Lucinda Williams Gig, Manchester

I was sitting on my arse last week when a thought passed through my head. I wonder if Lucinda Williams is playing the UK this year? By golly what a timely thought – not only was she playing this year, she was playing this week. Fantastic. I had already missed the Glastonbury Festival because I hadn’t got a ticket in time. I had lamentably failed to notice when my hero Neil Young came to Nottingham. This is the cost of not reading music magazines or perusing websites.

I found that Lucinda had played London on the Sunday night and would be in Manchester on the Thursday. I thought ‘I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss this gig’ and purchased a ticket straight away. On my own, on the train, I would have to choose between missing the end of the gig or missing the last return connection. Shelling out for a hotel room or staying up all night in a poker game, If I could find one. I don’t need to tell you which option I chose.

The Bridgewater Hall is home to the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Its a medium to large sized concert hall, very clean, filled last Thursday with hundreds of thirty and forty-something couples going to see Lucinda Williams and her band, Buick 6. When the opening act finished their set, the bass player took care to tell the audience that ‘Lucinda really likes a noisy, boisterous welcome’. I thought that was a bit optimistic. It didn’t matter. Excited, I found my seat and drank a large red wine quickly. It was fun having an adventure on my own in an unfamiliar city. For two hours I sat and watched the stage, drinking in the incredible voice and the genius songs. Listening. My face beaming in a smile or else open-mouthed and wide-eyed. I guess I couldn’t believe she was so good. The pure, simple songs, well fleshed out by the workman-like but perfect four-piece backing band. The voice that soared and dipped, zig-zagging between coarseness and smoothness, sweetness and bitterness. Real power and real control in the voice. Real grit and real honesty, she obviously never writing a word or singing a word she did not believe, she never writing more words than necessary. Not a voice that could ever act. When you heard her speak it made you smile, because she spoke in just the same way. A delectable southern drawl, the quality of which greatly appreciated by the passing of decades, also throaty and also sweet. I asked her later if it was her conscious choice to write, like Hank Williams, the fewest words and the most direct and simple words to convey the song. She said yes that was her aim. She took her time when she spoke, not rushing to get to the sharp end of what she was saying. In her songs the few words are sung over long phrases and slow tempos.

After the gig I found Chinatown and started to look for somewhere to eat. After walking three or four streets I was back where I started. ‘Oh, is this it?’, I thought. The Chinese Arch was a lot smaller than I had expected. Then I thought well I’m in Manchester not London or New York, what did I expect? Steam rising from pavement grills, live ducks and chickens in baskets on the street? When a 55-year old prostitute called over ‘yoo-hoo! Are you looking?’ I thought it was about time to stop wandering around and enter the closest restaurant.

Forty-five minutes later I was back on the street on my way to the Casino. I passed the Bridgewater Hall and noticed that Lucinda Williams and her band were outside the stage entrance, talking to fans. There was a little huddle of about eight middle-aged men in raincoats around Lucinda. She patiently answered their questions and signed their albums. She liked to talk, but did not seem able to talk and sign at the same time. Therefore the whole thing took twice as long as it should. When each man had asked her some question and got her to sign something, he would request a kiss on the cheek and awkwardly lean over to her. Lucinda was awkwardly obliging. I had to wait fifteen minutes to speak to her because the guy before me had brought along his copies of every single Lucinda Williams album ever released. She was patient enough to sign every one, pausing between each album to confirm that she liked Brazillian music, she had not spoken to her brother in a very long time, and she got a much better response in gigs outside London. I thanked her for inspiring me and got her to sign my ticket. I shook her hand but did not ask for a picture because it was quite dark. It didn’t feel so much like meeting a genius artist, more like meeting a friend’s mum. Albeit a very scatty and contemplative mum. She did not have any star-attitude, even though this small band of followers were very much starstruck. She had a lot of time for her fans.

I found a game at Manchester 235. The game was pretty boring until a nutcase regular turned up and showed three bluffs in a row. I played for five hours, and for the first three I was card dead. I raised once with JQ. I got pocket aces and split the pot. I dug deep and found the reserves of patience and control I so sorely needed, the patience and control I often did not find in Las Vegas, the patience and control I would need to see me out of a one-month losing streak. I won three big pots late on and doubled my investment.

With two hours to kill before the first train home I was directed towards a 24-hour cafe next to Picadilly station. I had a three-quid breakfast special and read every article in that morning’s Metro. There was a homeless guy in there and a man asleep face down on the table. A drunk came in shouting about some fight he’d just had. When I realised he was from Stoke, I kept my head down and my eyes on the Metro. He sat down next to a gay guy and began to tell him, or shout at him, about his background and some of his opinions.

‘Have you heard of Stoke City? The Naughty Forty? We’ve got the hardest fans in the country. I’m in the naughty forty’ (pause for dramatic effect. Surprised not to get a reaction).

‘We don’t fight, we kill.’

‘I’m a nice guy, but if someone is not being nice to me… I can be a nasty bastard. I will kill you. I will set fire to you, and not even think about it.’

‘At the end of the day mate, you’ve got to stand up for yourself. There are some absolute psychos out there.’

‘The problem with this country is, those bastards’ (points to Asian cafe-owner). ‘Its gone too far now. People are going to get together and fight back… Stoke, Bolton, all getting together to fight back. Are you going to join us or not?’ (gay guy stares drunkenly at his new companion, wearing a smile, not responding). ‘The thing is mate, they will retaliate. There will be a war. So if you haven’t chosen what side you’re going to be on, you’ll be sitting at home, this war will be going on outside, and how are you going to defend yourself? You need to defend yourself.’

‘Can I ask you a question mate… Are you gay?’

I went to the train station and read The Times for an hour. There was an elderly guy asleep on the bench next to me. When I’d finished reading, I noticed he had stopped snoring. I wondered if he had overslept and missed his train. I looked over and saw he was not moving at all. Should I wake him, to make sure he would not miss his train? Would he not appreciate being disturbed? He still wasn’t moving. Perhaps he was dead! He had passed away peacefully in his sleep, here next to me, on a wooden bench in Picadilly Railway Station. What do I do now? If I were to lean over and shake him, then find him dead, I would have to go and alert the authorities. What consequences would this entail? Would I have to give a statement? Would I be detained? Would I miss my train? Perhaps I should leave the corpse for someone else to discover. After all, it wouldn’t take long. The train station was getting busy now.

A loud announcement was heard over the tannoy. The man quickly opened his eyes and sat upright. I made my way to the platform and waited for the train.

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