My First Gig: “There are two songs inspired by the events of that legendary night”
I’ve no time for people who turn up at a gig just in time to see the main act. I always like to see the support band too. If you’re lucky they might be quite good, and being a true Yorkshire man, I always like to get to see two bands for the price of one. They might even be on their way to being famous. I once saw U2 as a support band at the university, so who knows?
This was never truer than when I went to see my first ever gig: Mott The Hoople at Leeds Town Hall on November 12th, 1973. It was the opening night of the tour, and first up were a little known band, playing their first ever gig outside London – Queen. From the start they were up against it: the house lights stayed on for the whole set, and they had to really squeeze onto the stage, wedging into the limited space available in front of Mott The Hoople’s extensive gear. The only showmanship of any sort was when Freddie threw his tambourine off the stage, to be a caught by a well-placed stage-hand, before himself catching the return delivery. He had his trademark short mic stand, but in all other respects they appeared to be a standard four-piece rock band.
Anyone who had the sense to turn up in time, and had the good sense not go to the bar, saw an astonishing display of songwriting, musicianship and, in particular, vocals from all four of them. In those early days, they didn’t have many songs to choose from – they only had one album out. They performed a few from that, including ‘Keep Yourself Alive’, which hadn’t been a hit and a few from Queen II, which they’d recorded, but not released. All these mainly unknown tracks were finally complimented by some cover versions: ‘Jailhouse Rock’, then ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’, and they closed with their new single, ‘Liar’.
At the end of the set something strange happened, but which at the time didn’t seem odd at all. They played an encore. It being my first gig, I didn’t really know that support bands don’t do encores. Looking back, it could well be that the tour managers were well aware that this was no ordinary support act. Out came Freddie, with the confidence and stage presence that only he had. Now, how to follow blistering set, full of rock songs, guitar solos and power pop? With ‘Hey Big Spender’, of course. No-one there was in any doubt. This band would be back, and not playing support to anyone.
Anyone who had the sense to turn up in time, and had the good sense not go to the bar, saw an astonishing display of songwriting, musicianship and, in particular, vocals from all four of them.
Mott The Hoople headlined the night, and as we all expected, played ‘All The Young Dudes’, ‘Honaloochie Boogie’, ‘All The Way From Memphis’ and their latest single, ‘Roll Away The Stone’. The gig was destined to be quite a memorable one for Mott fans, even if it hadn’t had Queen as support. The city council in Leeds had come up with a new rule about live gigs, in what would now be called “PC gone mad”, but in those days was just seen as old men wanting to spoil our fun. They decided that no gig could be allowed to go over 96 decibels, or they would pull the plug. It made headlines in the music press, and Mott the Hoople’s was the first gig since this new ruling had been proposed. Lead singer Ian Hunter had been asked what he thought, and his response was short, to the point and largely unprintable. Nothing actually happened, but when their next single, ‘The Golden Age of Rock n Roll’, came out it contained a disparaging line about ‘you 96 decibel freaks’.
Inevitably though, in years to come, no-one would be telling their kids about the day Mott played Leeds Town Hall, or which songs they played. The night undeniably belonged to Queen. The tour reviews all mentioned them as the stars of the show, but there was no rivalry between the bands, and Mott The Hoople even took them on tour to the US following the UK dates. If you’ve ever listened closely to Queen lyrics, and wondered what Freddie is singing about when he says “down in the city, just Hoople and me”, in the song ‘Now I’m Here’, well, now you know. So there are two songs inspired by the events of that legendary night. All we need now is a blue plaque. You’d be right to think that my first gig was a pretty hard one to beat, and it has remained an absolute favourite over the years. Perhaps not the best gig I’ve seen, but certainly one I’m astonished I was lucky enough to go to.