Gigs by Harry Dukes Jnr
You go to gigs for different reasons I guess: you really like a band; you kind of like a band; you’re not that fussed but your mate wants to go;
You want to get drunk and it doesn’t really matter who the band is; or as I get older I have no choice if I want to go or not as my daughter likes a band and I’m taking her whether I like it or not as she can’t drive and therefore I have to negotiate the hell of a NEC car park at 11pm on her behalf.
Anyway, I’ve seen that one of my favourite bands from a while ago (*cough* 22 years ago) has played their final ever gig and I would’ve liked to have been there. I first saw Carter USM back in the early ‘90s and it still ranks as one of the great gigs I’ve been at. It was at the Hummingbird and at the height of the Grebo rock scene – I seem to recall the Senseless Things supporting but I may have just made that up. That night stands out as it had everything a great gig should have when you are 17 years old – namely loudness, jumping around a lot, underage drinking and being part of a scene that proper grown ups didn’t really get (or as more likely is the case weren’t actually that bothered about). Also, it involved a thousand people shouting “you fat b*****d” at a fat man with his top off. Yeah, that was a thing back then. As an aside, I’ve re-listened to Carter recently and some of the stuff still makes me want to jump around a bit, but you know with these knees… oh and this back… I’m not sure that’s sensible really.
The other gig I associate with that time is one I’ve dropped in to many a conversation… it works like this “Nirvana, brilliant band”, then I reply “yeah I saw them back in the day, 1991”. I’ll sum up that gig for you… rubbish. It lasted around 45 minutes and Kurt Cobain seemed a little off that day, probably had a migraine or something. I wasn’t too well either but no-one ever mentions that do they? I had hurt my back playing football at lunchtime during school so stood at the edge wanting to sit down. That’s Kurt for you though – always feeling sorry for himself and banging on about it to anyone who’d listen. Which in the end was a lot of people. Unlike me with my sore back stories.
That same time there was a gig at Edwards that everyone was raving about. I had a ticket to this one too. Pearl Jam had just released Alive and those in the know had secured for £3 a chance to see the latest Seattle hype. The band played, the crowd went mental and then Eddie Vedder and the boys shared beers afterwards with my mates. Not with me though. Yeah I had a ticket but for some reason I was on a school skiing trip – one of the two events was moved so instead I was in Austria watching our Geography teacher get off with a PE teacher from the neighbouring school. Since then I’ve seen Pearl Jam in a medieval courtyard in the Tuscan hills and a few other places but that gig at Eddie’s still haunts me. Haunts me.
My run with missing bands at Edwards’s continued the following year when I was living abroad and I got an excited letter (can you get an excited letter?) from my mate Matt about this band he’d just seen. Yeah so you saw Rage Against the Machine before they made it big, whatever. Again, this haunts me still.
While we’re on bands that I’ve missed – about ten years ago my mate Phil said I’d lost out by not going to see a new band at the Academy with him. They were from the States and he reckoned they were ace and would be massive. With hindsight I’m not bothered – I’ll leave the Scissor Sisters to drunk women in sparkly tops, tipsy on rose wine.
I’m going to get back on track now – stand out gigs. Right then. Elbow, the Academy, 2005. Guy Garvey on top, top form and me and my mate Marc for the first time ever revelling in our growing maturity and enjoying the entire concert from the back sitting on a sofa. Finally I got it – you can sit down at a gig and still enjoy it. For the right band though obviously. It doesn’t work for pretty much any band you see at the NEC – a place that can suck out the joy out of any performer. Though to be fair it was our own fault we went to see Magnum’s 10th anniversary bash once – we should’ve known better. To date the only people I’ve seen who have managed to make that place come alive are Faith No More, Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young (but I was on the floor most of the night hammered for Neil so I can only go by the word of Rick who says it was terrific). Oh and McFly – been there 3 times for them (as my daughter’s driver obviously) and never seen a bad show from the boys…. same goes for the JLS lads too if anyone asks. A mate told me.
Returning to decent gigs. The Prodigy at the NIA. Actually, it wasn’t that good. We’d spent the best part of the 90’s following them around various small venues, festivals and finally they decided to play an arena tour. It wasn’t the same but Leroy did tap my mate Ian on the shoulder and say “hello, nice to see you here”. So as a stand out memory it goes on my list.
A real definite stand out was The Streets – a hometown gig that Mike Skinner dedicated to the nurses at Selly Oak hospital who he had invited along as they had looked after his dad there just before he passed away. He was on top form and I managed to get a good spot by the sound desk – needed somewhere to rest you see, that back of mine again. Oh and the knees too.
I could go on but I’ll quickly point you to various gigs involving pretty much any band from the early 90s (many of who are featured in the gallery of tickets stubs – especially those bands from the Stourbridge area) all across town. And it’s often the venues that stand out: the Irish Centre (best gig – Thunder with their big hair); Faithless at the Institute/Sanctuary in Digbeth; loads of small bands upstairs at the Hare & Hounds or Jug of Ale; that weird 1996-99 phase where we watched acid jazz/funk bands at Quo Vadis opposite the Law Courts before walking 25 yards down the road to rave at the Que Club; Symphony Hall which is never a let-down; through to the Aston Villa Leisure Centre. It was at this last venue that I saw the Black Crowes, who in the midst of selling millions of copies of their second album blew about 300 of us away and had their bass player show us his collection of Colt pistols he had smuggled in to the country.
So whether memorable for actually being decent or awful or because I wasn’t actually there this city has provided me with gigs that will stick with me forever.