Several years ago while in my early teens, I fell head over heels for British rock and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. For years, I’d been dreaming about going to gigs in the UK. Almost all my favorite bands were British and most of the music press I was consuming on a daily basis was also British.
So many of my current favorite bands haven’t toured in America yet and I was itching to get to the chance to see them in small to mid-size venues in the UK before they make it big and plot their eventual first American tour in the next couple of years.
This year (my second to last year of college), I was finally set to study for four months (from mid-January to early May) in London, ensuring that I would finally get the chance to not only see all my favorite bands, but also to experience the vibrant UK live music firsthand. I had watched so much footage from UK gigs over the years, so it was exciting and surreal to finally be apart of it.
Because I had such a limited amount of time and lots of bands that I wanted to see, I went to as many shows as I could (while still being able to pass all five of my classes). So, in just four months, I was able to see exactly 101 bands at 39 gigs in 36 different venues across the UK. While a vast majority of gigs I went to were in London, I also travelled to Guildford, Tunbridge Wells, St. Albans, and Leeds to see a few shows as well.
I attended shows as small as 20 people (at The Islington), as big as 10,000 people (Alexandra Palace), as grand as the Royal Albert Hall, and as dingy as some old basement clubs. Going to lots of shows in the UK also exposed me to a lot of concert behavior that I wasn’t accustomed to before: football chants, beer chucking, serious moshing and crowd-surfing, stage invasions, and even the infamous piss chucking.
I can also say with certainty that I’ve never been so sweaty at a gig in my life until I saw bands like The Amazons, Sundara Karma, Vant, Black Honey, Inheaven, Blaenavon, Otherkin, and Blossoms, so big love to all those guys because I’ll never forget how much fun I had at those shows.
I saw loads of opening acts: some not so great, some decent, and some utterly fantastic (like The Bay Rays, Palm Honey, Otherkin, Van Zeller, Telegram, Creatures, Calva Louise, and others). I’ve also never seen crowds go so crazy for the opening acts before (acts like Cabbage, Circa Waves, Sundara Karma, Otherkin, Van Zeller, Palm Honey, Will Joseph Cook, Freak, etc.) and I mean full on belting the words, moshing, and crowd-surfing. I’m also just now remembering an opening band (whose name escapes me) that I saw where one of its members went crashing through the drum kit at the end of the set. Pretty damn cool.
I couldn’t believe how many famous musicians went to watch gigs in the UK. It really speaks volumes about how much UK musicians support each other and are genuinely interested in what new bands are doing. In fact, the amount of famous musicians in attendance at The Lemon Twigs show was too many to count on my fingers. I saw plenty of them at almost every show and perhaps my favorite of all those moments was running into Joe and Tom from Blossoms while at a Rough Trade East in-store gig where Temples were debuting songs off their second album. (Big love to Rough Trade by the way. Probably my favorite record store in London.)
I even got to go to this year’s NME Awards. Even though the magazine is now frustratingly at war with its rock music roots, it was really special to attend an event that I grew up reading about and watching YouTube clips from. The lack of rock bands in attendance and featured on the night was disappointing, but I got the chance to see more famous people in one room than I ever have in my life (I even got to chat with Harry and Sam from Peace). Plus, it was pretty cool to see Pet Shop Boys get an award from Johnny Marr and watch Bands 4 Refugees (the indie supergroup with members of Peace, Slaves, Black Honey, Circa Waves, Swim Deep, and Years & Years) perform a cover of “Gimme Shelter.”
I was also able to go to a few music festivals/all-dayers. I went to the X-Posure All-Dayer presented by Radio X, I went to a This Feeling show where I saw six or seven bands, I went to Flying Vinyl Festival, and to top it all off, I traveled to Leeds for this year’s Live At Leeds Festival. Live At Leeds was the first time I had to deal with all those dreaded lineup clashes, but I think I did pretty well and I even took a chance on a few acts I’d never seen before and they all turned out to be fantastic (Fling, Howl, Plaza, and Matt Maltese). I also went to Radio 1 DJ Phil Taggart’s Slacker Night three times and saw some amazing bands as well (Black Honey, Cabbage, Sundara Karma, Willie J Healey, Bloxx, Plastic People, and Otzeki).
I should also mention the insane amount of bands that I met along the way because all of them were really genuine, nice people. Some of them I met once or twice, others three or four times. Some I talked to briefly, some I talked to for a while, some I hung out with backstage, and some I even interviewed. I’ll spare you the long list of bands I got to meet and chat with, but you can check out some photos of me and some of the bands I met down below. It was so surreal to finally meet all the bands whose music I’d been constantly playing back in the US. Plus, some of them even know my name now, which is equal parts mind-blowing and cool.
I asked almost every band I saw about their possible plans to tour the US and almost all of them said they had something already planned or had hopes to go there in the near future. Of all these bands, I don’t know how many of them I’ll actually get to see over here, but I really hope it’s a lot of them. For now, I’ll just have to be patient and and trust that they’ll come over soon.
I also met loads of cool British kids at all these shows (and even a couple Yanks) and it was great to finally meet people my age that shared the same love for all these bands that I had. I’m thankful for all the sweaty sing-alongs we shared and the endless amount of time we spent queueing outside of venues together. I’ll be eternally jealous of all the Brits who spent their entire childhood and teenage years going to shows in the most exciting music scene in the world.
I spent so much time accumulating this long list of new UK bands that I wanted to see live and I was able to see nearly all of them. Now, I’m going to have to start from scratch and find more new British bands that I love until the list gets so long that I’ll have to cross the pond once again.
Luckily, over the past couple of years, I’ve been a bit better at trying to find American bands that I like and I’ve found several bands that I love (mostly from New York and LA and most of which sound British, but I’m trying to be better). Unfortunately, America just doesn’t have a huge market for rock music like Europe does (rock bands don’t top the charts in America and young bands definitely aren’t playing arena shows or headlining festivals), so it was such a privilege to be apart of such a huge mass of people that actually still care about rock bands.
It’s my goal to get back to the UK within the next few years because I just can’t be away from that vibrant live music scene for too long. I grew up on British rock and there’s just something magical about the music that comes from that famous little island.
So England, thanks for all the memories and the great music. I had the absolute time of my life and I can’t wait to see you again soon!
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Stay tuned for more interviews with the bands I met in London, more playlists, more reviews, and more of the best new alternative music.
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