Thursday 22 May 2014

Neil Halstead - Alison [7"] - and some thoughts on two amazing SLOWDIVE concerts in London


This is a vinyl blog; not one with concert reviews and live pictures or videos. Nevertheless i'd like to share something about one of the best things that happened to me when it comes to live music: the first concerts in 20 years of Slowdive in London, last Sunday and Monday.

But first let's quickly say a few things about the 7" pictured above - because after all, this is a vinyl blog, right? So i needed some excuse to create this post. Sorry Neil and Nat for "abusing" this excellent piece of vinyl for this.
I bought it at the Sonic Cathedral 10th anniversary party last Sunday. It's a solo release by NEIL HALSTEAD and contains two acoustic versions of songs of bands that he was in: Yer Feet (a Mojave 3 song) and ALISON which of course is a Slowdive song. Excellent versions, although i am a sucker for loud guitars and therefore obviously like the version of Alison on Souvlaki  better. But in this stripped-down beautiful rendition you clearly hear what a great song it is.

Label: Sonic Cathedral SCR 053
Year of release: 2013

01. Alison

01. Yer Feet

Alright, enough about the vinyl now, let's get on with what i really wanted to say. First of all you'd need some background info about my previous experiences at a Slowdive show, all the way back in 1992. I wrote something about it a few years ago on my old blog, of which not much is left these days since i removed most of the entries. I could have chosen to use the blog once more to write my story on there, but thought it would be better to leave it for what it is and do it this way.

So yeah, the background info. You can read it here. And if you just want a very short  summary of the events: i was once at a Slowdive show in 1992 but had to leave before they even went on stage. So i was so close, but never saw them. The two times they came back to the Netherlands after that, i couldn't make it (Eindhoven '93) or was unaware they had played (London Calling Festival, Amsterdam '94). That last one was exactly a month - 5 shows - before they called it quits, in May 1994.
I won't go as far as to say it caused me sleepless nights, but the more years passed, the more i realised i would never have the chance to see them again and the bigger the hurt became about missing a concert of a band that's so dear to me. Because that's what they are.

When i wrote that piece about them back in 2010 i could not imagine that in January this year, the band announced they would reform. Not only would they play at Primavera in Spain, which was the first gig they announced, but also they would do a gig in London at the Village Underground on Monday May 19th. I just knew i needed to go there, no matter what. I never travelled abroad just to see a band, but Slowdive was definitely the band i would do this for. This was the way to get rid of that awful feeling of having missed them 22 years ago. It would literally be a healing experience. So when the tickets went on sale i was one of the lucky 1000 people who were fortunate enough to secure a ticket. It was sold out within 90 seconds. Only shows how special they are and how many people still care about this band. Booked a reasonably cheap flight and luckily one of my friends lives in London and i could sleep at her place. All was sorted; it would finally happen. I'd see Slowdive!

A few weeks after i bought the ticket, the Sonic Cathedral label announced they'd throw a 10th Anniversary Party in London on the Sunday night before the Slowdive gig. I'd be in town anyway and it's one of my favourite indie labels so i didn't need much time to think about it, and bought a ticket for that as well. There'd be surprise acts and dj's, and they would only reveal on the day of the event which artists would be performing. I was secretly hoping to see Younghusband which is one of my current favourite bands on the label. A few weeks before the event they were announced as the support act for the Slowdive gig so whatever would happen, i was going to see them anyway. Of course i also hoped that Neil Halstead would be doing some songs and perhaps even would ask other Slowdive members -if they'd be there- to do some songs with him, acoustically or so.

Then, last Sunday, the day had finally arrived. I arrived in the city around noon and after dropping off my bags at my friend's place i headed for the Hoxton Bar & Kitchen where the Sonic Cathedral party would be. On my way, i checked Facebook updates. And then i noticed that the label had announced the line-up for the evening. I could not believe my eyes. I wasn't going to see Slowdive just once, but even twice! This is what it said:

And besides Slowdive, also Ulrich Schnauss and Mark Gardener (of Ride) would perform while no one less than Andrew Weatherall was going to spin records! Just like Emma Anderson (of Lush)and Stewart Nash (who does the current Creation Records website) for example. This was going to be some night!

When i arrived at the bar's terrace, the first person i ran into was Daniel Land. Great to see him again after so many years. He played in my hometown in 2009, when we met, and we have some mutual friends. Then i met some people who until then i only knew from Facebook and/or Twitter. Dean Bromley who does the excellent Shoegaze & Dreampop News Daily, David Sánchez who runs the Slowdive Database archive and had the great idea of organizing a pre-show meeting on Monday (more about that later), and last but not least Nathaniel Cramp who was the host of the evening, being the man behind the Sonic Cathedral label. Always great to put a face to a name and find out that they're very nice people in real life as well.

Then the moment arrived that the doors opened and the artists would go on stage. Like i wrote before, this is not a concert review blog so i won't be going too much into setlists and other details about the concerts. There are blogs that do it way better, and have already done so over the past few days. For example this one by Joe Clay of The Quietus who was also one of the DJ's this evening.
Mark Gardener was great. Hearing a song like Polar Bear acoustically only makes me long more and more for a reunion of another band that i'd probably also make a trip to London for, if that's what would be necessary: the mighty Ride. Ulrich Schnauss i didn't see much of, unfortunately, as i was too busy standing outside talking with newly met people. But the ten minutes or so that i saw of him were pretty good. The legendary Andrew Weatherall played some mighty fine eclectic tunes between the sets but then the moment was finally there: the first ever concert of Slowdive since May 21st, 1994 in Toronto. One day earlier than i'd expected.

It's hard to describe what i felt. Let's put it this way: it was pretty emotional. And i know i wasn't the only one who shed a few tears. I have not felt like this since 1987 when i was 16 and saw David Bowie descending from a giant spider at my first ever rock concert. I was a huge Bowie fan (still am) and heck did i care or realise that the Glass Spider Tour was not his best creative period... i saw David Bowie, man! First time in my life! Had been waiting for that since i was 12 and was too young to go to the Serious Moonlight Tour on my own. So four years later it finally happened. Those four years had felt like a decade at the time. Goosebumps all over when the moment was there.
But this; this was not just four years later. This was over twenty-two years later!

One of the few things i will say about the show was that it struck me how groovy the songs were performed. Many people think of Slowdive as Rachel and Neil and some others whose name they forgot, but Simon and Nick are an extremely tight rhythm section and give so much power to the songs. And Christian mostly stands at the side, often a bit hidden behind Rachel, but is such an important factor for the sound with his subtle guitar playing. The show was majestic. It was a glorious return of a band that experienced so much shit written about them from one day to another back in the days, by the same magazines that hyped them the year before.

Here's a complete set on Youtube of the concert. I made a few short recordings myself as well, but the sound is terrible and most clips are only lasting a minute. But, I did make some pics and some of them came out OK enough to post them here.

After the show i met some more nice people and we hang out a bit at the bar. And walking back to where i was staying i couldn't believe it had actually happened.

The next day i went to the pre-show meeting that David of the Slowdive Database site had organized. A very cool idea, since there were so many other foreigners like myself who didn't really know anybody but had some hours to spend before the show would start. Christophe from France was there, who i'd met the evening before at the Sonic Cathedral party, but also my friend Pontus from Sweden, Stéphane (aka Neige from the band Alcest), the guys from Switzerland who play in Last Leaf Down, Tullia from Italy, James from Southampton and some more i might have forgotten. Awesome people, every single one of them, and it was good times hanging out with them.

Then we went to the venue, stood in the rather long queue for about 45 minutes, and finally went inside. Since i already bought some merch the night before i didn't have to worry about that anymore. Donated some money to Sense instead (the Deafblind charity that supports Rachel whose son Jesse is deaf and has a visual impairment) and found a good spot together with some of the new found friends. Yet still small, the Village Underground is considerably bigger than Hoxton Bar & Kitchen.

Younghusband were absolutely great, and a perfect opening act for this evening. Then Slowdive came on stage. It was another amazing experience; this was the concert i had actually come over for of course. Goosebumps all over once again. When i thanked Neil for the concert after the show and explained why it was so important for me to be there, he gave me a hug. Told him i was 21 at the time when i missed that show and he said "then we're the same age man". Looked it up on Wikipedia; it's true. We only differ 3 weeks.

The concert at Village Underground can be found on Youtube as well from the same user as the Hoxton Bar one. Also from this show i made some pictures:

So, to sum it all up, i had some really great times in London. And that's still a complete understatement. Met some very nice people, made new friends, saw old friends once again, but foremost i can finally say i've seen one of my favourite bands ever: Slowdive. I will be seeing them next month once more at Best Kept Secret when they've started their festival summer tour. And i'm pretty certain those goosebumps will be back then once again.


  1. I too was at both Hoxton and village underground concerts and I can but agree it was magick! Your blog is a true inspiration in both finding new stuff and updating ones shoegazer past with new input.

  2. Thanks a lot for your kind words, Kim. And i still think back a lot about those two amazing nights in London. Wow... just wow.