So I know that all of you caught the Pistols in Manchester, saw Led Zeppelin in 1968 when they were billed as the New Yardbirds, Beatles at the Cavern, etc. Me?
The Spinners, the UK ones with the yellow smocks. It would have been at some point between 1975-77 at Bristol Colston Hall. They played in the round, because I can clearly remember a guy behind them yelling furiously while they were singing “Deep Blue Sea” – I don’t believe he was overcome with emotion, just a little disturbed – he was gently led away. Perhaps it was the blue light they switched on for that song? This is the only real detail I can remember from the night beyond them standing in a thin yellow line. I was about 5 or 6 at the time, so I would probably have enjoyed “The Rambler”, “D-Day Dodgers” and “Everybody Loves Saturday Night” if they played those as they were my favourites.
Prior to this, music was a mysterious thing held on plastic C90 cassettes that frequently regurgitated their spool into the guts of my dad’s expensive looking “separates” system – two cassette decks, amp and tuner, but no turntable (it’s just occurred to me that we never had any vinyl in the house). Dad had a drawer full of cassettes, a few bought, most taped and labelled in his own neat hand. There was also some sort of colour scheme on the spines of the cassette boxes – the titles were on purple or blue card. If I cast my mind back, I see Tomita, The Spinners, Lots of Cliff and the Shadows, Planxity, The Tain by Horslips (that one I found dissonant and scary), Steeleye Span, West Side Story, a Ronco compilation called That’ll Be The Day which I adored, and can still play in my head to this day, Jean Michel Jarre – the rest are lost to me.
I can also remember the incredibly shitty Beatles compilation my dad had made…It opened with the “Paul is Dead/Cranberry Sauce” loop from Strawberry Fields, plunged into Penny Lane, then heavily favouring Ringo vocals throught, Fool on the Hill was probably the high point. I’m sure I’m the only Beatles fan who had “Act Naturally” word perfect before say “Please Please me.” I was shocked when I got familiar with the catalog just how many hits my dad had managed to avoid.
On seeing the Spinners, I remember a disconnect closing in my head that the music on these lumps of plastic could and was actually played by real people in real time, so thank you to them for that.
Despite the relative poverty of music in this drawer, I listened to it all, many times – it was years before I could afford my own music, or get myself to the library to borrow some. For me, my musical world was all here apart from the Jimmy Saville show where he played top 10s from 3 decades and the Top 40 on Sunday night. Dad would tape the latter for us and my sister and I would play it every night on a mono cassette player which was carefully positioned on the landing, equidistant between our two bedrooms, ensuring neither of us could hear it very well.
There were no classics, no Floyd, Zeppelin, Bowie, No significant early rock beyond Cliff. Steeleye Span, but no Fairport, Horslips, but no Tull, certainly nothing more raucous than the Shadows. My parents had the anti-collection. (Ooh, I’ve just remembered there was a reasonable amount of Manhattan Transfer.)
I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, but there wasn’t much money around us in the early 70s, so I guess going from Wells to Bristol to a concert was a big deal to my mum and dad – I do remember having to dress smartly. They wouldn’t have had a drink before – alcohol was limited to a shared bottle of Woodpecker cider bough from the Off license (literally – it was sold via a door round the back of the local pub).
As money improved, we went to more things – a restaurant when I was 11 (I spilled a coke on the white tablecloth, and nobody yelled, they just cleaned it up and got me another, it was amazing!), my second concert was (drum roll) Mary Hopkin! and the first band I saw with with electric instruments was Dr Hook*. This one clearly soured my parents on live shows (I don’t remember anything, but dad says they were “a bit rude”), because that was the last show we saw as a family.
There’s a fair old gap until I was able to go to shows on my own dime. That first gig, I think, was Kitchens of Distinction in about 1986, so I kept up the tradition of failing to see anything of importance.
*I’m going to guess that somehow my mum had heard “Sylvia’s Mother” on deciding to go to this one.