Home > Chapters > 6 – The First Electrifying Experience Of A Gig-Going Virgin

6 – The First Electrifying Experience Of A Gig-Going Virgin

By the time May of 1978 came around, punk was old hat. I had witnessed day zero and would live to tell my grandchildren about that wondrous time, but it was becoming repetitive. A new wave of bandwagoneers was already emerging and the sound was very samey. The Stranglers released their third album, Black and White which proved to be the pinnacle of my interest in punk music because of one song. When the album was first released the original marketing plan was to press the first few thousand copies in black vinyl for the A side and white for the B, but that was going to prove too costly and difficult so instead the album was produced as a normal black pressing, but as an added extra freebie in the first 70 thousand or so copies there was included a 7” single in white vinyl. On the A side of this little gem was their cover of a Dionne Warwick song written by Bacharach and David, Walk On By. I still play this track today. It is probably the best song the Stranglers ever recorded and therefore, would not be bettered. By the time it was released I was already listening to lots of other music that I hadn’t experienced before and hearing Walk On By merely confirmed my suspicions. Punk was dead, so death to all but metal! Yes, I had seen the light. Jesus H tap-dancing Christ, I had seen the light and it was my mate Paul, who everyone called Ben, that flicked the switch.

I think our friendship started on the bus to school every day. He wasn’t in my form at school. I believe he was of the J (for Justly) variety, so I didn’t actually have much interaction with him there, but on the half hour or so ride between home and school there was time and we soon became good friends. One of the pastimes we used to engage in on the bus trips was scrabbling around on the floor under the seats looking for dog-ends of discarded cigarettes. When we had enough we would break them apart to get at the remnants of the tobacco and then roll one of our own. They would taste absolutely foul but it saved having to buy them.

With my birthday being in June I was one of the youngest in my year at school and as a result could only look on in great envy as several of my friends acquired mopeds as soon as they turned 16. I was always the kid that had to plead to have a go at sitting on it, and revving the throttle if I was lucky. The most popular bike by far was the Yamaha FS-1E, commonly called the ‘Fizzy’. By the time I turned 16 my days in England would be numbered and it would be pointless in buying one. Consequently I would miss out on a very important foundation for the culture that I would eventually end up immersing myself in.

Ben/Paul was no exception, except he did things differently. He had a bike, but it wasn’t a fizzy, being more of a hybrid mix of moto-cross and road, with his own paintjob. He also had sideburns too of which I was intensely envious, not that I would ever let on. Something else that made him exceptionally cool in my eyes was that he owned a computer game! Now, bear in mind we’re talking about 1978 here so when I say computer game what I’m actually referring to is one of the very first consoles that were made by Binatone. You know the one, where a square ball bounces around the screen and you have to maneuver your paddle up and down your side of the screen in order to hit the ball back across the screen to your opponents side. If you missed it and the ball disappeared off the edge then you lost a point. There were lots of variations that could be played, all as mind-numbingly monotonous as each other. And this was all in glorious monochrome too. But the best thing about going to Ben’s to hang out, was the music he introduced me to.

In January 1969, when I was only 6 and a half, Messrs Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham released their self titled debut album, and a legend was created. It took me another 9 years before I would eventually listen to the album in its entirety and that christening was one of many epiphanies I have experienced. The first track itself Good Times, Bad Times was to become synonymous with my whole life and the band went on to become a mainstay in my musical evolvement. I am of course talking about Led Zeppelin and their first album Led Zeppelin.
Ben had most of their albums, certainly the first four, which will always be their masterpiece set for me, and these were the ones we played over and over. Their second album, titled just II  opened with the ageless classic, Whole Lotta Love which had also been in long term use as the opening theme tune to Top Of The Pops on TV, so it was a tune I was already familiar with. But perhaps the most famous of their songs was track four of the fourth album, strangely enough entitled IV. I was drinking a glass of cheap cider and smoking a rollie in Bens bedroom when I heard Stairway To Heaven for the first time ever. Punk might have woken me up, but it was rock that stuck its fingers in my nostrils and dragged me head first from my bed.
Other bands soon followed. There were just too many to listen to but I did what I could to cross them off the list. Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, ACDC, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest to name but a few, were soon bands that I avidly listened to at any given opportunity. Which, when you put it all together, made the band for my very first gig, a somewhat baffling choice…

Some things get hazy over time, others will remain firmly entrenched in memory. My first ever concert is a bit of both. I shall certainly never forget the actual gig, but the events that led up to it are the hazy bits. There were a bunch of us going, five or six I believe, but I can’t recall who organized it or who bought the tickets, or even who suggested it. I don’t remember where we got the tickets or how much they were, although thinking about it I have the ticket stub somewhere so that will tell me some of what I’ve forgotten. But in June of 1978, a few days before my 16th birthday we got on a train at Woking station and headed off to Wembley Arena to see The Electric Light Orchestra, still going strong on their Out Of The Blue world tour that had kicked off a few months earlier.
The atmosphere was incredible and, dare I say it, electric. The laser lighting effects were truly astounding and the music riveting. It wasn’t Zep or Sabbath, but it was still rock and a whole lifetime away from the poptastic crap I had been listening to in purgatory. I was converted, not only to ELO who would go on to play a major role in the following years, but also to live music. The experience was life changing.

Two other things happened around that time that would also change my life.
The first was when I sat my GCE ‘O’ Level exams at school. I took eight subjects and passed four of them with ‘B’ grades.
The other was in July. We packed our bags and belongings once again, and left England’s green and pleasant lands behind us as we set off for yet more pastures new.
We were moving to Brussels, for a short two month stay with relatives there, before heading to our ultimate destination in Germany.

 I wished I’d paid more attention in my German classes.

Categories: Chapters
  1. May 23, 2011 at 02:41

    You are bringing back such great memories for me. No More Heroes and Skin Deep were my 2 favorite Stranglers songs.

    I think my first memory of being exposed to new wave was when My Aim Is True came out.

    Have you ever heard of a band called The the? They are my all-time favorite band that no one has ever heard of here in the US.

    I remember that computer game!!

    • May 23, 2011 at 20:53

      Glad to oblige with memory rekindling..its something that needs doing once in a while.
      And you’ve done the same for me…how could I not mention the other Elvis?!! But then he was but merely another soundbite along the way, not one of the terndsetting catalysts. Brilliant nonetheless 🙂
      As for The The…yes indeed I’ve heard of them… one of those bands I must have heard something of them somewhere and liked it enough to buy the first available album, but never really went any further. Bit like a band called 10 Years After.. try them one day 🙂
      Thanks for dropping by anyway.

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