Variety is the spice of life. If your life is fueled by the art you create, variety is a necessity. Parroting performances night after night for the same people, under the same rules leads to emotional stagnation - any artist will tell you that. Over the years, some of the world’s most inspirational musicians have bucked the standard performance trends and immersed themselves into a different world; a world where they could be free to be someone else and to entertain new groups of people. Iron Maiden, The Sex Pistols, Motorhead, and Led Zeppelin represent four examples of artists feeling the need to break free from the mould.
The Entire Population Of Hackney
In 1985, Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain was looking for inspiration during downtime after Maiden’s ‘World Slavery Tour,’ so he rented a studio and invited bandmate Adrian Smith to join him to jam. They reached out to friends Dave Colwell and Andy Barnett - members of the band FM - and Martin Connoly who played in Marshall Fury. The result was ‘The Entire Population of Hackney.’
Nicko set up two London, England shows - the first under the ‘The Entire Population of Hackney’ moniker and the second under the name ‘The Sherman Tankers.’ The first was recorded on December 19th, 1985 at the Marquee Club and includes tracks written by all the band members, plus covers of ZZ Top’s ‘Chevrolet’ and ‘Tush’ and Bob Seger’s ‘ Rosalie.’ Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson, guitarist Dave Murray and bassist Steve Harris joined them on stage for the encores.
Iron Maiden recorded and released two songs played on the setlist as singles. ‘Reach Out’ is featured on the ‘Wasted Years’ single; a cover of the Marshall Fury song ‘Juanita’ and the FM song ‘That Girl’ are on the ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’ single. ‘Juanita’ tells the story of a man looking to get back together with Juanita but ends up rejecting her. Bruce changed the lyric to: “I'm never going down on Juanita,” instead of the original “I'm never going back, Juanita.” Adrian Smith and Nicko - with Dickinson on vocals - recorded the entire track. ‘That Girl,’ a traditional love song, was recorded by Nicko and Adrian with Dickinson on vocals.
Performers love the spotlight, that’s the whole point. But, sometimes the ones shining the light aren’t in your favor. In August 1977, The Sex Pistols toured the UK under a pseudonym, The S.P.O.T.S, which is simply an acronym for “Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly.” If you’re at all familiar with the band, you know the immense public scrutiny they were under for their stage shows and political messages. Touring under a different name allowed them to shield themselves and play gigs that they likely wouldn’t have been allowed to perform. Vocalist Johnny Rotten, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook, and bassist Sid Vicious played six “secret” shows, all under different band names. In Doncaster, the punk icons went under the name of ‘Tax Exiles’; ‘Special Guest’ in Scarborough, ‘Acne Rabble’ in Middlesbrough, ‘The Hamsters’ in Plymouth, and ‘A Mystery Band of International Repute’ for their final show in Penzance. Melody Maker magazine tried to expose plans for the tour by mentioning it on the front page, but they printed the wrong dates and venues, so nothing was interrupted.
In an interview with Paul Cook, he explained: “Well, we decided to do these gigs, like, just for one, ‘cause we want to play anyway, and we hadn’t played in England for such a long time, and we couldn’t publicize them, ‘cause if we did, some councilor might just come and say, ‘Right, you’re not playing here,’ which they have done and can do, for any stupid reason. So we decided to go to each individual promoter ourselves, who owned their private clubs and who could put us on without having to ask someone else, and told them to keep it secret. But we knew enough word would get out that people would know we were playing – which they did. So it weren’t totally unfair on the fans anyway, ‘cause most of them who wanted to see us come to see us. And all the places were packed out, so enough word got ‘round for people to know we were playing.”
A description of the environment at the Scarborough show is posted on the Vintagerock blog: “The atmosphere was electric and the Pistols were incredible. Sid was new to the band and was just learning to play bass, but he looked great; just the part. John was amazing, sneering and snarling, hanging off his mike stand and at times covered in spit from the crowd. Steve Jones was the ultimate rock guitar hero, all swagger in his leather jeans, and Paul Cook was smashing away at his drums. And they were loud and fast. We braved it in the scrum down the front for some of the set, but I eventually bottled it and took up a vantage point at the back, standing on a chair. Too much spitting and pogoing down the front for my liking.”
Their only studio album, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols’ was released months later and they became legendary. It’s recognized as the most influential punk album, and one the most important albums of all time. Nirvana’s second album, ‘Nevermind’ was named in tribute to the Pistols’ album as it was one of Kurt Cobain’s favorites.
Iron Fist & The Hordes From Hell
The Roundhouse in London, England was the scene of Motorhead’s first live album. Recorded on February 18th, 1978, Lemmy, Phil Taylor, and Eddie Clarke played a show under the name Iron Fist & The Hordes of Hell for a charity event to raise money for the preservation of William Wordsworth manuscripts. Contractual reasons didn’t allow them to play as Motorhead, so the English rockers improvised. The name would be used later as the title for the album ‘Iron Fist.’ The live album was originally released in 1983, and re-released in 1994. Chiswick Records boss Ted Carroll organized the Rolling Stones mobile truck to record the event and later released the album through his Big Beat Records label. It has been re-released with other titles and/or other sleeves, amongst others as ‘The Watcher’ in Canada, ‘City Kids, ‘Live, Loud and Lewd,’ and ‘Iron Fist and the Hordes from Hell.’
Melvin Giganticus & The Turd Burglars
One of the greatest rock and roll bands in the history of music, Melvin Giganticus & The Turd Burglars, played a secret show in 1979 at Wolverly Hall. Most people knew them as Led Zeppelin, but on this night they would go incognito. It was a year before John Bonham died, and being on top of the world, I suppose they were looking for a short escape to keep things interesting. If you were Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, or John Bonham in 1979, you were free to do anything you pleased.