Reeling in the Years – a few gig stories


Over the past few weeks, as my journey home from Derry has got longer & longer due to the bad weather, I’ve started to devise new ways to pass the time I spend in the car.  A recent ongoing theme has been trying to first of all remember all the bands I’ve seen in the last 35 years and then to put them into chronological order.  I managed to remember the first & last bands (the late Desmond Dekker & Robert Plant’s Band of Joy for anyone that’s wondering) but I’ve mothballed the task pending future imprisonment (solitary confinement) or hostage seizure when I may have time to revisit.  What the exercise has done is remind me of many, many fun nights out over the years and here are a few of the highlights/oddities:

·         I saw all sorts of bands when I was a teenager in Doncaster.  My friends & I used to frequent the Outlook Club which sadly (?) no longer exists.  It had a very short space between the stage & the ceiling and that meant that Johnny Ramone had to do his entire set in 1977 with his head bowed & his hair hanging down.  The Ramones were supporting the Talking Heads or vice versa – that was a good night.  I’d never experienced anything like the Ramones.  We didn’t have the internet at school in the 1970s, no-one really travelled long distance and New York was to us like another planet.  I love the way that other bands have adopted Gabba Gabba Hey as one of their anthems and Belfast band the Sabrejets do a good cover.  Hearing those early Ramones songs now always reminds me of pogo-ing at university parties.

·         My friend & I hitchhiked from Nottingham to Leeds in 1982 to see the Rolling Stones in Roundhay Park.  It was a sunny day & we managed to get near the front.  We got a lift home with a VW transporter van full of hippies – which was great until the girl driving asked whether there was anyone else in the van who could drive but hadn’t dropped any acid.  Ah well – she was a trooper & managed to get us home ok without any mishaps.

·         Blondie played our Fresher ball in Lancaster – none of us had ever heard of them but they were good on the night.  Saw loads of great bands at university and some awful ones too (Bob Geldof’s dreadful Boomtown Rats stands out) but as it was the late 70s, there was always a lot of other stuff going on in parallel – mainly fighting it has to be said between the “posh” uni students & the punks from Preston who used to come up for gigs.  I kept out of the fighting but it always caused a lot of “noise”.

·         My friend sent me money in 1985 to buy Tom Waits tickets at the Dominion.  I failed to realise how popular Tom was likely to be & left ticket purchase to the last minute.  There were none left.  Obvious to me now!  I put upon all my London friends to ring everyone & anyone they knew with “music biz” contacts.  There were no Tom Waits tickets to be had for love or money.  It was ok though – I didn’t tell my friend, we turned up on the night of the gig & I blagged us in at the Dominion – although we had to stand at the back.  Yep – I must have always been manipulative.

·         Think the most surreal has to be Jayne (formerly Wayne) County at the Fridge in Brixton.  The men on the stage were naked except for policeman’s hats and they were dancing energetically.  As we were at the front that resulted in a lot of “movement” right in our eyelines.  We were truly spoilt for choice in Brixton between the Academy & the Fridge.  Mick Jones’ dad used to drink in our local in Brixton Hill.  Conversation went like this “My boy’s in a band – you might have heard of him”; us to middle aged man, “oh yeah – who’s that then?” (thinking to ourselves it was gonna be someone awful & we’d have to pretend whoever X was was ok) “It’s Mick Jones – he plays a lovely guitar – he used to be in a band called the Clash – have you heard of them?”  Silence fell as we gazed at the father of one of our gods…

·         Seen the late Link Wray at the Garage in London & self nominated King of the Surf guitar Dick Dale a number of times in various locations; also went all the way to Spain to see Davie Allan & the Arrows – which completes that particular holy trinity.  Caught both Slacktone and the Neptunes at a Hillbilly Surf Stomp in San Luis Obispo during the week following 9/11 when I was stranded in California – most memorable thing about that day apart from the music was the number of Americans that asked me why people in other countries hated them so much…which was a hard question to answer tactfully.

·         Saw Mark Lanegan & the Screaming Trees at the Astoria & attended the after gig party.  Whilst the band was on stage, someone had stolen all their credit cards.  Ah well – kept Mark out of trouble for that one night at least.  Along the same lines, we were on the guest list for Faith No More at the Astoria and one of the bouncers came by and told us we’d have to give up our seats if Eric Clapton showed up.  Lucky for him he didn’t as we weren’t for moving.

·         More recently moved furniture with Jonathan Richman when he was in Belfast, rubbed shoulders with Leonard Cohen in the Do-Lab at Coachella (he was the only person formally dressed), met Steve Earle in Derry with some of the Learning Pool team (that’s us all in the photo – Steve Earle looks almost like part of our team in this pic) and travelled down to Dublin with Janet Harkin to see Robert Plant’s Band of Joy.

Every one of them a good night – hopefully there’ll be many more.  Looking forward to reading your gig stories in the comments.




  1. Ahhh Yes, the joys of live music – great gigs are a life affirming experience while bad ones are just very annoying as your hero’s disapoint youVan the Man has provided both in equal measure… a stunning gig in London 20yrs ago where he was on top form , losing himself in the moment and living the music – to a crap gig in Dublin where he thought he’d let the songs speak from themselves – via Brian Kennedy…Leonard Cohen is ( to use a cliche) a near religious experience – especially when set in the grounds of our own WB Yeats… I always feel that music provides a spectrum of experiences – Abba to Zappa and everything in between.Noticeable highlights inclue the Stone Roses in front of 100 people in Coleraine before the release of their debut album – at that time they were a Pistols of their generation -the attitude, energy, songs and connection. We had a great time with them afterwards disucssing Peter Hook, philosophy and good music.The Wedding present, Ride, Buzzcocks, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Sisters of Mercy and the like never failed to be consistently good – sometimes simple is better but Radiohead always manage to be interesting. There’s also the spectacle gigs where it’s more theatre than music and that ain;t so bad if it’s done well – U2 on their Zooropa tour was part of the reinvention of stadia gigs and I found myself toe tapping at Take That in Croke Park last yr… Wedding anniversary present for my wife – honest guv….and then there are the totally unexpected pleasures… Richard Thompson/Ray Davis in Letterkenny, Billy Bragg in Termon and GBH in derry where 6 of us turned up to see them play – the total crowd numbered 8.. the other two didn;t know where they were. One of the gang playing guitar on one number and singing lead voal on another – it was like a private fan club show in the front room – followed by Kebabs and beer with the band – great fun…There also those we wish we could have but didn’t get the chance to see – MC5, Tim/Jeff Buckely, The Stooges , Elvis, blues of the deep south, Buffalo Tom, Pixies first time round and my ultimate favourite – The Sisters of Mercy 81-83 – does the neear 100 bootlegs count as obsessive !!!!The thing is that music and the live experience can be equally thrilling whether it is the company of 8 or 80,000 and new music continues of offer endless possibilties


  2. Have to admit it Mary, Boomtown Rats was my first ever gig but I was only 14 and i did make up for it by seeing Stiff Little Fingers (supported by Donnegal’s) Starjets a couple of weeks later.Growing up in Bradford was a problem as not many bands came to Bradford then as opposed to now when absolutely no bands play in Bradford. We would troll off to Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield and saw a massive variety of music like Iggy, The Cramps, Sugar Cubes, Echo, James, Happy Mondays, Wonderstuff and tons more. I remember Bauhas in a Bradford nightclub, Sisters of Mercy who were just sunglasses in a bank of fog, Radiohead at Huddersfield Uni supporting Kingmaker and Curiosity Killed the cat being hit by flying trainer bras.The great thing is, it doesn’t stop. Only last week I saw The Drums and their support The Violens was a nice discovery.Biggest regret? Never seeing the Smiths play as a band although I have seen Morrissey a number of times and caught Johnny Marr with The The. Still would have loved to have seen the Smiths.Music. Where would we be without it?


  3. Thanks for your comments boys. I hear that behaviour is utterly normal for Sisters of Mercy fans Peter! I saw Leonard Cohen at Coachella a couple of years back just as the sun was setting & it was truly magical. People are supposed to play short sets but he disregarded that. His girls still managed to do their cartwheels on the tiny stage.Chris – I almost included my own Smiths story – like you I’ve seen them but not together. I’ve seen Morrissey but I saw Johnny Marr, again at Coachella, when he joined Paul Weller on stage & played guitar on “Town Called Malice”. Great stories – keep ’em coming – I know you have more…


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