Music

Take it from me, going to gigs by yourself is liberating and life-affirming

Attending concerts on your own is nothing to feel self-conscious about. In fact, it might change the way you consume live music altogether

Image: Shutterstock

For about 20 years now, I’ve made a habit of going to gigs alone. Mainly out of necessity – such is the solitary, slightly strange life of the music reviewer (tiny fiddle). But increasingly, it’s something I do by choice. More and more so, it’s a ritual I’ve come to love. 

When I first started getting commissioned to write about concerts in Scotland for newspapers and magazines as a young freelance journalist straight out of uni, I couldn’t believe my luck. Something which for ages I had paid to do for fun with my mates, suddenly I was making money from. Best job in the world. 

But the caveat was becoming accustomed to going to gigs by myself. Either because the PR company wouldn’t stump up an extra free ticket, or because even if they would, I couldn’t convince anyone to join me. Tickets for amazing artists I’d have pals queuing up to take. But there are only so many times you can harangue a friend into enduring, say, Kasabian with you out of pure solidarity on a wet Wednesday night in January. 

The first few times I went to shows alone, I felt like a freak. I felt like every eye in the room was on me, pitying me, the awkward loner with the notepad. I’d drink to numb my anxiety, which was bad for my bank balance, my memory and the legibility of my handwriting. But I eventually made a couple of important realisations. One: it’s practically impossible to look alone in a busy concert venue, everyone packed together in the darkness. Two: nobody gives a shit anyway, and neither should you. Melt into the crowd, and the rest is just your self-consciousness talking.

For years, that was my life. Two, three, even four shows a week, sometimes two in a night. Stone-cold sober, getting pelted with beer at punk and metal gigs, shielding my ears from the screams of hormonal teens at arena pop spectaculars, trying to stay awake during three-hour prog-rock odysseys. 

I’ve seen all kinds of incredible artists whom I might otherwise never have seen, from Einstürzende Neubauten to Prince, from Sunn O))) to Beyoncé. I’ve seen all kinds of crap too, but even in the bad shows, I’ve found the good. Moving among different music tribes, a fly on the wall watching people lose their shit in the myriad ways that people will while having the times of their lives, is a fascinating study in human nature, and an odd sort of privilege.

It’s opened my mind, and if nothing else, let me witness lots of ridiculously funny scenes. Be it a middle-aged woman clambering over five rows of seats to chuck her bra at Michael Bolton’s face, or a violently angry-drunk man being cartoonishly carried out of a Saturday night Elton John concert by four burly security guards, each gripping a different limb, to the sound of Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.

But paid gig reviewing opportunities have dwindled as media budgets have shrunk, especially since the pandemic. About a year ago I moved to a different country, and that was mostly that. 

I’ve made my peace with not routinely reviewing concerts any more; I had a great run. But I’ve struggled to make peace with ending my regular sacred ceremony of solo gig going. So, I’ve kept it up. Just for me.

While I love going to shows with pals too – I’m not a complete introvert – there are a wealth of practical advantages to doing it by yourself. You don’t have to coordinate with anyone. You can be more impulsive and spontaneous in your choices, and you can go as often as free time and budget permits. You can miss having someone to chat to, but then you can’t do much chatting at gigs anyway, because people who talk over concerts are dickheads. 

It is, I suppose, a sort of therapy. Music is a wonderful conduit to social experiences. But the bond we share with it is ultimately deeply individual and personal. Awash in a sea of humanity, alone with my thoughts and emotions, having my ears frazzled by feedback or soothed by gentle song, I feel comforted, exhilarated. I feel a peacefulness and wholeness which, as I journey deeper into adulthood with all its worries and responsibilities, seems to become rarer and rarer to feel.

I realise that solo concert going is easier for me as a man than it may be for a woman, who might feel uneasy in a space which is, let’s face it, still too male dominated. I acknowledge that for some, the courage to go to a concert on their own may exceed their courage to make friends, and that being alone in a crowd isn’t something everyone is lucky enough to be able to do by choice.

All I’m saying is, if you’d like to go out to gigs more but don’t because of hang-ups about looking like a saddo loner, then take it from an expert: you may find it liberating, even life-affirming.

Malcolm Jack is a freelance journalist

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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