Tuesday, January 29, 2008

20 spine tingling moments - part 1

Here's something I wrote for Tales From The Woods, which first appeared in December 2003.
Sometimes a music gig is so good that you leave with a big smile on your face and a promotional CD which turns out to be crap when you play it. But now and again you experience a truly spine tingling moment - an event which leaves a deep and lasting impression. It's not always the music that's important - sometimes it's just the occasion which lifts it into a different plane.
I've picked my top 20 spine tinglers from the last 40 odd years which left a mark on my memory. In some cases the music was wonderful, in others the venue or occasion was special and in some it's just a reminder of part of my life, but in all cases the memory lingers on. It's quite an odd mix. What they have in common is that they seemed special at the time and still do in retrospect.
1. Sam Cooke/Little Richard, Tooting Granada, 1962. Sam Cooke was and still is my favourite singer bar none - his silky soul voice was as close to perfection as it's possible to be. And Little Richard in his prime was probably the most exciting act ever. So to see these two on the same bill was quite something - even more so because I had a school friend whose dad had a connection with the theatre and who got me backstage to meet them. Their autographs remain among my most prized possessions. And the show was great too, with Sam waving his handkerchief around and Richard setting the place alight. There were many great package shows in the early sixties but this, for me, was the best of them all.
2. Gene Vincent, Justin Hall, West Wickham, c1964. Where were you when you heard that John F Kennedy had been shot? I was at the Justin Hall for the weekly Friday night gig. Regular bands included David Bowie's first group the Kon-rads and Pete Frampton's Herd - and they were both pretty good as I recall. But the gig I've chosen was Gene Vincent, by now playing small venues, still dressed in his black leathers and singing well, but looking tormented, gaunt and a bit lost (well who wouldn't be in West Wickham?)
3. Sam and Dave, Fairfield Hall, Croydon, 1967. The Stax/Volt tour featured Otis Redding, Booker T and the MGs, Arthur Conley, the Mar-Keys, Eddie Floyd - and Sam and Dave. And great though all these performers were (Otis is my second favourite after Sam Cooke) the highlight that night was Sam and Dave, who raised the roof with 'Hold On I'm Coming'. I was a reporter on the Croydon Advertiser at the time and had a music column (I've still got some of the free demo 45s) and wrote a review of the show for the paper, part of which is quoted in a fascinating book called Rockin' Croydon, whicch is worth a read if you come across it.
4. Blondie, King George's Hall, Blackburn, 1977. What are Blondie doing here? you ask. Well for me the '70s seemed to be dominated by bubble gum and disco and my interest in music waned - not helped by a shortage of gigs once I moved to Shaky Lee country. When punk arrived I came alive for a while - the rebellion, raw rock and roll and rubber (that's enough alliteration) seemed so exciting compared with what had gone before. Blondie weren't really punk of course - I just fancied Debbie Harry - but the audience certainly were and I suddenly felt old, surrounded as I was by gobbing, pogo-ing punk rockers.
5. Ernie K-Doe, New Orleans Jazzfest, 1989. I always loved New Orleans R & B and after years of indecision I took the plunge and went solo to my first Jazzfest. The first act I saw was K-Doe - a dishevelled drunk of a man who staggered on stage looking like he would fall off at any moment. But I was mesmerised. His voice was still strong and the music was exactly what I had hoped for. A few years later John Howard and I visited K-Doe's Mother In Law lounge and chatted to him as he sat bleary eyed on his throne - a strange and rather sad experience. The last time I saw him was in 2000 - sober and looking smart. He was with his long suffering wife in downtown New Orleans and was about to do an interview for local radio. Now he's joined his mother in law in the sky and we have sadly said Te ta te ta ta to Ernie for the last time.
6. Irma Thomas, Lion's Den, New Orleans, 1989. I first met John Howard and one or two other TFTW regulars at Jazzfest. I saw a union jack flying in the crowd just as Irma, the soul queen of New Orleans, began her set with 'It's Raining' in steady drizzle. I went over and made contact with Dave Thomas and Scotty Mick and a couple of days later four of us set out to find Irma's Lions Den club on Gravier Street. It was definitely in the wrong part of town and at that time had few visitors from outside the neighbourhood. Irma welcomed us with red beans and rice and did two great sets with her band the Professionals. Some people, say she's too middle of the road these days (I don't agree - and neither, I'm sure, does big Keith), but that night was magical - a genuine superstar appearing in humble, down home surroundings before a couple of dozen people.
7. Aaron Neville, New Orleans Jazzfest, 1989. My first visit to New Orleans had so many spine tingling moments that it's hard to know which ones to pick. But Aaron Neville singing acapella in the gospel tent is hard to beat. That quivering, soaring, delicate voice - quite unlike anyone else's and so out of place in such a muscular body - is a thing of sheer beauty. I spent a long night at Tipitina's later listening to and enjoying Aaron and the rest of the Neville Brothers. but Aaron's exquisite voice is the key to the band's appeal and listening to him singing gospel was awe inspiring.
8. Dion, Town and Country Club, London, 1989.Back in the UK there were some great gigs in 1989 too, and none more so than Dion's concert at the Town and Country. Dion has to be my favourite white rock and roller (even ahead of Jerry Lee) and this was the first time I had seen him since he toured with Del Shannon in 1962. He was promoting his Yo Frankie album, which was well up to the level of much of his back catalogue, especially 'King of the New York Street'. The following year he made a cameo appearance with Dave Edmunds and Kim Wilson at the same venue - and despite the fact that he performed only three numbers it was another moment to savour in the memory.
9. Ronnie Spector, Town and Country 2, 1990. I remember watching the Ronettes on black and white TV in 1963 and being turned on by their slit skirts, heavy make up and long black hair. What a wonderful tarty look, which conjured up something so much more exciting and dangerous than suburban West Wickham. Now at last was my opportunity to see Ronnie in the flesh - a survivor of Phil Spector's neurosis and still singing as well as ever. She looked great, with a huge mass of red hair, and I had a big smile on my face all night. I even got my photo taken with her.
10. Johnny Allen, Weavers, London, 1992. The Weavers pub specialised in folk music (until it turned into a theme pub or whatever it is now) but the night that Johnny Allen played it really rocked. Hot and sweaty, the atmospheric was electric as he bounded through 'Promised Land', 'South to Louisiana' and other Cajun hits.
More soon...


At 10:28 am , Blogger Chris Groom said...

Hi Nick,
Always good to see tales from the frontline - live music, you can't beat it. Glad you enjoyed Rockin' & Around Croydon, thanks for the mention.

At 11:19 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was at Croydon too and of all the concerts I have been to that remains the strongest in my memory. For those days for people to get up and start dancing in the aisles was unusual. I remember my favourite Otis Rush being there and I think Wilson Pickett was too. But I am sure everyone left smiling and happy

At 1:09 pm , Blogger XPat said...

Yes I was there too. And a memory only really matched by Queen's News of the World Tour, concert in Brussels.
I remember the dancing in the aisles at the Fairfield. Wonderful memories.


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