It was almost two years ago when, in the very same arena, I met Ariana Grande. The day had been full of excitement and anticipation, as hundreds of us waited in line to meet her, and then enjoy an amazing show. The Honeymoon Tour was well underway, and for us here in the UK it was a precious moment the first time Ariana had properly toured the UK. For me, it was a big day. I’d discovered Ariana back in 2010, at the beginning of her ascent to stardom – when I was staying with friends in America, watching Victorious on Nickelodeon. Immediately, I was in love with her voice, and after discovering her YouTube covers (Her cover of Vienna by Billy Joel will forever move me) I was committed. I adored her so much that I even sent her fanmail, to which she sent back signed photos and thank you notes! So when the tour came around, I was more than happy to splash out on Meet and Greet Tickets.
I only got about 30 seconds with her, but in that 30 seconds she greeted me with a big smile, enthusiastically said “HEEEY CUTIE!” and gave me an exceptionally warm hug. It was a greeting you’d expect of old friends being reunited after a long time apart, and that’s how she greeted everyone – with genuine passion and enthusiasm. Needless to say, I was over the moon – and the experience hadn’t even finished, as I then got to enjoy an exceptional performance. I’ll admit that the pop music Ariana has opted to perform isn’t generally to my taste, but I adore her vocals and getting to hear them live was an exceptional opportunity – especially sat only a few rows away from the stage. It was a perfect night.
Which, perhaps, is one of the reasons the bombings in Manchester have hit me so hard. I can understand how everyone was feeling right up to the point when it wasn’t a perfect night. After that, the horrors people went through I can only begin to imagine, but for me, the horror was sitting in my room calling and messaging my friends who I knew were there in a desperate attempt to find out if they were okay, and to guide them to places of safety in the city. I’m left plagued with a sense of guilt, because I was considering going to that very same concert. I could have been there, perhaps I should have been there. The endless stream of what-ifs that are in so many of our minds right now.
Manchester is my home. I wasn’t raised in the city itself, but I live in a neighbouring town, I studied Art there at Manchester Metropolitan University, I’ve attended countless concerts there, I’ve gone on dates there, I’ve shown my friends around that city – it is as much a part of me, if not more a part of me, than my actual hometown. To have my home attacked, my friends attacked, one of my idols attacked, the music scene attacked – it’s all hit too close to home in every sense.
Music has been my escape. When everything else in my life had fallen apart, when there was absolutely nothing left of me, it was music that pulled me from the abyss and brought me back into the light. It was being able to stand in a group of complete strangers and feel completely at home. It was making friends with those strangers stood next to me, friends who have become huge parts of my life. It was finding my passion in photography from a desire to photogragh concerts, finding my purpose in life and beginning to forge a career I love out of it. I owe everything to the music scene, and to have that sanctity violated by these incomprehensible acts of evil is not something I can process. It makes me sad, it makes me angry. But, if nothing else, it makes me want to act to defend it.
The one thing I am proud of, is the amazing response from not only the amazing community of Manchester, but the entire world. A medical centre in Boston, in the USA, ordered pizza to one of the Manchester hospitals. Donations have been received worldwide to support the victims of the incident. Doors across Manchester were opened to welcome those who needed shelter. And this is the response we need – community looking out for each other. It is that which makes a concert a safe place; people looking out for each other. Music makes us all one family, and we have to protect that. Which is why I’ll be continuing my career as a music photographer – to capture and share the wonderful moments that music brings to people and to promote that sense of community.
But there’s something more to take from this. This is not an isolated incident. The murder of Christina Grimmie and the attack of the Eagles of Death Metal concert are just a couple of examples, but moreso it’s important to remember that these heinous atrocities are happening worldwide in the much bigger picture. Presently, the Philippines is under attack, and only a month or so ago in Syria was a bus full of children bombed leaving 68 children dead. It’s almost too easy to neglect the problems that aren’t on our doorstep, but these people are our brothers and sisters worldwide. We must unite globally and send the same support we’ve been able to show our neighbours.
We stand together.
My thoughts are with all the people suffering from this event. If you do not feel ready to attend a concert, do not feel any shame. It is okay to be afraid, and it is okay to not want to attend concerts again. I hope everyone can find the comfort they need through music, whether that’s through Spotify or from the stage.