Memories of Edinburgh’s most legendary gigs

Nirvana play in Edinburgh in 1991. Picture: Copyright Mary Boon.

Nirvana play in Edinburgh in 1991. Picture: Copyright Mary Boon.

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THERE was a time when the city’s music aficionados didn’t have to stray too far to see their heroes.

Edinburgh once boasted scores of top notch venues, capable of attracting the best musical talent from around the globe.

David Bowie on stage at Murrayfield stadium in 1983. Picture: TSPL

David Bowie on stage at Murrayfield stadium in 1983. Picture: TSPL

In fact, up until the 1990s, there was rarely talk of traipsing across the Central Belt to see one’s favourite bands, because, more often than not, they would be performing right here on your ‘doorstep’.

Everyone from The Beatles and David Bowie to Queen and Tangerine Dream visited the Capital at one time or another. Halcyon days, as those who were there, bought the t-shirt and retained the ticket stub will gladly attest. Where did it all go wrong, eh?

In no particular order, here’s a selection of (some of) Edinburgh’s most legendary gigs including fond recollections from genuine attendees:

Japan, The Playhouse, 15 December 1981

Picture: Don Huggan (designer) with thanks to Alan Fergus.

Picture: Don Huggan (designer) with thanks to Alan Fergus.

Norry Wilson, Glasgow

“One which stands out for me is Japan at The Playhouse in 1981.

“I was just 15 in 81, and it took a lot of persuading before my mum let me troop off to Auld Reekie, my hair back-combed and my eyes lined with mascara.

“It was Japan’s Visions of China tour, and half the audience, male and female, seemed to be dressed in kimonos, like extras from a production of The Mikado. The stage was designed to look like a Chinese village, complete with wee bamboo huts.

The Beatles arrive at Turnhouse (now Edinburgh Airport). Picture: TSPL

The Beatles arrive at Turnhouse (now Edinburgh Airport). Picture: TSPL

“Gig was great, caught the last train back to Glasgow, only to discover I’d missed my last train to Cardonald, and had no idea which late bus to catch.

“I ended up having to phone my mum, who had to drive in and pick me up at 1am!”

Iggy Pop, Tiffany’s, 30 April 1979

Raymond Anderson, Edinburgh

“Mobbed. The real deal. I had just had a dental plate fitted for two lost front teeth. We were screaming our appreciation for the band when my plate flew into the air.

“Iggy seemed to be walking into the crowd supported on people’s hands when the band stopped, the lights went up and we were all told to evacuate. Me and a guy called Barry fell to the punk badge strewn floor looking for my plate. The bouncers hauled us up saying there was a bomb scare. Barry told the guy, ‘To hell wi the bomb, what aboot the boy’s teeth?’ Had my German oral exam coming up at school too!

“Never found out exactly why the gig was stopped. Was he losing too many clothes? Rumours persist to this day.”

AC/DC, The Playhouse, 10 October 1982

Carol Anne Hogg, Livingston

“The tickets only cost £6.50. I must have only been 15 or 16 and I thought it was great that we were in Row B - right in front of the stage.

“It was all fine till AC/DC came on, then everyone else in The Playhouse decided to move forward! The heat was unreal, crushed up against the stage, Angus (Young) dripping sweat all over us. I don’t think I washed the clothes I had on for a very long time.

“Another time we were passing The Playhouse one night and were asked if we wanted to come in as there were not enough people in for the concert. It was Marillion before they made it big. There could only have been about 50 of us there.”

Bruce Springsteen, The Playhouse, 17 May 1981

Peter Hoffmann, Edinburgh

“The Boss, unquestionably, on Sunday, 17th May, 1981.

These were the pre-internet days, so no live footage of him was available and he didn’t get much airplay. He was still something of a hidden secret amongst the cognoscenti.

“Prior to him coming to Edinburgh I’d been given the loan of The River album from a girl who I was friendly with on my course. It was never off the turntable; one of the tracks, although not recognized as a standard, was ‘Little Girl I Wanna Marry You’. Shortly afterwards we started going out together.

“Alison, out of loyalty to her previous boyfriend gave him her two tickets for the first night - the gig had been cancelled from the end of March, 1981.

“We were lucky to get to the gig; on the second night we went out for a walk past the Playhouse thinking we might hear something - the crowd were all in - no fans remained outside and the concert had just started. All of a sudden, Harvey Goldsmith appeared at the door - he had two spare tickets - he waved them at us. Despite being poor students we were fortunate to have the money on us.

“Our ‘seats’ were only half a dozen rows back, but of course everyone was up dancing. The gig was a revelation and it still remains the best concert I’ve been to. Since then I’ve always enjoyed watching others see the Springsteen for the first time.

“And to paraphrase Charlotte Bronte, Dear reader, I married her…

“According to my eldest son I’ve been to 60 concerts, but he’s the real fan - I suspect he’s the most knowledgeable person in Scotland on the Boss following him throughout Europe and helping to run the lines!”

The Ramones / The Rezillos, Clouds, 18 December 1977

Alan Fergus, Edinburgh

“The best gig I went to was on Sunday 18th December 1977 at Clouds. £2 to get in. It was The Ramones supported by The Rezillos. The Rezillos were great and went down a storm and then The Ramones were superb. They got 3 encores and played 13 songs. 4 + 4 + 3.

“Another famous one was Generation X with Johnny & The Self-Abusers. The police stopped Clouds from putting the gig on (gawd knows why) and we all then had to pay 50p each for a special bus to West Linton.

“Billy Idol and Tony James shook hands with everyone as we arrived and they played first in case the cops broke that one up. They didn’t. Generation X were really good, Johnny & The Self-Abusers were awful but most of them did become Simple Minds.”

Magazine / Bauhaus / Josef K, The Astoria, Abbeyhill, 28 April 1980

Paul Henni, Edinburgh

“As an impressionable youngster of 17 I spotted a poster in town - way before the Internet, so information on local gigs were like gold dust.

“I bought the first three Magazine LPs (long players - vinyl), plus Josef K singles (old school 45rpm records) and a 12” single Bela Lugosi’s Dead by Bauhaus.

“What I rememember most about the gig are Magazine hanging around in the bar before the gig and chatting to people, the strobe-lit pale face of Pete Murphy of Bauhaus and the cool, wryly-humorous detachment of Josef K and Paul Haig. Great music and memory.”

David Bowie, Murrayfield Stadium, 28 June 1983

Lynn Henni, Edinburgh

“Having been too young to catch his cool Ziggy Stardust phase, my first opportunity to see David Bowie was the Serious Moonlight tour in 1983 at Murrayfield.

“The heavy rain could not dampen my excitement and when he finally emerged, this tiny figure so far away, and said the memorable words: ‘Sorry about the rain’, I cried.

“It may not have been his best period musically but there on stage was my hero.

“Sadly missed now, he remains my musical hero and I saw him many times since, including in Tin Machine - such was my devotion. Best gig experience ever.”

Tangerine Dream, The Picture House, 3 November 2008

Denes Poszmik, Edinburgh

“The Scottish capital has seen many excellent performances by legendary artists and I was lucky enough to witness some of them.

“The one that really stood out for me was Tangerine Dream in 2008 at the Picture house - band was in top form and brought their full laser show from Germany all the way! The venue was just perfect for them as the lasers were reaching the balcony, looked like they were playing under a slowly moving blanket of lights!

“Great place to experience live music. Group founder Edgar Froese has since passed away and the PH is now transformed to a giant pub - both are sorely missed.”

The Beatles, ABC Lothian Road, 29 April 1964

Sandra Boyd, Edinburgh

“I was there. Slept out, overnight to queue for tickets! The queue snaked around Morrison street and way round Semple street. I wasn’t even 16 years old, and I’m still shocked to this day that my parents allowed me to do that! On the morning of the show, my grandfather came round with a flask of tea and a round of sandwiches for us.

“We were so excited. The night of the concert was just FAB! We were in row 10 of the stalls and could see them really well. Never heard a thing of course except for high pitched screaming... My ears rang and rang for days. In fact, I’m sure that’s how I eventually developed tinnitus; all those noisy rock concerts of my youth.”

Madness, The Odeon, 9 December 1980

Simon Swan, curator of The Edinburgh Gig Archive

“I think the first gig I ever went to was one of the best, Madness at the Odeon in December 1980.

“I remember I was literally drenched in sweat, everybody just dancing frantically, and Madness sounded fantastic then. Just magical. In fact, talking of magic, I always remember they had a magician as a support as it was the “kids” matinee show that started early, while they played a normal gig later in the evening.

“On a completely different note from Madness was Wham at the Playhouse in 1983. This stands out for the sheer hysteria of the crowd! I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it since, the screaming was deafening!

“I was also lucky enough to meet George Michael outside the Dragonara hotel afterwards, and I will always remember how he took time to talk to my star struck former self, and how nice he was to talk to.”

Meatloaf, The Playhouse, May 1982

Liam Rudden, Edinburgh

“He did two nights, not sure if this was the first or the second.

“And then came the song everyone had been waiting for, Bat Out Of Hell. Half way through, as Meatloaf went for a top note, he had a nose bleed. His nose just burst. Leaving the stage, his voice continued. I probably wasn’t the only one thinking that’s a bit dodgy, but one of his backing singers (who I assume had been singing along) stepped forward and finished the track brilliantly.

“Recovered, Meatloaf returned to the stage throwing out beers to the audience. Bringing his ‘backing singer’ forward he introduced him: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Ted Neely’. It was only the star of the Jesus Christ Superstar movie, the one and only Ted Neely, himself. A legend.”

Nirvana / The Joyriders, The Southern Bar, 1 December 1991

Stephen Reid, Edinburgh

“I was there! Got tip off from Avalanche that the gig was on, but left the Southy after the Joyriders finished as the place was jammed and there was announcement the “special guests” called ‘Teen Spirit’ weren’t going to show up so went to get a kebab before catching the bus back to Penicuik.

“We were standing at the bus stop across from the pub and noticed vans parked outside. We could hear music so ran back across and were standing just inside the front door for it with a very small crowd of people who’d stayed.

“Afterwards Kurt was holding a collection bucket for the Sick Kids charity, and took a swig of my can of Red Stripe while we talked to them.

“That was the best bit about going to gigs in Edinburgh at that time - you never knew who you’d bump into.”

Queen, Royal Highland Showground, 2 June 1982

Kathy Muir, Edinburgh

“I had been a fan of Queen for a couple of years and was so excited to see and hear, up close and personal, one of the best bands in the world.

“To get us all into the mood a band I never heard of before was supporting Queen. They were called Heart. They were brilliant and the Wilson sisters’ guitar playing was superb.

“After Heart went off stage a wave of chants swooped over the Showground like a tidal wave crashing down on the stage, only to rise once more and start all over again. We waited and waited. Then, the rise of a drum was heard in the distance, slowly rising. The stomping and chants became louder. As the music became louder, the stomping changed beat to be in sync with this now searingly loud song that spread throughout the Showground while the stage remained empty. The song was ‘Flash’, a taped intro to start the concert. As the intro began to fade Queen came on stage and the crowd erupted.

“My friend Gavin put me on his shoulders. The sight was amazing! Freddie in his white trousers and vest, Roger Taylor sitting behind his drum kit, Brian May picking up his guitar and John Deacon reaching for his bass.

“Then the live music began. ‘The Hero’ pounded our hearts and ears and from then on in it was a delirious overdose of some of their best songs.

“They gave their all, raising our hearts on one song only to move them on another. The show felt like a dream because, no sooner had they started to play than they were they were coming off stage to a taped outro of God Save the Queen.

“One of the best concerts I have ever seen in Edinburgh and one I can still remember.”

The Boomtown Rats / Matt Vinyl & The Decorators, The Odeon, 22 June 1978

Ian Mackay, Edinburgh

“Bob Geldolf came out and announced ‘The Yachts’ van has broken down, so they will not be able to appear. But we’ll get a local band as the support’ and then disappeared.

“My mate Barry (from Aylesbury, Bucks) had got the Boomtown Rats tickets just to see the support band - The Yachts - so he wasnae happy.

“Half an hour later, Bob came back on to the Odeon stage, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Matt Vinyl and the Decorators’. Brilliant getting Edinburgh voices: ‘this is a song aboot the Job Creation project’ and then on with the New York Dolls (although I didnae ken that at the time), ‘If You Don’t Want to F*** Me Baby, F*** Off’.

“The support band played for a half hour and left the stage to a great reception with Bob coming on again thanking them.

“The Rats were good (I actually wanted to see them) but Matt Vinyl and the Decorators stuck in my mind.”

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