Wednesday, 4 January 2012

London Loves.....Gigs

Last year bulldozers demolished London's best concert venue the London Astoria to make way for the Crossrail project. A sad moment for many London concert goers not to mention the G.A.Y community.

The size and shape of the Astoria - somehow large but intimate at the same time - and the ability to see the stage perfectly from downstairs or upstairs made it my personal favourite.

I saw some marvellous gigs there including The Libertines euphoric first big headline show in early 2003. Afterwards, being amongst the last to leave, we exited sweating into the chilly Charing Cross Road to find a gaggle of schoolgirls gathered around a tall bedraggled Burberry-coated figure leaning against a lamppost; Pete Doherty. Why he was hanging around outside the front entrance of his own gig I still don't know. Maybe he wanted some fresh air. Maybe he was waiting to score some skag. Or maybe - as later events suggests - he just wanted to meet his fans. I still have his scrawled autograph on a travel card somewhere but he managed to succesfully evade my attempted kiss on the lips. Ah, those romantic pre-Oyster card days.


That was a special show as anybody who was there will testify. It took place in near darkness. Very low lighting, a very nervous shy Pete and Carl presumably on a lot of drugs wearing leather jackets with nothing else underneath just bare sweaty chests. Two shambolic frontmen and a juggernaut of a rhythm section. John barely moving and looking like he'd rather be anywhere else but there. Gary pounding the drums at ear splitting volume.

The opening chords of 'Horrorshow' ringing through that venue like a pneumatic drill and the chaotic, sprawling, anarchic moshpit that accompanied every song was electrifying. A call back to the old days of gigging. Punk rock for a new generation.


Somewhere in the midsts of time my ticket for that gig got lost. Probably in the crowd. I lost many things in that moshpit; a pair of spectacles, a jumper, my sanity..... But I've kept the tickets to pretty much every other concert I've ever attended in London. And here I've compiled a few of the tickets to gigs that have meant the most to me. You've probably all got favourite gig memories so please do share yours in the comments section below.

Nirvana, Brixton Academy, April 1994 - The gig that never was


I kick off with a gig that, sadly, never happened. A gig I looked forward to more than any other in my life. I was 13 years old when the tour was announced and remember asking my nan to book tickets for me and my best mate Graham. When they arrived via Stargreen box office - one of London's few remaining independent ticket outlets, located on Argyll Street, a place I thoroughly recommend instead of Ticketmaster et al - the anticipation was almost too much to bear.

Nirvana meant so much to kids of a very specific age - my age. They occupied a small window of time in between the indie of the late 80s and the coming of Britpop and Oasis which changed 'indie' music forever. Nirvana were the last of the truly alternative bands. They have become misunderstood in the course of time as a depressing, overwrought, teenage angsty band. In reality they were just a very heavy, very loud rock'n'roll band with an incredible sound, a ferocious drummer and an unbelievable singer/screamer. And they were showmen - trashing their equipment after every show to entertain the fans.


A month before the Brixton show Kurt Cobain overdosed in Rome midway through the European leg of the In Utero tour. The tour was postponed and Kurt flew back to Seattle to recuperate. He never recuperated and was found dead on 8th April at his home having blown his brains out with a shotgun. The postmortem found that he killed himself on the 5th April - the date of the gig we were supposed to see.


Rage Against The Machine, Brixton Academy, September 1993 - My first ever gig


Look at the state of this ticket. It gives you a rough idea of how messy it was in the Academy that night. Sweaty, riotous, celebratory. An amazing way to kick off my London gigging days. I still remember buying the ticket from the box office a few weeks before the show. Talk about pre-internet era! Buying tickets IN PERSON. Some work colleagues and I recently relived the magic of buying tickets in person; trundling down to the Scala one lunchtime to get Kurt Vile tickets. No booking fee and seeing the ticket printed off there and then from the machine - of such things dreams are made.

Anyway, Rage Against The Machine. Another angsty, grungy, heavy band. This was an Anti-Nazi League benefit show with a really big bill of support acts and my brother and I queued up from about 4pm (note the doors opening time of 5pm). We were pretty much first in the queue. The line-up as I remember it was: Lush, Headswim, Billy Bragg, Senser (who remembers them??) and Rage at the height of their powers. I was a very scrawny 13 year old and there were some very large metaller type men in the crowd. With every mosh I was lifted fully off the floor with no control over my own body movements. Amazing, truly amazing. How my (usually very strict) mother let me go to gigs like this at that age I do not know. I suppose she had no choice in the matter, she could see nothing was going to stop me.

Compulsion, LA2 (later the Mean Fiddler), June 1994 - The naughty gig

Who remembers the band Compulsion? Nope, didn't think so. Who remembers the LA2? Yeah, some of you do. The London Astoria 2 later knows as the Mean Fiddler was situated just yards from the main Astoria and the entrance was a very exciting lit stairway going down underneath the bowels of the West End. It was a sweaty, thrilling little club venue that hosted Popscene - the britpop club night which along with Loony Tunes at The Dome in Tuffnell Park was
the place for teenaged kids with floppy haircuts to dance to Blur, Ride and The Inspiral Carpets in those heady days called the 1990s.

Who were Compulsion, you ask? It's not really important but here's a taster.


Why was this the naughty gig, you ask? The answer involves ampethamines, parents and expulsions from grammar schools.

The gig was tremendous and was notable for the lead singer wearing a t-shirt upon which were scrawled the words 'STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON'.

Oasis, Wembley Stadium, July 2000 - My favourite gig of all time


Say what you will about Oasis, they know how to play a rock'n'roll concert. This was my favourite ever gig for many reasons. The location, the fact it was meant to be the last ever concert before the old Wembley was knocked down (sadly Bon Jovi squeezed another gig in later in the summer therefore nullifying that claim), the weather, the atmosphere, the support acts (Doves in their pomp and a rejuvenated, reunified Happy Mondays) and above all the sheer banter.

The concert took place amid uncertainty as to whether it would be Oasis's last ever gig. The brothers had come to serious blows just weeks before. This was the second of two nights at Wembley. After the first night Liam Gallagher went on a massive all-night bender arriving at the show on the Sunday still pissed and high and cursing everything in sight. The gig was televised live so we got to re-live it all again when we got home. I still have the video. Gigs just do not get more entertaining than this. Oh and the music was pretty special too.


Eminem, London Arena, February 2001 - Worst gig of all time

Perhaps the shittest, most depressing concert that has ever taken place in London. The venue in docklands under the shadow of Canary Wharf was picketed outside by gay rights activists angry at Eminem's 'homophobic' lyrics. The audience consisted of kids with spiky hair and braces accompanied by their mums, mixed with wannabe badboys smoking spliffs and doing 'gangsta' hand signs. The main event featured an American man wearing a boiler suit flailing around with a pretend chainsaw wearing a Jason mask pretending to pop pills and kill people. Every song cut out halfway through to be replaced with weird cartoons on the big screen. Half way through I simply walked out - perhaps the only gig I've ever left midway through. What the hell was I thinking???

Fugazi, Stratford Rex, May 1999 - Loudest gig ever


So deafeningly loud that one could hear ringing in their ears not just days afterwards but in between songs! Bizarre venue. Not surprising really as this is a bizarre kind of band. Look at the ticket price - £6! In 1999! Don't mug yourselves off guys. Guys? Oh.

Tindersticks, Highbury Garage, November 1993 - Cheapest gig ever


Ok, so the Fugazi one was comparatively cheaper, inflation wise, but the Tindersticks for a fiver?? You just wouldn't get that these days. Intimate pre-'Relentless make-over' Garage. Audience of thirty somethings and middle aged fogies and us 13 year old kids too young to even drink. A nice couple bought us each pints of ale. Our mate's dad collected us afterwards in the car. Not exactly rock'n'roll.

The Strokes, Alexandra Palace, December 2003 and Interpol, Alexandra Palace, November 2007 - Closest ever gig(s)



I love a gig that is within walking distance of my house. Who doesn't, right? None of that post-gig public transport hideousness. As a long time Wood Green resident and now as a Crouch End resident I love it when decent gigs take place at Ally Pally. I can go to the local pubs I like beforehand and laugh at all the poor bastards who have to trek back to south London or wherever.

I can see it from my window now as I type, the old palace sitting up there on top of the hill overlooking all of London. I've been to a few shows there. These two were easily the finest. And look at those pretty concert tickets too. Splendid. Really fucking splendid.

My (girl)friend collapsed near a bus stop on the way home from the Strokes one and we had to call an ambulance. That wasn't so good.

Babyshambles, Rhythm Factory, May 2004 - Weirdest gig ever?

After the Libertines imploded the Doherty idolisers - myself included - followed him everywhere he went and supported him in everything he did. For a while. This, one of the early Babyshambles gigs with the early line-up when Pete was still borrowing the guitarist and drummer from the brilliant, short lived White Sport (who were also on the bill ) was bizarre. A sweatbox Rhythm Factory with emotional drunk, high youngsters falling all over the place, kissing, fighting, groping.

We waited til about 1 or 2am for Doherty to finally show up and run onstage clearly very high on crack to give a thoroughly abrasive, dishevelled, disconcerting set most of which just sounded like feedback and a clattering banging sound. At one point Doherty tried to light a cigarette for about 2-3 mins. Afterwards I shared a taxi back to Finsbury Park with some girls from the north east who were crying because they'd finally got to see their hero play live. Really weird.


Morrissey, Kentish Town Forum, November 1999 - The day I hugged Morrissey

Anybody who knows me knows the extent of my Smiths and Morrissey obsession. In 1999 a friend and I went to see him play four nights in a row at the Forum in Kentish Town. I attempted to get onstage on each of these four nights. On one occassion Morrissey spotted me crowdsurfing toward the stage and put his hand out to pull me onstage. For a brief moment, merely seconds, I put my arms around him as he sang 'Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me'. I buried my face in the back of his neck which was incredibly sweaty. The sweat was cold as he had just been off stage before returning for the encore. That's about as much detail as you need...

Here's a picture of the moment, which somebody actually captured and put up on a Moz fans forum site....



Radiohead, South Park Oxford, July 2001 - Best ever non-London gig

Ok, so, in a blog about London things this is kind of cheating right? I do apologise. But I couldn't write an article about gigs without mentioning this one. And, well, Oxford is close to London, right?? It's just down the M40.

This was a fantastic gig despite the heavy, consistent, pouring rain. Supergrass and Beck supported but nobody cared about them. This was Thom and the boys at the absolute peak of their powers coming back triumphantly to their home town. Quite formiddable.

I attended this gig with the young members of the Mystery Jets who had just completed their bacchelaureates. Posh, eh? Blaine's mother (who lives in a village nearby) tried to get me to persuade Blaine and Will that pursuing rock'n'roll was not a fruitful path while Blaine's father Henry - also a Mystery Jet - retained a thoughtful silence and a half smile. I half heartedly told them that maybe they should continue with their studies. Thankfully they ignored me.