At the end of my last “Gigging Years” post, I hinted at the ensuing heartbreak. It hit me badly, but I had a good friend who stepped in and helped me take my mind off it.
I’d first met Zim when we were nine. By secondary school we were close friends, and remained so for 20 years. Life and geography conspired and we drifted apart but he played a key part in my life and I’m grateful for those times.
As I’ve reflected on my gigging years, it’s clear that Zim was with me at a lot of the key moments, so he’ll pop up regularly in these posts.
Physically, he was tall and thin. Mentally, he was sharp, with a cutting wit and a generous four-letter word vocabulary to accompany it. From his early teens, he was an avid trainspotter, a pastime that I initially ridiculed, but I came to realise his passion had given him two key advantages. The first was that he managed to see more of the UK by the time he’d left school than I have still to see nearly forty years later. The second was that, in taking pictures of trains, he’d become a very good photographer – a skill he put to good use at concerts.
As part of his efforts to lift me out of the funk I was in over Lisa and the karate instructor, he suggested going to a concert at Milton Keynes Bowl. A relatively new venue, and being on the far side of the world (from Nottinghamshire, anyway), it seemed like a long way to go. But with Zim’s working knowledge of train timetables, the travel arrangements were one thing I didn’t need to worry about. Also, the big draw was Ultravox, who I was told were headlining.
With Vienna only just failing to hit number one the previous year (will Midge Ure ever forgive Joe Dolce?), the momentum was behind them and they were proving to be one of the big bands of the moment. Enthused, I coughed up and a small group of us were committed to going.
Then we found out that Ultravox weren’t headlining after all. Who it turned out to be will become apparent later. Suffice it to say, I was still happy to go.
The trip from the village we lived in was convoluted, and included two bus journeys and a couple of trains. Still, it provided us with the opportunity to start drinking – it’s always important to pace yourselves.
I hadn’t been to an outdoor concert before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. The crowds milling around waiting for things to start gave it a disordered appearance. As for the stage, it looked as if scaffolders had been in, followed by someone with a lot of long black dust sheets in a vain attempt to disguise the shoddy workmanship. Nevertheless, it was huge compared to the stages I’d seen in Leicester.
And there was a lot more space, so the crowd were well spread out. Which was great for claustrophobes, but I wanted to be close enough to see the bands playing without the use of binoculars – especially as I hadn’t thought to pack any.
It’s fair to say the line-up was an eclectic mix. I’ll pretty much ignore Trimmer and Jenkins (I know I did on the day), a novelty act who were mildly humorous, but offered little in the way of entertainment.
The next act were more interesting. I only knew the Q-Tips for their hit, SYSLJFM (The Letter Song). A silly song, it is, even so, difficult to pull off, but they did it brilliantly. They were lively, enthusiastic and had a cracking lead singer. Paul Young was virtually unknown at the time, but even then he made his presence felt.
After the inevitable long gap while roadies moved stuff around the stage, the third act came on. I knew of Judy Tzuke because of Stay With Me Till Dawn, which had been a hit a couple of years earlier. Unfortunately, that was all I knew. She was a terrific singer (probably still is), but her set didn’t do a lot to stifle a growing restlessness I was beginning to feel.
Part of that restlessness was down to the fact that the penultimate act was on next, and I’d never heard of the Ian Hunter Band, so it seemed strange to me that this “unknown” deserved a higher billing than two acts who had at least had singles.
For the uninitiated (and I was the uninitiated that day), Ian Hunter had been the lead singer of Mott The Hoople, probably most famous for All The Young Dudes. It still took me a while to make the connection, even when they played other familiar songs, my favourite being this one.
By the time Hunter had finished, the summer evening was beginning to darken. As the roadies began to clear the stage for the headliners, it was more difficult to see what they were doing – though the copious amounts of alcohol we’d drunk probably didn’t help matters.
Eventually, the stage was little more than a silhouette in the darkness. The music playing in the background suddenly stopped, causing the hubbub from the crowd to quieten as ears pricked up. For several long moments, there was silence. And then, into the darkness we heard a familiar voice.
“Are you out there?” it asked.
The crowd cheered in acknowledgement. And in the next few moments, my expectations of what a concert should be were completely transformed.