the first 23 gigs I can remember going to

An occasional series of posts in which any semblance of my credibility is blown out of the water.

As die-hard anti-capitalists, it’s curious how often music bloggers end up stuck in the rut of expanding their cultural capital. Yes yes, you saw it first, you know more, you have more records, you have a better analysis, you’re The Man. And always so tasteful.

Few find the time to write about aspects of their lives which might detract from their cred. Even the “ten records hiding at the back of your collection that no grown man should own” meme ended up being an exercise in wacky popism rather than abject embarrassment. Because we’ve already purged our collections of the really awful stuff – as part of the process of reinventing ourselves as dashing young things rather than spotty teenagers.

Maybe it’s time for a potlatch?

An envelope full of totally bonkers memory-recall turned up recently. Little squares of paper with dates and band names on them.

Squares of paper from a time in my life where I changed from being a polite boy who toed the line, into a polite teenager with a head full of weird ideas. Who wasn’t quite so sure about that line he’d been toeing…

I grew up in St Albans, a relatively well-to-do commuter belt town famous for its roman ruins. St Albans is about 45 minutes north of London by train on a bad day.

In the autumn of 1980 I started at a comprehensive school which had still had delusions about being a grammar. For example, they didn’t let girls go there. My parents thought this would help me to concentrate on my school work, but instead I found all sorts of other stuff to distract me. It was in many ways a classically nerdy childhood – comics, computer games, mates, science fiction… and music.

School was tribal. In my first year, you were either into two-tone OR heavy metal. Friends from primary school were suddenly all into heavy metal and so of course was I. At least to the extent of wearing a Judas Priest badge, but not knowing any of their songs. I liked Madness and The Specials more, but couldn’t admit to it. I liked Soft Cell and The Human League even more than that, which would have united both rockers and rude boys against me, had it been made public knowledge.

Later that year, I was given my first transistor radio as a Christmas present (Jonah Lewie’s “Stop the Cavalry” is the first song it played me – I was thrilled). At some point a clunky mono portable cassette player followed, which meant I could record my favourite tunes by pressing its tiny built-in microphone up close to the radio’s tinny loudspeaker.

I remember especially liking Tony Blackburn’s Saturday morning radio show for kids. He’d play novelty tunes like Captain Beaky, but also proper hardcore stuff like Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five’s “The Message”. In a parallel universe, hearing that record turned me into an instant b-boy with a catalogue of credible teenage experiences. In this one, it was just another great tune.

I’d spend Sunday nights polishing my shoes and making a vat of sandwiches for my school packed lunch for the whole week. (4 sets of which would then go in the freezer and be thawed out each night. Yes, they tasted disgusting, but I couldn’t be arsed making fresh sandwiches every morning.) During this weekly ritual I’d listen to the Top 40 rundown on Radio 1, occasionally rushing up to record something or other. I didn’t feel like my home taping was “killing music” because I was also spending virtually all of my money on music. Even, at times, money which my parents had given me to buy clothes.

The first album I bought was Adam and The Ants – “Kings of The Wild Frontier”, on cassette, from Woolworths. Many more followed, but I was always really excited by the idea of seeing bands in the flesh, alongside a mass of like-minded fans…

It is fair to say that my first gigs were not by people whose music has aged as well as Adam and The Ants or Grandmaster Flash…

Click here for a complete list of entries in the series  “the first 23 gigs I can remember going to”.


  1. the frozen butties really put a massive smile on my dial mate…
    i don’t have too much dross in my collection as i sold it[and some nice stuff]to buy more DRUGS…
    but i will admit to having a curly perm in the late 70s to look like the dude otta thin lizzy…
    looking fwd to pt one.x

  2. Lovely post, John….

    “At some point a clunky mono portable cassette player followed, which meant I could record my favourite tunes by pressing its tiny built-in microphone up close to the radio’s tinny loudspeaker.” _ I had a lump in my throat at that point…I had an Hitachi mono-cassette player that my folks bought me for Christmas, along with a css of T. Rex’s “Electric Warrior”…I used that tape-deck til it fell apart, almost 15 years later. Used it to make my first bad bedroom noise experiments…dammit, I can still remember how it smelled ….god, I want that tape-deck back sooo badly…

  3. Judas Priest! The shame! Brilliant stuff Mr E, think I’m going to enjoy this series a lot.

    Now I’ve become a little more technologically sophisticated (it’s all relative), I’ve been thinking about returning to that ten records meme .. I will keep you informed.

    More please, quickly.

  4. Blimey, I think I am far too embarrassed to list the bands I first saw in the mid 70’s, but Black Sabbath are definitely on the list — and they were pretty good actually. After that, there were all those bands from the late 70’s many of whom turned out to be far worse than Black Sabbath! The Damned, The Ramones, Banshees, and all those garage punk bands of the late 70’s were on my list, plus quite a few late 70’s UK reggae bands, who didn’t seem to have found their own “individual voice” in many ways: some were amazing, some dire. Motorhead in their earliest incarnation, often playing with good punk bands, were something I will never forget. A phenomena, like a wind or gale force.In their earliest days They were faster and more intense , more punk rock , than the vast majoirty of the punk bands themselves. I’ve never seen a room full of punks and bikers and skinheads overlook all their differences so quickly — everyone was just open mouthed gob smacked at the sonic force released on stage by lemmy.

  5. I should add that whatever became of the Damned later, and the parody they turned into, they never let you down live in the late 70’s — from the Brian James days to the Algy Ward gigs, they were f***g brilliant, so fast, so chaotic. Shame they turned into punk parody and Goths — but they were great in the “New Rose/Neat Neat Neat” days, even if Lydon et al slag them off as cash in clowns. Hardcore stemmed in great part imho, from those early Damned attitudes to speed and noise, even if those records sound comparatively tame now. Oh, I also saw a lot of early Cramps gigs too,( 78/79 I think? ) and they were incredible.

  6. devotional – yes I’ll have to add in some stuff about rubbish haircuts as well.

    kek – i miss those big buttons

    smith – yes yes, I have a few of these to get through 🙂

    greg – well that is all more credible than mine

    paul – well, yeah, that’s my point exactly really. Typical blogger 😉

  7. John wrote — “greg – well that ( list) is all more credible than mine”

    Hi John — that’s only because I didn’t mention or list the really,really bad “unfashionable” bands I saw!

  8. Apart from a few ‘Now’ compilations when I was really young, the first CD I ever bought (1n 1990 in my early teens), was ‘frizzle Fry’ by Primus. First vinyl was something cheap by the subhumans or nuclear assault. Pre teen faves included The Beatles, Chris DeBurgh, The frog chorus, Karel Fialka – ‘Hey Matthew’, T’pau (!) and the usual pop dross that was everywhere at the time.

    First gig I remember going too was Naplam Death and Death at Mc Gonagles in Dublin in ’92, closely followed by Rollins Band/Chili Peppers.

    I think the only reason I manage any credibility with that selection (if there is any!) is due to being a penniless and anti-social teenage goblin who spent more time in lanes and fields drinking cheap booze than going out to gigs or buying records.


  10. The Adam & The Ants cassette image made me smile big. Right now, not 4′ from me sits a Cabaret Voltaire – Drinking Gasoline cassette in its case. I haven’t owned a cassette player since 1995.

    The first album I ever bought with my own money I bought at 9 years old. David Bowie’s Scary Monsters. The first real concert I ever attended was actually the Lorelei Music Festival 1989(?) The Sugarcubes, The Pixies, The Cure and a handful of others played that night and I was in the Army stationed in Germany. I was 18. I’d been there for most of the day waiting to see the Cure. The music was fantastic. The porta-toilets? – not so much. By the time the Cure came on stage to wrap up a day of upbeat and interesting music with a fat dirge from their bag of tricks, everyone started piling out.

    They were performing Disintegration, after all. *smirk*

    Anyone who wasn’t piling out was lying in pools of their own spew having been drunk/high for most of the day. Teased hair, ninja gear and all. 🙂 I didn’t even know who Bjork was at the time.





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