It’s bizarre to think that for someone who has been to gigs as far north as Lerwick on the Shetland Islands – The Smiths October 1985 – and as far south as St.Austell on the Cornish coast – The Smiths, again, almost exactly one year later – I’ve only ever been to London twice for a gig since records began. And by ‘records’, I mean my Gigs spreadsheet, which every reasonable man of a certain age should have. Shouldn’t they?
Those other two visits, some 25 years apart, also feature Morrissey, both as frontman and flying soloist. I was fortunate enough to be at The Smiths’ last ever gig, which took place at Brixton Academy on 12 December 1986. Of course, no-one knew at the time it would they would be bidding a fond farewell but as it turned out it was a momentous occasion and I was grateful to be part of it. A mere 25 years later I returned to London to see Morrissey at the Palladium in the company of well-kent Mozophile Simon Goddard, author of “Mozipedia: The Encyclopaedia of Morrissey and The Smiths“ and the recently re-issued, re-packaged “Songs That Saved Your Life – The Art of The Smiths 1982-87“.
On Saturday 22 June 2013 I made my long overdue return to the nation’s capital to take in not just a gig but what can be reasonably described as ‘an event’. There wasn’t just one band, with one, maybe two support acts. This was a ten band royal rumble with everyone topping the bountiful bill. However, with all those headliners spread over two rooms, there were always going to be logistical difficulties and, in my case, split loyalties.
As I mentioned in my preview of the Scared To Get Happy gig last week, I had a dilemma of sorts. When you think about the number of bands featured on the box set alone – 137 – it’s no surprise that I don’t know all of them. This made my early evening decision fairly straightforward as I wasn’t overly familiar with the works of Yeah Yeah Noh or The Blue Orchids. I know, shame on me. Being a creature of habit I stuck with what I knew, especially as while I had more than a passing acquaintance with the back catalogues concerned I hadn’t seen any of the first three bands in the flesh before. Therefore most of the first three hours – bar a wee peak at Yeah Yeah Noh – was spent in the larger Room 1.
The Wolfhounds kicked off proceedings and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I was aware of some of their work ‘back in the day’ but they weren’t a band that really reached my radar. I was a big fan of Happy Shopper, which they didn’t play, and their Pink Records debut single Cut The Cake, which they did. What I witnessed was a blistering set of angular spiky pop whose energy belied the age of the band. Frontman Dave Callahan joked that they might be one of the only bands who would be playing a “new single”. On this evidence I hope there are more to come.
Next up in Room 1 were Birmingham’s Mighty Mighty who produced some of the best indie pop singles of the 1980s in the shape of Throwaway, Is There Anyone Out There and stonking set closer Built Like a Car. In Russell Burton they had one of the most laid back bass-playing performances I’d seen for a long while. Another solid performance from a band whose musical flame was extinguished too soon.
The Brilliant Corners were another band with two feet firmly planted in the indie pop camp, albeit with a brassy tinge. Amelia Fletcher (Talulah Gosh/Heavenly/Marine Research/Tender Trap) joined them on stage for the last few songs, finishing with the legendary Brian Rix. Sadly, battery problems meant I was only able to get a couple of tracks ‘on tape’, which was a shame as they were on good form.
I’ve seen BMX Bandits in various incarnations on a dozen occasions and would surely see them again soon so I didn’t feel too bad about sneaking off mid-set. Not before I heard some of their classics – Let Mother Nature Be Your Guide, Serious Drugs and The Sailor’s Song – and the story of how Duglas was personally responsible for the birth of fellow Bandit Gareth Perrie. You had to be there! They also treated us to Fireworks – written by TeenCanteen’s Carla Easton – from their latest album BMX Bandits in Space, one of my favourites from the past year.
As I’ve mentioned previously I have a penchant for making a fool of myself on television quiz shows. On my first appearance back in 1991 I wore a long-sleeved Popguns Snog t-shirt on the quizzers’ quiz Fifteen to One. The Popguns‘ jingly-jangly guitar-driven indie pop has been a constant in my life and I regularly return to their fine body of work. Tonight they concentrated on their wonderful debut album Eugenie, albeit a compilation of early singles that preceded their ‘proper’ debut Snog. The tracklist was replicated in order with time for a barnstorming bonus of Bye Bye Baby from Snog to finish. It had been 18 years since I’d last seen them and I don’t believe I ever heard Wendy in finer voice. The guys were tighter than ever and the crowd lapped it up. My highlight on an evening of musical highs. (I also interviewed Wendy as part of a feature on the night and you can hear it HERE)
With the applause from the more compact Room 2 still ringing in my ears I scampered back to Room 1 to catch most of The Primitives set. The band had reformed in 2009 but I hadn’t seen them live since they supported Echo and the Bunnymen at the Edinburgh Playhouse in January 1988. Crash was storming the charts and Tracy Tracy was resplendent in a light blue outfit. On Saturday it was wonderful white puffball affair. The band sounded great and I look forward to catching them when they play Edinburgh again in September.
By the time We Found A Way To The Sun had tailed off in Room 1 there was only one band still playing and that was The June Brides. Room 2 was jam-packed for them and I caught some of it from the back. They sounded in good form.
All in all it had been worth the long trip from Fife. I even spotted comedian Stewart Lee in attendance. It was also great to catch up with Kevin Birchall and his wife Linda who run the excellent Going Up The Country event every year.
After a few backstage chats and photographs it was off into the London night in search of food, with a skip in my step and a warm glow of indie pop goodness enveloping me. It had been well worth enduring an 850 mile round trip for.
A big thanks to everyone involved in organising the night, especially John Reed who gave my a great interview on the process behind the box set, which will be soundtracking my summer, just as those tunes had done 30 odd years ago.
The box set, Scared To Get Happy – A Story of Indie Pop 1980-1989, is out now on Cherry Red Records.
The Wolfhounds – Lost But Happy The Wolfhounds 1986-1990 is available from Cherry Red Records.
Mighty Mighty – Pop Can! The Definitive Collection 1986 to 1988 is available now from Cherry Red Records.
The Brilliant Corners – Heart On Your Sleeve: A Decade in Pop 1983-1993 is available now from Cherry Red Records.
BMX Bandits – BMX Bandits in Space is available now from Elefant Records.
The Popguns – Another Year Another Address – The Best of the Midnight Years is available now from Cherry Red Records.
The Primitives – Everything’s Shining Bright – The Lazy Recordings 1985-1987 is available now from Cherry Red Records.
The June Brides – Every Conversation – The Story of June Brides and Phil Wilson is available now from Cherry Red Records.
Yeah Yeah Noh – Leicester Square – The Best of Yeah Yeah Noh is available now from Cherry Red Records.
Blue Orchids – A Darker Bloom: The Blue Orchids Collection is available now from Cherry Red Records.
14 Iced Bears – Hold On Inside, Complete Recordings 1991 to 1986 is available now from, yes, you’ve guessed it, Cherry Red Records.