What was the first gig you went to? The first time you saw an artist you loved live, somebody who’d previously only existed for you in recordings and on album covers? My answer to the first question is a little sketchy, as I’m a singer-songwriter so started going to small, local gigs and open mics a few years ago. Before that, aged 13, I went to “The Clothes Show Live” with my textiles class. I was the only person on the coach who was excited that Stooshie (possibly long-forgotten girl band who sung “Black Heart”) were playing instead of uh, some boy band I’ve forgotten the name of, who were scheduled for the following day.
But the first time I booked a ticket, eagerly asked my mum “do you think she’ll talk to people afterwards!?” and struggled with the concept that I’d actually be in The Same Room as this artist? Well, that was last year when I was 22.
General visual description for accessibility: Photos in this post are all taken at the Cambridge Junction venue, which is a local mid-sided arts performance space. There is professional lighting, often shining red or blue, with lovely accents of warm white spotlights. The performers on stage are both white, one short-haired woman playing guitar while wearing a waistcoat, shirt, tie and jeans, and a man with slightly longer wavy hair, similarly dressed minus the tie and playing the fiddle. I won’t be pausing to describe individual images in the main body text, but they will all be briefly described in alt text for screen readers.
Finding out about the show
Grace Petrie is a self-described ‘left-wing, butch lesbian protest singer’ and folk artist. Oh, and flannel shirt enthusiast, if you really want me to write out her entire bio. I find her music comforting on the days when everything’s a bit much, (one of my early favourites was the delicately delivered yet heavily self-deprecating ‘Iago’), and joyful in the moments when I can dance about my room to a song about the state of the welfare state, or comfort myself through a heartbreak with ‘Romance Addict’ kicking me in the ears, and reminding me I’ll put myself through it all over again someday. I obliterated my Spotify top-5 in 2020, because I used to play one of her albums on repeat, incredibly quietly while nursing headache after ‘is this an impending migraine attack’ style headache, every summer afternoon in my room.
So, when I saw a familiar name on Cambridge Junction’s wall, you’d think it would be a no-brainer. I’d be there. Only, I’m clinically vulnerable to covid and hadn’t gone anywhere so large, crowded and indoorsy as the Junction’s J1 during a packed gig for… Well, ever? But certainly not since 2019.
It was a hard decision to make, but I ended up going. Making these choices still brings up a lot of complicated questions for me, and is a balancing act between my body’s safety and my mental wellbeing. This event was particularly weighty though, as the first with covid’s presence and just… The first.
Luckily, I knew somebody who works at the venue (after being on a sound engineering course there over the summer, ask me about that some other time) and it was marginally less daunting to email her than a faceless, unfamiliar box office team. (Marginally. But those margins make all the difference at times like these). So I did it. With her help, I navigated the access questions for the first time, requested a wheelchair space, companion ticket and discussed the easiest way to get outside, in case I experienced sensory overload and/or an entire meltdown. You know, the usual gig things.
As for that companion ticket, after cycling through at least four different friends who almost made it (then didn’t) I took my mum.
The unexpected elements
People sung along. And not in the way they sing to a well-known Beatles number at an open mic. In the way I would sing along to Grace’s music at home, alone. But completely different all at once, all together. It made sense of the chorus-like backing vocals on so many of her recorded tracks, a nod to what happens at a Grace Petrie gig. I laughed out loud not to be the only person shouting “yeah what a dick!” at the key moment of ‘The Last Man on Earth’, and I cried at some of the others. My favourite photograph from the evening was taken during the second-to-last song, “The Losing Side”, where I left the fenced-off access area and stood behind the swaying, solidarity-fist raising, singing crowd and actually, miraculously, managed to capture the way that felt (on my ‘90s Canon point-and-shoot film camera).
Another thing I didn’t anticipate, but would come to know intimately over the following year, was the drop in blood pressure about half way through the evening. I didn’t understand what was wrong, all I knew was I had been enjoying the gig, and now I wasn’t. Why was I sad? Detached? I moved to the front of the access area to sit on the floor and take a picture, and incidentally tucked up my legs and got my body low to the ground. And felt better. Now I often put my legs up at gigs, sit on the floor and wear compression socks. It rarely makes me feel perfect, but it’s always worth trying these things in my case, before assuming anxiety, utter depression or dissociation are the culprits of how bad I feel.
An emphasis on access
Accessibility at gigs isn’t a given. So as I plan to write more of these posts, I want to include space for talking about that, gradually building up a library that might help some of my readers (yeah, you! Hi) decide where to search out their favourite artists in future.
Companion ticket? Yes, request via email after booking a standard ticket.
Wheelchair access? Yes, all three venues can be accessed without stairs. J1 in particular (where this gig was held) is entirely step-free (as in, you enter the same way as everyone else and can access the whole main space). There is no accessible platform, instead an area is fenced off to one side of the stage. The photo above shows the view from the wheelchair/accessible viewing area, and the fencing I just described.
Wheelchair accessible toilet? Yes, you can find a more detailed account of the facilities than my memory could provide on the AcessAble website by clicking here. (will open in a new tab, and take you directly to The Junction’s summary page on their site).
Seated options? Standing gig mainly, stools were provided (reserve in advance via email) but they don’t have back rests and require perching relatively high up. (I’ll come back and edit this if I ever find out whether backed chairs are available on request)
Quiet space? I don’t know the general gig policy on this, but whenever I’ve been there in a creative learning or work experience capacity they’ve always been really accommodating, so if you have sensory-based access needs it would be worth discussing with them.
Final thoughts on the performance
She sounds like she does in her recordings. Only, occasionally, better. Her stage presence simultaneously floored and inspired me, leaving me with a sense of wonder, a certainty that my current chat on stage couldn’t come close to hers, and a satisfaction in knowing what I was working towards. Believing that in my own way, some day, I could make someone feel the way she made me feel from that stage.
A key and joyous element of the evening was her support in the form of Ben Moss on fiddle. Watching them together on stage is magic, and friendship really shines through every note they play together. I love the energy it brings to a performance when people bounce off each other so well and clearly enjoy sharing a stage.
If you happen to take your mum, auntie or brother’s mate Steve, you might want to survey their thoughts on queerness, butch lesbians, and trans rights before you get into the venue, since Grace talks quite a bit between songs, with a focus on these topics and more. ‘F*ck the tories’ was shouted from the audience at one point, entirely without provocation (to which she said simply ‘well, yes’ looking mildly surprised by the timing, but not at all by the content), to give you an idea of the general mood both on and off stage.
As a disabled person with a high need for, yet relatively low options on, people to go with me, it does feel a little awkward taking my mum to things when I’m not sure they’ll suit her. But honestly? We recently saw Grace together for the third time, and she enjoyed it almost as much as I did. I’m not going to tell you everyone in your life will love a Grace Petrie gig, but you never know, Steve might surprise you.
Oh, also gauge their opinion on the rough frequency range a fiddle is played at (it feels higher than guitar and goes straight through some people, a group my mum would usually include herself in, though it only bothered her on a couple of the songs, so I’d say she’s almost a convert).
It’s been a while
On Monday, Grace announced a return to Cambridge Junction as a part of her Build Something Better album tour in March 2024, so you’ll be seeing her again on this site’s pages before long, and who knows, maybe I’ve convinced you to see her in person yourself… A year on from the first time I saw her play live, I’ve not only watched her perform again (both as a musician and stand-up comic) but I’ve also watched other artists I love and am inspired by, and finally have a list of others I’d like to see. A list which I believe I’ll continue to tick off. There’s no way to be sure if all that would’ve happened without my first experience at The Junction being supportive, in a way that helped me imagine myself in less familiar venues further afield. But there’s no doubt it contributed, so it shows how every single venue can make a big difference, long after the one evening we might spend there.
I hope in the next year I continue to listen to a range of artists, and go to some of their gigs. Sharing them here feels like a great way to bring together my own little stories, access tips and artist recommendations. As well as giving me somewhere to put all these photographs I keep taking. Speaking of which, I’m hoping to find myself a new digital camera soon as mine struggles in low light (most of these pictures were taken on my phone!).
Let me know what you were glad I included in this post, and what you might like me to add next time. As this series is in its earliest days, I’m still figuring out where I’d like the focus to be. These posts are shared to be read by you, so it helps me to know which aspects interest you most!
Until next time, here are some Grace Petrie tracks to keep you busy:
Oh, and a bonus for the Spotify users only, a playlist I made at the time with the rough set list for the night in a vaguely chronological order so you can experience the rollercoaster for yourself.
You can also find all these and (even) more (than there are on Spotify) on Grace Petrie’s Bandcamp.
[All links open in a new tab]
Mostly iPhone 13 [digital / smartphone] edited in apple photos.
Canon SureShot [35mm point & shoot / film camera] (3 photos, feel free to guess which)
And if you’d like to keep up with me, I can be found most often on Instagram, alongside TikTok and, begrudgingly, Facebook. I’m also ‘on’ Twitter/X, but I use the term loosely as I’m rarely, actually ‘on’ there.