Good old Radio 6 Music – they came up trumps the other day with a lovely hour-long programme on the enduring charm of the Glasgow Barrowlands, believed by many to be one of the best venues in Scotland. At the risk of spoiling the surprise – my favourite ever gig was at the Barrowlands, and the nostalgia prompted me to revive and revise my two-part blog on Bands I Have Seen!
There’s nothing quite like live music. The venue might be cramped and hot, the music might be too loud to do anything but communicate by sign language or telepathy, but there is something joyous about the atmosphere and noise and occasion that can thrill your soul if it’s done right.
I was chatting to a pal about bands we’d seen live, and it got me reminiscing. I have never been an ardent gig-goer really: there are people out there who are at live gigs every week, and travel to different parts of the country or indeed world, to see their favourites. Fans of certain bands will stop at nothing to get tickets; camp out on the street, phone hotlines for hours on end…I’m not one of those. If I have been lucky enough to see a good band it was because the moment was appropriate, the tickets were available and crucially, the company was right.
It is a subject of debate whether the first band I ever saw is something of which I should be proud, or embarrassed. It was Hawkwind. There, I’ve said it. It’s out there. I went with a friend to, if memory serves, the Hammersmith Odeon. Was that a venue? Is it still? This must have been about 1984 or 1985, and I have two strong memories of the occasion: the two litre bottle of cider we smuggled in, and the fact that Michael Moorcock came on and recited epic fantasy poetry. I was chuffed as I was quite into Moorcock at the time, although I have never re-read any of his books, and I hesitate to do so, fearing that The Dancers at the End of Time Trilogy will not stand up to the cold eye of experienced lit.crit. I would be delighted if someone were to assure me otherwise. Would I still love Jherek Carnelian? Of Hawkwind the band, the music, I remember nothing. In later years I was to see one of the we-can’t-call-ourselves-Hawkwind-due-to-ongoing-litigation bands at the Guilford Festival, and it had all the old tricks: a child juggling, a man in a waistcoat and rubber mask grinding a guitar, a large-breasted woman dancing: and it had all the charm of a car crash. But in 1985 as a first gig, Hawkwind had at least a smidgeon of street-cred.
Towards the end of the 1980s there were big music scenes in Britain’s towns – but it could rarely be said that the Fife town of St Andrews was a hotbed of cutting edge performance and happenings. RockSoc did their best, but you can understand the reluctance of some bands to play a university full of posh rugger buggers, fewer than 5,000 students, and no railway station. Despite this, I managed to see the Bay City Rollers (can’t remember which ‘version’, and sadly they only want to play their new album and nary a hint of tartan anywhere), Showaddwaddy (who turned up in shiny suits and crepe soles and sang all the cheesy hits and were fab), and Sam Brown (who was having a very off day, snarled at the audience, and gave a very bad-tempered performance, only redeeming herself by singing Led Zep’s Rock and Roll at the end).
But the finest gig without a doubt that I ever saw at St Andrews Student Union was The Waterboys. The music was great, but the story is better. By some unheard of fluke, the Union had managed to book a band shortly before they hit their peak: in the time between booking the band, and the actual gig, The Waterboys released their Fisherman’s Blues album, and they were riding high. The day the tickets went on sale, I was working in a local café bar (The Victoria Café, fact fans) and had no money anyway, so missed out. I was mildly disappointed but got on with my life. On the day of the gig I was also working, and the bar that day was busy. From 10am onwards, one table in the corner was taken by a group pf Irishmen who were drinking Murphys like it was going out of fashion; they were very funny and sweet and they asked me if I was going to the gig. Not me, I replied, no ticket. Aw well, that’s no problem, they said. We’re the support band – we’ll put you on the guest list. Ooh, the support band, I said, what are you called? The Saw Doctors, they said. Never heard of you, came back my snappy reply. To be fair, the Saw Doctors did not at that time have a record deal, and had been discovered (so legend had it) by Mike Scott playing in a bar in Galway or somesuch, whereupon he invited them to support The Waterboys’ forthcoming tour. I jumped at the chance, and they made me agree to get on stage and dance when they played. Well, the concert was fantastic, and I jigged like a good ‘un and had a brilliant time. Afterwards, my pal Julie and I invited The Saw Doctors back to my flat where a true rock ‘n’ roll evening was had by all, during which I copped off with the bass player. In true gentlemanly fashion they all went back to their scabby Transit and spent the remainder of the night there, turning up in the morning for tea and toast before heading off to Aberdeen for the next gig. Happy days, indeed.
My boyfriend in first year at Uni had an eclectic taste in music : he was a huge Marillion fan and could also be found lurking around the back catalogue of Barclay James Harvest. To his credit though, he introduced me (via the medium of the good old C90 cassette) to John Martyn, and I will always be grateful to him for that. I saw John Martyn three times I think, all of them in Edinburgh, with Mr Dragon. On one occasion it was just John and a guitar and an amp, and it was like being transported to heaven on the wings of slightly grubby but still gilded angels who smoked forty a day. On another occasion he had a full band, and was a little the worse for wear: during a sublime guitar solo he misjudged the crucial angle of guitar-godness, lost his balance and fell over. He lay on his back and continued to play without even skipping a beat. A few roadies managed to heave him back on his feet, and all was well. We miss you, John.
To be continued……