s Army concerts meant twice arriving back home well after midnight when I needed to be in work for 9am. It was exhausting, but very much worth it. They played Loch Lomond in Glasgow, declaring “I haven't had a full body sweat since the first time we played this song”. Being american, their pronunciation was a bit off, but the effort was appreciated. The Nottingham show featured a “wall of hugs”, but that wouldn’t work in Glasgow. The first Emily’s Army show in Glasgow was the first concert I went to by myself. My confidence has grown since then.
Not long after a friend had been talking to me about Emilie Autumn, I was flicking through the programme for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and noticed she was playing a show. In many ways, this wasn’t just music, it was theatre. The final concert I went to in 2013 was a Bowling for Soup concert with a large group of my friends, and my sister. It was referred to as their Farewell tour, the last of many consecutive years of UK tours. Some of the people I was with were so worried about getting caught up in the mosh pit that they moved back towards the bar. They wanted us to stay together in a group, but some of us wanted to be closer to the stage rather than further away. It made me realise that often it is better to go to concerts alone. Or at least with people that enjoy the music the same way you do.
Twice during 2014 I went to concerts purely because one friend or another had asked me to go with them, and not because I particularly cared about seeing the artist live. Those nights were more about drinking and chatting than paying attention to the music.
Emily’s Army had another UK tour, so naturally I went to the Glasgow date and met the band for the second time. I had a resit that summer, and bought the ticket without knowing if I would have an exam the next day. Thankfully, halfway through an interrailing holiday, I received the news that the exam was the day before the concert.
One way I have discovered music is through podcasts. “Man of the Hour” in my early teens onwards, from a guitarist of Simple Plan and their old merch guy. “Full Frontal” later, from half of All Time Low. I would listen to them while playing games, or walking to work. Every so often a song they’d play would resonate with me. I’d cut the song out from the podcast, or look the band up.
I’ve loved pirates since I was little, so stumbling across Alestorm was great. Scottish pirate metal is one of those genres that is so me that Alestorm went from being unknown to me to one of my favourite bands almost overnight. I thought dressing up as a pirate for the “Pirate Fest” they headlined in Glasgow was going too far, but regretted that as soon as I saw the line. It was a wild night. Despite the reasonably large crowd, I did get almost to the barrier for a while.
In 2015, I went to one concert. It was “Weird Al” Yankovic, and it was his first time playing in Scotland, as far as I can tell. It was wonderful in a whole different way from most of the concerts I’ve been to. Clips of him appearing in, or being mentioned in, various TV shows and films were played on the screens between songs. This gave him and his band time to change outfit, which they did for almost every song. Afterwards, Al sat on the step of the tour bus looking exhausted. Someone stood between him and the line of people who had stayed outside the venue, announced that he would sign one thing from each person, but no photos were allowed.
2016 came, and SWMRS emerged. Their “debut” album took a couple of listens, but really showed them growing up and finding their way. They ended up in the UK twice in the same summer. First in May, during exam season. Thankfully my exams were over, and as a bonus I was escaping the victory parade after the football team closest to where I lived won the Scottish cup for the first time in 114 years. I sat in the bar beforehand with a drink, and Max Becker smiled at me as the band walked past. After the show, I got a photo with the Beckers, and awkwardly talked to them. I noted how much we had changed, but mostly just to become ourselves. Next came August, and they finally came to Edinburgh. It was just after the fringe festival had finished, and I had an internship: nine to five, four days a week. I would have tried to go to both Scottish dates, but both were on work nights, and it took long enough to get back from work. The concert tickets still being around £10 was very useful. The Beckers still hang around after shows. This time, Cole was wearing a dress and drinking Irn Bru. They had been told how great a hangover cure Irn Bru is. I waited for other people to talk to them before going up to them in turn. I got a selfie with each of the Becker brothers, along with multiple hugs. They are honestly some of the loveliest people I’ve met.
Despite how terrible the politics had been, and how many great people the world lost, 2016 still brought out some great music. SWMRS, Blink 182, Against Me!, Green Day, Madness, the Interrupters, Sum 41… and I’m just listing the ones I bought concert tickets for. A youtuber I follow, NateWantsToBattle, released a cover album of pop punk songs, and I was pleased to find he had censored the word “fags” from his version of Green Day’s Holiday.
On my 22nd birthday I listened to a leak of Revolution Radio, the newest Green Day album. I had heard the first single from it as soon as it was released while sitting at work and hoping the woman I was interning for wasn’t going to show up before I heard it. That was a special moment. The second single ended up being Still Breathing, a song that meant a lot to me. A man that had essentially kept me alive for years was singing about still being alive. The new album brought new tours, and a new opportunity for me to finally see them live. I had signed up for the official fansite just to get the presale. The “UK tour” turned out to be three dates in England, but for this band I wasn’t too sad. Leeds on a Sunday night with a friend I’ve had for over a decade. Not too bad. February can’t come soon enough. I looked up the support act: the Interrupters. Ska punk, another genre so me I had to download all their music straight away. The song “By My Side” made me not want to die. As more tour dates were announced, I also bought tickets for Hyde Park (with my little brother, it is on his 16th birthday) and Glasgow (with a Green Day fan I had stayed with before) in July. I’m trying not to think about the money I’m throwing at them, but if anyone deserves it, they do.
December brought two rather different concerts. The first was Against Me! Their first support act was Mobina Galore, two women that surprised me in how much I liked them. After the show, I thanked them and they thanked me and it was just us thanking each other. I’m very bad at conversations. Milk Teeth paused their set to talk about mental health. Laura Jane Grace was wonderful, Against Me! have given me a great soundtrack to my own transgender dysphoria blues. The mosh pit was incredibly friendly, especially for Glasgow, and there was a clear place to stand if you didn’t want to join it. Yelling “the revolution was a lie” with the rest of the crowd was a beautiful moment, one I wished I could pick up and keep in my pocket, ready to relive whenever I need it. I waited around afterwards in the hope of meeting the band, but needed to leave to catch the last bus back home. They probably came out ten minutes after I left. That’s the sort of thing that happens to me.
The other concert in December was Madness. My dad was sure to tell me of when he would see them live in the ‘70s and ‘80s for less than a fiver, when I was paying almost £50 for a ticket. The music industry has changed since then, we agree. Now bands get more money from concerts and merch sales than from the album sales. Madness was the largest concert I’ve been to thus far in my living memory. The support act didn’t come on until over an hour after doors. Most of the crowd were the same age as my parents, some having brought their kids. It was a different crowd from what I often saw: instead of brightly coloured hair, they wore trilbys and fezes. It was the only time I’d seen anyone post facebook live videos during a concerts, and I could see three separate people do so at once. I only really knew the greatest hits, and the latest album, but still recognised almost every song played. They made good use of the screens and lighting. The hits had everyone bopping – literally a house of fun. Between the main show and the encore, they had a pipe band come on stage and play the national anthem. The crowd sang along to Flower of Scotland.
2017 will bring many more adventures in music. I already have bought tickets for six concerts: Sum 41, All Time Low (with SWMRS as support), Blink 182, and Green Day (three times). Each time I see Green Day will be in a different city, with a different person. There’s a lot to look forward to, and keep me going. These bands, and the communities that surround them, have been there for me all my life. When I ask why I’m alive, I know the answer. It’s music.