It’s a funny old world, isn’t it? You can write thousands of words about the terrorist threat, about the challenge to communal harmony posed by extremists and the dangers of ignoring India’s poor—and you’ll find that nobody really cares whatyou have to say. But write a single paragraph in Lounge about the pretentious awfulness of post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd and, suddenly, your readers are reaching for their emails.
The reference to the Floyd was part of a generalized attack on concept albums, but though one person complained about The Who’s Tommy being called ‘childish’ (you are right, pal, I should have said ‘puerile’), it was the Floyd fans who flung their Timberland loafers at me. How dare I make fun of Roger Waters? Did I not know that Dark Side of the Moon was the greatest album in history? And so on.
As I am of roughly the same age as “Angry of Nariman Point” and “Disgusted of Sunder Nagar”, I can understand the depth of their sentiments. All of us treasure our childhood memories. And old songs and old albums remind us of younger days, when we were still innocent and had not become investment bankers, chief executive officers and corporate lawyers.
So, to all of you who complained: Sorry guys, didn’t mean to puncture your youthful memories. But honestly, you should know better. And, if it’s any consolation, my own musical tastes are also based on youthful memories that you’ll probably find as twisted and absurd. So, for what it’s worth, here’s a list of my favourite concerts (and you can guess by the choice of the bands how old I am…)
Hawkwind: You don’t remember the band? Relax, nobody else does either. I recall the gig in 1972–3 because it was my first, I was young, the 1960s had not yet ended in spirit, and everyone was stoned.
Supertramp: You may remember this lot. They were big in the 1970s. I rate the show only because they hadn’t yet made it and played at my school dance in the Mill Hill School assembly hall. It was a great show (at least from the point of view of a 17-year-old; the band probably phoned it in) and when, the following year, Supertramp finally hit the charts with Dreamer, I was able to say, “I knew them before they became famous”.
Paul Simon: A tough call. It was 1975, he had just released Still Crazy, still his greatest solo album and was playing at the London Palladium for two nights. Unfortunately, the dates coincided with my Oxford entrance interviews. I bought tickets for both nights, missed the first show when the dons decided to discuss philosophy with me and begged God that no other college would want to interview me so I could make it back for the second night. Nobody did. So, I raced to the station, took a train back to London and was in time for the second concert. He played much of the album, but he also launched his own version of Bridge Over Troubled Water (Art Garfunkel sings it on the record), complete with a teasing piano intro, played a killer version of America and did The Boxer with the missing verse (Now the years are rolling by me…).
Led Zeppelin: My feelings about Zeppelin are mixed. I always thought John Bonham was a joke with that 20-minute drum solo during Moby Dick (a loo break for most punters) and Jimmy Page’s violin-bow antics during Dazed and Confused were too self-indulgent for words. But Robert Plant is one of the great rock voices. At one stage, he stepped away from the mike and you could hear thousands of voices going Dear Lady, your stairway lies on the whispering wind entirely in tune.
Bob Dylan: In those days, the great man had yet to embark on the Never Ending Tour where a series of mediocre bands backed him through strange versions of his old songs. This was his first tour of England in a decade and tickets were like gold. I only got one because Salman Khurshid queued up all night to buy two and was good enough to ask me along. At the time, there were few experiences to compare with an entire stadium spontaneously rushing to its feet and lighting matches during Blowing in the Wind.
Joan Baez: I went with a young lady who thought Baez was a tedious old witch and wanted to go to Milton Keynes to see Bruce Springsteen instead. She sulked throughout the show, but I thought Baez was amazing.
Bruce Springsteen: I went to the Human Rights Concert in Delhi to hear Peter Gabriel (who was great) and Sting (who was rubbish), but I left completely in thrall to Springsteen. If there is a greater stage performer in rock, I have yet to see him. He did all the hits, threw in the false ends to Born in the USA and Born to Run, danced with a stooge from the audience during Dancing in the Dark (not Courtney Cox, alas) and encored with a medley of La Bamba and Twist and Shout.
The Police: I helped, in some small way, to organize the show when the Police played in Mumbai in 1980. Their energy (lacking in Sting’s solo shows) rocked Rang Bhavan and extended versions of Roxanne and Walking on the Moon brought the house down.
The Rolling Stones: Not the Mumbai show which was so-so, but the amazing one in Bangalore where the pit was close to the stage, where a thunderstorm broke out during Sympathy for the Devil and Mick Jagger danced like a man possessed.
Queen: I saw them thrice and they were often good, but the show I’ll remember is the one they did in the 1980s to promote It’s a Kind of Magic. Freddie Mercury seemed ill and pale, but still gave it everything he had. They never performed again. And in a few months, Freddie was dead.
Write to Vir at firstname.lastname@example.org