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.
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 discover 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