The dreadful terrorist attack at the concert by Ariana Grande at Manchester Arena on 22 May followed by a further indiscriminate assault on people out for an evening in London just 12 days later cast a huge shadow over the simple pleasures of enjoying live music and socialising. The young singer understandably flew home, putting the rest of her tour on temporary hold in a measured response giving space to the real focus of the first of these tragedies; that of the 22 victims, their families and friends and those injured, shocked and frightened first-hand. That she was able to return two weeks later to perform quite so spectacularly along with a stellar line up, gleaned at such short notice from the world of pop and rock music, was some achievement.
Sunday night’s One Love Manchester show in aid of the Arena victims’ families in front of 50,000 people including most of the original Arena crowd offered love and solidarity as beacons of hope in a desperate world. From Marcus Mumford’s plaintive, heartfelt solo opening with “Timshel”, with some words sensitively changed to reflect the occasion, through anthemic turns from Take That to Coldplay to Liam Gallagher the stars came out to stand as one. Ariana Grande herself was emotive, brave and bold in knitting everything together with solo numbers, duets and ensemble pieces. Her closing, heart-rending delivery of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” stood out as a triumph over adversity. With the concert being aired across the world, there was a sense of unity and common humanity not seen on such a scale since “Live Aid”.
You only have to think back to the Bataclan, Paris on 13 November 2015 to remember that terror has no off-limits. These attacks are born of twisted reasoning and reflect a total antithesis to Western lifestyle exemplified by such habitually joyful pleasures of live music and entertainment. Music is of course the broadest possible church and knows no boundaries. Musicians as a breed are among the most open, tolerant groups of people and precisely those who supplant such evil with enduring messages of love and hope. I heard about the Manchester Arena attack en route home from an entirely different type of gig; Bella Union’s 20th anniversary show at London’s Oslo venue. It was an evening to applaud an independent record label that continues to champion the kind of music that mostly exists outside the mainstream, that transcends fads and fashions and retains a collective ability to charm and surprise.
The three acts that represented Bella Union that night all played tribute to label boss Simon Raymonde and his team; the word ‘family’ came up several times and summed up the relationship Raymonde and his crew foster with their artistes. From Will Stratton’s high-class troubadour opening, through Pavo Pavo’s exquisite electro art-pop and Mammút’s loud, mesmeric psych-rock, the evening simply celebrated a collective, genuine love of music. There was the sense that the record label, its acts and its audience are all part of one big happily-into-music family. Indeed, an enduring love that won’t tear us apart however many bombs and bullets come our way.
There are many examples where music asserts itself as part of a healing process. It touches the common bonds that bind us. Charity singles might abound but the most powerful and memorable are those created directly in the wake of an event. A fine example is “Beautiful Strangers” by Kevin Morby, written in memory of the victims of Orlando and to support the Everytown for Gun Safety lobby: “If I die too young or if the gunmen come I’m full of love”. Morby is soon to deliver his next album, City Music, and has just set out on an extensive European and US tour. As a further taster, he has shared the near 7-minute atmospheric title track. "It’s a rare song for me in that it’s more about the guitar than the lyrics," Morby explained. "So when it came time to write lyrics, I wanted to make something as relatable and simple as possible to conjure up the feeling of being elated by a city's beautiful mania."
If it hadn’t been for the tragedy in Manchester, this piece might well have opened with a different major event in the world of entertainment, namely the recent return of Twin Peaks after 25 years. Music has always been integral to the pace, mood and movement of the action and to date the new season shows no exception. There’s the beautifully tragic familiarity of Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score, David Lynch’s own weird and wonderful sound design and to cap it all a throwback to Julee Cruise at the Roadhouse with a live song to end each part. My favourite so far was Chromatics playing out Part 2 with the ethereal “Shadow”, a song first aired a couple of years ago yet a glove-fit for mood and atmosphere here. The Roadhouse is now euphemistically called The Bang Bang Bar but, as a Twin Peaks fan, the red drapes and the odd familiar face dotted around the crowded venue made you truly feel you’ve arrived home. And, not least, the violence along the route to the Bar is pure fiction.
A version of this article first appeared on www.bestnewbands.com