Everyone has a favourite gig, just as they have a favourite record. Mine was not so much a favourite gig, more a full-blown, road to Damascus epiphany. After the events of the night of Saturday the 29th of December 1984, I knew that the day-dreams I'd had of joining a band had crossed over from mere dreams to being something which I could no longer control : I just had to be in a band. I didn't know how, at that point; and it took a few years before it happened, but it all stems from one gig.
I'd seen punk bands before this that made me love them, I'd even seen Duran Duran who made me love the idea of pure pop music, but I'd never been jolted into action. This gig was the impetus which I needed, and its sense of anger, violence and sheer physical release shaped everything I ever did as a musician.
So, on that Saturday night, I entered the ICA, to see The Jesus And Mary Chain. The gig was part of a week of performances, showcasing new and emerging talent. This meant you got a real mixed bag of shows, none more so than for this one. The Mary Chain were supported by pre-Raphaelite folksters Shellyan Orphan, who went down like a lead balloon with the sweaty crowd of punks, who'd obviously come down to take a look at the drunken bunch of Scots who were being hailed as the musical apocalypse. The entire front row watched in utter disbelief as Shellyan Orphan proceeded to come on stage, sit down on some stools, and then, to utter bemusement, got an artist friend to paint an Oil painting whilst they strummed their baroque ballads. Every now and again, the singer would say, mid-song, “Hey, what d'ya think of the painting?” In a wonderfully cut-glass home counties accent. I could hear the bloke next to me saying to his mate: “I'll tell him what I fuckin' think of his fuckin' painting if I fuckin' catch that poncey fuckin' twat outside later” It was nothing short of a miracle that the band escaped with their lives. Clearly, the audience had bigger fish to fry- absolutely everyone in the building was there to see the Mary Chain, and the tension was palpable as they shuffled onto the stage. And then......
....And then they did nothing. For about 10 minutes. In front of a virtually psychotic crowd, waiting for them to fail, waiting for them to pass out in a drug-induced coma (the papers were full of rumours that they basically lived on Amphetamines). The atmosphere at the front of the crowd was turning ugly, so I retreated to the side of the venue. I can see myself there now, I was wearing my long black crombie coat (de riguer at the time) a dark paisley shirt, buttoned to the neck, Tight black drainpipes and Shelly's brothel creepers. I was sandwiched between a bloke with a Leather Jacked festooned with the cover of “Punk's Not Dead” by the Exploited and some journalists, notebooks at the ready. We watched the crowd as they began to get more and more restless, shouting for the band to do something, anything. Anything at all.
After around five minutes, where they did little more than kick things on stage, the noise began. Gently at first, a small shrill whistle singing out over our heads. It went on for a few minutes more, until it morphed into recognisable feedback. The first few thwacks on the stand up drum were greeted with sarcastic cheers. Drumming for them at that point was of course Bobby Gillespie, with Shades covering most of his face, and dressed head to toe in leather. Jim and William Reid prowled around the stage, in an advanced state of refreshment. Jim, in particular, looked like he was unsure whether he was awake or not. William sat on the floor, with a black Gretsch guitar, aimlessly turning the knobs on his amplifier. And then, they finally started playing.
Six songs. That's all you got, and it was actually quite a long gig for the band (I remember the Electric Ballroom show coming in at a shade over 17 minutes) Starting with a piercing version of “In A Hole” and ending, 20 minutes later, with an inhuman shriek of noise, as “Jesus Suck” collapsed in on itself. In between those two points were twenty of the most exciting musical minutes I've ever seen. I've yet to see a band reach the same dizzying heights of nonchalant aggression since. I still don't think I'll ever see a better gig. I vividly remember every single second: Jim laughing at the stupidity of it all during “Vegetable man”, William's solo in “You Trip me Up” exploding from the bowels of the song in a sudden slash of simple genius....it was just wonderful.
Even the combative audience seemed to have been forced into submission by the wall of noise: the effect of the sheer brutality of the sound was to make you clench your fists (I had marks from my fingernails on my palms for the rest of the night) but the fists never ended up lashing out. The feedback had all of us in its thrall;gritting our teeth as this screaming monster of a gig passed over our heads.
At the end of it all, I felt drunk, giddy from the noise, unsteady on my feet. I emerged into the night air of The Mall with my teeth on edge, my ears whistling, and my heart absolutely pounding from the sheer magic of it all. It's been beating that way ever since.
There have been bootleg albums of the gig around for a number of years, I bought a few, eagerly expecting them to help me recreate the night in my mind, but they were without exception, all rubbish. Normally missing a song, or badly recorded, none managed to live up to the original bootleg cassette of the gig I bought in Camden market, a week later. The tape remains, for me, the definitive record of that night's show.
It's a pretty hefty download, around 30meg, but if you have any interest in the Mary Chain whatsoever, it's a must. Enjoy. I guess the download may mess with my fileden limit, so I'll leave this link up for less than a week-if you want this one, be quick about it :)
Jesus And Mary Chain CD's available here.
The Jesus And Mary Chain – Live at the Institute Of Contemporary Arts (I.C.A) London, 29/12/1984 (mp3)