Fifty years ago today I crossed the Irish Sea to watch two groups on the Charisma label at Dublin Stadium, a 2,000-seater boxing arena where the ring had been removed so that a stage could extend out from one side. With the audience on the other three, it didn’t make for an ideal show.
Last night the headliners at this show, with one original member, played the 467-seat Leeds City Varieties Music Hall. The support act in Dublin, meanwhile, performed their last ever shows earlier this year, three nights at London’s 20,000-seat 02 Arena, with three original members and the singer fronting them 50 years ago sat in the audience for the final show.
This change in fortune over half a century is all the more remarkable when you consider that the debut album by the headlining band in Dublin reached number eight in the LP charts and their chart-topping second was among the best-selling LPs in the UK during 1972. Released roughly the same time, the first two LPs by the support act failed to make the album charts at all, and their third only scraped in two years after release.
The groups in question, of course, were Lindisfarne, the folk-rock quintet from Newcastle, whom I loved, and Genesis, the ethereal prog rockers who weren’t really to my taste. Back when these two groups were rivals, Lindisfarne galloped way ahead in the Charisma Handicap but ran out of steam after two years at the top. Nevertheless, their sudden success largely financed the label’s early years and Genesis were among those who benefitted, progressing at a much steadier pace until they eventually became a stadium band with a sackful of gold and platinum LPs.
Despite failing to back the winner in the long term, I hint at the writing on the wall in my review of the Dublin show for Melody Maker, which appeared in its October 7 (1972) edition. “To be casual is to be Lindisfarne,” I wrote, “but even the most relaxed of bands have a hard time putting over a set of new numbers when an audience hitherto starved of their music demands the oldies all the time.
“Lindisfarne opened their current UK tour at Dublin Stadium last week, but I doubt whether the reaction to the concert went anywhere near to rivalling the reaction at the two Newcastle shows at the weekend. Lindisfarne have reached the dilemma that comes to so many bands who ‘make it’: how do you radically change a set when all the fans want to hear are the tunes they know.
“Lindisfarne – normally the happiest bunch of Geordies you could hope to meet – were tense and nervous before this show. It’s unnecessary to say that after half a dozen shows they’ll swing together like clockwork again, but in Dublin – where the venue probably added to their problems – it was a rather wooden band who scaled the converted boxing ring to win the hearts of the Irish.
“They were about 80 percent successful and Genesis, the supporting act who are equally well known across the Irish Sea, were 85 percenters.”
Lindisfarne had become friends of mine by the time I wrote this review, and I was trying hard to maintain my editorial objectivity. This was actually the second time I’d visited Ireland with them, and on the earlier occasion we’d taken a tour of the Guinness brewery together. This was unlikely to have occurred with Genesis.
“Before the show Alan Hull falls asleep in the dressing room, stretched along a wooden table and uncommunicative to all but himself,” I continued. “Simon Cowe has taken an armful of instruments to another room to begin the never-ending job of tuning. Between them Lindisfarne have four guitars, three mandolins, two basses and a banjo – a lot of tuning.
“The rest watch Genesis who seem to hold a spell over the audience. Late arrivals wreck any early atmosphere the band attempt to create but once settled it’s obvious Genesis are respected. Peter Gabriel resembles Tutankhamen with his partially shorn head and elaborate necklace. His stories raise a laugh and the music brings cheers.
“Genesis are not unlike Yes with their complicated, precise and well-rehearsed arrangements. The music is much harsher though and there’s an overall feeling of the macabre in what they do. One song, says Gabriel, is devoted to ‘Hammer Productions’, and for another he dons a fox mask – remarkably lifelike too – and a long red dress. The effect is frightening but wandering minds are jolted back into life as bright flashes of burning magnesium explode on either side of the stage.
“‘Musical Box’ and ‘Giant Hogweed’ are greeted by the crowd like old friends and Genesis leave the stage to a standing ovation. The reception does little to calm the minds of Lindisfarne who are still tuning and await their turn anxiously.”
Between groups we were treated a short set by Rab Noakes, the Scottish singer songwriter whose ‘Turn A Deaf Ear’ Lindisfarne covered on their debut LP Nicely Out Of Tune. He, too, was well received.
Pen and notebook in hand, I watched Lindisfarne for what I think was the eighth time. “[They] open with ‘Meet Me On The Corner’, a safe selection which everybody knows,” I reported. “But there’s a noticeable tension about them. Ray Jackson seems rooted to the spot and Rod Clements is edged into the background. Alan Hull seems determined at the front, ignoring the requests for ‘Fog On The Tyne’ and ‘We Can Swing Together’. Instead he grits his teeth and launches into a selection of songs no one has heard before in Ireland – or most other places for that matter.
“They do practically the whole of the new Dingly Dell album. ‘Poor Old Ireland’ quietens the crowd so the words can be heard and, much to Hull’s relief, seems to please the Irish rather than antagonise them.
“‘Dingly Dell’ itself is the most difficult to play. On record Lindisfarne are accompanied by brass and strings, but on stage Simon Cowe substitutes wah-wah guitar for both. The effect is not nearly so spell-binding as on the LP and more subdued lighting would have helped. But it’s a very brave attempt at a song with all the subtleties of ‘A Day In The Life’ – and the tempo changes. The trilogy of songs is a little shaky but comes over well enough considering the changes in instruments that go on. Hull does ‘All Fall Down’ at the organ, switches to bass during the jig ‘Plankton’s Lament’ and ends up on guitar for ‘Bring Down The Government’. After six gigs it’ll doubtless run like clockwork.
“A new song, not on the new album and not heard before, was included in this show. ‘United States Of Mind’ is another Hull melancholia with an outstanding instrumental break in the middle. It deserves to go on record.
“Lindisfarne closed with a new version of ‘We Can Swing Together’. It’s tighter and shorter and gone is Ray Jackson’s lengthy harp solo. Inserted in its place is ‘Dingle Regatta’, an instrumental track from the new album that sounds remarkably like an Irish reel. It was a good way to end the show, especially in Ireland.”
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In the event, Lindisfarne’s forward momentum stumbled after Dingley Dell, their third LP, while Genesis went from strength to strength. I still prefer Lindisfarne’s music, and I listened to it a lot earlier this year while writing booklet notes for a multi-CD box set Lindisfarne At The BBC, which Repertoire Records will release in the near future. The notes, all 5,000 words of them, will appear on Just Backdated shortly after the set is released.