Yes, in a very early gig, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds played in Surbiton, home of TV’s ‘The Good Life’ and butt of the evocative nickname Suburbiton. After nearly thirty years I don’t recall much of the detail of the night, but it remains special to me precisely because gigs such as this normally didn’t happen here.

The Assembly Rooms were quite well-appointed, with a couple of floors and a bar, but in terms of capacity the Main Hall where the gig occurred wasn’t much bigger than a large church hall.

At the time of this concert, Nick Cave was still in the early days of his post-Birthday Party career. The musicians he was working with in this period went through various permutations (although the Birthday Party’s Mick Harvey was a member from the beginning and remained so for many years), as did the band name (Nick Cave and the Cavemen being one which thankfully didn’t linger). The Bad Seeds stems from the title of one of the two stupendous EPs - the other being ‘Mutiny!’ - with which Cave’s previous band had concluded their fiery career, sparking my own interest in them and what Cave would do next. Indeed this was such early days that ‘From Her to Eternity’, his first solo album, had yet to be released although songs from it made up almost the entire set.

My account of the night wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the two support bands.
The Cardiacs were a cult local band who made a sensational entrance onto the stage, all dressed in what appeared to be bellboys’ uniforms (apart from saxophonist Sarah Smith) while sporting livid white zombie-style make-up. They certainly produced an enthusiastic response from their hardcore devotees, but their brand of frantically fast and technically clever music didn’t do much for me. Amusing but not moving, unfortunately.

They were followed by the Moodists, an Australian band who were part of that upsurge of the late 70s and early 80s (the Saints being another example), many of whom came to Britain in search of what they’d come to believe was a musical mecca but were often caustically disappointed by what they found. Yet perhaps this disappointment also served as creative fuel for a sound that featured jagged-edged guitars mixed with singer Dave Graney’s strong, surly vocals and solid, driving rhythms. One image I recall, in the midst of this emotional maelstrom, is the constantly smiling face of drummer Clare Moore. She was also wearing a calf-length skirt, but this didn’t seem to inhibit the steady, sturdy underpinning she provided. I thought they were great, and their records from that time (‘Engine Shudder’ and ‘Thirsty’s Calling’) remain something special.

It was quite something to see Nick Cave’s lanky frame on the compact stage, although at this remove I’m not even sure he was wearing a suit as is his trademark today. I later saw various incarnations of the Bad Seeds, so it would be easy to confuse the characteristic seedy elegance of their appearance on other occasions with this night. I do recall the basic emotion of Cave’s performance, and the power of the band, qualities magnified by the intimacy of the venue.

The main memory I have, however, cherished all these years is of a break between songs when a wag called out “Where’s Blixa?” Einsturzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld had played on some of the Birthday Party’s final songs, and then become one of the
free-floating members of the early Bad Seeds. Some internet sites assert that, although he was not part of the gigs earlier in May, he was back for Surbiton. As an eyewitness I have to dispute this for, having let the question of Bargeld’s whereabouts hang for a second, my memory is that Cave replied “Home in bed,” followed by a desert-dry “where you should be.”

If I don’t recall specific details, I nevertheless retain a real impression of the power of Cave and his band even at this stage. In fact I was moved to write a review of the gig and send it in to ‘Jamming’, a music monthly of the time. It was returned with a note saying that they thought it was good but had recently decided to stop running concert reviews. Unfortunately I don’t seem to have retained it, but writing this piece after nearly thirty years I feel a sense of completion. I know I ended the review with some kind of metaphorical flourish along the lines of “If this is the first budding of the Bad Seeds, what might the full flowering be like?” Nick Cave’s subsequent prolific and passionate career, as singer, musician, songwriter and author, has certainly more than fulfilled the promise that was beginning to open out that night in a small suburban hall.

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Commenting On: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Surbiton Assembly Rooms, Surbiton, 1984 - Gig of a Lifetime

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23902 Posted By: Joe De Souza (Kingston, UK)

I was at that gig, arranged by the Ents team at Kingston Polytechnic (as Kingston University was called then.)
it's quite amazing to see Cave's trajectory since then. I was pissed off at the time for having missed seeing the Birthday Party in their heyday. But now I feel blessed to have seen arguably the best incarnation of the Bad Seeds - though not necessarily Cave at the height of his creative powers. I do wonder from time to time what Mick Harvey is up to these days. He was Nick's right hand man for so long, replaced by Blixa and eventually by Warren Ellis. But you've got to hand it to Nick Cave, he's not only survived but thrived. From a small dance hall in Surbiton to global phenomenon in 40 years. It's a miracle if anything lasts longer than 5 minutes these days.

21597 Posted By: Vaughan (London)

Fucking hell, Eek a Mouse played the Surbiton Assembly rooms too. Jeez

21596 Posted By: Vaughan (London)

My wife was at this gig! She took her school French exchange student along with her. The French girl hated the band to the point of almost being frightened of them apparently.

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