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I Was There – Alan Hawkshaw’s glorious swansong, the British Library, 6/10/18.

This is one Library event you won’t get shushed in

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I Was There – DJ Marky’s first UK shows, 1998

Carl Loben recalls a one man revolution in d&b

DJ Marky
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I Was There – Nirvana on the verge of grunge greatness. Reading Festival 1991

Thirty years ago, there was not a festival on every weekend of the summer. Apart from the odd small, community event and free travellers’ party, there were basically two festivals – Glastonbury at the start of the summer and Reading at the end of it. There wasn’t even a Leeds – and quite often even Glastonbury would have a year off.

So the impact of a truly awe inspiring set at one of these two pivotal events could certainly change the course of – relatively – underground music in the course of an hour. That’s quite possibly what we witnessed early – certainly early enough for Kurt Cobain to greet the crowd with “good morning Vietnam” – on the first day in the shape of the then pretty unknown Nirvana.

The first thing to notice was just hw different they looked. Krist Novoselic on bass, a towering beanpole in ludicrously luminous red drainpipes. Kurt Cobain in battered brown leather jacket, hair blowing in the Berkshire wind, the first time we’d ever seen that proper tramp grunge chic that would take over the world in the years that followed. And a strange bloke with a mohawk and braces, apparently an “interpretative dancer” who, it turns out, was the drummer from a band called Bivouac and went by the utterly fitting name of Dancing Tony.

Then there was the sound. Indie music was years off Britpop, and had gone through the baggy Madchester days and come out all shoegazey. Note that notable gazers’ Chapterhouse followed Nirvana, a thought that seems impossible in retrospect. Nirvana operated on a different musical level altogether, all slashing Black Sabbath riffs played at breakneck speed and executed with a raggedness that made you surprised they even got to the end of each song. In an age where smooth, professional shows were the norm, theirs was full of the squeals of feedback and buzz and clunks of unearthed guitar leads. Evidently, even Kurt eventually noticed it, responding to one particularly ungainly howl with a genuine “who is that?!!”

The band’s two Reading Festival shows bookended their short lived live career in the UK anyway – a year later, the knowledge of Kurt’s heroin-induced health problems was so widespread he was wheeled onstage in a wheelchair as a joke. What’s so fascinating about this first appearance is how it catches the band half way through the transition from the hardcore noisemongers of debut album Bleach and the stadium filling, MTV songsmiths they became. There’s plenty of chaos, a lot of noise, but there are plenty of moments – the early-in-set renditions of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and ;’Come As You Are’ for instance – where Kurt’s voice and the sheer greatness of these classic songs, cuts through everything and gives a glimpse of the glory that lies around the corner.

Within three weeks of this show ‘…Teen Spirit’ was catapulting them to fame, with Nevermind , dropping a month and a day later. Whether you consider this a farewell to their punk past or the gateway to immortality. you’d probably have to agree that either way, this is as thrilling as it gets.

Ben Willmott

I Was There – the New York City Rap show, 1982

The first ever hip-hop tour rocks the house in Lyons
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I Was There – Throbbing Gristle’s legendary Oundle School show, 1980.

“In the year 1980, confrontational industrial band Throbbing Gristle played a gig at posh Oundle School, a gig that would go down in punk history. Our eyewitness remembers it here in all its gory glory.”

throbbing gen pic
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I Was There – on the road on Daft Punk’s first US tour

Memories of meeting the now disbanded Daft Punk on the verge of mass success

daft akllive art
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Phil Spector’s last studio session- Sailing to disaster

Behind the scenes at what would be Phil Spector’s final recording session, mere weeks before he murdered model Lana at his LA mansion
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I Was There – Kraftwerk’s rebirth as rave gods at Tribal Gathering ’97

Eyewitness accounts from the frontline of musical history….

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Kraftwerk – Tribal Gathering, Luton Hoo Estate, England 24/05/97

It’s hilarious really. The narrative about Kraftwerk’s triumphant return to claim their undisputed place as the single most influential act in electronic music, seems to indicate an absence of decades.

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