Nostalgia trip – Top 5 gigs from when I used to be a regular gig-goer around Brighton

I was clearing up my desktop last week as I was transferring files over to my new MacBook when I found a whole load of half-finished/barely started Spill posts that I had never quite got round to posting and the moment had kind of passed. Here’s one that seems to have been inspired by a nomination I put on RR for a song by local Brighton legends Anal Beard that had got me thinking about my gig-going days in the late-90s/early 2000s.

Possible future posts to follow on the subjects of Riot Grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna, San-Francisco punks Crime and my thesis on why “Royals” by Lorde was the new “Smells Like Teen Spirit”!

5. Sigor Ros – April 21st 2001 St. George’s Church.
The fateful day I bought the 12” of “Svefn-G-Englar” in 1999 the Earth seemed to shift ever so slightly on its axis; the strange and beautiful sounds coupled with the mysterious made up language completely blew my noggin. When I met my Finnish ex-girlfriend, Emmi, the fact that she had a Sigor Ros CD (and a Godspeed… one) was the real deal breaker when getting together. We were both pretty excited about the prospect of seeing Sigor Ros in the hushed grandeur of this early-19th century Grade 2 listed church in Kemptown and we were not disappointed. The surreal experience of sitting on a cold pew as the sound of violin bow on guitar string filled the cavernous room with its natural acoustics and hushed the chattering hipsters into awestruck reverence was nothing short of mesmerising.

4. Mclusky – Freebutt, 2001
Despite the name, the Freebutt is not one of Brighton’s many gay bars, but is a tiny dive of a pub with a small stage around the other side of the bar. I saw a lot of great bands there (Liars etc), but it has to be the Mclusky gig that stays in my memory the most. The manic intensity of the whole band was just a sheer force of energy that in the confined space of the Freebutt made for an ear-splitting white-knuckle experience. As I left, frontman Andy Falkous was curled up in a corner hyperventilating with the intensity of the live performance. I later found out from my friend Becki (who went on to become a Pipette) that he had been hospitalised shortly after – now that’s dedication to the cause!

3. The Strokes – Upstairs at the Lift, February 1, 2001
The Lift was a 100-or-so capacity darkly lit venue above a pub on the road down from Brighton station to the seaside. There was no stage, no dressing room, just a grimy carpeted floor where bands set up in front of the fireplace and the audience kind of crowded around and watched. I saw a lot of ace bands there, but it was one rainy Thursday night in February 2001 that remains etched on my memory. The NME had just got wind of the New Yorkers’ cooler-than-everyone-else-on-the-planet garage rock strut and the lads had released their debut single days before; they were literally days away from blowing up into the decade-defining culture icons they were soon to become. I queued up outside in the drizzle (no tickets, door only) and after spending a penny in the intimate and extremely insalubrious environs of the Lift loo surrounded by a couple of band members, they came onstage and ripped into a flawless set of perfect 3-minute garage pop future-hits. I was eye-level with and inches away from Julian Casablancas’ collar-grabbing, random-yelping frontman act throughout the whole gig. As I descended the rickety stairs afterwards, the main thing I remember thinking was just how many great SONGS the band had, every tune had sounded like I had known it for years and I knew they would be big.

2. Atari Teenage Riot – above the Albert, North Laines
The Albert was (and still is) even tinier and grimier than The Lift. Nowadays it’s famous for having a mural of the great John Peel on the side and is fairly trendy, but back then it was a crusty (in the Levellers sense of the word) pub for Brighton’s great unwashed. It was about two minutes walk from where I was living at the time with my sister and her husband (Big Luke – with two Lukes in the house we needed some way to distinguish!) so I dragged them (and my/their mate Ollie) along for a very rare warm-up gig for their main London show from the German digital terror-mongers. I was a big big fan of ATR and everything Digital Hardcore at the time and it was truly terrifying to witness the pure visceral power of the deafeningly loud power electronics in the cramped space of the Albert. Alec Empire was just as scary and confrontational as you’d hope, launching himself headfirst into the audience, writhing on the sticky floor and smashing the microphone repeatedly against his own skull. As we were leaving, Big Luke got talking to an American called John Thomas O’Neill (titter, titter) who was adorned with homemade ATR patches and had just come down from Manchester, where he was living, on a whim to catch this rare show. He didn’t have anywhere to stay, so we invited him back to our place to stay the night and me, Ollie and JTON set off to finish the night in style at the local dodgy indie club night while sister and Big Luke rifled through his rucksack to check that he wasn’t a serial killer.

1.The Make-Up – some little community centre that I can’t remember the name of or exactly where it is, around 2000
Washington D.C.s the Make -Up and their earlier incarnation ,The Nation of Ulysses, are probably in my top 5 favourite bands ever, so I was almost obscenely excited when I heard on local radio that they were coming all the way to the UK and playing at a tiny community centre ten minutes or so away from the house. Again I dragged along the sister, Big Luke and hardcore old-skool hip-hop fan Ollie to witness the power of the gospel-yeh-yeh-garage-rock preachers. Due to the fact that it was more used to being used for coffee mornings and games of bridge, the hall had no stage, no bar and looked like a particularly small school hall. The organiser was selling beer in cans from the back and the place was jam-packed with every hipster indie band member in the whole of Brighton. The Action Time (didn’t RRs Maddy have something to do with them?) were the support band and set the retro dance pop tone for the evening and then it was time for the mighty Make Up. Frontman Ian Svenonious jumped up on an extremely rickety trestle table to act as a makeshift stage and the band launched into their unique brand of gospel-influenced garagey indie punk. Svenonious soon abandoned his trestle table for the even less firm ground of the audiences hands and spent most of the gig balancing precariously stranding up on a sea of obliging audience members. The combination of great music and MC5-style rock’n’roll pulpit preaching were enough to win over even the sceptical Ollie and left the already converted (me) a gibbering wreck. The whole gig (including the band) migrated to the dodgy indie club night (yet again!) and I got to chat to my heroes. A great night!

I couldn’t find footage of any of the gigs online, the Youtube vids are the nearest I could find.

6 thoughts on “Nostalgia trip – Top 5 gigs from when I used to be a regular gig-goer around Brighton

  1. Very impressed, and envious, about the Make-up… Would also be interested to hear about your Lorde thesis; do you mean it in a good way or a bad way?

    • The Make Up really were something special!

      Lorde is definitely in a good way! I’ll try to remember the details, but it definitely involved discussion of oratorical devices and the rejection of perceived notions of youth apathy….

  2. Ace read – Panther.
    Middle aged (non) apathy is getting in the way of me reading the ‘spill and RR properly (people keep giving me jobs to do, if only they’d give me money for doing them too, then all would be peachy!)

    interesting intermate gigs:

    Sugarcubes – one of their first ever gigs in England somewhere in London: spellbound – I also saw their last ever uk gig.
    Ride – above a club in Boscombe very few people there – the bands girlfriends and hangers on pestered me (nicely) to go to the bar for them – singer tried to start a fight with me after their set: hilariously entertaining.
    Daisy Chainsaw – pub in Bournemouth – Katy Jane ended up in my arms before the first song (accidentally mis-judging the two step stage): result.
    Cowboy Junkies – at the Phoenix festival – so not so small – but on the main stage was Bjork having gone mega with Debut – in a tiny tent CJ’s did the Trinity Sessions to a handful of us while our jaws dropped.
    Hidden Cameras – in a room not much bigger than a garage – in Hamburg. The weirdos, freaks and indie faithful crammed in – the band took up half the room – I’d interviewed them at lunchtime and hung out all day having a whale of a time – I’ve never grinned so much in one day.

    I still have a Pixies ticket with number 153 on it; bought on the door.
    Pixies/Throwing Muses
    Pixies/Pale Saints
    Pixies/Wolfgang Press
    are possibly a triptych of low key gig that didn’t feel like any more than about 500 people in the audience… and that was by the time they’d got BIG back in the day.

    And finally Art Brut doing a warm up gig in Parkstone to friends and family 200 meters away from Emily Kane’s house! (breaking the restraining order) for Art Brut vrs Satan album – that was storming. Frank Black had produced the album and the band were performing with a Pixies intensity – Brill.

  3. Some great memories there, I’d love to have seen the Strokes that early on. Living really in the sticks I didn’t catch many bands early on, it took university to provide those. I saw Blur a lot in Colchester before they were big, but my favourite unanticipated pleasure was Suede. When they played in Norwich before their first album was out, I went to keep a friend company, had no expectations and got blown away.

  4. Ooh….very jealous of that. Suede and Elastica are the two bands of that era that I regret never getting to see and I had to wait until Blur were big enough to play Wembley Arena to see Damon & Co. – they were still great though.

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