The physical ticket – to a gig or a play or a comedy show or a sporting event – is a vanishing entity. It has been, or at least is being, replaced by the e-ticket conveniently mailed to your inbox (a state of affairs that curiously doesn’t seem to have negated the need for a handling charge), or the QR code, swiftly scanned on your phone.
It probably won’t be long before it vanishes entirely, consigned to the dustbin of history with all the other pop cultural ephemera we no longer need: mountains of DVDs; fanclubs that furnished us with badges and posters by mail; the lost art of taping songs off the radio.
There are plenty of reasons why technology uncoupling us from physical objects is a good thing, environmental impact and convenience among them. You are less likely to lose your phone than a small piece of paper. Your e-ticket is not going to get lost in the post. But it also isn’t going to last. You are unlikely to find yourself gazing misty-eyed at a QR code in years to come, magically transported back to the night in question. Something will be lost when physical tickets vanish, at least for the people who kept them as reminders: a small, flimsy portal into the pleasurable past.
A ticket doesn’t even have to stay intact to exude a nostalgic pull. I was 18 and My Bloody Valentine were my favourite band: I loved their songs, the physical effect of the volume they performed at live and the sense that they were doing something groundbreaking. I carelessly put the ticket (pictured above) in my back pocket, where heat caused it to disintegrate over the course of the show. I thought it was a disaster, but I look at what’s left of it now and I’m transported not to the show itself, but the aftermath of dozens of teenage gigs: the feeling of my soaked clothes cooling and clinging; the smell of leather jackets that reeked of stale sweat, spilled beer and cigarette smoke; the exhilarated conversations muffled by the fact we were all temporarily half-deaf. Alexis Petridis
Artists, writers and Guardian readers on their most treasured tickets
Mimi Weinberg – the Beatles at Shea Stadium
I saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium in New York in 1965. My dear aunt Doris got tickets for my cousin and a few friends to celebrate my cousin’s birthday. We got there early, and as we walked around outside Shea, girls would scream every time a helicopter flew overhead, sure that the Beatles were in it. One girl fainted each time. I attempted to get down nearer to the dugout – we had spotted Paul – but no luck. Once they began playing, it was screaming, screaming, screaming the entire set. I did not hear the music until the documentary film was released a few years ago. Truly, I have never felt such pure joy and excitement as I did that evening. I remain a big fan and surprised myself even now by happily watching Get Back in its entirety three times.
Alim Kheraj – the Spice Girls
Like almost every queer child growing up in the 90s, I was obsessed with the Spice Girls, but never saw them live in their heyday. So, when Baby, Sporty, Scary, Ginger and Posh announced in 2007 they were doing a reunion tour I saw them twice. I went with my mum the second time – we were so close to the stage. I can still remember both of us getting emotional during the song Mama. That show also kickstarted a tradition in which my mum and I go to concerts together; we even saw the Spice Girls when they returned in 2019.
Alim Kheraj is a freelance music, culture and LGBT journalist
Richard Davies – Madonna in Manchester
I retained a few tickets from the early days at the Haçienda. It was a venue I visited most during the 80s, attending numerous club nights and seeing bands such as the Cramps, A Certain Ratio, the Fall and Orange Juice. However, the most memorable was Madonna’s very first UK TV appearance there in early 1984, broadcast live on The Tube (though it wasn’t the most inspiring of performances). I don’t think anyone there would have predicted such global success for the artist we witnessed that evening, but perhaps that’s because we were in the presence of greatness: the real queen of showbiz, the one and only Pat Phoenix.
Richard Davies is founder of face-value ticket exchange Twickets
Joe Stone – Dollywood
It is a lie that Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth. That distinction belongs to Dolly Parton’s theme park Dollywood, by virtue of the fact that every artificial rock plays her music – a public health measure that should be adopted globally. I pilgrimaged there aged 19, hitchhiking the last leg of the trip with one of Dolly’s former classmates (“Did you always know she’d be a star?” “We didn’t, but she did”). Disappointingly, most of the clientele seemed violently disinterested in the woman herself – there were lots of families in cut-off plaid eating mounds of tater tots – but that did at least mean I had free run of the Chasing Rainbows museum. My ticket was as camp, colourful and charmingly old-fashioned as the Dolly Lama herself. A forever reminder to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.
Joe Stone is a commissioning editor at Guardian Saturday
Jurgen Tittmar – Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration
I kept a ticket from the Washington metro from 20 January 2009, the day of Obama’s first inauguration. I was visiting an old uni friend – Andy and I were there at 7am. Everywhere was packed but it was a carnival atmosphere, with high expectations. We passed someone dressed up as Death with a scythe and a sign that said: “Thanks Bush and Cheney for putting on such a good show.” I particularly liked the Irish Americans celebrating. We could see the snipers on top of the different museums on the Mall. It was all joyful, the hours waiting for noon flew by as we chatted to strangers. It was a privilege to be part of history but I’ve never been so cold in all my life.
Rachel O’Riordan – Nigel Kennedy & the Cork Symphony Orchestra
I kept the ticket to a 2007 Nigel Kennedy concert in Cork, where I was born.He was playing with the Cork Symphony Orchestra. My auntie Theresa plays in it – she organised tickets for us. I went with my mum, my dad, and my husband at the time. We were in that stage of shock bereavement – my brother Egan had recently died at 26. We were kind of blasted by grief. I sat watching Nigel, and I remember the intensity of his playing. His neck was bleeding where he was holding the violin under his chin. Then all my family started to cry: we were all weeping, watching. It had to do with the intensity of his performance. It felt to me that this is what art is for – for us to have a space for us to put ourselves when we’re in deep pain or deep joy. There is something about great art, and being in the presence of that, that allows you to feel something and feel it in a shared space. There, my profound grief was finding expression.
Rachel O’Riordan directs the new comedy Scandaltown by Mike Bartlett at Lyric Hammersmith theatre to 14 May
Steve Williams – unused Nirvana ticket
I have kept a ticket of a Nirvana concert that was dated 6 April 1994, the day after Kurt Cobain took his own life. I was set to go with a group of mates and remember how excited we were. Some chose to return the tickets for a refund, but I couldn’t do that. I wanted to keep the ticket. I framed it and hung it on the wall in my little house, and it has been hung everywhere I lived as a single man, and then in the houses my wife and our children have lived in. Now I have two grownup boys who have found their own musical tastes. It stands as a timepiece of where our lives have ended up over the past 30 years. I imagine it will stay there until I’m carried out in a box.
Andrew Pulver – New Model Army
I am not much of a gig-goer; in fact I only ever went with any kind of enthusiasm in the mid-80s in the year after I left school. The absolute scuzziest one I ever went to was in 1984 at the Clarendon Hotel (now demolished), just round the corner from the Hammersmith Palais and Odeon – a sweat-drenched Edwardian dance hall that usually played host to squads of psychobilly bands. New Model Army, a bunch of snarling ranters from Bradford, were a bit different, and I particularly liked their vicious Small Town England song. I’m not going to say this gig [in 1984] changed my life, other than putting me off spending my evenings fighting for air and avoiding crush injuries, but it’s a memorial of the kind of insanity you get up to as a teenager.
Andrew Pulver is film editor at guardian.co.uk
Mark Cousins – opera in Prague
My most treasured ticket is from the Prague National Theatre in 1988. I was in my early 20s and Czechoslovakia, as it then was, was still communist. I’d never been to an opera, but friends told me I should go. It was standing room only, I’m not even sure what the opera was, but the price was, in UK money … 50p. One of the first times I’d come across the idea that big theatrical productions could be for ordinary people. For me, the faded ticket stands for discovery and possibility.
Mark Cousins is director of The Story of Film: A New Generation
Neville Goodman – Bob Dylan at the Free Trade Hall
Dylan was acoustic in 1965. We went to the concert the following year [at Manchester Free Trade Hall] knowing that he’d “gone electric”. And yes, after the first acoustic half, when Dylan just seemed to be going through the motions, we walked out as the electric guitars struck up. I don’t remember the famous shout of “Judas” from the crowd. It is one of only two tickets I kept, and from one of the most seminal concerts ever. I left my umbrella under the seat, too: I could scarcely go back in to reclaim it.
Vick Hope – Athlete
I have a special little box in my old room at my parents’ house in Newcastle, brimming with miscellaneous musical memories. In there is the stub from perhaps the most pertinent: my first gig at the poly [Northumbria Students’ Union], a 13th birthday present to see the band Athlete with three friends and my dad. I was obsessed with them, knew every word to every song on Vehicles & Animals, spent all my time chatting to other fans on their online forums, had the lyrics to You Got the Style as my MSN Messenger name, and insisted to anyone else in year 9 who would listen that Athlete at the poly was the best of my life. Thus began the halcyon days of religiously reading NME and listening to indie bands’ albums with my eyes closed in my room on a Friday night – and that little box quickly filled up with ticket stubs for Aqualung, Jet, Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, Razorlight and the Coral. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it.
Vick Hope is a presenter and broadcaster
John Barry – Eurovision Song Contest, 1997
I was given two tickets to the 1997 Eurovision final in Dublin, which also came with a wooden box of chocolates, Eurovision pen and VIP afterparty access – I mingled with the likes of Boyzone, Terry Wogan, Katrina and the Waves. Why was this event special? It was the last time the UK won it.
Kate Hutchinson – the Offspring
I recently found a scrapbook of all the tickets I’d kept from my teenagehood, before music criticism coloured me cynical. First page, top left, above Foo Fighters: the Offspring, Wembley Arena, 2001. It was my first live experience, launched into the armpit of skate-punk as it went supersized. These shouty men in wraparound shades were the umbilical cord between my best friend and I. We were 13, high on hormones, and thought we were A+ teen tearaways because we wore shag bands. Who cared if we were getting picked up by my mum later: this was our Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, our Spike Island! The show itself is hazy – something about being pretty fly for white guys – but I do remember that we snuck menthol fags through in a tampon holder. When I look now at that faded bit of card, I miss the earnest girl who liked dumb music and who kept all her ticket stubs, like tiny totems of hopeful rebellion.
Kate Hutchinson is a journalist and DJ, and creator of The Last Bohemians podcast
Jo Woodworth – Kate Bush at the Manchester Apollo, 1979
My most special are the Kate Bush tickets from her first tour in 1979 and her second in 2014. Before the first one in Manchester I had seen mostly student gigs and this was a whole different level. I had never seen someone use a head mic before. We were so excited when the 2014 series of gigs were announced. The atmosphere was exhilarating. The old material brought back so many memories. We were sitting next to people not born in 1979.
Akram Khan – The Mahabharata
Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata [which Khan performed in as a child] is one of those productions that changed me for ever – it also influenced and inspired a whole generation of artists around the world. For me, the whole experience was deeply affecting because it not only shaped the way I see the world today, but also how I approached my own myths … It is the only ticket I have ever held on to. The ticket is a record of the only time I actually saw the show as an audience member, since most often I was performing in it. The ticket is a sort of carrier or museum of my memories … my adolescence, my curiosity of art, and my confusion of the world we inhabit.
Akram Khan is artistic director of the Akram Khan Company. His Jungle Book reimagined tours the UK this April
Cristina Martins – Miles Davis in Lisbon
I was in my early 20s when Miles Davis played live at the Lisbon Coliseum in 1991. I wanted to see him, as I knew he was ill. I asked all my friends if they wanted to come with me but no one fancied it so I went on my own. It was brilliant – I have a vivid memory of Miles on stage looking tired but still playing the trumpet like a star. He died soon after.
Rebecca Nicholson – the Knife’s opera Tomorrow, in a Year
In my 20s, when I was a busy young music journalist, I bizarrely developed a sudden but crippling fear of flying. So when I was asked to interview one of my favourite acts, the Knife, in Sweden, I signed up to a defeat-your-phobia type course to fix the problem. It helped enough for me to get on a plane to Stockholm. The band were promoting their collaborative opera about Charles Darwin, called Tomorrow, in a Year, which sounds unbearable but was brilliant, and I sat through that performance at the Dansens Hus in 2010 beaming with joy. I framed the ticket as a reminder that even when life seems to contract, it is possible to open it up again.
Rebecca Nicholson is a columnist for the Observer and Guardian
Michael Fisher– Star Wars at the Gaumont Cinema, Birmingham
I have a ticket to the Gaumont Cinema in Birmingham (now demolished) for entry to see Star Wars in 1978. I remember this so fondly because my friends and I had been waiting to see this film. The build-up had been going on for months. Back in the day you just turned up at the cinema to see a film, you couldn’t book in advance. I went with my mum and dad and best friend. We came out buzzing. All my Star Wars memorabilia from back then is long gone, but I never had the heart to throw this stub out.
Lucy Knight – Cameron Esposito
I am not usually one to hold on to things I don’t need any more, but my wife is the opposite: she holds on to letters, cards, posters and tickets that I’d have recycled long ago. Early in our relationship, I bought her a book to keep her old tickets in. Many of the gigs and events we’ve been to together have been documented in there, but one in particular makes me smile: it was for Cameron Esposito’s standup show at the Soho theatre in 2018. It was the first thing we went to together when I moved to London after dating long-distance, and we’d had it booked for ages. But somehow we’d got our dates confused and turned up on the wrong night, so we had to wait in the bar and see if there would be any returns. It could have been a big disappointment – I was working as a nanny at the time and had taken the night off especially – but happily some tickets became available just before the show. We were so pleased to be there and to be finally living in the same city that we didn’t care that we’d had to pay twice.
Lucy Knight is a commissioning editor at the Guardian
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism