All the gigs of my life: Gig 75 – Kosheen, Tuesday, October 21, 2003, Shepherd’s Bush Empire

My one and only Kosheen gig – so far!

There are some songs that can take you back to a moment in your past so completely that listening to them is as good as boarding a TARDIS. And for me, one such song is Kosheen’s “All In My Head”. Listening to it, I am propelled back to a moment in 2003 – an entirely innocuous, normal moment – but a moment in which, though I didn’t realise it, my life was pivoting on its axis. The era of my youthful, all-absorbing obsession with music was very close to its end, and the events that would spark an entirely different life for me in 2004 had just occurred.

That fateful moment is this: Saturday morning, the 6th of September 2003. I was in TopShop on Oxford Street, descending on the escalator to the lower ground floors full of hip and youthful fashion. And on the big screen playing music videos to the fashion-fascinated shoppers was “All In My Head”, and it sounded immense and amazing in the way only a song newly unleashed into the world, when it seethes with the energy of the now, can sound. I wrote in my diary when I got home that the song had ‘attacked me with its huge melancholy chords‘ and I immediately downloaded their albums. The next day, I bought a ticket to this gig.

Why such a scruffy indie girl as myself, with very little interest in fashion and beauty, had found herself in TopShop at all, was all due to a party I’d attended the night before. My supervisor in the Outpatients department where I worked had been promoted to a new job in a different part of the hospital. She was someone I’d worked closely with since my first week in the only job I’d ever had, and her leaving felt like a big upheaval. So, of course, copious amounts of alcohol were called for, and out we went for her leaving do to wreak chaos in various pubs of Chelsea.

But first, said supervisor had booted me back to my room to change, as I’d naively assumed I could just wander out for the night in the clothes I’d been working in all day. I was instructed to put on my most feminine and sexy clothes, and so I found in my cupboard a tight leopard print top and stiletto boots, an outfit I’d bought on a whim but rarely worn. And I proceeded to have a kind of evening I’d never had before, full of compliments and attention. I made new friends. I felt popular and liked. It was a strange and intoxicating experience for the intensely withdrawn 28 year old I was at the time.

And the most crucial event that happened that night, the one that contributed massively to my eventual waning interest in racing out to the nearest gig, was this: also at this do was a medical records boy in his early 20s who I had a small crush on (a VERY SMALL crush, I kept telling myself). And he paid me a little bit of attention for the first time. He shared his drink with me, and walked me back to the hospital accommodation at the end of the evening. Nothing earth shattering, of course. But come 2004, he would be paying me a lot more attention, and my Very Small Crush would explode into EPIC LOVE. And what are gigs in the face of that?

And so I found myself the next morning perusing the racks of TopShop, with the vague idea in my head of finding more exciting clothes that might lead to further compliments and nights of fun. As it turned out, I didn’t buy any clothes that day. I didn’t actually know what a monumental day it was in my life. All I knew was that I felt a bit different about myself. But I still had a few months to go before I would discover what that meant.

In the mean time, I stayed true to type, and my excursion for fashion had actually ended up providing me with a new band to explore. So I downloaded Kosheen’s first two albums “Resist” and “Kokopelli”. It was the era of naughty downloading, from the likes of Limewire and Kazaa, and I’m afraid I was guilty of this too. In my mind, I defended my actions by telling myself I usually bought tickets for gigs by the bands I downloaded, and for Kosheen, I did just that.

Now here’s where the story gets a bit tricky. As I’ve previously described, my interest in music at this point was already slowly slipping away from me, with the fantastical worlds of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings generally providing more fannish excitement. And at the time of this gig, I’d just been to a convention to meet Elijah Wood (my fave from the LOTR films, who bore not a little resemblance to Crush Boy mentioned above). And I’d started up a LiveJournal to chat obsessively with fellow hobbit enthusiasts. This can still be viewed, for anyone interested, at https://goodly-sin.livejournal.com/. (As with bowienet, I used the Nick Drake lyric as my handle. I may have been slipping away from music, but I still used a musical reference in much of my online presence.)

So, when it came to this Kosheen gig, and the Darkness gig I went to the following night, I was far too distracted by my new geeky fannish activities to write more than a couple of words in my diary. And the words I wrote for Kosheen were this: ‘thoroughly underwhelming‘. Ouch.

So, sadly, this gig is the one I remember as my Least Good Gig of 2003. That’s not to say it was bad – what I actually remember was that it was very proficient, but no more exciting than staying at home and listening to the CD (or rather, in my case, illegally downloaded album).

But, it turns out I don’t have to just search the recesses of my mind for any fragments of memory of this gig, because here comes my sparkly new LiveJournal to the rescue! It turns out I wrote a few more words about the gig there:

‘I saw two exciting things tonight!

1. A poster at Shepherd’s Bush tube station advertising the forthcoming play based on His Dark Materials, which is only my favourite book EVER, and
2. A poster at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire advertising the gig David Bowie did there six years ago.

Also, I saw Kosheen. Now I tend to think you can tell a lot about a band by the kind of crowd they draw. Kosheen’s crowd seemed at first to be a resoundingly normal bunch of people, but gradually I noticed something strange: there seemed to be a high proportion of beautiful people there. Everywhere I looked, outstanding bone structure and exquisitely styled hair stared back at me. It was quite unsettling. But they suited Kosheen quite well. Great on the surface, but very little else. Not that they were bad, they certainly played well and the singer has a great voice. They very proficiently played most of the songs from their two albums. That’s not enough for me. I like to see bands take their material to new levels when they perform live, not just plonk them out identical to how they sound on record. For the first time ever, I contemplated leaving a gig early. That’s unheard of. As it was, I made it through only because they played my fave tunes at the very end. There was little, apart from one or two drum’n’bass numbers from their first album, that made me want to dance, but I forced myself most of the time in order to avoid slipping into a coma. I’ve never been so bored at a gig.

Still, the beautiful people seemed to enjoy it. But then, they’re probably all on drugs.’

Ouch, again. I can’t say I’m proud of my early foray into online gig reviews there. My tone is cringe-makingly judgmental and pompous. I fear that it was all written in an attempt to impress my new Lord Of The Rings fandom friends with my edgy wit, but it’s all a bit silly, isn’t it?

However! This is not the end of the story of my time as a Kosheen fan. When I started thinking about this blog post, quite a few months ago now, I decided to have a look at what the members of the band are up to now. To my surprise, I discovered that Kosheen are still touring, and have released many more albums. I listened to a few on Spotify, and found them pretty damn great. And when I found that their first two albums were unavailable to stream – which of course were the two I’d illegally downloaded that fateful September day in 2003 – I finally bought them on CD. Better late than never, eh?

And it turns out, all the elements that made me like them enough in 2003 to want to see them live are still there. They’re still a great band creating an impressive oeuvre full of explorations of the places where pop and dance music collide. Sian still has a powerful, arresting voice. And “All In My Head” is still one of my favourite songs from an era of my life full of favourite, life-changing songs. On top of this, footage from more recent gigs on YouTube and Instagram show that Kosheen can provide a dynamic and exciting live experience. So I decided that every band is allowed a dud gig now and then, and Kosheen deserved another chance. I bought a ticket for their gig at the Garage on the 30th of May, and was very excited for the conclusions I reached after this 2003 gig to be proved wrong.

Except, of course, with the UK on lockdown, that gig has now been postponed, and is now due to take place on the 5th of November. I truly hope that it will go ahead at this date, and if it does, I have absolutely no doubt it will be a joyous celebration of post-lockdown life. Until then, I’m just glad to have rediscovered this fabulous band, who sneakily soundtracked a moment of immense change in my life.

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