…that I can remember being at……….
I started going to see bands and musicians way back in the late 1960s at the Dreamland ballroom in Margate. I can’t remember the first group I ever saw live but I do know I caught acts such as the Equals, Mungo Jerry, the Tremeloes – or the Travelling Sex Offenders as they’re now known –McGuinness Flint, Matthews Southern Comfort, Deep Purple, Sweet, Mud, and Status Quo in their Pictures of Matchstick Men heyday. Moving up to London in 1974 I would have to say my first real proper rock concert would have to be seeing Crosby, Still, Nash and Young at Wembley Stadium. On the bill with them were Jesse Colin Young, The Band and Joni Mitchell. I guess it was okay but not the best concert I’ve witnessed, so the following is a chronological list of some of the most memorable music show I’ve been to in the last forty years or so that I thought might be worth sharing with whoever reads this kind of stuff these days.
Elton John – Wembley Stadium, London 1975
Now here’s a concert bill you’re unlikely to see these days. Stackridge, Chaka Khan with Rufus, Joe Walsh, Eagles, The Beach Boys and Elton John – all for a fiver. The main reason for going was to see for the first time my favourite band, The Beach Boys, performing live. Joe Walsh was pretty good – and loud – and he joined the Eagles on stage during their performance as well. I later found out that Jackson Browne was also somewhere up there playing piano with them as well but I wasn’t aware of that at the time.
Then on came the Beach Boys – a bit late if I remember rightly, with Mike Love purring to a by now slightly hostile crowd that ‘you want it to be perfect, don’t you?’, before launching into their set. At this point in their career they hadn’t quite turned totally into a travelling jukebox act, doing stuff from their recent albums such as Surfs Up, Sail on Sailor and The Trader. Of course it was obviously the old classics such as Good vibrations, Wouldn’t it Be Nice and Barbara Ann that got the crowd on their side and for someone who’d never seen them perform in the flesh before it was a pretty good introduction to their live shows.
Neither Brian Wilson, or Bruce Johnston for that matter, were present – I’d have to wait until 1980 and Knebworth before catching all of the original line-up in concert – but I think it’s fair to say they literally blew the crowd away that day. This turned out to be a bit of a problem for the headline act, one Reginald Dwight from Pinner. I’ve checked the set list as it was a bit of a while ago and he got off to a good start with stuff like Rocket Man, Candle in the Wind and The Bitch is Back but, and this I do remember, he then totally blew it by informing a post-Beach Boy euphoric crowd that he had a new album out – Captain Fantastic and the Dirt Brown Cowboy – and he would like to perform the whole thing for us.
At which point I’d have to say at least half the audience, including me and my mates, upped and left the stadium. I read later that originally the Beach Boys were not going to be performing that day. Apparently Stevie Wonder had been slated to play but there was some disagreement about who would top the bill, Stevie or Reg, so Stevie dropped out, the Beach Boys came on board, and the end result was a resounding success for the California Boys, and somewhat of a disaster for Elton John.
By the time he was performing his encore to an ever depleted stadium audience we were all back home watching an interview with Mel Brooks on the tv and ingesting copious amounts of non-prescriptive pharmaceuticals, as was the fashion of the time. I still have the original concert program up in the loft somewhere. It’s currently on Ebay for just over £100. Any offers?
Led Zeppelin – Knebworth, UK 1979
This wasn’t the first time I’d actually seen Zeppelin in concert. They played five concerts over nine days in May, 1975 and, according to the book When Giants Walked the Earth, if you had seen the group at that point in time then you were witnessing what was then the biggest band in the world playing at their musical best, reaching heights of both popularity and creativity never to be repeated.
And I was there. I went to one of those gigs. I witnessed rock history in the making – and I don’t remember a damn thing. I got there late and my friends had left my ticket stuck with a piece of chewing gum beneath one of the telephones outside Earls Court tube. When I finally made my way into the concert hall the first thing that caught my eye was the biggest cloud of marijuana smoke I’d ever seen in my life, hovering over the crowd before descending like some killer alien mass to envelope everyone, including me, with its deadly mind-altering entrails of dope. Two minutes engulfed in that stuff and I was, in the language of the day, like totally gone man.
Fast forward four years later and I finally get to see Led Zeppelin at Knebworth for real, along with other acts such as Todd Rundgren, Southside Johnny and, best of all, Chas and Dave. I can’t actually remember if I went to the concert on the 4th or 11th August – I guess the residual effects of Earls Court still flowed through my veins – but at least this time I can remember most of the concert itself. They came on late, mainly due to the fact that the act before them, the New Barbarians, didn’t hit the stage on time themselves.
A ‘one-off’ combination of Keith Richard and Ronnie Wood, we were all kept waiting for at least an hour before Keef and Ron finally deigned us with their presence. At one point I went off to the toilets prior to their appearance and I could swear Keith Richards walked past me in the opposite direction to the stage.
Eventually they made their appearance and they were absolutely godawful. Even an encore of Jumping Jack Flash couldn’t save the day. The Zep more than made up for all of the delays, mixing new material from their recently released In Through the Out Door album with all of the classics –Black Dog, Stairway to Heaven, Whole Lotta Love , Rock and Roll and many more. At one point Jimmy Page played his guitar with a cello bow equipped with a laser that lit up the sky with strobe colours and neon light.
The performance with the bow was absolutely mesmerising, and the guitarist’s dexterity was truly miraculous, particularly as he presumably also had to contend with the possibility of accidentally wiping out his fellow band members and vast swathes of the audience close to the stage if he pointed the bow in the wrong direction. I left the concert with a mixture of delight that I had finally witnessed and could actually remember seeing one of the greatest bands of all time, and relief that my sight remained unimpaired.
Bruce Springsteen – Wembley Stadium, London 1985
I am proud to say that I am one of the four and half million people who claim to have seen Bruce Springsteen at the Hammersmith Odeon back in 1975 when he visited Britain for the very first time. He did a residency for about three nights and by the time I got round to buying a ticket it was standing room only. He and the E Street band were good but for my money Bruce spent too long talking and not enough time playing the music –he and Little Stevie reminisced for about ten minutes on how they used to sit on the porch watching a beautiful girl walk past every evening before launching into Pretty Flamingo whilst I was expecting them to play She’s the One instead.
So, a good performance but to me Bruce was still a work in progress. By the time he arrived with the Born in the USA tour in 1985 he had Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River plus the new album under his belt and to me, he was finally and truly the Boss. I bought tickets for two concerts, one for the 3rd July and the other for the following day. The first concert was for a bunch of us from work, in which we intended – and did – to get as close to the stage as possible on the pitch and get wasted. The following day was to be a more sober affair with my darling wife.
Needless to say I can’t remember much about the first concert other than, as Bruce sang the Jimmy Cliff song Trapped, everyone pointed to the sky in unison whenever he shouted out the title to the song. This resulted in someone accidentally catching the edge of my glasses with their hand and sending them soaring into the crowd in front of me, whereupon approximately three thousand people took turns jumping up and down on my spectacles. I can’t remember how much I paid for the tickets back then – 30 or 40 quid maybe – but I do remember it cost about 80 to replace my glasses.
The following day – wearing my backup Joe 90 half-tinted glasses that I first bought back in 1978 – my wife and I watched from the safety of the seated area to the left of the stage as Bruce walked out into the sun with just an acoustic guitar and, instead of blasting into Born in the USA as he had done the day previously, he sang Independence Day from The River album – July 4th, geddit? – before then being joined by the rest of the band for Born in the USA.
That opening song was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. He had the crowd in his hand before he strummed the first chor