Where do I start? The last actual live show I had attended before heading into global lockdown was Sabaton at Wembley Arena in February 2020. So, it had been at least a year and a half since I attended an actual live show. For context I mean not watching it through a screen or seated only, I mean watching bands on stage and standing, being able to have a proper dance. So, my first live event after lockdown was…..drum roll please……. NozFest 2021. This took place at The 1865, Southampton which is one of my favourite venues. For those who don’t know, NozFest is an all-day event that features some of the best upcoming bands in New Wave Of Classic Rock or NWOCR for short.

It’s still a minefield when it comes to Covid 19 (i.e. not everyone having had their two jabs, not sure who has COVID) so it was hard to predict what would happen at this show. Leading up to the day, I made the decision to take a COVID test on the morning to ensure I was safe to attend. I also decided I would wear a mask and keep my distance since I was waiting for my second jab at the time. With reassurance from a negative COVID test, I felt confident and safe to go.

When I arrived at the venue, SPYDER BYTE were either in the middle of or just started their set. Experiencing that live music even just outside the doors brought feelings of euphoria and relief; finally, after eighteen months I was going to see bands on stage for the first time since COVID. I was back in my natural habitat.

Being able to dance and rock out to SPYDER BYTE whilst watching them on an actual stage rather than through a screen was fantastic. I had caught SPYDER BYTE a couple of years ago when they played Southampton and really enjoyed their throwback to eighties style rock with a modern twist. Their infectious energy and upbeat melodies were solid proof they were the perfect band to open the proceedings. It was promising to see a large turnout already.

After experiencing watching my first live bands after lockdown, the anxiety started to kick in. Especially as more people started to arrive and gather at the bar, the reality sunk it. Even though it has been a month since the majority of COVID restrictions have been lifted, I was still cautious. I didn’t quite know how to deal with huge crowds of people suddenly all close together after being used to my own space.

It was extremely surreal at first. Especially when it came to seeing familiar faces I hadn’t seen for about two years, do I give them a hug? Do I keep my distance? Hugging people who weren’t in my support bubble for the first time in two years was particularly odd. Some friends of mine said they were going to grab some food. I decided to join them hoping it would help clear my head and calm down.

When I arrived back, THE WICKED JACKALS were well into their set. They had played at the last NozFest and they knocked it out of the park. The same applied here. However, my brain had other ideas; their brilliant set couldn’t distract me from intense anxiety that was starting to kick in. I had brought one of those spirally hairbands and I find fiddling with those helps to keep my hands busy when things start to go around in my brain. I also tried taking some deep breaths. There is a technique I saw in the TV Show My Mad Fat Diary, going somewhere quiet and placing your hands on something flat whilst taking deep breaths.

These worked for a little while. Perfect timing, my other NozFest favourite from the previous one, BETH BLADE AND THE BEAUTIFUL DISASTERS were due to play. For the first few songs of their sets, I felt fine and instantly reminded of their sheer brilliance. Hearing their empowering anthem and personal Give It All You Got gave me comfort as I watched them on stage. They also played a brand new song that looked at remembering those times before COVID and ones we can have now things are starting to ease.

It was during this the intense anxiety started to come back. Imagine having two people inside your mind that have conflicting opinions on what you should do, this was what was going on in my mind and I am sure I’m not the only one. One of them voiced concerns such as standing a greater risk of catching COVID if I stayed and that my family will have to self-isolate because I decided to go to a show. The other voice was reminding that I am having such a great time and as long as I was careful, I would be fine. I also felt the heaviness in my chest and my throat started to hurt so I felt extremely paranoid that I had the virus. During my panic, I had completely forgotten that these are the exact same things you get during and after a gig too; it didn’t mean you had an illness.

I am fortunate enough to have a great group of friends who are hugely understanding of ill mental health. So I sent a message to them to ask if any of them were free to call. A friend of mine called as soon as she saw the message, I explained my worries to her and told her how I was feeling. I didn’t hold back and as I offloaded, I started to feel better. She reassured me by giving me some facts of the situation, telling me how proud she was of me that I took this step and distracted me with some stories that had happened to her recently. This was what I needed as I felt completely fine for the rest of the night. It happened in time for me to enjoy some more bands.

COLLATERAL were one of these bands. When I first heard music from them, I admit I didn’t take to them right away. Wasn’t quite sure why but I do think when I listened to them first time round, I wasn’t in the best mood and will still in anticipation of the even. However after watching them live I felt differently. The first thing I noticed was they knew how to draw a crowd in, maintain their attention and give them a no-nonsense rock show. Given their boundless energy, flawless harmonies and straight to point melodies, it was easy to see why. Will certainly be keeping my eyes and ears out for them, I recommend you do the same.

The other band were MASON HILL, they were the penultimate before the headliners. These days, it’s not often I take to brand new bands straight away. With MASON HILL, I took to them like a duck to water. Scotland are a well-known breeding ground for great new music acts and it’s safe to say MASON HILL can join that list. Think SHINEDOWN and ALTER BRIDGE on steroids, this should give you an idea of what they sound like. I was already amazed I managed to stay until MASON HILL, I thought I would have been flagging by this point, so I was feeling great already. Their live show lifted my mood a little bit more which I didn’t think was possible. After watching them bring a stadium like atmosphere to a smaller venue, I won’t be surprised if they open for arena and festival giants in the near future.

A Happy Lotty back in her natural habitat

Despite the intense anxiety and uncertainty of the current situation, I had a great time. I didn’t realise how much I missed live music until I experienced it for the first time after so long. The sounds, the ambience and the chatter between bands. Even the post gig symptoms such as tiredness, sore throat and aching muscles were greatly welcomed. This is how much I have missed live shows and I am sure I’m not alone here.

One last thing I will say is that it was a huge pleasure and relief to see outpouring support for the local music scene for both bands and the venue. It’s no secret that COVID and lockdown have had huge impacts on the music scene, particularly for up-and-coming bands. My advice to you all? Buy their merchandise (ideally from their own website or their record label), go and watch these bands at a show before they hit the larger venues.

You can read my tips I have learnt if you are attending an event for the first time by clicking here.

Words: Lotty Whittingham


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