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Monday 23 January 2017

The 20 Best Gigs I have Been At (as a member of the crowd).

 I've been to loads of gigs over the years and must have seen hundreds of acts, from the very famous to the hardly known. Going to listen to live music is something I love doing and continue to do even out here in the wilds of SW France. Nowadays, it's mainly festivals I go to, outdoor events, with second and third division artists. But they are mainly very good even if sometimes they don't really appeal to me. I'll probably do another blog about my favourite festivals at some point.
I'm presenting my favourites in time order which is a lot easier than trying to put them in order as favourites. Mind you, I will name my top three when they come up. So, off we go from 1965 to the present day, the gigs that have pretty much eased their way into my top twenty.

Number 1. 1965.  The Steampacket at the Marquee Club, London.
What a way to start!! I remember this clearly as it was when, with two mates, we stayed at one of them's aunties on our way up to a summer camp on the Norfolk Broads, breaking our rail journey in London. We were 17, had a bit of money in our pockets and were determined to have a night out whilst up in the capital from sleepy old Devon. We had checked out the NME and found that their was a recommended gig on at the Marquee which finished at 11 in time for us to get the bus back to the aunties house before curfew, midnight.
We all had our mod boys gear on and felt rather cool when we got to the queue outside the club in sexy Soho but it was a really long line of mods plus a few beats waiting to get in. The word was obviously out that this band was good. Over the coming yeaars, the Marquee would gain a reputation for being a stepping stone a bands career's with just about every famous British band having played there in the early days of their careers.
This band didn't become particularly successful but some of its members did as you will see. They were called Steampacket. It was basically a backing band with three lead singers. The band was led by organist Brian Auger who had a successful career with his Trinity a bit later on. The singers all went on to success and all shared bluesy and raunchy voices but all were very different. First there was Long John Baldry, a very tall guy who had great presence just by standing there. he went on to have number one's and a long live career. Then there was Julie Driscoll, a pretty packet of feminine power, you have all heard her singing the theme tune for Absolutely Fabulous. This was one of her many hits. She married top jazz pianist, Keith Jarrett and they work together at their place north of Bristol. I had the pleasure of meeting them in the bar of a concert hall once and they both seemed humble but with fire back there somewhere.
Our only previous examples of 'live music' were local covers bands or folk groups so they seemed amazingly good. As a keyboard player I kept a good idea on Brian Auger and I think I could blame him for starting me off wanting to do something with my piano playing. The rhythms were so tight, th songs powerful and the 3 voices absolutely sublime, soul and blue at their best. And I've kept the best till last. The final vocalist, the youngest and newest, was Rod Stewart, the rebel with his haircut and his attitude and that voice, I voice I loved over the years of The Faces and his solo career. And his joy over football, and his succession of blond floozies......No, I'm losing track. Back then, in that smokey club, that band and those voices firmed up my growing love of RnB and Soul, a& love I still have today.

Number 2. 1967. Jimi Hendrix and The Nice at the Marquee Club, London.
1967, I had left home and was living and working in London whilst waiting to go to university. I was paid weekly and once a week I could afford to go out and most weeks it was to the Marquee Club, still one of the best (and cheapest) places to see bands. And I would buy a music paper every week to see what was on. So this one week in the early autumn, I saw that The Nice were playing there so this was a must for me. I was always looking out for bands with good keyboard players amongst all the guitar only bands, and The Nice were one. I'd heard their weirdly titled first single on the radio and loved it so that was my only possible destination. I was working in Portland Place, not too far away from Soho and would walk down there after work having time for a quick plate of something before queuing to get into the club. One night when I was in the line, maybe not this particular night, John Lennon and Paul McCartney walked past quite slowly, forced into the road by the queuing music fans who all noticed them but were all too cool to say anything: that was the sort of person who went to the Marquee.
That night the place was completely packed, in fact I heard that a lot of people were turned away. Good for The Nice I thought. I knew there would be another act on first but support bands were generally unknowns, providing the backdrop to late arrivals and the puchasing of drinks to be consumed during the main act. Now, London was beginning too be hit by psychedelia; mods going a bit flowery and starting to grow their hair out (including me) but the drummer and bass player who came on stage were taking that a bit further; And the guitarist was a riot of colour and was black!! Now, I had seen a few black musicians already but they generally had had their hair straightened and wore suits whereas this guy had a full-blown Afro and looked cool but menacing.
And when the Jimi Hendrix Experience started to play there was universal stunned silence. I heard their first record, Hey Joe, on the radio the following week but that didn't really portray the range of sounds he got from his guitar on stage; Everybody went mad once they got into it. This was the moment we all realised that the guitar could make a lot more noise than we were used to and could be used as an expressive instrument and be played with teeth and feedback over a solid rhytmn section and a voice that portrayed that side of life we knew little about, raw sex, true emotion and fearless masculinity. End of set, stunned silence followed by screams, whoops and heavy applause.
Then the Nice came on, still as a quartet with guitarist David O'List still part of the band. They rocked and rumbled along but it was their hit, America, based on Bernstein's tune from West Side Story, the famous musical, that really got the crowd yelling and stamping. Keith Emerson rocked his organ on its side bringing the strangest of sounds out of it and attacked his instrument with knives too. This was revolutionary rock on stage and almost frightening to see and hear.
These two showmen, Hendrix and Emerson, let us see the future of rock, outstanding musicianship allied with new sounds and showmanship at high volume. I know I was never the same after that.

Number 3. 1967.  14th November at the Royal Albert Hall.
The expensive ticket to this great show was my birthday present from the Uncle and Aunty I was lodging with out between Penge and Beckenham. They asked if there was anything I particularly wanted and, having seen this show advertised, I wanted nothing else. Back then in 67, tours were still generally a couple of well-known bands with a couple of less well-known artists and a couple of newcomers on their way up, and they'd all play for 20 minutes with the headliners getting half an hour. By '69 this method had been replaced by the headliner/support act or 2 method where everyone got to play for longer.
When I saw this line-up, I knew I had to go. Eire Apparent (who became Taste), Amen Corner, The Move, The Nice, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. The last 4 were all getting well known, so the running order would change as the tour moved on round the country but this, the London date, was how it started. I went to other gigs at the venue over the years and got used to its magnificent space and high balconies but for a first visit, I was very impressed and had quite a good seat on the left side of the first floor balcony with an excellent side-on view of the stage. Every act were good and each one was better than the last. The first three were new to me although I had heard the Move's successful singles and I had seen the last three once before, 2 at the Marquee (see above) and the Pink Floyd at the freshers' ball at my college. But they all had improved and all were determined to blow the others off the stage. They didn't succeed and the crowd just got more and more enthusiastic. For me, I had just had the best evening of my life so far and it was to be a while till it was bettered.

Number 4.  1969. All-Nighter at the Lyceum, Charing Cross, London.
With my mate Nigel, we went quite often to these all night concerts, a part of the burgeoning underground scene in London in '69 and I remember seeing various good bands there. But this night stood out, partly because it was a mix of the best the UK and the US had to offer and partly because, after the show and breakfast in Covent garden, we took the train down to Bromley North where we lived and got home just in time to see the first man walking on the moon, truly psychedelic.
We would take some pills to help us keep awake and the atmosphere was a mixture of the hippy vibe and something a bit more urgent, no doubt caused by the skinheads who supplied the pills. But I always felt relaxed, enjoyed the music and even found the courqge to speak to a famous actor I found myself next to at the end of one song.
FAMILY, almost as many different members over the years as Hawkwind!!
The evening started with the English group Family, who became big favourites of mine, and had lots of famous musicians in their ranks over the years. Their singer, Roger Chapman, had a strong voice and a rather particular style/ he still performs and I saw him in Bristol maybe 6 years ago and he still has a wonderful voice and still sings his most recognised song, The Weavers Answer. There was generally an acoustic act while the stage was getting ready for the next act and I have a feeling it was the original Tyrannasorous Rex, the folky two-piece.
Then, onto the stage, in complete contrast, came American band Steppenwolf, which was pure biker/bad man rock with their songs such as Pusher Man and The Dealer. All black leather, shades and metal chains, they were in complete contrast to their mainly hippy public and played hard music to go with their look. Excellent if a bit scary back then. Nearly as scary as landing on the moon!

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