First gigs can be pretty nerve-wracking – just ask these 35 huge bands who, before becoming huge best-sellers, arena-dwelling mega stars and in some cases, generation-defining icons, kicked off their careers in grimy pub backrooms and other far-from-glamorous settings. Every band has to start somewhere – here’s how the Velvet Underground, Sex Pistols, Arctic Monkeys and more made their first forays into live music…
The Velvet Underground played their first gig 49 years ago today (November 12) at Summit High School in New Jersey. Having recorded a demo tape a few months earlier, the band were paid $75 to play, which caused drummer Angus MacLise to quit, protesting they were "selling out."
The Sex Pistols kicked off their career as they meant to go on, trashing the stage at their November 6 1975 show at London's Saint Martins College, damaging equipment loaned to them by headline act, pub rockers Bazooka Joe. Bazooka Joe were understandably upset, sparking a brawl with the Pistols. The group managed to squeeze in a couple of Who and Small Faces covers before the chaos, though.
Arctic Monkeys were paid a paltry £27 for their inaugural live performance at the Grapes Pub in Sheffield on 13 June 2003, where they covered the White Stripes' 'Hotel Yorba' and the Undertones' 'Teenage Kicks'. There were a couple of early Turner originals in their set list too: audio of a track called 'Ravey Ravey Ravey Club' is floating around the internet if you have a dig.
The Beatles' first gig was either August 7 1957 or Feb 9 1961 depending on how you look at it. The show in '57 was under their original name The Quarrymen at Liverpool's Cavern Club and didn't feature Paul McCartney, who was away at scout camp. The '61 show, as The Beatles this time, was a lunchtime gig at the same venue that saw George nearly denied admission 'cos he was wearing jeans.
31 January 1995 is a date Biffy Clyro die-hard fans should know: it's the date of the Scot rockers' first ever show, at the Key Youth Centre in East Kilbride. Having formed in Kilmarnock at school, the trio played under the name Skrewfish, supporting a band called Pink Kross.
Approximately eight people turned up to the Black Keys' first ever show on March 20, 2002, at Beachland Ballroom & Tavern in Cleveland. “Yeah, and half of those people were our friends,” remembers Patrick Carney now. A far cry from the tens of thousands of people who packed out to see them when they headlined Latitude earlier this summer, eh?
The story of Mark Foster of Foster The People's first show is a classic. Back then, he was playing in a hardcore band. Before playing a battle of the bands at their school, he and his band mates took LSD, ended up going on this "really long, crazy trip" which resulted in a fist fight, with Mark breaking down in tears.
Oasis played their first ever live gig on 18 August 1991 at the Boardwalk club in Manchester - without Noel Gallagher. Noel was a roadie for Inspiral Carpets at the time, and didn't think much of the group's performance, but thought the group his brother Liam had assembled might work well as an outlet for songs he'd been working on.
Matt Bellamy smashed his guitar and amp at the first ever Muse show, at a battle of the bands contest at Broadmeadow Sports Centre in February 1994. A security guard tried to haul him off stage, but he slipped free and continued in the destruction. What a rock star.
"Scarring" is the word Bombay Bicycle Club's Jack Steadman uses to describe their first ever show - in assembly at their North London school, covering Tom Vek and seminal '70s funksters the Meters' 'Sissy Strut' for their bemused classmates. "It was a bit of a disaster, but it set us up for future disasters to come," he says.
Chvrches' first show was in July 2012 at the Art School in Glasgow, performing under the name Shark Week. Having garnered industry attention before playing live, "we were concerned about failing spectacularly in front of half of the A&Rs in the country," remembers instrumentalist Martin, "so we decided to play two gigs under a fake name so we could suck then get better."
The Killers' first gig was in January 2002 at an open mic night at the Cafe Espresso Roma in Las Vegas. Then comprised of just Brandon Flowers and guitarist Dave Keuning, the pair handed out free copies of their demo afterwards.
Foals' first show, like many of their early dates, even as things began to heat up for the mathy Oxford crew, was at a house party on the city's Cowley Road in 2007. "It was a friend's house and we played in the basement... It was pretty shoddy but it was a fun night."
April 24 1977 was the date of the Cure's first ever gig at Saint Edward's Hall in Crawley. Of course, then they were known as Easy Cure, and fronted by Peter O’Toole, who made way for Robert Smith a few months later. The rest, as they say, was history.
Pixies' first gig was in 1986 at Jack's in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "No-one was there and they got our name wrong" they recall. "We were advertised as the Puxies. That was a bummer."
On September 16 1965, a young Brixton-born musician who'd been touring under the name Davie Jones renamed himself David Bowie. Less than a month later, on October 8, at Soho, London's Marquee Club, the first ever Bowie live show took place and history was made.
There's a plaque at Basildon's James Hornsby School, where Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan and Martin Gore met, commemorating the group's first ever gig, which took place there in May 1980.
Blur made their live debut on June 41 1989 - although then they were Seymour. The venue? The East Anglian Railway Museum at a birthday party for a relative of Damon Albarn. No really. "We were extremely energetic, pushing the drum kit over and smashing guitars. We went down very well, they absolutely loved us,” the band later told the Guardian.
The Doors' Robby Krieger has fond memories of their inaugural live performance, on November 19 1965. “The first gig we ever played was at Hughes Aircraft [in California] where Ray’s [Manzarek, co-founder] mom worked... a Christmas party or something. We had to play jazz standards and stuff like that. Jim had never done a gig before and somehow we got through the gig. It was fun!”
The Smiths' first show with a full lineup came on debuted February 4 1983 at Manchester's Haçienda. "Morrissey had started yodelling by then, and he'd get down on his shoulders and put his legs straight into the air... None of this was rehearsed. I remember watching the faces of the people at the front. It was just shock: "What the hell is this?"" Mike Joyce told the Guardian in 2012.
Eminem's first show was not a success. "I got booed. And it was very traumatic for me. I just remember it being so fucking traumatic, and I think I went home and I was like, man, I quit." Good thing he didn't in the end - having overcome his nerves live, he's now one of music's biggest grossing live performers, earning a reported £1m for his Reading and Leeds headline sets last year.
The Horrors' first show, back when they were Tim Burton-styled goth-rockers instead of the indie brooders they are today, was on August 16 2005, at The Spread Eagle on Kingsland Road in London. Faris Badwan remembers: "we played that first gig and then got booked for another one and by the third we were already starting to talk to labels, so it happened really fast."
Imagine seeing Pulp for only 60p! That was the reality for fans at their first gig at Rotherham Arts Centre in July 1980, although of course they didn't have any fans then.
Led Zeppelin had only practiced for "about 15 hours together" before playing their first show on September 7, 1968 in Gladsaxe, Denmark. "It was sort of an experimental concert to see if we were any good, I guess," says Jimmy Page. The set contained a few Yardbirds favourites, as well as raw early incarnations of songs from their debut album.
U2 played their first show in their school canteen, at a talent contest in late 1976 under the name Feedback. "I don't think we won," remembers Bono, dryly.
A first gig befitting their moody post-punk brilliance: Joy Division's first show (under the name Warsaw, a nod to Bowie's 'Warszawa') was on 29 May 1977, supporting the Buzzcocks, Penetration and John Cooper Clarke at the Electric Circus in Manchester. NME's Paul Morley rightly described them as a revelation.
Foo Fighters' first show was a low key affair, taking place on February 19 1995 above a boat house in Seattle, in front of friends and family. Their first proper show, if you want to get technical, was a few days later on February 23 at the Jambalaya Club in Arcata, California. "It was a weight off my shoulders," remembers Dave Grohl, playing his first gig since Nirvana's demise.
Long before elevating to Glastonbury headliner status, Kasabian's first show was at The Shed in Leicester in 1998. Frontman Tom Meighan, not wanting to be seen walking onto the stage like "everyone else in the room", hid behind the group's drum kit till the rest of the band were onstage. "I strutted out like Led Zeppelin," he recalls.
Kings of Leon's first gig was "one of the scariest moments of my entire life," says Caleb Followill. Performing at Smith's Olde Bar in Atlanta, "we walked in and saw all the cowboy hats, and I said to the guys, 'You fucking country it up. Tonight, these songs will be alternative country.' We went out there and people were takin' their cowboy hats off, goin' 'Whoo!' and fucking lovin' it."
In August 2013, Royal Blood decided to form a band on a Monday, had a rehearsal on the Tuesday then played their first gig a day later. “It was just in a local bar [in Worthing], to our friends, so it was an environment where there was no pressure... it was very clear people were enjoying what was going on as much as we were,” Mike Kerr said in an interview earlier this year.
The Libertines' first gig was in 1998, at Carl Barat and Pete Doherty’s basement flat on London's Camden Road, which the pair referred to as The Delaney Mansions. The show described by the band as "a debauched shindig" interrupted half way through when the electricity ran out and a hat was passed around to collect coins for the meter. Classic.
Nirvana jammed Led Zeppelin's 'Heartbreaker' and 'How Many Times' at their first show, at a Raymond, Washington house party on March 7 1987. These were the days before Dave Grohl, so Aaron Burckhard played drums.
As first forays into live music go, Phoenix's is a weird one - a gig at a castle in Versailles, supporting members of Daft Punk, under the name Love Boat, in front of a crowd who "were mostly eating sandwiches," the band told NME last year. "It was quite a strange one."
Radiohead - or On A Friday as they were then known - played their first ever show was at the Jericho Tavern in Oxford on August 4 1986. It went well, according to Colin Greenwood, who reminisced on the gig with NME last year.
Metronomy's debut was at grimy Brighton venue Ocean Rooms in October 2004. Joe Mount told NME: "in those days we didn’t really do anything, we had a backing track and we were miming pretty much." Even then, they put on a theatrical show. "A few days before I saw these lights in a pound shop and I thought ‘we’ll whack these on our t-shirts and do some synchronised light shows!’"