We had deliberately kept our expectations low: what if the invite (from her friend, who happened to be the lead sound engineer) didn't come off on the day? But no, on Saturday afternoon there we were - onstage at the legendary Brixton Academy, witnessing the sound check for support band (80s legends) Scritti Politti. I was excited enough to be perched not ten feet away from Nicky Wire's collection of bass guitars...
And that was before we were taken on a full back-stage tour. (Not quite as exciting as it sounds: huge loading bays, stacks of miscellaneous band equipment, endless corridors that reminded me of a failing school, a glimpse of the canteen - pulled pork burritos for the Manics' tea tonight.)
We returned home for our own tea (the poor husband was confronted by a wife possessed by a 16 year old groupie, high on the scent of Access to The Band...) before returning in time to catch the last few minutes of Scritti. Wish we could have heard more - their sound check was brilliant!
The Academy was already packed. It felt surreal to be ushered in through the stage door, past all these poor people who had been queuing all afternoon:
We had passes for the "VIP" bar upstairs, but quickly preferred to hang out downstairs to soak up the atmosphere. That unmistakeable gig atmosphere of sweat, lager and stale farts - oh how I've missed you! Of course my friend and I were soon seperated due to an ill-timed toilet break. I couldn't believe how "solid" the crowd was: gigs in Scotland are much more fluid, people coming backwards and forwards, passing drinks around... Here in London people seem to stand their ground like statues.
Anticipation was building. This was already better than the last time I saw them, a few years ago, when we were seated sedately in the balcony area - and I was dodging a stream of sarcastic remarks from the husband, who was more of a Stone Roses person.
From the moment they stepped triumphantly into the stage, I was transfixed again. Transported back 15 years, a girl who knew every single word.
They opened with "If you tolerate this...", and right from the start it was clear that James Dean Bradfield's voice and guitar was better than ever. Musically and lyrically, I cannot think of a better live band. They swoop and soar, they rage and they roar.
They covered an impressive list of their back catalogue, from Generation Terrorists and The Holy Bible, through Everything Must Go, right up to three new tracks from their latest release. This pleased pretty much their entire fan base: all of which was represented here, from the earnest newcomers to the diehards.
My favourite bit, as always, was Bradfield's acoustic solo: This Is Yesterday was always a poignant song for me, and it sent tingles up and down my spine. Closely followed by La Tristessa... Well what's a girl to do?
Bradfield was soon rejoined by Moore and Wire, and the tempo was raised once more. These guys may now all be happily married fathers, but they can still rock out to Motown Junk. They crescendo'd all the way to an epic Design For Life finale.
A quick afterword.
We also, unbelievably, were given passes for the after party in the VIP bar (they say VIP, but really it is a dark, expensive, pit which you would never choose to visit were it not for the chance to meet the band!). Nicky Wire did show up, and I did ask him for a photo. But the snap is so bad it is never going to see the light of day.
The final touch to my perfect night out was again courtesy of my new best friend Chris the Sound Engineer: a tour T-shirt and a signed set list... This is literally the happiest night out I've had in years.