First (real) gig
Big Country at Ingliston Exhibition Centre, 5 December 1986
Edinburgh (Ingliston). Edinburgh Exhibition Centre 5 December 1986
Driving through the Scottish highlands in a temperamental VW Golf in the middle of winter, all the way from Inverness to Edinburgh, and back. It was as epic as it got for a shy, homely lad who prefered a quiet, indoor life in front of the TV or staring out of a window. That was me. Ted was riding shotgun. The actual shotgun had been left at home. It wasn’t that kind of trip. We were travelling far from home, for us anyway. From the edge of the world to civilisation some may have said. I wasn’t so sure.
There was no doubt that the landscape we were passing through was certainly grand, snow swept and epic. The mountains were high and pointy. Some of them had snow near the top. We saw deer on the slopes. Some of the deer had jaggedy antlers. It was classic stuff. I felt liked I’d stepped into a Walter Scott novel and wondered if we’d come to a road block manned by red-coats with muskets. What’s the drill with something like that? Do you put your foot down and hope they jump out of the way? What if you’re captured by them and dragged through a time-tunnel back into the times of the Jacobites?
No such conundrums came up during the trip. The cassette deck was running hot with the music of the day: The Seer by Big Country, Under a blood red sky by U2 and Declaration by The Alarm. I was wearing white socks. The buttons on my polkadot shirt were tied all the way to the top. My hair was long at the top and short at the sides and had been subject to a mixture of mousse and hairdryer leaving it a solid mass which could have been shaved from the roots and used as a tea-cosy.
Darkness was falling by the time we arrived at the showground which housed the Ingliston Exhibition Centre. There were people and cars everywhere. A seemingly endless queue snaked crazily, the head of which was formed around doors of what appeared to be an aircraft hanger. Something was happening inside the hanger. There was a huge echoing banging going on. It sounded like a giant playing drums on the side of a battle cruiser. The doors opened and there was a crushing surge as everyone tried to get in at the same time. The space seemed vast to someone of limited stature. Everyone had crowded up to the one end. I noticed that was where the stage was. Within moments a band were there. The lights went down, the stage was lit, a clicking of drum sticks and we were off. Except we weren’t. It wasn’t Big Country, even I could tell that from my limited vantage right at the back of the crowd. It was The Big Dish. I’d only heard one of their songs before and that was the highlight of a short set, Swimmer, great drum rhythm and sound.
The lights came up. There was a surge towards the bar area. Ted and me took our chance and squeezed up as close to the front as possible, about six rows back. Lots of cheering met the various people adjusting mic stands and twiddling with amps on stage. Everyone who’d gone to the bar shoved back into the throng. We were too small to resist the tide of large limbed types and soon found ourselves standing on tip toes while avoiding the elbows emerging from every direction.
The room snapped into complete darkness and a was filled by a chorus of low growling cheers. A guitar drowned out all other sound in the room. Everyone strained towards the stage. The drums kicked in. The stage lights came on. There they were. The crowd bounced into life and I got flung one way then the other but didn’t care. The rest of the night passed in an exuberant rush. Songs that were familiar from years of listens took on new life when played up close and personal. Favorites from that night included Porrohman, Chance, The Storm and a blistering version of Fields of Fire. The crowd buffeted and bounced in a sweaty, hairy mass and the electricity in the air was a communal version of what I’d felt back in that dimly lit hall back in Orkney years before.
The first ‘real’ gig is a seminal experience in any music lovers life. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I’d seen Iron Maiden or even Runrig before Big Country and where my taste in music would have led. As a fledgling drummer at the time I loved Mark Brzezicki’s drumming and could never get anywhere near reproducing it in my own playing. The thrill of the large crowd and the energy in the room that night was a benchmark that’s been seldom beaten when I try and measure my favourite live concerts. There was something magical about Big Country’s early songs, the sound of them, the guitars and Stuart Adamson’s vocals and it all came alive when played live. I’d been hypnotised by Stuart Adamson’s guitar playing since I first heard the Skids. He was the real thing. The end of the concert saw the band line up on stage, take a bow and sign off with the words that Stuart said at the end of each gig: Stay Alive!