October 8th 2009: went to see The Pixiesand was blown away – they’re a really class act. I went with four Romanians, and one of them, a retro punk musician and music producer (his own description of himself), asked me if it was the best gig I had ever seen. I laughed and said I’d been around a little too long for that to be likely.
But then I thought – which ARE the best gigs I’ve ever seen? I woke up the next morning and pondered in the early morning light.
It’s amazing what a bit of early morning pondering can do. Here are the top ten gigs I ever attended:
1 Has to be The Beatles, Ardwick Apollo Manchester, 1963. I was only 15, it was my first proper gig and so of course it made an impression on me. Plus it’s the only time I’ve ever been in a place that literally shook with excitement. The strongest memory is the perpetual screaming – hardly heard the songs at all. But the boys were dynamite. Roy Orbison was also on the bill. In fact, he had started the tour as headline act, and graciously gave over to the Fab Four because people started leaving when the Beatles had finished their set.
2 The Rolling Stones, Twickenham, about 5 years ago. It took me a long time to see the Stones, but after 30 seconds of Brown Sugar, I realised it was worth the wait. They sang all the classics as if they’d just written them. Loved it when they walked to the second stage in the middle of the audience and played a more intimate set, despite the 40,000 crowd.
3 The Byrds, Lincoln Folk Festival, 1971. I blogged a month ago about the amazing set the Byrds played at this otherwise very chilled international folk festival. They had been billed as an acoustic act, but asked if it would be OK if they did some electric stuff first. When they’d finished, they borrowed some acoustic instruments from other performers and did a brilliant country set. Other performers at the festival included James Taylor, Buffy Sainte Marie, Sandy Denny, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and Tim Hardin.
4 The Band – Bob Dylan’s backing band playing what they wanted to play, Albert Hall London, 1970. I think it helped that we were on the front row, but they played all their hits with swash-buckling style.
5 Tina Turner, Woburn Abbey, sometime in the 1990s. I won the tickets in a raffle, and boy was I pleased. She is the best solo artist, male or female, I have ever seen on stage. What a voice, and what presence. Added bonus – support act was the marvellous Michael McDonald, ex-Doobie Brothers, and Steely Dan’s reliable backing vocalist. With James Ingram, McDonald also recorded the cheesy but infectious Yah Mo B There.
6 Steely Dan – Hammersmith Apollo, about 2000. They are my favourite band of all time. Only Walter Becker and Donald Fagen remained of the people who actually recorded the albums in the 70s, and they were approaching pension age. I was especially pleased that they played my favourite track Don’t Take Me Alive, which they never thought good enough to put on their Best of… compilations.
7 Pat Metheny – twice at Hammersmith Apollo. Metheny is a jazz guitarist, a complete joy to watch, and has the best backing band anyone could hope for, including Lyle Mays on piano. Everyone leaves the venue smiling and feeling the world is great.
8 David Bowie – Wembley Arena, in 1976. Was never much of a fan of Bowie’s singing voice, but his stage performance is excellent and the songs were driven along by the superb guitar-playing of the late Mick Ronson. The audience turned up with pink hair and Aladdin Sane stripes across their faces. Bowie walked on stage in a white shirt, black waistcoat and black trousers. He had moved on. As always, he was one step ahead of his fans.
9 Fleetwood Mac, with Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green (in other words, before Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Rumours etc), Reading University, 1967. This was the gig that persuaded me to take guitar-playing seriously. Peter Green, who had a few problems in his life, played blues guitar to make you weep, and Jeremy Spencer (whatever happened to him?) was a great foil to that, playing slide guitar and generally lifting the tempo.