11 Apr 2016

Brunel Bands…

Guest post by John West . John is a Customer Services Champion at Brunel University and has worked in Libraries of one sort or another since 1986. His interests include listening to long playing gramophone records and doing weird stuff in libraries.

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


  1. Excellent piece and a great idea, which hopefully academic libraries will pick up upon. Just one thing, as Lt.Columbo would say, The Rezillos are not Glaswegian - they're from Edinburgh

    1. Thank you David - and apologies for missing Fay Fife's evidently Edinburgh Miss Jean Brodie brogue!

  2. hi John. Excellent post. Best of luck with the 50th celebrations. It seems as if there is a rich history to be recorded. I look forward to searching more through the blog and the FB page.
    As part of my work with UCC Library in 2014 I helped to put together an exhibition on a nightclub in Cork. We too found Facebook and our blog essential tools for capturing and recording the history of the club and the role it played in the lives of all those who walked the steps up to the club over the years...
    Well done...

  3. we can always count on David to set us straight :) glad you liked it David. I think it's a great piece and too agree that it's something that academic libraries should pick up on. There is so much cultural history in all our cities and somebody should start recording it and preserving. And why not libraries. We are in the perfect position to do so...