Euan McColm: the rite of passage of attending a first gig

In the wake of the terror attack in Manchester, Euan McColm reflects on the rite of passage of attending a first concert.
The Apollo in Glasgow - more likely the Hydro now - was the scene of a rite of passage for Euan McColm and many others.The Apollo in Glasgow - more likely the Hydro now - was the scene of a rite of passage for Euan McColm and many others.
The Apollo in Glasgow - more likely the Hydro now - was the scene of a rite of passage for Euan McColm and many others.

Suddenly, my life was to be defined by two distinct phases. The first comprised the 13 years and 44 days leading up to 8 March, 1983. The second? Well, who knew? All I could be sure of was that life would never be same again. The prospect made me giddy with excitement.

I kept the ticket safe inside the sleeve of their third album, “7”; every day, after school, I’d take it out and read “Apollo Theatre, Renfield Street, Glasgow”, then “M.C.P. Presents MADNESS”.

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I would lie on my bed studying it; the slip of blue paper I held in my hand was a protector against whatever else life might throw at me. Because whatever else that was, I was going to see Madness and that was all that mattered.

Schoolwork didn’t matter; I would try to understand maths after I’d been to the Madness gig. My family? Maybe I would think about joining them at the table for dinner but until the Madness gig, I would be eating crispy pancakes in my bedroom and listening to “Benny Bullfrog”.

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It might never have happened. It took time and effort to persuade my mother to permit my attendance.

She was, initially, dead against letting me loose into a crowd of skinhead “bovver boys” (a term, it may please you to learn, that she uses to this day). An intervention on my behalf by my father caught her at a vulnerable moment and tickets were bought.

Four of us would be going. We would would be dropped off at the door and met at the door on our departure. There was to be no drinking and if we saw any “bovver boys” we were to avoid them.

My mother had only recently passed her test and had little experience of driving in Glasgow and so, on the Sunday before the concert, my sister and I joined her as she made a dry run from our home in the suburban south side to the Apollo.

It was better to be safe than sorry, she reasoned. On Bridge Street, she ran a red light and a Ford Granada, driven by a middle aged man, ploughed into the side of her Honda Civic. It was written off.

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We walked away unscathed. Everything was fine. Of course everything was fine because I was going to see Madness in just two days. I sort of had the gear.

My jeans were flappy Wranglers rather than skintight Lees or Levis, but I had the monkey boots, the white Fred Perry, the entirely unnecessary skinny black braces and a blue blouson that, from a distance at least, looked a bit like a Harrington. My hair was in a style directed by my mother.

Going to ‘Dee of Trongate’ - a Glasgow menswear shop that remains defiantly in business, selling bowling shoes and parkas to the well-dressed man about town - to get those monkey boots was a step into the adult world. I wasn’t in Clarks with my mother, being measured for Polyveldts, I was with my mates making my own decision, up to the value of the money my parents had given me.

Loving a band was about more than music. It was about who I was and how I wanted others to see me. Madness weren’t just my favourite band, they were my world.

Inside the Apollo, we climbed the stairs to the upper circle. A decision was made to chip in for a packet of cigarettes from the machine on the landing. I 
volunteered to get them. I made the unpopular but, I maintain, aesthetically correct decision to buy Woodbine.

Madness came on and the roar of the crowd was an energising as it was deafening. I danced and jumped and shrieked and hollered for two hours.

And, after that, I wanted more of those thrills because once you’ve experienced the euphoria of being a teenager at a concert by your heroes, why wouldn’t you want another hit of it?

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It may be impossible to recapture that first rush of excitement but it’s worth trying. As a seen-it-all 34-year-old I enjoyed a Franz Ferdinand gig at Glasgow Uni. It was, you know, pretty good.

When the gig finished, a kid in front of me turned round. I’d have put him at about 14 but, here we were, peers. “That was f***ing brilliant, mate.” he said.

I loved it. The man-of-the-world swearing, the one-of-the-guys “mate”. This kid’s face was illuminated. “Yeah, man,” I replied, “that was amazing.”

The band was great but what made that night special was the energy coming off this kid and his mates. They were buzzing with the thrill of it all.

I remembered the feeling. As I danced harder at the Apollo, I grew more ecstatic. As each song ended, we cheered louder, and then we danced harder, still, and the upper circle bounced up and down like a ruler boinged on the edge of a desk.

And then we went home, driven safely in a Saab and set down at our front doors.

I have a photo somewhere, taken when I got back. My hair’s slicked with sweat, my cheeks are flushed. What I can see in the picture is something others can’t: It shows a version of me different from the one who had previously existed.

When you’re a teenage fan, going to a gig can mean the world. It can change your life.