where the wild gigs were - book

Where The Wild Gigs Were: Where the Wild Gigs Were – A Trip Through America’s Legendary Underground Music Venues by Tim Hinley & Friends

HoZac Books 2021

I guess there’ve been times in the last couple of years when we’ve all wondered whether going to see live music would become a thing of the past. Social media teemed with what was your last gig/next gig posts (Band of Holy Joy/no idea). So a book like this is especially welcome, reviving memories of the days of live music, local scenes, and roots level rock away from the major labels and chart placings.

For all the big shows at the Rainbow, Albert Hall and Hammersmith Odeon I went to, the gigs I remember most were at places like Eel Pie Island, the Toby Jug in Tolworth, the Roundhouse or the gig I briefly ran in late 70’s Brixton. There’s nothing like the feeling that never mind the bank balances or gold discs elsewhere, tonight you’ve just seen and heard something way beyond in that dingy little club or upstairs pub room.

Which is pretty much the basic premise of this very enjoyable and nicely produced book. Although some of the contributors are long term gig-goers, veterans of the legendary Fillmores East and West, the emphasis is on people who came of age, musically and otherwise, in the late ’70s, early ’80’s post-punk. Given that this is an American book, there’s plenty of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, mosh pits, Jocks and Nazi skins, underage gigs and worry about ID cards – but what comes across, even more, is the universality of going to live music and supporting local scenes wherever you are.

Given the US origin of the book, the division into seven regional sections makes sense – the Northeast (24 venues reviewed), Washington DC (11), the South (6), the Midwest (20), Texas & Colorado (6), California (17) and the Pacific Northwest (5) – although, by the end of the book, there’s much more diversity within each scene than ‘Seattle Sound’ style homogeneity. There are some general unifying themes though, like the reflective, elegiac tone of many of the pieces about venues that no longer exist and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition by the literal and figurative bulldozers of big business and gentrification, such as a really poignant and reflective piece on the evolution and eventual closure of the Elks Hall in Philadelphia. The reviews are from a wide spread of writers, which really helps with nearly a hundred places to review in presenting a range of views, memories and experiences.

In addition, the book’s absolutely bursting with illustrations – colour and b/w – which I absolutely love and really catches the local ‘you had to be there’ feel. There’s a great pic of a young peroxide Iggy onstage in next to nothing, some great post-punk/hardcore fliers, pages from ‘zines and adverts.

At times the narrative crosses over into the way that going to these dives, on a more personal level often coincides with the whole teenage/early 20s territory of leaving home, with all the attendant vibe of self-discovery and new experiences – that whole world of exploring, self-doubts and certainties. Elizabeth Nelson’s piece on the ABC No Rio is a nice example, as a shy suburban young woman finds her identity and confidence in what sounds like a fascinating anarcho-punk squat setting. Equally Jack Rabid’s accounts of crossing the river to catch the early Heartbreakers in full effect at Max’s, really capture the vibe of breathless teen gig going, and matches the impact the group came when they hit London a year or so later.

There are many more examples I could give from this fascinating book. Whatever the location or musical genre, the commitment and honesty stand out. It’s all summed very nicely in Tesco Vee’s Afterword: When that ‘hey I can do that too’ light bulb went off over people in the late ’70s, there was a sea of change in bands, clubs and the zines. No longer constrained by an actual lack of talent or virtuosity, folks expressed themselves in hitherto unheard modes, methods and genres. This creativity needed an outlet, and it found a home in dive bars and gay bars that started Punk Nights to generate some income. Add in abandoned/repurposed structures and house parties, where like-minded outsiders could meet and be themselves, and watch all the crazy new music.

All words by Den Browne, you can read more reviews on his author profile here:

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I’m 69 years old and have been passionate about music since the mid-60’s when my Dansette and pirate radio saved me from a life of light entertainment boredom. My Dad warned me that it wouldn’t be too long till I grew out of “all this pop nonsense”. It hasn’t happened yet though. LTW reviews editor Melanie Smith and I met via a review I’d done of Nina Antonia’s Peter Perrett biography, “The One and Only” many years ago. (still possibly my favourite music book). I worked with Mel on the Mudkiss online ‘zine for several years, providing some great opportunities, meeting legends like Vic Godard and JC Carroll. I’ve also read some of my stories on Resonancefm and Radio Joy, and plan a radio/slight return in the near future. I’m involved in doing Deviation Street ‘zine/project with Brian Robert Gibson (www.deviationstreetmagazine.com). My main areas of interest are punk/post-punk and “outsider art” in general. It’d take too long to list all the music I love, and anyway it changes along the way, but I’d own up to a definite late 60s/70’s bias, whether we’re talking roots reggae, “conscious” soul, punk, post punk, “Nuggets” era garage, Steely Dan, Bowie, Velvet Underground, Dylan, classic Stax/Tamla/Atlantic soul - and the odd random obsession like the Triffids. As a reviewer, I much prefer to emphasize the positive rather than put the boot in – though sometimes the temptation’s too much – if one person discovers something they love that way, it’s “job done” for me.

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