Finding Miss Brightside

By Claire Graham

On 28th May you would’ve found this writer sitting on the floor of the 10:49 London Euston to Birmingham New Street train due to the train being absolutely rammed. This was nothing new. When I was a student in the 1990s I regularly sat on carriage floors, perched in luggage racks and on one unfortunate occasion my Mum had to actually push my bum onto a grossly overcrowded train so I could get back to university in Edinburgh. She had been so disgusted she wrote a letter of complaint to Virgin Trains and got money off vouchers by way of apology. I’m now in my late 40s and a bit more fond of sitting on a comfortable surface than I used to be. Still, I really was doing fine all things considered. I had a book with me to read and a Tesco’s bag full of vegan friendly snacks and drinks. If you’re plant powered you learn quickly to plan for there being nothing suitable for you to eat and to take something just in case. You can stuff a snack bar in your bra. I also had a ticket to see The Killers and the Manic Street Preachers at Coventry Arena and I was meeting my Welsh Bestie who was coming to meet me armed with a huge Welsh flag and glitter. Exactly a day before things had been really rather different. Meltdown after meltdown, mood swing after mood swing, ten hours of crying on and off and I was all out of coping strategies. How did I find my inner Miss Brightside after feeling Motorcycle Emptiness?

If you live with Borderline Personality Disorder, you feel emotions and life at an overwhelming intensity. You’re never just simply happy. You’re high as a kite. If you’re unhappy then it feels like your world is ending. There’s no in between. You also can live with black and white thinking which means something either all good or all bad. This is my normal. I don’t know any other way to experience the world around me. The original reason I was on a train heading to Birmingham was I was supposed to be seeing my all time favourite band in the entire world live that evening and also the night before in London. The band are A-Ha. You know, those good looking Norwegians that had the cool video for Take on Me in 1985. That’s just to act as an aide memoire if needed but that’s only a tiny part of their career and it isn’t even their greatest song. I’ve been a totally obsessed fan for 37 years. I know that because the way my brain works, I do view them as the bright shining lights in my unrelenting black darkness and I’m mystified by the general rest of the populace that do not see them as hope and salvation for the entire world through their music. I’ve had so much fun poked at me over the years for it but I am RIGHT and everyone else is WRONG because they’re PERFECT. Before anyone harrumphs at me and points out A-Ha The Movie where they’ve been definitely confirmed as divas, albeit in totally different ways, they’re perfect for ME. There was nothing in that film that actually surprised me. The long term fans are very aware of the band’s internal dynamics. All I know is that a little 10 year old red headed girl with hair in two plaits, a home knitted jumper and untrendy glasses watched their first live performance of Take on Me on Top of the Pops and my small head exploded with it. I hadn’t seen a band so beautiful in my entire short life and I knew. I had been introduced to my lifelong best friends. I have personally met all three a few years ago and they were extremely gracious and kind to an overwhelmed fan who could barely string a sentence together. What on earth do you say to the three men whose music has been your entire life and has saved you from going totally under more times than you can count? My thank yous to all three of them were sincere and heartfelt.

The two gigs I was supposed to be at were postponed due to Covid. I had booked my hotels and travel and I was ready to go in May 2022 if they were. I’ve seen them live quite a few times now and I’m usually so overwhelmed to be in the same room as Morten, Magne and Paul that I’m usually sobbing on and off all through their gigs like a holy fool. The social media posts from the previous tour dates were buoyant from the whole band and if they’re happy then their ClaireBear is too. They had been in their home city Oslo and played a blinder of a gig at the Oslo Spektrum on the Friday night but the Saturday night gig was cancelled due to Morten catching laryngitis. Anyone can get sick and the video he posted on his Instagram page looking broken hearted and apologising profusely made me cry floods of tears on his behalf. Being Scottish, I wanted to swoop in and make him a good pot of soup and a strong hot toddy with good whisky and manuka honey. Scots show love and concern through food. If you visit a Scottish house you will be looked over and you’ll hear “Have you eaten?” or “Have you had your tea?” If you look even slightly peckish expect to be fed into a food coma. Even better – I would take Morten to see my Mum and Dad. A-Ha are regarded like old family friends in the Graham clan. They would be delighted to see him. My Mum would take one look at him say something like “Oh you need a good plate of mince and tatties!” and she would make him soup and food with actual nutritional value. My Mum’s a feeder and it would be similar the scene in the Vicar Of Dibley when Reverend Geraldine Grainger has to force another Brussels sprout into her mouth at the Christmas dinner table so not to disappoint her parishioners. Morten would be loved and cared for. That was the important thing. I could fix this. He would be FINE. Just send him to see my Mum in Scotland.

They were due to come to the UK the following week and this began what was for me an agonising few days of constantly checking social media for updates. Why was this especially unbearable for me? Due to the way my unusual mind works, I don’t deal with any change of plans very well and if this happens I need to know at the earliest opportunity so that I can begin to process it and deal with it so it causes the least amount of upset. I need to know what’s happening when at all times. I will reiterate that the circumstances were not what I had a problem with. I explained to a friend online that some of A-Ha’s songs are technically demanding to perform for a vocalist and were also written for a much younger man’s voice. Morten’s voice is stunning live and he really can still hit the high notes in songs like Take on Me and Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale. I’ve heard him. His voice is a powerful construct of beauty and wonder. He’s a perfectionist and it only stands to reason that if he doesn’t think his voice is up to scratch, he can’t sing. This is his livelihood and reputation, after all. It did disappoint me that there were fans angry at the whole situation. I wasn’t angry at all. I was just extremely upset for Morten and also that I might not see my Norwegian best friends in concert when it had already been postponed due to the global pandemic. My flights and hotels I had booked were also non-refundable but in the great scheme of things that wasn’t important.

A week of obsessively checking social media and setting all available alerts for their online posts began. Their Liverpool and Bournemouth gigs were cancelled. My anxiety went into absolute free fall. I couldn’t sleep or concentrate on anything. I needed to know NOW if my London and Birmingham gigs were cancelled so that I could manage the situation. I’m so lucky that I have friends who are also A-Ha fans and when I made them aware how stressed I was they frequently checked on me. We supported each other and it was lovely. The uncertainly truly felt like fingernails going down a blackboard and my mood swings were exhausting me. I tried to be hopeful but with every passing day my heart was sinking. I have an eclectic taste in music from black metal through to folk-rock and of all the hundreds and hundreds of gigs I’ve been to over the years these were the absolute worst ever to be cancelled. The absolute loves of my life. I knew just how devastated I would be and that my sadness would be overwhelming and absolutely catastrophic. I don’t live with normal emotion regulation so I would feel sadness, should it happen, to the marrow of my bones and it would swamp me. I needed to quickly figure out a plan to manage the worst case scenario which I called Plan B.

I thought it all through back to front, upside down and all the way back again. I’m an extreme over thinker and this makes me a good problem solver. The one positive was that I had a ticket to see them in Cardiff in July so with any luck this would still be going ahead providing Morten was well enough. I would at least see them once this year. That was a consolation. My poor churning mind then turned to the issue of my non-refundable tickets and travel. I decided that I would still go to London and Birmingham so the flights, train ticket and hotel rooms wouldn’t be wasted. I would easily find something to do during the day in London and a trip to Camden Market could be fitted in easily. Brilliant. What about something to do in the evenings? I had an internet search for gigs in London and I couldn’t find anything I particularly fancied. I could just chill out in my hotel room. No problem. What about Birmingham? Another online search for gigs in Birmingham and one search result was interesting. The Killers were playing on the Saturday night but rather than being in Birmingham itself, they were in Coventry. I didn’t quite understand why so I opened up Google Maps as admittedly my knowledge of English geography isn’t great. Coventry was just along the road a bit from Birmingham. I read the page I had opened over a little bit more and my eyes were out on stalks, like in the Tom and Jerry cartoons. The Killers at Coventry Arena. Support – Manic Street Preachers. WHAAAAT? Hang on. Is that right? I read it again. Right enough. Oh my GOD.

I had just found an OUTSTANDING Plan B. My 77 year old Dad is a Killers’ superfan and when I say superfan, I mean that he has all the records, all the DVDs, has the t-shirt and I’ve gone my bit for Help the Aged by taking him to see them in Glasgow twice. I love them too. They’re superb live. They were due to play in Scotland but I didn’t get a ticket because Dad won’t go and see a gig in a football stadium – don’t ask – and I didn’t want to go if he wasn’t there with me. Did I want to see the Manics? I have “Destroyed By Madness Anxiety is Freedom” in an old fashioned typewriter font from Stay Beautiful tattooed on my upper left arm as a reward for surviving a particularly horrific weekend of suicidal thoughts and feelings in February this year. What do you think? I have several A-Ha themed tattoos as well. I would start ticket hunting as soon as any cancellation was confirmed. This now started another series of explosions in my already overloaded mind. What if the gig was sold out by the time I was told the gigs were cancelled? What did I say to my Dad? What about the guilt I felt regarding grabbing another opportunity given it was the A-Ha gigs I really wanted? Time for me to have a chat directly with Morten, Magne and Paul. I talk to them all the time in my head and out loud when I’m alone and I’ve been doing this since I was 10 and their posters were wallpapered on my bedroom wall. I grew up an only child in a farm cottage in rural South West Scotland with three buses a day to the nearest town. I usually had no-one to talk to and I was already an extremely anxious child by this point due to being relentlessly bullied throughout my time at school so I would speak to them instead. I couldn’t handle the world outside the sanctuary of my bedroom or people. I still can’t. The habit has stuck with me and I’m sure that the love I’ve sent out to them in the universe has reached them. It’s been returned to me in so many ways over the years and they bless me every single day just by being in the world. I have a large promo poster of their Memorial Beach album framed in my living room so I spoke to it.

I poured out my heart, bursting into tears as I said I desperately wanted to see them but I hoped they would forgive me for having another plan in place so I didn’t go under completely and I stayed well enough and focused to see them in July. “If you need an explanation, Everything Must Go.” Yeah, that. That done, I called my Dad who had been receiving panicky updates about the A-Ha ticket situation on and off all week. He went a bit quiet when I told him about the Killers gig but then he said “You’re getting two top bands at one gig. When will you ever get that again?” I said “Do you want me to phone you during Dustland Fairytale?” “Aye. That will do, hen.” Welsh Bestie called me when the penny dropped who were supporting The Killers and she wanted to come with me but told me to wait until the gigs were definitely cancelled. She would be on immediate standby to drive to Coventry.

The day before the London gig I had again hardly slept and I put a shout out on social media early doors for someone to please put me out of my misery if they heard what was going on before I did. My nerves were in ruins. The Killers had announced on social media that extra tickets had been released for the Coventry gig. A friend had received e-mail confirmation that the London gig had been cancelled and kindly sent a screen shot. Then Ticketmaster announced that both the London and Birmingham gigs had been cancelled. Then the official confirmation was posted on the A-Ha socials. I crumpled and 10 hours of crying on and off started. I couldn’t take my emergency Diazepam because I was working from home and I needed to stay sharp. I’m tearing up writing this thinking about it. My poor boys would be so upset. They had lived in London back in the day and kickstarted their career by coming to the UK from Norway. They always loved playing in the four nations of the UK and we loved them right back. I was all out of coping strategies. I had nothing for this. Nothing. My mind was shrieking. Plan B must now happen. I was positively twitching waiting for Welsh Bestie to return my increasingly impatient messages. I was so sorry for being a pest and I realise I’m hard work at times. I did apologise. She’s used to me. I needed to get tickets sorted out. Not having a ticket wasn’t an option. Two hours later she messaged me back and called me explaining she had been working and YES, she would go and look for her Manics t-shirt and her Welsh flag. I immediately bought two standing tickets. Oh thank God. I was crying ugly tears in relief and also continued sadness at not seeing my beloved Norwegians. Happy and distraught at the same time. Try handling that even if you don’t live with severe mental health. It would test anyone. I had found my A-Ha tour t-shirts to pack in my rucksack. I’d have to go and find my Manics t-shirt instead now. My Dad was thrilled for me and told me to have a great time. Crying on and off for 10 hours makes you feel like desiccated coconut incidentally. You need to drink a lot of fluids. I decided not to take Diazepam after I’d finished work as I needed to get up early for my flight down to London Heathrow and I didn’t want to sleep in as your mind can still feel fuzzy the next day. I just cried it all out. I live alone so no-one was going to see me in lachrymose excelsis. My moods were still swinging about all over the place. I do take mood stabilisers but there’s only so much they can do. My friends who are A-Ha fans were wonderful. They were also very upset at the situation but their messages really helped. We had each other’s back.

It goes without saying the gig was absolutely bloody fantastic. Both bands were at the top of their game and I got all the songs I had hoped for and more. Welsh Bestie and I got very close to the front and we jumped up and down wrapped in her huge Welsh flag for the Manics. We were the Celtic Alliance! I messaged a running commentary of the Killers for my Dad with photos to illustrate. I did had a wobble because he should have been with me but he cleverly worked out how to do a video call on his mobile so I held up my phone so he could have a bit of the gig streamed back home in South West Scotland. I could see him on the call and he was smiling away like a Scottish version of Kenny Rogers. He got his favourite song Dustland Fairytale and more.

It all worked out in the end with a little help from my friends and a Plan B. My main takeaways are to focus on what you CAN do, locate any friends who can help quickly, don’t be scared to admit you’re struggling and trust to luck. Sometimes the universe works in unexpected ways. See you in July, Morten. Magne and Paul. Your ClaireBear loves you. Stay safe and well. Still us four against the world.

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