my second and third gigs

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


2) Midge Ure Wembley Arena 23/12/85

Back to the Arena, two days before Xmas. I had another school friend who was a big Ultravox fan. He used to regularly curse Joe Dolce whose accordion-bothering “Shaddap You Face” had kept “Vienna” off the number 1 spot in the UK charts.

I thought Ultravox were alright – all those moody synths, overcoats and big words. More on them anon, though. I vaguely recall the queue being flyered by young women in skimpy Santa Claus outfits. Stuff like that makes an impression on you when you’re 16.

The support act was Belouis Some – the great wannabe pop star of the era who never really made it. His one big hit “Imagination” has the classic first line “she lit a cigarette, both hands behind her back” which sounds either glamorous or like a fire hazard depending on your cynicism. It’s here on youtube, but any info on what he is doing now has eluded me. His set was alright but I remember being quite down on his attempts to get everyone to put their hands in the air.

This gig was part of Midge Ure’s post-Live Aid solo career and wasn’t really all that. The place was half full and lacked the atmosphere of the Howard Jones gig. We were sitting up in a balcony miles away from the stage, so we had a better view of the gaps in the audience than the, uh, “action”.

I couldn’t remember what was played, but a quick google turned up “Sleepwalk” (Ultravox), “Fade To Grey” (Visage, which Midge was also in) and “No Regrets” (Scott Walker, which he had released as a solo single many years earlier). I remember quite liking “The Gift” (the album Midge was promoting), but the setlist looks like a bit of a crisis of confidence in retrospect.


The graphic for the hit single off the album (“If I Was”, Number One for a week) was one of those desk toys where you have a load of shiny silver nails in a frame that you can put your hand in and “wooh!” it leaves an impression of a hand in there. That probably sums up a lot of the stadium pop of the time – executive desk toys. Youtube link.

A dodgy download of the album confirms my worst suspicions – dangerously portentious wordy business. There are a lot of cringeworthy lyrics about teenage alienation though:

“She tries to understand what her father preaches / She wants to live a life that a new world teaches”
(She Cried)

“The boy is listening to those records from the past / he wants to make them last / for they make him feel alive / they are the voices of the faces on the wall / he listens to them all / hangs on every little tale they tell […] one day he even cut their names upon his skin / they mean that much to him / his bedroom window opens to the evening air / the fox is in his lair”

I even bought a Midge Ure t-shirt. I managed to drop it a few months later whilst walking somewhere or other and by the time I’d retraced my steps someone had ripped it to shreds. (Or maybe it was “the fox out of his lair, walking in the evening air” eh?). I don’t remember being particularly upset by this.

I didn’t know it at the time but somewhere else somebody else was skanking to untold versions of King Jammy’s “sleng teng”. I had a long way to go…


3) Marillion, Milton Keynes Bowl 28/06/86

Yes, yes, what were we thinking, eh? I spent my 17th birthday here. There was a coach from St Albans to Milton Keynes and four of us from my school got on it.

My main memory is that there were loads of blokes with long hair and denim. In fact I have a horrifiying suspicion that my own barnet had moved beyond Howard Jones spikey into a mullety type affair by this point.

Jethro Tull played “Living In The Past” which I suddenly realised Midge Ure had also covered at the previous gig. I remember someone referring to them as “The Tull” in a Brummie accent.

But I can’t remember anything about the Mama’s Boys, which either means they were middle of the road nonsense, or were so dire I have blanked them from my mind in an act of psychic self defence. Things improved slightly when we struck up the courage to try and get some cider. In retrospect it’s pretty obvious that nobody at these events really gives a toss who they are selling alcohol to as long as you can physically see over the counter. At the time it seemed very daring, ha ha.

Magnum were OK, my rockier mates liked them and they’d even played St Albans Civic Centre I think. (Other fixtures including Hawkwind and Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts – all these rockers would come out of the woodwork from surrounding villages…)

Six years after the great secondary school two tone / heavy metal wars, we were a lot more tolerant of musical diversity. I was never that into “rock” and I’m sure some of our crew were never convinced by Marc Almond. Everything was a negotiation, alliances shifted. But a day out was a day out, always riddled with exciting possibilities.

Having said that, Gary Moore was fucking bollocks, obviously. Wanking about with a guitar and big hair. Parisian Walkways and all that. I liked to think of myself as open-minded back then, but I was 100% certain about that not being my bag.

I liked Marillion though.

Perhaps it was that faux sophistication thing again – lots of wordy lyrics and worldly songs about the horrors of war and bad women and messed up situations. And weird proggy little musical freakouts. Oh and those dark bits of sleeve art with jesters lurking in dark bedsits looking abject.

Marillion was the first thing I ever heard on a Sony Walkman. Some kid smuggled his onto the school sports field and we sat around waiting patiently for our turn. It sounded pretty amazing – properly inside your head, loud and majestic and all that. Another dodgy download confirms that it was in fact a load of boshing drums, senselessly tweaky keyboard solos and sixth form poetry.

Marillion were the antithesis of punk (apart from the odd “fuck” in the lyrics), but you forget how popular this stuff was (and is) when you spend your time on more tasteful pursuits – Milton Keynes Bowl has a capacity of 65,000 and it was pretty rammed.

I bought a t-shirt, yes sirree. It had a little drummer boy on it and big yellow Marillion logo. Somewhere there is probably photographic evidence of me with a mullet, wire-framed specs and a Marillion t-shirt. I’ve always had that kind of effortlessly stylish glamour about me, I can tell you.

I think I knew all the words to the songs as well. In fact I can still recall something like “gracefully polluting satellite infested heavens” right now, 23 years later.

We were half cut by the time they came on. I’m sure everyone over 18 was ripped to the gills. We were all outside, under clear skies as the sun was setting – watching one of our favourite bands. Fish was a great frontman.

So we all sang along to all the wordy words in every song. Except “Kayleigh” – even Marillion fans refused to stand for that.


  1. goddam i had that Midge ure album too. thankfully banished from my collection eons ago. but i do still have the first four albums he made with Ultravox. i never play them…but maybe one day.

    my mate at school loved marillion. i thought they were pants, apart from that single Kaylie

  2. Good grief John, it’s like a Soviet showtrial from the 30s. Enough self-incrimination already!

    Seriously mate, another top-notch post. But why oh why would anyone rip a Midge Ure T to pieces?

    And these lyrics scared me a bit:

    “The boy is listening to those records from the past / he wants to make them last / for they make him feel alive / they are the voices of the faces on the wall / he listens to them all / hangs on every little tale they tell […] one day he even cut their names upon his skin / they mean that much to him / his bedroom window opens to the evening air / the fox is in his lair”

    I’m getting rid of all these old records immediately!

  3. This just gets worse and worse… Im assuming its all leading to a account of your road to Damascus moment where you get knocked out by some particularly portentous angst ridden lyrics/a flick of a blonde mullet and woke up with the shocking realisation that you should have been listening to UK fast chat all along?

  4. ‘worse and worse’? maybe, but from a pure entertainment view i think its getting better and better. looking fwd to gigs 4 & 5!

  5. It does indeed get worse before it gets better (which as gutter says, is the whole point). I like Smith’s analogy with the showtrials, but I’m finding it all very enjoyable and therapeutic 😉

  6. this gets better and better.

    I saw Marillion, too. Supported by the Cardiacs. And there’ still a little bit of me that will attempt to stage a defence for Marillion.

    It’d be WRONG. But heartfelt.

  7. The Cardiacs were a lot more druggy, weren’t they? It occurs to me now that Marillion were about like prog with all the psychedelic bits stripped out?

  8. Oh I used to go and see Ultravox at places like the Marquee on Wardour Street in the 1970s… I particularly loved the 2nd album “Ha Ha Ha” and the single “Young Savage”… but I only ever saw them with John Foxx as frontman, I thought they lost it on “Systems of Romance” and so lost interest in them before Midge Ure joined the band… but this is all a product of age… the difference between being born in London in the early sixties as against the late sixties… And even if I could have choosen I wouldn’t have been born any later… maybe a bit earlier coz I’d have loved to have been going to gigs in London in the mid-sixties, whereas my classic teenage gig era was late-seventies… But I think it is cycles, as growing up through the eighties dance thing must have been very exciting too… peaks and troughs… I figure from a music point of view being born mid-sixties in London would probably have been worse than late-sixties…. and obviously the good and bad dates would be different in other geographical locations….

  9. Once worked alongside a Marillion fan. The only memory I have of him is that he farted a lot. Have heard that Fish is a good sort.




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