My 10 Favourite Rock Concerts Over 40 Years…

…that I can remember being at……….
Rock concert

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 1975Elton 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 Kebworth 1979Led 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 Springsteensource
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 chord – and that’s no mean feat considering the stadium was packed with 80,000 people at the time. I’ve taken the liberty of checking the set list for both days and the songs didn’t differ that much – he played Trapped again but this time I left the histrionics out – and it looks as though the encores were the same. Little Stevie appeared as a guest both days running towards the end and joined in on Two Hearts – I could swear he was throwing murderous glances every now and then at his replacement, Nils Lofgren. Maybe he was practising for The Sopranos.

These concerts – mainly the second one if I’m honest – were truly some of the best I’ve ever been privileged to attend. I caught Bruce on all of his subsequent appearances in the UK up until the time he played his first solo gig at the Albert Hall. He’s playing Wembley Stadium again this year – still a prisoner of rock and roll as he used to say – but I have to say I definitely caught him in his prime. Paul Simonsource: Paul Simon – Hammersmith Odeon, London 1982 Prior to going to this concert I’d gone to Florida for about two weeks with my brother. Whilst we were there, as is the case with most American radio stations, they constantly played one song over and over again. In this case it was the latest Paul Simon single, Late in the Evening. It eventually got to the point where it wouldn’t have bothered me if I’d never heard that song again. Despite this the saving grace of going to see Simon of course was that he would feature a few of the classic Simon & Garfunkel songs from the 60s and, seeing as I’d never been to one of his concerts before, I was looking forward to it.

I wasn’t disappointed either. It was a balanced set list of old and new songs, which obviously included at some point the ubiquitous Late in the Evening. My main memory is of Paul Simon offering to buy everyone in the auditorium a drink. He said he really appreciated the audience and would like to get a drink for all of us but wasn’t sure how to go about paying for it. Some wag, quoting an American Express advert that was popular on tv at the time, suggested he get his Amex card out. The moment passed – but I did read that the following night Simon actually arranged for the audience to have a drink on him at the cost of about £1000. Anyway, he finally got to the encore and we all waited with baited breath, trying to figure out what the final song might be. Cecilia, Mother and Child Reunion, I Am a Rock? No. You guessed it. It was Late in the Evening . Again. And he still owes me a drink.

John Williams – The Barbican, London 1982
I love film music. My favourite composers are Ennio Morricone – more on him later – Elmer Bernstein, and John Williams. I’ve been lucky to see all of them in concert at one time or another – as well as John Barry, Lalo Schifrin and Jerry Goldsmith. This concert was apparently the very first open air show to be performed at the Barbican and I was looking forward to hearing Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones and many others played by the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by the man who actually wrote the music.

I’d also taken along the sleeve to the Close Encounters of the Third Kind album – a particular favourite of mine – in the hope that I might be able to get John Williams to autograph it for me. The first half of the concert consisted of music by other composers, including Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, and excerpts from Holst’s The Planets. Spielberg’s E.T. had yet to be released in the UK so this was the British premier of the music, William’s conducting the main theme to great applause at the beginning of the second half.

It was a fantastically sunny August evening as well, and when the orchestra launched into the theme from Superman we all automatically looked to the sky in case the caped wonder might make a surprise appearance. One of the highlights of the concert was when he conducted excerpts from Close Encounters, including one piece featuring the London Symphony Chorus, the members of the chorus concealed from the audience as their voices seeped eerily through the gaps in the shutters located on the balconies of the surrounding buildings.

Towards the end of the concert and after what most people thought might be the last piece of music a lot of the audience stood up and rushed to the front of the stage, clutching their programs and album covers for the great man’s signature. John Williams pointed with his baton to a small doorway from which he indicated he would emerge to meet and greet his adoring fans. Being the cool kind of guy I imagined myself to be at the time I decided to bide my time and wait for the crowd to disperse before approaching him with my CE3K album cover. To everyone’s surprise and delight the orchestra played another encore, the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme.

Once it had finished, Williams took a final bow then left the stage to appear a moment later through the doorway he had indicated earlier. The fans rushed forward – and Mr John Williams turned and ran away. Maybe he couldn’t face signing another autograph, maybe he needed the toilet or was late for another engagement. Who knows? I couldn’t help thinking of that last scene from Close Encounters when the child-like aliens surrounded Richard Dreyfuss as he climbed up the ramp into the Mother Ship. In this case the aliens were chasing their hero into the dark recesses of the Barbican, something I felt I couldn’t do, no matter how much I wanted someone’s autograph. Maybe next time.

Bob Dylan with Tom Pettysource:
Bob Dylan / Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Wembley Arena, London 1987

This turned out to be a memorable night for a couple of reasons. It was going to be the first time I had seen either Dylan or Petty and, as I found out the following morning when I cleaned up the tiles that crashed from the roof onto my car, it was also the night of the great storm of 1987. Prior to all of this mayhem I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of Roger McGuinn at the beginning of the concert.

McGuinn had obviously fronted The Byrds, the group that helped introduce Dylan to a wider audience with their versions of Mr. Tambourine Man, All I Really Want to Do and My Back Pages, to name but a few. For this concert he was actually backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which I guess was only appropriate seeing as they had ‘borrowed’ the sound of The Byrd’s for their classic single American Girl. Highlights from this first set included Eight Miles High and Mr. Tambourine Man, after which Roger McGuinn left the stage and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers took over.

They played a smattering of Heartbreaker songs but for me the highlight was most definitely So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star which, for some strange reason, they didn’t perform with McGuinn, who’d actually written the song with Chris Hillman for The Byrds back in the 60s. I’m afraid to say the inevitable, but when Dylan walked on stage – with the Heartbreakers as his backing band as well – it kind of all went downhill from there. I’ve checked the setlist from that night but I would have been hard-pressed at the time to have recognised any of the songs he performed.

Dylan was by now firmly entering his ‘guess which one I’m singing now’ phase – I caught him again some years later at the Hop Farm Festival in Kent and I could swear he launched into a rendition of the Doris Day classic Secret Love halfway through what might have been Like A Rolling Stone – and even a friend of mine who also came along that night and was a big Dylan fan had trouble recognising some, if not most, of the songs that Dylan performed. I seem to remember there was a vague rumour going round that evening that George Harrison might make a surprise appearance. That would have pepped things up a bit but alas it wasn’t to be.

There is a postscript to all of this. I managed to get to work the following day through the mayhem created by the overnight storm and, as I was leaving for home that evening who should I see in the back of a long black limousine parked in front of a hotel near where I worked in London but Bob Dylan and Tom Petty – I guess Roger and the Heartbreakers were relegated to taking the bus to that night’s performance. As the limo pulled away I could see Mr Petty conversing in a quite animated fashion with his Bobness.

I can only guess – or hope – that he was suggesting Dylan might try enunciating the lyrics a bit more clearly that evening instead of gargling and barking his songs to a worshipful but frequently confused crowd. If you’ve gotta serve somebody, Bob, try your audience.

Brian Wilson Royal Festival HallBrian Wilson – Festival Hall, London 2002
You may notice there’s quite a gap in time between this concert and the last. I saw a lot of acts in between from Billy Joel, Hall and Oates, Joe Jackson, KD Lang, Bruce a lot of times, Beach Boys ditto, Prince, Eagles again, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker to name but a few but were they memorable concerts? Did I come away thinking that’s the best thing I’ve ever seen? I guess not because it wasn’t until the arrival of the Messiah, in the guise of Brian Wilson, at the Festival Hall in 2002 that I finally attended a concert that will stay with me for a long time to come.

Wilson had been touring with his backing band The Wondermints, along with Jeff Foskett on falsetto for a couple of years. I’d been invited over to Japan during the period when we were trying to get our Beach Boys musical off the ground to watch him in concert at the Budokan but unfortunately I couldn’t go due to work commitments. I’ve just reviewed that sentence and I can’t believe that a) I was actually invited in the first place and b) that I didn’t go.

This was therefore my first opportunity to see Brian Wilson live on stage in the UK since the Knebworth and Wembley Arena concerts back in 1980, and it was definitely worth the wait. I think he played for quite a few nights and I probably caught him a few days into the residency. He obviously sang a lot of Beach Boys numbers and the main attraction was of course the performance of Pet Sounds in its entirety. The album kicks off with Wouldn’t It Be Nice. I can’t think of a more joyful Beach Boys song than that song, even if the lyrics are a sad counterpoint to the more upbeat melody. One of my favourite Pet Sounds tracks is Here Today and, as you Beach Boys / Brian Wilson / Pet Sounds geeks know, if you listen real close on the original recording you’ll hear a couple of members of the group discussing the recent purchase of a camera during the instrumental break – honest.

Anyway, just as it got to that point in the live rendition at the Festival Hall someone in the audience loudly supplied the words to that conversation in situ with the music. Now that’s what I call commitment to the cause. I’d have to say that this concert was the closest I’ve ever witnessed to a live religious experience. The place was packed to the rafters with an adoring and worshipful audience, the more voluble acolytes declaiming their love for Brian and his music at every possible opportunity. Out of all of his solo material I’d have to say that Love and Mercy, which he performed as a final encore, is probably one of the best songs Brian Wilson wrote as a solo artist. Melt Way comes a close second. A truly memorable evening. And his Smile concert a few years later was just as good.

Neil YoungNeil Young – Hop Farm, Kent, UK 2008
I’d seen Neil Young playing solo once before in the 80s when he toured his Trans album. It was notable for copious use of a vocoder which Young used to distort his voice to the point of incomprehensiveness. The idea apparently was to attempt to duplicate the difficulties he had encountered when attempting to communicate with his two sons who suffer from cerebral palsy.

All very noble I guess but when you go to see Neil Young what you really want is for Neil to strap on Old Black and thrash away in as loud a manner as possible a la Weld with a smattering of Heart of Gold / Only Love Can Break Your Heart ballads to relieve the ear drums for a spell – and preferably backed by Crazy Horse. Who unfortunately didn’t back him at the first Hop Farm festival, but to me they were there in spirit.

Besides, it was just good to be able to finally see the miserable one in the flesh again. Accompanied by his then wife, Pegi, on backing vocals, the set was a bit light on the thrashing – and Words went on a bit too long for my liking – it was good to hear tracks from Harvest such as Heart of Gold, Old Man and Needle and the Damage Done played live to an appreciative crowd. The encore was a highly spirited version of A Day in the Life, which caught the crowd by surprise, but in a pleasant way.

In fact, he was so good I decided to see him again a few years later at Hyde Park. When he started playing the Beatles song as an encore again we turned to leave as we knew it was obviously the last tune of the evening. Suddenly the crowd erupted in loud cheers so we looked back at the stage to see what the fuss was all about and there was Paul McCartney on stage with Neil performing the middle section of the Beatles classic. Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

Ennio Morricone 2016
Ennio Morricone – O2, London 2016

What can I say about this concert? How can I convey in mere words the emotionally uplifting experience that comes with spending over two hours in the company of one of the most seriously gifted composers of all time? I can’t – but here goes anyway. I saw the maestro in concert a few years before at the Barbican. I remember that most of the first half featured a lot of experimental and avante garde pieces, the more popular film themes left over for the second part of the concert.

For the encore at the Barbican he played The Ecstasy of Gold from the soundtrack to The Good the Bad and the Ugly, almost as if it were purely for me. The opportunity to see him once more was too good to pass up and I have to say without reservation that Ennio Morricone at the O2 this February was probably one of the best concerts I have ever been to. The guy is 87 years old and he now sits most of the time when conducting but the energy that his music imparts belies the occasional frailty of the man himself.

Accompanied by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and a huge choir from Hungary the concert was split into separate specific sections. The first section paid homage to Italian director Guiseppe Tornatore, with selections from his films The Best offer and The Legend of 1900 – although strangely not Cinema Paradiso. Another section featured his number two UK chart hit Chi Mai, which was used in the BBC tv series The Life and Times of David Lloyd George.

Then it stepped up a notch with a whole bunch of Western themes from the films of Sergio Leone. When the orchestra launched into The Ecstasy of Gold, with soprano Susanna Rigacci supplying the high notes, it was so breathtakingly beautiful I literally forgot to breathe myself, it was that good. Ennio was right to stop the first half of the concert at that point as I don’t think even he was ever going to be able to top the performance of that particular piece of music. They all gave it a good try in the second half though, with Deborah’s Theme from Once Upon A Time in America and the section featuring music from The Mission demonstrated.

The encore featured – yes, again – The Ecstasy of Gold and by the end I really thought I had died and gone to heaven. Ennio is playing at Blenheim Palace on June 23rd this year. Beg, steal, borrow, counterfeit a ticket – actually, no, don’t do that last one – but do anything you can to go and see a real live bona fide genius in action, before he inevitably ascends to that great concert hall in the sky. Trust me. You won’t regret it.
Carol King – Hyde Park July 3rd 2016
Carol King Hyde Park 2016Admittedly it’s kind of strange writing about a concert I’ve not actually been to yet, but I’m guessing that seeing and hearing Carole King play the whole of the Tapestry album is – almost – on a par with witnessing Brian Wilson perform Pet Sounds live in concert. This is therefore pre-empting what I’m hoping is going to be a classic show by someone I’ve never had the opportunity to see up until now.

I used to buy Rolling Stone magazine back in the late 60s / early 70s because I vainly thought it was the hip and right on thing to do. That meant I’d heard about Cheech and Chong before their first album ever came out, and I knew who Tom Wolfe was way before he wrote Bonfire of the Vanities. It was only later in life that I realised no one in Margate gave a crap about what I did or didn’t know but what I did know is that I knew who Carole King was before she released Tapestry.

Back in the day you had to order a record from your local gramophone outlet if you wanted an album by someone who wasn’t that well-known. I therefore duly placed my order for Tapestry after reading a glowing review in Rolling Stone and waited in eager anticipation for its arrival. In the meantime I had struck up a more than friendly relationship with a young girl visiting Margate on holiday. I must have gushed a bit too much about Carole King because the next thing I knew she turned up with a copy of Tapestry for me. It turned out the guy who ran the record shop had sold her the one I’d ordered, but I ended up with it anyway. I think they call that fate. Roll on July 3rd. And Don Henley had better be good as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.