Just 17 days into his term as mayor of Manchester, England, Andy Burnham had the sad job of standing before TV cameras and declaring terrorists will “never beat us.” After a bomber killed 22 people at Ariana Grande‘s May 22nd Manchester Arena concert, Burnham presided over the crisis and subsequent healing — including June’s One Love Manchester benefit and the arena’s scheduled reopening September 9th, with a show by native son Noel Gallagher alongside the Courteeners, Blossoms and others. Burnham says Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger” has come to reflect the city’s resilience: “Music is playing a part in the recovery story.” Rolling Stone spoke to the mayor about the upcoming show and the city’s response to the attack.
What do you think of the timing of Manchester Arena’s reopening?
It’s a symbol of the city going back together. Our determination, if you like. It’s a symbol of defiance in many ways that life goes on and we’re not going to change who we are and what we are in any way.
How would you describe the city’s healing process so far?
We’re still in recovery, let’s be honest, and people have been impacted in different ways. Young people are still shocked by what happened and need time to come to terms with that and work it through. I would point you towards the One Love Manchester event — there was some nervousness, but that melted away. While people are still hurt by what happened, the determination, the feeling, is to get through it and get on.
I’ve talked to a few people who survived the attack; most say they’re even more determined to return to public events like these. Is that your sense as well?
You know Manchester, that’s our history; we’re a music city. It’s who we are. A poet called Tony Walsh spoke at the vigil and it was quite electrifying. He spoke to a big crowd of people. They were very raw with grief and shock and he captured the spirit of the place; a bit of swagger and self-confidence we’ve all had. “The songs that we sing from the stands, from our bands, set the whole planet shaking.”
The bombing took place in a public plaza outside the arena, and concert-security experts have talked about improving communication between venue and city officials to improve coverage. Is this the right takeaway, and how does that happen in the future?
Those are exactly the kind of discussions that need to happen. Maybe the security cordon needs to not start at the venue. Maybe a bit farther away. We can learn from football; over the years, they’ve managed security better at games. Sometimes it does help to have security a little removed from the stadium itself. In this case, the area where it happened was a bit of an interim space between the venue and the rail station. Maybe identifying the spaces where one venue doesn’t have full organizational control is an issue to look at.
Given the attacks on Manchester Arena and the Bataclan in Paris, what steps are Manchester officials taking to improve safety at large events, particularly concerts?
There’s a lot of security upon arrival, but maybe less so at the end, where there’s a feeling of “we want you out of the venue as quickly as possible.” We want to assure people we’re going to look at security throughout the night and not just the front of the night. In the case of the Bataclan, [when] people are focused on the attraction of the show, somebody’s still got to focus on the doors. We’ve got to show the public we’re doing more to protect them. Music brings us together and reminds us of our common humanity.