Imagine, if you can, almost every lesbian in South Wales and a fair few from the South West and London, crammed into a small wood-paneled venue and you have something approximating the experience of seeing Patti Smith play at the Coal Exchange in Cardiff. Andy and I were quickly scooped up by a group of fifty-somethings from London who seemed to think we were very young and sweet, and that they ought to support us through our first Patti Smith gig.
I never really thought I’d get to see Patti Smith play live and didn’t believe it was going to happen until she actually appeared on stage. I think I would have paid the ticket price just for the opener, ‘Dancing Barefoot’, but that was followed a generous set of favourites: ‘Free Money’, ‘Beneath the Southern Cross’, ‘Redondo Beach’, ‘Ghandi’, ‘Peaceable Kingdom’, a fist-pumping rendition of ‘Because the Night’, a very long (and even better for being a bit messed up) sing-along version of ‘Gloria’, ‘Babelogue’ and ‘Rock N’ Roll N****r’.
She sang several songs from the new album ‘Banga’, which I don’t have yet, so can’t remember too well, but they sounded really good. ‘This is the Girl’ is a moving tribute to Amy Winehouse and the title song ‘Banga’ stood out with its swirling guitars and big chorus. She gave a political speech about the need to use the amazing technology we have as a tool to better the world, rather than allow it to dominate and control our lives, something that seemed slightly lost on the people tweeting their way through the gig and trying to film it on their phones.
Despite her fierce reputation, Smith was joyful, generous, and funny in person, telling jokes about her Welsh heritage, but her charisma and the power of her presence is undeniable. She has a quality which in other ages might have got hercalled a prophet, bodhisattva, or a saint, not because she’s perfect, but because she is so fully herself and completely present in her life. She also conveys a feeling that she believes in us, believes that we are capable of changing this world for the better.
I came out of the gig reminded that the overarching aim of my own life is to be who I am. I’m not there yet, burdened as I am by my fears, by social conditionings, by what other people would like me to be, by the stories people tell about me. But I came out of that gig, drenched in sweat, saying to myself, “I will be better than I am”.