Friday 31st March 2000 – The Damned – White Horse, High Wycombe
The Damned return to High Wycombe after near 21 year absence. Captain Sensible greets the audience: “Good Evening! High Wycombe’s a sh*t hole, except this place of course because it gives us free beer.”
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
Somebody Told Me
Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll
Smile Like You Mean It
Under the Gun
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.
Saturday 8th February 2003 – Kings of Leon – White Horse
This is another High Wycombe gig that has grown in legendary status over the years. Kings of Leon, a much hyped-up ‘pop rock’ band from the USA, were booked to play The White Horse as their first ever date in the UK and as a low-key warm-up for a planned appearance at the NME Awards Show as support for The Coral at London’s Astoria on 11th February 2003. That gig was subsequently postponed due to ill health in The Coral camp, and Kings of Leon’s London debut was switched to Highbury’s Garage venue on the same date.
Formed in 1999 when the three Followill brothers, plus their cousin, put together a four piece outfit, The Kings of Leon, apparently named as a tribute to their father and grandfather (both named Leon), took their influences from bands such as Thin Lizzy, Rolling Stones, The Clash and The Pixies.
They signed a record deal with RCA during 2002 but their debut output, an EP entitled Holy Roller Novocaine, was a few days away from official release as they took stage at The White Horse.
The line-up that night were brothers Caleb Followill (21 years old, lead vocals and guitar), Nathan Followill (23, drums) and Jared Followill (16, bass), plus cousin Matthew Followill (18, lead guitar).
It was the reputation of the venue that seems to have taken this gig into the mythological stratosphere. The White Horse is perhaps better known in local circles as an old school ‘strip pub’. But in the late 1990’s the sudden closure of The Nag’s Head as a music venue, led to the West Wycombe Road venue taking on its booking sheet. It proved a huge success, with Alternator gigs also being asked to showcase their gigs at the 200 capacity venue from late 2001 onwards. Other promoters also managed to attract the likes of the UK Subs, The Dickies and The Damned in order to keep the ‘punk’ crowd happy.
Gigs would take place after the ‘Exotic Dancers’ had finished their day-time acts at the same venue. However, on evenings when there was an extended line-up or when one or more of the bands turned up early, they could be confronted with dressing rooms still in use or with the stage still featuring a vertical pole!
It appears The Kings of Leon may have fallen into the latter category.
In an interview published on the BBC website in October 2016, Nathan Followill is quoted as saying: “It was absolutely insane. We weren’t allowed in our dressing room because the girls were finishing their dances. We’re high-fiving each other because we’re all young and we’re playing at the same place as strippers.”
This ‘warm-up’ gig for the Kings of Leon saw the Nashville boys knife and forked into a line-up that was billed as ‘Goth and Metal’ in the pre-gig flyers but also included up and coming local band Dawn Parade, plus true Metal acts Nurotica and Karn 8. The mixture of attractions, plus word of mouth suggesting that KOL could be the ones to watch, meant the venue was rammed.
Kings of Leon took the stage at around 10.15pm, they played a relatively short set based around tracks from the soon to be released EP and with the stand-out number, Molly’s Chambers.
The band members sported fairly long-hair at the time, giving more of a ‘Spinal-Tap’ visual impression than the up and coming mega rock stars they were to become. As musicians, they were still learning their trade, particular 16 year old Jared on bass but there was no denying the songs were catchy and there was an obvious gel between the band members – obvious, really, if you were aware they were all related. There was no encore but they left an impression.
The YouTube clip below was recorded at Townhouse Studios London, I believe, a week or so after the High Wycombe gig. Check out the hair!