Back rooms in pubs, churches and one of the stickiest venues in Sheffield: the best gigs are sometimes in the most unlikely places. The PRS for Music Heritage Award celebrates the places some of our best-known musicians first played. Karen Campbell picks her favourites.
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Launched in November 2009, the PRS for Music Heritage Award celebrates some of the UK’s best artists – and the venues where they first performed.
The scheme sees each live music venue or location marked with a special heritage plaque. Loads of bands have been recipients, including Blur, Spandau Ballet and Pulp, with the award recognising the importance of smaller stages in helping shape some of the UK’s most iconic musical acts.
Here are seven key tracks from those who have bagged the PRS for Music Heritage Award plaque over the years.
Blur at the East Anglian Railway Museum, Essex, 1989
Essex lads Blur played their debut gig in the Goods Yard of the East Anglian Railway Museum near Colchester, the first venue to be honoured by PRS for Music’s Heritage Award Scheme.
One of early Blur’s most brash and energetic releases, Popscene scored a relatively low chart placing (no. 32). But the song was a vital one, not only for the band, as a harbinger of the enormous success that awaited, but also for British music: industry commentators consider it the single that, for better or worse, launched Britpop.
Nearly 25 years on, the band still roll it out at gigs and it remains a much-loved fan favourite.
Jethro Tull at Holy Family Church, Blackpool, 1964
Rock legends Jethro Tull’s roots reach back to the playground, when they met at school in Blackpool. Led by vocalist and flautist Ian Anderson, the band have enjoyed a career spanning four decades and are named as leaders in the UK prog-rock movement, with their absurdly inventive sound reaching sales of more than 60 million albums worldwide.
The title track of their 1971 album Aqualung is the one that propelled them from being a relatively unassuming electrified folk act to larger-than-life conceptual rockers. And it don’t half boast a cracking guitar solo.
UB40 at the Hare & Hounds Pub, Birmingham, 1979
Brummie reggae aficionados UB40 started gigging in their home town and have gone on to do it proud with worldwide success, bringing reggae beats into the living rooms of mums and dads up and down the country.
Huge hits not only here but across the pond (and a none-too-shabby Elvis cover) mean they’ve clocked up more than 70 million in record sales. One of their biggest tunes, One in Ten is a nod to the huge unemployment crisis crippling their hometown in the early 80s and reached number seven in the charts.
James at the Hacienda, Manchester, 1982
Not the first band you’d associate with legendary Manchester venue The Hacienda, but Manc lads James did indeed play one of their first gigs there; a gig attended by a certain Mr Tony Wilson.
Led by charismatic poet Tim Booth, James went on to great success in the 1990s with Factory Records, and their iconic record covers adorned many a student wall.
There’s no other choice, really, is there? Sit Down is the band’s biggest hit, written in homage to ace broads Doris Lessing and Patti Smith.
Soul II Soul at Electric, Brixton, London, 1991
Led by the iconic Jazzie B, the south Londoners played their first full live gig at Brixton venue The Fridge (now the Electric). From there, they achieved worldwide acclaim, selling nearly seven million albums and bagging two Grammys.
I defy anyone not to like Back to Life (However Do You Want Me) and want to swing their hips and raise their arms in a, ‘I wish I was as cool as Caron Wheeler’ kind of way. This was Soul II Soul’s biggest hit and soundtracked the summer of 89, staying at number one for four weeks in June. Capitalising on their UK success, the band quickly hit the top 10 in America, paving their way for future stardom and even bigger hair.
Queen at Imperial College, London, 1970
Rock’n’roll royalty, Queen were honoured by PRS for Music in 2013 with the celebration of the venue for their first ever gig, which took place in July 1970 – imagine being there! Queen subsequently blew the roof off the music biz as it was, filling the charts with amazing songs for decades to come.
Surely most people love a bit of Bohemian Rhapsody? Even if a large number of us immediately think of Wayne and Garth (no bad thing). It’s an absolute monster: that voice, those lyrics (that we still quite don’t understand but sing anyway) and the fact that it was number one for a just over a million weeks… or so it seemed.
Pulp at The Leadmill, Sheffield, 1980
Jarvis and co definitely earned their stripes (and plaque), putting years of graft in before Pulp finally hit the big time. Their first Leadmill gig was back in 1980 where, according to Jarvis, the whole band stunk of cabbage as all their gear had been transported in someone’s vegetable van. Happy, smelly days.
Common People remains one of the finest pop records ever, still guaranteed to fill dancefloors. It’s a seminal track from the forefront of the Britpop movement, thanks in part to its iconic video featuring Jarvis in skinny suit and tie parading around a supermarket with Sadie Frost, all inspired by Cocker’s encounter with a Greek student he met at St Martin’s.
PRS for Music is a society of around 115,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers – our members. We represent the rights of these members (and the members of roughly 150 affiliated societies in nearly 100 countries around the world) by licensing organisations to play, perform or make available music. We then distribute royalties to those members and societies fairly and efficiently.
We have been providing music licences to businesses that play music for customers, employees or both for more than 100 years and the exciting bit is that not only does music benefit businesses, but it also plays a vital role in the creation of new music because nearly 90 per cent of all money collected goes back to our members (the rest on our running costs).
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Karen Campbell is a life coach at www.your-dreamcatcher.com. She likes gin, James McAvoy and pretending she's not from Scunthorpe.