The attack on Manchester’s Arena

OK, this one really hit home.

The majority of my ‘out’ time is taken up with concerts – I’m not one for nights on the town, generally and parties tend to bore me. But I do enjoy a good live gig, whether it be watching a band play a small gig in a local pub, or watching a major band in a huge arena production along with tens of thousands of other fans, as was the case last Saturday when Iron Maiden came to my city. They also played in Manchester a fortnight before then, and under different circumstances I might well have been at that show rather than Liverpool. It is a venue I have visited many times over the last two decades, I know it extremely well and that’s why I was watching BBC news in the early hours of Tuesday morning with an increasing feeling of dread and horror, as pictures flashed up on screen of terrified concert-goers fleeing the venue into the adjoining Victoria railway station.

It was clear from the early pictures that initial reports of a speaker blowing up were just not true, as people on screen were shown being helped from the arena in tattered clothes. That night’s show at Manchester Arena by US singer Ariana Grande, had just ended when a blast was heard. Within minutes, as television showed a convoy of emergency vehicles heading for the arena, it was obvious that this was a horrific act.

As details began to emerge it was clear that there would be casualties, as police soon confirmed what we had feared – a terrorist attack had killed and injured many as they left the venue. Soon television networks across the world were carrying the pictures, as it became clear Manchester had been hit once again by a terror attack.

The fact that a concert was chosen as a target was terrifying enough – having been to that arena so many times myself I counted myself fortunate not to have been there that night, but the fact that it was a show from a performer popular with teenage (and younger) girls which was targeted, really chilled the blood. It was devastating to see the faces and names of those caught up in the blast, ranging from an 8-year old child to parents who were just waiting on the concourse to collect their children. A lot has already been said regarding this atrocity, which I shan’t reiterate here, but the fact that the attacker didn’t even need to enter the venue itself to cause this much death and destruction was what really chilled me to the bone. Much has been made about the security arrangements going into the arena; the tightest security on the door would not have stopped this attack because he did not actually reach that door entering the hall.

The attack is bound to have huge implications for concerts across the country; venues nationwide are already stepping up and/or reviewing their own security procedures. Manchester’s arena is the largest indoor arena in the UK, with a maximum capacity of 21000. It draws people from not just the Greater Manchester region, but from across the country and all over the world, with its wider catchment area taking in Merseyside/Lancashire/Cheshire, North Wales, West Yorkshire and the Midlands. It is almost always visited by major international stars when they come to the UK, often to play only a handful of shows. In addition, it has staged major boxing events, has hosted ice-hockey and basketball, and was used during the 2002 Commonwealth Games held in Manchester. On the night of the Ariana Grande show, it would have held around 15000 people with the floor seated and the stage at one end of the arena.

The operators SMG are responsible only for the area after that foyer; not the steps leading to the car park, not the walkway to the station and not the station itself. Other large-scale arenas in the UK will now have to review their own security – Liverpool’s Echo Arena is a bit different, sited close to the River Mersey and not near a main line railway station (the main bus station is across the road and a few minutes’ walk away), it also has a more open concourse but how is it possible to legislate for one man so determined to cause mass destruction that he would be prepared to blow himself up in the process?

Certainly the Manchester Arena will be out of action for some time; at the time of writing it remains a crime scene and is cordoned off still, as is Victoria Station. Police forensic examinations are ongoing, and with such a huge site to cover it must surely be several days before they can even think about reopening. The scale of the damage is not yet clear, despite some leaked images from the site which were published by a US newspaper (causing a row between UK police and US intelligence) but, given what we already know there must be considerable damage to the foyer area, the walkway to the station and probably the roof of that area. Whether there is damage to the actual arena concourse is not yet known. All of that will have to be repaired and made safe; this can only take place once forensics are satisfied and the area cleared. Even when that work is completed, there will have to be a total review of the security in and around the arena and the station. The arena is accessible through a car park, via entrances on Hunts Bank and also Trinity Way, as well as the entrance through Victoria Station.

Consequently, that means upcoming shows will need to be postponed. Take That’s scheduled concerts for this weekend have obviously been called off (they performed at Liverpool on the night of the attack in Manchester, and postponed a second date upon hearing of the tragedy. They will perform in Liverpool on Friday 26th May on a date originally intended for the Manchester Arena.) This almost certainly means that the upcoming concert by US rock band KISS is off too; it was due to be played on 30th May and although no official word has yet been confirmed, it is extremely unlikely that the venue will be back open again in time for that show to take place. Even if it were, how would fans feel about heading to that same venue so soon after such a horrific attack?
UPDATE: The KISS show at Manchester Arena is now confirmed to be off;  the other UK dates will go ahead as scheduled.

There are many events scheduled for the arena in the coming weeks, one I am booked for is the performance of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow on 22nd June. Whether that (or indeed the other forthcoming events) goes ahead is at this stage questionable.

As for Ms Grande, a singer about whom I confess I knew little about until this dreadful night, she has understandably cancelled her remaining European dates and returned to the US. She went to ground shortly after posting a tweet stating that she was ‘broken’. How that will affect her in years to come remains to be seen, whether she can – or even wishes to – set foot on a stage again is something only she can decide.

I for one am still trying to process this even several days on; as a dedicated concert-goer who has spent many evenings in that building I confess I would feel apprehensive about ever setting foot in there again. However, the other side to that is I do not want to let these people succeed in their aims, therefore I shall still be going to concerts both there and elsewhere. Nevertheless, I do feel that it should be some time before that venue opens its doors to the public once again, as a minimum I would say keep the place closed for a month.

The music scene in Manchester is famous the world over, the city’s many venues host live bands on a nightly basis. The arena is the flagship, and after a suitable period it will doubtless play host once again to the biggest names in music.

MEN Arena

(photo: Wikipedia; used under Creative Commons licence)

Caught Live: Don Henley, Manchester Arena 27 June 2016

At first I was cursing Roy Hodgson (manager of the England football team until this night) for his team’s failure to top their group in the ongoing Euro 2016 tournament, thus ensuring that their next game against Iceland would take place on the same night as this show. By the end of the night I’d changed my mind, as I saw a great show and missed the abject performance of his team as they crashed out to unfancied Iceland.

That’s about the only reference to the Euro 2016 tournament I’ll make in this piece, although the game did mean that I had a relatively untroubled run along the M62 for this gig, even in rush hour. I got to the arena and station concourse to find it surprisingly quiet, given that it was Eagles legend Don Henley performing what was billed as ‘his only show in England’ (not strictly true, as he is scheduled to play at Hyde Park in London as guest to Carole King.)

After a quick cuppa and a snack myself and a friend took to the arena concourse, again finding it not all that busy. There was a queue, caused by the arena staff searching for cameras. The stipulation by the artist specifically asked that there would be no photography or cellphone use during the show, as had happened two years previously when the Eagles came to town. For obvious reasons there won’t be any more Eagles shows but still, the difference in the size of this audience compared to when Henley last came around with the Eagles only served to illustrate how much cachet a band name holds, even when one of that band’s leading lights performs a rare solo show in this country. By my estimation there were about 6000 present at the most, the floor was seated and only the first couple of blocks were anything like full on either side of this huge arena. (The upper tier was completely sectioned off.)

At around 7:45 support act JD and the Straight Shot appeared on stage. A rootsy ensemble headed by vocalist James Dolan, they featured a fiddle player, a double bass player and both male and female vocal. Their set was well-delivered, with some fine playing but not really to my taste, although the longer their set went on the more the audience warmed to them, a sign of a good opening act.

Henley and his troupe came on at 9pm sharp, with his whole band grouped in a semi-circle for their opening number (‘Seven Bridges Road’) sang acapella with the whole ensemble harmonising. Following this, the band (ten of them backing Henley by my estimation) took up their positions to begin the main set with ‘Dirty Laundry’. That got the audience going immediately, before the singer addressed the audience to plug current album ‘Cass County’ with his trademark dry sense of humour. He has great comic timing; on mentioning the album title he got a cheer to which he responded ‘I see some of you have the record’, (long pause) ‘And for those of you who haven’t got it’ (even longer pause) ‘I heartily recommend it!’ He isn’t a Springsteen between songs, but when he does speak it’s with the audience hanging on every word.

The set alternated between songs we know and ‘Cass County’ numbers for the first half of the show; classics from his solo career such as ‘New York Minute’ were immaculately performed and when doing the more country-orientated material from ‘Cass County’ he’d duet with one of his three female backing singers. He threw in one or two surprises; it wasn’t that much of a surprise that some Eagles material appeared in the set but one which hadn’t been performed live in decades was ‘The Last Resort’, again delivered with stunning precision. ‘I Don’t Want To Hear Anymore’, a song which appeared on final Eagles album ‘Long Road Out Of Eden’ was also played, but after announcing it (and pointing out it was written ‘by one of your own’ – Paul Carrack). Henley opted to vacate the stage for this number, giving over the spot to the three female singers (Lily Elise, Lara Johnston and Erica Swindell). Another surprise was a cover of Tears For Fears ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, which Henley said was ‘appropriate for these crazy times’.

About halfway through Henley made reference to his stipulation on no cellphones or cameras; on thanking the audience for complying he then threw out a bone revealing that they’d close with ‘Hotel California’ and that he knew he couldn’t stop them at that point (!) Other Eagles material performed such as ‘One Of These Nights’ gave the guitarists a chance to shine, one of whom was Steuart Smith who was here with the Eagles two years ago. The main set ended with ‘The Boys Of Summer’ and ‘Life In The Fast Lane’, then after the mellower ‘Train In The Distance’ performed in the encore, Steuart Smith produced the twin-necked guitar. Henley then said ‘OK, get ’em out!’ (meaning cellphones!) as they launched into ‘Hotel California’ to a sea of LED lights. We thought that was it, but of course he couldn’t end the evening without making reference to his old Eagles partner Glenn Frey, dedicating final number ‘Desperado’ to his memory. That was once again performed immaculately and was a fitting way to end a splendid show.

It was probably the most chilled-out concert I’ll go to this year and a complete change to what I’m normally accustomed to, but this was definitely a top-drawer performance from Henley and his excellent band. A shame then, that his own name doesn’t carry quite the same weight as his old band’s name does but for those that came along, it was a privilege to spend the evening with one of the great songwriters of the rock era.

5gtrs

5 – delightful

 

More from Jeff Lynne’s ELO (Manchester Arena, 10 April 2016)

After seeing a fantastic concert from Jeff Lynne’s ELO in Liverpool, a few days later I was fortunate to get the opportunity to see them again, this time at the larger Manchester Arena. I had a closer spot for this show than I had at Liverpool, and so was able to pay closer attention to which parts the musicians involved were playing. The set was basically as Liverpool, other than bringing forward ‘Telephone Line’ a few numbers forward in the set, so there is little point in doing another write-up. Instead, presented are a selection of snaps taken from my spot throughout the show.

Also included is a clip of ‘All Over The World’ from this concert:

The line-up for this tour is as follows:

  • Jeff Lynne – lead vocals, guitars (obviously!)
  • Mike Stevens – guitars, vocals (musical director)
  • Richard Tandy – keyboards, vocoder
  • Donavan Hepburn – drums
  • Milton McDonald – guitar, vocals
  • Lee Pomeroy – bass, vocals
  • Bernie Smith – keyboards
  • Marcus Byrne – keyboards
  • Iain Hornal – backing vocals
  • Melanie Lewis-McDonald – backing vocals
  • Rosie Langley – violin
  • Amy Langley – cello
  • Jess Cox – cello

The UK shows are, by all accounts, going down a storm. If you have a ticket for any of the remaining gigs, consider yourself fortunate as it will be a fantastic night.