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Tuesday 7 February 2017

My Best Gigs of the 90's. Back to England and a Change of Direction.

The Nineties were a funny decade for me. We moved back to England (except son Sam), I went back to working with children with emotional and behavioural problems, getting several promotions and ending up as Head Teacher first at a residential school in the New Forest and then back where I started teaching in North Devon. I did go to a few concerts and managed to play some gigs and went to one very good festival, but mainly my professional life took over. This led eventually to a heart attack in 1998 and when I got let out of hospital, I went to live in France again, joining my wife and youngest son who were both living in a small village in SW France. And it was while living there that I went to see one of my all time favourite concerts.

Massive Attack main guys back then.
12. Massive Attack, Toulouse, '98.
To get to this concert it was a hundred mile drive, my first long drive since my heart attack and a sign that I was over it. Over the nineties I got into the rave and dance scenes with the accompanying drugs and I had been visiting son Sam in Bristol and liked the city more and more, particularly the music scene, including triphop, drum'n bass and dub. I knew Massive Attack and loved their dark music. So to get a chance to see them live I wasn't going to miss.
I went by myself, the tickets were not cheap and nobody in the village had heard of the band. And it would seem that the same was generally true because the sports hall the gig was in was far from bursting. But there were enough people there to make a response, and they all obviously loved it. It was one of my fist band gigs where there were few musicians on stage and where sequencers, samplers and drum machines were the order of the day. Also, the idea of different vocalists appearing for different numbers and virtually no guitars. But an incredibly big sound in contrast to the minimalist stage presentation, just people performing in the shadows of mainly dark blue lighting.
I was coming to all this a bit late perhaps but it brightened up my perspective of what could be done on stage and on record (CD).
I was very stoned, no one around to tell me it was bad for my heart, found a quiet corner with great sound and a perfect view and got immersed in the whole experience, loving every minute.
And I got to talk to some of the band after the gig, a relationship that continued off and on when I lived in Bristol over an eleven year period, starting about two weeks after this gig.

And this started a period when I was getting into the range of dance music in a big way. I was seeing DJs a lot, they were in nearly every bar in central Bristol but I still wanted to see bands and one of them was playing not far from Bristol and I had to go see them along with a DJ friend, Sez.

Maxi Jazz and Sister Bliss of Faithless.
13. Faithless, Newport, Wales, '98.
Newport, a rough, steel town with high unemployment, about an hour's drive from Bristol over the toll Severn bridge. I forget the name of the venue but it seemed to be a small old theatre with a large dragon's head to one side of the stage (a dragon is the emblem of Wales) and where one of the bar's was actually underneath the stage.
Faithless, self-described as trip-hop meets techno, were touring their 2nd successful album, Sunday 8pm which contained the mega club hit, God is a DJ. So, their reputation having come before them, even in sleepy Wales, the venue was sold out and heaving both with typical clubbers and heavy rugby playing, unfashionable men. We settled in smoking spliffs and drinking in the wee understage bar until the excitement in the main hall told us the band were coming on stage.
And it was a real band!! Bass, drums, percussion, guitar and 2 sets of keyboards, all being played at a high level of skill and volume. The sound of the rythmn section was a battering ram that made your spine tingle and your feet rock and the overall sound with the synths was trippy-hoppy. And then came the vocals with the excellent Pauline Taylor singing female lead and the charismatic, bare-chested Maxi Jazz, singing-rapping the male equivalent. Sister Bliss on main keyboards is a superb player (and main composer) and the guitarist was a real surprise when he changed from electric rythmn guitar to lead acoustic.
Visually exciting as well as providing music everyone could dance to as well as blowing out your ears and then your mind, Faithless provided a total experience of quality and left me feeling I had seen the future.
(I think I did end up on another planet, having returned to my son Sam's where i was staying, and there was a party in progress. I took some offered coke and then was graphically ill before collapsing immediately after.)

Underworld hard at it.
14.  Underworld, Newport, Wales, '99.
Virtually a year later,  I returned alone to Newport, to a more modern, tailor-made venue to go and see Underworld. I love their music, dance music but also ambient and with lots of clever keyboards and intelligent (not always) lyrics. I hadn't a clue what to expect but found a raver-type audience, drugged up and ready to enjoy the sounds. On stage there were 2 DJ types busying around extended mixing desks and the guitarist-vocalist, the only person in clear view in front of a multi-screen set.
The sound was clear and very loud, particularly the continuous beats and the need to get on the dance floor very insistent. It was the right place to see them, fairly intimate with a good not too crowded dance floor where all communications were with big beaming smiles.
All in all, not as good as Faithless, but a lot better than most of the rock acts I saw in the nineties for their overall sound and the energy and the good feeling the whole experience engendered. I still have them playing regularly on my Mac because a lot of their music is timeless, interesting, foot-tapping and very 21st century.

Coming next, three favourite gigs from the new century, all in Bristol and not a white guy in sight!!