Stone Roses Empress Ballroom Blackpool 1989
The sheer audacity of booking a 3500 capacity venue when you were getting 150 people a show on the toilet circuit is still breath taking but the Stone Roses saw their moment and seized it kicking off one of the last great youth-quakes. The band were at the peak of their early form and the sweat stained venue awash with flares and the sheer joy of having a new band to fall in love with got lost in the anthemic songs and the amazing atmosphere as the band reshaped British rock music for decades at one powerful gig..
Madonna at Hacienda 1984
The oddly effective goofy dancing, the disinterested crowd surrounding her, the two at the time unknown songs, the bottom of the bill squeezed onto the Tube TV show live from the Hacienda slot that her record label didn’t even pay for- it could have been just another here today gone tomorrow pop starlet but this one was different. With the eyes steely with determination, her foxy demeanour and her sheer will power this was new kind of pop star///it was the young Madonnas first UK and TV appearance … and as she flounced around to Burning Up and Holiday  at the opening night of the Hacienda with her dancers- she was inventing a new kind of pop start in what was then as blink and you wil miss it moment but is now a historic piece of footage…
Bowie retires Ziggy 1973
The mascara was smudged by tears and the garish bacofoil glam rock costumes were sagging at the edges as the message sunk in and this was just the audience as  Bowie hung up the knitted hot pants and zig zag carrot top hair for the last time and Ziggy was stored away into history.
The tearful fans thought it was the end of the alien from Bromley but in reality it was just Ziggy alter ego that was getting the heave ho  ego and getting put back in the cupbaord and, by extension it was the end of glam rock, as that great period of Britishpop was nearing its fantastic conclusion.
Nirvana Reading Festival 1991
It’s hard to choose one specific Nirvana gig out of  the many I’ve seen- maybe the gig ant Maxwells in Hoboken we saw with 10 other people in 1990 on the Bleach tour, maybe Reading 1992 was the real game changer- that was the time when they headlined but there is something quite quaint about the idea of the band going on the main stage after Silverfish and before Chapterhouse and the fact that the just released Nevermind had sold out of its laughably small 3000 pressing because still hardly anyone had realised what was about to happen here.
The band were their perfect mix of shambolic cordite and high decibel danger- the big stage was never their natural home but  with the brilliant songs just about hanging together like all great rock n roll should they tore the place apart. The rasping voice and the killer melodies made their impression though and it was literally weeks before the band were dropped into the mainstream that would ultimately poison and destroy them.
Joy Division on the Buzzcocks tour 1979
The tour that saw post punk or whatever it was never really called get exposed to the big venues and Joy Division at the top of their game before all the problems set in. the band’s dark and stark bass driven music suited the big spaces and Ian Curtis was a dancing himself into a frenzy and every night a whole swathe of new bands formed taking the ostensibly easy format of driving bass line and missing out all the intellectual guilt and dark heart atmospherics of the charismatic singer hurtling towards his own end.
Previous articletop 20 greatest gigs – part 4
Next articletop 20 greatest gigs of all time – part 2
Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Great list. On a personal level, I think the greatest gig I’ve seen was Oasis on their second night at Wembley Stadium in July 2000 with a blitzed and emotional Liam and the whole gig teetering on the edge of anarchy for the whole time they were onstage with Noel and him trading none-too-cryptic insults between songs.

    The band really rose to the occasion though and they sounded more like AC/DC than The Beatles that night, in places they were devastatingly heavy. They were quite simply untouchable. I’d seen dozens of bands before and dozens since and nothing comes remotely close.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here