The 15 Greatest London Gigs
When it comes to a truly exceptional gig, it’s hard to pin down exactly what makes it so special. There is no formula. It cannot be engineered.
Sometimes it can be a sense that you are seeing the start of something new or witnessing the end of an era. The character of the venue may inspire, the context may electrify or you might just be lucky enough to catch a band at the pinnacle of their powers. Whatever it is, you can feel it – an electricity in the air. The band feels it too and feeds on it. A connection is made.
When you are at a truly great gig everyone knows it and it lives long in the memory. Over the decades, London has seen its fair share of legendary performances: gigs that launched extraordinary talents, defined a generation or even changed the course of musical history altogether. Here are 15 gigs that shook the capital and the music world:
London’s Best Ever Gigs
Scotch of St James
24 September 1966
Nobody had seen a guitarist quite like Jimi Hendrix when he came to London in 1966. The Scotch of St James was where Hendrix first unleashed his wild other-worldly guitar sound. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1967, Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett still in tow took audiences at the UFO club on an epic trip with their sonic experimentation, homemade light shows and frontiersmen spirit. Paisley abounded as people wigged out to the birth of British psychedelia and to a band that would continue to push boundaries for decades to come.
Rooftop Of Apple Offices
30th January 1969
The Beatles may not have known it, but their performance on the roof of the Apple Building at 3 Saville Row would be their last ever gig. The Fab Four had not played together in public for nearly five years but boy, could they still play. The crowds in the streets below went wild, the establishment were not amused. Although the show and the Beatles as a group finished prematurely, it was a fitting finale to an incredible band.
The Rolling Stones
7th May 1969
This legendary free concert took place just two days after the death of guitarist Brian Jones. With emotions running high, The Stones tried to make sense of the tragedy as well as live up to the hype surrounding the gig. This may may not have been their finest performance but it marked a dramatic end to the 1960s.
Royal Albert Hall
9th January 1970
Led Zeppelin were on the verge of superstardom when they played this show at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall. Nearly two hours of blistering blues and rock & roll later and it was clear that not only were they one of the greatest live bands of all time but that the 1970s would belong to them.
19th August 1972
When Bowie introduced Ziggy Stardust to the world, he transformed the humble rock gig into theatre with costumes changes, dry ice, mime, sexual ambiguity and some phenomenal songs. The Rainbow Theatre show was a game-changer.
19th July 1975
The Lyceum Theatre gig saw Bob Marley bring Rastafarianism and reggae to the mainstream. The band were on incredible form, tighter than tight, and Marley was operating on another level altogether. The crowd together in a spirit of unity sang along at the top of their lungs to tracks such as No Woman No Cry. Marley had the power to inspire.
30th March 1976
The Lesser Free Trade Hall show in Manchester may have been the gig that inspired numerous people to start bands including future members of Joy Division, but the 100 Club shows saw the Sex Pistols at their chaotic best. The band, fronted by Johnny Rotten, debuted at the Oxford Street venue in March 1976 and anarchy in the UK was suddenly on the cards.
May 13th 1979
This was Kate Bush’s first and, until very recently, last ever live tour. More than your average concert, the Hammersmith Odeon show was a genre-blurring tour-de-force of music, dance, poetry, mime, burlesque, magic and theatre. Her flare as a visual performer was undisputed as she glided through 17 costume changes and 24 songs in a remarkable set.
Live Aid Charity Concert
13th July 1985
For the 72,000 people in the stadium and the 2 billion watching worldwide, Queen’s performance at Live Aid was jaw-droopingly good. For just over 20 minutes, Freddie Mercury gave it his all and proved himself as the ultimate showman. Recent Polls have suggested that this was the greatest live performance of all time.
The Beastie Boys
24th May 1987
Bringing hip hop to the UK was never going to be easy, especially when you were as notorious and riotous as the Beastie Boys. With their debut, Licensed To Ill, having already sold in excess of four million copies at the time, the hype surrounding the young New Yorkers sold out Brixton show was immense. Amazingly, they delivered and collective jaws dropped.
July 16th 1988
The ‘Bad’ tour saw the King of the Pop at the peak of his powers – singing, dancing, showmanship – MJ was a next-level performer. His epic three-hour show at Wembley Stadium was nothing short of incredible.
October 24th 1990
Nirvana’s show at the Astoria Theatre confirmed one thing – this band were going to be huge. Playing future classics from Nevermind like In Bloom as well as ripping through much of their debut Bleach, it was clear that the audience were witnessing something truly special. Kurt Cobain was a raw, angry and sensational talent and that October night was him at his best.
Ministry Of Sound
May 29th 1996
Progressing from the outdoor rave scene of the early 90s to the interior of London’s Ministry of Sound club in 1996, the Prodigy were in a mood to rip things up. With their number one Firestarter single already making huge waves and Fat of the Land in the pipeline, they had the energy, dynamism and most importantly the tunes to make the crowds go wild. This was hairs on the back of the neck territory.
November 3rd 1999
In 1999, Eminem was the bad boy of rap. Some of the verses on his Slim Shady LP (released earlier that year) had caused controversy. Taking to the Astoria stage in bright white tracksuit, it was clear that he didn’t care and that his immense talent was indisputable.
20 Bedford Way
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