Going to gigs round 2

Going to gigs

Wednesday 12th July 2017

Instalment 2.

Is it all about the venues?

by Trevor Locke.

In this issue: I look at the rise and fall of Leicester’s live music venues and tell the story of the more unusual places that hosted gigs and bands.

When we go to gigs, do we go to see the bands or do we go to be at the venue? My mind is made up on this – as far as Leicester is concerned, people go out to see bands. They hardly ever go out to be at a venue. So, it’s not like the kids who went to the Cavern Club in Liverpool every night, no matter what bands were playing. Leicester’s venues might be good, bad or indifferent but hardly anyone goes to them just to be there, no matter what the line-up. That, I think, is true today but, has it always been like that? There might have been a time when fans went to the Charlotte because it was The Charlotte and they weren’t that bothered which bands were playing. It might well have been the case that, from 1994 onwards, The Shed attracted a customer base who just wanted to go there, for what ever reason.

I noted in the last instalment that I went to The Shed for the first time in November 2002. Between then and now I must have seen thousands of bands. Some stand out in my mind and I can easily remember them. For example:

8 Miles High, Ash Mammal, Beneath The Lights, Brandy Thieves, By The Rivers, Casino Empire, The Chairmen, Displacements, Flip Like Wilson, Formal Warning, Four Point Oh, Great Imitation, The Heroes, Kenworthy, Little Night Terrors, Linear, M48, Midnight Wire, Neon Sarcastic, Not My Good Arm, Resin, Smokin’ The Profit, Strangle Kojak, Trilogy, Utopians, The World Can Wait…

All of them played there at least once; some were on stage many, many times. For me, I went to to see a band or a line-up of bands, or a singer, or a rapper – wherever they happened to be on.

I would go, if it was practically possible. If there was an important band that I wanted to see, I would go, whatever venue they were playing in, whether I liked the place or not.

In the early noughties (from 2000 onwards), The Charlotte was a highly popular venue; not least because some of the most important bands and names in rock music played there. By the time I went into it for the first time it has already become a place of legend.  I got there just in time to see some of Leicester’s most prolific bands playing on its stage.

The Charlotte 18th August 2013

The Charlotte 18th August 2013

Andy Wright, the guy who ran The Charlotte, provided me with a list of acts that played there during its final years:

‘2006 – The last full year of the Charlotte!
Here are the highlights or low points depending on your tastes, I guess. 22/01 Random Hand 25/01 Deaf Havana 27/01 Bad Manners 28/01 The Courteeners 29/01 Blood Red Shoes 30/01 King Creosote 03/02 Elliot Minor 10/02 The Subhumans 13/02 Robots In Disguise (From Mighty Boosh) 24/02 Rolo Tomassi 25/02 Turin Brakes 28/02 Ginger 29/02 One Night Only 06/03 Sonic Boom Six 17/03 The Rifles 19/03 Little Man Tate 29/03 Young Heart Attack 30/03 Malcome Middleton (Arab Strap) 03/04 Slaves To Gravity (again) 19/04 The Automatic 21/04 Ted Leo and the Pharmacists/Red Light Company 28/04 Dogs 30/04 Lightspeed Champion 01/05 Cud 04/05 Twisted Wheel 09/05 Spunge 12/05 Jesse Malin 14/05 Wednesday 13 30/03 The Subways 10/06 Glasvegas 22/06 Holly Golightly 25/6 Mystery Jets 26/06 UK Subs 08/07 The Business 10/07 Failsafe My Awesome Compilation 11/07 The Screening 08/08 The Dickies 21/08 The Death Set 03/09 Golden Silvers 10/09 Spear Of Destiny 01/10 Jonny Foriegner/Danananananakroyd 05/10 Iglu and Hartly 07 10 Team Waterpol 08/10 Cheeky Cheeky and The Nose Bleeds 09/10 Little Man Tate 15/10 Does It Offend You Yeah 16/10 Bromheads Jacket 19/10 Strung Out 25/10 The Long Tall Texans 26/10 Jersey Budd 29/10 One Night Only 30/10 The Pippettes 03/11 The Hunters Club 06/11 The Airbourne Toxic Event 10/11 Example 11/11 Fight Like Apes 13/11 Half Man Half Biscuit 16/11 Skinnyman 17/11 Grammatics 24/11 The View 26/11 Twin Atlantic 05/12 The Wedding Present 0712 The Holloways 10/12 Dreadzone 11/12 Streetlight Manifesto 14/12 Bury Tomorrow 18/12 Bad Manners 20/12 999/ The Lurkers 21/12 Diesel Park West. That was the quietest year of The Charlotte hence it’s closure in Jan 2009.’

So, you can see why it was such a legendary venue. It was there that I saw The Heroes for the first time and met the principle musicians who were in it. It was also there, that I saw The Heroes give their last performance.

Gaz Birtles has had a prestigious career in music, being a musician whose band met with considerable celebrity; he started working as a promoter at The Donkey in 2006. The venue was, and still is, a pub in Welford Road, the other side of Victoria park and not far from Leicester university. I happen to like The Donkey as a place. It’s what I call a ’boutique venue.’ The place has lots of character and I sometimes referred to it as looking like ‘a second-hand furniture showroom.’ Its eclectic collection of chairs and tables and pieces of pre-loved furnishings gave it an endearing charm. It always seemed to have desirable ales and beers on tap at a reasonable prices.

The Donkey Bar
Leicester, 2014.

Likewise, I always enjoyed a trip to the Musician. Its walls are loved – they are adorned with the pictures of many of the great musicians that have played there over the years. It looks like someone has taken a great deal of care and trouble to give the room a presence and character. That fact that it also serves real ales is a bonus.

Hang on one minute! It’s all very well talking about venues but what about the gigs? I don’t think we can move on until we have considered one very fundamental question: What is a gig?

Well, it’s obvious isn’t it? It’s a concert. A show. A performance – where one or more music acts play on a stage. Yea right. I think there is a lot more to it than just that. Imagine you are one single person – sitting alone in a room watching a band play on the stage. It did happen to me once, at The Shed. I was the fan. In fact, I was the only fan. That night. This band had driven all the way from Southampton to Leicester to play. Something went wrong. No one turned up to hear them. Not just very few people. No people. Only me. Would you, as the sole member of the audience, enjoy the performance?

On a good night the room is crowded with a throng of men and women who are there to enjoy a night out and listen to some rock music. That’s what makes gigs what they are. The audience. A group of like-minded people sharing the same experience, listening to the same music, getting the same reactions. It’s the crowd that makes the gig what it is.

Alex does a crowd Surf. Photo by Philip Vernon.

Why is it then that, on some nights, the audience stands like a load of stuffed dummies, staring at the stage like a crowd of musicologists at a technical convention? On the stage is a band who are playing some amazingly exciting music and 150 people are stood motionless, listening intently to the music. Back in the day (many years ago) the kids would all crowd round the front of the stage and when the band played then all went mad. That’s what I think a good gig is about. Going mad for the music. Being totally engaged, submerged, in the sound and the actions of the band.

So what is exciting about rock music? Emotions. It’s the ability of a band to make you feel good, to get you moving, to lift you up, to fling you around, to live the music and make you live it with them. That’s one approach. Then there is shoe-gaze. That’s where you all stand motionless like dummies and and marvel at the technical ingenuity of a group of musicians who stand there looking down at their strings or their shoes. It’s music you listen to. You don’t dance about like a nob. It’s the rock music equivalent of a Haydn string quartet. I look for audience reaction, me. If it’s a ska band I want to see people skanking. If it’s a grimecore band I want to see people moshing. If its a pop-punk band I want to see people bouncing. When I was younger I used to join in. These days I have to just sit and watch.

Moshing with Midcity at The Cookie
Photo: Keith Jobey

When I am reviewing a gig, I watch the band intently; when they play a particularly impressive passage, I look at the audience. I want to see their reactions. When I write a gig review, I often refer to how the audience reacted to a band. That’s what gigs are about – at least they are for me.

Venues we have lost

Not all venues that have been part of Leicester are still with us today. Many of still remember with great affection bygone places such The Attik, The Charlotte, Sub91, Lock-42, The Auditorium, Fubar, Superfly (Original Four) and even further back in time we still recall the part played in the music life of Leicester by The Palais, The Bear Cage, The Il Rondo, Baileys, Helsinki and even further back than that The Alhambra Music Hall and the Opera House in Silver Street. Not all of these places were live music venues but there was a time when musical tastes gravitated towards the work of DJs and music hall variety acts. Why some of these venues closed won we might never know. Some of them have histories that are fairly widely known.

Sub91 in Granby Street

Strange venues take off

Most of the gigs I went to were held in live music venues; some were held in pubs. One night I went to see Kasabian. Now that was something different. Totally different. Where did they play? An on Boeing 747. Yes, a jumbo jet. That’s not a gig you will forget in a hurry. Here’s the full story, from Arts in Leicester magazine, 2011:

Kasabian hold secret gig in Leicester – the full story.

Holding a secret gig is nothing new; but when an internationally celebrated band the size of Kasabian does it, the excitement is tangible. Kasabian have held secret gigs before, even in their home town of Leicester. When they held one on Monday 5th September, 2011, it was the surprise of the decade.

News of the secret event reached me on Friday morning when someone tipped me off about it, hoping I would know where it was to be held. The band posted details of the event on their web site, inviting fans to apply for tickets. Lucky applicants would be told by phone that they had won a pair of tickets for the free show. I started asking local live music venues if they were to host the event but drew a blank everywhere. Venue owners, fans, music colleagues and I, whittled it down to three possible city venues. We were all wrong. I got an email on Saturday saying I had been given a place to attend the gig. Nothing about the venue. Just an enigmatic sentence asking me to report to the Walker’s stadium at 7 p.m. on Monday (5th September) and “all will be revealed.” The Walkers Stadium, by the way, has now been renamed The King Power Stadium.

Arriving at the LCFC, I found a fleet of coaches and a long queue of fans waiting to get on them. I still had no idea where we were going. I was ushered on to the VIP corporate hospitality cruiser. A Vevo rep showed me a picture of Serj and Tom seated at the controls of an aircraft; that was clue but I still didn’t twig. I thought they had just flown in on a private jet. All she would say is that we were going to “a destination in Leicestershire.” Right, so it wasn’t going to be in the city after all.

The convey of buses set off shortly after 7 p.m. It was getting dark and it was raining. I noticed we were in Oadby, heading towards Arnesby and the idea of Bruntingthorpe came into my head. Sure enough, we turned into some winding lanes and soon a big sign saying Bruntingthorpe went passed the window. I knew it was a large site and probably had an aircraft hanger or two where a gig could be mounted. The coach turned into the airfield’s main car park and a huge illuminated Jumbo Jet came into view. I jumped up out of my seat and shouted, “Wow! Awesome!” At last, I the knew where the secret gig would be held. I could never have imagined this in my wildest dreams.

The Boeing 747. Kasabian’s Jumbo Jet gig, September 2011.

The fans piled off the coaches into the dark, wet night and filed into a large marquee, close to the aircraft. Two hundred people lined up for free beer and a hog roast. This was corporate hospitality with style! The company that organised the event was VEVO, the international music video corporation. I noticed they had the Boeing’s tail fin painted with “Vevo presents Kasabian”. So, here we were, about to hear one of the world’s biggest bands, a band that had started life in Leicester, playing a gig on a jumbo jet.

Tom Meighan on the jumbo jet in 2011

A couple of beers and hog burgers later and we were climbing the steps into the massive aircraft. Inside, the fuselage had been stripped out to provide a space the size of a large cargo freighter. A stage was down at the tail end and there was a full sound system, with enough illuminated screens to make it look a bit like the control room of an AWACS. An array of LCD production lights were dotted about the stage area. The crowd squeezed down to the front. I was about five ‘rows’ back. The space was, as you can imagine, very narrow and long. Kasabian came on stage at about 9 p.m. The stage was pretty low down so all I could see was the occasion

Tom Meighan with Kasabian at the secret gig at bruntingthorpe, 2011

The band started to play. It was pretty warm in the densely packed thicket of fans. This was the first time I had ever seen Kasabian play live, even though I knew some of their songs pretty well. They were soon into some really pounding numbers and the crowd began to bounce up and down in unison. The floor was pretty springy and the whole aircraft was vibrating with the music and the frequency of the fan’s jumping. I was a bit anxious about all this motion at first until I remembered that the airframe of a Boeing 747 has to cope with huge amounts of turbulence.

Kasabian’s jumbo jet at Bruntingthorpe

Kasabian played a number of their biggest hits including a track from their new album ‘Velociraptor’, which is also the title of their forthcoming UK tour. One of the most memorable songs they played was Fire, with its famous chorus, was their final song and a great one to end this amazing night. They didn’t however play Clubfoot, which was a bit of a disappointment for me.

Yes, it certainly was the gig of the decade; nothing like it has happened since. I remember a band hiring a canal barge for a gig and they played while the barge floated along the river. I am not even sure if I was on it but I seem to recall it happening. I remember going to the very first gigs at Lock42 – that was after Stayfree music had moved out of their substantial building in Conduit Street – next door to the train station. They found a disused industrial property on Frog Island and converted the building into rehearsal rooms and made a concert hall on the ground floor. Why the area was called Frog Island I do not know but I suspect that several local historians will want to tell me about the history of Leicester’s marshes and floor plains on the banks of the Soar.

Next time. I will be looking at how gigs happen and how bands got booked to play at them.

See also:

Introduction to the series

Instalment 1 of the series