The UK's Greatest Gigs of All Time

Posted: Friday 11 December 2015

We showcase 10 of the most seismic, zeitgeist-defining, UK concerts of all time.

Weren’t there? No worries: Kate Hodges invites you to barrel down the front, hold tight to the barrier, and make like you were…


Finsbury Park, London 1965

It hardly seems possible that a tour featuring The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Martha and the Vandellas would have trouble shifting tickets, but many venues on this stellar line-up’s tour were half empty. However, the show was barnstorming; the Vandellas in matching white dresses, perfectly harmonising on ‘Heat Wave’, the Supremes belting out ‘Baby Love’, and a 14-year-old Stevie Wonder scorching the stage. Within a year, the label’s success in the UK was set in stone.


Hyde Park, London, 1969

This free show in swinging London became a tribute to recently deceased, ex-guitarist, Brian Jones. Mick Jagger read poetry and released butterflies before the band cranked out ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, ‘Street Fighting Man’, and an 18-minute ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. The performance may not have been impeccable, but the tension, emotions, and vast audience made it unmissable.


Free Trade Hall, Manchester, 1976

They hadn’t even written ‘God Save The Queen’ or ‘Anarchy in the UK’, Sid Vicious wasn’t in the band, and their set was cover-heavy, but this city-shattering show brought punk screaming into Manchester. Legend has it that most of the 35–40 strong audience at this genre-defining show went on to form bands, among them Morrissey, Buzzcocks, Mark E Smith, Martin Hannett and Tony Wilson of Factory Records, plus, um, Mick Hucknall.


Brighton Top Rank, Brighton, 1979

Spearheading a new, multi-cultural youth movement, The Specials – supported by Madness and The Selecter – careered across the country for 40 mayhem-filled dates. Kicking off in Brighton, the night was tension-filled – the tour was dogged by unwanted Nazi sympathisers – yet triumphant. An incredibly young crowd staged a mass stage invasion for the climactic ‘A Message To You, Rudi’.


Birmingham, London 1988

Starring a bandleader at his most audaciously creative, the Lovesexy Tour featured Prince writhing on a bed, riding a Ford Thunderbird, and a finale of ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, ‘Purple Rain’, and ‘1999’. With breath-taking musicianship and on-heat moves, this was a sweaty, sexy, career-defining performance.


Spike Island, Widnes, 1990

Although a guitar band, the Stone Roses wanted a rave atmosphere at the show. Around 28,000 fans forgot their tribal differences and danced together to ‘Elephant Stone’, ‘Waterfall’ and ‘I Wanna Be Adored’. Presaging Oasis, lad rock and mainstream dance culture, this show kick-started the Nineties.


Brixton Academy, London, 1992

© Sakura -

Bringing two, hugely disparate, tribes together under one roof, this show broke barriers and smashed eardrums. The atmosphere in the building was ramped up, on-edge, and ready to explode. Public Enemy were sharp and smart, firing out ‘911 is a Joke’, ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’, sending existing fans into a frenzy, and winning over the black T-shirted metallers. By the time the two bands combined for an intense finale of their collaboration, ‘Bring The Noise’ the result was, as Chuck D said, “Shrapnel”.


Glastonbury, 1997

Headlining the biggest festival in the UK, the timing of this show was millisecond-perfect. Radiohead were on the cusp of transforming from a lighters-aloft stadium band into a more experimental, symphonic, more intelligent act. Peaking again and again (but especially with ‘Karma Police’), the band swept their audience on an emotional journey, transporting them far away from a muddy field in Somerset.


London, Newcastle, Glasgow, Cardiff 2010

Gaga’s Monster Ball show saw her sporting Kermit coats and red-lace headdresses, and ended with a double hit of ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Bad Romance’. Most essential element? The rabid “Little Monsters”; fans who surged through the venue in wigs, latex, lycra and heels, taking the “more everything” atmosphere right to the furthest seats.


O2 Academy, Liverpool, 2010

The advantage of over 50 years in the biz? A back catalogue to end all back catalogues. Squeezing back into the 1,200-capacity O2 Academy Liverpool, Macca’s hit-heavy homecoming’s takes in solo hits, covers, Wings favourites and ends with a mammoth 12-song Beatles streak. Between songs, there were localised anecdotes, and tears streaked faces of fans young and old for the ‘Let It Be’/’Hey Jude’ double. 

Agree or disagree with our picks? What have we missed? Let us know below.