I'd be surprised if anyone reading this has never been to a live gig, whether in some dingy nightclub or a stadium. Every type offers a different experience. The intimacy of a venue holding a few hundred to being part of a chanting crowd made up of thousands. Live concerts provide a few hours to escape the humdrum of reality, immersing yourself into an adrenaline rush or a sedated high, depending on who you're watching or what your listening to. For a short period of time, you become part of a tribe, moving to the rhythm, singing along in your own indelible style.
From your teenage years, you begin to build a virtual catalogue of songs reflecting your moods, opinions and beliefs. Your collection of albums and singles increases over the decades, each holding a memory of where you were at a point in time. The bands and artists are intrinsically linked to your growth as a person and the ultimate cementing of that relationship is when you see them perform in front of you.
Both the performer and the audience are at one for these brief moments, though like any relationship you can have bad days when one or the other aren't in the mood to be there. It is a fluid situation and no-one is totally sure how it will turn out. That's the alure of the live gig.
I grew up listening to and influenced by the music my dad listened to: The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and others of the 50s and 60s. Predominantly rock 'n roll but not excluding folk and jazz.
My first introduction, at about the age of twelve, to 'alternative' music was through my friend's big brother who was into David Bowie, along with many slightly older teenagers. Having an older brother or sister always gave you a slight edge against your peers to be a step ahead. Of course television was the big window to what was happening, but that was controlled by the powers that be so you were only seeing and listening to what they wanted you to be exposed to. In later life, like many, I'd discover underground bands and performers, away from the mainstream, who had something valid to offer.
But still, at 13 or 14 years of age your at the early development of your music tastes and mine was as narrow as they come. When the music you're into was Mud, The Sweet and Gary Glitter (enough said) and rock 'n roll was your staple music diet, it wasn't surprising that the first band I would pay a ticket to see was Showaddywaddy. You may snigger haughtily but we all have our baseline to start from.
What a difference a few years can make, though. By 1978 punk was reaching it's tentacles across the whole of Britain and kids were showing off their newly purchased albums. The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Blondie, The Clash, The Damned etc. The landscape was opening up and there was new territory to explore.
It wasn't just the 'big' players that caught my attention, as my ventures to Bruce's Records or Phoenix and the other array of record shops that were plotted around, but local bands started to appear. Apart from the large venues such as The Playhouse, The Odeon and The Usher Hall, the nightclubs were over 18s and so the only options to see alternative music was at afternoon shows or venues like Cephas Cellar at the West End which often had under 18 events.
The first really momentous event was The Rezillos playing at the Odeon. Pop-Punk with a sixties sci-fi image, they were the band to see. It was my first time seeing the crowd go ballistic with music ramped up and thrashing at 100mph! This was my moment of having an epithany. No parents. The feeling of freedom. You could be what you wannabe.
It would be years before I'd have a camera in my hand to photograph the moment for posterity (and apart from anything film, even for instamatics was still pricey at my age) but that wasn't the point. Sometimes you just have to enjoy and experience the moment rather than have a camera permanently transfixed to your face.
By seventeen, I was getting into the nightclubs: Valentinos, Clouds and Tiffanys being the popular choices and I was banging down the door to get to as many gigs as my limited finances could afford.
If not having a camera was going to have me missing the opportunity to capture the moment then the alternative was to become an autograph hunter. Hanging around at the end of gigs, cajoling and wangling my way to get up close to these strangers on stage who I was in awe of. It soon became a challenge. Teenage problem solving.
The Boomtown Rats
My first success had been the Boomtown Rats at the Odeon. I was becoming adept at getting in backstage at this particular venue, normally when the band were doing soundchecks in the late afternoon long before the gig would start at which point I'd nonchalantly make my way into the auditorium.
Quite often kids, whose parents had influence or money, would be brought down to the front of the stage to meet the band after the event. I'd hang around and on this occasion I was mixing skin with one of the most popular bands at the time. Bob Geldof et al signing anything that a pen could mark, with Paula Yates and the other girlfriends sitting up back in the rear isles watching and laughing amongst themselves.
As Bob signed my scrap of paper, I was brazen enough to ask if he'd swap his cap for my button badge. He laughed. As if? Still, it was worth a try. You don't ask, you don't get. At the end, I happily headed home. It was late, the middle of the week and I had school the next day. In fact I was so deliriously high with what I'd achieved that I left my autographs in the taxi (how I could afford a taxi, I don't know) and they disappeared into the ether! I wouldn't make that mistake again.
By 1980 I was now fully immersed in the whole autograph/gig experience and the Mo-Dettes, who were riding high with White Mice. It was the first time I met Simon Clegg, who was much older than me (though anyone over 18 seemed old at that age) and someone I'd see often taking photographs at gigs. Edinburgh Gig Archives is a good source for a lot of his material. Maybe, in some way, meeting him had an influence on my interest in photography. I'd like to think so.
Autographed vinyl sleeve for White Mice
The Mo-dettes (not to be confused with them being Mods which were experiencing a popular resurgence at the time with the whole Quadrophenia culture) were a band comprising of girls...in their twenties. It, therefore, would come as no surprise that, as a seventeen year old I might have just had a bit of a fancy for them as much as I liked their music. Hey ho, we're not all deep thinkers.
Adam and the Ants
Next up was another band on the verge of riding a wave of national populism. The venue would be Tiffanys in Stockbridge and the band would be Adam and the Ants. They were shape shifting from dark, punk alternative songs like Deutscher Girls and Whip in my Valise to tribal, American Indian drum beats with songs such as Dod Eat Dog and kings of the Wild Frontier. With Marco Pironi on guitar and two drummers (Kevin and Terry) pounding ethnic rhythms, they were high on my list of 'must see' bands.
The stage was like something out of a jungle with netting hanging down. The audience, of a few hundred, were up for it. Watching Wattie (of The Exploited) causing havoc with his mates sticks in my head, but it was a great night and, as usual, I hung around to see if I could get my single signed.
With luck, I bumped into two young guys who were selling merchandise. They must've thought I was older than I looked as they asked if they could kip at my place and, in return, they would get the band's autographs. Fuck yeah! That was a no brainer. I wouldn't tell them I still lived with my parents but at least they'd have a floor to lie on.
Cover for Zerox by Adam and the Ants autographed (chewed on the corner by a dog)
So with my autographed single in my hands the three of us headed back to my parents' and as quiet as the proverbial White Mice, we headed to my attic bedroom and crashed out. Unfortunately the next morning (again with school looming) my dad took a fissy hit and had the three of us facing him as he stood with his hands behind his back looking non plussed and telling me these strangers I invited could have taken all his worldly possessions. I mean, really?
Still, both parties saw out their side of the agreement and they were kind enough to offer me to join them on the tour, but being a conscientious pupil I declined the offer (which wouldn't be my last) as I had school to endure.
The Buzzcocks and Joy Division
As I had said earlier, The Odeon on South Clerk Street was a popular venue for me. I think whatever money I had was spent on cigarettes, booze, vinyl and clothes which didn't leave a lot for buying tickets. I was still only seventeen and at school so my budget was limited. I'd become a familiar face at the back of the building where a security man would normally allow band members and entourage access into the venue and, if memory serves me, there were times when he would allow me to enter on the promise I would return (which never happened).
It was October 1979 and I was there early with my Woolworths tape recorder to record the soundcheck (yes, I even had ideas of creating bootlegs which was laughable but I had aspirations too). Sneaking in back stage, I hid in the toilets with the door slightly ajar and listened to the music being played.
I could hear band members talking through their microphones and guitars being tuned. No-one appeared and I was confident I wouldn't be caught. After a while everything went quiet and I hid in a cubicle and waited. Patience is not the virtue of a teenager and I wondered if I could cross the corridor and see if any of the band members were around.
Sure enough, I opened the door and a bunch of guys were sitting around. I was welcomed in and began chatting with them. They weren't The Buzzcocks, who were in another room. One member informed me they were called Joy Division. I'd never heard of them, but they were chatty and affable and made me feel at ease. I was handed some stickers for their new album and invited to come down to Manchester as they signed the piece of paper I held. "Here's the address. Come down any time". It was an address in Newton Street. They introduced me to The Buzzcocks who were obliging and added their signatures along side the support band. Was I staying for the gig, I was asked. Damn right!
Autographs of The Buzzcocks and Joy Division.
For over 40 years I managed to hold on to their autographs despite moving from place to place and, eventually, in 2020 (I think) I eventually sold them for £1500. I never anticipated there would be any monetary value at the time. I just wanted something to remember the moment, but I hope that whoever bought them gets as much enjoyment as I did and the memory will last to my dying days.
January 1980 and The Clash were playing at the Odeon on their London Calling tour. I remember it being a bitterly cold day as I stood at the rear of the building hoping I might get a glimse of the coolest band of the time. If any band could be referenced as 'my heroes', it was them. I had burned through any cash available on their records and, with my schoolmates, we'd play renditions of their songs as we dreamt of epitomising those who went before us.
This was the band that introduced many to politics, social injustice and the rights of the individual. Their words had true meaning and they were 'of the people'. They struck a chord not only in their music but in their attitude.
Along with other kids, we waited and waited, clasping our hands to our face and blowing to keep them warm. Forsaking food or drink to remain on watch should they appear. I could see shadows moving behind the frosted window that seperated whoever was inside from us out on the freezing street.
Suddenly the window opened. "Get in!" someone ordered from inside. Without hesitation everyone herded towards the window, which was about seven foot or so from the ground. Arms stretched out and hauled each of us up in through the window, our boots trying to run up the wall.
As I fell onto the floor below the bright strip lights hit my eyes. I tried to gather myself with all the commotion and the chatter of older people around me. "You're in then." I heard someone say. I turned round and Mick Jones was sitting on a chair next to me. I looked across to a long collapsable table that looked like something used for pasting wallpaper. It was bedecked with food and drink. It reminded me of how hungry I was but I daren't ask for something to eat. Instead I pushed my vinyl covers under the nose of Mick and asked if he'd sign his autograph.
Viny cover for English Civil War by The Clash, autographed.
I scanned the room quickly to see if I could recognise the other members of the band within the packed room. My head was giddy and I was overcome with excitement. I had to pinch myself to calm down but it was the only time I lost all composure and was running on adrenaline. Joe Strummer was next then Paul Simonen. For the life of me I couldn't see Topper Headon and in blind panic I had returned to Mick and shoved one of my two singles in his face. "Sign this!" I said and he instinctively put his pen to the cover, only realising his signature was already there. "I've already signed it." he told me. "Doesn't matter. Sign it again." I replied. And he did. So I have one single with Mick having signed it twice. LOL.
Vinyl cover for Clash City Rockers by The Clash with autographs
Unfortunately Topper Headon wasn't around but I live in hope maybe he'll visit Edinburgh for a gig or book tour and I might just complete the group.
Being told we could go to the auditorium, we headed through to witness an attack of the senses. Clutching my singles, I stood up near the front of the stage. Not only did they rock, they blew the stage away! The crowd were packed like sardines as it pogoed and swayed from left to right. You were gasping for air and the heat from the crowd was unbearable. I tilted my head upwards for air and it was the only time I though I was going to asphyxiate. You weren't in control and you just had to ride the waves as hundreds and hundreds of fans screamed and shouted to the sounds of the music.
The climax was White Riot. If everything that went before was orchestrated bedlam, this song took things to a new level. It was like everyone had found another surge of energy as the audience went into uncontrolled hysteria. Objects flying through the air. Gnashing of teeth. Eyes popping in delirium. The madhouse had been let loose and the patients were taking over.
By the end my heart was pumping in overdrive and I was coming down from this rush of demented ecstasy. Sweat was dripping down me, my clothes twice as heavy as before the gig started, but I was happy.
I headed back up the aisle and into the foyer. Stacks of chair sfrom the front of the auditorium were piled high that had been wrenched from the floor. Now THAT was a fucking gig!
Footnote: Decades later and my cousin informed me he had been watching Nationwide on the BBC (a magazine programme that followed the news). Sitting watching it he couldn't believe his eyes when he saw me climbing through the window to where the band were preparing for the gig. "Christ, that's Holly" he thought. He told me it was now available on Youtube and I should take a peek. Well, what do you know? There it was and it was strange because in all my excitement I hadn't even noticed it was being filmed. Forrty years later it took for me to discover it had been recorded for posterity.
Nationwide documentary on The Clash. 1980
Stiff Little Fingers
A few months after The Clash gig, another solid punk band were coming to town. Stiff Little Fingers had just released Nobody's Heroes and the Odeon was hosting them.
The problems in Ireland were still ongoing and SLF were out there giving prominence to the bigotry and madness that the state was embroiled in. We didn't need the government funded news broadcaster telling the story as they wanted it told. We were hearing it from the real people. They were the ones experiencing the atrocities perpetrated by all the factions (the IRA, the UDA and the British forces. Not forgetting the secretive government security services).
SLF had a platform and they weren't shy to tell it how it was.
This gig had all the hallmarks of a typical punk gig and with two thousand fans crammed in, it took on the same pattern as The Clash.
But as was the case with most of these bands, when coming face-to-face with them they were pleasant, welcoming and forthcoming. Not once did I get a rebuff. All were more than happy to sign the merchandise. They never made you feel that they were somehow of more importance than you. Sure, they were special. They had talent. They were entertaining us, the masses, but they weren't pretentious. They didn't need to be surrounded by security staff growling at you.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that they were happy to sign my album and a brown paper bag that I happened to have! I mean, even asking to sign twice (like The Clash) seems greedy but, yup, sign they did and I was off to another free gig.
Stiff Little Finger's album Nobody's Heroes with autographs.
Brown paper bag signed by Stiff Little Fingers
Fast forward to 2009. I'd seen many acts in the intervening years notably watching Alice Cooper in 1986 where I noticed an elderly couple standing in the far left aisle looking well out of place. I was instantly intrigued and I went over to speak to them. "are you enjoying the show?" I asked. They smiled. "Yes, it is our son playing guitar." I turned and looked to see this body builder with a twin-necked guitar and biceps like Stallone, machine gunning the audience. The guitarist was called Kane Roberts and he still plies his trade on the stage with Alice. They'd come over from Mexico to see him and discover a bit of Edinburgh. That's nice, I thought. Proud parents coming to see their son play.
Hawkwind at the Playhouse in 1990 was memorable for the mist of marijuana that engulfed the venue (long before non-smoking was introduced into every indoor location). It was so thick you could cut it with a knife. You didn't need to roll up....just breath it in.
We were sitting in the upper balcony......chilled.....and a bunch of bikers were sitting a few rows in front of us. They not only looked like serious Hawkwind fans but tokers as well. They all lit up, leaned back and enjoyed the show. Then a young member of staff walked down to them. He leaned forward to speak to the biker sitting nearest to the aisle. The biker stood up and headed back to the foyer with the usher....followed by the other bikers (and unbeknown to the usher). Shit, something's gonna happen, I thought.
Within minutes the bikers returned and continued where they left off undisturbed by any do-good ushers. Sometime it's best to mind your own business.
That same night we went to another gig at The Venue in Calton Road. Local Edinburgh band The Green Telescope were playing. Now it's a bit unfair to compare one with the other. I mean Hawkwind had been going for years with a huge following and 'the telescope' were a local band. But having experienced the kaleidoscope of visionary delights at The Playhouse, whatever was going to be on offer from from a very good band (I bought their first two singles) would be hard pressed to equal what had just passed.
But on a 'high', we stepped into an audience all sitting on the floor, cross-legged but similarly stoned. My excuse was that the room was dimly lit and I'd had a few drinks amongst other things but I must've apologised a dozen times as I stumbled over legs, nudged bodies and tripped over arms, people grumbling and bemoaning my inability to manoeuvre through this vine of flesh, till I eventually found a spaced where we could join the assembly.
The other was Glastonbury in 1987 headlined by Elvis Costello and New Order. Long before police patroled the grounds and wi-fi comes as standard, this was like some Blade Runner, post apocalyptic, new age, love-in come armageddon. The Yardies convoyed up from London and elsewhere with their drugs to market and bikers roamed between the tents on their bikes coughing plumes of smoke. Fires lit up the night sky along with the strobe lighting from the Pyramid with the fetival goers blurting oohs and aahs, and it wasn't difficult to get lost when under the influence of anything legal or illegal.
A metallic Stonehenge made up of rusting cars was provided by the Mutoid Waste Company (which paid a visit to Edinburgh in what was known as the 'hole in the ground' behind the Usher Hall) offering some spiritual solace for those so inclined.
The 'hole in the ground' behind the Usher Hall
The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 1987 (acknowledgement to David Bold for this photo)
So, as I was saying, we were now into the late noughties. We had the internet and life was wonderful....and I was a dad!
My wife was going on a holiday to Cyprus with our daughter and others of the female fraternity and my son and I were being left at home. Somehow that sounded like a bum deal so I proposed to take my son and his 16 year old friend to Belfort in the far east of France, close to the border with Switzerland, where there was an open air festival taking place. I had chosen this as the place to be because Slipknot were playing (along with The Prodigy and Cypress Hill) and my son was right into them.
So it was a balancing act between being the responsible adult and the gig afficionado. Being a dad won out.
It's fair to say that Slipknot weren't up there on my list of 'must see' bands, so I let the boys enter the Mosh Pit while I stayed on the sidelines (getting up close, mind you, to take some photos). The band entered the stage and all hell was let loose. At least it was open air so there were none of the same problems I'd experience at The Clash, but it was harem scarem. I looked across to the Mosh Pit and thought "I'd have enjoyed that 20 years earlier". Bodies piled in, bouncing off each other as the dust formed a cloud.
Slipknot live on stage at Eurokennes, 2009
Slipknot live on stage at Eurokennes, 2009
Not disimilar to Adam and the Ants all those years ago, they had two drummers with giant oil drums pounding out the beat and drawing the crowd into metal delight. It was pure theatrics, just like an Alice Cooper gig.
For me, though, it was The Prodigy. I'd always wanted to see them and they didn't disappoint. With spotlights zapping across and flares glowing in the night, they had the audience in the palms of their hands. At once point the whole crowd (thousands) crouched down to the ground and leapt at the same time. You could feel the ground move. Cameras glided above the audience, their faces relayed onto the large screens for all to see then flashes of the band in thunderous mode.
Flares light up the night as The Prodigy play on stage.
It's now 2017 and I had caught a video of the song 'Underside of Power' by Algiers which is stunning, incorporating soul with images of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the black power movement of the sixties. As soon as I heard it I wanted to not only get their album but see them live (and I've been lucky to see them twice now).
They were playing in a community hall in the west end of Glasgow and I had a decent camera to get some good photos. There must've been no more than 150 people or so there, so it was very intimate and, I think, it was their first time playing in Scotland.
Algiers on stage at the Old Peoples Community Hall in 2017
Their music is a mix of soul, punk and raw guitar and they were utterly impressive. They were obviously so new that they hadn't built up a fan base to get the audience responding. No throngs of bodies banging into each other and sweat dripping from the ceiling, but the audience appreciated their performance. I was going crazy taking as many photos from as many angles as I could, my feet tapping to the beat.
Franklin James Fisher is on bended knees with his guitar
By the end I just had to get their autographs. I had brought one of their albums with me and I just had to introduce myself to them and ask if they would be accommodating. Like all before, they were as I professed just how good they had been.
Limited Edition of Underside of Power by Algiers with autographs
Age doesn't diminish the experience of going to a gig. As entertainment goes it beats everything else hands down. Socialising and listening to music ticks all the boxes for a good night out. May it continue.