Happy memories and heroes
Dale Maplethorpe
14:13 30th March 2023

The 24th March would have been my Dad’s birthday. He passed away 1st February 2022. He had cancer but it was eventually a brain haemorrhage that killed him. He was disabled and fell over a lot, one too many knocks to the head, clumsy bastard in life and death. 

Life without him is still relatively new and as such, when it comes to anniversary’s like for the day he died and what would have been his birthday, I don’t know what to do. I drink lager and eat scampi fries like I used to with him, I listen to Free Bird, Delilah and the entire discography of ACDC, I tell my living family members how much I love them, but the truth is, I have no clue what the right way to deal with this kind of thing is; however, riding the tube to the Royal Albert Hall, already drunk, for a gig in support of cancer research, didn’t seem like a wise idea. Too late now though, music needs hearing and words need writing, so I dive headfirst into a Camden Helles at the first pub I see outside of South Kensington station, swallow half of it for courage and leave the other half breathing in the smoking area before heading to the venue. 

The night starts with heroes. My Dad didn’t die of cancer, but he did receive treatment for it. After being involved in a car crash before I was born, he was disabled my entire life. He had slight brain damage, walked with a limp, struggled with speech and had a hard time holding things. He still worked all of his life though, doing accountancy for a charity that helped others with brain damage, and he constantly stayed active, always laughed, always looked for light even in the darkest of situations, in short, he was the strongest man I’ve ever known. Cancer treatment really took it out of him though. He was deflated a lot, became more secluded and called people twats more than he used to (which took some doing). As such, before that gig, seeing the stage lined with kids, teenagers, people who have barely even gotten started with their lives, all currently undergoing cancer treatment, smiles on their faces and positivity in their every move, it was hard to not get emotional. Heroes is the only word there is or ever will be, and no band or piece of music will ever come close to my admiration for them. 

A young lad takes the mic. I’m 6 pints in at this point and too out of it to make notes so ignorantly can’t remember his name, so I’ll just call him a fucking legend. He grabs the mic and delivers an impromptu and energetic speech thanking people for their support, egging the crowd on and finishing with, “WHO’S READY FOR COURTEENERS THEN?!” He waves his arms in the air, gets an excited crowd even more so and leaves the stage to the tune of ‘What’s The Story Morning Glory?’ 

This is a Courteeners gig, so you already know what the audience are going to be like. There are Harringtons, Pretty Green tee’s, leather jackets and Adidas Gazelle’s everywhere, and an Oasis tune to this lot (and to me) is like a call to arms, waging war on bad times, the perfect way to start the show. Any pint that isn’t half gone gets spilled, the roar fills the Royal Albert Hall and a full atmosphere rises like smoke. Hairs on my arm stand on end, I feel a part of something bigger than myself, bigger than music, and for the first time that night, I genuinely smile. 

An Oasis tainted roar carries on as the band take to the stage. Courteeners have always been perceived as cool, and it’s clear they’re aware of that, there’s a swagger with every step, even putting a guitar round a shoulder looks effortless, and from that moment until the closing song, the crowd are well and truly lodged into the palm of Liam Fray’s hand. 

They recently released a record commemorating 15 years of their debut album, St. Jude. It’s one filled with bangers and that night they play the whole thing. Songs that they likely haven’t done on stage for years fill the Royal Albert Hall and every word of every line of every tune is screamed back to them by fans. The album has aged well, in that it still does what it did originally, which is get people buzzing, dancing, even slower and sadder songs about heartbreak and past girlfriends are jam packed with energy and it’s hard not to move, not to smile, not to join in. 

"There’s love and only love in that room, for the music, for each other and for the cause."

Liam takes to the crowd during ‘Please Don’t’, hands grabbing him as he holds the mic out, people singing back “oh darling can’t you see that it’s got fuck all to do with me?” There is a sea of jumping punters during tunes like ‘Bide Your Time’, ‘Fallowfield Hillbilly’ and ‘No You Didn’t, No You Don’t’. This is a crowd that have likely been with Courteeners every step of the way and with that, the band welcome them like song introductions, as if they’re an old friend. 

About 45 minutes into the set, Courteeners leave the stage. A couple minutes hang before Liam heads back on alone to play some acoustic numbers. One is ‘Smiths Disco’ but a personal highlight is the cover Madness’s ‘It Must Be Love’. There is love in that room. Sometimes gigs for indie rock bands can get a bit rowdy for the wrong reasons, and it makes been there shit, but that doesn’t happen tonight. Everyone is there for the same reason, a dance and a singalong, and that’s what they get. There’s love and only love in that room, for the music, for each other and for the cause. 

"I wanted to cut off a corner of that night and keep it with me forever."

After the acoustic encore the band come back on stage, Liam quickly says down the mic, “second half, yeah?” Before going into my personal favourite Courteeners tune, ‘Are You In Love With a Notion?’ Those drums, that cheer, the woahhhhooo woahhhoo oh ohhh’s takes me straight back to second year uni, straight back to me and my mate Josh in Manchester off our tits and bouncing, straight back to telling my Dad about the gigs I’m going to and trying to get him to listen to something other than classic rock (it never worked). The crowd continue to reciprocate the good times for every tune, whether it’s ‘Notion’, ‘Lose Control’ or ‘What Took You So Long?’ And I didn’t want it to end. I knew it would, but when they left that stage, when Madness’s ‘One Step Beyond’ played through the speakers and the crowd danced out, I wanted to cut off a corner of that night and keep it with me forever. 

I was weary about going to this gig. I used to go to gigs with my Dad a lot and knew I’d miss him whilst there, I also knew there was going to be talk of cancer, which I wasn’t excited to hear about, but all in all I’m very glad I went. The fun of the night brought back the fun memories of my Dad, whether this was at gigs or thanks to how much I saw his positive attitude in those teenagers, those heroes. Not to mention Courteeners smashed it. But it was bigger than all of that, bigger than what I though an indie rock gig could ever be, because one thing rang true throughout every tune, and it’s something that I, we, probably don’t remember enough. 

Going there that night, being inspired seeing those teenagers’, heroes, fighting cancer, remembering the good times I had with my Dad, being in that crowd of people, that community, singing those songs, cheering over long lost introductions, there is one thing which is clear, and it’s clear regardless of your opinion of Courteeners, of indie music in general, and that thing played louder than any drum, any amp, and any screaming crowd ever could. It’s good to be alive. 

Courteeners performed as part of the #TeenageCancerGigs. To donate to Teenage Cancer Trust, visit: https://www.teenagecancertrust.org/

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Photo: Naomi Dryden-Smith