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.
I’ve been told the stage is the largest in Europe. What is 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 about six articulated lorries in there.
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.
According to the BBC (here) Madonna didn’t confirm her Eurovision appearance until the 16th of May, the day of the second semi-final.
There was no time to rehearse.
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.
That said, there was plenty speculation pre Eurovision that Madge would appear at the event; in the above linked to BBC report, it even suggests she arrived in Tel Aviv on the Tuesday to start practising at a secret location.
Oh . . .
Well, anyone can have a bad day. Anyone. 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, not aloof and lofty gods. No one in their right mind would expect an artist to be on top of their game 100% of the time, regardless of how much practice beforehand or the size and secrecy of the place they had it in.
Except, that is, Madonna. Apparently Madge, despite evidently not being able to hit a note for toffee, believes her own hype, actually thinks all that Heavenly imagery and referencing is equal to it having some divine merit.
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 has 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.
Oh . . . indeed.
Personally, 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.
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.
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.
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 do hear about that?” he asked, his happy demeanour suddenly all 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?”
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.
“Radio One,” I replied.
“Right!” she said, picking up the phone and starting to dial with great purpose. “This is the final 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 falling—ironically—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.
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 the 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.
He left in January 97, but was back on air later the same year. I started listening again; it was just after his return that the incident happened.
Whether the gig announcement was on his show or the one after, I can’t remember now.
What I didn’t remember at the time, however, was far more relevant:
He’d come back on Virgin Radio; that was the station I’d been listening to not the BBC, but I’d been so used to hearing him there . . .
Other related posts:
- Motorcycle Despatch Riding Time Machine: A brief slice of what it was like working as a despatch rider.
- London: a Tardis in Reverse: Thoughts on London and gentrification.
- What a Waste (Tickets, Please): The night the ticket booth at Fulham Broadway got toppled over, ticket inspector still inside.
- Elephant and Castle, Stick It up Your Arsehole!: Gentrification and Southwark Council’s complete incompetence.
Thanks for reading. 🙂
N. P. Ryan.