Twenty-five years ago yesterday (20-July 1995), I made it to my first proper gig. I headed over to Roundhay Park in the north-eastern edges of Leeds, along with tens of thousands of others, to the first night of the Heineken Festival that year, ostensibly to see Pop Will Eat Itself, but that evening I also saw Back to the Planet and what turned out to be the last UK gig by Siouxsie & The Banshees (their last show of all was at the Beach festival in Zeebrugge the following night).
/Tuesday Ten/418/Twenty-Five Years Gigging
That lit a fire in me that has, to date, seen me see approximately 2,500 live sets since and the best part of 1,500 unique bands, across seven countries and 25 cities. I’ve made lifelong friends through musical connections, it has seen me end up captaining a football team, and I’ve seen places I never would have gone to otherwise.
The thing is, though – as we continue in a lockdown that has halted live music in its tracks – that there is precious little to celebrate, really. My last gig was an excellent Marika Hackman show on 05-March, and frankly, who knows when the next actual show I attend will be right now. Despite belated promises of support, venues are still closing amid the uncertainty, and quite how things will look when we eventually get to the other side of this, I really don’t know.
I wanted to mark this – which, really, is quite a milestone when I think about it – in some way, but I’ve covered the subject of my gigging histories a few times in this /Tuesday Ten series already, so a few weeks ago I asked my friends and readers to tell me about their memorable gigs. Not necessarily the best ones, but shows that had particular reasons to make them stick in their minds. I got a whole host of responses, covering a huge variety of different bands, and with the consent of those people, I’m going to be featuring a number of their stories here, alongside some of my own memories.
So: join me and various others in a trip down memory lane.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/The First Time
First up, my old friend Rick M.
My first gig was 2000, when I was 14. It was Iron Maiden at Manchester MEN. Rob Halford of Judas Priest was the support act, who rode on stage on a motorbike. Maiden were ridiculous as they always are, and it was on the Brave New World tour with Bruce back at the helm. Before this time, I’d been living in rural Devon with fuck-all chance of seeing any live music as I was in the middle of nowhere (technically I guess my first gig was my mate Nathan’s band of 16yos playing a bunch of rock/metal covers in a pub)
He has a point around the technicalities here. For reasons best known to my school, for a period in 1994, they allowed the use of the large (flat-floored) theatre – which had a temporary stage – at lunchtimes for a few bands that emerged within students at the school. My step-brother was involved in one such band, who had distinct grunge overtones. He didn’t stick with performing for too long, but a number of his friends stuck it out in local bands that gained quite a following locally for a while.
He wasn’t the only one with memories of seeing Iron Maiden, though. Here’s Simon H.:
Iron Maiden, Hammersmith Odeon, October 1984 on the World Slavery Tour. I saw them two nights running, the second night in the front row, and came away with one of Adrian Smith’s wristbands as a souvenir. Absolutely immense gigs from a metal band known for their live performances and at the height of their power. The gigantic mummified Eddie was a particular highlight – very Spın̈al Tap, but back then it worked so damn well.
I’d seen Dio earlier that same week on the Last in Line tour, also at Hammy Odeon. I’ve always been glad to have quite robust hearing.
Lee Chaos chipped in with both his first gig and a couple of other early shows of note.
Foetus Interruptus, 1987, Town & Country Club: My first proper gig. Thirlwell’s band was half Swans / half Cop Shoot Cop members. It was the one that made me decide there are no better ways to spend my money and time.
Nine Inch Nails, 1991, Bristol Bierkeller. Crowd surged forwards, I climbed on stage, and hung there for the whole gig. Some of my clothes caught a bit on fire on one of the stage lights. End of set saw everything destroyed.
/Leeds, Radiohead and Glastonbury
In my teens, pre-University, I went to a lot of gigs in Leeds. It turns out, so did quite a few of my friends.
Radiohead at Leeds Town and Country Club, 1995. I was a month off 13. I was right at the front and ended up bruised from collarbone to belly in the crosshatch shape of the barrier. It was amazing, and when I look back I’ve no idea why my parents let me go.
Interestingly Sarah A. had similarly dicey experiences at the T&C:
I loved Leeds T&C, but the front barriers were brutal. I saw Suede there in spring 1993, and there was a massive crush at the front. Two of the people I was with got pulled out by security and got to watch the rest of the gig from the edge of the stage!
In that form, I recall that I only went the once, to see Garbage on their first album tour in March 1996. I certainly wasn’t down at the barrier – it’s never been my preferred place to be at a gig – but the relatively cavernous space of the T&C was, in March 1996, one of the biggest indoor venues I’d yet attended, and perhaps I was just being cautious…
Funny Lola should mention Radiohead, particularly as we watched the re-run of their extraordinary 1997 set on the BBC Virtual Glastonbury coverage a few weeks back, and they remain a band both my wife and I have never seen. Needless to say, at least two of my friends were there. Kenneth first:
It was cold and muddy, I hadn’t heard OK Computer yet but they made 100,000 people forget where they were for 90 minutes.
…and also Ruthy:
The mud was knee-deep. But it was a beautiful night and I was right near the front. And I had seen Radiohead at the peak of their fame.
/Underworld and Godspeed
A couple of disparate mentions (both quoted here in their entirety) got me thinking about my times seeing a couple of particular acts I love. Andrew from Iris, first:
Soul Coughing in Austin during the El Oso tour, Doughty was at the height of his drugged up powers and was amazing. Also finally seeing Underworld for the first time in NYC and watching them do like a 10 minute version of Dirty Epic as an encore.
Underworld are astonishing live. I first saw them at V98 on Sunday night, and as I recall they closed with an absolutely wild charge into Rez/Cowgirl. I’ve seen them again since, but they’ll never top that first time. Dee H. takes me onto another band I adore.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Every time I’ve seen them. First time in I think ’98, supported by Sigur Rós, left me stumbling around Waterloo in the rain in a complete daze. I later moved to Montreal and wound up living in their neighbourhood, so I’ve seen them a bunch, but every single time they’ve punched my heart out of my chest.
I can concur with that. For a band that relish their near-anonymity, and barely interact with their audiences, they have an astonishing, captivating emotional force live that is unmatched by almost any other band I’ve ever seen. Somehow I didn’t see them live until they returned from hiatus in the past decade, but I don’t think I’ve missed a London show since, for good reason.
/Joy Division and New Order
It’s funny, too, how particular bands, songs, and even lyrics become entwined with life. James M.:
New Order at the Manchester Evening News Arena between Christmas and New Year (29-Dec 1998) where they started playing Joy Division songs for the first time since Ian Curtis’s death. I’d seen them at festivals but in a ‘proper’ venue they tore the roof off.
My wife and I share a love of Joy Division and New Order – she leaning more toward the former, me toward the latter. So the announcement of Peter Hook & The Light to play Infest for the twentieth anniversary of the festival wasn’t to be missed. A set mostly of Joy Division songs (with a handful of New Order classics at the end) was an utter joy, but tinged with sadness as we remembered a friend who’d died too young just a year or so before, particularly when True Faith was played at the end (it was played at her memorial service, too). A song we can barely even think about these days, never mind listen to, hearing it sung by Hook was a necessary step forward.
/Atari Teenage Riot
I’ve never been a huge outdoor festival goer. I’ve done a few, though, most memorably Reading 1999, which was a sun-baked dustbowl (the summer had been dry and hot for weeks beforehand). Cliff, however, saw one band I saw there elsewhere that year:
Atari Teenage Riot at the Prince Albert in Brighton, perhaps in 1999. Tiny pub venue, the classic four-piece lineup, band spilling off the stage into the audience, broken glass all over the floor, absolute fucking chaos, completely rammed and extremely sweaty. And only one minute’s walk from our house (and therefore a shower)…
My experience of ATR that summer was opening Reading ’99 main stage on the Saturday. They come onstage at midday, I’m hungover to shit and they roared through a relentless half hour. I swear Hanin Elias’s scream during Revolution Action nearly finished me for the weekend, as it drilled through my skull. I spent most of the rest of the afternoon caned out of my mind thanks to some friends.
/Neubauten and Crash Worship
Nathan H. has a great story about his introduction to Industrial music.
In 1991 I was fairly new to the Sydney Alternative scene, my new friends said they were going [to see Einstürzende Neubauten] and I confessed that I had no idea what industrial music was. We spent a Sunday off our faces listening to my friend’s extensive collection and on Monday still coming down I dragged myself to the record shop to buy a ticket and a copy of Strategies Against Architecture II.
Channel 0 ran build-up programs for this gig with interviews and retrospectives, I was so hyped. We went to the gig tripping and it blew my mind I didn’t know this sort of thing existed and I was hooked.
After the gig I lost my friends and was wandering the venue looking for them when I got grabbed by the same security that I saw punch someone early, I was panicked and he asked if I was looking for my friends? I said yes and he directed me to a room, opening the door, they were with the band and we stayed there for a good couple of hours. Blixa held court with EN, and indulged our drugged up musical ramblings with either real or really good feigned interest.
And because the internet never forgets I managed to find a picture of the sandwich board outside on the night, so thank you for giving me this memory back.
Neubauten remains an incredible live act. One often mentioned by friends here in the UK was their show at The Forum in London in 2004 – which was my first EN show – that set the bar so high that I’m not sure any other show they ever do in the future will match up to that.
One band I’m vaguely aware of – and certainly, to my knowledge, never made it to the UK – also sound like they had one hell of a live show (and something of a health-and-safety nightmare, too). Over to Vlad to tell us.
Crash Worship, during Mardi Gras in New Orleans at the Howlin’ Wolf in 2000. They were sort of a chaotic ensemble that entered the venue from the front doors performing like a weird mess of Neubauten and Test Dept., if they were a marching band. They set fires in the audience, random women in hard hats yelling at the crowd on megaphones, super soakers filled with condiments and who knows what else sprayed on everyone from the balconies down to the front row. Every article of clothing I was wearing was absolutely destroyed and it took hours to get myself clean, but no regrets whatsoever. But I can totally see why they had a reputation of never being invited back to a venue after a performance.
We weren’t even planning on seeing them on vacation – they just happened to be in town, and figured we should see if their reputation was legit. Phenomenal show, though I do miss my boots. They never recovered from all the mayonnaise. Here’s a short live video from 1993 – I think it gives the general effect. I’m surprised the police didn’t show up… but then again, it was in the middle of Mardi Gras…
Over to another American friend, Katja, about the joys of going overseas for festivals.
The one and only time I went to WGT, in 2002, it was amazing. I saw all these bands that I knew I had no chance of seeing in the US, plus I was 20 then and had enough energy and vigor to camp in the campground and be happy about it the next day.
Anyway, I remember going to the big venue, the Agra-halle, and seeing Neuroticfish early in the day. They were great, though the singer had this thing he kept doing where he’d open his eyes real wide and shake his mop of curly blonde-brown hair. Once their set was over, I walked into the vendor’s hall and did some shopping. I forget what band was on after them, but I didn’t care to see that band so I started heading back to our tent to drop off the CDs I’d bought. While doing so, I saw the keyboardist from Neuroticfish and a woman companion trying to go in the out door to the Agra-halle. A security guard stopped him, he pointed in, and pointed at his wristband, but the guard made him go around. German security guards don’t CARE if you were just on the stage, man, you gotta go in the in door.
Also in the food vendor area at WGT there was a bunch of food trucks and one of them just sold Haribo gummies. It remains my favorite food truck of all time.
My first overseas festival was Festival Kinetik in Montreal in 2011. An epic five-day festival that is exhausting just thinking about it now, I similarly had the chance of seeing a host of bands I’d never have otherwise have had the chance to do – much as I’ve had at my multiple visits to Cold Waves in Chicago and BIMFest in Antwerp over the decade since. I’ve made loads of friends, seen new places, and bought an awful lot of music as a result.
/Gigs with Friends
Shared memories of gigs – where lots of your friends went too – have made for great experiences, too. One such being the absolutely mad time when Devin Townsend played the Royal Albert Hall in 2015. Graeme picks up the story.
I got into all things Devin Townsend in something like 2002-03 when a friend sent me MP3s of Ocean Machine, and then I was hooked. To have the chance to see one of my all-time favourites playing, and playing a bunch of songs that had never been played live before (including some of my favourites) – well. I was a bit happy about that.
I think one of the finest moments (and fully recognising the insanity of the situation) was Devin remarking that this was probably the only time anyone would have ever seen a “giant farting ballbag” running loose around such a prestigious/distinguished venue…
Just as mad were how many Ziltoid puppets had been brought along. They were everywhere in that venue – and in the pub beforehand – that night…
/Without You My Life Would Be Boring
An interesting pattern within the lengthy (over 300 comments) thread that these quotes come from was the repeated mentions of certain bands. One, already mentioned, was Radiohead, the other was The Knife. Abigail starts us off:
…going up to Manchester to see the Knife play one of their last shows. Didn’t really know what to expect, and was completely blown away by it.
I saw The Knife twice in their latter years – that mad show at the Roundhouse (May-13), that everyone came out either loving or hating (I absolutely loved it), and then the Brixton show the following year. It was still great, just not as good as the first…!
Abigail picks up again:
I went to the Manchester one the day before the Brixton one, as Brixton was sold out. I’d somehow only just (re-)discovered them at that point (one day I’m going to try and write more concretely about my dark times of not listening to music) but it was a bit “where have you been all my life?
“where have you been all my life?” I know that feeling about the Knife. I’d only been a casual listener up to those shows, then I was absolutely hooked.
Victoria saw them earlier, in 2006 at The Forum.
I’ve never been to a gig since which had the electricity in the air of this one. It was hot, sweaty, packed and loud. Every song was performed perfectly and the duo put together one of the most stunning stage performances I have ever seen. I often think back to how excited and energised the performance made me feel.
/Pulp and the Family
Back in those first days at the Heineken Festival, I returned on the Saturday for the “indie” day, headlined by Pulp, who’d famously stepped in for The Stone Roses at Glastonbury just weeks before, and left as conquering heroes. Claire M. was at that Glastonbury.
Pulp’s last-minute headline at Glasto 1995 was amazing: the write-ups mostly talk about the mass singalong for Common People, but for me the highlight was their first live performance of Sorted for E’s and Wizz, which was just *the* most perfect fit for the setting. More recently New Model Army‘s ‘Nights of A Thousand Voices’ at the Round Chapel in Hackney in 2018 – for those who don’t know, these were acoustic sets where lyrics books were provided on arrival and fans encouraged to sing along throughout. NMA gigs always have sections which feel to me like beautiful communal experiences, but these two nights were like that pretty much the whole way through.
I’ve only seen New Model Army the once, and it was an exceptional show. But that idea of it being a communal experience has stuck with me – I was talking at the bar with a friend before they took the stage, and another guy next to us heard me admit this was my first NMA show, at which point he put his hand on my shoulder, beamed and exclaimed “welcome to the family, friend!”. Not something I expect at most gigs, that’s for sure…
/When Things Don’t Work Out
Not all old punk gigs are great, mind. Charlotte W tells us more.
Memorable, but maybe not so good was The Damned at Bradford Rio (I forget the year, maybe 2000?). ISTR that they were unsigned at that point and touring was keeping the lights on. My friend Greg had come down from Scotland to watch the show before heading further south the day after and all was fun in the world – With the exception of someone at the front chucking water about and being annoying. Rios, at that time, had a food area and sold greasy fried chicken. After a couple of songs, Cpt. Sensible said he could smell the dead animals being cooked and refused to play until the fryers were turned off, which caused a bit of delay and friction.
A bit later Dave Vanian paused between songs to ask the water splashing idiot to stop, explaining that they wouldn’t be able to afford to repair any gear that got water damaged.
The idiot splashed them again.
Dave brought idiot onstage and as the guy stood there, acting all cocky, Pinch left his kit and belted him. Then Patricia Morrison put the boot in as idiot tried to rejoin the crowd. Sadly, idiot wound up falling weirdly and landing on a lass in the front row and breaking her arm badly. Show paused until the ambulance could arrive. After the fan was taken away and idiot ejected, the band started again, but the energy was just horrible.
After the show, I saw their roadie looking glum outside the venue. Apparently Cpt. Sensible was so pissed off he just took the van and buggered off. Like I said; Not good, but very memorable.
Daniel W. takes up the baton with the feeling of finality in another memorable experience that wasn’t a happy one.
…the last ever Kenickie tour.
The band come out, play a slowed-down version of Come Out 2nite with everything in the past tense (“We dressed cheap and we dressed tacky” etc), and when they got to the “We had our gang and I thought we’d always be friends” bit, I genuinely think a part of my childhood died (although I must have been about 19-20). I saw them in Leeds, but I can’t remember the venue.
I’ve seen a number of “final” shows, but none quite had the impact of that.
I have seen some wild hardcore/punk shows over the years. However, two bands from that scene I never did see, but other friends did. Here’s Aug S.:
Bad Brains, Avalon, Boston, 1995. 1000 person venue. Band came on, then HR walked out, knelt down and made the sign of the cross. As he stood up they launched into Rock For Light and the place erupted like nothing I’ve ever seen. It was insane, bodies were flying through the air, it seemed like people were doing backflips off the walls.
Sam S., though, had quite the experience seeing The Cramps.
I saw The Cramps in 1991. A gig I went to on my own. Lux Interior wore a nylon body stocking and was smashing the lights above the stage with a red wine bottle. Poison Ivy sneering as plastic pint glasses bounced off her. They were brilliant, and I’d only gone because their logo looked cool on the back of the punks in town.
I was in the front row and this skinhead behind me kept pulling my hair. I finally snapped and turned around to confront him, and only then noticed his much taller, stockier friends. I thought they were going to kick my head in, but instead, they started laughing at him. I think he had been showing off to his mates, and counting on safety in numbers, so when I stood up for myself he panicked, and they were impressed. No one touched me after that.
The thrill of being at something unique? Mike S. has that nailed.
Most “You were at that”: I go to a little showcase called the “Society of the Golden Slippers” which punches heavy. A recent gig was an acoustic gig from the Lamb Duo, having fun before their tour. But the one that made world-wide press was when Elizabeth Fraser reappeared after years hiding in the north of Scotland to play a 6 number show – with John Grant on backing vocals. That one was all over what’s left of the music press.
As well as house party shows.
We attended one such event hosted by Mike and Sue, and Bitter Ruin were the band at that. A hugely entertaining, intimate show that saw a game of “pin the tail on the setlist”, and a host of songs we’d not normally hear – as well as unusually close interaction with a duo we love.
/Gigs with your parents
Emma C. was the only person to talk about going to gigs with their father – in this case, The The at the Brixton Academy in June 2018.
Sound wasn’t great but they are the band my Dad and I both love. He introduced them to me when I was maybe eight or nine, and I fell in love with them immediately. It was just a really good night out with my Dad, seeing him happy to see one of his favourite bands with my uncles and being able to treat him for his birthday was just really nice. For me too, seeing a band I thought may never return to the stage again was pretty special.
I’ve only ever attended two shows with my dad. The first was an entertaining evening watching Thee Faction and Joanne Joanne at the much-missed Buffalo Bar in August 2012 (where my dad realised that he liked Joanne Joanne, despite hating Duran Duran!). The other show, remarkably, was an exceptional Laibach show.
/Enterprise, friends and surprises
We’re nearly at the end, but I have three more worth mentioning. Darren K. has a story about teenage enterprise:
My first ‘proper gig’ was Suede at the Octagon, aside from it being a real eye-opener from a performance viewpoint, near the end Brett Anderson tore open his shirt, buttons flew into the crowd. On the way out my mate took a button from his shirt and sold it outside to a fan for £5, so we could get chips on the way home.
James has an uplifting tale to tell about Children on Stun at the O2 Academy 2 Islington, May 2015.
The ‘comeback’ show. One of those nights where the audience was absolutely packed full of familiar faces – we accumulated old friends between Angel and the venue itself. The sound quality was good, the atmosphere was great. The band were clearly enjoying every moment. Just had that magical touch to it, as everyone there was so happy to see them back and so clearly loving the evening. They were never a band I was into, but the feelings suggested here might be something that we’ll have when we can eventually return.
When will that be? Who knows right now, but realistically, I don’t think we’re going to be seeing regular gig-going until well into 2021 at current rates.
Finally, though, Pete has a tale of a support act who weren’t quite who they seemed…
Vertigo, supporting Metal Church at the Marquee in 1990. I was a Metal Church fan so my mate Steve and me went. Gig was empty for the support when we arrived so we were right down the front. Steve says to me “that’s a fucking big drum kit for a support band”. Anyway. Support band was announced, as “Vertigo”, and on walks Metallica, and straight into Creeping Death. The bar emptied, we were squashed, and they did about 40 min. Mike Howe came on for Metal Church, laughed, and said “how the fuck do we follow that”. Cue Steve: “Fuck them, we paid to see you”. What a night.