I seem to be running out of words.
I seem to be running out of words.
It was some time after Righeira’s summer hit, ‘Vamos a la Playa’. The Sugarcubes had caught our attention with ‘Birthday’ and various flatmates and assorted friends had started collecting their releases, both in Icelandic and in English.
I was briefly named after their record company ‘One Little Indian’. For a while, the ‘cubes were OUR band.
Most of the boys drooled over Bjork – the little girl act really does work. It was the mad, funky, angular music that gave me a thrill, at least until I saw them live.
We were all there, in the Paradiso in Amsterdam. As close to the stage as we could get, and I was wielding my camera as usual. While the lads’ eyes were glued to the waif, mine were on Einar, the Sugarcubes’ other frontman.
Slim and compact, dressed in a black turtleneck and black jeans, a belt with a bat-buckle around his hips, Einar teased, taunted and quite frankly annoyed the fuck out of the entire audience.
I loved it. He ranted and raved, said ‘Good evening, Spain’ and shouted ‘Vamos a la Playa’ again and again. He blew a tiny trumpet or bugle and swung from the balcony.
I didn’t get a single decent picture of him.
The Mission were probably the most ridiculous band of the 80s. More pompous than U2, the missing link between The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy with semi religious gothic imagery, acres of dry ice and the occasional catchy tune. When we first saw them on TV, their preposterous promo for ‘Wasteland’ – all wind swept hills and flying flags – had us in stitches. But for a brief time, we were heavily into them, like we were into wearing black and purple clothing. A bit like you might have been into Bros as a teenager. Except we weren’t technically teenagers anymore.
I saw them live on three occasions. Which I am going to tell you about – but not now. Come back for updates. For now: some music.
One day we’ll look back at this
And laugh and laugh and we’ll die laughing
One day we’ll look back at this and laugh
Sometimes when you hit that shutter button, you know – you FEEL it’s the one. When I took the picture above, I knew I’d captured the moment. This is Michael Stipe looking out over 50,000 people at the Pinkpop festival in 1989. He’d grabbed a chair, set it as close to the edge of the stage as possible and he was singing ‘Summertime’.
We’d been standing in the sun all day. Some of our group were slamdancing to The Pixies. Some of us were laughing at Tanita Tikaram who couldn’t hold a tune to save her life (even her fans turned away in disgust). Some of us felt sorry for Marc Almond, pelted with food by an intolerant audience> We had all dropped our jaws in surprise when Elvis Costello came up and defied all logic by being solid, stunning and simply… sexy.
Costello, belting out ‘I want you’, had broken a string mid-song. He’d stood there, solo, still crying the words, his arms stretched out wide. A roadie rushed in, literally sliding in on his knees. He freed the singer of his guitar, slipped him on a new one, and plugged it in just in time for Costello to seamlessly continue his song. We had never been more in awe of musicianship.
We had made our way to the front row. Pressed up against the barrier, a little left of center. R.E.M. were last on the bill. It had been 2 years since they played our country. Two years since I had reluctantly gone to see them and had come back a fan. We didn’t know it then, but R.E.M.’s Pinkpop appearance was to be their last in Holland. Ever. Believe it or not, the next two occasions the band booked Dutch venues both were cancelled for health reasons.
This one almost didn’t happen either. The accident prone band nearly had to cancel at the last moment because Bill Berry’d been bitten by a tick, back in his beloved Georgia garden. The man nearly died of Rocky Mountain Fever in a German hospital. But they patched him up.
I still think the band were at their best in ’89. Stipe in his white floppy suit, sporting what he now calls an ‘unfortunate’ haircut, seemed on the verge of insanity. Buck hadn’t put on the pounds yet, and it was before ueber-nerd Mills got into dye jobs and glittery suits. And… damn it, they still had their drummer.
They launched straight into mayhem: Exhuming McCarthy, Turn you Inside Out, Stand, Orange Crush… the set heavily dominated by Document and Green favourites. Stipe swirled around the microphone stand, brandishing his megaphone. Feeling Gravity’s Pull felt like the apocalypse.
Then they let us all come down gently. King of Birds, Summertime, Swan Swan H and finally, with Mills playing bass sitting down on the edge of the stage, ending with You are the Everything.
When I mention Maria Mckee, people think I mean Mariah Carey. Or perhaps they’ll know they’re two different people, but they will still call her ‘Mariah’. Take it from me, Maria’s the better singer.
I have a thing for unmarketable, underappreciated, low profile artists. It’s their bloody mindedness that makes them all of that. Somewhere, some time at some point in their flaky careers, they made a decision to only sing what they mean and then only when they mean it.