The Mystery of What Happened to Madonna at Eurovision

Madge, me and the Brixton Academy; the latest entry in the Diary of a Mad Pest Controller.

One of the many amazing places I got to visit when working in pest control is the famous Brixton Academy music venue.

It’s an incredible place to get behind the scenes off – and in pest control there’s not many parts of a place you don’t get to see; in fact, you can pretty much claim it essential any locked door is opened and access will be granted.

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Originally an ‘Astoria’, it was boarded-up and seemingly derelict for most of my childhood; then one day it sprang back to life and its incredible inner beauty no longer went to waste. The alley right shows how far back it runs – another bus is just visible on the road the rear doors open onto. The dressing rooms are also at the far end of the alley – common knowledge; groups of fans are often found gathering there in the belief shouting will lead to idols sticking heads out of windows.

I’ve been told the stage is the largest in Europe. The area normally seen from the floor is a mere fraction of its size. What looks like the back wall is actually a row of huge doors.

Behind them is a large space with another set of likewise doors that open out onto the road. It’s possible to drive in and line-up a couple articulated lorries in there.

John Taylor Programme and review of Nero from Now Dig This

Nero’s performance at the Rocker’s Reunion 1997 as reported Now Dig This; with much thanks to John Taylor for the clippings.

In 1997 Nero and the Gladiators played as part of that year’s Rocker’s Reunion (the only one to take place at the venue).

Their stage entrance was elaborate enough (see clipping right). According to legend they’d wanted to use a horse drawn chariot, but had been refused permission by the local council in case it didn’t stop and instead went straight over the edge of the stage into the crowd. 

Whether it’s true or not doesn’t change the fact something like that could be easily done there, whereas anywhere else would be faced with a logistical nightmare.

Personally, left to walk around by myself (unless needing a key for a good nose somewhere), I was plenty satisfied just to run across the same stage one of my all time idols had played on while emulating them.

AC/DC recorded all the videos for the ‘Razor’s Edge’ album there; erecting scaffold platforms on the floor to give them a ‘prison’ look.

Turning up there one day for a routine visit (which for on-contract customers generally meant not having an appointment and just randomly walking in once about every six weeks) the house manager told me it might be a bit difficult as Madonna was in the building.

I got on well with him, but my reply of ‘Not a problem for me!’ came out far too enthusiastically and he decided it definitely was.

Madge wasn’t playing at the venue (though she did a few years later). Instead, she was using it as a rehearsal space before heading out on a big tour.

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The original Italian Renaissance interior remains perfectly intact to this day.

Madge is far from alone in needing lots of prep time – thanks to its large accommodating size many artists have used the Academy as a giant rehearsal/stage-show testing ground before hitting the road.

A good example of why being Madge’s recent Eurovision appearance, when due to her schedule only limited time to prepare was available.

Though that does depend a lot on who you go to for the evidence. Anyone can have a bad day, especially if they haven’t prepared; even I wouldn’t dare to think of writing poetry until after at least two mugs of tea in the morning. And no one that’s an anyone having one should feel bad or shamed for it. It’s part of being human; we are mere mortals . . . except that is Madonna.

Madge had a bum note of a night at Eurovision, but instead of hold her hands up like any other mere mortal, and despite there being an estimated 200 million viewers of the Eurovision live show, Madge had her people go all 1984 on the footage before uploading it to her You Tube channel.

The BBC thought it news worthy enough for a story in its own right (here),  while others (below) uploaded their own comparison videos.

I have two embarrassing Academy-related stories. But unlike Madonna I am prepared to bare all!

(When did Madge suddenly become so prudish, given the big fat smutty furore revelled in pre the release of her book Sex back in the 90s?)

The first is so embarrassing  I’m only revealing it just so I can upstage a world superstar as much as possible. Before the AC/DC videos were made, a call went out to get people there:

  • No charge.
  • Free refreshments (booze).
  • You got to keep the band-related clothes worn for the vids.

I heard that call.

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This image looks taken in the 80s just after re-opening. Closed for most of the 70s, a scruffy, rundown facade is how my mind’s eye remembers it looking. My dad’s friend had a car showroom in the building to the left (unseen); whenever visiting we’d park in the alley on the right.

I was working as a despatch rider at the time and for some reason that I cannot even start to fathom or explain, decided it would be better to spend yet another day doing exactly that again in what would likely be rain.

If there was a case brought against me for the utter stupidity of this act, I would be forced to offer a defence and these two points would be it:

  • Despatch riders are self-employed; no riding on slippy roads while getting wet, no pay!
  • Their last couple of albums had been a bit shit.
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Opening night 1929

But still. I am talking about the best live band ever seen. And even if I wasn’t, it was a half-hour/forty-five min walk at most from my flat and there was FREE BOOZE!

The second story goes back to the  pest control (which means it happened after story one).

Thanks to the Madonna incident, I arranged with the Academy that they become ‘by appointment‘.

As fun as it was to almost be working in the same building as megastars, it was also a big waste of my time.

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The Wildhearts – nothing like Madonna.

By incredible coincidence, while driving to an appointment there sometime later, the radio announced The Wildhearts were playing there that night.

As big as they were getting at the time, Ginger & co apparently still weren’t considered famous enough to have a pest control-free sound-check.

More importantly, it was the first time I’d heard of the gig. Hopefully they’d open the ticket office for me – with a bit of luck, I might even get put on the guest list!

Walking round with the house manager (and no sign of a single roadie getting anything ready) I mentioned hearing about that night’s gig.

“Where’d you hear about that?” he asked, happy demeanour quickly replaced by agitated.

“On the radio driving here,” I replied, sensing he sensed a play for free tickets coming on, so making me look forward to wiping the grimace of his face given how eager I was to pay.

He let out a big sigh . . . “That gig’s been cancelled for ages. Would you mind coming with me and telling someone else what you just said?”

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Clutch at the Academy. Before being on the stage or behind the scenes I never even noticed the four windows just below the balcony centre, let alone wonder what was on the other side of them – the coolest bar EVER!

He led me up to the office where a couple of people sat behind desks. He motioned his head to one of them, and she finished a phone call to talk to him. “Tell her what you just told me,” he said. So I did.

Her face turned to thunder. “What station?” she asked, through a reddening face and gritted teeth.

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“Radio One,” I replied.

“Right!” she said, picking up the phone and starting to dial with great purpose. “This is the final f-ing straw!”

We stepped back out the room and whatever bollocking the person answering at the BBC got was left on the other side of the door.

As we returned to what I’d been doing, he told me that while radio stations were constantly updated with the latest gig info, they frequently didn’t pass it on to whoever told the DJs what to say.

It was a Royal pain in the arse for the venue; people would be calling to buy tickets and turning up expecting to pay at the door, etc, etc.

Recently they’d gone to great lengths to impress on offending stations how much trouble it caused and had thought they’d come to an understanding.

I’d been both harbinger and example of their efforts fallingironically—on deaf ears.

At least The Wildhearts were thought important enough not to have a pest control soundcheck – so, some small consolation for them there.

Thing is:

I used to listen to the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio One (the admitting of making this about three embarrassing things).

When he left. his replacements thoroughly lacked anything like the same level of obnoxious persona necessary to give one the energy to get up and through a London rush hour in the morning.

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Obnoxious **** Chris Evans

He left in January 97, but was soon back on air. I’d started listening again, and it was just after his return that the incident happened.

After leaving the Academy and carrying on with my day, listening to the radio when in the van, I was suddenly hit with a horrible sickening feeling when a jingle was played.

I’d left it on the same station as the Breakfast Show. The jingle was for Virgin Radio; in the Academy, I’d forgotten he’d returned to a different station . . .

Oops. Sorry, Aunty 😬

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Thanks for reading 🙂

N. P. Ryan

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