I love nostalgia, especially for the past… I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to put in this post, but the former fanzine editor and borderline anorak in me feels I simply must write… something.
Ten years ago today, on October 9th 1998, I went to me first ever proper gig: Kenickie at the MDH in Manchester. It was an interesting journey getting to that monumental point, and an even more interesting journey afterwards: it’s an evening whose effects still have a bearing on aspects of my life, and all for the better.
I had started in the lower sixth form five or six weeks earlier – sixteen is a bit on the late side for a first gig I suppose, unless you turn into a one-gig-a-year sort of person. I say first “proper” gig as there had been bands playing in school lunchtimes, yearning poring over the gig listings for the Apollo as Britpop came and went, and an interesting quasi-gig outside the Town Hall in Manchester as it took over as host city for the Commonwealth Games, with a satellite link-up to Kuala Lumpur, if I remember rightly. But that was in the open air, daytime, had two-song sets and was mimed bar vocals I think – though it still counts as the only time I’ve ever seen James, and the first of two times for New Order and first of three for Gold Blade. Tony Wilson was co-compering, thinking about it… I was in the Town Hall for the first time in ten years recently as well.
But this was a proper gig, no doubt about it: the first of many I attended over the next two years or so with my mate Jim. Indeed, Jim and I hung around together principally because of music: we’d been in the same class for a few years (but no longer were by this time), but not been pals particularly – I made a point of tracking him down and seeing if he wanted to go to see Kenickie, as I didn’t know anyone else likely to agree but knew full well Jim was ahead of the game in his musical taste. He still is – take a look at his blog, and compare it to this, and you’ll see we haven’t got much in the way of music in common any more. But for a while – the span of our sixth-form careers, in fact – we did a fanzine, went to gigs and all that malarkey. If he ever reads this post I’m pretty sure he’ll think it’s a load of wank.
As for the gig itself, what do I remember? Well, nearly everything (but I’m not going to try and write it all down here). The support acts were Spraydog and Velocette – we held the door for the lead singer of Velocette and briefly saw them soundcheck, as, having arrived ridiculously early, we were mistakenly let into the hall. The venue itself is now the Academy 2, but hasn’t changed much, or at least hadn’t when I was last there in 2006; back then it was the Main Debating Hall, although I didn’t find out what the letters stood for until much later.
Kenickie themselves were hurtling rapidly towards a split, but I didn’t know that – not being one of the elite who were on the internet and privy to its giddy rumour mill at the time – and frankly didn’t spot it at all. Comparing that show to others I have since heard bootleged, from earlier in their careers, it’s actually fairly obvious: to me on that evening, Lauren came across as unequivocally the lead singer, but it hadn’t always been like that. She and the other girls remained extremely witty on-stage and it was, I think, still a bloody excellent gig, but I can see why contemporary reviewers had taken to saying the band were “subdued by their usual standards” or similar.
It seems a bit odd in hindsight that I was so obsessed with Kenickie, but I undoubtedly was: I had listened to both their albums to the exclusion of most other things for the previous couple of months. I am still so familiar with them I can’t really get anything from listening to them these days, but their underrated second album Get In remains a criminally overlooked treasure in my view, peddling an unusual line in mournful pop. At the time I was impressed at the bravery of the band intaking such a radically different direction, and while this apparently Costello-like drive always to find something new to do on record can be a great strength, in this instance it was almost certainly a product of the band not having a very clear idea where it wanted to go.
It was all part of a journey, for me: when Britpop collapsed and all the decent music – as far as I was concerned at the time, anyway – vanished from the mainstream, I went looking for it. I had bought the NME for the first time that summer, and was listening to John Peel avidly by the end of the year. Kenickie I latched on to on the back of a few tracks from their Glastonbury set broadcast on Radio 1 – it was during the World Cup that year, and my tapes of festival highlights included the Lightning Seeds and Catatonia as well…
Frustratingly I have never found any photos or bootlegs of this particular show, and didn’t take a camera myself. Maybe it’s better to leave it in memory alone, but it’s a bit exasperating that one photographer on Kenickie.com went to their previous three Manchester gigs but not that one! I probably took it all a bit for granted at the time: seeing Emmy-Kate and Pete’s dad (he looks exactly like him) hanging around near the stairs afterwards seemed totally natural – of course, the stairs next to the dressing room are shut off to the public on gig nights now.
Of course, the gig had a scarcely believable epilogue, at least to me at the time: the following Thursday, only six days later, Kenickie split up. I didn’t find out for another week, in fact, until the next edition of Melody Maker came out and my friend Joel – who really bloody hated Kenickie – gleefully told me. I genuinely thought he was winding me up for a good five minutes. Amazingly, the Kenickie Fried Chicken message board, where Pete X famously left a message the morning after the split, kept going until 2005 and is still available to view. There’s still quite an interesting thread there about the final gig.
I think I’ve already broadly covered where the gig took me: more gigs, basically. Or maybe you could even say it marked the start of my years as an Indie Kid; certainly from fanzines to student radio, it sparked off a lot of important stuff, fairly directly – I wonder if I would have had the same enthusiasm for it all if I hadn’t gone along that evening. I’ve had great musical passions since, but none has proved to be a turning-point in my life in the way this did. Granted, it didn’t quite carry me into a career associated with music, and it’s not as big a deal to me as it once was, but its impact is still evident. To give just some of the most direct examples, quite apart from the numerous friendships that still endure but were initially sparked by a common musical interest, there’s a link on this blog to MJ Hibbett: I know him because I bought a fanzine billed as featuring some stuff about Kenickie and he featured on the cassette that came with the fanzine. I’m still in touch with its editor, and that of another of the zines I bought at the same time – though I tend to talk Doctor Who with the latter these days. But that’s a totally different strand of my autobiography…
Confessional mode: off.