Readers with week-long memories and little else to occupy their minds may recall that last time round I finished off with a teaser that I had another first coming up this week. Well that first has now been and gone, and it was Kirsty’s first concert!
Back when Andrea and I had spent a bit of time driving round Scotland, England and Wales on our visit to Eastbourne in 2014 and to stay with our friend the lovely Ruth in 2015, Andrea had played some music by a band she liked called Afro Celt Sound System. I had the impression they were more of a collective than a band in the true sense, but I enjoyed what I heard of their Celtic/African/Asian/Dance/Fusion/Thingy music. Not really my usual cup of tea (see my top 20 album posts for further information) but very enjoyable nonetheless.
Fast forward to around a month ago and as I was randomly surfing the web instead of doing something constructive with my time of an evening, I noticed a news item saying that Afro Celt Sound System had been confirmed for Belfast’s annual Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. I immediately contacted Andrea and no, she didn’t know they were playing and yes, she would really like to go. So of course I was more than happy to accompany her. It was only around a month to the concert, so I searched out their music on my streaming platform of choice, and listened to a good bit of it in the run-up to the gig.
As the show was on a Friday evening, I booked the afternoon off work to give me plenty of time to get ready. As I was getting ready to leave work, my colleague Angela asked what I was up to. I explained that I was off to a concert, and of course nobody had ever heard of Afro Celt Sound System (as I wouldn’t have done either were it not for Andrea). When asked to explain what genre of music the band played, I tried saying that the clue was in the name, or that it was a fusion of traditional Irish, Scottish and African forms with a dance music influence, but in summary I just described it as “Diddly dee with jungle drums”. Close enough.
I think Angela found it quite hard to grasp why I would be leaving work at 1pm for a concert that didn’t start for another 7 hours, so I explained that I wanted to give myself plenty of time to get changed, get an early dinner and get my make up done. She laughed, proving yet again that if the truth is unlikely enough, and you tell it with a straight face, people will think you are joking.
I went up to the Butterfly Club premises to get ready, and finally got out into the world around 3.40pm. I wasn’t due to meet Andrea for a pre-concert dinner until 5, so I went off to Bow Street Mall, a shopping centre in Lisburn, mainly just to pass the time with a bit of a browse. As it was, I made the most of BHS’s recent administration by getting a £30 dress for £15 in the “We need cash right now” sale. Bargain!
Andrea and I were dining in Hillsborough and managed to park right next to each other so we walked down to our venue together. She had proposed going to the Hillside Tavern, yet another nice Hillsborough pub-cum-bistro. Probably more of a pubby atmosphere than the Plough, but none the worse for that. We both skipped starters and went straight for main courses from the list of daily specials, Andrea with the salmon and me plumping for a beautifully cooked medium rare rump steak with tobacco onions. For some reason it felt like ages since I had seen Andrea, even though it had only been a week and a half, but it was great to have a sit-down with just the two of us.
We drove back into Belfast too early for the gig, parking up just after 7 when doors weren’t due to open until 7.45, so we sat in the car and put on some music. As it happened, today was not only the day of the concert, it was also the day when Afro Celt Sound System released their first album in a decade, called “The Source”, so I gave Andrea her first listen. I have heard it four times through now and it’s excellent, I think I like it better than the earlier stuff I have been playing for the last month or so.
The gig was in a marquee at Belfast’s Custom House Square. Unfortunately, I hugely overestimated how long it would take us to walk there from our parking spot so we arrived around 10 minutes before doors were opening and it was rather cold. At least it wasn’t raining. There were around 10-15 people milling around and we just sat on a bench in the street near them. Eventually, security opened the gates and we walked in to the marquee, which looked stunning with star-like lights on the ceiling.
The ticket had stated that there was limited unreserved seating. In my mind, this implied something like bleachers at the sides and the back. Andrea has unfortunately been suffering with some leg pain recently, so standing wasn’t really an option and the seats were a requirement. When we entered the marquee we were surprised to see that the seats were laid out cabaret-style, with tables. How odd! We were able to make our way right to the front, and then the wait began. No support act, no announcements, over 90 minutes of just sitting there. Still, at least we had a good view, right? No.
The second the band took to the stage, the space between the stage and the tables filled up with people standing and dancing, so that if you were sitting in tables at the front (as we were) you couldn’t see a thing. It wasn’t really a problem for me, I’m tall enough that I can see from just about anywhere at a gig by standing up, but that didn’t apply for Andrea. After about 3 songs she got up and went in search of a seat further back to give her a better viewing position. After 5 minutes, she texted me to join her, which I did, and it was a perfectly good central spot, right beside the mixing desk where we could really enjoy the band.
Ah the band. They. Were. Amazing. Just so full of energy and vitality, a hugely infectious performance. Several of the band members took turns at the between-song banter and they all seemed to be on top form. It was clear they were excited to have the new album out there and it came through in the performances. It was also something of a homecoming for singer and flautist Rhioghnach Connolly, from Armagh in Northern Ireland. What a wonderful soulful voice this woman has! Then there’s scottish multi-instrumentalist Griogair Labhruidh, striding cockily round the stage, getting the crowd going, and unleashing his truly unique Scots Gaelic rap/scat singing hybrid, while the be-turbanned and permanently grinning dhol drummer Johnny Kalsi bounces around like Tigger. He lends his name to the closing track on the new album “Kalsi Breakbeat” which is a ball of infectious energy and is impossible not to dance to. Loved it loved it loved it.
So after all that, how did I feel about being to my first concert as Kirsty? Well, pretty good. I think I have established that I enjoyed the show a great deal, but every now and then I just got that feeling of “Wow! I am really here and really doing this and really being myself. Funny how life turns out.” The only negative I felt was that when I did stand up I felt ridiculously tall, much more so than I do just walking along a street. I could see over everyone’s head and it felt at times like there was nobody else in the audience who would be taller than my chin. I felt huge, and rather self-conscious about it. I didn’t let it bother me too much though, since everyone was much too interested in what was going on up on stage to worry about the unusual height of the woman at the back. Of course, when I’m not at a concert, everyone is much too concerned about what’s going on in their own lives to worry about the unusual height of the woman walking down the street, or browsing in the shop, or washing her hands at the sink in the ladies’.
I will leave it there apart from one thing. May begins tomorrow. I have said that I will approach my GP during May seeking a referral to the Belfast Gender Clinic. In fact, Andrea asked me last night when in May I would be going to the doctor. Well, later in the month. By the end of next week I intend to actually make an appointment, but I think there is a wait of up to two weeks for non-urgent appointments, so that is that. But I do intend to do it. A new phase is about to begin.