The Hidden Village of Aspergers

March 27, 2014

Juno 54

Filed under: music — kankurette @ 10:53 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

“I think G-d puts you on this earth to do certain things. I think He put me on this earth to (be a musician). I hope so anyway, because it’s the only thing I can do.” – Franny Griffiths

When asked if I’d rather go blind or deaf, I don’t know what to choose. Can I take a third option and lose my voice? If I went blind, I’d have to give up reading. If I went deaf, I’d have to give up music. There are ways around this – talking books and feeling vibrations – but it wouldn’t be the same.

You might guess, from reading this blog, that I might just be quite a big fan of Space. Last week, they toured with Republica to promote their new album, Attack Of The Mutant 50ft Kebab. I spent a good part of last week following the tour and went to see them in London, Liverpool and Manchester. At Manchester and London, I hung out with them after the gigs, and it gave me the determination to conquer the nasty little voice in my head telling me they didn’t really like me. Over the years, they have kept me sane. This is not an exaggeration.

They aren’t the only band I like; I’ve been into the Pogues since I was a toddler (no exaggeration – my parents used to play them all the time, and I got a bit of a surprise when I found out the Old Main Drag, one song I loved as a kid was about rent boys), and I’ve taken Mum to see them a couple of times as a birthday present. They and Abba and the Beatles were the soundtrack to my childhood; Space, Hole, Catatonia and the Manics got me through high school (and so did the music magazines I consumed); RATM and the Deftones took me into Sixth Form; System Of A Down through my gap year; Tori Amos and Regina Spektor and many, many more at university. Music is everpresent in my life. It is my comfort, my escape, just like books. To drown out phone conversations and students and babies on the bus, I plug myself into my iPod and I’m away with the fairies. I’d rather have one noise in my ear than several at once.

This might sound a bit weird, coming from someone who hates crowds and goes into sensory overload, but I love going to gigs. The noise doesn’t bother me, although I could never have withstood My Bloody Valentine’s feedback fest; the only drawback is the crowds, and being pushed out of the way due to being short. OK, so I’ve had the odd bad experience – nearly getting asphyxiated at Rammstein, bad period pains at Garbage – but the good outweighs the bad. I’ve seen Moby, Muse, the Zutons, the Manics, Radiohead, We Are Scientists, Le Tigre, Sleater-Kinney, the Sugababes, Soulfly, Tori Amos, Fear Factory, Cerys Matthews, Machine Head, Marilyn Manson, Queens Of The Stone Age, the list goes on. I went to the Leeds Festival in 2002; the Reading Festival every year from 2003 to 2008, Glastonbury in 2004, 2005 and 2007; Download in 2006; Latitude in 2010; Primavera Sound last year. I’m seeing Super Fast Girlie Show next month, and Nine Inch Nails and Janelle Monae in May. I don’t go to as many gigs as I would like, mainly due to being ill and losing enthusiasm for things generally (I stopped reading Q Magazine a couple of years ago as it was too expensive and I felt out of touch), but I don’t want to give it up either. Some people find the idea that you might watch the same band more than once weird – my friend Sarah, who goes to a lot of gigs, gets this all the time – but every gig is a different experience.

Both my parents were into music; my dad was a self-taught guitarist and wrote music reviews for the student paper at Stirling, while my mum sang in various choirs. I grew up listening to mixtapes in the car and learning to play the piano. I also learned the cornet for a bit, but was shit at it, though I did buy a trumpet a few years ago (and I need to practice more). I played the flute in high school, mainly because I didn’t want to learn a brass instrument (in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t), the drums, and taught myself to play the guitar. At university, I was in a band called Midland Railway for a bit, and I played open mic nights, sometimes with my then boyfriend. Most of the people I’ve been out with are big music fans; my ex-girlfriend made me a mix CD for my birthday. They’ve not all liked the same bands as me, but some overlap does help, admittedly. Having bands in common gives one something to talk about.

Music might not seem an obvious avenue for someone with Aspergers, according to the stereotype, but there are musicians out there who are on the spectrum. Ladyhawke, Gary Numan, Craig from the Vines, Abs from 5ive, possibly Thom Yorke. So much for people with Aspergers not being creative or imaginative. Hell, I write the odd song myself, I wrote songs as a coping mechanism while at uni, though I haven’t written any for ages and some of my old lyrics make me cringe. Cerys Matthews, Franny Griffiths and Tommy Scott, James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore, Regina Spektor, Tori Amos, Kirsty MacColl – I’d draw inspiration from all of them. I find my stuff quite hard to categorise. Wailing and piano-bashing, I guess.

I find some types of music, such as the weird noise stuff my brother listens to and happy hardcore, impossible to listen to, although strangely, I don’t mind death metal. My iPod has everything from Willie Nelson, the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and Glenn Miller to Cypress Hill, the Spice Girls and Naruto theme tunes. I’m happy to give any genre a go. I never really got into boy bands, although I did have a soft spot for East 17 and PJ & Duncan, and went through a Boyzone phase during my first two years of high school. That was one area where pressure didn’t get me too much. In the Times article I quoted recently, there was a teenager, Nina, who hated Rihanna and other popular music, preferring the likes of Nirvana. Her family noted that she didn’t care what was cool. Reading about her, I thought, “Good for you, Nina. Like those bands because they make you happy, not because you feel you have to.” Peer pressure got me in other ways. My music taste was one niche I determinedly carved out for myself.

March 13, 2014

Fran in Japan

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” – Judy Garland

My family was full of female role models for me, growing up. I had my mother, my aunties and my grandmothers. They are and were all people I look up to, though I felt for a long time that I wasn’t the daughter my mother wanted; that I wasn’t feminine enough, not interested enough in clothes or make-up or stereotypical ‘girl’ things, not sociable or outgoing. She used to compare me to Flora Miller, one of the other girls in my class, and ask me why I couldn’t be like her, to the point where I wanted to ask her if she could adopt Flora and get rid of me, since she liked her so much. I even wondered if she actually loved me. Of course, I know now she does. I blogged about my maternal gran, Margaret Elma Carder, a while ago; the more I found out about her after her death, the more I admired her, and the same is true in Mum’s case. I had no idea that she helped organise a conference for women in industry, or that she was Head Girl, or that she never got to do the full uni course as planned because my grandad was ill and she had to take care of him. I’d known for years that she was anorexic as a teenager, suffering a relapse years later, and that she had two brothers – Robin and Andy – both of whom died. Robin died when he was a baby (he had a hole in his heart), and Andy died when I was very little; I think it was pneumonia complications. Other stuff has come out which I will not repeat here, because I respect Mum’s privacy, but I will say that she is one of the strongest people I know. She says having a daughter with Aspergers has been a learning experience for her, and I feel that at last I’ve managed to make her proud of me. I don’t feel like so much of a failure anymore.

I also found people to look up to outside the family, people whose behaviour I wanted to emulate – and not all of them were female. R, my best friend in high school, was one of these people. Even before things got a bit more personal, I loved how outgoing and friendly he was, how he could talk to anyone – something I could never do. He was so refreshingly normal, compared to me. Without him, high school would have been even more of a hell than it actually was. There was also P, who I saw as a kind of academic rival, and who I became quite friendly with in sixth form, but sadly, he was the second man I got obsessed with. He wasn’t the most serious case, though. That one came later.

When I got to uni, there were people I met there who actually got me and liked me. One woman who really helped me at uni was someone who I’ll call E. I’d seen her around the languages buildings and she seemed nice, but I didn’t really get to know her until a year later when she and her boyfriend – who is now her husband – got talking to me outside Owens Park. She started inviting me to parties, for coffee etc., and I got to know her and her circle of friends. She is a couple of years older than me. Half of the people I know on Facebook, I’ve met through her, and if I meet someone in a goth club in Manchester or Leeds, there’s a good chance they’ll know her. She’s that kind of person. Like R, she can befriend and talk to anyone. I did have a tendency to put her on a pedestal, though I realise now she gets down and anxious too – she’s just better at hiding it than I am. She helped me a lot when I was going through a hard time in second year, and I was able to return the favour a little when her dad died a few years ago. She was also one of the people who made me decide to convert Reform rather than Orthodox, and one time, she drove out to see me and take me back to her flat when I was having a panic attack at Grand Central. She’s in London now, and I miss her loads. I admit I relied on her far too much when it came to a social life.

On a less personal level, there was Cerys Matthews – more on her later – and the boys from Space, in particular Tommy Scott and Franny Griffiths. I’m never entirely sure what it was about Franny that made him stand out to me; maybe it was the fact that it was his tracks I loved, or the fact that I played piano and keyboards myself, and listening to Space made me want to write songs like Tommy, and make the weird noises Franny made. I fell in love with ‘Fran In Japan’, the instrumental track on Tin Planet, especially after watching Franny playing it on Tin Planet Live video, and played it in GCSE Music for my performance exam and got an A. When I finally got to meet Franny and Tommy in 2002, I was amazed at how nice they were. I’ve met them several times since then. I’m not saying this to namedrop, but because they say you should never meet your heroes, and I’m glad that old saying was proved wrong for once. I have no idea what Franny thinks of me (apart from ‘ her team are shite’), but he’s never been rude or arsey towards me, and neither has Tommy. Hell, the guy let me sing ‘The Ballad of Tom Jones’ with him, and gave me a hug and took me backstage when I had a screaming meltdown at a gig, after a bouncer was yelling at us to get out while I was trying to talk to Franny. At London, Franny said he was impressed how I came to out-of-town gigs on my own. I think one reason why I admire Franny and Tommy so much is because they both came from nothing, played in bands and worked for years to get to where they were, and in Franny’s case, he went off to live and work in Spain, something I couldn’t ever do. Space also made me realise it was OK to be a misfit, that you don’t have to be like everyone else. Like me, they didn’t fit in. The music press in general hated them and wrote them off as wacky, the record company tried to make them change and they refused to compromise, and I have a lot of respect for them for making the sort of music they wanted and sticking to their guns.

As a conclusion: I know some aspies look down on neurotypical people, but I don’t. While some of them frustrate me, I need them in order to show me how to behave. Not how to confirm, but how to get ahead in society. The majority of people I admire, people who I wanted to be like, are neurotypical – and they’re neurotypicals who were able to accept me.

March 12, 2014

Disco Dolly

Filed under: music — kankurette @ 10:10 am
Tags: , , , ,

Me, I only like my rock and roll
Am I with the right girl, cos I’m all alone
She likes to boogie while I stand at the bar
And I feel like a freak who can’t let go
And I’d like to stand dancing round a pink handbag
But I’ve got no rhythm, I’ve got lead in my shoes…

Originally the ‘Disco Dolly’ post was going to be about clubbing, since I pretty much am the poor guy in the song, but I decided to do a post about music festivals instead. My first music festival was Leeds 2002, as a punter. It was the last festival on that particular site, but thanks to idiots blowing up toilets and the council finally having had enough, it was relocated to Bramham Park, which, as it turns out, is in the arse end of nowhere. Due to some confusion, I applied to work as a steward at the Reading festival the following year, and went on to work at every Reading festival until 2008 (I was going to do the 2009 one, but dropped out due to becoming ill, and I was gutted about this as Radiohead and the Deftones were playing), as well as Glastonbury in 2004, 2005 and 2006. The only other festivals I’ve been to as a punter were Download in 2006 (as Tool were playing and they rarely come to the UK), Latitude in 2010 with my family, and Primavera Sound last year.

In all honesty, I actually prefer stewarding. Having some kind of structure to my day helps. The atmosphere on the campsites is lovely – you’re more likely to see people sitting around a campfire and chilling than getting into fights – and at Reading, the showers and toilets are slightly better than the ones on the normal campsites. You also get meal tickets, although I’d still advise buying your own food outside the site if you’re at Reading, and if you’re lucky, you get to work on a stage where your favourite band might be playing. I got to watch the Manics while working on the Radio 1 Stage in 2008, and Sleater-Kinney while working in the Carling Tent in 2005. On the downside, it also meant I had to watch Test Icicles. At Glastonbury, the only job stewards do is staffing the gates, and you are expected to work overnight, and no matter how sunny it gets, you will freeze your fucking arse off. Some stewards brought duvets and had a kip in the cage when it quietened down.

The biggest downside, besides the crowds, was dealing with drunk, arsey punters. If you get an early morning shift, they’re OK to deal with, but as the festival goes on and the Carling flows, it can get a little nightmarish. I had to call my supervisor over after I had a panic attack, due to one punter yelling at me because something had happened to his ticket. You also have to repeatedly answer the same questions and tell people the same things: no, you cannot piss on that fence, use the toilets. Please do not sit on the barrier around the sound tower. X is on at X hours. Yes, I am afraid we are going to give you this goodie bag when you come in, and insist on checking your passouts and tickets every time you have to go to your car (Glastonbury only – they are somewhat hardcore about ticket checks). No, you cannot come on this platform, it’s for disabled festivalgoers. No, you cannot meet 50 Cent, and it’s not our fault he left early (stewards do not get backstage passes, though a mate of mine did bump into Dave Grohl while wandering around the walkway around the site). It does pay off when you can genuinely help someone, though – I gave my water to a girl who was feeling faint one year, and in 2004, one one day I escorted people to the medical tent, especially during Green Day’s set. Earlier, Ian Watkins (as in the paedophilic Lostprophets singer, not the bloke from Steps) had had the bright idea of getting the crowd to part and then charge into each other, and a lot of people got injured or lost things.

Here are some tips for anyone with Aspergers who is considering going to a music festival. Bear in mind that this is based on my experiences at Download, Primavera, Reading and Glastonbury – if you’re going to V, say, or Bestival or one of the smaller festivals that are springing up around the country, such as Kendal Calling, your experience might differ a bit.

– Familiarise yourself with the site. If you come to the festival before it starts, have a wander around and get to know the place before it gets jampacked with people. Glastonbury, in particular, is massive and there are loads of little areas that have nothing to do with music. Some, such as the Lost Vagueness, are a bugger to find, so get a map / programme if you can. Make sure you know where toilets, water points etc. are. and – I cannot stress this enough – make sure you know how to get back to your campsite from the various stages.

– Drink plenty of water. It can get very hot. Of course, this means you will have to wee a lot, and the toilets are pretty horrible, but it’s better than getting dehydrated.

– Be aware that there will be crowds, especially in between bands when people are moving from one stage to another. Stay near the back if you want to make sure you get to another stage on time. If you’re worried about crushes, stand near one of the sound towers, or off to the side if you’re at the front, as I did for the Pixies in 2005.

– If anyone you know is going, arrange to meet up with them – it helps to have someone who knows the festival, and who can be there to support you if things get too much. Agree on meeting points, as long as they’re specific.

– From a musical point of view, don’t just stick to the Main Stage / Pyramid Stage. Check out the other stages too if you’re not sure who to see. I saw some fantastic sets by smaller bands while working in the Carling Tent at Reading, for instance, and the small stages at Latitude are full of surprises. Glastonbury has loads of speakers in places such as the Left Field or the Green Fields, and most festivals will have film or comedy tents.

– Programmes are your friend, as are those little lanyard things with a list of bands on. It helps to know who’s going to be on and when / where, so you can plan your day accordingly. If you’re stewarding, bear in mind that you might not get to see everyone you want to see, as you won’t find out your shift times till you get on site and they give you your gear.

– If you’re worried about sensory overload, get some earplugs. If you’re stewarding on a stage, your supervisor should have some to hand.

– Be diligent about your valuables. I’d advise against taking iPods to the festival, personally, though you will need your phone, especially if you’re with other people. Don’t take a ridiculous amount of money and make sure it is somewhere safe when you sleep. I’ve never had my money nicked, kina hora, but one woman camping near me at Download did.

– Be careful about drink / drugs. Being off your tits in a large and unfamiliar environment is a bad idea if you have Aspergers, especially when it gets dark and you risk getting lost. I’m not saying you shouldn’t drink at all – I couldn’t when I was on duty, but I did have the odd bevvy when I wasn’t working – but don’t get paralytic. Stay in control. I personally have never done drugs at festivals as I worry about the potential of having a bad trip.

– Be aware that people might go a bit nuts on the last night, especially at Reading and Leeds, and by ‘going nuts’, I mean burning tents, chucking gas canisters on the fire, that sort of thing. If you’re not that arsed about the last headliner, you might want to leave the festival before the end on the Sunday night.

– Make your tent distinctive if you can – put a flag or some balloons or an inflatable sheep or something on it, or make sure it has a fairly distinctive cover, to avoid getting lost in a sea of green. Mine has flowers on it.

– One final piece of advice for stewards: don’t be afraid to disclose your Aspergers, and any problems it may cause for you. Oxfam will try to help if they can.

Hope this helps!

March 6, 2014

Dark Clouds

I think we need a holiday, a week or two in Mexico
The two of us, leave the fools at home
Away from all the heartache and the troubles that we’ve suffered
In the last two weeks, though it felt like years

It’s stupid o’clock in the morning. I’m watching Blur, in a concrete park full of hipsters. Jack and his mates are somewhere ahead in the crowd. Blur are playing ‘This Is A Low’, and behind me, the waves are crashing. The last festival I was at was Latitude, in 2010, where I camped with my mum, stepdad and one of my teenage cousins. Now it’s 2013, and I’ve seen Jack screaming like a teenage Justin Bieber fangirl at the Wu-Tang Clan, and wandered Parc Guell under a burning hot sun, looking down over the city. I travel around on the Metro and surprisingly, it takes very little time to get to grips with the Metro system, compared to its convoluted Berlin equivalent. I’m living on cheese sandwiches, knockoff cornflakes, pizza and festival food, reading Tori Amos’ Piece By Piece, talking to a Floridian woman and her gay best friend outside the hostel, sitting on the beach being mithered every minute by dodgy men selling mojitos and towels. It’s not my first holiday without my family – that would be the German Soc trip to Cologne in 2005, not to mention that I’d previously been to France on a school trip, Germany on a terrible work experience week and Poland and the Czech Republic on a choir tour. But it’s the first time I’ve been abroad, deciding for myself where to go and what to do, arranging my own cash conversion, booking my own flights and accommodation (which reminds me, I need to get this year’s accommodation for Primavera sorted…) There is no rain and no mud and no annoying teenagers slamming into me and no burning tents. Reading, this is not.

I should probably do a music festival guide for people on the spectrum, as festivals are a daunting experience. I had more panic attacks than I care to think about during the time I stewarded for Oxfam. I did have fun at Glastonbury and Reading, but there were times when I just wanted to go home, and let’s not even get into the last night of Leeds 2002. I would have to be on the campsite where the helicopters and burning toilets were. I think I got about half an hour’s sleep that night.

I sometimes fear that I depend too much on my family, and as I said the last time I wrote about it, going to Primavera Sound 2013 was a challenge; I wanted to prove to myself that I could manage in a foreign country, albeit one where I spoke the language to an extent. Unlike the other students in my flat in first year and the majority of the Jewish Society at Manchester University, I did not teach English to little kids in Israel or go hiking around Thailand or Africa or India. All the times I had been abroad were organised for me. Then, of course, there is the nightmare that is the fucking airport. The very thought of what happened at Schonefeld in 2012 brings me out in hives. Luckily, that stage of the Barcelona trip went fine – the worst bit was having to get rid of my shampoo. Barcelona itself is a beautiful city. Loads of my friends have been there; two of my favourite musicians, Cerys Matthews and Franny Griffiths of Space, both lived there (and Space shot the video for ‘Diary Of A Wimp’ on Las Ramblas). My mum took my maternal gran there for her eightieth birthday; I’ve promised to do the same for Mum if either of us live that long.

As an aside, one of the highlights of going to Barcelona was seeing Jack outside of a family context. A couple of months earlier, we’d met up before a Space gig in London as Jonny Abrams, a guy who I knew through Space fandom and who also turned out to be on Jack’s course, was also going and I had promised Jack that, were Space to play in London, I would come down and see him. Consider that when Jack and I were at Leeds in 2002, we avoided each other and the few times I did bump into him, I either blanked him or gave him the finger. Eleven years on, here I am sitting outside a pub with him and his mates while they eat some rather dodgy-looking tapas. Later we meet up and watch bands together and Jack tells his mates about Dad and one of them manages to sneak in some gin. Had someone told the teenage versions of us that we would have been hanging out at a festival in a decade or so, we would have both thought, “Hahaha, as if.” We are both older and, although this is debatable, wiser and not living together anymore. As much as I love Mum and Jack, I think the fact I no longer live with them is one of the reasons why my relationships with both of them are so much better these days.

Anyway, I don’t wish to go over old ground, except to say that I am going to Primavera again this year. Jack, sadly, is not as he is skint, so being abroad without anyone I know at all being there is the next step. Queens Of The Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails, the Pixies and Arcade Fire are all playing. I hope my body can take it.

February 23, 2014

An announcement

If you’ve been following this blog, you might have noticed that I am a big fan of the Liverpool indie/rock / uncategorisable band Space. I’ve written about hanging out backstage with them at a gig in Manchester in March last year, how frontman Tommy Scott looked after me when I had a serious panic attack at another gig in Birmingham, and how they got me through high school. As it happens, they’re releasing their fifth album, Attack Of The Mutant 50ft Kebab (yes, really), next month. It looks to be the best thing they’ve done since Tin Planet in 1998. To commemorate this, and as a challenge, I’m doing a series of miniblogs about Asperger’s Syndrome – some personal, some advice. Each will be around 600 to 800 words. Moreover, each post is going to be named after a Space song and have a different theme. Here’s the list:

1. If It’s Real: yes, it is a disability
2. Neighbourhood: moving house
3. Mr Psycho: emotional difficulties
4. Female Of The Species: not fitting in with other girls
5. No One Understands: the diagnosis
6. Dark Clouds: memories of Barcelona
7. Blow Your Cover: first sexual relationship
8. Influenza: getting ME
9. Life Of A Miser: managing money and other household things
10. Avenging Angels: relationship with my father
11. The Man: coping at work
12. Disco Dolly: festival tips
13. Fran In Japan: role models outside the family
14. I Am Unlike A Lifeform You’ve Ever Met: on books and the imaginary world
15. Bastard Me Bastard You: unwanted attention from men
16. Numb The Doubt: on drugs
17. Everybody In The Madhouse: primary school
18. Diary Of A Wimp: obsessive behaviour
19. Gravity: Dad’s death
20. Juno 54: relationship with music
21. Hell Of A Girl: bisexuality
22. Suburban Rock ‘n’ Roll: the Chester years
23. The English Language Let Me Down: speech and language
24. Paranoid 6teen: relationship with my brother
25. Crying On The Webcam: self-injury and stigma
26. Quiet Beach: the overdoses
27. Fortune Teller: on being childfree
28. Armageddon: on parties
29. Attack Of The Mutant 50ft Kebab: love-hate relationship with food
30. Falling In Love Again: relationship with the Perrys (my current stepdad and his teenage kids, Alice and Tom)
31. Guestlist To Hell: the people who keep me alive

I have my friend Chloe to thank for this – I found out about NaBloPoMo through her, and I wanted to see if I could do a challenge of some kind and stick to it for a month. This year is going to be about challenges; I’m going to Barcelona again, without any family members in the background this time, I’m doing the 5:2 diet, I’m going to go and see Everton play at some point (football matches are hard to deal with), and I’m going to be doing the Race for Life in my father’s memory, along with two friends, Topher and Sarah, and their dogs, Starbuck and Semtex (and we will be walking it, as I have ME and Semtex is a bulldog, a breed not known for their athletic skills!) I also, finances depending, may go to Berlin in the autumn / winter. The horrible Schonefeld experience did not put me off, and there’s so much of the city yet to be seen.

I apologise in advance to any family members I might upset with this. Also, out of consideration to readers, I will be posting trigger warnings / content notes on posts that contain potentially triggering content (e.g. sexual assault and eating disorders).

March 17, 2013

On Space

Filed under: childhood,music,obsessions,relationships with others — kankurette @ 9:40 pm

Amazingly, this is one of the hardest posts I’ve written yet, not least because the people concerned may see this, and hopefully it won’t freak them out – but after last night, it’s something I need to get off my chest.

A bit of background: as my close friends and family will know, having listened to me playing their music and going on about them for years, one of my biggest obsessions is the Liverpool band Space. They were fairly big in the mid-to-late ’90s, their most well-known song being Female Of The Species, and they split up in 2005, only to reform near the end of 2011. This month, they’ve been touring, and I was lucky enough to see them in London – as my brother lives down there and a friend of his would be at the gig, and I thought it would be nice to have a mini reunion – and Manchester. I went to London last Thursday, and Manchester last night.

I am Facebook friends with two of the band members – Tommy Scott, the singer, guitarist and main songwriter, and Franny Griffiths, one of the two keyboardists and the only original member alongside Tommy in the current line-up – and they knew I was going to be at both gigs. They are also my two favourite band members; Tommy is a major influence on me as a songwriter, and Franny is one of my musical heroes and two keyboardists, the other being Regina Spektor, who inspired me to keep up with the piano and mess around with keyboards. I even arranged one of Franny’s songs, Fran In Japan, for piano for my GCSE Music exam, and got an A (the flute piece my teacher wanted me to play would have got me a B). I have met them a few times and both of them have been nothing short of lovely. Franny was even kind enough to put up with me acting like a deranged fangirl at the Unity Theatre gig in 2002, machine-gunning him with questions and talking non-stop. Even after we’d had an argument on the Space forums over a song I hated, when I met the band at the Metro in London a few months later, it was like nothing had happened.

I do not worship them. They are people, not gods. They have their flaws and I don’t agree with everything they say or like every song they’ve done. But it is no exaggeration when I say that Space saved my life in high school. Spiders, their first album, came out in 1996, when I would have been in Year 8, and Tin Planet came out when I was in Year 9. The first five years of school were, frankly, hell.

In short, I was a weird kid in a new town who had no real friends – the girls I thought were my friends were laughing at me behind my back, and the one friend I did have eventually turned on me – and I didn’t know who to trust. I was made fun of for not wearing my bag properly, for being a virgin, for my accent, my hair, my bad skin, my music taste, you name it. When I told my mother I wished she had never had me, I meant it. When I started cutting myself in 1999, I hated myself and everything that I was, and I wanted to punish myself for being a horrible flawed human being. I was jealous of my brother and desperate to please my mum and stepdad, and lonely as hell. Trite though it sounds, one of the things that really got me through those years was Space’s music. I would come home and put Tin Planet on and for a while, I’d be able to escape. Even though none of them were outcasts at school, they were outcasts on the music scene; they looked like a guitar band, but weren’t, Tommy was inspired by cartoons and B-movies instead of the Beatles, and they sang about serial killers and stalkers and Charlie Manson, not pulling girls and getting pissed. When I saw them for the first time in 1998, I didn’t come down for days. When I met them four years later, it was like a dream come true, and I wanted to bottle the night and replay it forever. I was terrified that Franny would be rude or arsey, even though my then friend Jo, who knew the band, assured me he was the opposite. Thankfully, she was right.

Last night, the gig was one of the most intense Space gigs I had ever been to – it was in a small venue, where we were practically nose to nose with the band, and my ears are ringing even now. Tommy hugged me during Female Of The Species and later, invited me backstage, and I went and sat in the tiny backstage bit with him and Franny, while the other three band members, Allan the drummer, Phil the bassist and Ryan the second keyboardist, wandered in and out. As Tommy had to go back to Chester, I spent most of the time talking to Franny – and Phil and his girlfriend Emma, to a lesser extent – and stealing his JD and Coke, and I finally got round to telling him what I’d wanted to say to Space for years, the one reason why I loved them so much in 1998: that Avenging Angels, released four and a half years after my father had died, was a huge coping mechanism for me when I found out that Tommy had written it about his own father. I had always believed that Dad was watching over me, and knowing Tommy felt the same way was a huge comfort. If you’re reading this, Tommy, thank you so much for writing that song, and Bad Days too. It means more to me than I can express here.

Sitting with the band backstage and talking to Franny, one of the people who’s influenced me the most as a musician, for ages about Spain and Catatonia and whatever was magical, and I’m really grateful to the guys for the invite. I walked out scarcely believing it had happened, although my brandy and JD-induced hangover is proof it did. I know people will sneer at me, a mentally ill woman of nearly thirty with no boyfriend who’s slavishly following a band of aging has-beens around the country…even if they are aging has-beens, they’re MY fucking aging has-beens, dammit, and no-one will ever take what I had last night away from me. For has-beens, they are very loved. I doubt Phil was kidding when he said it was the best gig of the tour. The audience adored them last night. Tommy was very game, posing for photo after photo after photo with loads of audience members, and he was the same at London. It must be very gratifying to know that, after all these years in the wilderness, there are still people who love your music.

So thank you, Tommy Scott, Franny Griffiths, Phil Hartley, Ryan Clarke, and Allan Jones – and not forgetting Andy Parle (RIP), Jamie Murphy, Yorkie and Leon Caffrey, the latter three of whom I have also met. You have made this stupid fangirl this little screw-up very happy for years, your music got me through tough times, and I cannot thank you enough. You’ve been great. Bring on the next tour.

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