Defiance and hope... why the bands are playing on
As Ariana Grande arrives to lead a line-up of stars at tomorrow night's Manchester One Love tribute gig, Phoebe Luckhurst reports from a shaken but resilient city
Tomorrow night, the band will play on again. Pop star Ariana Grande, who had just finished her encore when a suicide bomber detonated his weapon on May 22, is to return to Manchester, flanked by acts including Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, to perform for an audience of 50,000 people. Tickets for the Manchester One Love concert sold out in under six minutes when they went on sale on Thursday.
Holding the concert is a defiant act for a city that is resilient, but still shaken. All those who attended the original gig have been offered a ticket, which means that, for some of tomorrow's attendees, the concert means revisiting an evening that assumed the grotesque unreality of nightmare.
Georgia Faye, a 19-year-old psychology student who was at the original Ariana Grande concert, will be there.
"The best day quickly turned into the worst," she says, speaking about the night. "I still don't really know what to think of it all." When she learned the identity of the first named victim of the attack, Georgina Callander, she was "devastated". Faye had met Callander at a concert last year for American girl group Fifth Harmony.
"I didn't know her well, but she was lovely," says Faye. "It's heartbreaking." She has found strength in speaking to other fans who attended the original concert, and hopes to meet some of them tomorrow.
"It's helped by knowing I'm not the only one feeling like I do."
For 21-year-old Lauren Lindley, a Manchester University student who is going tomorrow with her boyfriend, his sister and his sister's husband, attendance equals solidarity with the city. She wasn't at the original gig, but knows people who were.
"We don't want artists or fans being afraid of Manchester and we thought just being there would have such an impact. We wanted to be a part of history." Is she worried about security? "I'm not. I don't think we should all stop doing what we love and enjoy because of terrorism. It would mean they have won."
"I think it's natural for people to be worried, especially those who were at the concert, but the worst thing we can do is let the actions of one terrible individual dictate how we live our lives," agrees Mike Webster, a 27-year-old IT engineer attending tomorrow with his girlfriend, sister and his sister's girlfriend.
Grande announced the concert, which will take place at Old Trafford cricket ground, by sharing an Instagram image: black text, Manchester One Love, etched across a millennial pink background. The 'O' in "Love" was styled as a ribbon of solidarity, decked with her signature rabbit ears, a symbol shared across social media in the wake of the attack. Her post promised that "proceeds will benefit the victims and families affected by the Manchester attack on May 22, 2017".
Grande's friend Katy Perry will be performing, as will Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, whose fan base intersects closely with Grande's. British bands Coldplay and Take That will be there, as will Usher, Niall Horan, Pharrell Williams and The Black Eyed Peas. On Tuesday, Perry shared Grande's Instagram post, captioned with Perry's own tribute. "The music community stands with love and with solidarity," she wrote. "I am humbled to be a part of this show."
Fans also consider attendance to be a pledge of support for Grande. "I think it's amazing that Ariana's coming back," says 17-year-old Tilli Johnson, who's going with five friends who went to the original concert. "Some artists would just say they were sorry for what happened."
But the concert is not just about big-ticket, stadium names - it is about a community and, accordingly, Grande has invited Mancunians to share the stage with her.
On Thursday, the school choir at Parrs Wood High School, which had recorded its own performance of Grande's song My Everything after the attack, announced it would be performing the song onstage with the pop star on Sunday. Some of the members of the choir were at the original concert.
"Pupils wanted to do something to help and decided to record the song to pay tribute to the victims and raise money for them," says the school's headteacher, Mark McElwee. "It's their way of standing shoulder to shoulder with everyone affected by last week's tragedy."
The concert also has a practical application. Proceeds will go to the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund, set up as a partnership between Manchester City Council and the British Red Cross to support victims and their families.
It is estimated that an appeal, led by the council, the Manchester Evening News and the British Red Cross, has raised more than £6.2m, which includes a JustGiving page set up by the British Red Cross that has raised nearly £2m. It is hoped the concert could add another £2m to this sum.
Security is understandably a key concern for those in charge of putting on the event. The Outside Organisation, which is managing the logistics, confirms that security personnel have been doubled. It is expected 50,000 people will attend, and they have been asked not to bring bags, in order to avoid delays going through security.
Everyone will be searched on entry, and there is a banned list of items that includes umbrellas, banners, rattles, fireworks, flares, air horns, smoke canisters, bottles, glasses or cans. Old Trafford cricket ground will likely take it on the nose, though - it is a well-worn concert venue.
Of course, turning the music back on is a reminder of the circumstances that tried to drown it out. But for a city whose musical legacy is enshrined in lore, there is a poetry to healing the city with a concert.
Is it a fitting tribute?
"I'd hope it's what they would want," says Webster. "They all went to see Ariana and enjoy themselves and that was cruelly taken from them. I hope it gives some comfort to the victims and families to see so many artists and people coming together to celebrate them."