"The Red Wedge gig at Newcastle City Hall was one of the best things we ever did.” - Johnny Marr
On a cold Friday night in January 1986, the Red Wedge bandwagon rolled into Newcastle upon Tyne for what was to be the final night of a week long series of concerts aimed at raising political awareness amongst the UK’s young voters. Also on the agenda was the drumming up of support for Mr Kinnock’s ailing Labour Party: a sort of Band Aid for the proletariat.
|Red Wedge ticket - Newcastle City Hall, January 1986 - photo by John Hardy|
Refreshed by The Farmer Rest’s finest and resplendent in our GPO issue overcoats recently purchased from the Army & Navy Store in the Handyside Arcade, my mate and I thought we were the embodiment of disenfranchised working class youth when in fact what we really were was a couple of immature, nerdy sixth formers with big hair, fresh out of the country, little fish in a big pond. I do believe that we were aware though, that this was to be no ordinary evening at the City Hall.
The 7.30 start caught many of the gig-goers on the hop and Billy Bragg was already partway through his set of firebrand rhetoric as we took our seats in the stalls. The evening passed by in a bit of a haze, as act after act were wheeled out to do a short two or three song set, such were the time constraints in place. Chart acts such as Junior, Dee C Lee and The Communards went shoulder to shoulder with up and coming groovers like Lorna Gee, who delivered her memorable tune ‘Three Weeks Gone Mi Giro’ with great aplomb.
The North East was well represented too, particularly by the Kitchenware acts The Kane Gang and Prefab Sprout, whose two song set consisted of ‘Dublin’ and ‘Cruel’. Paddy gave a little tease of what was to come when he introduced ‘one of the Smiths… Wendy Smith!’
Local hero Alan Hull was introduced as ‘probably one of the most political acts on the bill tonight’, since he was at that time standing as a Labour party candidate for Gateshead Council. The late Lindisfarne leader took us through an acoustic set which featured the topical ‘Cruisin’ to Disaster’. Another highlight was Tom Robinson performing a couple of his own excellent acoustic numbers. Red Wedge was the brainchild of Bragg, Jerry Dammers and Paul Weller; another memory that remains was the latter two jamming on a great version of The Style Council’s ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’.
Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke had played on several of the previous Red Wedge dates and, after encountering what they felt was indifference and hostility from several of the other acts, had returned to Manchester to rally the troops and, with Morrissey and Mike Joyce in tow, headed forth to Newcastle for an unannounced surprise appearance.
“The other bands were a little bit perplexed as to what we were doing there. We had no instruments, so we borrowed The Style Council's equipment and just tore the roof off the place. In the middle of the set we just walked on to this announcement and the place went bananas.” - Johnny Marr.
Morrissey and co. delivered a rocking four song set featuring ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’, ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have’, ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ and ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’. For once, the ever quotable Morrissey was not exaggerating when, in a 1986 interview with NME, he remembered;
“We made a very brief, but stormy appearance. When we took to the stage the audience reeled back in horror. They took their Walkmans off and threw down their cardigans. Suddenly the place was alight, aflame with passion!"
With the chimes of ‘Bigmouth’ still ringing through the auditorium, the band exited stage left, Morrissey’s shirt, or rather blouse tossed to the baying hordes, leaving my mate and I, the pretend postmen, astonished and open mouthed: did that really just happen? January 31st 1986 was one of the final Smiths appearances as a classic four piece line-up. Things were never to be this pure or spontaneous again.
Anything that was to follow was to be an anti-climax, for myself at any rate, although I do remember a Band Aid style finale of ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ as a fitting end to a wonderful evening. My mate and I, along with 2,000 fellow Thatcher’s Children, left the City Hall that night uplifted by the thought that we could make a difference, all through the power of rock music… the heady wine of youth. I wish I knew where I put that postie’s coat…
|Red Wedge Tour Programme, January 1986 - photo by John Hardy|