Whitesnake, the Bluetones, Joy Division: these were our first gigs – tell us yours

You always convince yourself your first gig is special – even if it involves a 10-minute bass solo, or watching the Bluetones smoke backstage in Cambridge. Here are our writers’ first gig memories – tell us yours

The Bluetones, Cambridge Junction, 2003

My debut live show set some unrealistic expectations. I was 16 and hell bent on resurrecting the Britpop revolution that passed me by as a pre-teen. I wore Adidas jackets and smoked the remains of my dad’s wiry, dried-up Golden Virginia (and spent a lot of time coughing in car parks). The Bluetones, the soundtrack to my barbaric suburban existence, were playing the nearest city to the humdrum town I grew up in. To see them live and sing along to Slight Return would be enough.

But instead I was blessed with the most immersive of all experiences. A group of us arrived at the venue a few hours early. I’d heard about Oasis at Knebworth, I wasn’t taking any risks. Surprised by the non-existent riot outside, I made a beeline for the merch stall, purchased a T-shirt, put it on and set my bag down by the barriers. When the Bluetones arrived on stage I tried not to cry. We sung back every single word, and beyond the bouncy castles and ball pits of my childhood it was the most ecstatic hour of my life.

Then, while we waited for our lift back home, a roadie, presuming we were loitering around for the band to appear, kindly asked if me and my three (male) friends would like to go backstage. We said yes, followed him down some corridors and arrived in the dressing room. Here they were, my heroes, sitting on chairs in front of bulb-adorned mirrors, just like in the movies. They smoked, too! They’d probably see the packet of tobacco in my bag and acknowledge me as a fellow hedonist. I handed them my T-shirt to sign but felt too shy to speak. My friends discussed the guitars on Fountainhead with Adam Devlin while I looked around a lot, making sure my distribution of stares was shared evenly so it didn’t seem as if I was disturbingly interested in any one bandmate over another. We said goodbye 10 minutes later. If the drive home felt frenzied; the next day at school was the most brutal of all comedowns. Granted, I did not make a big impression, but it did prepare me for my next encounter with a band. Lowgold at Dingwalls. Totally nailed it. Harriet Gibsone

Watch the Bluetones performing Slight Return.

Whitesnake, Hammersmith Odeon, 1983

I don’t know why Whitesnake ended up being my first show. I think it was partly because I quite liked them – at 13, I was able to reclassify what I now recognise as blues rock as heavy metal, and they used to be in Kerrang! a lot – partly because I had some money when tickets went on sale and partly because other people I knew were going to see them. Certainly, on reflection, it wasn’t an auspicious first ever gig for an adolescent boy, even with Samson – notable mainly for having a really, really fat singer and a guitarist who played a banana-shaped guitar – opening the show. Iron Maiden, who I saw a little while later, would have been more of an event. At least they felt current and exciting and on the crest of a wave.

Whitesnake on their Saints an’ Sinners tour – pre-hair metal reinvention – were more like a working men’s club band trying to put on a spectacle. These were not men teenage girls wanted to sleep with or teenage boys wanted to be. Some of the time, though, the spectacle was fun. Cozy Powell did a drum solo where he played along to the 1812 Overture with pyro going off all over the place. And at 13, naked flames distracted me from the fact that it was a drum solo. Jon Lord, rather more mudanely, rocked his Hammond organ back and forth during his keyboard solo, but given that I’d been brought up to treat keyboards with respect, even that was enough to distract me from the fact that it was a keyboard solo. But, as I rapidly came to realise, this was not really much of a gig. All five instrumentalists got 10-minute solos, and any bass solo that lasts more than a bar is unnecessary. You want to play unacommpanied bass? Go and work for Seinfeld. Looking at the setlist now on setlist.fm, I see that – thrillingly! – track nine is listed as “keyboard solo” and track 10 as “drum solo”. In fact, in a two-hour show, Whitesnake only managed 10 actual songs.

Despite that, I harbour an enormous amount of affection for David Coverdale, and when I interviewed him last year I asked why anyone would want to put on a show that was half solos. “Probably because of my perception of my crowd being partly 70s stoners ,” he said, laughing. “In Deep Purple sometimes we’d do four or five songs in a three-hour show! I seem to remember on the Saints an’ Sinners thing, we’d sold out a UK tour and I didn’t have a fucking band. So it was very hastily put together.” Oh. Well, that makes me feel better about how I spent the only fiver I had. Michael Hann

Watch the video for Here I Go Again by Whitesnake

Futurama, Queens Hall, Leeds, 1979

I still think about Futurama all the time – it’s hard not to when the poster for the 1979 festival is in my living room. With hindsight, though, the lineup assembled by local promoter John Keenan in Leeds Queens Hall reads like an array of legends, from Joy Division to PiL. Sadly, I wasn’t a hip young Nostradamus guessing this was a chance to see people whose names would become legend, just a naïve schoolkid in an iron-on Sid Vicious T-shirt, who’d badgered my boss at my Saturday job into letting me finish early so I could go see Johnny Rotten.

In truth, the “World’s first science fiction music festival” wasn’t all that. There were people dressed as robots, a few lasers, and the audience were kept awake in our sleeping bags by a bloke playing guitar solos to images of earthworms. However, A Certain Ratio and Punishment of Luxury were properly futuristic and Tony Wilson’s introduction of “the awesome Joy Division” proved stunningly correct. Ian Curtis danced hyperactively to Disorder as my chin painfully collided with a skinhead’s shoulder. I realised that gigs could harm your dentalwork, and music could be more emotionally powerful than Jilted John. I’ve sometimes wondered if it was just the fact that it was my first gig – and my first experience of anything louder than a Fidelity UA4 – that blew my mind and changed my life, and whether I’d have had a similarly transformative experience watching Showaddywaddy or Herman’s Hermits. But Joy Division remain my favourite band, and Futurama is still my best-loved gig. Dave Simpson

Watch Joy Division perform Disorder

The Fall, Riverside Studios, London, 1986

I can never really decide what my first gig was. The first band I ever saw on stage was the dimly remembered children’s TV stars Animal Kwackers. It says something about how central pop music used to be to youth culture that 70s kids’ TV schedules were crammed with pop shows – Lift Off, Get It Together, Shang-A-Lang, Arrows, Rock On With 45, Marc, Supersonic. Not even the preschoolers’ lunchtime programmes were exempt, hence Animal Kwackers, a band made up of four men in outsized animal costumes, who also released records and toured. At least two of the outsized animal costumes seemed to be visibly based on extant pop stars. Acoustic guitar-slinging frontman Rory the lion was both faintly terrifying – it apparently being the law in mid-70s Britain that all childrens’ television had to be at least slightly creepy and unsettling – and had something of the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb about him, although I can’t really work out whether that was deliberate or simply a result of the fact that all lions look a bit like Barry Gibb. But with his eyepatch and glittery platforms, guitarist Boots the tiger was clearly inspired by David Bowie in late period Ziggy/Halloween Jack drag: by some distance the most dangerous and glam Kwacker, Boots the tiger also had a singing voice that sounded not unlike Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter. I was five or six when Animal Kwackers’ tour hit Keighley, but the question of whether I actually saw them play is a moot one. One of the few things I can remember about the gig is my father having a sudden attack of the Keep-Music-Lives midway through and loudly declaring that Animal Kwackers were miming: he seemed genuinely outraged by this, as if he’d just turned up to see the Clash and noticed they were lipsynching to a backing tape.

Perhaps traumatised by the Animal Kwackers miming revelation, it was 10 years before I went to another gig, which also wasn’t really a gig: I was obsessed enough with the Fall to sit through Mark E Smith’s incomprehensible play Hey! Luciani in order to see them perform. Again, I can remember virtually nothing about it, other than there not being a minute when I had even the vaguest notion of what was supposed to be going on – according to Brix Smith-Start’s forthcoming autobiography, nor did the rest of the band – and the Fall playing Dktr Faustus. Unlike Animal Kwackers, they were definitely plugged in. Alexis Petridis

Watch the Fall perform Hey! Luciani

The Offspring, Wembley Arena, London, 2001

We’re wearing fishnet tights as sleeves under our T-shirts. Wooden beaded necklaces hug our necks. We’ve hidden our Sovereign fags in a tampon case. My best friend and I, back together. I’d recently moved counties but now we are crowbarred into sweat-sodden armpits, our shins hitting the barriers, trying to collect as many bruises as possible. We are punks. Rebels. We don’t know what feminism is yet. I want to be Gwen Stefani, or one of the skate lads with pavement-sweeper jeans who beat each other up in the moshpit. She wants to be someone Billy Joe Armstrong would get off with. And for some reason, four bozos with bleached hair and wraparound shades, playing Cali-rock shot through with rapping and silly voices, are our call to arms.

The Offspring’s skull-in-flames logo was probably emblazoned on the stage. They certainly played all of these songs in this order. I’m sure it all “went off” when they buffooned their way through their crossover hit Pretty Fly (For a White Guy), or their anti-establishment anthem (and definitely not a cynical marketing ploy to sucker-punch disenfranchised kids from Basingstoke) The Kids Aren’t Alright. All I remember is being elated at being at a gig with my best mate, thankful for all the VHS compilations she had taped for me from MTV2 and the exhilaration of sharing live music with someone as 1,000 people press into your back and crush your ribcage. I was no longer the new girl at school – we were the cool girls who refused to play by the rules. Years later she’ll marry my stepbrother, stop talking to me, and only listen to Elvis. Kate Hutchinson

Watch the Offspring perform Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)
  • This article was amended on 23 March to remove a reference to a drummer from Samson who appears to have left the group before our writer saw them.


Harriet Gibsone, Michael Hann, Dave Simpson, Alexis Petridis and Kate Hutchinson

The GuardianTramp

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