24 November 2003 – The Killers – White Room, Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College

Watching The Killers play their headline slot at Glastonbury Festival on Saturday 29th June 2019 reminded me that one of their first headline slots in the UK came in High Wycombe.  On Monday 24th November 2003 they had been down to play support to British Sea Power at The White Room venue at was then known as Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College. However, bizarre events on the afternoon of the gig saw BSP forced to pull out, leaving The Killers to play on their own in front of a barely half-full venue.

British Sea Power/The Killers – White Room – BCSU – 24th November 2003 – ticket

I have first-hand re-collections of the evening having been keen to see British Sea Power. On arriving at around 7pm I was informed at the front desk of the venue that a member of BSP had hurt themselves and the band wouldn’t be performing.  There was a slight pause, and then the student union rep said: “However, the support band are really good.  They are sound checking now”.  In the background The Killers were playing what I would later find out to be ‘Somebody Told Me’.

I didn’t discover the circumstances leading to BSP’s withdrawal until a few days later when the NME reported that bass player Hamilton was collecting branches to decorate the stage when he inadvertently sawed through the branch he was holding on to and fell to the ground, suffering a sprained wrist.

A spokesperson for the band said: “The BSP man had skilfully scaled a Copper Beech to selectively prune a few branches for the purposes of stage decoration. The accident occurred when, in Harold Lloyd style, the bass man sawed through the branch he was hanging onto. The fall resulted in a badly-sprained wrist, which made playing impossible.”

The NME report added that support band The Killers still played the concert, winning the crowd over while British Sea Power watched from the wings. Sound engineer Joe Harling stood in on bass for the remainder of the tour, while Hamilton recovered in time for BSP’s  dates supporting The Strokes in December 2003.  British Sea Power would eventually fulfil their High Wycombe date the following year.

Before then it was The Killers turn to try and impress the High Wycombe crowd. It was a long way from Las Vegas home where they had formed in 2001 – their name inspired by a logo on the bass drum of a fictitious band portrayed in the music video for the New Order song ‘Crystal’.

After gigging locally, a five track demo recorded in 2003 impressed the bosses of British label Lizard King and they signed a record deal with in July 2003. Two months later they travelled to the UK for the first to play at small venues in London (including The Garage and The Dublin Castle).  The shows would help promote their debut release, ‘Mr Brightside’ released on 29th September 2003.  They finished recording what would be their debut album, ‘Hot Fuss’, in November 2003 and returned to the UK for their support slot with British Sea Power.  And so onto High Wycombe where a broken branch gave them a chance to be headliners.

At the time of the High Wycombe appearance their line-up was Brandon Flowers (22 years old, vocals and keyboards), Dave Keuning (27, lead guitar), Mark Stoermer (26, bass) and Ronnie Vannucci Jr. (27, drums).

I don’t have a record of the exact set-list for the High Wycombe gig but based on other appearances around this time, it would have included:

  • Jenny Was a Friend of Mine
  • On Top
  • Somebody Told Me
  • Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll
  • Smile Like You Mean It
  • Under the Gun
  • Midnight Show
  • Mr. Brightside

I believe their High Wycombe appearance was their first ‘headline slot outside of the USA and London. The Killers first official headline tour in the UK came in May 2004, with the ‘Hot Fuss’ album finally be released on 7 June 2004.  Later that month they made their Glastonbury debut in a tent. The short set was broadcast on the BBC and help propel the band into the national spotlight just over six months after playing to a curious audience in High Wycombe.

Three years later (in 2007) they were headlining Glastonbury. They returned again in 2019, including in their set five of the songs they had performed in High Wycombe more than 15 years previous.

For your listening and viewing pleasure

The Killers – – Glastonbury Festival – June 2004

 

24 November 1978 – Generation X/Vents/The Cure – Town Hall

High Wycombe favourites Generation X returned to the Town Hall on Friday 24th November 1978 but it was the sparse sound of the act third on the bill, The Cure, that went onto have global success far exceeding that of Billy Idol and his band of rockers.  Local band, The Vents, were also on the support bill.

Generation X – gig preview from Record Mirror – note two other gigs in High Wycombe on the same evening!

Generation X had appeared at High Wycombe on five previous occasions – four times at The Nag’s Head in 1977, before making their Town Hall debut in April 1978. Lead singer Billy Idol explained the reason for choosing High Wycombe again in a gig preview published in the Bucks Free Press Midweek. He said:“[High Wycombe] has always been great. It is like playing to your best friends.” He went on to say: “We are a wild rock and roll group. Our music is influenced by steel and concrete, not cows and fields.”  He concluded: “No one has ever proved that authority works. Drugs, booze, sex and violence makes their rules look like croquet on the lawn.  We are anti anything that strikes at individuality.”

Generation gig preview in Bucks Free Press Midweek – November 1978 – enhanced for wycombegigs.co.uk

The High Wycombe Town Hall gig was the opening night of the latest Generation X tour, initially publicised to promote their second album. A NME article suggests the name of the new album would be ‘Intercourse (Old Meets New)’.  The album was eventually released in January 1979 under the title ‘Valley of the Dolls’.  Notable tracks were subsequent singles, ‘King Rocker’ and the title track.  Production on the album was by Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople).

Generation X tour dates from NME November 1978

The Cure were a late addition to the tour schedule after signing a record deal with Fiction Records in September 1978.  They had been signed by Chris Parry at Polydor Records for his Fiction label.  A debut single ‘Killing an Arab’ would follow in December 1978 on Small Wonder due to distribution problems with Polydor.

The band originated from Crawley, playing initially under the name of ‘Easy Cure’ and then simplying this to The Cure in July 1978.

At the time of the Town Hall gig The Cure were a three piece – Robert Smith (guitar and vocals), Michael Dempsey (bass) and Lol Tolhurst (drums). They were all 19 years old.

The Cure – 1978
Source unknown

The events surrounding their appearance at the Town Hall are fairly well documented in a couple of Cure biographies. At the Town Hall gig the band were left surprised that, rather than receiving a fee for the gig, they would have to pay £25 for the privilege of using the Generation X lighting and sound system.  They couldn’t afford £25 at the time, so they wheeled in their own amps and operated the sound and light system with the aid of a roadie and ‘encouragement’ from the audience.

Extract from Ten Imaginary Years book by Steve Sutherland and Robert Smith – published 1987

In his 2016 autobiography, Cured, Lol Tolhurst went on the describe the events as the punters made their way into the Town Hall:

“The doors opened and we were ushered on stage almost immediately ‘to warm the punters up as the tour manager informed us. I’m sure Robert gave him a disdainful look as we marched on stage. We were not the same as these old hippies running the show. That much was obvious to all. However, we welcomed the opportunity to play, even if it meant we had to deal with the predictably capitalistic remnants of the counterculture from time to time.”

Earlier in 1978, Tolhurst, had apparently been given the opportunity to play for the UK Subs, but turned down the request in order to distance himself from the ‘punk’ movement. Commenting on the main event at the Town Hall, he added:

“The Gen X show was quite a spectacle of punk rock. As the opening number, ‘Ready, Steady Go started, Billy idol, resplendent in a red leather jump suit, strode to the front of the stage and then, almost on cue, a thousand gobs of spit came arching over the stage front like arrows shot from longbows into the spotlight towards Billy. To our amazement he didn’t recoil from this assault of phlegm but positively revelled in the ghastly gobbing frenzy.

Suddenly, the purpose of the red leather suit became shockingly clear, it was the only suitable material for such an onslaught, especially considering this same scene was repeated every night of the tour. We watched from the side of the stage for a few more minutes, transfixed by the spectacle of Mr Idol being drenched sputum. I think we were all secretly glad that the audience had decided we weren’t worthy of their shower of spittle.”

Just under 40 years after The Cure’s appearance at High Wycombe Town Hall, the band celebrated the landmark by playing an open-air gig at London’s Hyde Park in front of an estimated 50,000 people. The encore at Hyde Park (including 1978 songs ‘Killing An Arab’ and ’10:15 On A Saturday Night’) lasted longer than their Town Hall slot!

For your listening and viewing pleasure

Valley of the Dolls – Generation X – BBC Top of the Pops – April 1979

Killing An Arab – The Cure – Small Wonder single 1978

10:15 On A Saturday Night – The Cure – promo video – early 1979

References:

https://en-gb.facebook.com/genxpunkband/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_X_(band)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cure

http://www.thecure.com/bio/

20 November 1978 – Pere Ubu – Town Hall

Pere Ubu, a USA band who described themselves as ‘avant-garage’ appeared at High Wycombe Town Hall on Monday 20th November 1978.  Support came from The Soft Boys.

Pere Ubu formed late 1975 in Cleveland, Ohio with lead singer David Thomas as constant member during their performing career. Listening back to their music now would probably see them lumped in the ‘post-punk’ bracket – although they were, essentially around before ‘punk’.  They released four singles before their debut LP, The Modern Dance, came out in January 1978.

Pere Ubu – 1978 tour advert from the NME – featuring High Wycombe Town Hall gig November 1978

Their date at The Town Hall in November 1978 was part of a UK tour to promote Pere Ubu’s second album, ‘Dub Housing’. Originally arranged for Sunday 19th November, the gig was switched to the following evening having opened the tour in Middlesbrough and Newcastle. Other dates on the tour included appearances at Manchester – The Factory, Liverpool-Eric’s, London – Electric Ballroom.

A feature on Pere Ubu was published in the Bucks Free Press Midweek at their time of their 1978 appearance at The Town Hall. The piece, authored by ‘CJK’, described the band as; “One of the most radically innovative and challenging bands to appear in the last couple of years.”

The article went on to quote lead singer David Thomas saying that he refused to allow the band to be classified: “Classifications aren’t valid any more. We have much in common with jazz and early folk, we’re pioneers, out there on our own, getting it together.”  He added: “We try not to be anything other than what we are. We have no time for false images.”

Pere Ubu – cutting from Bucks Free Press Midweek – November 1978

For your listening pleasure

Non-Alignment Pact – Pere Ubu -track from their 1978 Modern Dance album

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pere_Ubu

http://www.ubuprojex.com/

13 November 1978 – Siouxsie and The Banshees release debut album

Siouxsie and The Banshees released their long-awaited debut album on Monday 13th November 1978. ‘The Scream’ consisted of 10 previously unreleased tracks but most already live favourites with a growing fan base.  It proved an instant chart success in the UK, peaking at No.12 and going on to be regarded as a watershed in the transformation from the ‘punk’ musical genre to what would soon be branded ‘post-punk’.  40 years after its release is still sounds as fresh and stark as the day it was released.

The Scream – Siouxsie and The Banshees – debut album – released 13th November 1978 on Polydor

The Banshees had played High Wycombe on three previous occasions. Their most recent had been a riotous affair at The Town Hall in April 1978.  Prior to that they had appeared twice at The Nag’s Head in early incarnations of their line-up.  In March 1977, they played what was their fourth ever gig (not third as widely documented) when they supported Johnny Thunders.  They returned as headliners in May 1977 – both appearances including Peter Fenton on guitar.

Both those early appearances at The Nag’s Head were sparsely attended and it was only when John McKay replaced Fenton on guitar later in 1977 that the now iconic Banshees sound would develop. Two John Peel sessions would follow and a ‘sign the Banshees’ campaign would culminate in a deal signed with Polydor in June 1978 for a rumoured advance of £400,000.

A debut single, ‘Hong Kong Garden’, followed in August 1978 and the tracks for the debut album were recorded the same month and produced by Steve Lilywhite. Commenting on the album, bassist Steve Severin has said: “None of the songs were about current affairs. That was deliberate, as I saw that as a downfall of a lot of the so-called ‘punk’ bands.”

For your listening and viewing pleasure

Metal Postcard/Jigsaw Feeling – Old Grey Whistle Test – 7 November 1978 – BBC TV