It’s a cold, dark November night in 1978. Four unpretentiously dressed young men take to the stage in the Kingdom Room at Brunel University and start up a gloomy, industrial motoric as morose and unwelcoming as the winter weather outside. The audience bristles with discomfort at this strange new post-punk noise. There’s a bit of truculent booing. A few people even start, as was the custom of the day, to spit at the musicians on stage. The band and the audience endure this charade for about five songs and then all seem to arrive at the same conclusion simultaneously, and the boys grudgingly call it a day.
To add insult to injury, as the musicians are making their ignominious way from the stage, the drummer trips over a cable and falls flat on his face to yet more derisive laughter and abuse. "I see you are not educated down south..." comes the defiant Mancunian farewell from the slightly crazed looking, hollow-eyed skeleton of a figure who’s been trying to sound like David Bowie impersonating the singer from The Doors all evening whilst dancing around like an epileptic. His name is Ian Curtis and his band is called Joy Division.
That same night, if you’d stuck around, you could also have seen two other bands; Derry’s The Undertones, and Glaswegian new wavers The Rezillos who had recently stormed the charts with an insanely catchy song called ‘Top of the Pops’. The passage of time has probably turned that bill upside down: headliners The Rezillos were ultimately little more than one hit wonders whereas the poorly received opening act have achieved near legendary status down the years. All in all, not a bad night out for £1.20.
This is just one example among many fabulous music nights that have taken place here at Brunel over the last 50 years. From the epic late sixties all-nighters booked by our students union at such prestigious London venues as the Roundhouse and the Royal Albert Hall, through the anarchy of punk and the heyday of the ‘do-it-yourself’ pub rock ethos, all the way down to the likes of the Stone Roses, the University has been a magnet to some of the biggest names in rock and pop history. Fleetwood Mac, Deep Purple, Elton John, The Kinks, The Stranglers, The Sex Pistols, The Specials, UB40, The Pretenders…that’s just a short list from the top of my head of the kind of bands who were part of the student experience way back when. And many of them *didn’t* get booed off!
As part of the University’s 50th birthday celebrations, Brunel Library and Media Services staff have been working with the current students union and a handful of former students to compile as complete a history of Brunel’s unique musical heritage as we can. We’ve set up a blog and a Facebook page to document the work we’ve done so far. The Facebook page in particular has provided a fabulous outreach opportunity and through it we’ve been able to incorporate a lot of eyewitness accounts into our history which will hopefully make for a really unique social document.
Our aim is to have a fairly complete timeline of who performed where and when ready for the summer. Then, in early July, the University will be playing host to a large gathering of alumni during the main anniversary celebrations and we’ll be helping to stage an event called ‘Brunel Rocks’. There we’ll be presenting the research we’ve done and hosting a discussion about Brunel’s live music scene with those who made it happen – we’re hoping there might even be one or two well-known names there to join the reminiscences and maybe even perform a couple of numbers too. We’re ultimately hoping that over time we can make the blog a resource that’s searchable by date and artist and one that can become a lasting record of our University’s rich musical legacy.
If you’re interested in finding out a bit more about Brunel’s fabulous live music pedigree then visit our Brunel Bands blog - https://brunelbands.wordpress.com/ - or the Facebook page -
all photos courtesy of John West