Having said that, to create a list of the very best is a lot harder than I at first thought and I need to reserve a special mention for my first ever gig. It was Spear of Destiny, an 80's post-punk band with a Nazi name that were actually quite left-wing. One of my cousins on my dad's side was their live sound engineer/roadie and I was only 11, it was the 1987 tour to support their big album Outland and that tour they went on to support U2, before the lead singer caught a rare illness and it all went to shit. I stood in the sound booth at Rock City, the UK's best heavy metal venue (if not one of the finest live music venues in Britain) and the best thing about Nottingham and watched them make gnarled sounds. I was bored shitless as I was starting to get into rap but that was where it all started.
So, in reverse order then...
10. PLAN B - ISLINGTON, APRIL 2006
Plan B, the white rapper who played acoustic guitar, may have slid off the face of the musical Earth but in 06 he was at his very peak; on the cusp of hitting the mainstream but playing a tiny bar (I saw him when he had 'made it' and it was a different and far poorer affair) and saying every single line as if he meant it. His stripped back vitriol and passionate delivery cut right through me, it felt as I had been in the presence of a British Woody Gunthrie and I had to go out and make a change to the world after this intense and honest performance.
9. BECK - ROCK CITY, MAY 1997
It's easy to forget that Beck used to be quite good, even if his music was an exercise in showing off and was heartless, with Odelay he made one of the finest records of the 90s and I was an avid fan. This gig stays with me because it lasted for about 3 hours and was spectacular, it had dwarves, excessive strobe, film, a dancing troupe, breakdancing and one bit where the entire band moved in slow motion as if time itself was being tweaked. It was Beck doing Barry Manilow, it was a show and he was the arch-showman, backed up with a mighty album to transform and re-enct for us. Clever, clever stuff.
8. FRANZ FERDINAND - EDINBURGH, AUGUST 2003
Aside from the BLK JKS, I am rarely at the cusp of seeing a band before they get famous but with Franz Ferdinand I managed it by sheer fluke. I was doing the Edinburgh Festival that Summer and it always has some music programmed, I saw Evan Dando that year too as part of his "Baby I'm Back" tour. I heard one track by them, they'd only been going since late 2002 and their big hits and debut did not impact till the start of 2004, anyway, I liked the name and the song so went on my own as no one else fancied it. I ended up stage diving, hanging from the low ceiling and getting in a right sweaty mess, flying solo, I rocked out with disco-punk abandon and will always carry a Franz Ferdinand shaped hole in my heart because of that magic night.
7. FOO FIGHTERS - ROCK CITY, MAY 1997
Never got to see Nirvana but when I got to see Dave Grohl it was if I was getting as close as I could to the memory of Cobain. "The Colour and the Shape" had just come out and I loved it, as I loved all of Grohl's work at this point. It was anthemic in its scope and catchy as hell with lyrics that had a massive personal resonance at the time. This gig wasn't so much about the music, which was great as he cherry picked from two fine albums and also did Marigold the Nirvana B-Side; it was more abut just seeing Dave Grohl and when he stepped on that stage I had to take a breath in. I also remember loving him because he came on with a T-Shirt dissing that shit UK lite-rock band Bush, he had spelt it like this you see: BU$H. Oh how we laughed as we sang along...
6. RL BURNSIDE - THE MAZE (NOTTINGHAM), ?
For the life of me I have no idea when exactly this was but as it was supporting the seminal album "A Ass Pocket of Whisky" is must have been late 96 or early 97. If you don't know, RL is one of the finest bluesmen ever to grace the Earth and he was brought to my attention by working with Jon Spencer (who really should be as famous as The White Stripes, considering he got there first but without a gimmick...) so I went to the arse end of Notts to the smallest club ever and sat right on the front. Out came RL, 70+ with a gut the size of Europe. His grandson was on the traps and he had the legendary Kenny Brown on slide. He stared at the small crowd..."Well, well, well" he said then stomped his foot, as his grand child started to smack the shit out of the kit, the slide came in as if Satan's steed and RL then blew us away for 70 minutes with his down home dirty lyrics and blues riffing. I feel blessed to have seen an original blues practitioner in such an intimate setting.
5. MC5 - RESCUE ROOMS (NOTTINGHAM), SEPTEMBER 2004
Detroit fuzz-rock is something I love, The Stooges are one of my favourite bands of all time but I also love the MC5, so when they reformed and decided to play a small, obscure venue in Notts I was there, along with Mike Thomas and another bloke who was nearly 40. We stood right in the middle at the front, not expecting to dance but to be in prime viewing for what is a small space. The MC5 emerge, they are old but look brilliant and then proceed to emit "Ramblin' Rose" such a massive racket, matched with a progressive melody that, before we all knew it, had slightly three old men moshing. When "Kick Out The Jams" kicked in we nearly did a wee in our pants and arms around each other, sang as if it was 1969 all over again.
4. THE LEMONHEADS - ROCK CITY, OCTOBER 1993
I can't believe I saw this but my girlfriend at the time and me were massive fans, I mean she was 5 years older than me and had been into them from Lick and Lovey and she bought me the ticket as a gift. It was rammed and Dando was at the peak of his fame and then he came on and seriously, it was when he had that really long straight hair, druggie prettiness and just sex on legs with Nic Dalton on bass and Dave Ryan on trap set and Juliana Hatfield adding her weight. It was fucking amazing as he played all of It's A Shame About Ray and threw in some old classics for good measure off of Creator, Lick and Lovey...I even have the track listing somewhere and I can say, I was there when Evan Dando was good!
3. BLACK FLAG - ROCK CITY, JULY 2003
To put this into perspective, ever since I was 18 and got into Black Flag, via Nirvana, I have them down as the band that saved my life and I mean that. Obviously, they split in 1986 but due to Rollins wanting to raise funds for the West Memphis Three he used his backing group and got some guest stars involved, including nearly all the ex-members, to record a benefit album of Black Flag songs. All gravy but then he decided to tour the songs to get more cash for the guys and this is where I come in. I must confess, it was like a dream come true to see those songs, engrained as they are on my memory, performed live by the man that sang them some 22 years ago. I shouted my heart out, every line word perfect and held my arms aloft and cried the tears of a very happy punk rocker.
2. THE STONE ROSES - TRENT POLY (NOTTINGHAM), MAY 1989
I am perhaps proudest of this gig, in that I can say I was there and that I saw the Stone Roses at their absolute peak...even if I was high as a kite and can remember little aside from just dancing like a mentalist and being consumed by the music like some funky monkey, limbs everywhere, spiralling, mind and body out of control as what felt like an army of youth stomped and lolled to the amazing sonic boom that was the Stone Roses. I remember that they played "I Am The Resurrection" and I felt myself grow to the size of Jesus and loom over proceedings, full of swagger and power and looked around to see myself surrounded by fellow giants and we all smiled, secure in our magnificence. And yes, I was only 13 but my mate Stone who was a 6th former got me in and I was big for my age and the rest as they say is history.
1. THE MARS VOLTA - ROCK CITY, NOVEMBER 2003
This stands head and shoulders above anything else because not only was it so profoundly moving but the music is some of my favourite of all time. It was shared with a fellow music enthusiast who I have sadly lost contact with, Mike Thomas. Let me back track, I had been blown away be De-Loused At The Comatorium and had absorbed it into my DNA by constant listening; which made its transformation on that cold night in Nottingham (I remember upon living the gig I didn't feel a thing, in some sort of trance, immune to things as base as feeling the cold) all the more transcendental. Mike and I watched as they performed the album in order but ripped it apart, it was loud, visceral, three-dimensional: an endless barrage of perfect noise that carried us away on a wave of shock and awe, utterly consumed, we were at their mercy and I would've died for them that night. As the final screams of "Take The Veil Carpin Taxt" ran out I noticed that tears were running down my cheeks, the narrative had consumed me, my heart rent asunder by the sheer brilliance of genuine music at its very peak.
Mike and I stumbled out, embraced, shared a tear and became forever changed. On a side note Mike and I went to see them at Brixton in 2005 I think and it was the greatest disappoint of my life, aside from the time I saw a reformed Wire plod through their greatest hits with about as much zest as a nearly dead dog.
Special shout outs have to go to the BLK JKS, who are a wonderful unit live; Ben Folds Five, who I saw often enough and always gave their all in what was always a fun, positive night with them; Hefner, who I was so impressed with, I wrote them a letter and we had some correspondence about shopping centres and finally UK rapper Sway, my first gig with my precious Eva-Jane where unfortunately, I was stricken with a mental health episode but via her kind care of me at the gig and the uplifting, positive thinking hip-hop of Sway, I found my way back to Earth.