my 4th and 5th gigs

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


4) Ultravox, Wembley Arena 5/11/86

Barrel-scraping time. This was Ultravox well after their peak, touring an album (U-Vox) that even their die-hard fans regard as rubbish.

I had mixed feelings about going to the gig but said Ultravox fan was well up for it, obviously. And then was hospitalised with something very nasty shortly beforehand (I can’t remember what, but we went to visit him in an isolation ward).

So I ended up going on my own. I was walking down the street trying to get people to buy my spare ticket (which was near impossible as everyone had them already) and managed to walk into a bollard, crushing my balls mid-sentenc. People laughed. That was the way I rolled as an awkward teenager in the 80s on the mean streets of Wembley.

I eventually sold the ticket to a tout for about 6 and a half pence. The support band were Terraplane, who I remember thinking were shit. I was seated about as far back as it is possible to be in Wembley Arena – i.e. probably in a different postcode to the stage.

The ‘Vox did a passable set of old and (shudder) new material. I am sure Midge Ure was on form.

It was Guy Fawkes night and I was on my own at the back of a fucking aircraft hanger listening to stadium synth pop. I have never been back to Wembley Arena since that night.


5) New Model Army, Town & Country Club 23/12/86

OK so perhaps this gig looks like a bit of a leap. I doubt many of the people who at the Ultravox show made it here as well. I’d been steadily falling under the spell of slightly punkier music. Tapes of Bauhaus and the Sex Pistols had been circulating at school. Parents were being pestered into buying DMs and leather jackets…

Until this point I’d had no idea about punk except seeing something about one of the Sex Pistols being sick at an airport on the news. The few punks that St Albans had to offer seemed incredibly exotic with their mad hair and slogans painted on their backs.

It was angry and there were lots of swearwords and it was definitely better than Midge Ure.

I’d hooked up with this guy at school called Wal. He had originally come to my attention when it was rumoured that he’d taken on his whole class during a woodwork lesson. With a large bit of wood. We bonded over music and hung around a lot, eventually venturing into the local gothy coterie.

Wal seemed like a natural punk to me, he was prone to spontaneity and getting into trouble. He brought me out of myself quite a bit. He ended up really badly falling out with his parents and living in a tent in a mate’s garden. At one point he stole his parent’s car while they were away on holiday (“don’t have any parties, don’t use the car”) . We went on a week-long jaunt to the south coast, sleeping in said car in multistoreys.

So Wal and I headed down to the gig on the train. New Model Army are the godfathers of a particular strain of “crusty” – all that celtic tribalism and tats and jewelry. (Didn’t chart pop sensations The Levellers emerge out of their following or something?) They had a slightly odd puritanical streak to them. And wore clogs.

Some years later when I was a student one of my housemates invited a bunch of New Model Army fans to stay. The noise of their fucking clogs going up and down the stairs was some way beyond my fairly elastic definition of acceptable behaviour for guests.

I can’t remember anything much about the gig.


  1. ‘oh god, yeah..U-Vox was a bag o’ shite, that was the record that finished Ultravox for me and long ago jettisoned from my collection, i’m pleased to say.

    Despised NMA proabably even more than U/vox at that point though. christ my ability to hate groups just because they were guitar-based was really intense back then. wish we’d all been blogging in our teens…it would’ve been so passionate/deluded

  2. Seeing as the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s in town, I really used to like the “Vengeance” LP by NMA, the title track and “Smalltown England” still sound brilliant cranked up. A kid at school’s older brother taped it for me with a later NMA LP on the flip, which wasn’t so hot. Though I could never get into them properly cos of aforementioned clog-wearing, the fact they dressed even worse than I did at the time, and the oliver cromwell association. The ‘Model Militia’ became vaguely notorious for their antics, including stomping round in a pack at the gigs and intimidating any lone gig-goers who weren’t as dishevelled or as smelly as they were.

    I think the Levellers were to crustie what the Cure were to goth, the commercial entry level. Or I could be wrong? But I seem to remember most early 90s crusties being into Spiral Tribe and Twinkle Brothers, whereas Levellers fans were more like freshers who’d just strung some multi-coloured beads into the laces of their first pair of DMs.

  3. I had a New Model Army T-shirt, which my dad binned in a rage. History does not record whether it was the Cromwell connection that rose his ire, or that he simply didn’t think much of ‘Raw Melody Men’, either way, looking back I see he was right.

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