What an introduction to the world of Suede live: a fan club only, B-sides only gig.
Since my last gig, I’d turned 22. I was getting the hang of being a working person and had settled into a music-drenched routine. As my job was part time, I would finish each day at 2pm and walk up the stairs to my room in the staff accommodation to switch my Walkman on to Radio 1. I’d listen to Mark and Lard all afternoon and Steve Lamacq all evening, and on Tuesdays, read the latest NME and Melody Maker. On weekends I’d roam to Camden for the record fair and market stalls, and then trek through the West End, from Virgin to HMV and then down Berwick Street with all its second hand record stores to Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus. It was a great life.
And now it was springtime, and I had my first ever chance to see Suede, officially my second favourite band. My favourite band might change, or sometimes there were two or three bands squeezed into the ‘my favourite band’ spot, but Suede remained always and reliably my second fave. Suede were one of many bands I’d discovered through the UK music press in 1992, still in Australia. I’d been intrigued by their ‘Best new band in Britain’ Melody Maker cover, and references to Bowie influences. Towards the end of that year I started to hear a few songs on the radio, first “To The Birds”, then “Metal Mickey”, both amazing. So I started to collect their CD singles as each arrived on import. They ended up becoming, without a doubt, one of my favourite bands of all time – but perhaps the method of my introduction to them, being told to like them by the music press rather than discovering them myself, prevented them becoming a band I would live or die for. They never really felt like they were truly mine in the same way as the Manics or Mansun did.
In April 1997, my Dad was visiting me in London, and so I met him for lunch before setting off to the gig. Afterwards my Dad wanted to send an email to my Mum so we went to a net cafe and composed a joint missive on what we were up to. Then, with less than two minutes left of our allotted half hour on the net, I decided on a whim to check the official Suede website, and only there did I find out that the venue had been changed from Bagley’s Warehouse to the Kentish Town Forum. A venue I’d actually been to before! I started to feel like a seasoned London gigger. Though I’ve still never been to a gig at Bagley’s Warehouse.
So it was time to get ready and head to North London.
“The Northern Line was swarming with Suede people (well two at least). The venue was certainly swarming by the time I got there. Over an hour til doors and the queue already snaked right round to the back of the venue.”
And then came something I hadn’t anticipated – the band just strolling casually by!
”At about 3 o’clockish, Mat just walks out of the backstage door! I’d thought it was exciting enough that we could hear the end of he sound check from outside, first as I arrived “This Time”, then a new one, then, gloriously, “My Insatiable One”. But Mat! He just walked straight through the excitable throng! He didn’t get mauled or anything though, I heard one gasp, one “Mat where’s your hat?” (to which he replied in an understandably perplexed voice “Where’s my hat?!?”) and he just got in a car and buggered off! But that’s not remotely all! Ten or fifteen minutes later, Simon comes out! And he just stands in the road next to the queue having a conversation with some bloke! So naturally it’s not long before a sizeable proportion of the excitable throng is surrounding him and pestering him with requests to scribble his name on bits of paper.”
I noted here in my diary that I didn’t approach him for an autograph because I had nothing for him to write on and didn’t want to lose my place in the queue, but really, I’m pretty sure that the actual reason was, as ever, I was too shy.
“Impressively punctually at 4pm we start being ushered into the venue. I decided to get as close as possible and resolved to last at least one full song even if mosh frenzy ensued. So we waited and waited and waited and waited and waited.”
There was no support band, so all we could do was stand and indeed wait. No smartphones brimming with apps to keep us occupied in those days: only a world of indie tunes soundtracked our anticipation. “Though they did play “Back For Good” at one point, which provoked an “oh my god” behind me, but several screams of joy down the front.”
There was also a screen behind the crowd playing Suede videos and footage from through the years, though without sound, but I watched eagerly, as much of these had not been available to view in Australia.
“Then, at a little past 6pm, Simon and Neil take the stage to a riotous screaming reception and introduce the fan club manager. She greets us, apologises for the change in venue, jokes about Neil’s newly fringeless appearance and announces the prize for the raffle: a platinum disc, promos, goodie bags etc. Simon and Neil are called back on to draw the winning numbers. Simon takes the task of pulling them from a large brown envelope while Neil naturally takes to the drumkit and fanfares each announvement with an increasingly erratic string of drumrolls and cymbol crashes.”
Alas I was not a winner of anything in the raffle, but I didn’t mind, and there was such a squeeze and crush in the crowd that I really didn’t fancy leaving my place to try and fight my way to the stage. After the raffle, the indie disco continued. The new video for their upcoming single “Lazy” was played on the screen behind us at one point, but it was when one of Suede’s B-sides came on that it all kicked off.
“Then, to one of the most screamingly intense band welcomes I’ve experienced, “WSD”! The stage lights go off and we go ballistic shrieking “oh is it true what they say about you! oh ohohoh!” and the band aren’t even on stage yet! They come on, of course, to THE most screamingly intense welcome I’ve ever experienced, and Brett! he’s there! also with newly shortened hair!”
The changable hair length of every member of Suede was clearly preying on my mind when I wrote this report.
“I don’t think I really needed to worry about getting a good view of Brett, for judging by his celestially magnetic presence he is genetically pre-programmed to Be Seen At All Times. In fact, apart from the occasional sighting of Richard (the only member left now with a flailable fringe), I rarely caught a glimpse of the other boys.”
And then once again, as with my second ever Manics gig the previous December, I found myself about to die in the mosh.
“In terms of moshing this first tune was a very subdued affair despite its soul-shaking chorus, so I was lulled into a false sense of security to be promptly obliterated as they launch into “Together”. Suddenly I yearn for the gentle placidity of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire crowd. It was mayhem! And I couldn’t escape! The whole venue was a moshpit! This lasted through “Together”, “My Dark Star” (I think I was nearly in tears at this point, part in wonderment, part in pain) and the totally abandoned ballistic wonderfulness of “Killing of a Flashboy”. Here I managed to find myself a bit of breathing space and afterwards things settled down a bit.”
Happily for me, it was now time for some acoustic songs: “Another No One”, “The Living Dead” and “The Big Time. So I was able to regain both my composure and the ability to breathe.
“They were all unutterably gorgeous. Brett is in positively miraculous voice these days, making these ballads, some of which had never struck me as anything beyond nice, all now thoroughly heart tearing. Special mention must go to “The Living Dead” – “could have walked in the sky but we stare at the wall” – surely one of the saddest songs ever, Brett taking on vocal, guitar and heart-breaking duties with nothing short of genius.”
It’s clear that I was very taken indeed by Brett this evening:
“We are into the final stretch now with “This Time”, and by this time I was spending most of it trying to Communicate With Brett, leaping with hands aloft to try and catch his attention, shrieking his name and waving whenever I thought he might be looking at me, but I never got any response. Not that suprising when you consider everyone else was doing the same thing.”
One thing that strikes when I read my diary entry about this gig is what a big part the music press played in my musical life at the time. I’d only discovered Suede thanks to the NME and especially Melody Maker, and I clearly read the press avidly enough so as to be able to quote random reviews in my diary, as I do below. On top of this, even though it wa my very first Suede gig, I knew exactly which songs were the ones that they rarely played, making it an amazing treat to be hearing on that night. When in reality, as it was the first time I was hearing any of these songs live, they should have all been equally amazing to me.
“This Time” is majestic and wonderful but after it comes “My Insatiable One” and all hell broke loose. We are verily in the palm of Brett’s hand, singing along, stretching towards him, as the NME so aptly put it, “weeping jellies of joy”. Brett directs the microphone to us and then tells us off for not singing loud enough. I just can’t believe how lucky I am to see Suede do this song again after so long. As it had been the last tune soundchecked, I worried that this might be The End, so when Richard starts playing Those Chords after it I can barely breathe for joy. “To The Birds”! The first Suede song I never heard. Not played since ’93, probably never to be played again and I Was There! Nothing else needs to be said.”
And the gig ended in the same generally hysterical style.
“Afterwards they claim “Young Men” will be their last song and by this time we are literally piled on top of each other to be as close as possible and so we thrill as one to the song’s deviant coolness, punching the air as we shriek “here we here we go again!” And Suede leave. We scream, shout “MORE!”, and generally kick up an almighty fuss. And Suede come back! They play one of the B sides to “Lazy” called “These are the sad songs” and then “Every Monday Morning Comes”. This being a Suede song it features a joyous ending of “oh la la la la la la la, yeah yeah” while had me reaching for Jupiter’s moons even though my arms were aching like never before at this point. And then it ends and the band are screamed off the stage. “
After such an amazing gig, there was only one thing for it: merch frenzy!
“So I line up for Suede stuff, the crowd there itself resembling a moshpit at times, and bought a programme and a mug, of course. And I wandered elatedly home, stopped only by the occasional fan who wanted a glimpse of my programme.”
I still have the programme, but the mug seems to have vanished in the mists of time, alas.
And there it was, my first ever Suede gig. Since then, I’ve had an odd relationship with seeing Suede live over the years. Although I have seen them several times – and in fact as I type this I’ve just been to see Brett launch his memoir at Waterstones Piccadilly – it should have been a lot more. So many times over the years I’d book a Suede gig, only to find myself unable to go due to illness, or unexpected travel, or some other impedence, that I ended up terming it the Curse of Suede. However, I knew none of that on that glorious April evening, and looked forward to many more Suede gigs to come.
“”See you next year!” Brett had shrieked as his parting communication. As if I’m going to wait that long. See you at Reading then boys!”
And I did.