Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Memories of a thousand* gigs #1

(* probably not actually that many, but who’s counting?)

During the early nineties, I took in more live bands than I care to think about. A lot of them I’ve forgotten, many I remember only vaguely. There are those however that, for one reason or another, have stuck vividly in my mind. You really cannot explain the sheer rush you get from being blown away by a live band. It’s better than drugs and (occasionally) sex! The disappointment of a less-than-satisfactory performance from one of your favourite bands however is akin to the breakup of a relationship, something you think at the time you’ll never get over. 

It’s not all about the music or performance either.  All kinds of stories can emanate from a gig which make it particularly memorable. Like Lesley Rankine, vocalist of manic hardcore outfit Silverfish, unwittingly crushing my fingers under her Doc Martens; having a beer with Carter USM’s super-sized manager Jon Beast; or getting utterly wankered in a caravan with Feeder.

Every Wednesday (if I remember) I shall try to document a show that remains particularly memorable for one reason or another. A few more may be mentioned in other articles. The fact I can remember as many gigs as I do speaks volumes; there have been plenty of highs and a few lows. Occasionally I’ll forget I’ve even seen a band. For instance, until I started researching this series, I would have sworn I’d never seen Stereolab live, when it turns out they supported R.E.M. in 1999. Mrs Robster and I were down at the front too. Obviously their rendition of Death Disco on the night was well below par.

Or is it better to be remembered for being shite than not to be remembered at all? Hmm, maybe I should ask My Bloody Valentine…

And so, here it is - starting with my very first gig:

#1: The Wedding Present
Great Hall, Exeter University – 5th October, 1988
Support: The Heart Throbs
Also in attendance: Wayne - my best mate

You never forget your first. Your first gig, that is. Mine was a relatively obscure indie band from Yorkshire that a much cooler friend of mine at college introduced me to. The Weddoes were ‘between albums’ when I lost my live band virginity to them. Their debut ‘George Best’ had made a reasonable dent in the consciousness of NME readers and Peel listeners alike and major labels were taking an interest. As it was, I had recently bought the non-album single Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm and was awaiting the follow-up Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now? when they descended on Devon.

My best buddy Wayne and I decided to buy tickets, but not being able to drive yet, would have to work out a way to get there later. A minor detail! Wayne had beaten me to the first gig experience by a few months, when he went with his cousins to see Wet Wet Wet in Plymouth. I wonder if he’d admit to it nowadays; by the time of the Weddoes show, he was already showing signs of denial.

Somehow I managed to convince my mum to take us. Living, as we did, 30-odd miles away from the venue – an hour-long drive on largely rural B roads – it was a nice gesture from her to say yes without hesitation. Wayne’s mum Val was taken along for the ride; they would have a girl’s night out in Exeter as Wayne and I mixed it with students older, smarter and considerably cooler than us. 

Mum and Val dropped us off outside and drove off into town. Wayne and I joined the queue and patiently waited in line with the cooler kids. The next hour or so is hazy, partly because it was so long ago – more than 25 years in fact – and partly because I couldn’t really take it all in. I do, however, remember sitting in the foyer with Wayne and noticing Weddoes frontman David Gedge standing just to my left. Wayne and I argued briefly over whether it really was him or not – he didn’t think so, but I was pretty sure[1]. I also remember where I stood as the support band came on. Facing the stage, I was pretty near the front by the speaker stack on the right. Perhaps not the best idea for a gig newbie like myself.

As I remember it, the opening band the Heart Throbs were a decent band. Well, they must have been because I became an immediate fan, buying some of their early singles and all three of their subsequent albums. They were fronted by the bleach-blonde Carlotti sisters Rose and Rachel, sisters of Echo and the Bunnymen drummer Pete de Freitas. Like a number of bands of the time – the Primitives, the Darling Buds, Transvision Vamp – the blonde girls out front were the focus of the group, the male members remained largely anonymous.

The Weddoes were a blast, of course. They tore through most of the songs from ‘George Best’, added a healthy splash of old faves, and even played one or two new ones including a song called Kennedy which, a year or so later, would become their debut major label single and their first ever Top 40 hit.

Throughout the show, I had been forced further back the crowd, from front right to halfway back to the left. That didn’t matter though. From there I could take more in without being blasted by the speakers or getting a wayward elbow smashing into my nose. Surveying the scene – a crowd of sweaty moshers, Mr Gedge bent over his furiously-strummed semi-acoustic in his trademark way, the reaction when the band finally launched into A Million Miles after the crowd had been shouting for it all night – a huge grin fixed itself to my face and stayed there for days. I was hooked, and over the coming years I would see hundreds – yes, hundreds – of bands at various places around the country. I would even see the Wedding Present on another four occasions (to date)[2].

So, technically, the Heart Throbs were the first band I saw live[3]. Officially though, it was Gedge & co. that took my virginity. If you’re reading David – you were great.  How was it for you?  


[1] I was right, as Wayne himself admitted following the show. To this day, Gedge mingles with his audience before and after each show.
[2] On the ‘Bizarro’ tour a year later in Bristol; on the ‘Bizarro’ 21st Anniversary tour in 2010 in Cardiff; on the ‘Seamonsters’ 21st Anniversary/’Valentina’ tour in 2012 in Cardiff again; and briefly, the tail-end of an in-store show at the Plymouth Virgin Megastore in 1996, after which David Gedge himself commented on my well-worn Bizarro t-shirt.
[3] Even this isn’t technically true if you include the resident holiday camp bands I saw as a kid, and those that always seemed to play at family parties and weddings etc. But, for obvious reasons, they don’t count!


  1. I'll never forget the first time I heard Sproston Green by The Charlatans Live. I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard that song before I saw it been played live. Then again, maybe that's where I should have heard it for the first time. It blew my mind. Both myself and my friends jaws fell to the ground! The green lights shining through the dried ice with the build up of the song and Bam into the hammond solo! Nice!

  2. Neds Atomic Dustbin - Folkestone 1991 March 16th I think. Happy Tour. Rubbish Live. S-WC.

  3. I saw the Weddoes a year before you did, Rob, with the Sinister Cleaners opening. Not my very first gig, but an early one, that's for sure. And it was utterly brilliant as well, unforgettable in fact!

  4. I saw them around the same time at Liverpool University, probably the same tour. Very good live band as you say. My first live band were Jo-Boxers (supporting Madness, Manchester Apollo, 1983 or 4).

  5. First gig was The Police at the Glasgow Apollo. May '79. Two acts on the underbill - Bobby Henry and The Cramps(!!). £2.50 a ticket - unreserved seating. They'd done on sale months earlier when nobody had heard of any of the bands. By the time the gig came round, the re-issued 'Roxanne' had chaos (but as I was to discover in the coming months and years, total chaos was the norm at the Apollo).

    Here's a link to a couple of reviews from then:-

    Neither mentions that Lux got his cock out during 'Human Fly' and almost caused a riot....