Friday, 1 August 2014

01/08/14 - Gigs, etc

Gigs are interesting little microcosms, aren’t they? The room naturally divides itself into casually merging sections; the sweaty leapers down the front, the nodding toe-tappers at the back, the wry-smile barflies, all pulled together by a common appreciation for the variety of sounds that are being thrashed out on stage and artfully bounced around the room by a galaxy of pounding speakers. Live music is ace. So, for no particular reason, this week’s JuicyPips is all about INTERESTING GIGS I HAVE BEEN TO

Everyone remembers their first gig. And by ‘first gig’, I mean the first band you saw without your parents. Mine was Mansun at the Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall on 13th March 1998, when I was just fifteen.
…but before we get to that, some background. I’d seen plenty of bands throughout my childhood that my parents had taken me and my sister along to – local to us in the Herne Bay/Whitstable/Canterbury area were Rubber Biscuit, a Blues Brothers tribute band who gigged relentlessly. (They’re still going, incidentally, although their website suggests that they’re selling themselves as more of a wedding band these days. ‘Maximum soul and R&B since 1992’!) We saw the Saw Doctors a lot, because they were often in our neck of the woods, and I distinctly remember my sister and I falling asleep during a Steeleye Span concert in the mid-nineties. (My folks actually have pretty cool taste in music, this selection isn’t entirely representative…)
So anyway, a solid background of being in dark, sweaty rooms full of people leaping about to live music. And my first one sans parents, that I went to with a bunch of mates, was Mansun. I was a full-on indie kid in the nineties, and Mansun were my favouritest band ever, I obsessively collected their singles and demos and all sorts. The thought of seeing them live as my first gig was mindblowing.
It also turned out to be kind of terrifying. I’d never really been in a proper moshpit before, I remember lasting a couple of songs before yelling ‘I have to get out!’ and elbowing my way to the back of the hall. At which point I thought ‘actually, that was kind of awesome,’ and dove straight back into the action. Great fun.
And upon that sturdy foundation, here stand a few highlights from other gigs in which unusual or interesting things happened:

Ash – Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall, 13th October 1998
’98 was a real live music awakening for me – after that first gig, I went to as many as I could physically get to (which, er, relied rather heavily on getting a lift there with my parents, who’d then go for dinner in a local hotel while we went off to bounce around in a sweaty room).
Ash was a memorable one not just because they were one of my favourite bands – and were supported by Idlewild, who were another favourite – but because me and my friends got up on stage with the band. We weren’t invited to or anything; we just spotted that the security guy at the side of the stage wasn’t really paying attention, so we sneaked past him and ran up. That was as far as the plan went though, we hadn’t really considered what to do when we got up there… I didn’t fancy stage-diving as I didn’t have any real confidence that anyone would catch me, so I just jumped up and down a bit until we all got dragged off by security. They were not happy.
And then Ash played Angel Interceptor and dedicated it to ‘those cheeky little bastards down the front,’ which was amazing, although none of my friends seem to remember that part and it’s possible that I might have imagined it.

Manic Street Preachers – Cardiff Millennium Stadium, 31st December 1999
Remember how you spent millennium eve? I was in Cardiff with a few mates watching the Manics. They rocked plenty of stuff from The Holy Bible (my favourite Manics album by far), they played Everything Must Go and dedicated it to Richie, which made everyone cry – if you know, you know – and the place just went beserk at midnight.
…but having left the stadium at around 2am, we realised that we didn’t have a lot to do until our London-bound train was due to leave at 9am. We didn’t have anywhere to stay, so we just sort of ambled around Cardiff.
There was one chip shop open in the whole of the city, smartly capitalising on the hordes of teenagers with nothing to do – remember the queues when the first McDonald’s opened in Moscow? It was like that. We queued for three hours to get some largely raw chips. We also got very cold.

Sum 41 – Portsmouth Guildhall, 15th March 2002
Don’t get hung up on the late-nineties perception of Sum 41 as a snotty sub-Blink 182 punk-pop band, they matured into a really killer outfit. Check out the 2012 album Screaming Bloody Murder, it’s an awesome punk concept album in the vein of Green Day’s American Idiot or My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade.
Anyway, I went to see them when I was a student, along with my housemate, and they were in their full-on wannabe Iron Maiden era, with all manner of gothic set dressing. It became swiftly obvious to us that the room was divided into two distinct groups: boys of about twelve or thirteen down the front, and their dads at the back having a beer. It was all very odd, having to be careful not to tread on these little kids as we moshed… but after a while we were sufficiently drunk not to care that we were a clear foot taller than everyone else in the pit, and pushed our way eagerly to the front. Sod it, eh?

Reef – Portsmouth Pyramids, 14th March 2003
You’re always guaranteed a good time with Reef – Gary Stringer, the frontman, has an unquenchable enthusiasm for geeing up the crowd, playing every gig like it’s their last. They finished the set at the Pyramids with End, the final track from the first album Replenish. In doing so, Stringer insisted on singing it while crowdsurfing over the moshpit; however, he didn’t have a wireless mike, and instead carried his microphone with him along with its absurdly long cable. This, as you might imagine, caused certain logistical issues, as moshpits are pretty vibrant places and the security guys were understandably keen that no-one got strangled by the cable. So it took them five or six aborted attempts at the song before they finally got to finish it. Still, worth it in the end.

Super Furry Animals –  Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall, 24th October 1999
The Super Furries were about as bonkers and psychedelic as British indie music could get in the nineties, and they knew how to put on a show. For the encore of this bafflingly colourful gig, the band came back on stage in massive furry alien costumes, saluted, and bobbed up and down to a backing track for fifteen minutes. Genuinely surreal.

Mansun –  Margate Winter Gardens, 28th October 1998
Another from the magical 1998 season, this one was the first gig where I got to go backstage and meet the band.
It could have been even more impressive – as a keen member of the fan club, I’d posted a message a few days before saying that I was desperately trying to get tickets as the gig had sold out. I then managed to secure some, and was just on the way out of the door when the phone rang (the landline, it was 1998) and somebody said ‘Hey, is that Dan? Do you still need tickets for tonight?’
In the rush to get going it didn’t occur to me to think who would be asking such a question, so I said ‘no, I’ve got tickets now, we’re just on our way,’ to which he replied ‘oh, right. This is Chad from the band, we were going to offer you some tickets and full hospitality and stuff, but OK. Enjoy the gig.’ D’oh. Still, we talked our way backstage anyway, and I got them to sign all my album covers (which, of course, I just happened to have in my back pocket along with a spangly silver marker pen).

Fun Lovin’ Criminals -  Kentish Town Forum, 10th April 1999
If 1998 was the year of getting lifts to see bands in Folkestone and Margate, ’99 was the year of getting the train up to London gigs.
We saw the Fun Lovin’ Criminals at the Forum, and I was beside myself with excitement to realise that I was leaping up and down at the front next to Saffron from Republica. London was still a mysterious and otherworldly place to me, having grown up in a small seaside town, and this just served to reinforce my idea that London is full of celebrities. A notion that has since proved itself to be untrue.

Oasis –  Wembley Stadium, 21st July 2000
I’d never been to a stadium gig (apart from Cardiff), and a load of my friends had bought tickets to the second night of the run, July 22nd; I hadn’t bought one because it seemed insanely expensive, even though I loved Oasis and had never seen them before.
And then on the 20th, my friend Dan called and said ‘hey, I’ve got a few free tickets for tomorrow, wanna come?’
And it was brilliant. We compared notes afterwards with the guys who went the following day, and it seemed like we’d had a better time, largely because they’d got into a fight with a guy who was pissing in an empty water bottle (toilet facilities are tricky at stadiums) and had splashed wee-wee over my friend Lucy.

Blur –  Hyde Park, 3rd July 2009
The other side of the Britpop war/piss calamity situation presented itself almost a decade later in Hyde Park. My wife and I (well, she was my fiancée then) were standing there enjoying Tender when she became aware of something splashing up her ankles. I turned around to find a man, clearly very drunk, quite brazenly having a slash on the floor.
It was very tempting to punch him in his stupid face, but then while I was shouting at him he fell over all by himself. Into his own wee. Punishment enough, I think.

A –  Portsmouth Pyramids, 27th February 2002
A are just an incredible live band. They enjoyed the crowd’s frenzied reaction to Monkey Kong so much that they played it again with MORE SHOUTING AND JUMPING. Everyone went mental, it was ace.

The Wildhearts – Portsmouth Pyramids, 30th April 2002
I’ve seen The Wildhearts quite a few times – one of my all-time favourite bands – but, as far as I can remember, this is the only time I’ve been to a gig on my own. I was meant to be going with a mate but he was ill or something, so I just went anyway, substituting human interaction for vast quantities of cheap lager. And you know what? Everyone’s your friend in a moshpit. (Or your worst enemy – depends who you’re seeing, really.)

Placebo –  The Wedgewood Rooms, 8th March 2003
I saw loads of bands at the Wedge when I was a student, it was a great venue – just about big enough to squeeze in a couple of hundred people, I saw all sorts of up-and-coming acts there – Vex Red, Soulwax, The Electric Soft Parade, The Jeevas, The Cooper Temple Clause, Three Colours Red… it got to the point where I was on first name terms with the guy in the ticket office.
One day I went in to buy some tickets – I forget what for – and he said to me ‘hey, can you keep a secret?’ I indicated that I possibly could, depending what it was. He said ‘OK, I’m going to sell you a pair of tickets, they’re twelve quid each – they’ll come through your door on the day of the gig. I can’t say who it is, but I guarantee you’ll like it.’
It was Placebo, doing a warm-up gig for their forthcoming international tour. He was right, I did like it. I’m a big fan of Placebo. Seeing them in such a tiny venue when they were such a massive band was spectacular.

Stereophonics – Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall, 7th November 1998
Perhaps one of the most special gigs of all. In those heady days of indie discovery back in ’98, I’d usually go to gigs with my schoolfriends and my sister. For this ’Phonics gig, I went with my buddy Paul Mavers. Paul and I had known each other for years and years; from the age of about eleven or twelve we were always playing basketball together – we played for the local team, and used to talk about how were going to make it big and play in the NBA when we grew up.
Anyway, going to different secondary schools we naturally drifted slightly and found ourselves in different groups of friends, but around the age of sixteen or seventeen we used to talk a lot more on the phone, brought back together by another common interest, this time a love of music. We used to send each other mixtapes in the post along with clippings from the NME and Melody Maker. And we’d agreed to meet up at this Stereophonics gig.
Paul was always braver than me. During Looks Like Chaplin, he ran up onto the stage, dove into the moshpit, and crowdsurfed like a hero, a massive silly grin plastered all over his face. His feet had barely touched the floor when a couple of security guards picked him up, dragged him away and threw him out of the venue.
Paul died in 2010. He’d been very ill for a long time with a rare form of cancer. I miss him. But my one clearest memory of him, the first thing I think of when I hear his name, is the defiant look on his face as they hauled him out of that moshpit, yelling ‘let me hear the end of the song!’. Always makes me grin when I hear that track.

So, yeah – live music. It’s more than just a bunch of sounds.
This one’s for you, Paul (and everyone else too, let’s not get maudlin…):

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