The Great British Music Weekend 1991

At the end of 1990 adverts began to appear in the music press for what was billed as ‘The Great British Music Weekend’ at Wembley Arena. Initially I hesitated as my experience of Wembley Arena wasn’t great. Luckily when I saw R.E.M there I was near the front but the soulless atmosphere of the place left me cold. Living in North West London we were spoilt for decent venues, with Camden, Kentish Town, Kilburn, Islington and the West End an easy tube journey away. All these places had, as well as venues, a range of decent pubs to while away the time pre-gig. These pre-gig pints made each gig more of an event. Wembley however, despite being just up the road from where I lived, didn’t really have much going for it.

However I noticed that some of the the adverts were showing the option of standing tickets. This sounded like an improvement so tickets were purchased for the Saturday night. The event ran Friday to Sunday, each evening focusing on a different genre. Friday was baggy / Madchester, Saturday was indie leaving Sunday for the rock / metal fans.

Bearing in mind I was only two tube stops from Wembley I’m unsure why I didn’t go to the Friday night as well. The line-up was Candyland, Northside, 808 State, The Farm, James and Happy Mondays. Doesn’t sound bad does it? I’d have probably gone for a beer during 808 State but the rest of the line-up would have made a good evening. It may have been Happy Monday’s that put me off. I’ve got some of their stuff but I’ve never really ‘got’ them. I still should have gone just to see James. Never mind.

The Sunday line-up was a definite no from the outset. Wolfsbane, Little Angels, Magnum, Thunder, Quireboys and Ozzy Osbourne.

So come the 19th of January Pete and I took the short trek to Wembley Arena. After getting a pint of average lager we made our way into the vast arena. We headed towards the front, taking in the enormous stage. The place filled up quickly with an indie band t-shirt wearing crowd and the obvious Cure fan contingent.

Standing near the front you could forget about the enormous space behind you, that way it felt much like a night at a normal sized venue. Up first was Billy Bragg, a constant presence during my 80s/90s gig going, a line-up wasn’t really complete without Billy Bragg somewhere within it. As always, a great start to the evenings festivities. After Billy had done his thing on came Ride.

Their astonishing debut album had been released in October and this was an opportunity to see them before they started their UK tour. They came on, long sleeved tops and Rickenbackers, and proceeded to blow the roof off. It was only a short set, there were lots to get through, but in that short time they made a lasting impression. I’ve got a clear memory of standing watching them being overwhelmed by what I was hearing. The set was:

Dreams Burn Down
Vapour Trail
Chelsea Girl

I don’t think there was a better live act around at that time. There’s something about their sound that really hit me emotionally more so than other groups. That sense of anticipation knowing that in a few seconds the sound was going to go into overdrive, the incredible drumming with those dreamy vocals over the top. Looking back it was Ride’s set that I recall the most clearly.

The whole evening was broadcast on Radio One and some it was also broadcast on the TV. This means you can relive the experience here…

We were left quite breathless after their set came to an end. Sadly there wasn’t any time for encores so we awaited the next act on the bill. Another group that I’d not yet seen live, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. I’d purchased the ‘101 Damnations’ album as well as the singles and was looking forward to experiencing them live. They were as good as I’d hoped. A short but sweet set bursting with energy that got the livelier members of the crowd jumping about at the front.

They started off with ‘Rubbish’ followed by ‘R.S.P.C.E’. I’ve always been impressed with Carter’s output and their ability to write songs containing humour and tragedy at the same time. A feat probably only matched by Wirral’s greatest export. ‘My Second to Last Will and Testament’ off the soon to be released ’30 Something’ album came next. The place then went a bit nuts when ‘Sheriff Fatman’ started. They finished up with a cover of the Pet Shop Boy’s ‘Rent’ and then they were gone. I’d like to hope that they gained a few new fans on the strength of their set.

I’m not sure whether we went for a beer at this point but I can’t recall much, if anything, about the next two groups. As I don’t possess anything by either of them I can only assume if I did catch them I wasn’t particularly moved. I’m fairly predictable, if I see a group I like live then I invariably purchase their latest album or single and then start researching their back catalogue. As I don’t possess anything by Jesus Jones or New Model Army they must have left me cold.

Maybe I was just gearing myself up for the penultimate act. I recall pushing through the packed crowd to get within moshing distance ready for the arrival of The Wedding Present. I’m not sure I could have wished for a better set. They kicked off with what is still one my all time favourites, ‘Dalliance’, as expected the front of the stage got quite lively. There wasn’t any time to catch your breath as they followed on with ‘Corduroy’ and then ‘Crawl’.

The moshpit was now resembling your standard Weddoes gig, a mess of very sweaty bodies and lots of smiling faces. Those grins became even wider once the opening chords of ‘Brassneck’ filled the arena. Off we went again shouting ‘Brassneck’ at the top of our voices relishing every second of it. Even better though, up next was ‘Don’t Talk Just Kiss’, another one of my favourites. The frenetic chorus resulted in mayhem.

But it wasn’t ending there, an unmistakable trebly guitar introduction rang out and we all joined in ‘Lost your love of life? Too much apple pie’. This was turning out to be quite an exhausting set.

Before we knew it the set came to an end with the Steve Harley cover ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) off the ‘3 Songs’ E.P.

Altogether a tremendous set. With The Wedding Present leaving the stage there was also a change of audience. In a very polite fashion a lot of the exhausted Wedding Present fans went for a drink or lie down whilst the spaces up front were taken over by The Cure fan contingent.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The Cure. At this point I think the only Cure album I owned was ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’. Single-wise I only had ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and ‘Catch’ so you couldn’t really call me much of a fan of their stuff. Not sure why, it was probably down to something as shallow as the way they looked. Poor excuse really, but how groups looked was a really important factor in deciding whether to purchase records. I’d like to think I’ve moved on a bit. Possibly…

Despite this I was looking forward to hearing them live. They were preceded by a considerable amount of dry ice which enveloped the stage. It wasn’t long before, through the mist, that distinctive haircut was visible. I have to say they were impressive and I’m not sure why I haven’t made an effort to see them more often. They have certain songs that really pull at your heartstrings, ‘Pictures of You’ for example brings a tear to my eye as I’m listening to it now.

The set had a bit of everything as you can hear for yourself…..

It was a really memorable evening, I’ve asked my mate Pete for his recollections of the gig. He can’t even remember going. Apparently not quite as memorable as I thought it was.

4 thoughts on “The Great British Music Weekend 1991

  1. This is a fantastic write up!! Thanks. I was there the same night. It was really good, I ended being there with a girl I saw at other gigs and was on the periphery of my friends at the time, she saw me and let me skip the queue with her. We ended up going to see They Might Be Giants together, of course I was too stupid to notice she liked me.
    Anyway my abiding memory is being nearly killed in the crush at the front when Ride came in, wondering what the fuck New Model Army we’re doing in the bill (auld crusties that they were) and The Stranglers Always The Sun being on the screens endlessly.
    The Cure were bloody wonderful, and Bob wanted to keep playing g to my memory (I’d seen them on the Prayer Tour a few month previously).
    This wrote up brings it all
    Back!! Thanks again.


    1. Thanks Nick, it was a great night, one that feels like a dream. I was used to seeing the likes of The Wedding Present in smallish venues, seeing them on the stage at Wembley was an odd but enjoyable experience. Only saw The Cure twice, wish I’d seen them a bit more often.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Same with me re venues. I was never a fan of the Arena – the only band that ever “filled” it atmosphere wise was The Cure the previous year. It’s a barn.


      2. Agreed. Saw the Velvet Underground there, possibly the most disappointing gig I’ve ever attended. The sound kept bouncing off the back wall. Still annoyed about it now 😊


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