As a teenager I went to many gigs at the Hammersmith Odeon, and even went to a couple before turning 13. It was the largest cinema in the UK at the time (around 3,500 seats) and the scene of many childhood visits to the pictures, like those recalled in this piece. By the time I was 13 it was used increasingly for live music. It currently bears the name “The Eventim Apollo” but it will always be the Odeon to people of my generation.
I went to school just down the road from the venue. When we reached the equivalent of Year 9 as it is now called (the third year of senior school) we were allowed to leave school at lunchtime. Before that we were not allowed off school premises before 3.45pm. For a few of us a stroll to the Odeon became a regular trip on Tuesday lunchtimes.
Back then there were three weekly music papers: the Melody Maker, the NME and Sounds. They were our main sources of music news, especially for details of upcoming gigs. This was the 1970s. There was no world wide web. All three papers were available to buy on Wednesday morning. Some shops stocked them on Tuesday evening, so if you got hold of one you felt ahead of the game. For a while, aged 12, I would buy the Melody Maker. At 13 I started buying Sounds. By then our school library stocked Melody Maker and NME so there was no need to buy either of them.
Our Tuesday lunchtime strolls to the Odeon gave us a head start on anyone who relied on the music press for news of forthcoming gigs. Tickets would almost always be available ahead of the announcements in the papers. For a couple of years, aged 14 and 15, I was able to get seats in the front five rows for nearly every show I saw at the Hammersmith Odeon. Sometimes there was a trade-off. Is it better to be at the edge of the front row or in the middle of Row C or D? Usually it was better to be in the middle, a few rows back. You could see the whole of the stage more clearly and you weren’t sat directly in front of a huge bank of speakers. We were rather spoilt in those years, always up near the front and paying the same as everyone else in the Stalls. Tickets in the Circle were cheaper but I only sat in the Circle three times, when someone else bought the tickets.
Most of the acts I saw back then were established rock bands and guitarists: Rory Gallagher, Frank Zappa, Black Sabbath, Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Jethro Tull, Bob Seger. I had seats in the front few rows for all of these acts and also for The Brothers Johnson, Ian Dury and the Blockheads and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band (though that last gig was postponed and never rearranged). If I were a few years older I’d have been watching Slade, ELP, Mott the Hoople and maybe David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars show, the one where he announced that Ziggy was no more. In the days before we worked out how to get tickets ahead of everyone else I was usually 15 or 20 rows back, for shows by the likes of Sparks, Dr Feelgood and Supertramp
My first experience of the front row came at the age of 12. My mother bought tickets for me and a friend to see 10cc, and her timing was excellent. She happened to be at the box office on the morning the band announced an extra date. The show that she was originally going to buy tickets for had nearly sold out but she was able to get us front row seats for the additional date. There was a very long queue when she arrived but it turned out that everyone else was waiting for Eric Clapton tickets, which had gone on sale that morning. A succession of rockers tried to persuade her that she should treat her son to the Slow Handed One instead but she knew that 10cc were my favourite band. I would see Clapton soon enough. After that 10cc gig it was nearly two years before I was sat in the front row of the Odeon again.
My years of front row seats came to an end before I turned 16. By then most of the gigs I went to were in smaller venues: pubs, clubs and standing room only places like the Roundhouse or Lyceum. Most of the bands I saw at these other places would not go on to play venues as big as the Odeon. Some, like Simple Minds or a support band I saw in 1978 called The Police, would go on to play much larger venues. At the Roundhouse, Marquee, Hope & Anchor, Red Cow or Nashville Rooms you could get to the front if you arrived early enough, of if you didn’t mind a bit of jostling. At some of these places though, depending on who was playing, being at the front meant having the back of your head covered in spit. It’s easy to forget that some deluded people spat at the stage whenever a live band was playing, even if it was the band they had paid to see. It wouldn’t happen at a Steel Pulse gig, but it would certainly happen for bands like Buzzcocks or the Stranglers.
The last time I saw live music at the Odeon was in 2010. Iggy & the Stooges were playing the whole of “Raw Power” and a couple of us bought tickets on the night from one of the touts outside. They cost about a tenner more than face value. Would we be anywhere near the front row, like we were in our teenage years? The question wasn’t relevant. The seats had all been removed, and, like most of the venues I had been to in the previous 30-odd years, even the Eventim “Hammersmith Odeon” Apollo was now standing room only.