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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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Gig fan Mark aiming to reach 1,000 shows

In 2009 I’m due to turn 1,000. No, the name’s not Methuselah and there’s no really ropey-looking portrait in my attic.

Mark Walton photo
Mark Walton

It’s not 1,000 years, days without a drink, or matches for a ship in a bottle – it’s the number of gigs I’ve been to.

The current tally stands at 956. How do I know the exact number? Meet my inner nerd who’s kept a record, a simple note of date, band and venue, of every live concert since the early Eighties, from Dylan to Williams (Robbie, not Hank or Andy), Big Country to The Butthole Surfers, Ennio Morricone to Elvis Costello, Faithless to Foo Fighters, Orbital to Okkervil River, Neil Young to Young Gods.

It’s about the honesty of live performance for me and, while I love films and books, the only thing to match gigs for emotion, unpredictability, and, above all, uniqueness is football.

Thankfully, there’s no gigging equivalent of a nil-nil draw on a freezing November night. Travis at Leeds festival were dishwater dull – but at least it was warm.

Do You Remember The First Time? asked Pulp. Okay, Jarvis Cocker was inquiring about something else but I do remember the first gig. I was younger and it involved less alcohol than the other thing.

Rush at the NEC in Birmingham in May 1983: Alex Lifeson’s guitar cut out during the solo to The Analog Kid (it’s there on the bootleg and of course I have a copy). I nearly missed the bus home to Stoke and it was, all together, the greatest night.

I was 15. There had been chances to see bands before that, but I’d been stymied by cancellations, sell-outs, illness and holidays.

And it’s more than fitting that Rush kick off The List. The Canadian trio are my first and longest-lasting musical love.

Other bands came along in the next few years, but two things changed gigging forever for me – learning to drive and going to university in Manchester.

There were few places in the UK better for music in the late Eighties. I saw Husker Du. And The Triffids. And early Stone Roses. And New Order. And a host of Manc groups of varying fame: Happy Mondays; James; Railway Children; Bodines; Yargo. Plus, glory be, I could write for the student paper and fanzines about going to gigs and interviewing bands – from Voice of the Beehive to Metallica, A Certain Ratio to Throwing Muses.

A tale of obsession, widening tastes, and a refusal to grow up, The List is many things packed into a few dozen sheets of A4.

There are gigs from Seattle to Madrid, Dumfries to Folkestone. Legendary venues – the Riverside in Newcastle, the Hammersmith Odeon/Apollo, New York’s CBGB’s. Festivals from Glastonbury to Brampton Live.

From The Who in Madison Square Garden to an American punk act upstairs at a pub in Stoke where I’d only gone because the support act were my mates’ band. Those American punks were Green Day.

There are pages and pages of white blokes with guitars, as well as plenty of female musicians (Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Lucinda Williams, Patti Smith, Judie Tzuke, Kate Rusby and so on), but not much soul or jazz or hip-hop.

There are guilty pleasures (Belinda Carlisle at the Sands), heroes turned embarrassments (Marillion six times, all with Fish naturally), names that are household (Radiohead, REM), and names that now mean nothing to me. Xentrix, anyone? The Pigkeeper’s Daughter? Eskimos in Egypt?

There are bands I’m inordinately proud of seeing, like The Replacements, possibly the greatest American guitar band.

Or the original line-up of Guns n’ Roses at Donington Park 20 years ago, a day that also qualifies as the saddest gig as two people were crushed to death in the surge when the band came on stage.

Who’s not in there also says much. You won’t find Oasis, I’ve never been that fussed about them.

Just after the Millennium we missed some obscure band buried at the bottom of the bill on the NME’s tour. They were called Coldplay (no loss to be honest).

Perhaps the greatest omission are Nirvana. A part-time job meant missing them in Manchester in 1989 and they cancelled a Birmingham show six months later, a time when no-one alive had them pegged to be the biggest band in the world 18 months later.

Patience was a lesson I learned early on. A few months after that first Rush concert, Kiss (without the make-up incarnation) played on the night my mum’s widowed cousin was remarrying. The wedding won out that time, but all came good as Kiss returned to Bingley the following year. I went, and Auntie Marjorie celebrated her silver wedding last year.

Thinking of concerts in Cumbria, it’s the unlikely ones that are the most memorable, such as The Fall and Babyshambles at Carlisle’s Brickyard; Henry Rollins in Whitehaven; Roger McGuinn’s Workington show.

How much these near-1,000 shows have set me back over the years is incalculable. With travelling, it’ll run into thousands.

But actually paying for tickets is the biggest change to gigging over the years. That first Rush ticket cost me £8 and I went into a record shop to buy it. When the band last toured in 2007 tickets were around £40 and I spent part of a morning ordering them on the internet.

Eight quid when I was 15 meant a lot more than 40 when I was 39 but more than 10 per cent of the cost for the latter would have gone on the hated booking fees.

Carp on about ebay touts if you like, but to me an auction is perfectly acceptable, unlike outrageous fees arbitrarily added on by middlemen because venues and bands have largely opted out of selling tickets directly. Good luck finding face value tickets for any major venue these days.

The List tells me that the record gig year in 61 in 2000 and that I’ve seen Rush the most – 16 times – followed by 13 for Nick Cave, including a duet with Kylie.

But the really important questions are the Worst, the Loudest, the Next gig.

Worst? Travis really were godawful and Runrig at the Sands Centre were every bit as bad as I’d feared, but I had to go and review the latter for the News & Star.

When it comes to gigs I chose to go to, probably the greatest disappointments were a witless Ozzy in 1986, who went a long way to wean me off metal, and Leftfield in 2000.

The creators of one of the great albums of the Nineties in Leftism, on stage the duo were a kiddy rave with an idiot MC who, even in our blind-drunk state, made us want to reach for the flamethrower.

Loudest? Kiss left the ears ringing, as did Swans, Band of Susans, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Nottingham outfit Six By Seven.

But it comes down to two Ms – Motorhead and Mogwai.

‘Send ‘em home deaf,’ growled Lemmy in 2003 before launching into that strafing bass riff to Overkill. But I was ready for the warty old bugger, ears plugged with tissue paper, tinnitus being far less cool than looking a bit of a git for a couple of hours.

I had learned that after a painful first encounter Glaswegian noiseniks Mogwai some years before when it felt they were trying to kill the audience using only blinding strobe lighting and a pulverising sequencer.

And the next gig? I’ll be one closer to the magic 1,000 with Secret Machines in Glasgow on Wednesday and on the horizon are Doves, Metallica, PJ Harvey and, above all, AC/DC.

I’ve never seen Angus and the boys and, with The Specials reforming, it feels like I’ve come full circle and it’s the early Eighties again.

Just hope none of my mum’s relatives are getting married in April...

What’s the best/worst concert you’ve seen? Tell us here . . .

Have your say

I also was at the Earth, Wind & Fire March 1982 concert (my first ever) and 30 years and many more concerts since, it is still my number one!

Posted by Michael Pillay on 12 July 2012 at 00:40

"heroes turned embarrassments (Marillion six times, all with Fish naturally)"

What planet are you on?

Marillion have never been an embarrassment. Still going strong and sounding everybit as good as ever

Posted by Richard on 2 March 2009 at 19:41

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