London gigs are rubbish

Flying piss, cross-armed crowds and silly fads – gigs in the capital aren't much fun. The best music experiences lie outside the M25

A wet Sunday night in Bath and the local mod brigade is out in force. Buttoned-down and feather-cut, this band of teenage micro-Wellers drain lagers by the crateful and pogo like a Quadrophenia wrap party. The event? Miles Kane is in town, an artist to whom some small corner of Somerset has clearly dedicated its young life.

You rarely see such scenes in London. Provincial living allows musical tribalism to thrive: it's easier to stand out and gather like-minded cronies to your cause by dressing like The Child Of Lov in a town with one pub venue, a Corn Exchange and a clubbing community smaller than the average knitting circle.

In London there are generally four types of rock show: the billions of pub gigs where 20 of the band's mates try to convince you there's still a future in grindie; the arena and stadium blowouts where it's customary to express one's appreciation of the band by dousing one's peers in airborne urine; the east London artronica happenings where everyone's only watching everyone else; and the gigs in Hyde Park you can't hear.

London's size is stifling; it's too sprawling a metropolis to regularly agree to go funk-ass crazy over a particular band en masse. It's only when all concerns of credibility are removed that the city tends to lose its collective proverbials. The capital crowds I've seen bouncing right back to the bar in recent years have been watching Hard-Fi, the Wombats or Frank Turner, never Foals. But outside London, even in major cities like Manchester or Leeds, that thrill of being somehow blessed by a band bothering to tap the name of your town into their tour bus satnav has made wild celebration an intrinsic part of the gigging experience. The enthusiasm rubs off on the bands, too. Less stressed from the pressure of cross-armed scrutiny, they let rip like Dan Brown through Dante For Dummies.

It's unlikely I'd have developed a lifelong addiction to live music had I not seen Blur tearing the roof off a Midlands bog venue in 1991, nor ever taken Arctic Monkeys seriously if I hadn't witnessed Birmingham's Carling Bar Academy try to bounce itself into the basaltic layer in 2005. I've not seen more ardent Morrissey mobbings than in the ballrooms and arts centres of Blackpool, Lancaster and Stoke, or more tearful fan gratitude than when Ash rocked up to play at a hastily converted church in, yup, Hastings in 2000.

Bowie's Ziggy Stardust tour wasn't met with such legendary pandemonium because of the kabuki costumes and onstage fret fellatio; it was because it cast its pansexual Martian web across Aylesbury, Sutton Coldfield, Slough and Torquay (three times). London offers choice over chaos, but it only takes seeing every seat cover in the Birmingham NEC being thrown at Slipknot in 2002 to realise that, beyond the M25, they really know how to gig.


Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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