Playing the field: access all areas

Radiohead may claim the moral high ground by taking a tent on tour instead of playing indoors, but it's old news. You're no one until you've played a cave, a roof or a converted toilet.
Click to follow

Radiohead are currently dragging their grumpy carcasses around Britain and Western Europe in their own giant marquee, possibly chosen to facilitate circus-style advertising promising a cornucopia of delights. Since The Beatles randomly chopped up some tape into loops while John Lennon intoned a list of Victorian attractions on 1967's "Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite", it has become a rock tradition. To be fair, Radiohead have made it clear that one of their reasons for the big-top show is deliberately to eschew any sponsorship deals. Three members of the band were so impressed by Naomi Klein's compendium of global anti-capitalist protest, No Logo, that it was mooted as a title for their upcoming record. It may well prove a better way to spend £14.99 than Kid A - we'll see.

Radiohead are currently dragging their grumpy carcasses around Britain and Western Europe in their own giant marquee, possibly chosen to facilitate circus-style advertising promising a cornucopia of delights. Since The Beatles randomly chopped up some tape into loops while John Lennon intoned a list of Victorian attractions on 1967's "Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite", it has become a rock tradition. To be fair, Radiohead have made it clear that one of their reasons for the big-top show is deliberately to eschew any sponsorship deals. Three members of the band were so impressed by Naomi Klein's compendium of global anti-capitalist protest, No Logo, that it was mooted as a title for their upcoming record. It may well prove a better way to spend £14.99 than Kid A - we'll see.

But anyone present at the many festivals this summer will have spotted punters in the "Radiohead 2000" tour shirt, listing this year's appearances between their shoulder blades. Arles, Florence's Piazza Santa Croce, even the Caesaria Roman Amphitheatre in the Holy Land. Yep, a tent's a tent, but playing in historic sites puts you up with the big boys: Pink Floyd in Pompeii, the Grateful Dead at the Pyramids, The Cure in the amphitheatre at Orange.

Fame and wealth and, in The Cure's case, the gullibility of the French makes such events possible. But the challenge of finding somewhere different to play exists at all levels. At the top end, you could be performing at the parties of the super-rich, as when Michael Jackson played for the Sultan of Brunei. At the bottom end of the market, you might find yourself touring Northern supermarkets, like the Younger Younger 28s, or on the toilet circuit at the Tunbridge Wells Forum - not an ancient Roman site, but a converted public convenience.

Caves are good. The caves at Chislehurst have played host to some of the greats - Pink Floyd (again), Jimi Hendrix, Doctor and the Medics. Def Leppard famously entertained a bibulous gaggle of hacks in a Moroccan cavern; then there's EMF and Super Furry Animals - troglodytes all. Prisons, too, are an excellent choice. A captive audience that will cheer anything, instant bad-boy credibility, a connection with Johnny Cash by association - you can't fail. The US cult rockabilly favourite Sonny George's album, reportedly titled "Live from Tennessee Women's Prison", may have rendered the genre obsolete, however.

Sometimes, performers choose to inflict themselves on the public. Few have busked as publicly as The Clash, but not even the presence of The Rolling Stones on the back of a flat-bed truck on New York's Fifth Avenue in 1975 could cause a stir. And, lest we forget, The Beatles' last performance, on the roof of their Savile Row HQ in 1969, was halted not by musical differences, but by the old bill, after complaints from neighbours. At least The Sex Pistols' famed boat trip on the Thames in 1977 was unmolested until their return to dry land.

Spiritualized played "the highest gig ever" in Toronto's CN Tower, but as the world's tallest structure has lifts, the logistics hardly presented their road crew with new problems. In fact, new uses can be found for obsolete buildings by canny promoters. If Britain's acid house explosion grew out of the warehouse party scene, then the end of the Cold War offered some extraordinary new venues in Eastern Europe. In Berlin and Moscow, people partied in former civil defence bunkers. They weren't as squeamish as Morrissey, who once pulled a show in a converted slaughterhouse, because it was a converted slaughterhouse. The wuss. Reports circulate that punters who visited The Stone Roses' Spike Island outdoor show, in a field by a chemical works, still complain of mysterious ailments. Nothing to do with the handfuls of pills...

Sometimes the venue itself is the attraction. Cincinnati, Ohio, boasts Sudsy Malone's Rock'n'Roll Laundry and Bar, a regular slot on the US touring circuit, which waives the charge if you bring two loads of washing. John Peel saw Captain Beefheart at a spot in Kidderminster called Frank Freeman's Dancing School, c1970. Despite the wacky connotations, it was just that, a place for ballroom and ballet lessons. This summer's Castlefield festival in Manchester concluded with DJs spinning the discs at a site in the Granada TV studios. Yes, for a mere tenner you could rave at the Rovers Return. Can a tent really compete with that?

Comments