Simon Parkes turned a rundown cinema bought for £1 into one of the UK’s biggest venues. He tells Tim Lewis about gigs with the Clash, and egg and chips with Eric Clapton
This is a fascinating article for anyone with an interest in the live music scene in the UK, and London specifically, in the 1980s and 1990s. I’ve only ever been to the Brixton Academy twice - once to see Bauhaus on their Resurrection tour in 1998, and once to see the Mission, Fields of the Nephilim and Gene Loves Jezebel a couple of years ago - but both times I was struck by the sheer size and atmosphere of the place. It’s an amazing venue, and definitely one better suited than most of London’s big old theatres to the rough-and-tumble of the gig scene. There’s also an extract from Simon Parkes’ newly-published memoirs about how he dealt with the aftermath of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, given that he was promoting four Nirvana shows and a festival featuring them as a headline act, due to take place a few weeks later. A salutary tale for anyone in the music business, and I can’t decide whether I’m impressed at his resourcefulness or dismayed by the capitalisation on the fans’ grief - but then again, the tickets were collectors’ items in a way, and he did manage to keep the business afloat…(see, now you’re going to have to read the article to find out what happened.)…all right, I’m more impressed than dismayed. Sterling work there on the creation of a little part of the legend.
The mention in the article of an early gig by U2 in 1986 (describing them as "a leftfield Irish band with a decent cult following") nudged me into putting on some of their music, and I’m sitting back now, listening to a nicely shuffled selection from their best-of 1980-1990 album, with a bit of War and The Joshua Treethrown in (yes, I’m one of those terrible people who a) listens to greatest hits compilations and b) listens to albums on shuffle - I find it a good way to get to grips with the music, and will either start a new album with a listen through in order, or will shuffle it for a while and then put it in order). U2 are one of those bands I never quite actually got into - I was always aware of them, growing up and being into music, they were never far from the radio back in the days when Radio 1 played this sort of thing without needing a specialist show for it (and Bono was just a rock singer…). But I never actually got my paws on an album, probably because I just never quite found myself hanging around with a U2 fan who’d have pushed one upon me. It’s like with Springsteen - I always knew the famous bits but I’m only recently getting into it all properly.
So I’m sitting here listening to these absolute masterpieces, these classic songs I’ve heard a thousand times, that never fail to sweep me away. The sound is just so wide and deep and atmospheric, that jangling, almost bell-like guitar, the impassioned vocals…how is it just four of them? But at the same time it’s a very simple sound, vocals, guitar, bass and drums, simplicity and depth all at once, a perfect influence for so many of those who followed them. Close your eyes while listening to Pride or The Unforgettable Fire or Where The Streets Have No Name and you’re transported somewhere else, swept up into the song and carried away.
Their later material didn’t click with me as much, after about Rattle and Hum, but that first decade…oh yes, they really were on fire.