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Steve Lamacq: I Saw Them First – Five Massive Bands I Caught in Tiny Venues

As BBC 6 Music launches Independent Venue Week, the broadcasting legend talks us through the backstreet gigs he saw that proved transformative - for everyone involved.

steve lamacq
Source: BBC
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COLDPLAY, The Falcon, Camden

The first time I saw Coldplay was at the Falcon in Camden, a pub in Royal College Street which had a tiny backroom which held about 150-200 people, depending on how lenient the promoter was. It was just a box of a room but I saw The Sundays there in 1989 and Elastica in ’93. I remember the Coldplay gig though because it was a damp, anonymous Tuesday night and I was in two minds about whether to go or not. There were 33 people there. Four of us from the music industry and 29 of their friends from UCL where they were studying. But they were really good. Very understated, but quietly confident; furrowed brow serious but playful with it. You often see bands at this level that you think need six months or a year before they’re ready for the next level. But Coldplay were one of the few examples of a band who were all set to go.

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IDLES, Thekla, Bristol

Ridiculously after 30 years in journalism and radio I’d still never been to the legendary Thekla venue, till we went to Bristol to stage the 6 Music Festival there in 2016. It’s a gig on a moored boat. And for years, I’d had images in my head of what it looked like and how weird it might be. Anyway, the night before, I was played a demo by this local band called Idles which sounded terrifically noisy and full of attitude. And by chance they were playing the Thekla so I thought I’d wander across town and give them a look. Honestly by about three songs in I was hooked. The singer looked like he wanted to kill everyone in the room. And yet there was a brilliant feeling of camaraderie and community between the band and the audience. It’s a really good little room too. And they made a great racket.

CATFISH & THE BOTTLEMEN, Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff; The Joiners, Southampton

I got the bug for following bands around on tour when I was writing a fanzine in the mid-‘80s. It gives you a really clear picture of what a band are like live when you see them on consecutive nights in different places. I did four dates on Catfish’s first proper headline tour, at places like Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff and Southampton Joiners. And from those shows alone, you knew they would do OK. Singer Van had such a good rapport with the crowd in those small venues and the songs from their first LP were so tight and thrilling at that point that they consistently set these places alight. The Joiners gig was the joint hottest gig I’ve ever been to.

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ELASTICA, The Duchess of York, Leeds

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of emerging bands in some classic little venues, a lot of which are sadly long gone now (I remember seeing people like Radiohead at the Powerhaus in Islington; Blur at the Oval Cricketers and the Manic Street Preachers playing to a half empty room at the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town). But in the early ‘90s the Duchess Of York in Leeds was one of my favorites. I was part of the record label who’d just released Elastica’s second single when they did the Duchess. It was rammed all the way to the front door by the time I arrived. You couldn’t move. It was one of those gigs which had been fueled on expectation and took off on adrenalin. One of those which no one there will ever forget.

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FONTAINES D.C., The Victoria, Dalston

I’m always very wary about getting over excited by a band after I’ve just heard a couple of singles, however good they are. I always leave the final judgement until I’ve seen them live. So you have some disappointments along the way, but then you have moments like this. I think Fontaines D.C. had released three singles by this point but hadn’t played much in London. And I was a bit nervous because we’d dragged a couple of friends along to the Victoria in Dalston on my recommendation. But it turned out they were just as good as the records, if not even more compelling. My wife pointed out that there was something mesmerizing about singer Grian Chatten (the way his eyes glinted as he stared out into the audience I think, almost detached but still there in the moment) and the songs were richer and tenser - and in places more vulnerable than they’d felt before. In my head it was magical really.

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Steve Lamacq will be celebrating Independent Venue Week on BBC Radio 6 Music, broadcasting Steve Lamacq’s Teatime Session from Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast, Monday January 29 (4-7pm).


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