You would think that, at his age, TONY CLAYTON-LEAwould be more interested in his tomato plants than in choosing which gig to go to. But, 35 years after he first saw Iggy Pop, he is still enthralled by live musicIS IT 35 YEARS? Don’t be ridiculous. It couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t. Er, actually, hold on a minute: I do believe it is 35 years since I first saw not only my first life-changing gig but also the event that kick-started a cultural revolution in my head. It was Iggy Pop, in London, at a venue that was then the Rainbow Theatre but now belongs to the Brazilian Pentacostalist Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. Not to worry: a religious experience is a religious experience, whatever the venue.
Back then I had short hair and wore straight-legged jeans and Doc Marten boots. NME was my weekly bible of cultural reference points: anything that Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent, Tony Parsons or Julie Burchill recommended to read, see or hear, I’d do just that. London is a mind-expanding city at any time, of course, but in 1977 and 1978 punk rock hadn’t yet levelled out to become a caricature of itself; there were no ostrich-coiffured punks strolling along Kings Road or Camden High Street tapping tourists for money. The music was the thing, and, in my experience at least, it was as close to the real deal as anyone from a provincial Irish town could imagine.
Seeing Iggy Pop headline a major London venue at about the time punk rock was at its most influential seemed just that little bit more exciting. And, besides, what wasn’t to love about milling into the Tube station at Finsbury Park with several hundred Stooges fans singing Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell?
I recall that gig as if it were last night: from the early 1970s, Iggy Pop’s friendship with David Bowie had given him a new lease of life, and Pop’s proto-punk band The Stooges had attained enviable regard from London’s leading punk-rock acts.
But it was as much Pop as the music that the audience was into: I have never seen anyone, before or since, utilise his body as if it were a pliable work of art. Bowie’s lyric from the Ziggy Stardust album track Hang on to Yourself about moving “like tigers on Vaseline” could have been written about Pop, for he slithered and prowled around on that stage, barracking and beckoning the crowd to do things that, collectively, an audience really shouldn’t.
There is something incredibly compelling about a performer who seems to care little about his physical wellbeing; it’s a car-crash scenario that sucks you in, and, when the performer is as fearless as Pop, an element of danger gets dragged into a mix that includes potent rock music, stimulants of varying kinds and the sense that all the audience members are misfits or miscreants just like you.
I remember leaving the venue and walking towards the Tube station, jostling my way past other fans, and thinking not only how invincible was my belief in the power of brilliant music but also how invulnerable that belief made me feel. Thirty-five years later I still feel the same (performing pop clowns notwithstanding), but I have often asked myself why that is the case. What is it about the live-music experience that continues to scratch at what is clearly a severe itch?