“In one sacred ritual, unmasked and undressed.
We all come together. We’re all one tonight.”
I’ve just spent a wonderful weekend in the company of hundreds of like-minded people. As is my usual blogging style, this is where I try to put into words something that shouldn’t really be attempted to put into words. So let’s start with the story.
Marillion are a British progressive rock band. They’ve been going for 40 years and, over that time, have garnered a fiercely loyal fanbase. They invented crowd-funding back in 2000, way before websites like Kickstarter existed. Every couple of years they put together a series of Marillion Weekends, where band and fans congregate in a particular city (or holiday park) and the band entertain us with three different gigs on three nights. People arrange meals, drinks and tourist visits together. Cover bands put on afternoon gigs.
Something magical happens. In fact, among Marillion fans there has always been a magical connection. People from all corners of the world, differing cultures, beliefs, lifestyles. Different ages – the Marillion fanship has been passed through generations in my family, originating from my dad, through my sister and me, to my 14 year old nephew who joined us this time around. Relationships, friendly and sometimes romantic are formed.
I don’t mind saying that some of these friendships saved me throughout lockdown. A group of Marillion fans started an online pub two years ago, meeting every Friday via Zoom. What started as a connection through music transformed into deep, lifelong friendships. What started as a bunch of people who had one thing in common has morphed into a bunch of people who I know I could rely on if I needed. Whether it be practical assistance or emotional support, I know I have someone to call on. (And yes, the pub still opens every Friday night).
Our friendships tend to move in three circles. Our widest circle is our casual friends. The people whose company we enjoy but who we don’t actively seek out to spend time with. The Marillion fans who I see at gigs, share a hug and a chat with, but wouldn’t arrange to meet them down the pub. The Facebook friends whose posts you like and comment on but don’t direct message.
Superficial friendships are the ones you are more active in, but they are still surface level. The Marillion fans I actively seek out or plan to meet, but we just talk about the band or our favourite gin or what other music we like. Sometimes it drifts into politics. The friends who you will call up when you’re going to be in their town.
Then we have our deep friendships. People who know a bit more about us. Who we feel we can confide in. Who we can emotionally expose ourselves to. Who we can call on in a crisis, and who we would happily help in a crisis. The people who will tell us the truth.
It’s when we are missing in any of these areas that we can start to experience loneliness. I talked in a previous blog about how we can feel lonely in a crowd and this is often where it stems from. If our company is unbalanced, it doesn’t feel fully nourishing. We need close, deep friendships. We also need people who we can have fun with.
I have these in other areas of my life, but there is something particular about my Marillion connections. It’s a bond I cannot break. (Believe me, I’ve tried). Some fans will tell you there’s something special about the Marillion community that doesn’t occur anywhere else but I don’t believe that’s true. Yes, the music has an incredible emotional depth that doesn’t perhaps exist with other passions. But I do not believe that other bands, other interests, other hobbies don’t also offer this opportunity for connection.
The magic doesn’t happen because we are all the same. It happens because we are all different. We love the band but we all love different songs. We all loved the three concerts but everyone will have a different favourite night or moment. We connect at different levels with different people and do different things during the day. But for those 2 hours each night, in the words of the final song The Leavers, “We all come together. We’re all one tonight.”
We all need to connect to other humans. I’m an introvert. I love to be on my own (after a weekend of 5 gigs and spending 24 hours a day in the company of others, I will need some solitude). Lockdown worked for me, I revelled in no longer feeling the pressure of being in company. But even I had to concede that I need other people. We all need other people. We need people who are different to us. And we need people in all three levels of friendship.
If you feel lonely despite knowing you have friends, maybe look at whether you are lacking at one of the three levels. Maybe you have dozens – hundreds – of friends but no-one you can connect to on a deep level. Maybe you have a few close friends but no-one who you just want to have a beer and hang out with. And maybe you have a passion where there is a wealth of those friends, just waiting to be found.
I refuse to believe this is purely a Marillion thing. Their music is an acquired taste and, quite honestly (and selfishly), if everyone loved them it wouldn’t be so special. That’s the other element of magic – we all know that we’re part of something that not everyone can access. But that doesn’t mean you can’t access something similar.
This is the nature of community. Celebrating difference through something that unites us all. And that really is available to everyone. Find your fire and let it lead you to your tribe. A tribe that is not about being against something but about being FOR something. About being FOR connection and community. Good things happen when we come together.