The Marquee Club, London. June 1990. I was there to see a band I had only ever read about, who were on the tiny stage just three feet in front of me, lean as rakes, hungrily playing up a storm on their debut UK show. The band was The Black Crowes and they had released their debut album, $hake Your Money Maker earlier that year.
The Marquee had grown weary of its place in Wardour Street and had taken itself off 500 yards to the east in Charing Cross Road. * I was there because Kerrang! had tipped them for greatness and I did everything Kerrang! told me to do back then, including buying an album by D’Molls, which turned out to be pretty terrible. Yet, like a beaten puppy I would return, ever hopeful of better treatment…
Kerrang! told me The Black Crowes were a new American band who sounded like The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith. To be fair so did every other rock band back then, at least if they had any sense, given the success of both, and of Guns n Roses. Indeed a flock of bands matching that description had all since sprung up sporting ripped jeans, bandanas and sneers, including Faster Pussycat, Sea Hags, Salty Dog, LA Guns et al..
Given that my favourite band at the time was the aforementioned Aerosmith, The Black Crowes sounded like a good bet. Furthermore, I was just beginning to discover this little-known band called The Rolling Stones. Hey, don’t look at me like that, the Stones never got played on the radio. You’d only ever hear “Satisfaction” at the end of the school disco just before “Hi Ho Silver Lining” and I had to buy the “Rolled Gold” compilation to hear deeper cuts** like “19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Little Red Rooster” for the first time… *** Whilst I found out about the show after reading the listing in Kerrang! I only had enough cash for either the show, or the album.
I chose the show, hoping I’d enjoy the gig enough to then want to buy the album when pay day finally condescended to come around again and refill the coffers.
Here’s what I remember about the night:
1. In one respect, things were better in the eighties than they are now – getting gig tickets was much easier. One of the nice things about The Marquee aside from its intimacy was that you couldn’t normally buy tickets in advance, so as long as you turned up early enough you could get in. There was no mad scramble – and no usury booking fees.
2. Their best song – and the reason I bought the album was not their later hit single “She Talks To Angels”, it was “Thick ‘n Thin” – a fast boogie from the debut album with a similar tempo to The Stones’ “Rip This Joint”.
3. They played a Brian Ferry song “Jealous Guy”, which I thought was an odd – but good – cover. I didn’t realise it was a John Lennon song. My lack of knowledge was typical of the time. I would have killed for a Spotify account back then.
4. Hard To Handle was another highlight. I didn’t know it was an Otis Redding song. See above.
5. It was a great show, and I bought $hake Your Money Maker (on cassette) as soon as I could.
I marked The Black Crowes down as ones to watch. I little realised then that as Grunge wiped away many a Les Paul-botherer – especially those with cigarettes hanging from the corners of their mouths, The Black Crowes would be one band that would hang in there – and actually get better…
* The Marquee in Wardour St had to close down in 1988 after more than 30 years of vibrations from loud music were found to have made the facade of the building slip towards the pavement and the building had to be demolished. That’s how good the Marquee was: in the end the music literally shook the place to its foundations.
** For “deeper cuts” read “anything that wasn’t Satisfaction”.
*** A month after this Black Crowes gig I got to see the Stones at Wembley Stadium – whilst in another stadium in Rome England were knocked out of the World Cup.
Footnote: I found $hake Your Money Maker on LP a month or so back in great condition for just £3. It’s still a great record.
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