Friday, 28 April 2017

Ten Acts You Might Not Know Played Wembley

Opened on 28th April 1923 and originally called the British Empire Exhibition Stadium before it was renamed after King George V's favourite Fraggle, Wembley Stadium has long stood as the pinnacle of success in Britain. If you play there you've made it, regardless of whether your sound translates to a giant cavernous auditorium or not (see: every pop act between 1985-1995). But with every great band or all day festival comes support slots where less known and / or rubbish bands can get their moment in the sun.

Here are ten acts you might not know played Wembley Stadium...

August 5th 1972 - Screaming Lord Sutch

Despite a one-off Yes concert in 1969, "The London Rock and Roll Show" was the first big rock gig at Wembley and arguably what opened the floodgates to others. Largely a revival show for a brand of music that in 1972 was barely fifteen years old at the time (the equivalent to modern audiences book tickets to see Steps and The Vengaboys on an arena tour today. Oh.) and featuring some of the biggest names of the time including headliners Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and [DELETED PENDING INQUIRY]. There was plenty of room lower down the bill for less huge acts including Joe Meek's protégée Heinz (backed by a 24 year old Wilko Johnson from the recently formed Dr Feelgood), the live début of Roy Wood's Wizzard and Detroit garage-growlers the MC5 on the cusp of imploding.

Mickey Mouse's appearance (with "Drugs" Fox on saxophone) was sadly cancelled following legal preceedings. 

Fitting nicely in this mix of new and old was Screaming Lord Sutch and The Savages whose horror-tinged stomping was becoming all the rage in the new glam rock environment. Whilst never having anything approaching a real hit, Sutch was a well known face on the music scene at the time and had already stood for his first unsuccessful parliamentary seat way back in 1963 as representative of the National Teenage Party. He was better known by the country as a whole not for his pop but the founding of the Monster Raving Loony Party, a frequent cheering sight on Election night broadcasts. Sutch provided a satirical breath of fresh air in the politically troubled 1980s and his death by his own hand in 1999 aged 58 was a huge loss to fun the world over.

August 31st 1991 - Nine Inch Nails 

Whilst unquestionably a bigger act than the likes of Sutch and several other acts here, Nine Inch Nails were never really a Wembley-troubler until a bizarre support slot appearing between Guns N Roses and boring sub-glam revival metallers Skid Row. The former were by far approaching the peak of their popularity with both "Use Your Illusion" albums (featuring almost two good songs between them) both due for release three weeks later. But Trent Reznor and pals had still yet to break through big, with just one album - 1989's "Pretty Hate Machine" - although single "Head Like A Hole" was on its way to becoming a rock disco staple. The experience was understandably not a thrilling one for Reznor who was quoted in Q Magazine in 2011 as saying "They were some of the worst performances we ever had in front of the most hostile, moronic audiences I've ever experienced. They were there to rock; what they didn't want was some homo-looking dudes playing noisy synths and they made that very clear to us."

June 30th 1984 - Wang Chung

Despite being formed in London, Wang Chung always felt a very American proposition due to their massive success over there (not to mention the ridiculous name) with two top ten hits in the Billboard chart compared to just one Top 40 hit in the UK - "Dance Hall Days" peaking at no.21 in 1984 - the year of their big appearance at Wembley in a day-long concert dubbed imaginatively "The Summer Of 84 Concert". For just £12.50 you could pop along to Wembley and see Nik Kershaw, Kool and the Gang, Paul Young and Tom Robinson's largely forgotten new wave group Sector 27 who just happened to be signed at the time to Rocket Records, the label founded by Elton John, the gig's big headliner. Indeed they could've been the subject of this paragraph but "Wang Chung" is a much funnier name to say. Go on, try it yourself. Told you.

July 13th 1985 - Smith and Jones 

There's little I can say about Live Aid that hasn’t already, although my fascination with it as a event lies much more in the TV coverage than the likes of Bono pulling on women, Adam Ant doing his new single and Freddie Mercury shouting "day-o". Not only was it all linked by the presenters of the BBC's only real music programme of the time "Whistle Test" none of whom had done any real live television before despite being watched by millions of people but the non-pop guests were a real slice of who was hip and / or available at the time. Host Andy Kershaw frequently mentions his panic at not recognising John Hurt during one live interview whereas elsewhere Sting and Phil Collins would be introduced on stage by fellow rock megastar Noel Edmonds. My favourite for sheer comedy reasons would be the bafflingly featureless Radio 1 DJ Andy Peebles introducing Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones, taking their life into their own hands as comedy never EVER works during a rock gig (as we'll see more of later) ...except this time when it weirdly does as they introduce the band who unexpectedly became the highlight of the entire show...

June 28th 1997 - Delirious? 

Between 1996 and 2000, regular close oglers of the UK singles chart will have noticed several top 20 hits for a band called Delirious?, baffling many who hadn’t heard of them, either on radio or in music magazines. The answer it turned out was that they were a "Christian band" and thus had a big fanbase but absolutely no street cred whatsoever. Being big enough to play Wembley in 1997 though? Surely not? They were in fact the main musical act at an event called "Champion Of The World" as organiser N. Richards, influenced by Queen at Wembley in 1986 ("singing We Are The Champions. I got this sense it would be great to see places like this filled with Church declaring there is a champion of the world and his name is Jesus"), thought the time was right to fill the stadium with music and prayer. And on that date 45,000 packed in to agree.

June 26th 1982 - Black Uhuru

Outside the work of Bob Marley, The UB40 and of course Judge Dread, few reggae artists have ever reached the heights big enough to play the likes of Wembley Stadium so to learn that Black Uhuru did at the invitation of The Rolling Stones on their "Tattoo You" tour, along with the newly-poppy J.Geils Band (hot off women's tits-enjoying hit "Centerfold"), is a baffling thing to concieve. By that point the band had already released six albums with several reaching the bottom half of the UK Top 40 although its hard to say how many of these lay in the collections of Stones fans waiting for band to belt out all the classic hits and more recent old shite.

June 26th 1999 - 3 Colours Red 

I'll be honest, I always had a not especially hidden appreciation of 3 Colours Red's straight forward pop rock sound although outside the completely unrepresentative "Beautiful Day" you'd be hard pressed to find many who remember them these days.

Founded on the traditional music story basis of a singer (Pete Vučković) and guitarist (Chris McCormack) who largely hated each other, début single "This Is My Hollywood" led to a bidding war won by Creation Records (then at the height of Oasis-mania) on the direct order of head Alan McGee who described them to the press as the "most exciting band since the Sex Pistols" a statement which doomed them from the off. Supporting Aerosmith at the "Toxic Twin Towers Ball" (yeah they probably would avoid that one now...) in June 1999 with The Black Crowes, Stereophonics and Lenny "Crabsticks" Kravitz would be one of their last ever gigs, disbanding that August.

August 19th 1989 - Frank Sidebottom

Beloved by myself and this blog as is probably painfully clear by now, Chris Sievey took his brilliant big-headed banjolele-playing bloke along as a special guest of Bros at their "Bros In 2 Summer" gig at the stadium in between hot acts like  Debbie Gibson, Double Trouble and the Rebel MC. To say it went badly is an understatement with keyboardist and future biographer Jon Ronson later relating to the Guardian  “Frank was asked to support the boy band Bros at Wembley. There were 50,000 people in the crowd. This was a huge stage for Frank – his biggest ever, by about 49,500 people. It was his chance to break through to the mainstream. But instead he chose to perform a series of terrible Bros cover versions for five minutes and was bottled off.” 

From Frank's Com newsletter in earl 1990 proving few fucks were given as per. 

August 19th 2000 - Dum Dums and Toploader 

One of those annoying Trivial Pursuit style questions you might come across is "Who were the last band to play the old Wembley?" which I'll settle happily now for you by telling you its Bon Jovi. But who was the last GOOD band to play Wembley? Undoubtedly the Dum Dums, a hugely fun three piece pop punk outfit who were marketed at the teen pop world and to all intents and purposes feel like a dry run for Busted two years later. Début single "Everything" got a lot of play on Radio 1 and TV in February 2000 but it didn't really translate to record sales and they split in August 2001. As for Toploader, they also breathed oxygen.

June 11th 1988 - The Fat Boys and Chubby Checker 

The "Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute" concert in 1988 was a strange event broadcast as it was during Mandela's continued incarceration then its twenty sixth year. He may have been grateful for that however as Chubby Checker took to the Wembley stage to sing his new version of his popular hit "The Twist (Yo Twist)" with semi-comedy rap group The Fat Boys which was at the time perched at number two in the UK, behind Bros and, the following week, Glenn Madeiros.

Elsewhere on the bill the rule that comedy in an arena doesn't really translate once again raised its head as of all people Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (still eight months away from the first series of "A Bit Of Fry And Laurie" but incredibly popular thanks to appearances on "Saturday Live", "Alfresco" and various forms of Blackadder) were announced by their old pal Lenny Henry to introduce Tracy Chapman. Mic drop outs plagued Fry and despite some great jokes, such as naming the audience Colin and asking the crowd to pose for a photograph for Stephen's mother who doesn't get BBC2.

Any good ones I missed? Did you see Jesus Jones and Jellyfish supporting Inxs? Or Utah Saints supporting U2 on the Zoo TV tour? Perhaps you expected me to mention R*cky G*rv*is dying on his arse spectacularly at Live Earth? Let me know in the comment box below. And before I go, just time to mention Reef's headline gig at the new Wembley on August 7th half time entertainment at the Community Shield game between Manchester City and Manchester United. I wont spoil it by telling you which song they played.

It was "Place Your Hands".



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