We Are Manchester gig: ‘Nothing will ever divide us’

Peter Kay on stage at We Love Manchester. PHOTO: PA
Peter Kay on stage at We Love Manchester. PHOTO: PA

For many of us, terrorism is an act of brutality that happens somewhere else - Paris, Boston, Madrid.

We watch it on the news and are thankful it’s not on our doorstep. Even the spate of attacks in London seemed relatively far away.

Noel Gallagher  at We Love Manchester  PHOTO: PA

Noel Gallagher at We Love Manchester PHOTO: PA

But the night of May 22 was a game changer. The terror attack at the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena brought it careering into our consciousness. It was now on our doorstep. Many of us had sat in that venue, walked down the concrete steps.

That could have been us.

Twenty-two died when a coward targeted young people simply having a good time. Four people from Lancashire - Georgina Callander, Jane Tweddle, Saffie Roussos and Michelle Kiss - were sadly among those who lost their lives.

Almost four months on the arena was ready to reopen with a sell-out We Are Manchester gig and a defiant salute to the haters, in true Mancunian style.

(left to right) Ricky Hatton, Anthony Corolla and Hugie Fury   PHOTO: PA

(left to right) Ricky Hatton, Anthony Corolla and Hugie Fury PHOTO: PA

So we politely waited in queues, emptied our pockets, walked through scanners and ascended steps where four months previously children and parents had raced down to escape the terror before them.

Security was predictably heightened, police with guns scattered among the crowds.

The mood was jovial but tense: this was no ordinary gig. We are used to it at airports but is this what we should expect now at large events, or was it just a symbolic show of reassurance for one unique night only?

Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, one of those rare senior politicians who inspires faith, took the stage to read the names of the dead and praise both the 999 crews and arena staff.

“I felt the strength of the people of Manchester, I felt the strength of our communities,” he said.

“Nothing will ever change us, nothing will ever divide us.”

And then it was over to poet Tony Walsh, he who spoke so creatively and touchingly in the days after the attack, to deliver a rousing new version of his This is the Place verse.

“We are magnificent and we are back,” he roared to a standing ovation.

And then it was on with the show - 80s icon Rick Astley, the clear highlight of the warm up acts which included Pixie Lott, Nadine Coyle, Blossoms, James Skelly and Bugzy Malone.

Watching people who weren’t even born when Astley released single Never Gonna Give You Up dancing to it in the aisles was quite a sight.

But it was not until the Courteeners arrived that the blue touch paper was really lit.

With their life-affirming northern sensibilities and typical Manc swagger justified by anthems few others can touch live, they may well have been the highlight.

But Noel Gallagher is not one for being upstaged.

Welcomed on stage by comedian Peter Kay (“I’ve seen a lot of happiness in this room including the night of May 22. We cannot let the terrorists win,” he said, to huge cheers) Gallagher strode from Burnage to world domination in the blink of an eye. There was surely no better headliner.

His music defined a generation but here he was unusually quiet between songs, his legendary wit barely on display as it had been at Lytham Proms last year.

But his songs were sufficient to keep the audience triumphant - stripped back versions of Champagne Supernova and Half the World Away punctuating his High Flying Birds tracks.

And then it was on to what many thought would be the set closer - Don’t Look Back in Anger.

“During the minute’s silence,” he said, “one girl broke that silence and began singing that song. It has become an anthem for defiance.”

And so it was that defiance was displayed in all its singalong glory.

A confusing finale of What A Life was decidedly underwhelming but we headed into the night singing the chorus to his previous song anyway.

But forget the bloke from a Manchester council estate, the thrilling indie rock band from Middleton, the one hit wonder turned northern treasure from Newton-le-Willows.

This was about 15,000 or so people enjoying the freedom to throw their arms in the air, hug strangers, get sweaty, forget themselves, relive their youths, drink overpriced beer and be thankful we live in a tolerant society.

This was about life.

It can be cut down in an instant. But Saturday night in Manchester proved no amount of fear, hatred, warped logic or simple attention seeking will stop us northerners living our lives like we have always done.

We owe it to the 22 to do just that.