The comeback concert that Deep Purple played at Knebworth in 1985 went down in history as one of the muddiest rock concerts of all time.
As Blackadder once remarked about a girl with the worst personality in Germany – that’s up against some pretty stiff competition. It rained all day. The mud was six inches deep. Chemical toilets were in their infancy. You get the picture.
Luckily I listened to it all on the radio in the comfort of my own home.
Not just any tape either. In anticipation of a perhaps seminal moment of rock history, I had splashed out a couple of quid for a Chrome tape – Chrome being apparently better quality, albeit I never understood why, if they were that good, they needed their own special button on tape players to eliminate the background hiss. I digress.
Radio One’s Friday Rock Show rather splendidly had decided to record all the support bands too. In these pre-internet days, you couldn’t look up an album review on Amazon or hear a snippet on iTunes or wherever, so buying a bad album was a genuine and potentially expensive risk. For someone with limited cash and limited knowledge of whether Mountain was a great new band or an old bunch of has-beens (the latter, I decided) this was an unmissable opportunity to hear some live bands for the first time.
The broadcast started late evening: the “stellar” line up was Mama’s Boys, Mountain, Blackfoot, UFO, Meatloaf and Deep Purple, at least half of whom were pretty obscure even then. The Scorpions also played the gig, but had a live album out, so chose not to be part of the broadcast, probably quite sensibly given my own recording activities may well have been replicated up and down the country.
The whole radio broadcast went on until 2 or 3am and I’ll confess to finding it tricky to stay awake during Mountain and Blackfoot’s sets. So as not to keep the household awake, I plugged in my dad’s headphones and huddled close to the stereo whilst checking whether the tape might run out mid-song.
By the end of the night I had heard five bands for the first time (how often has that happened?).
I had also heard Meatloaf, although I couldn’t make out which bit was the sound of him being bottled offstage.
The ritual of “bottling” was an interesting phenomenon of the seventies and eighties, and is the reason why organisers pour beer into flimsy plastic cups at gigs nowadays (although why it took fifteen years for them to realise this I don’t know – the Panda Pop induced carnage at Marillion’s Milton Keynes Bowl show in 1986 was an extraordinary sight to behold – there must have been a thousand bottles in the air at any one time for a good hour or so).
Essentially a way for a heavy rock crowd to express displeasure with bands that played with too many keyboards, “bottling” involved the crowd collectively throwing (usually) empty plastic bottles onstage to annoy the performer (to be fair – usually Meatloaf) to the point where they were annoyed enough to cut the set short. It relies upon a temperamental artist and a collective decision from 40,000 people that it would be more entertaining to see the performer throw a hissy fit than see them perform.
The only time I saw it backfire on the audience was when Motörhead played Donington in 1986. After ducking a well-aimed missile, Lemmy stopped his set, told the protagonist that he hadn’t worked for twenty years for some idiot (he may have used stronger language) to use him as target practice, and would someone in the crowd please take matters into their own hands if they saw it happen again?
He continued his set unmolested. Moral of the story? Don’t mess with Lemmy.
Record #17 – Deep Purple – Speed King