Late lamented Irish tub-thumper Noel Bridgeman and his Brobdingnagian double-bass drum kit have a lot to answer for. And had he not sadly died during last year’s lockdown, answers he would have almost certainly been called on to provide.
The reasons for the first part of the above statement are simple. Together with Brush Shiels on bass and youthful prodigy Gary Moore on guitar, NB was one third of Ireland’s mighty Skid Row, the very first band I ever saw.
The reasons for the second half of that statement are this. Shortly before Noel’s death, my cousin Mossie who regularly clinked glasses with him in their shared Dublin local suggested he schedule pints next time I was up for a gig. Sadly, COVID decided otherwise, so I never did get to toast the legendary sticksman for the small but enormously significant role he played in shaping my musical tastes.
Now barely remembered in the UK, “duh Rowh” were the first in a procession of terrific bands – Horslips, U2 and Microdisney being just three – that came out of the Republic. Having shook off the yoke of the showbands and conquered the ballrooms south of the border, Brush, Noel and Gary sensibly decamped to the UK. Once there, they started getting plays on John Peel’s Top Gear and saw their debut album, Skid, reach the nursery slopes of the album charts.
Quite what they were doing playing a grotty venue like the Walsgrave Pub on the April 1971 evening when my then BFF Pat Fox and I saw them remained a mystery. It was only years later that I found out that said gig – and several others I later saw in the same venue (Graham Bond’s Magick being the most notable) was promoted by one Pete Waterman (yes, that Pete Waterman). If he’s ever summoned to appear in some kind of pop war crimes tribunal, I’ll be happy to make myself available to speak in mitigation.
Anyway, having both not long turned 15 and very much virgins when it came to full-on rawk concerts, Pat and I were champing at the bit to go. The night holds such fond and ultimately bittersweet memories because it wasn’t only the first gig I ever went to, but the last real great shared moment of my great childhood friendship.
Having been bosom buddies all through Primary School, Pat and I were forever round each other’s houses. Inspired by Richmal Crompton’s William books, we’d even cut our fingers, co-mingled our corpuscles and become blood brothers.
Sadly, come the 11-Plus, I passed and went to Grammar school on one side of town while Pat failed and was packed off to a Secondary Modern on the other. While our friendship endured the first four years of educational apartheid more or less intact, it couldn’t hope to survive the schism caused by my entering the Lower Sixth and his leaving school. While I studied for A Levels, Pat started work in the car factory where his dad, Bruce Fox, the Cov equivalent of British Leyland’s Red Robbo, was union convenor. Always an incredibly gifted and versatile artist, Pat eventually escaped the drudgery of factory life and established himself as a successful illustrator for computer games. Having not seen the guy for 30 years and finding neither hide nor hair of him on the internet, I hope he’s still doing OK for himself.
Looking back at pictures of me from that phase of my life, I can’t believe that the man on the door took our 50p entrance fees. Nor that the lady behind the bar happily heard and handed over of order for foaming Nonik tumblers of suspiciously brackish Watney’s Red Barrel. But, if you were an underage drinker, Coventry in the early 70s was a great place to live in and pubs like the Walsgrave were piss-easy venues to get served and sloshed in.
Aside from NB’s enormo-sized drum kit, my most abiding memory of the night Pat and I popped our concert going cherries was the band’s light show. The most extraordinary thing of all was, of course, Gary Moore. Although not much older than his two newest fans, Mr. M was already being bigged up in the music press as one to watch.
Peter Green (with whom the young guitarslinger shared manager, Clifford Davis) certainly seemed to think so. During one of his periodic withdrawals from the music biz, PG had given Moore one of his most cherished Gibson Les Pauls. While Moore used the axe for most of his career, I have no idea if this was the same instrument he used to rip up the Walsgrave with his blistering solos that long ago Spring evening. When hard times forced GM to sell the guitar in 2006, it fetched some US$2,000,000 before eventually finding a home with Metallica’s Kirk Hammett several years later.
It was the colossal sight and sound of Mr B’s drums that lodged in my mind longest and hardest, though. For several years thereafter, I was convinced that the bigger the kit, the better the drummer and that the likes of Charley Watts were mere timekeepers at the back of the band. Like they (don’t) say, there’s no fool like a young fool.
How many gigs have I seen since that night? Certainly hundreds, maybe even a thousand or more. Below is a list of a few highlights and lowlights.
The Beach Boys – Wembley Stadium, London (June 21, 1975)
Memories? Elton John unveiling Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy by bravely playing the whole thing live to an audience who knew none of the songs… Joe Walsh hopping out of a guitar case and effectively into the Eagles. Ultimately, the day was so hot and sunny it could only ever belong to the Beach Boys who came on around 5.30pm and just blew everyone else off the stage.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (in no particular order)
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Manchester Apollo (last Thurs in May, 1981)
Three hours and change in front of around 2,500 people. Unforgettable show. One of the reasons I remember the date so well is because I got offered tickets for the replay of the Spurs vs. Man City FA Cup Final – the match where Villa scored the incredible goal. Had no hesitation in opting to see B instead and have never regretted my choice. Saw BS and the ESB again at the considerably bigger Birmingham NEC about three weeks later. The two subsequent occasions I’ve seen him have been at ever bigger ginormodomes – first the 02 in, I think, 2008 and six years ago at Croke Park on The River Tour. Great both times but the first show is the memory I will always cherish most.
Neil Young, Hammersmith Odeon (late March 1976)
Wrote about this in an earlier 50 years post. Anyone with a surfeit of time on their hands and an insufficiency of better things to do are warmly welcome to check said post out.
Van Morrison, The Dominion Theatre, London (Spring 1982)
IIRC was around the time Beautiful Vision came out. Had seen him before at Knebworth in 1974 (not long before the release of Veedon Fleece – still my fave VM album) and in London and Manchester when he did his Wavelength tour (lousy both times). At the Dominion he was just superb. Seen him twice since my return to Ireland. The first time was at the Olympia with Ian Rankin when he was promoting his book of lyrics, Lit Up Inside. An autographed copy of said tome now resides with the sound engineers notes for the evening on the bookshelf in my home office. The Q and A and reading bits out of the way, Van and a very small band then did about an hour and a half of mainly deep cuts – most of them to do with Ireland. Saw him again in Cork a year later and he got Brian Kennedy’s cousin to phone in his performance for him. Hope he’s better when I see him in Limerick at the end of this month.
Leonard Cohen, Manchester NEC Arena, last Sunday in November, 2008
Missed the first leg of his tour and despite being severely jet lagged from a flight from Hong Kong the previous day, Mrs. J and I high-tailed it up to Manchester to catch this show. Loved every minute. Wish I could say the same for Manchester which had changed beyond all recognition from when I used to live there 25 years before. When I suggested to the taxi driver that he take Belle and I out to Levenshulme where I lived for much of my time there, he looked at me as if I was mad and gently advised me to steer well clear.
Number of classics LC could have played but didn’t would have made for a great gig on their own. Despite doing the same set (and the same jokes) for pretty much a solid year, LC had the knack of making you think it was all for the first time. So glad I saw this.
Pink Floyd, Coventry Locarno, (Jan or Feb 1972)
It was the third or fourth time they’d played Dark Side of The Moon and they were on at the same venue on the same night as Chuck Berry who recorded most of the London Sessions (including the execrable My Ding A Ling) there. Remember he over-ran by a long, long time and me and my mates almost froze to death waiting outside for the PF show which eventually started well past midnight. HP Saucecraft of this parish was also in attendance at the same show. Saw them again at Birmingham Hippodrome on the 74 tour when they were also terrific.
David Bromberg Band, El Mocambo Toronto (Sept 75)
Knew absolutely nothing about DB or his band and was absolutely gob-smacked by how amazingly versatile they were. Blues, jazz, country, gospel…you name it, these guys could play it with considerable aplomb. So impressed, I went back the next night and subsequently bought nearly all of Mr. B’s albums (including How Late’ll Ya Play Til which has most of the live set I saw) and the recent and still very eclectic Use Me. Having taken several decades off to make violins, DB now makes music again and occasionally calls up his compadres and reconvenes the old gang.
The Who, Charlton Football Ground (May 74)
With Lindisfarne, Bad Company (first ever live appearance), Lou Reed, Maggie Bell and Humble Pie on the same bill for UK£2.50, it was my first ever festival (albeit a one-day one). My abiding memory of the day is Lou Reed, an iron cross dyed into his bleached blond skinhead hair casually caught a bike chain some idiot (not me) thew at him from the crowd. Anyone here there who can confirm this isn’t a false memory on my part? Pete T has always said he didn’t feel the Who weren’t that great (check out the footage on YT and make up your own mind). Ultimately, it was the only time I ever got to see them and so they narrowly shade the only other serious contenders for my top 10 which would have been Led Zep at Coventry Locarno in late Nov or early Dec 71 (just before Led Zep IV came out. Memorable moment of the Zep gig was when Jimmy Page dropped his violin bow) or Joy Division at the Factory in Manchester in April 1980 (their last ever Manchester gig).
The Sex Pistols, Penthouse Club, Scarborough, August 1977
In the summer of our second year at Uni, a bunch of us spent our summer hols in a house we’d rented for our third year. One of the guys came from Scarborough and told us a mystery band would be playing the town’s Penthouse Nightclub at the same time as the SPOTS tour was on the road. As the resort was but a short hop from Hull where I was at Uni, we went up and saw the Pistols on what were one of their few cancellation-free post-Grundy live gigs. Interestingly, I later learned that the Pistols’ roadie, ‘Roadent’, was a guy from Coventry called Stephen Connolly whom I used to know vaguely from a city pub called the Golden Cross. HPS recently advised me in a PM that he was another loyal member of said hostelry’s far from select regular customer base.
Joe Pass, Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts (Feb or March 1990)
Just fucking appalling. The Ben Turpin/Meher Baba lookalike jazzmeister had obviously had a major falling out with the organizers of that year’s HK Arts Festival. The steam issuing from his ears indicating he was fresh from the contretemps, Mr. Pass-ed-Caring strode onto stage at the dot of 8:00pm. He was, he announced curtly, contacted to play for precisely 35 minutes and that was exactly what we would be getting. He proceeded into a half-hearted rendition of a cut from Virtuoso. Once the song was finished, the grumpy guitarist advised his soon-to-be former fans that he only had 30 more minutes to go before lazily playing his next cover. Between song interaction with the audience limited to speaking clock type announcements of how much time remained, Pass half-heartedly performed some ten or so songs and marched off stage without so much as a goodnight. In 50 years of gig going, I have never seen a more graceless or less professional performance and have never played one of the man’s records again.