An emotional Noel Gallagher returned to his home city to reopen the Manchester Arena on Saturday night (Sept. 9), almost four months after a suicide bomb attack killed 22 people, many of them children, and injured hundreds more.
Headlining the We Are Manchester benefit concert, Gallagher appeared to shed a tear as he sung “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” the classic Oasis hit, which became an anthem of the city’s resilience in the aftermath of the May 22 attack.
“If anyone doubts it — and some people do — that Manchester is the greatest city in England, I was sat at home watching Sky News, watching the minute’s silence after what happened here, and one girl broke the silence,” Gallagher told the crowd, recalling the moment a woman began spontaneously singing “Don’t Look Back in Anger” at a vigil for the bomb victims.
“I don’t know whether she’s here tonight, but I love you,” the singer said, introducing the song that he said had “become some sort of anthem for defiance.”
“Every time you sing, we win. So sing like you’ve never sang before,” implored Gallagher, who also played Oasis classics “Half the World Away,” “Wonderwall,” “Little By Little” and “Champagne Supernova,” alongside solo hits “Everybody’s on the Run,” “Lock All the Doors” and “AKA… What A Life!” backed by his band the High Flying Birds.
Also performing at the sold-out benefit concert, which marked the first event at the 21,000-capacity Manchester arena since May’s attack, were Pixie Lott, Rick Astley, Nadine Coyle, Manchester grime star Bugzy Malone and local rock acts Blossoms and The Courteeners.
The night began with an address by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who read out the names of the 22 people killed in the bombing, the youngest of which was 8-year-old Saffie Roussos.
“Thank you to the city for coming together,” Burnham told the crowd, some of which were at the May 22 Ariana Grande concert. “We are Manchester. A city united. Nothing will ever change us. Nothing will ever divide us.”
Poet Tony Walsh (aka Longfella) also performed at the show, reciting his poem “This is the Place,” while Ed Sheeran paid tribute to those who had lost their lives in a video message.
Comic Peter Kay, who worked as a steward at the venue before he was famous and has performed there numerous times since, was a surprise addition to the bill and told the crowd that he’d “seen a lot of happiness and joy in this building and in this room.”
“There’s been a lot of joy [here], including the night of 22 May, right up until the terrorist attack. We cannot let terrorists win. The victims will never ever be forgotten,” said Kay before introducing Gallagher.
As to be expected, there was a high police and security presence in and around the venue, with armed police and sniffer dogs patrolling the perimeter and teams of trauma and mental health specialists on hand for anyone seeking support.
In the City Room foyer area where Salman Abedi detonated a homemade bomb, airport style security scanners had been installed, with ticket holders warned beforehand that large bags and backpacks would not be allowed inside the venue.
All proceeds from the concert go towards funding a permanent memorial to the 22 people who died in the blast. A separate We Love Manchester Emergency fund set up in the wake of the attack has raised over £18 million ($23 million) in donations.