Van Halen Newcastle City Hall 26th June 1979
Van Halen were just about the hottest new rock’n’roll act on the planet. I’d seen them once before when they supported Sabbath on their 1978 UK tour and they blew Sabbath off the stage. This time they were back to play two nights at the City Hall. I went along on the first night (note the typo in their name on the ticket :) ). Van Halen had the perfect recipe for hard rock. In David Lee Roth they had the ultimate flamboyant rock god singer, mane of blonde hair, shirt open to his waist, tight skinny jeans and energy, craziness, and jumping around like you have never seen. Oh and the guy could sing too. Eddie Van Halen was the slickest cool showman guitar player, with a the fastest finger tapping technique you’d ever seen. These two guys were 110% showmen with massive egos, both sparring for the audience’s attention; you could just see why conflict between them would surface in later years. Eddie’s brother Alex Van Halen was hidden behind a massive drum kit pounding away, and bass player Michael Anthony was far from the silent type, providing back vocals and dancing while keeping solid rhythm. This tour was around the time of the release of their second album and their set contained classic Halen tracks: “Runnin’ with the Devil”, Eddie’s guitar solo “Eruption” and the band’s first US hit single, “Dance the Night Away.” They also did great covers of the Kink’s “You Really Got Me” and “You’re No Good”. These guys were LOUD, fast, crazy, straight in your face, triumphant and a whole lot of fun. We came out of the City Hall with our ears ringing and smiles right across our faces.
Setlist: Light Up the Sky; Somebody Get Me a Doctor; Runnin’ With the Devil; Dance the Night Away; Beautiful Girls; On Fire; You’re No Good; Jamie’s Cryin'; Feel Your Love Tonight; Outta Love Again; Ice Cream Man; Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love; Eddie Guitar Solo (Eruption and Spanish Fly); You Really Got Me; Bottoms Up!; Atomic Punk
Velvet Revolver Newcastle Arena 15th January 2005
Support from The Datsuns
Velvet Revolver were formed in 2002 by ex Guns N’ Roses bandmates Slash (guitar), Duff McKagan (bass), and Matt Sorum (drums), Dave Kushner (from Wasted Youth on second guitar) and ex Stone Temple Pilot Scott Weiland (vocals).
They recorded a soundtrack single for the Hulk called “Set Me Free” in 2003 and released their second single “Slither” in 2004, along with their debut album “Contraband”. They toured the UK for the first time in 2005, calling at Newcastle Arena with support from the Datsuns. Their music was a mix of STP and G N’ R which brought a “sense of danger and beauty to modern rock.” A respectable sized rock crowd gathered in the Arena for the gig, which was an enjoyable experience and a chance to see Slash up relatively close.
Setlist: Sucker Train Blues; Do It for the Kids; Headspace; Superhuman; Illegal I Song; Crackerman (Stone Temple Pilots); Dirty Little Thing; Fall to Pieces; Big Machine; It’s So Easy (Guns N’ Roses); Sex Type Thing (Stone Temple Pilots); Set Me Free; Used to Love Her (Guns N’ Roses); You Got No Right; Mr. Brownstone (Guns N’ Roses); Slither
Van Der Graaf Generator live 1971 to 1977
I always found Van Der Graaf Generator to be a tricky and complex band. They come from the dark and deep side of prog which they inhabit with King Crimson. I totally loved some of their songs, but found others too dark, strange, jerky and lengthy for my liking. My favourites were, and remain, “Killer”, “Refugees” and “Darkness”. “Killer” is an epic prog classic, which was played again and again at my local Locarno ballroom in the early ’70s. Its narrative tells the story of a lonely killer whale: “So you live in the bottom of the sea, and you kill all that come near you ….but you are very lonely, because all the other fish, fear you …..”. I would group “Refugees” and “Darkness”‘ together; both are beautiful, slow ballads. “Refugees” tells a poignant story of hope, and of Mike and Susie who are “refugees, walking away from the life that we’ve known and loved”; they “walked alone, sometimes hand in hand……smiling very peacefully” and ends “Now we are alone….” “Darkness”, as its title suggests is a moody, fascinating piece: “Day dawns dark, it now numbers infinity. Life crawls from the past, watching in wonder. I trace its patterns in me. Tomorrow’s tomorrow is birth again.” Deep, heavy stuff. VDGG live were equally dark, complex and intense. I found their performances fascinating, uplifting, yet also frustrating and troubling; sometimes even slightly scary. The focus was always the intense and passionate performance of Peter Hammill, swirling organ, and lengthy (sometimes too lengthy in my view) sax solos. The classic line-up, which I saw twice in the period between 1971 and 1972 was Peter Hammill (vocals, piano), Hugh Banton (organ), Guy Evans (drums) and David Jackson (sax, flute). The first time I saw VDGG was at a concert at Newcastle City Hall, where they were supported by Lindisfarne and Genesis (a great triple bill :) ). It was a Charisma package tour, and the tickets were all of 30p, but we had vouchers from Northern Arts which entitled us to half price entry. That was a great evening, and a bargain at 15p! I blogged of that concert some time ago. I next saw them at Sunderland Locarno on 3rd March 1972. Another great gig. The band then split for a period, reforming a couple of years later. I remember going to one of the shows on their “comeback” tour at Newcastle Polytechnic on 24th October 1975. I saw them again the following year at the Reading Festival on 28th August 1976, where they played a short festival set of Masks, Childlike Faith in Childhood’s End, Still Life, The Sleepwalkers and closed with Killer. By 1977 the line-up had changed. David Jackson and Hugh Banton had left and Nic Potter had joined on bass, along with Graham Smith, formerly of the excellent String Driven Thing on violin (check out String Driven Thing’s great song “Its a Game” which was covered by none other than the Bay City Rollers). I saw that line-up at a gig at Redcar Coatham Bowl on 30th October 1977. VDGG reformed a few years ago, and I have blogged on a performance I attended in Manchester a couple of years ago.
Van Der Graaf Generator are, without question, one of the most important and influential bands to come out of the prog rock genre.
The Vapors Newcastle University 14th June 1980
The Vapors were a one hit wonder band best remembered for their single “Turning Japanese”, which mixed pop hooks, with oriental riffs, and silly lyrics. The band were managed by Paul Weller’s dad, who also managed the Jam. I saw them twice, once at this headlining gig at Newcastle University Students Union, and on one other occasion when they supported the Jam at Newcastle City Hall as part of one of the Jam’s national tours. I remember the Vapors as a fun pop / new wave act, but can’t pretend to remember anything other than “Turning Japanese”. There was a lot of talk at the time about the meaning of the song. The band explained it thus; songwriter and front man David Fenton: “Turning Japanese is all the clichés about angst and youth and turning into something you didn’t expect to”; and guitarist Rob Kemp: “It’s a love song about somebody who had lost their girlfriend and was going slowly crazy, turning Japanese is just all the cliches of our angst… turning into something you never expected to.” The Vapors existed between 1979 and 1982 and released two albums, and eight singles. “Turning Japanese” reached No 3 in the UK singles charts.
The Undertones live in 1979 & 1980
I first saw the Undertones at a gig in Middlesbrough Rock Garden on 4th March 1979. The place was completely jam packed and the band were simply incredible. There was a garage pop sensibility about this band, with Feargal’s wonderful warbling vocals, great tunes with instantly catchy hooks, cutting buzz guitar, and honest quirky songs about teenage angst and day to day life. The Undertones were a flash of welcome relief from the heavier political sentiments of many of the punk acts of the time. Their performances were pure raw energy, and they looked like (and were) young guys who had just stepped out of their front room rehearsals. The Rock Garden gig came soon after the release of the momentous “Teenage Kicks” single and before the release of their equally important first album. The original line-up of the band was Feargal Sharkey (vocals), John O’Neill (rhythm guitar), Damian O’Neill (lead guitar), Michael Bradley (bass) and Billy Doherty (drums).
A few months later and the Undertones had been in the UK Top 20 with “Jimmy Jimmy” and were headlining theatres and civic halls up and down the country. I saw them at Newcastle City Hall on 8th October with support from Tenpole Tudor (“Swords of 1,000 Men”).
They were back in the charts in 1980 with “My Perfect Cousin” and the wonderful “Wednesday Week” which was my favourite song of theirs. The Undertones returned to Newcastle City Hall on 8th June 1980 for another glorious performance. Support this time came from the Moondogs, who were a fellow Northern Irish band.
UB40 live 1980 to 1982
UB40 emerged out of the renewed interest in reggae during the punk and new wave movement of the late 70s and early 80s. UB40 were formed by Robin Campbell, his younger brother Ali, Earl Falconer, Brian Travers, James Brown, and Norman Hassan, who were all friends in Birmingham. They recruited Michael Virtue and Astro and aligned themselves to left-wing political ideals, naming themselves after an unemployment benefit form. I first saw them live during the summer of 1980 around the time of their debut single “King / Food For Thought” which reached the UK Top 5. I saw UB40 twice in the same week at Sunderland Mayfair on 23rd July 1980, and then supporting the Police at Milton Keynes Bowl on 26th July 1980.
UB40’s music was very different to anything else at the time. Political lyrics, sung over reggae rhythms with some lengthy instrumental passages, with horn solos and some rap and scat singing. Visually they were also very different, with so many musicians on stage. I remember going to the Sunderland gig having only heard “Food for Thought” and being pleasantly surprised by their performance.
UB40’s first album “Signing Off” was released in September 1980. The album cover shows a yellow British UB40 unemployment benefit card from which the band took their name, stamped with the words SIGNING OFF, signally that the band were leaving the world of unemployment and had arrived on the music scene. “Signing Off” went to No. 2 in the UK and stayed on the album chart for 72 weeks. I saw UB40 twice more, at Newcastle City Hall on 9th June 1981 & 19th January 1982. Both of these were great, fun gigs.
UB40 setlist from 1980: Tyler; My Way of Thinking; Burden of Shame; Strange Fruit; Adella; One In Ten; I Think It’s Going to Rain Today; Summertime; King; 25%.
Encore: Food For Thought; Little by Little
“Ivory Madonna dying in the dust, Waiting for the manna coming from the west.
Barren is her bosom, empty as her eyes, Death a certain harvest scattered from the skies.” (Food for Thought, UB40, 1980)