Many of us have seen bands before they got famous, but how many of us can say they saw the first ever Stone Roses gig, and not even realise at the time? Louder Than War’s Keith Goldhanger can.
I first saw Blur at The Lady Owen Arms pub in Goswell Rd North London in about 1990. The support band were my friends called Pregnant Neck who went on to become Collapsed Lung who sang a song you may have heard called “Eat My Goal”. It was attended by about 20 people plus other band members. Blur that night really were great. I once stood in an almost empty Astoria when Franz Ferdinand supported Grandaddy and after they’d finished playing what was probably their superb debut album, I turned around and said out loud that I thought it was rubbish before returning to the bar and stopping every now and then for the next few years wondering how I could have just stood there and not recognised how ace these songs were they were playing and why I didn’t enjoy that half an hour.
We all have our stories … after seeing U2 a couple of years ago at Glastonbury for the first time (also rubbish, but I won’t be questioning my judgement on this one) the list of bands I feel the need to see has diminished a lot nowadays, unless you count all those ones that send me Soundcloud links that I listen to, “like” their Facebook pages and wait for them to do a gig on a night when there’s nothing else going on.
However, I’ve never seen The Stone Roses (I would have watched them at Glastonbury had they not have pulled out in 1995). I’ve spent years not being bothered about The Stone Roses because the days of them appearing in a small club or playing festivals didn’t happened when I’ve been anywhere near interested or anywhere near physically.
Or so I thought until about a week ago…
During the late 80’s whilst playing in a pop combo called BASTARD KESTREL I recall the beginning of the end of a long night began with The Stone Roses appearing on the stereo and we virtually all asked what we were listening to before nodding our heads in unison and continuing our 5th game of “Risk” that night (morning). By the time the world fell in love with this band and Spike Island happened, BASTARD KESTREL were probably on our second Peel Session and living off a diet that included Sonic Youth, Head Of David, Big Black and many other noisy bands that we believed ruled. The Stone Roses, the baggy scene and Madchester were not really on our radars in Cricklewood. It took a few years for us to catch up even though Peel may have been playing some of this stuff, but a night out at these band’s gigs didn’t really happen for us. This music, along with the drugs that went with it, seemed to bypass us (we caught up eventually). During these years we were busy writing tunes and shouting in empty rehearsal studios (and more often than not, venues).
Then last week I discovered I had seen The Stone Roses without realising.
This is how, why and what I thought about that night Thirty One year’s ago…
In 1982 myself and at least five car loads of people travelled to Deeside North Wales for The Futurama Festival. We agreed to meet up at Rothersthorpe service station on the M1 at precisely 03.00 hrs (Some of us had been to see UK Decay and The Sex Gang Children the night before) and as the first car to arrive we got the football out, had a beer and waited all of about ten minutes for every other car to actually turn up in time. Proof if proof was ever needed that we don’t really need mobile phones today. People abuse the convenience of them to be late. These cars came from all directions of East England and once we set off towards our destination it all began to get messy. Very messy. The messiest weekend I ever remember.The next few hours consisted of long games of football outside the venue, a lot of alcohol and anything else we could pour down our throats whilst the sun came up. Some people were really concerned about the state of one or two others. In fact, that day was so fucked up I don’t think many of us made it into the venue at all on day one. I have a very blurry pic of New Order that I took during the five minutes I was inside and even that took six months to establish.
Pictures either side of this … a girl (“Sue from Darlington”) and an empty can were timed seven minutes apart when the pictures got developed. Sometime that day between about seven AM and let’s say two PM I was pushed through a hedge and landed amongst a group of festival goers having a picnic. A young goth girl called Lynn decided I was to be her “surrogate son” and looked after me. I have pictures of her still and her boyfriend (Neil) from this moment. What I don’t have from those minutes are pictures of their big haired friends who were apparently there that day with them. A Welsh band called THE ALARM whose progress I remember following for a few years after not meeting them (or maybe I did?) all the way to seeing them on telly and at the Lyceum (probably with Gary Glitter) and telling everyone that would ever listen that I once fucked up their picnic by falling on it after being thrown over a hedge. I stayed in touch with Lynn and Neil via letters, stamped envelopes and the occasional trip to the post office. A combination of events that, placed together, was a bit like an email but took longer to get a response.
I’d like to point out at this stage that I kept a diary for five years between 1979 and 1983. This is why I remember these names and places, but the following events took place after I ceased writing in a diary and are from memory only…
A couple of years later and having swapped demo tapes of bands we were in at the time (I can’t remember if this bloke Neil was in the band MERCENARY SKANK or just a mate of the band) I received a letter telling me that they were coming to London to play a show. I now lived in London and not only that, they were playing down the road from where I lived in West Hampstead. I don’t recall ever seeing my “surrogate mother” again due to her and “dad” breaking up, but I went with a couple of friends to their gig at the Moonlight because that’s the sort of thing I used to do in those days. It’s the sort of thing I still do today actually only I usually make a note of who I’m watching and pursue my interest in them via this laptop thing I tend to have turned on every hour of the day.
I can’t remember who I was with that evening, but considering none of my current Facebook acquaintances today remember it I assume I was with my then girlfriend and live in partner Roxy who I believe has since moved continents (That’s the effect I have girls!) – after we split up, legend has it that she moved to Lowestoft and formed a band with those blokes that eventually became The Darkness. I do remember the gig being rather expensive to get into considering there were three unknown bands on the bill, but this was for a good cause apparently. An Anti- Heroin benefit curated by Pete Townsend of The Who, and “OOhh look !!!” we squealed “There he is over there in the corner of the Railway Tavern (the adjoining pub), chatting to people and looking important”.
The reason I remember this gig is the finale that consisted of Pete Townsend getting on stage and playing “My Generation” (The internet records they also played “Pictures Of Lilly”) with members of bands that were on the bill. It was rubbish. He was doing all those windmill movements with his arms he’s known to do and everyone on stage looked a bit smug. “Bloody muso’s” we all thought and left, went to bed and got on with our lives.
Thirty plus years later, whilst looking for the name of an obscure band that once supported Depeche Mode at The Moonlight Club (still not discovered who it was and don’t care now) I came across a web page with text from our very own John Robb and the name MERCENARY SKANK caught my eye. Then Pete Townsend, then THE MOONLIGHT CLUB and then THE STONE ROSES … what! …. so not only did I then realise that I had seen The Stone Roses but that i was at the first Stone Roses gig … EVER! … WHHHOOOOAAAAHHHHhhhh! Blimey.
Of course, had I have known this at any time of my life before last week and had John Robb known this at the time he wrote the book we could have met over a coffee and I’d have probably remembered in a convenient way everything there was to remember that any Stone Roses fan would want to hear from someone who was there amongst the … well, I’d suggest from memory it wasn’t a full gig so 30 … 40 people … (I really am guessing to be honest). I could have said things like “I left the club having witnessed The future of rock music, you could tell by the intense drumming and the incredible buzz they created that night this was something to cherish”. I may have also used the word “unforgettable” or something equally as preposterous … and I would have been lying. If anyone got me buzzing back in 1984 it was the bloody Cardiacs who I got dragged to see for the first of many times at the Hammersmith Clarendon that year and the most seen band that got me all hot and bothered were New Model Army.
We all witness unforgettable shit nights out. I’ve had a few this year, but these are outnumbered by the great ones, otherwise we wouldn’t leave the house at night. I’ve staggered out of venues over the past Thirty One years shaking with delight, really believing I’ve witnessed something special and potentially life changing. Hope Of The States at the ULU just after their Top Of The Pops appearance (supported by the terrible but soon to be festival headliners and number one album selling band Razorlight), Young Fathers at XOYO last year, all of those Nirvana gigs, all of those recent Fat White Family gigs, The Mae Shi at the Camden Barfly, Atari Teenage Riot … the list is huge and will no doubt soon be added to as time goes on.
The Stone Roses getting up on stage for the first time ever in October 1984 in the pub on the corner of my street was so forgettable it’s taken me over three decades to learn what had been going on that night and if it wasn’t for Mercenary Skank, Pete Townsend or John Robb’s book I’d never have realised.
It’s a funny old world isn’t it?
And proof if it was ever needed that some of us couldn’t recognise a great band when presented with one right on our bloody doorstep.
We should all write lists and keep diaries you know, who knows what else has passed us by without realising it ?
All words by Keith Goldhanger. More writing by Keith on Louder Than War can be found at his find his author’s archive.