Luke Turner on writing, market stalls and rolling up his gig posters to join UEA
I arrived at UEA in the early autumn of 1997, a very strange time for music. As a teenager whose recent years had been consumed by the louche and arch sex-in-corduroys music from the likes of Suede (I was in the fanclub), Pulp and Elastica, Britpop's descent into the boorish, beery and blokey had depressed me no end. I'd chosen UEA in part because of the gigs that were going on in the city in the years before - there was no way I could have moved to London, the epicentre of everything, as I couldn't afford it and, besides, was far too wet behind the ears. Norwich though had seen all my favourites pass through in recent times, however, both to the LCR and Waterfront, and I rolled up my posters of Brett Anderson, Jarvis Cocker and co excited to get them stuck up on the brutalist walls of Norfolk Terrace.
One of the great privileges of UEA is the presence of such a huge music venue on your very doorstep, just a few minutes roll along the walkways from bed. I imagine the first gig I saw there would have been Mansun in October 1997, one of the few groups maintaining the glittery end of music against the Adidas and lager invasion that happened after the tedious Blur Vs Oasis battle of late 1995. Halfway through my first year I started writing for the music section of Concrete, largely because I needed something to do during the endless downtime of the English literature degree. Engaging with my love for preaching loudly about music was a far more appealing prospect than spending hours stuck in the library trying to understand what Roland Barthes was on about, and anyway, it got me into gigs for free.
Looking back over the list of shows from that time though is quite a strange feeling. I was 18, pumped up on obsession with all things androgynous in music, flouncing around the second hand shops of knackered old Magdalen Street in my flowery women's shirts, black nail varnish and DMs, but the music wasn't quite right. Somewhere down the A11 the drugs and the egos in the awful post-Britpop hangover had sent everything a bit weird, the music just wasn't quite as good as what had been going a few years before. Here I was, with one of the best venues in the country seconds from my bed, yet I was watching Bernard Butler's fairly trad guitar tracks rather than the randy attack of Suede. I convinced myself it was all brilliant at the time, of course... but now I can recall a sense of disappointment that the artists of the world were experiencing a bit of pre-millennial rootlessness.
Nevertheless, I did see some astounding gigs while I was in Norwich. We should take a second to credit the Waterfront here, where I saw an intense, beautiful show by post-Suede waifs Strangelove, and a set by Elastica launching their second album that was so loud and aggressive my friend swears it triggered a still-ringing tinnitus. Back at UEA I remember Primal Scream as one of strangest and heaviest gigs I'd ever witnessed. Back then, My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields was a mythical creature, his band's music sounding like it came from a planet made of leather and honey. I remember hearing their track You Made Me Realise for the first time at Nikki Colk of KaitO's club down Prince Of Wales Road, and then tracking down a copy at one of the stalls on Norwich Market that specialised in porn mags and vinyl.
Music was hard to find in pre-internet days. Seeing Shields up on the stage as he added a beautiful fury to Primal Scream as they played material from XTRMTR, their best album, was to our young and impressionable minds, like a visitation from a saint. Super Furry Animals too showed it was the Celtic Fringe that was making the best music against the Britpop bloat when they brought their quadrophonic soundsystem to the LCR - I remember working in the Concrete office during their soundcheck, and everything shaking loose. It was enough to forgive Gavin for booking those endless visits by ABBA tribute band Bjorn Again, especially when Mercury Rev conjured some Catskills mountains magic in a Deserters Songs gig in the spring of 1999.
The most amusing memory I had of LCR gigs though was when Morrissey visited on 21st November 1999. He was in an odd place then, on the way to rehabilitation but long before the depressing antics of later years, when he's become the Nigel Farage of barrel-chested British indie. Back then, Morrissey was still a hero to many of us, and two school friends came down from their universities at Manchester and Liverpool especially for it. We spent the afternoon in the bar and, pleasantly refreshed, went up to the gig only to find that the start had been postponed. Morrissey had apparently refused to do anything until the burger van that was always parked outside the LCR for gigs and clubs had been moved, and the smell of the singeing flesh had been wafted out of the building. Now, I loved that burger van, though I had been a vegetarian for much of my early time at UEA. In fact, the veggie burgers were particularly good, deep-fried as they were. By the time Moz came onstage we were all too drunk and tired, except my mate Rob who managed a stage dive and a grab at the singer's shirt. I watched Morrissey, whipping the microphone, sniffing dramatically, gesticulating earnestly and felt the booze swill around me. I really could have done with a burger before bed. Perhaps it was then that I learned you should never trust your heroes.
Associate Editor, www.thequietus.com
UEA gigs - still striking a chord with current students, by Tony Allen
I’ll be honest: I can’t remember much from the ‘90s themed club night at the LCR last semester. One thing that did stick in my mind, however, was that halfway through, up on the big screens was beamed a list of the bands who had played the venue over the course of the decade. This included the likes of Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Jools Holland. On further investigation the UEA ‘90s Gig List reveals a who’s-who of the decade’s stars.
And now Concrete, UEA’s student newspaper, is celebrating its 25th anniversary of continuous production.
The first issue, which rolled off the presses in January 1992, featured a single page of music including a selection of new releases with singles by Primal Scream and Teenage Fanclub - who, fittingly, I reviewed live for Concrete last year. We now tend to stay up until midnight on Thursdays to stream new music rather than receiving promo CD singles and reviews are often put up on our website, but that aside not much has really changed. The audacious comparisons and pure passion of the music writers remains, and Bobbie Gillespie and Norman Blake are still putting out excellent new music.
There are a number of superb music reviewers across UEA, many of whom have had the chance to write for Concrete in its anniversary year. Aside from Southampton Solent or perhaps a London university, I can’t think of a better place for a budding music journalist to be studying.
Because despite not having dedicated undergraduate courses in music or journalism, we’ve got the LCR at the heart of our university, plus the Live Music Society which regularly hosts events on and off campus, and a variety of student media opportunities through which students can get their writing published and read.
A short bus ride takes us to the city centre with a multitude of great smaller venues: The Waterfront (approaching its own quarter-century of operation by UEA’s Students’ Union), the famous Norwich Arts Centre, The Owl Sanctuary and Open to name just a few. Add in a reasonable proximity to the Sundown and Latitude festivals and direct coaches from campus to London and you have a fertile area for us to pick up experience.
This academic year, Concrete, through its arts supplement Venue, has featured loads of great student music writing about today’s favourite artists, like Laura Marling and The Japanese House. Live reviews have been plentiful online, from Rag’N’Bone Man at the Waterfront to my take on The Fratellis’ LCR visit.
The main newspaper has reported on the likes of our Vice-Chancellor’s past as a diehard Sex Pistols fan, commemorating the fortieth anniversary of their cancelled LCR date (with editor Megan Baynes writing under the fantastic headline ‘Anarchy in the UEA’) and the controversy over James Arthur’s gig this year on campus.
Just like the factoid about the Sainsbury Centre having been used in an Avengers film, any prospective student who has come to UEA for an open day will almost certainly have been told about the stars who have graced the LCR: Coldplay, U2 and Lily Allen to name just a few. Personally, I was particularly excited to see the venue in daylight where my idol Paul Weller has performed several times.
The LCR has, and continues to be a stop-off on the best revue tours. Every generation has had their own. Richard Balls has written about the Stiff Records tour in the 1970s which saw the likes of Nick Lowe and Ian Dury visiting. My Dad tells me often about the 1987 Def Jam tour featuring a superb performance by Public Enemy on the bill below LL Cool J - on the night Eric B and Rakim had to miss out as they were recording Top of the Pops in London. And in March this year, we got our own as the NME Awards tour brought both Blossoms and Cabbage to campus, two of the most exciting young bands around today.
There is undoubtedly a buzz around uni when big shows take place. It seemed that almost everyone on my social media feeds went to see Glass Animals at the LCR recently, and thoroughly enjoyed it too. Busted’s twin dates in January elicited a similarly excited reaction from students, and an accompanying Venue review.
As the UEA Gig History website and Twitter account proves, live music and UEA are inextricably linked. If the university breathes music, then the current student body are its lungs, packing out gigs, for the last 25 years writing about them, and generally enjoying the atmosphere huge shows bring to campus.
So here’s to the next 25 years of packed gigs and great music writing at UEA!
Current Undergraduate, UEA and Live Music Correspondent, Concrete
Top right - Tony Allen with performer Declan McKenna.
Bottom left - Blossoms at their LCR gig on 27 March 2017 - photo by Abbie Saunders