A catastrophic recent outbreak of death among many of our rock and pop idols prompted a wistful, rather melancholic reverie of the best stadium gigs that I have ever attended. And so Mr Burkinshaw told me to write this – a first and last contribution to the wonderful Portsmouth Point Blog.
In compiling this brief list of ‘highlights’, I’m thankfully able to leave out bands that I’m embarrassed to admit to paying money for (OK, OK – M People), and also to some of the long-forgotten New Romantic/indie stuff of the 1980s. Notwithstanding Mrs Linley’s brilliant recollection of her 1983 trip to see Duran Duran, the less said about that particular era (and my hair at the time) the better. Let’s just stick to the icons that can fill up the world’s stadiums.
This is clearly a personal list so, Mr Dossett, Bruce Springsteen would have featured but I’ve never actually seen him live; and, Mr Charles, Erasure don’t appear for the same reason. Though possibly for some other reasons too.
5. Elton John
At five is Elton John – still very much alive, fortunately for his colossal army of fans, and also for his sometime phone-buddy Vladimir Putin. In fact I’ve seen Elton a few times – enough for at least one of us to be on first-name terms. The one that stands out – perhaps a bit oddly – is fifteen years ago when he was backed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Wembley Arena. I know. He’s still touring, though – so, if you want to catch the live strains of Rocket Man before the singer hits eighty, get a ticket soon: it’s worth it.
At four is Prince, seen at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro back in 1991. The venue certainly wasn’t the modern-day Maracanã Stadium, with its new-fangled lack of enormous gaping holes in the stands. The Maracanã Stadium of the early 1990s was a distinctly retro, crumbling, life-threatening arena of bits of broken concrete and debris and decaying stuff. And absence of lavatorial facilities. Nevertheless around 140,000 full-bladdered (or was it just me?) people went wild along with the diminutive, now sadly deceased, rock star as he cavorted and crooned for several hours, sometimes atop an ivory grand piano, at other times in the back seat of a red corvette.
3. Guns N' Roses
At three is Guns N’ Roses. Seen a few times on a few different continents, leader-singer Axl Rose is an expert in delivering his contorted vocals, ratcheting up expectations by coming on stage to the melodic tones of ‘a wimba way’. There are too many great songs to mention, though a personal favourite is the less well-known Get in the Ring – Axl’s rebuke to critics the world over: those happy to carp and condemn but only ever from the side-lines. I’m choosing their concert at Gateshead Stadium in 1993. I went with a few pals and – the lofty Dr Purves aside (who may well have been there, I’m not sure) – we all seemed about a head taller than the slightly startled Geordie locals, ending up right at the front and within touching distance of Slash’s dreadlocks. Whilst I still mourn the loss of my 17-minute limited edition CD of November Rain, Axl, the great survivor – at least at the time of writing – is now receiving rave reviews fronting AC/DC.
At two, tautologically, is U2. Bono may well have been voted the most irritating man alive – in many polls, in many countries and over many, many decades – but he’s written some fantastic tunes. I’m going right back to 1987 at the Birmingham NEC. Before the band went a bit techno and a bit weird (Zooropa). It was The Joshua Tree tour when they played all their best stuff – from albums War, The Unforgettable Fire and, of course, The Joshua Tree – and none of their less good stuff (because it hadn’t be written yet). I went with school-friends Rich, Pete and Alex: four mesmerised fifteen year-olds, who knew every word to every song.
The top spot goes to Queen at Wembley in 1986: A Kind of Magic. It was the last time that Freddie Mercury was in his outrageous pomp. Buoyed by their scene-bursting performance in the same venue at Live Aid a year earlier, the band played a couple of nights to full houses – the one I was at was filmed and immortalised. I went through a period of being rather coy about my boyhood love of Queen (I really can’t think why now) and whilst it’s a little dispiriting to only ever now read of your youthful rock heroes being involved in local planning disputes (drummer Roger Taylor) or publishing books on the history of crinoline (lead guitarist Brian May) it was a truly memorable moment in time: 80,000 people, arms out-stretched, accompanying one of the very best musical frontmen in the history of rock, to Radio Ga Ga. Pedant's footnote: fourth on the bill that day were the (then) little known band from Australia, INXS – fronted by a spectacular, though again sadly deceased, vocalist called Michael Hutchence.