What was your first ever gig?

The Guardian’s Michael Hann writes about first gigs. His was pre-hairspray Whitesnake, in the days where every member of the band played extended solos including the bassist. Though somehow I doubt that each solo was realy ren minutes long, even if they might have seemed that long to the 13-year old Michael Hann.

What my first gig actually was depends on what you count as a gig. Was it new-wave one-hit-wonders The Jags, who played a student gig at Bridges Hall?

I can’t remember now if it was a student-only thing or whether tickets were available to the general public. What I do remember is they were truly awful, a drunken shambles who stumbled their way through a barely-recognisable version of their one hit and a dozen other numbers that sounded exactly the same. The guitarist was so blotto he didn’t even notice he’d broken two strings. It’s not surprising they faded away soon after.

Or was it the 1980 Reading Festival, then as now a teenage right-of-passage?

The headliners that year were Rory Gallagher, UFO and Whitesnake, and the bill also included Gillan, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Slade, and many, many New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands (You name them, they were probably on the bill). I remember the huge cheer when Ian Gillan came on stage for his special guest spot on Friday night, and the whole field full of people singing along to Smoke on the Water. Then there was Iron Maiden on Saturday, again in the special guest spot. It was right at the beginning of their career, still with original singer Paul DiAnno. They’d just released their début album, and the energy on stage made it clear they were hungry and going places. Then there was Slade, late substitutes for Ozzy Osborne who’d pulled out at short notice. Nobody expected much from them at the start, and a low-key beginning with a couple of new songs gathered polite applause, but little more. Then they started playing the hits, one after another, and everything changed. By the end they’d completely stolen the show. When they came back for an encore, the crowd wanted that Christmas song. “Ye daft buggers”, said Noddy, “You’ll have to sing that yourselves”. So we did. Then they left us with “Born to be Wild”. Def Leppard found that very hard to follow.

Or the first “regular gig” in an indoor venue? That would have been Hawkwind at the now-demolished Top Rank Club in Reading.

The support was power-trio Vardis who sounded like a 30 second excerpt of Love Sculpture’s “Sabre Dance” repeated in a loop for 40 minutes with occasional vocals. As for Hawkwind themselves, this was one of the more metal incarnations of the band, with the late Huw Lloyd Langton on lead guitar and Dave Brock sticking to rhythm. They also had, of all people, Ginger Baker on drums, a legendary musician but quite the wrong sort of drummer for a band like Hawkwind. In retrospect it was probably not the greatest gig ever, soon eclipsed by far better gigs by Gillan, Budgie, Iron Maiden, UFO and Thin Lizzy. If anything, Hawkwind were actually better when I saw them thirty years later at St David’s Hall in Cardiff, but the superior acoustics of a symphony hall probably helped.

So, what was your first gig? Was it somebody legendary, or someone as awful as The Jags?

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28 Responses to What was your first ever gig?

  1. My first gig was Yes. It was not long after I’d first got into prog, and they still had Anderson and Wakeman then. First and only time I saw them, but kick-started me seeing other bands in that vein.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    When was that? The one and only time I saw Yes was (I think) 2004, the very last tour the Anderson-Wakeman-Howe-Squire-White lineup played together.

  3. I think it was 2003 or 2004. I know I was at university at the time, but can’t remember exactly when it was!

  4. John Hunt says:

    I was 31 before I went to my first proper gig; Supergrass at Liverpool University, in 2004, although I have a vague memory of being taken to a concert by Liverpool folk group, The Spinners, by my Parents, at the Liverpool Empire, in about 1981.

  5. Racing Hippo says:

    That’d be in a huge barn-like building in Shepton Mallet in 1982 to see a band called Genesis.
    They had these new-fangled moving light doohickies. What with them and the music, my mind was utterly blown.

    I’ve continued the theme of “setting the gig-bar high” with my son: the first gig I took him to was Moon Safari in an obscure club in Peterborough. They were sublime. I’ve since taken him to see Big Big Train and then Moon Safari again, where they invited him to sing Constant Bloom with them afterwards.
    Going to be hard to keep this up, I think. Although there’s Frost* this year :)

  6. Deep Purple at Knebworth. Legendary, certainly. Awful? Well…….with hindsight I recognise it wasn’t their greatest moment. But at the time it was the greatest thing I had ever witnessed.

  7. Tim Hall says:

    @Electric Freedom – That would have been the tour I saw them. Seem to remember it was the 35th Anniversary Tour, which would have made it 2003

    @David Meadows – Half the rock fans I know seem to have been at that gig. Think The Scorpions were the band of the day; they were just about at their peak around then. Remember UFO being disappointing, not the band they’d been a few years before, and without Pete Way or Paul Chapman it felt like Phil Mogg and a bunch of hired hands. And Meatloaf was awful.

  8. The Other Tim Hall says:

    Iron Maiden. Birmingham Odeon. Piece of Mind tour, 1983. Grand Prix as support.


    Yes, £4.50. Probably the best £4.50 I’ve ever spent.

  9. Synthetase says:

    Sadly, I think my first gig was Evanescence in Melbourne in 2007. It was a ‘surprise’ present thingy from a girl I was seeing at the time. I liked a couple of songs from their debut album, but I’m not what you’d call a fan.

    Anyway, in terms of stage presence, they were completely owned by the support act, Shihad. The show was in a tennis arena and the sound was crap (don’t worry, just make it louder! Didn’t you know you can solve acoustics with amplitude?).

    The band didn’t care about the crowd at all, all we got was “goodnight, Melbourne” at the end. No encore. They just ran through most of the album out of order. Total meh.

    The first gig I bought tickets for was Porcupine Tree’s first ever Australian show in the now-defunct Palace Theatre. Epic set of old favourites and new stuff from Fear of a Blank Planet. Wilson got a monitor earpiece stuck in his ear and had to have a roadie dig it out on stage with a spoon handle. Good times :)

  10. Pendragon at the Wardour St. Marquee. Support was Twice Bitten. September 1984. Turns out Bad Elephant label boss David Elliott was on the sound desk that night, and met his wife to be for the first time too!

  11. My first gig was Rick Wakeman at Hull City Hall. I remember being so amazed by all the gear on stage I took more photographs of that than I did when the show started (this was on film, so I only had 24 pics).

    I always was a bit of a gearhead ;-)

  12. Ian Redfearn says:

    Apologies in advance for being an old person :-) my first real gig was The Scorpions, Liverpool Empire, 1979, Lovedrive tour. My dad drove me and a friend, dropped us off outside and then he went to the pub and waited for concert to finish to pick us up. It was awesome. The next gig was then Rush and the Manchester Apollo. I had to bunk off school, get a bus to Manchester and queue up for about 6 hours to buy tickets. Then again depend on my dad to take me and pick me up on the night (June 1980). This was one of the most amazing gigs I ever went to, not because of anything in the show itself, it was just the energy of the fans, the fact that I knew I had queued up for hours and Rush were my favourite band. It was unreal, the only time I ever got to hear the music I liked was on vinyl. The only time I got to read about them or see pictures of them…Sounds. Now here I was looking at the band in full 3D, in the flesh and they were playing the music I loved..wow what I night.

    The scorpions gig was wild but the rush gig was the one that really fuelled my love of live music.

  13. Garry Butler says:

    Officially it was Mungo Jerry at the Sutton Coldfield Park Carnival in 1970 but as far as concert halls go it would be Canned Heat at the Birmingham Town Hall in the same year followed by Deep Purple at the same venue. I know I am giving my age group away here but those really were the days. I also have fond memories of seeing ELP in 1970 plus Genesis as a support group to Van der Graf Generator. Happy times. PS. The second time I saw Genesis was also as a support to Lindesfarne. Believe me there was a load of confused folkies in the audience when Genesis players their set. Finally, although a different subject is it not time that MA updated there Website. I know Facebook seems to be more popular these days for info but I still think Band Websites are important. As things stand new MA fans are seeing a lot of out of date info. Regards all.

  14. Paul @ pg_tyke says:

    Argent, St Albans, just before Christmas 1975. This was the post-Russ Ballard lineup that only recorded two albums before calling it a day. John Grimaldi was a brilliant lead guitarist and also pained the pictures that were used on the sleeves. He later sadly died at the age of only 28.

  15. PaulE says:

    Marillion in Bristol 1991. And I thought it was so funny when someone called out for Grendel ….

  16. Sam Lewis says:

    Mostly Autumn at Tavistock Wharf in 2006. I think the second was Status Quo the same year but that might not be correct!

  17. Tom B says:

    My first gig was The Boomtown Rats, September or October 1979 at the Birmingham Odeon on the tour to promote the “The Fine Art of Surfacing” album. The support act were an anonymous outfit whose name escaped me long ago. The gig itself has long been superseded by better ones but what it did was instil in me a lifelong passion for gig going.

  18. DuncM says:

    My first gig was Queen at the newly opened NEC in Birmingham back in 1980, not a bad start to gigging. The thing that stuck me the most was the sheer volume of Brian May’s guitar as they launched into the fast version of We Will Rock You.

  19. Dean Borgazzi says:

    My first gig was Yes 1980 at the Birmingham odeon. Quite a surreal experience, trevor horn and geoff downes buggling in the band, with what was a very good album tour of Drama. It was very muck like a football match, people cheering but just as many being abusive…. “go back to your plastic age….. bring back Rick Wakeman” very odd I thought are all concerts like this ?????

  20. Tim Hall says:

    A reminder that the asshattery of a vocal minority within Yes fandom is nothing new.

    I’ve read some very mixed reviews of that tour; leaves me the the impression the new songs from Drama came over very well, but Trevor Horn struggled with some of the older material.

  21. Stuart Dickson (stuartintrosley) says:

    A few points. Rush at Glasgow Apollo May 79 was first. Eyebrows singed off by flash bombs (“do it again !”)
    Re Yes / Drama – I also saw that in Edinburgh and really enjoyed it although I must say now I can’t really connect with most earlier stuff. Too ethereal for me – but each to their own.
    Best ever ? Hard call but a toss up between Steven Wilson HCE tour (three times !) or Radiohead at O2 few years back. What energy and emotion in both (although more dancing to Radiohead !)

  22. Paul @ pg_tyke says:

    I saw the Leicester show on the Drama tour, Tim. You are spot on. TH was happy enough with the songs from that album, but didn’t look confident tackling Anderson-era tracks.

  23. Peter Ward says:

    Like John Hunt I was taken to see the Spinners by my parents but the first gig I chose and paid for was Queen at Manchester Apollo in 1979. Within seven months I’d added half a dozen or so other bands including Rush & Genesis, all at the 2,500 – 3,000 seat Apollo. Queen, Rush and Genesis all moved onto arena and stadium gigs after that and I still feel blessed to have seen them at a smallish venue. Happy days indeed.

  24. Chris Hall says:

    First gig? That would be Hawkwind at the now-demolished Top Rank Club in Reading :-)

  25. chris wintle says:

    My first gig was Deep Purple supported by Bullett at Sheffield City Hall in 1972 I think – they nearly burst my ear drums and I vowed never to go to another rock gig ever again. However thousands of gigs later I’m still going and will be seeing Panic Room in Derby this Friday followed by a live cd/dvd recording by King King at Homfirth in mid April

  26. Archangel says:

    Camel at Newcastle City Hall on 19th February 1981 – the ‘Nude’ tour. (For those unfamiliar with Camel’s output, ‘Nude’ was the title of the album, not a description of what the band wore on stage.)

  27. Tim Hall says:

    Camel. Not to be confused with the cast of Oh Calcutta….

  28. Mike Foley says:

    The Kinks, Manchester Apollo 1984.