Anyone Buyin’ or Sellin’?: A Fraction of My Life in Gig Tickets

Twenty years ago tomorrow, on a brisk but sunny May 2nd, I was allowed to get out of school early. My mission, approved only after some abject begging, was to hang around outside the SFX (St. Francis Xavier Hall) on Dublin’s Northside, in a bid to meet Nick Cave. It was his first Irish gig, and he was, and still remains, one of my musical heroes. When Nick and the band arrived, around 5pm, it was clear he’d already had a nip or two of sherry, but he was kind, and even wrote a note to an Irish pal who was an even bigger Nick fan than me. She was – in a bittersweet act of geographical switcheroo – in Australia, while Nick was here. My boyfriend offered to take a photo of us, and I almost keeled over when Cave put his arm around me. Suddenly, I realised that I couldn’t show the prized pic to my parents. At least not until I guillotined a bit off the end and defaced the photo with a dot of black marker, to obscure the cigarette I was holding in my teenage hand.

It was was the first of many Nick Cave gigs. I’ve seen him play in a New York tiered venue, lecture on the history of the love letter in a theatre, got pulled out of the front row of a London gig after being crushed (and was more worried that I had inadvertently flashed the nearby TV cameras in the process) and wow a tiny tent full of people in a field in Cork, duetting with Will Oldham on The Palace Brother’s New Partner – one of the most favourite gig memories of all time. I know that Nick signed my Dublin ticket, but to this day, it remains an elusive rectangular phantom. Instead, there is this one, from the same year, just months later.

I discovered it in a small box of keepsakes during a recent rummage for some grown-up form, or a child’s birth cert. Alongside old USIT cards and long-forgotten boys’ phone numbers and penpal addresses, was an assortment of gig tickets, starting with my first “big gig” – REM’s Green Tour in 1989. The only reason my parents allowed me to go was because my older brother was going. My younger brother complained that he wanted to tag along too. Then my dad started to believe the hype and got himself a ticket. 4/5ths of the Gleesons attended, but I – clad in my Wonder Stuff t-shirt, thinking I was the bee’s knees – was the one my dad kept offering to buy minerals for. Mortification then, but something I joked about with him when we went to see Paul Simon together last year. That first gig was a spectacular show, with REM almost topped by their support act, The Go-Betweens.

What strikes me now is that the chronology of these forgotten tickets is interesting, as much for what remains as for the absences. There are no tickets beyond 1994, the year before I moved out of home. I went to countless more gigs around that time, but these are the stubs that have survived. They are their own stories. When I moved out, my gig-going increased, due to living in town, but where are all those hundreds of reminders? There are so many circular elements and links too. Last December, in the corridor of a Dingle hotel, I chatted to Edwyn Collins, who came to Dublin a year after the huge success of his single, A Girl Like You.

On that same December night outside a Dingle bar, I stood in sleety rain beneath the stars. Huddled under an eave, Jason Pierce and I wracked our brains, collectively trying to remember the exact date I’d first seen his band Spiritualized. I knew the year, he guessed the month.

That January weekend in 1993 was the weekend Dublin’s Tivoli first opened as a gig venue (I went to see Clint Mansell’s Pop Will Eat Itself the following night), and there are a glut of 1993 stubs from the same venue. In March, Suede – high on the success of their first few singles The Drowners and Metal Mickey, arrived in Dublin. The gig sold out weeks in advance and had to be stopped several times due to chronic crowd crushes.

Two months later, as sweat dripped off the ceiling, there was similar hysteria when The Sundays played. Their singer Harriet, a bird-like waif possessed of a gorgeous voice reduced grown men all around me to either fainting (honestly) or chanting her name.

Looking at the Tivoli tickets, with their metallic trim, they look positively futuristic, when compared to tickets of old:

But at least the Morrissey ticket is printed, and stands a better chance of not being counterfeited, unlike this one for a Henry Rollins’ that someone scribbled on the front as if it were a raffle ticket. The cheap, unremarkable stub gives no clue to the night itself.  Rollins had the audience guffawing along until the end, until he literally punched us collectively in the gut by telling the story of his best friend Joe, who had been shot and killed right beside him during a mugging, just ten weeks earlier.

Seeing Rollins speak – hurling thoughts and ideas and concepts like hammers – is affecting, but his musical performances rank as hugely intense experiences. The night after this spoken word, he signed albums in Comet Records (he wrote ‘Be nice’ on my copy of The End of Silence, in reference to something Sinéad O’Connor had just done) and supported the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. My sole reason for buying a ticket, was to see Rollins, and he blew the headline act off the stage. Years later, my husband would tell me that he was at this gig for the same reason as me.

Seeing bands so close together often gave a good idea of how tight they were as performers, but how much their Irish fanbase increased in a relatively short period of time. In 1991, Sonic Youth played McGonagles, with not a ticket to be had in advance. Their performance was an assault. Frantic, blistering and one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to.

It was no surprise when, less than a year later they returned to play Dun Laoghaire’s long-closed Top Hat venue, with a little-known band called Nirvana as support. Myself and my friend Colm got there early to see them, having worn out our US-bought copies of Bleach directly from their label Sub Pop. The gig was a year before the release of Nevermind, and most of the audience didn’t know who the soon-to-massive trio were.

Similarly, The Beastie Boys sweated up a storm at the Tivoli (and chatted to fans outside on Francis Street afterwards) only to play again (and sell out) eight months later in the big main hall of the RDS.

There are the bands who sign your tickets – and Mark Eitzel, j’accuse! Just last week, I heard a Nick Drake song on the radio and realised how much Eitzel & co. had, er, borrowed from it for American Music Club’s heart-breaker classic, Will You Find Me?

There are stubs from eccentric singers who insisted that they would “only play castles” on their current tour. Cue a hasty compromise by the promoter in booking Julian Cope to play Royal Hospital Kilmainham. And not a marquee or a Forbidden Fruit-style set-up, but an *actual* room inside. I remember royal blue deep pile carpets and paintings of white-wigged 18th century gents on horses adorning the walls.

Or singers who are eccentric, but draw the line at playing castles (yes you, Mark E. Smith) and you bump into them in the back laneway of the venue as you’re leaving the gig, wondering how they managed to get off the stage so quickly.

Or the first time at a gig that you notice that everyone else around you is on drugs and thinking that maybe they’re having a better time than you.

And the one where being up the front in the moshpit seemed almost as bad an idea as going to see Fugazi in the tiny cave that was McGonagles, packed to the rafters and ON CRUTCHES.

And being reminded that if some bands are better than others when it comes to talking politics – especially when they pass microphones into the crowd to get the views of their audience (which often end up on their albums).

I can’t remember the last time I held on to a gig ticket. In a post-Internet world, perhaps we don’t have the same regard for objects that we used to.  We buy music that we never physically hold in our hands and have regular conversations online with people we’ve never been in the same room as. There’s a tactility these tickets. They’re right here. And leafing through this box, I realised that’s why I kept them. The gigs themselves were brilliant, formative, part of growing up, but looking at the stubs, small details of each night drift back me: how I snagged a huge hole in my fishnets at Sonic Youth in McGonagles; getting the number 75 bus to Dun Laoghaire’s Top Hat; of being smitten by a Canadian boy I met at The Beastie Boys or nearly knocking over that blue-haired MTV presenter and her camera crew as I ran from Consolidated and into the night for the last tube. All memories are scraps and fragments, but they can leave an indelible mark – even on four or five square inches of paper with a holographic security seal.

(by Sinéad Gleeson)

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14 thoughts on “Anyone Buyin’ or Sellin’?: A Fraction of My Life in Gig Tickets

  1. Cheryl says:

    Suede, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, The Sundays…amazing gigs. Now I wish I’d kept my old ticket stubs too. Most of my first gigs would be too embarassing to talk about though!

  2. Oliver Farry says:

    Great post, Sinéad. I was thinking about this the other night after I was forced to use a stub from a Baxter Dury gig I went to last week as a bookmark. I used to always keep my ticket stubs too but I’m unsure where they are now. Somewhere in the old country no doubt. A friend from Leixlip who lived in Paris for a few years had a framed collage of concert tickets in his toilet – they spanned the years from Sonic Youth and Nirvana in the Top Hat to The White Stripes in the Olympia in Paris years later.

  3. Ronan Kelly says:

    I was at a load of those gigs too, and kept my tickets from The Wonder Stuff in the SFX in ’89 all the way through. BTW, Nirvana supported Sonic Youth around a month before Nevermind came out, not a year. I was drinking cans outside the side of the Top Hat listening to the soundchecks for both of them.

    I used to go to the Rock Garden alot in the mid ’90s. Saw some great gigs there, but they never issued tickets. Saw Pavement, Daisy Chainsaw, Senseless Things, Whipping Boy, Power Of Dreams, Rollerskate Skinny and many others, but I’m sure there’s many that I forgot I went to. If only I had the ticket stubs 🙂

    I think one of the things about tickets these days is they’re all the same. Generic ticketmaster printouts. For most people they’re not worth keeping, but I found mine recently when moving house and each ticket brought back a memory or two of each gig, some of which I’d forgotten about for years!

    • I LOVED the Wonder Stuff and got my dad (who was collecting me from the gig – also in the SFX in 1989) to bring all my 12″s and the band signed them. I have photos somewhere of me with Miles, Malcolm and – RIP – The Bass Thing.

      Argh – I missed that rogue typo (it was meant to say ‘month’) but I typed this post up very late when my eyeballs had mutinied.

      I loved the Rock Garden. Saw The Young Gods, Blue Aeroplanes, Sheep on Drugs and lots of others then.

      Totally agree on the homogeny of gig tickets these days. There’s uniqueness to them, never mind graphic flair.

      Hope this post helps kickstart some gig memories. 🙂

      • Ronan Kelly says:

        Ahh, Sheep on Drugs – forgot about that one. I think he kept shining a really bright torch into the crowd. Pity their 15 minutes of fame didn’t last too long, they never matched the intensity of the first album. Back to the planet played there around the same time and saw them do a free gig in Trinity a few days later – it was Trinity Ball weekend and they were playing.

        What I also used to do was write down the name of the support band on the back of the ticket to remember them Teenage Fanclub in one of their first gigs supported Sonic Youth in McGonagles. Really great gig. I saw MBV play the SFX on the Loveless tour, with support by Shake, who a few weeks later changed their name to Rollerskate Skinny.

        Thanks for kickstarting the memories, now I think I’ll go listen to “Dark side of the 80s” and see what other ones crop up.

  4. nlgbbbblth says:

    Great post Sinéad. Many old favourites and great memories awakened from looking at those tickets. Looking at the prices now makes me think “wow what great value we got”. The Pixies in the National Stadium, 1 October 1990 was £6.00 or £6.50, The all-in price of bus from Waterford (return trip) plus ticket was £10. Cheers to KG Discs. A mate met us outside but had no ticket. He gave a tout £35 which we all thought was crazy money – the equivalent of a fortnight’s rent in Dublin. I also heard about some dude paying £70 to get into Sonic Youth at McGonagles the month before.

    I’m pretty sure The Wonderstuff gig that Ronan mentions was oversold – leading to a crammed SFX. Hup to the max.

    • Joss says:

      I can’t think of that Fall gig in the Tivoli without remembering your altercation with Ken Griffin from Rollerskate Skinny, Paul. Classic stuff!

  5. dubdoug says:

    Deadly post. I’d say Morrissey would be happy that the ticket for his Stadium show is a clear winner on aesthetics.

  6. arvels says:

    ‘a recent rummage for some grown-up form, or a child’s birth cert. Alongside old USIT cards and long-forgotten boys’ phone numbers and penpal addresses, was an assortment of gig tickets’
    Love it, so true.
    I could pepper this article with speechbubble recollections…
    Somewhere in my memory boxes is a similar Julian Cope ticket – but for Blackrock Castle, where he railed against the Romans & their straight roads in daffy duck shorts, and I thought I knew where we could get veggie takeaway after midnight (imagine that!). Cue pointless drive around in the Copemobile, convo accidentally taped & in a box somewhere too, slowly degrading like my aging memory, until I need that birth cert or college transcript

  7. Great stuff Sinead. I was at that American Music Club show and have Eitzel’s signature on my ticket too. I was at that Fall gig but went to see Rollerskate Skinny supporting and some dude in the audience kept telling them they were shit. He was swiftly told to fuck off.

  8. kirstiemcd says:

    Lovely post! We don’t have a lot of crossover but That PWEI gig in the Tivoli was a cracker. I nerdily, have a lot of my very old ones in a couple of photo albums but started chucking them in the 2000s when they got to be very homogenous – pages of identikit ticketmaster ones weren’t so appealing.

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