A Sit Down and a Cuppa, Part 4

I’ve been on annual leave for the last three weeks – working only twenty hours a week, I didn’t realise quite how much I had to use up before the end of the financial year. I thought I was back in today, so Ted was summarily dispatched to nursery… only for me to find out that I’m not actually back in until Monday. So it’s time for a writerly ramble instead!

Welcome back to my charmingly random rattling on about nothing in particular. At least, I hope it’s charming. If not, well, I’m not forcing anyone to read it! My cuppa of choice today is a latte with extra espresso, vanilla syrup, and anything else I could think of to get them to put in it, seeing as I was using up the free one on my loyalty card. I’m nothing if not resourceful. Well, all right, stingy. Who knows if this post will ever get finished, because the internet in this particular Caffe Nero keeps cutting out, but hey, I’m doing my best.

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I’m supposed to be working on the Secret Project today. Seeing as I’m unexpectedly child-free, I figured it would be the perfect time; especially as a Facebook memory popped up this morning that made me smile.

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Heavy metal festivals and pregnancy: recipe for disaster?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: all types of no, why would you even ask that question?

The tales of my adventures in heavy metal could probably fill a book. At least one. I had a good few years of touring drunkenly around Europe: getting into trouble and generally having a fine old time. Gradually, after meeting my husband, I grew out of it – the causing-trouble parts at any rate – but I’ve never stopped loving the music, the sheer atmosphere of a live show. When it comes to my favourite six or seven bands, I’ll still try to get to at least one show on every tour. So when the opportunity arose to go and see Sonata Arctica at RockHarz festival in Germany this summer, I jumped at the chance.

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Literally a month after I booked my flights, I found out I was pregnant.

Cancelling the trip never even crossed my mind. I did some calculations – I’d be just on six months pregnant by the time July rolled around. Still early enough to fly without a doctor’s note (just); late enough that the morning sickness should have passed. The glorious, glowing second trimester, that’s what everyone says, right? People still seemed surprised, however. I had so many people telling me I should just cancel, that it would be ‘safer’. That I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself.

I’m very glad to say that I proved them wrong. I did have the occasional challenging moment that I wouldn’t have encountered pre-pregnancy, but the bands I went to see were as excellent as always and I had a marvellous time.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my ultimate festival tips for the pregnant people among us – pointing out more than anything that you don’t have to stop doing the things you love just because you’re having a baby!

1) Don’t camp.

Honestly. I know for many people, camping is part of the joy of a music festival. I am not one of those people. I’ve done it: back in 2009 my best friend and I determinedly did the ‘full festival experience’ at Greenfield, Switzerland, neon green pop-up tent and all. It was uncomfortable, but doable.

For somewhat convoluted reasons, this tent was known as 'The Sandal'.

Dearly remembered. Ish.

This time around, my friend and I stayed in a charming little spa hotel about 10km from the festival grounds. My already achy back rejoiced in a comfy bed rather than a dodgy inflatable on solid ground; my battered bladder was very happy with a clean, private toilet with reams of loo roll; my screwed-up sleep pattern would have been toast with hordes of drunken revellers staggering around at four in the morning. This might be a sign of age, but I’d recommend the hotel route for anyone heading to a festival nowadays. Give me a bed and hot water over ‘campground atmosphere’ any day of the week.

2) Do get hold of VIP passes if you possibly can.

At most festivals, you can pay a bit extra for access to special VIP areas. You can also get these if you’re an officially registered photographer, or if you have an in with a band. If you’re pregnant, do this any way you possibly can. At RockHarz, our passes came courtesy of Sonata Arctica (cheers guys!) and honestly, for this alone, keyboardist Henkka Klingenberg is worth his weight in gold.

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Wristbands of usefulness.

At RockHarz, there was only a small VIP area, cordoned off with a fence and containing a couple of shacks for food and drink, but it had the most important amenity I needed at six months pregnant: proper seating! Not just a patch of questionable grass to call my own when my back started to hurt; actual deckchairs, some in the shade, and some on a sunny platform where we could watch the stages. Honestly, it sounds like such a simple thing, but just having a decent place to sit on and off saved my back and pelvis so much pain. Also, the VIP area actually had working WiFi – luxury indeed in the valley of poor phone signal!

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Two very happy (aka smug) not-campers in our deckchairs.

3) Don’t put yourself in harm’s way.

This should go without saying really, but when you’re pregnant it’s extra important. Being at a heavy metal festival, obviously you’re always going to encounter mosh pits and headbangers. It’s very true that metal fans are generally a considerate bunch, and will only mosh with clearly willing participants; they’re well-known for practically beating one another up in a pit then helping one another up when they get knocked down. But when you’re pregnant, don’t take any chances: stay away from the pit! For that matter, definitely duck out of the way of crowd surfers too. They’re irritating at the best of the times but when you’re six months pregnant, trust me, you could do without a New Rock boot to the head.

I was lucky during Avantasia when a pit broke out to be standing right behind an absolute tank of  a man, who was utterly immovable and determined to keep his girlfriend out of harm’s way. He was like a walking city wall: useful to have around if you can loiter around a similar specimen.

If things do get a bit much, don’t be a martyr for your friends: you’re going to spoil their fun a lot more by passing out or getting yourself hurt. If you start to feel bad, leave your friends and get out of the stage area to find somewhere to sit (preferably in the nice shiny VIP area). And for the love of god, don’t try sitting down in the middle of the concert area: I encountered someone who did this at a Nightwish gig last December, and honestly, it’s not a good plan if you don’t want to be accidentally booted in the face.

4) Do pick your festival carefully.

This is of course a matter of personal choice, depending on your favourite bands, the weather, the location – many things. I feel that RockHarz really was the perfect festival for me at this stage of pregnancy. It wasn’t huge; we could walk from the car to the stage in ten minutes, and could pootle merrily to the front row without even turning a hair. If I had been at somewhere like Wacken or Download, I would have had to spend most of the day traipsing across potentially muddy fields, and I would have been far more exhausted and achy than I actually ended up.

Equally, being six months pregnant means being hot. Not sexy-hot (though I totally am, obviously), but overheating. It’s just a fact that carrying this extra weight in the middle of summer leads to one big sweaty mess; plus, of course, it’s not healthy to totally overheat while pregnant. A festival in Germany was the ideal choice rather than say, Italy or France: it was sunny enough for me to get a tan (OK, to get my pasty British legs thoroughly burnt, but that was my own fault) but not so hot that I reached dangerous levels of dehydration.

5) Don’t use public transport.

As a non-driver, most of my gig trips have, by necessity, involved getting intimately acquainted with local public transport. I’ve become quite good at it, but it does still sometimes end up with stress: a certain incident in a flooded Czech Republic middle-of-nowhere at 2am springs to mind, trying to call a taxi with a dodgy phone connection and a terrible grasp of the Czech language. When you’re pregnant, you really don’t need that extra strain on your blood pressure, especially in festival locations where timetables can be unreliable at best.

I was lucky on this occasion that my lovely travel companion does own a car and was happy to drive to RockHarz: indeed, it would have been near-impossible to get there without one (thanks to a lot of roadworks, it was near-impossible to get there with one!). It really made the whole festival experience easier for me, especially because of the whole being-pregnant thing. No panic about timetables or taxis, no confusion in a foreign language, somewhere to leave all our junk throughout the day… and most importantly, somewhere I could have a cheeky nap when I inevitably got knackered mid-afternoon.

6) Do remember that non-alcoholic beer exists.

Totally trivial, but it made a difference for me! Personally, it felt a little odd, being at a heavy metal festival without having some form of alcoholic beverage permanently attached to my hand. But you know what? Non-alcoholic beer tastes practically the same as normal beer, especially after months of total abstinence. And it’s also way cheaper. No, you’re not going to get any kind of buzz off it, but being surrounded by great music and atmosphere will give the right effect anyway. For me, it helped to make me feel like I was still the same person I’ve always been – rocking out to some pounding heavy metal, a beer in my hand and a grin on my face – just with a rather more rounded tummy and a miniature future metalhead kicking away inside my uterus.

All in all, I had an absolutely awesome time at RockHarz this year, despite being over six months pregnant and the size of a small boat. It was of course made all the more potent by the fact that it’s probably the last festival I’ll be doing for at least a couple of years. I did see quite a few families ambling round with babies and toddlers (with the requisite ear guards of course) but personally, my husband and I have some other plans for our first couple of family holidays. Rest assured, we’ll be back in proper festival action in the future, the new generation of metalheads proudly keeping live music alive alongside us.

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A Year in Heavy Metal

Christmas has been lovely; calm and sleepy, full of so much food I’ve had to do a really attractive waddle just to get down the stairs of the flat today. I am now waiting for my shift to start at work – the Trafford Centre is heaving with throngs of Boxing Day shoppers and their uniform expressions of greed are making me feel sick. So I’m going to enjoy this last hour of freedom by reminiscing about all the fabulous gigs I’ve been to in 2015.

Halestorm

When & Where: March 14th, Manchester Apollo

It was the first time I’ve seen this band live, and I’ve only really been listening to them since about January 2015.

Highlight: Arejay Hale and his absolute animal drumming; Lzzy Hale’s one woman performance of Hate It When You See Me Cry. It was fabulous hearing the new songs performed live only a matter of days after I’d heard them for the very first time.

Lowlight: A couple of questionable support acts and a crowd that wasn’t really as into the gig as they should have been. The show would probably have actually worked better in a smaller venue.

Amaranthe

When & Where: March 20th, Manchester Academy 3

Another band I was seeing for the very first time, though I have loved them for a good couple of years now.

Highlight: Finally hearing Amaranthine performed live, aka the first dance at my wedding; getting a little bit weepy when the band brought a small child up on stage for her favourite song. Elize Ryd hit every single note and did some bloody impressive high kicks into the bargain.

Lowlight: There’s a reason Academy 3 is known as the sweatbox. Getting dripped on by the ceiling wasn’t so nice.

Sonata Arctica

When & Where: May 1st, London Islington Academy

I’ve seen this lot… once or twice. Or three. Or four. Or maybe a little more.* This was their only UK gig in a few years, though, so I was expecting good things.

Highlight: Finally, finally, finally seeing X Marks the Spot live, one of the most batshit insane songs to have been released in the last ten years; after the show, managing to shame guitarist Elias Viljanen into removing his double man bun. Also ran into the lovely Freddie Thunder of Neonfly and had a bit of a chat. For the first time all year, I fell a bit in love with a support band; Twilight Force are hilarious and adorable in equal measure and I would genuinely go and see them again.

Lowlight: The friend I was with feeling ill and leaving the front of the gig – when I found her, we discovered that there was no way to see any of the rest of the show from the balcony other than on a grainy screen, and it was impossible to get back through the crowd.

Delain

When & Where: October 24th, Manchester Academy 2

I’ve been trying to see this band live for literally years and years. Every time I get thwarted – in Paris, the gig was cancelled because the lead singer of the band they were touring with (coincidentally, Sonata Arctica) had the flu, when they were in London and Manchester I was too broke, and then when they were back in Manchester they sold out the day before I got paid. This year, one of my friends was getting married on the day Delain was in Manchester. But then all the drama with moving house happened and I could no longer afford the £300+ it would cost me and my husband to get to the wedding, so I swooped in and snapped up a ticket for Delain to make me feel better.

Highlight: Get The Devil Out Of Me and The Gathering – two absolutely fabulous songs; realising that one of the guitarists is basically a tubbier Eomer from Lord of the Rings; nearly whomping Anneke Van Giersbergen (the support act, I’m not a fan) in the head when I was in the lobby after the gig.

Lowlight: Having a sudden rush of nausea and having to rush out to puke in between the support bands and the actual show, losing a pretty good place in the crowd (these things happen; see Sonata Arctica).

Apocalyptica

When & Where: November 21st, Manchester Academy 2

I saw this lot back in 2009, supporting Nightwish at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki. I hadn’t expected to be bothered by them, but as soon as they came out on stage I was captivated. I’ve listened to them a lot since then but this was the first time I was seeing them live in six years.

Highlight: Perttu taking his shirt off; Hall of the Mountain King; Sin In Justice with the surprisingly OK support band Vamps (I’ve had this song in my head for four weeks solid); Perttu taking his shirt off; my friend Hannah’s first ever heavy metal experience. We were brazen enough to shove our way to about three rows from the front despite only turning up forty five minutes after the doors opened. Perttu took his shirt off. It was somewhat fabulous to be able to switch from headbanging to heavy metal cellos to drinking cocktails in a gay club and dancing to Cher within literally twenty minutes.

Lowlight: The gig actually ending. This would have been my ultimate best gig of 2015, had the 19th December one not happened.

Nightwish

When & Where: December 19th, London Wembley Arena

I’ve got a special relationship with Nightwish. Their songs got me through the hardest few years of my life; they provided the path onto metal for me, without which I probably wouldn’t have met my husband, and I definitely wouldn’t have had most of the crazy adventures that have come to define my life. I’ve seen them rather a lot, but this was my first time seeing them in almost exactly three years.

Highlight: I should just write a full blog post on this; I would if I had taken more photos. To throw in a few moments of awesome: Floor Jansen being an Amazonian goddess, particularly during the most powerful part of Ghost Love Score; hearing The Poet and the Pendulum (the song that helped keep me alive when I was nineteen) for the first time with Floor; the performance of Seven Days to the Wolves (the first Nightwish song I ever saw live); adorable Troy Donockley’s emotional Hello Wembley moment; Troy’s awkward semi-headbanging with his mandolin during Weak Fantasy. Despite only rocking up after ice-skating and cocktails, as the doors were opening, my husband and I managed to find ourselves about ten rows from the front, centrally positioned, in the perfect place to see Professor Richard Dawkins when he tottered out at the end to recite the closing speech from The Greatest Show On Earth.

Lowlight: The small man from Brazil who seemed intent on filming every single song during the support acts (I did manage to elbow him out of the way before Nightwish started – I didn’t want to watch the whole show through his shaky, non-HD three inch screen); the ill-feeling girl who decided to repeatedly sit down in the middle of the pit right next to bloody me rather than go to the back or the side of the room, meaning I couldn’t jump up and down quite as exuberantly as I wanted.

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Literally the only photo I took during the Nightwish gig – I’m no longer one of those types who feels the need to immortalise every gig in shaky phone-photos, but I felt I had to document Professor Richard Dawkins if nothing else!

So that was my year in metal. I’m counting it as a success; between the actual bands I wanted to see and the support acts, I’ve seen a whole host of new bands this year and heard a lot of new music. I’m hoping 2016 will be even better – hopefully I’ll be able to tootle off to a couple of music festivals in Germany, maybe one in Italy. And I’m excited to see who announces some touring for the latter half of the year!

 

*I just worked it out and I’ve actually only seen them thirteen times. Thought it was more than that so I no longer feel like quite such a terrible fangirl.