Photography: John Johnson / @john.johno

Queuing endurance and crash barrier dedication, Tilly Foulkes celebrates the power of fan communities which will be restored in tangible form as live music makes its long-awaited return.

In 2016, a week before my 18th birthday, I woke up at 4.30am. My mum, lovingly yet begrudgingly, drove me to the nearest station so I could catch the earliest train to Manchester. I arrived at Deansgate at 7.30am, got extremely lost, got a Greggs and asked for directions, then finally found the old Gothic chapel that is the Albert Hall. I sat outside the entrance for 10 hours – in the bitterly cold December rain – to secure a spot at the barrier to see Peter Doherty. I was the first person in the queue, and the only one there until midday, when a Swedish girl arrived and explained she’d booked weeks off work in order to follow Doherty on tour. It wasn’t the first time she’d done this.

It was the first time I’d see him, but far from the last. After setting up the silver fences and ushering everyone behind them, security sat and spoke to me about waiting. He said he’d ensure I’d get to the very front. When you fall into diehard fandom – for me, this was born out of my Tumblr dashboard and Twitter timeline – the barrier becomes a symbol of your dedication. It’s the best spot in the house; you can sling your coat over it, there’s more room to dance and you can pester security for loads of cups of water. It also works as a gateway to getting the most cherished trophy of the night – the setlist. It’s the prize for you bunking school and freezing yourself half to death on the pavement. It’s a long-lasting souvenir that seemingly hasn’t lost its value through decades of fandom. My own mother has heaps of scrapbooks with setlists and ticket stubs stuck in them.

The queue, however, is the most important part for any fan community. I spent a lot of my teenage years queuing for gigs. I met all kinds of people I otherwise wouldn’t have; many of whom would go on to become my closest friends, even if we only get together twice a year.

The day would start off with a nervous ‘hello’ to a group of strangers, but soon enough you’re swapping snacks and stories about the previous times you’ve seen the band, or your favourite albums. The ‘older’ fans, who’d queued before – usually women in their early to mid-20s – would welcome you in, feed you water and nip over to Starbucks or Spar to get coffee and crisps. It’s a rite of passage in some fan circles. It’s your initiation into the group. When you are a fan of a band that has a particularly cultish following, the queue is where you find your tribe. They are, for the most part, welcoming, friendly and homely.

“Die-hard fans are the backbone of the music industry”

The camaraderie of the queue would be impossible without the people who devote their days to supporting an artist. This is mostly young women and teenage girls. When I would queue for the Manic Street Preachers at age 15, the women in their early-20s would always take me under their wing for the evening. They became my protector from creeps in the crowd and were meticulous in their checking that I was both hydrated and could see James Dean Bradfield. There’s a real sense of solidarity between us girls that spend days upon days waiting around, and a real sense of affinity.

The die-hard fans are the backbone of the music industry. Without their unwavering dedication, we’d never have had bands like The Beatles being spurred into success. It’s the teenage girls spending their last pennies on merchandise and streaming songs non-stop that are holding up the industry on pure love and devotion. Rest assured, if an artist has a following of teenage girls, they will do everything in their power to ensure that artist is successful. Teenage girls are shamed for their commitment to their idols – even more so when they support pop icons like One Direction or Justin Bieber. I don’t think they should be. There is truly no greater force than a crowd of teenage girls. I think their devotion to music is inspiring and something to be cherished. I’m eager to defend this community with every strength I have, and I’m proud to be in it: it’s a community based entirely on shared love and admiration for art.

With the perpetual hope that the pandemic is finally coming to an end, I can’t wait to share plastic cups with strangers before screaming some half-garbled chorus with them. It’s this community of music fans I’ve missed the most. I’m looking forward to the delight of live music, certainly the elated shouting and the overpriced rum and cokes. But, mostly, I’m excited to return to my spot on the barrier, bump into the familiar faces, give them a hug and ask them what they’ve been up to, because it really has been too long.

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