All the gigs of my life

All the gigs of my life: Gig 58 – Suede, Sunday, June 23, 2002, Royal Festival Hall

It was June 2002, and nine long months had passed since my last gig – my longest gap between gigs since I’d arrived in London nearly six years previously. One reason for this was down to my state of health at the time. Since my diagnosis with endometriosis the previous summer, I’d been undertaking a course of unpleasant and tiring treatment over the last half of 2001 and early 2002. During this weary time, jumping about and screaming at interestingly-cheekboned boys with guitars was just not a priority.

But something else was changing for me during this time as well. The truth is, in 2002 at the age of 27, I was starting to feel like the music world didn’t want me anymore. I’d switch on Radio 1 or XFM and hear the new bands the DJs were raving on excitedly about, and I’d think: This one sounds just like Nirvana. This one is clearly trying to revive shoegazing. Why would you listen to these bands when you already had all the original records? Where were all the new exciting sounds that I lived for?

And I realised something which hit me quite hard: The new bands were not making music for me anymore. They were making music for the kids ten or fifteen years younger than me, who would have been too young in the nineties to appreciate the sounds which were now being emulated and presented as shiny and new. To these young people, these sounds WERE shiny and new.

Which is not to say that the early nineties, when indie music first grabbed hold of me, were any different. I’m sure a late twenty-something music fan in 1992 would have complained about how the new bands of the day were just emulating the Jesus and Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine or the Smiths or Joy Division. But to 17 year old me, these sounds had been exciting and fresh. The hunger for new, thrilling bands and sounds had propelled me through the rest of my teens and my twenties, sending me halfway across the globe in search of the most incredible musical experiences.

And now here I was in the second half of my twenties, and that world was no longer mine any more. To feel expelled from the musical world that had been my home for so many years hit me hard. And so my obsessive nature looked around for other things to fixate upon. Long before I was ever a music fan, I’d been a massive bookworm, and had loved to immerse myself in fantastical tales. And it just so happened that the early 00’s saw a resurgence in popularity of fantasy like never before. So, over the next few years, the likes of the Manics, Mansun and Suede had to make room on my bedroom walls for posters featuring Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings characters.

That’s not to say my joy for music had expired completely. In fact, one of the most incredible gigging years of my life – 2003 – was just around the corner. But things had definitely changed. So much so that I found it hard even to drag myself out on this summer night in 2002 to see one of my favourite bands of all time. From my diary:

“Strolled on out at about 6.30pm feeling a bit heavy and non-gigtastic. Was very relieved that it was going to be a sit-down gig, and even then seriously considered turning back to hibernate for the rest of the evening instead.”

Luckily, my mood turned around once I made it to the Royal Festival Hall. “I wandered its foyer a bit and then had a bottle of sparkling water and a granola bar, after which I felt much better. Doors opened at 8pm and I found my seat, terrace M1, a decent enough view but about 30 rows back on the far side.”

And things were soon to pick up for me even further. This gig was part of David Bowie’s curation of the Meltdown season of gigs held by the Southbank Centre every summer. And much as I adored Suede, it was nothing to how much I idolised David Bowie. I still hadn’t seen Bowie live at this point, and had tried and failed to get a ticket for Bowie’s own Meltdown show. But there was at least a little Bowie treat in store for me at this show.

“I realised that the soundtrack to waiting-for-support-act-time was Random Obscure Bowie Classics! First, was it “Bombers”? then an alternate version of “Let Me Sleep Beside You”! and “Black Country Rock”, and unbelievably, “A Big Hurt” – my fave track off of Tin Machine II!! The memories! I astonished myself at what a DB trainspotter I was, singing happily along to “Be My Wife”, and “Dodo” (bonus track on 1990 reissue of “Diamond Dogs”!) and “Hallo Spaceboy” (album version!)”

This sadly came to an abrupt halt when the support act appeared, Peaches, who I dismissed as “one sex-crazed woman rapping over a backing track of 1980s electro beats. I’m sure she was meant to be shocking what with her outrageous sleaze but by the end of her mind-numbing set the only words I could comprehend were ‘beyond crap’.

Once her set was over we were “happily soon back in obscure Bowie land” before the soundtrack changed to Suede’s own choice of pre-gig warm up tunes.

For before too long, and not feeling too much frenzied anticipation due to distance, there they were! Five stick figures one mile away. But did I care? Not even remotely, as they began with new song “Simon”, all gorgeous gorgeous melancholy and the sound unbelievably crystal-clear – hooray for classical music venues! Brett’s voice, though. What can I say. Just untameably beautiful.

Suede’s fifth album “A New Morning” was three months away from being released at the time of this gig, but they took the opportunity to introduce us to many of its songs this night. “Oh then it was “Positivity” which will be their next single. It was only the second time I’ve heard it and it seemed kind of nice and gently uplifting, but then that’s how “The Sound Of The Streets” sounded at first and now I spend half my life striding about the room and hollering along to it. I suspect “Positivity” will prove itself to be a similar sneaky classic.” (Spoiler alert: it didn’t.)

Next up was a truly enchanting rendition of “The Wild Ones”. “So lush and anthemic and wonderful, and what I haven’t mentioned is that part of this glorious sound must have been due to the fact that lurking at the back was a bevy of bow-waving string players!”

At this point in the proceedings I was starting to feel the pain of being Too Far Away. “Well they swerve into “Everything Will Flow”, and I wonder whether this is Suede’s Ballad Night, not that I mind, though I do begin to mind being that far away from Brett and his chums, when lo! All over the crowd bods are leaping out of their seats and as though magickally compelled they stomp Suedewards. So I did too, diving past the hapless security (for I guess this does not happen at their usual philharmonic-type shindigs) and ending up just in front of the front row of seats and within waving distance of Glorious Brett!

Yes, it’s now time for the obligatory Brett and Neil appreciation moment – except it’s not, as another new aspect of this show was that it was the first time I’d seen them without Neil Codling, who had departed from the band due to illness. He’d been replaced by a guitarist, which made me wonder about the new direction of the band. “Codling replaced by a strummer – new rockier Suede?” Readers of my previous Suede blog posts might imagine that I would have felt the Codling deficit very keenly, but surprisingly, this was not the case. “Shamefully I never missed Neil at all. I guess I was just too transfixed by the Wonder of Brett.”

Yes Brett was looking in peak gorgeousness that night, and there was no beating around the bush in my diary entry in just how that made me feel. “Bloody hell has he ever been more godlike? Clearly and undefyably at the peak of his powers – and looking so – aaaaahh! – it’s a wonder half the boys and girls in the crowd didn’t catapult themselves unto the stage and ravage him there and then. Just perfect – thin but not skinny, muscular and defined yet still effeminate, with those oddly angular features suiting him so much better now, somehow, than ten years ago – snakelike, yet approachable.”

But what about the rest of the boys? “Richard was just Richard – long hair again – and new kid Alex is really just another Richard, and Mat and Simon only flickered into my consciousness a couple of times.” Sorry lads.

Another new song followed, “Lost In TV”, which was “quite good“, followed by a “singalong frenzy” with “She’s In Fashion” and “She”. And then “Trash” was basically a religious experience.

“And yay verily did the almighty Suede the play unto us “Trash”, and such a sheer rampant delight to be that close, with Suede playing this anthem of all anthems, and not having to fear death by trampling in the style of Reading ’97! And bloody hell, surely by following “Trash” with “Metal Mickey” they were risking a thousand heads exploding in demented joy??”

These two Suede classics saw the gig reaching a peak of joyful rock’n’roll abandon. “It was all leaping about and triumphant pointing. Oh! it was so lovely in “Trash” when Brett sang “we’re TRAAAAASH you and me” and pointed first to us and them to him, I felt for one micromillisecond that I was actually in a gang. And then, in “Metal Mickey”, with my arm outstretched towards the glory of Brett, I’m sure he pointed back at me…”

The gig continued with “Starcrazy” featuring “more singalong thrills” and “Indian Strings” which was “spooky divine melancholy with Brett all drenched in eerie blue light”. Then it time for a few more new songs, the first of which was “hugely excitingly brilliant“. I’d found out it’s name was “Astrogirl” from the NME setlist, “but otherwise I would have guessed it to be “Strange Relationship” ‘cos he sang that a lot. It had these driving verses and deviant choruses and was just big and scary in a somehow subtle way. And the “Beautiful Loser” was also fab in a rawkin’ style.”

“Beautiful Ones” was next, “complete with comically messed-up intro, but nevertheless bounce and shoutalong time, of course.” This time, hearing “Beautiful Ones” made me think of another Suede song that I held close to my heart.

“During the demented “la la, la la, la la la!” ending, a mysterious question popped into my head: which other Suede song ends in glorious la la las, and will they play it tonight? Then the answers came to me: 1. ‘The Power’ 2. Probably not, and I forgot about it, as Suede ripped our heads off with ‘Can’t Get Enough’ .”

The main set finished with another new song, “When The Rain Falls”, which was “kinda nice but a bit bland powerballady on first hearing. ” The band left the stage, “which of course means it’s time to scream and stomp ‘til they come back.” They started the encore with another new one, the “deviant-rawkin’” “Obsessions”, and then it was time for another classic. And oh what a classic.

Then Brett talks to us while some kind of plinky lullaby strikes up. “You know this one” he says “though I don’t think you realise it yet” and it’s only “My Insatiable One”! Brett encouraging the assembled masses to holler as one “he’s my insatiable one… and he WAANTS my inflatable one”: what a sight to behold, what a sound to behear. “

And then, it turned out that I was a little bit psychic this evening.

“Brett announces they’re gonna do a song from “Dog Man Star” and I realise, as I feel an excitement akin to the Manics announcing they’re gonna do a “Holy Bible” track, what a rare thrill this is. It’s a song they’ve only played live once before. It’s ‘The Power’!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Maybe I went a little overboard with the exclamation marks there, but how else do you express the sheer heart-exploding joy of hearing a band you love, unexpectedly playing one of your most beloved songs?

“Oh god, the untouchable highlight of the night, can’t describe how it grabbed me, we all sang it and LOVED it because we’d lived it, so defiant, so POWERFUL. Even if Brett did turn the la la las into sha la las.”

They finished with a new song, “Untitled”, which was “very lovely“, and then it was time to stumble home to collapse “beyond knackered by a beyond wonderful Suede.”

So it seemed, this June night in 2002, that a new and glorious Suede era was dawning, with many wonderful gigs ahead. But then “A New Morning” was released, and apart from one or two tracks, it seemed an utterly bland, lifeless and unSuedelike record, which I was not compelled to listen to more than a couple of times. I did buy a ticket to see them at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire that December, but my love for the band had dwindled so much by the day of the gig that I decided I’d rather go and see the new Harry Potter film instead.

So this turned out to be my last Suede gig for 14 years. I did try to see them in 2003, when they played each album in turn at five consecutive nights at the ICA, but failed to procure a single ticket. And then, of course, they split up – the second of my favourite bands to do so that year, following Mansun’s split in May.

When the band reformed in 2010, I was right in the middle of my thirties, the decade in which music meant the least to me. My love for all things fantastical had become a far more important interest to me than anything musical, and I was much more likely to be seen at a Doctor Who convention than a gig. However, I did still try a few times to see them live, but some curse seemed to upon me to prevent it from happening. I had a ticket for their O2 gig in December 2010, but found myself that week making a last minute trip to Plymouth instead, for a PhD interview. (I was offered the PhD studentship, but turned it down as the supervisor was a bit of a creep.) In March 2013 I set off to the Alexandra Palace to see them, but had to turn back halfway there, suffering from terrible IBS pain.

And then it was November 2015. I was finally out of my foolish 30s and had rediscovered a love for music that was far more important to me than Time Lords or wizards. In true midlife crisis style, I was now in my 40s and wanted nothing more than to relive the rock’n’roll thrills of my 20s. And Suede were playing at the Roundhouse! I bought a ticket! And came down with a vicious flu the day before the gig that left me shivering in bed when I should have been leaping about to “Metal Mickey”.

Finally, in 2016, the curse was broken. First, in March of that year, I stood outside Broadcasting House to catch them playing “What I’m Trying To Tell You” on the One Show. But the proper curse-obliterating gig came in October of that year, in, of all places, Butlins at the Rockaway Beach festival – a night of pure screaming sweaty abandon which will be written up as gig no. 130 of this very series.

I’ve now seen them two more times since then, at Rough Trade East and the Hammersmith Apollo in 2018, and have their recently announced Shepherd’s Bush Empire show to come in just a few weeks. It took me a long time, but I’m now fully back in the swing of Suede live. And it’s a glorious thing, because they are just as incredible a live band now as they ever were.

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