Wolf Alice celebrate the return to live music with a maximum capacity gig at the O2 Academy BournemouthTWITTER/WOLFALICEMUSIC

Along with all the upheaval of the past few years has come the opportunity to break the status quo and make changes in every area of life, not least the music industry. As venues began to reopen after July 19th, there was general confusion about how the return of live music would continue to be impacted by Covid-19. We were left with the paradoxical situation in which you could suddenly do anything you wanted, but it felt just as risky as it did in the depths of the pandemic.

My own return to live music was tentative, despite the fact that the idea of future gigs was one of the main things motivating me through the months of lockdown. I was unsure of how I’d cope in a crowd of thousands of unmasked people, given I had been almost crippled by anxiety simply setting foot on a train just a month before. I expected to start off with a couple of small gigs and work up to something bigger. But then Wolf Alice announced their Latitude warm-up show at the O2 Academy Bournemouth, a 1800 capacity venue, and I realised I was heading in at the deep end.

Wolf Alice's live show is "electric" and "emotional"Tilda Butterworth

Described aptly in The Guardian as “a night of sublime bedlam”, the gig did not disappoint, not that I had ever thought it would. Even before Wolf Alice emerged the atmosphere was electric, and it only became more frenzied as the night went on. For a band who had released Blue Weekend to empty stages and a digital audience, it must have been incredibly emotional to finally witness the powerful public reaction to their third album in person. “If you cry, I cry,” singer Ellie Rowsell tearfully told the crowd at the beginning of “How Can I Make It OK”. The first live performance of “Play The Greatest Hits” caused such an uproar that we almost drowned in the mosh pit as Ellie threw herself all over the stage, knocking over her blue drink at some point in the process. I had the impression that everyone was giving the experience all the energy they had.

Ellie Rowsell is in her element fronting the London based fourpieceTilda Butterworth

Apart from the rapid testing van in the street outside the venue and a perfunctory glance at our Covid passes in the queue before we could enter, the gig felt like a pre-pandemic experience. I was shocked by how naturally it came back to me, as if no time had passed since I’d last been surrounded by so many people. When I met Theo Ellis, Wolf Alice’s bassist, outside after the gig (from a safe social distance), he said that it felt as though we’d all travelled back in time to 2019 together, echoing what my friend and I had screamed at each other over the music. Which is to say, it felt like nothing had really changed.

“The line-up was so eclectic that the energy in the room changed completely with each act”

After Bournemouth I was hooked again, and a week later I found myself at a fundraiser for The Rising Sun Collective at AMP Studios, a venue which is tucked away under the train tracks at Old Kent Road, South East London. The line-up was so eclectic that the energy in the room changed completely with each act, and it felt almost like going to four entirely different gigs in one. MeU = MeU opened as the audience gathered (largely composed of art students in leather trench coats), followed by Waterbaby, a synth-pop sister duo with siren-like vocals reminiscent of Kate Bush and Grimes. The group Sweat, with their high-intensity sound, apocalyptic lyrics and mesmerising projections, were definitely a crowd-pleaser. By the end of the night, only a handful of audience members were left, swaying to the transcendent sound of muva of Earth.

Duo Waterbaby enchant the crowd with "siren-like vocals"Tilda Butterworth

On the spur of the moment, I booked a ticket for South Facing Festival in Crystal Palace with two uni friends. Going to a music festival together was something we had talked about constantly throughout the third lockdown, so standing there together, almost unable to see through the pouring rain and the sea of forbidden umbrellas, was a victorious moment. I realised how much I’d missed the small moments of union with strangers which occur when you’re all experiencing something together, like the irony of Ego Ella May singing “Tonight I’m Drowning” as we all blinked rainwater out of our eyes. The highlights for me were Pip Millett, Nubiyan Twist, and Poppy Ajudha who performed as the sun finally came out. The night ended with a high energy performance from Kojey Radical, who then disappeared promptly and apologetically (in keeping with the council’s curfew) despite the cries for more.

“The gig reminded me how precious and crucial pub venues are”

My final London gig of the summer was put on by Friendship Music Promotions at The Shacklewell Arms, a favourite London pub venue. With tickets costing only £6, the line-up, orientated around “eerie” sounds, consisted of Black Bordello, Robbie & Mona and Heartworms (the latter to be replaced at short notice due to a member testing positive for Covid). Robbie & Mona, a duo who seem to have emerged from some fantastical realm, managed to bring a hush over the whole crowd, even the rowdy people by the bar. By the end of the night, the mesmerising Black Bordello had everyone waltzing to their dark burlesque song “Vienna”. The gig reminded me how precious and crucial pub venues are in providing performance opportunities for rising artists, and how much these venues need our protection and support.

Black Bordello give a haunting performance in small London venue The Shacklewell ArmsTilda Butterworth

Despite the sheer joy I feel at the return of live music, I don’t want to present it through rose-tinted glasses. The same old problems persist, including but not limited to sexual harassment in crowds and lack of diversity in certain festival line-ups. Nevertheless, something about the atmosphere feels refreshed, as though people are relearning old habits, with the recognition that we can no longer take live music for granted. One can only hope that the venues can continue to rebuild themselves, and musicians, technicians and audiences can carry on doing what they love.