I stood about half way back in a small north London pub venue. My friends’ band I Said Yes were in full swing, and I was enjoying their repertoire of familiar and new numbers with a pint of dry cider tucked under my arm. On my left stood a tall girl in skinny jeans and brogues, with whom I had just been chatting before the music kicked in. On my right was a group of trendy hair cuts, scraggly beards and plaid shirts. All around me low level chatter bubbled from the intimate crowd who shared the self conscious hipness that is almost a prerequisite for a small London venue.
Yet as I looked forward, across the empty space separating the crowd from the band (best not show too much enthusiasm by standing too close), a figure stood out and alone at the front. He wasn’t like everyone else. His name was John, he was as wide as he was tall, and he wore an overly large groupie t-shirt bearing the band’s name. As a man enjoying every step of the journey, John would signpost each new verse or key change by holding both arms aloft as he belted out ‘I love I Said Yes’ with ferocious and unabashed conviction. And as rock and roll surged through his (now very dilated) veins, large signs hailing ‘Jim For President’ were thrust up with minimal concern for the eye line of the crowd behind (Jim, of course, being one of the band’s front men). None of these moments, thankfully, will be lost to posterity, as the time between chants and sign bearing was predominantly occupied by grabbing the nearest passerby and posing with aforementioned sign.
The thing is that John has autism. A gig will not go by without John being there faithfully at their side. In one sense this blog is about him, his pure and unbridled love of the band wonderfully holds up a mirror to the vain coolness of so much of a young music crowd whose concern about image holds them back from letting rip in such a fit of joy.
Yet I mainly wanted to write about him because that night the band showed me a quality that stood out so wonderfully in a city where you don’t see it all that often, particularly in trendy music bars: the quality of kindness. I couldn’t have written a demonstration of uncoolness like John’s if I tried, and there was certainly a palpable air of contempt among the trendies further back. Yet as I looked up at my dear friends in the band, there was none of that. As long as I have known them they have emanated the quality of kindness, and it was never clearer to me than as they stood up on stage and embraced the chants and nodded to the signs, acknowledging John between songs. On the one hand you would have thought it would be obvious- love and welcome your biggest fans. But in the closeness of a small venue where there is nowhere to hide I don’t think many would have welcomed such antics- ‘Bad for the image.’
As I stood there with my cider, and this drama unfolded, I was thankful for John, for his lesson in enthusiasm. But I was particularly thankful for the band. They’re not the coolest people I know. But they are some of the kindest, and I know which I prefer.