I’ve been to umpteen gigs in a variety of venues, from pubs and clubs, to theatres and cinemas, arenas and to outdoor festivals. Those gigs and concerts which have stayed the longest in my memory have been for their entertainment value, for music which enthralled and moved me, for audience reaction and for other indefinable reasons, which I’ll attempt to give in my potted reviews which are roughly in chronological order.
Note: The majority of the links lead to music examples, or YouTubes of the real thing. Enjoy.
My first gig would have been my school band Karl King and The Vendettas who got as far – but no further – as getting management and appearing on TV.
At college, there were local bands: Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, the Brian Hugg Fraternity, and the Clayton Squares who came down to Chichester from Liverpool and we all danced. I also got to see the Graham Bond Organisation at the Portsmouth Guildhall.
Following his concert in Brighton with the Harry South Big Band, Georgie Fame signed my programme. What about me? asked his companion. That programme turned up just last year and I discovered that she was Alfreda Benge, now Robert Wyatt‘s wife. A year later, I was at the Royal Albert Hall to see Georgie sing with the Count Basie Orchestra (video), sadly unrecorded. And the last time I met him was at JavaJazz in 1994
Georgie wants a cigarette after his set at Java Jazz.
I like classical guitar music, and went to several concerts in the Camden Festival with John Williams, once an unhappy student of the great Segovia who I saw at, I think, the Royal Festival Hall. I had one of the hard seats behind him on the stage so I couldn’t actually see him playing … but the majority of the audience could see me. Not being able to fidget, scratch my arse or pick my nose made for a very uncomfortable evening.
I got a ticket to go to the Rolling Stones at the Wembley Arena, but couldn’t see them: they were too far away. I slept through Jimi Hendrix’s last performance at the Isle of Wight Festival, and sang “Hit me, hit me, hit mee” with thousands of very peaceful Glastonbury goers,
I’ve got a Sony Walkman recording of Eberhard Weber playing solo at the Bass Clef, a club in East London, “Playing with myself is cheaper in the long run …” I’ve also got a recording of the Jan Garbarek Group, which he was part of, in London. Then there was Peshkar, which was basically Shakti, but with Larry Coryell instead of John McLauglin.
The Hammond organist Jimmy Smith was so arrogant that I haven’t liked him since. Bo Diddley went through the motions, as, sadly, did B.B. King. Ry Cooder a couple of weeks later was the blues man of note: How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? (video) Indeed, a perennial song of our times.
Miles Davis brought Bitches Brew to London in 1969, but only communed with his musicians, not us. Around that time CBS Filled Our Heads with Rock and our record collections with three samplers. They turned me on to Flock, It’s A Beautiful Day, Taj Mahal + many more including Santana who were the first band to get me out of the seat dancing. On June 30th 1973, John McLauglin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra electrified us. And still does here in Indonesia.
In 1976 (?), I went to a concert by Kevin Ayres. I’m unclear about the venue, although the memory of his guitarist Ollie Halsall dressed as a bumble bee flying across the stage, carried by wires indicates a theater, possibly the Finsbury Astoria, aka Rainbow, playing – erm – Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee lingers on. (This is another guitarist.) Then Kevin went vamping over to the piano dressed like Marlene Deitrich and sang Falling In Love Again.
Erroll Garner, Brighton Dome, 1966
One of my all time favourite albums is Erroll Garner’s Concert By The Sea. Released in 1955, my father had it in his record collection, and I knew it well.
A year or two after I’d left the parental nest and was at teacher training college in Chichester, I discovered that Erroll was going to play along the coast in a magnificent auditorium, so I promptly bought a ticket for a balcony seat. Unfortunately for Erroll, but luckily for me, the auditorium was barely filled so I was able to move to a front row seat. From there I gazed down at Erroll as he grunted through his totally improvised set – he couldn’t read music. Ever since, I have kept an image in my mind of his smile beamed up at me.
Malataverne Festival 29-31 May 1971
Having cashed in my pension fund from three years teaching in London, I set off for I knew not where on my first set of world travels. Hitch hiking and people would determine my destinations, which is how I arrived at the Malataverne Festival, billed as the French Woodstock, peace and love and all that.
Held in a disused quarry far off the beaten track, I found a spot on the rim from where I could see down onto the stage and hear the music, mainly folk. Alexis Korner and Peter Thorup were the ‘stars, and I faintly embarrassed myself by requesting that Alexis should give us an advert. His deep and mellifluous tones were commonplace on British TV at the time extolling the virtues of soap powder. Alexis didn’t quite catch my request… Eh?
I had a dream one night, one that remains vivid to this day. I could see a typical French town square, un place, except rather than being an open space surrounded by classic buildings, they were the square and the open space was on the outside. So we danced around the buildings … … and then I woke up. I looked down … it was dawn and I was catching the end of a night’s entertainment. The lead singer was exhorting the audience to get up on their feet and to join a conga line which then danced off out of the quarry and off to their own slumber spots.
Faust – Rainbow Theatre, 1973
In that year, if you bought a full price Virgin album, you could buy Faust Tapes, a German ‘krautrock’ group’s album for the price of a single (c.50p). I thought it was unlistenable then (and I still do now!)
Virgin put together a promotional evening at London’s Rainbow. I don’t recall who else were on the bill, but Faust definitely were. Their stage presence was nil; the set was unlit and all we could see were the red lights on their amplifiers and other equipment. Seemingly treating us with disdain, a whisper did the rounds: “Let’s creep silently out of here and go to the bar.”
So we did.
Caravan & New Symphonia – Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 28th October 1973
The album was released in 1974 on vinyl, and on CD in 2001 with previously omitted tracks and in the original order which you can hear here. However, what’s missing is that once the gig had finished, those of us who were still in the theatre were asked to stay put because the first track, Memory Lain, Hugh-Headloss, had to be rerecorded due to a glitch on the master tape.
Apart from again hearing Caravan playing favourite tracks, but in a new setting, what makes this evening memorable is that with a fellow teacher from the Colebrooke School for Maladjusted Children (now thankfully closed) in Islington, we took a group of students along for their first gig; they were extremely well-behaved!
Hatfield and The North – Notre Dame Hall, London November 23rd 1973
Two friends of mine who I knew in Ibiza when I lived there in 71/2 had recently arrived in town and I took them along with me as by way of introduction to some good music. The Hatfields and their support band Gilgamesh were part of the Canterbury Scene which is still going today through the likes of Caravan and Soft Machine Legacy.
Notre Dame Hall was “converted from the basement/crypt of the Notre Dame de Paris RC Church close to Leicester Square.” The seats were therefore of the stacking chair variety arranged in half circle rows; Mark, Tonya and I sat at the end of one.
It felt like a family affair: good vibes were in the air. I knew that because I’d shared gigs by Caravan and Soft Machine many times before. The music started, familiar to me but not M & T, so I lit up the spliff I’d brought with me and we had a good inhale of the enhancing substance from war zones. Then, to their mild horror and possible paranoia, I said pass it on. But they did, and like one of those chain letters, far more came back our way.
There was an interval, and then the band … I’m not sure which one, or maybe it was both … came among us passing out home baked brownies. Did they contain secret substances? I can’t say with any exactitude, but for those of us with the munchies, they went down a treat.
Boomtown Rats – Carlisle Market Hall, October 18th 1978
I was living in West Cumbria at the time, Son No.1 was just two years old, and ‘punk’ had just about reached the semi-industrial wasteland. Money was tight, and Wife and I had somewhat separate social lives because one of us had to babysit. I can’t now recall whether I went up to Carlisle by myself or with my regular social partner, but I can recall the gig.
It was the first gig of a mini-tour to promote Rat Trap which was “the first rock song by an Irish band to reach No.1 in the UK.”
The hall had rows of stacking seats and they were occupied by grandparents with their grandchildren, public (i.e. private) school students in their uniforms, and others who I wouldn’t have expected at a gig by an erstwhile punk group. It wasn’t long before all the chairs were picked up, and put neatly at the sides of the hall: we wanted to stand and dance.
Bob Geldof came across like Mick Jagger, prancing across the stage and atop the speaker stacks, adding physical energy to the very tight songs we could singalong with. I stood in front of the right stack of speakers, hardly the best place for stereo listening, but certainly a good vantage point to almost catch drops of Geldof’s sweat.
I went home exhausted, but very happy. And slightly deaf for the next 24 hours.
Simple Minds – Theatre Royal, Drury Lane 82/3
My local library had a selection of vinyl albums which could be borrowed, one of which was Reel To Reel Cacophony, the second album by the Simple Minds. I was hooked by the development from prog-rock through punk rock and into a new hybrid, and immediately purchased the album, and the next three: Empires and Dance (’80), Sons and Fascination (’81) and New Gold Dream (’82). There was a driving groove which I wanted to experience live.
Come the evening of the gig, I rode my motorbike through the pouring rain into town, parked it in a secure spot a short walk from Drury Lane and set off head down and still helmetted trying to not get any wetter as I walked down the middle of the traffic-free road. I was a bit puzzled by a line of barriers to my right with people standing behind them, and was further surprised when a policeman asked me where I was going, which was just to the next turning on the right.
He said ok and let me walk on I glanced to the left as I walked past a limousine and realised that Princess Diana was getting out the other side to where Prince Charles was waiting. I was passing the Royal Opera House, the venue for their choice of an evening’s music, but I was focussed on my gig, not theirs
Pint in hand, I went on to the floor in front of the stage and was soon lost in my own world … ba,dum, ba,dum, ba,dum, ba,dum … as I Celebrated with the band driving along their familiar grooves.
At some point it crossed my mind that I’d paid to see the band, so I looked up and, yes, there was Jim Kerr cavorting at the front of the stage, but I was the only one looking at him. Everyone else was ba,dum, ba,dum, ba,dum, ba,duming along, head down.
Pat Metheny Group – Hammersmith Odeon (1982?)
The first time I got to see the Pat Metheny Group (PMG), Pete and I were up in the gods of the Hammersmith Odeon. The group we saw that evening had Paul Wertico on drums, Steve Rodby, on bass and Lyle Mays on keyboards.
I doubt that many in the packed audience had been at Metheny’s previous British gigs. (His first was in early 1978 at the Shaw Theatre as part of the Camden Jazz Week, and at.the Bracknell Jazz Festival in 1980.) We didn’t know what to expect and we got sublime, saudade spine tingling melodies played acoustically, heard the fingers slide up the strings, loud synthesised orgasmic group singalongs, and Ornette Coleman free-formish what-was-that?
Being British, we applauded politely after each piece, some of which we recognised. None of us waved cigarette lighters (now camera-phones) in the air to say “Look at me, I’m at a Pat Metheny gig”, something which Americans and Indonesians posing as audiences are prone to do.
When they finished playing some of the tightest ensemble playing we had ever been privileged to witness, whoosh ~ as one – the entire audience stood and roared for more. I still get goosebumps recalling that magic moment.
The group came back and stood at the front of the stage looked around, looked up, their arms around each others’ shoulders and you could almost hear their mutual thought ~ “What the f**k have we done here?” ~ as they realised that we had given them the ultimate accolade. They played another half an hour and seemed to surpass themselves. They knew we could take it.
I have been to a number of gigs here in Jakarta, and my reviews of some of them are here.