I haven’t been to a “proper” gig in a long time, for various reasons. But once upon a time I went to gigs all the time. Mainly small, local ones without proper tickets, but for those that did give tickets I still have them all in an album. Here they are!
The Music Industry Soccer Six (Mile End Stadium, London, 12 May 1996) – Not exactly a gig, this was a day-long six-a-side football tournament, starting many of our favourite bands of the time. Highlights included Blur vs Oasis (at the height of that nonsense), and our pitch invasion as Apollo 440 were crowned champions. The security staff were, I suppose thankfully, quite good humoured about it. I remember getting close to the bands before being tackled to the ground by the most muscular woman I’d ever seen. Great fun!
The Presidents of the United States Of America (Brixton Academy, London, 8 July 1996) – I mentioned this on a previous article – this was my first ever “proper” gig, and my first night out in London. First In was Kula Shaker, a band famous at the time for their single Tattva. They put on a blinding show, fantastic musicianship throughout. PUSA followed, with a considerably stripped down sound in comparison to their support, but they were the reason we were there. Playing all our favourites from their first album and a few sneaky peeks at the upcoming sequel, I came home with a vinyl copy of Peaches with Video Killed The Radio Star on the B-side. It spent the entire show in the back of my trousers, as I had no other way to look after it. Peachy!
Metallica (Earls Court, London, 12 October 1996) – to pay for this ticket, which was most of two weeks pay at the time, I had to sell my Oasis Knebworth ticket. Whilst that show went on to be a legendary gig with a record number of participants, I don’t regret my decision. The Load tour, we captured in the DVD set Cunning Stunts, this was Metallica at their best. Unlike the cool kids, I actually loved Load, and the Black Album before it, as well as their early albums – and here I was punching the air and singing along to many of their very best songs! Corrosion of Conformity supported, and earned a new fan that night.
Reef (Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 4 March 1997) – Supported by Number One Cup (sorry lads, I don’t remember you at all!) and Feeder (one of my favourite, then-unknown to the world, bands), this is probably the weakest gig I’ve been to, overall. I don’t know if it was the venue. I only went there once, but it’s a large, well-known venue so I can’t imagine that was the problem. So let’s blame the band. Despite having one of the greatest albums of the year, Reef just weren’t on it that night. Or I wasn’t. Interesting aside: my sister met her husband at this venue when they both worked behind the bar, some years later.
Skunk Anansie (The Colosseum, Watford, 7th March 1997) – Yes, I know the date is different on the ticket. Unfortunately, Skin suffered a throat infection and couldn’t sing in November, so they moved the gig. What would have become my last gig as a 15 year old – one week before my birthday – became my second as a 16 year old. Whatever that means. Support came from Stereophonics (like Feeder, few people know the band at the time, but as a collector of magazine cover CDs, I knew a couple of their songs), and Gravity Kills (again I knew one or two of theirs thanks to Kerrang! and Metal Hammer. Both support acts were superb, but couldn’t hold a candle to the headliners. Already one of my favourite bands in my mid-teens, this show is possibly the best gig I ever went to. Watford Colosseum is small enough to keep you close to the bands, and the sound in there was immense. It’s no surprise that they chose this venue to record the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings a few years later!
Blur (Wembley Arena, London, 11 December 1999) – It’s no surprise to people that know me, I was quite the Blur fan. Their album Parklife was one of the first that got me into music proper, and indeed was the second CD album that I ever bought with my own money! This gig appears on DVD (titled The Singles Night) in the 21 box set, which also contains other live DVDs, remixes versions of all their albums in CD, and other goodies for fans (I have it of course!). The support act was some DJ or other. I was indifferent to his thing, but he ended up more or less booed off the stage, which is a shame. People can be cruel. Blur were on top form, and it was fantastic to finally see them live! We pushed up to the front and screamed along to the songs, all of the singles through their career. Some of the live recordings were released on disc 2 of their Greatest Hits album in 2000. This gig had a happier ending than most. Rather than spilling out onto the street with everyone else, we found ourselves backstage and at the aftershow party. The story as I heard it was that my then-girlfriend’s dad was an attorney and he’d represented Blur’s Chauffeur in some case or other. As thanks, he’d secured us passes to meet the band!! The bar was backstage and downstairs, and we waited patiently as various crew members came in, waiting for the band. They came in one by one, we said hello, then after what seemed like forever we found ourselves standing next to Damon Albarn and Phil Daniels. Unfortunately my girlfriend got sick at the wrong time (like seriously sick, she was in bed for a week, and I for the week after that!), and ran off to make pavement pizza. I took the initiative and interrupted their conversation, shaking Damon and Albarn’s hands. “I’m Ash, I’m a great fan, thanks for the show, now I’ve got to go!” I can still see Damon’s bemused face as I turned to follow her as he said “Ok, bye Ash!” and got back to the conversation that he wanted to be having.
Bloodhound Gang (Astoria, London, 21 June 2000) – Bloodhound Gang were, at this time, enjoying their five minutes of fame thanks to their album Hooray For Boobies, and more prominently the singles The Bad Touch and The Ballad of Chasey Lain. My friend Ben and I were already big fans. After hearing Kiss Me Where It Smells Funny on a Kerrang! cover CD, I had bought their first two albums and listened to them to death. They were supported here by a band called Tung (not to be confused for the English folk band, Tunng). A rapcore band not dissimilar to Rage Against the Machine, as soon as they started to play the crowd went crazy! We got caught up in the mosh and stayed there for the rest of the evening, pressed against the barrier for the main act. I left that show drenched in sweat, with a black eye from being kicked by a crowd surfer, soaked in wine and whiskey that had been poured on us by the bassist, Evil Jared, at various tones through the show, buzzing like never before. Their show included the fattest guy in the audience being covered in jelly, with pretty girls called up to lick it off, another being given several cartons of vindaloo to eat through the show, culminating in being offered money to take Jimmy Pop’s fingers down the throat and puke on the singer’s shirt…. it was disgusting, and yet SO MUCH FUN! Never before had a gig felt so much like a private party. I came home from the show with a Bloodhound Gang hoodie that became my favourite item of clothing – I still have it – and a condom with packaging emblazoned with the name of one of their songs Yummy Down on This! There’s also a blurry, out-of-focus photo of me behind the band in Kerrang!’s review of the show, after the photographers were pulled on stage to take a photo of the audience.
Oasis (Wembley Stadium, 22 July 2000) – One of the last gigs at the Stadium before they knocked it down and rebuilt it, Oasis were supported by The Happy Mondays, which was nice. Well past their prime in terms of album releases, this was at least a fantastic, powerful show. The “fans” did their best to ruin it, strutting around in their stupid hats, desperate to all look the same, pissing in bottles and throwing them into the crowd. But get past that and it was a good show.
Deconstruction Tour (London Arena, 28 May 2001) – This was something special. Ten bands, ten hours, £15. When you consider that the Oasis ticket above cost £27.50, this was a bargain of a show. Besides the bands, there were skateboarding and BMX displays in between. Some of our favourite bands played this show, but one of the main things I remember from it was the inclusive nature of it. There was every kind of “punk”, split off in their groups. We were skaters, there were “proper” punks with their colourful Mohawks and tartan, safety pin and piercings types, skinheads in their Ben Shermans and Doc Martens…. it was a posers paradise! Pennywise came on last and towards the end of their set they announced that the venue had a problem with their selling of merchandise, wanting a cut of the profits. That’s not right, they said, we’re here for you, not for them. We were told to leave early and the bands would be selling their merch on the streets – hurry before the police came! We were naturally pretty exhausted by then, and with a trek home to the extremities of the Metropolitan line we didn’t want to miss the last train, so we went and bought our t-shirts. It was a good feeling, seeing a band actually stand by their principles and sacrifice an audience for the final songs for their cause. The following year Deconstruction was part of Download Festival and cost £120.
Poison The Well (The Garage, London, 27 August 2003) – I went to this one not knowing the band, or their support, but came home with two new CDs and two new favourites. Whilst Poison The Well haven’t been on my radar for years now, their “special guest” went to release my album of the year in 2017. Thrice. Their twin guitar work left me in awe, and a lifelong fan. They’ve since stripped their sound back, and perhaps are better for it, their latest album being my favourite so far.
Million Dead (The Garage, London, 2 December 2003) – Support for this show came from Jarcrew and Minus – two great bands whose albums I bought soon after. This gig was a few weeks after I’d moved out of my mum’s house into a cottage with my best friend Ben and his girlfriend after they’d come back from University, and this gig was an outing for the housemates. We were there, of course, for Million Dead, who didn’t disappoint. After the show I went to buy one of their t-shirts from the band themselves, which is always a bonus, having the chance to thank them and declare your love!
Metallica (Earls Court, London, 19 Dec 2003) – Supported by Godsmack, this show left me feeling somewhat hollow. Another housemates outing (I may have forced them to buy tickets), I was disappointed by Metallica’s performance. Perhaps I was comparing it to the 1996 show, when they (and I) were much younger, or perhaps it was because we couldn’t help laughing at Rob Trujillo’s crabwalk, this just wasn’t as good a gig as I hoped it would be. It didn’t help that St Anger was a weak album, or that the band’s reputation with me had been forever tarnished by the Napster debacle. I’ve seen videos of their shows since, and even now they display ample energy and drive, so I guess I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this one.
Green Day (National Bowl, Milton Keynes, 19 June 2005) – The last big gig I went to, I had formed a strong preference for smaller venues by this time. Still, this was a fantastic show! Support from Hard-Fi (who we missed), Taking Back Sunday (who were great), and Jimmy Eat World (who were excellent). Green Day put on an amazing show, engaging with the audience and giving a strong performance throughout. Despite the huge size of the venue, and the fact we were standing some way back from the stage, we felt part of something special – something not every band can achieve. As the sun went down and they closed with two of their slower numbers – Wake Me Up When September Ends and Good Riddance, I had that unmistakeable feeling of a perfect gig. I then had to drive home, dropping of friends over a vast area, finally home and in bed at 2am. I then had to be in a London for a 9am medical exam to secure a new job. I passed, somehow.
That’s it, my entire collection of gig tickets. A treasured possession, it’s been fun to look back on the good times that they represent.
Want to chat about your best gigs? Perhaps, by some “it’s a small world” coincidence you were even at one of these shows? Then find me on Twitter @BitlandComic