Bruce Springsteen has an autobiography out. You might have heard. But, in among the media onslaught and revelatory interviews, the one question not being asked is niggling us: why hasn’t ‘The Boss’ played the place that invented the word? Money, music and decisions made in municipal buildings come to mind. Or is there more to it? By Alan O’Hare.
‘Crowded Scouse’ remain my favourite Mathew Street Festival tribute band. ‘Robbing Williams’ pushed them close, like. But it was the pretenders who took the weather with them to Derby Square that made me laugh the most. Being a big Bruce Springsteen fan, I always remember ‘Sounds Boss’, too. Back then, it was the only irreverent link between my hometown and my hero and not much has changed… even after the building of the ECHO Arena (remember, in the eighties and nineties, when we all longed for a world class airport hangar to drink warm beer in?).
Springsteen first visited Europe in 1975, during the mania surrounding ‘Born To Run’, and only played London. His two Hammersmith gigs may have gone down in history – but New Jersey’s favourite son didn’t return to this continent for five years following those concerts. Then, in 1980, he released ‘The River’ and had a proper international hit single with the sped-up Motown sounds of ‘Hungry Heart’.
Europe beckoned again and, this time, Springsteen was set to play outside the capital of England for the first time: Newcastle, Manchester, Brighton and, erm, Stafford were all given the full E Street Band experience and The Boss’ superstar years were upon us. A quick Google reveals that on the night Springsteen played Stafford, May 20th 1981, XTC were gigging at Liverpool University…
A few years later and The Boss was back with a gargantuan record and tour for ‘Born In The U.S.A’. Demand had soared and stadiums beckoned, so Bruce inc. and Harvey Goldsmith booked Wembley Stadium, Slane Castle… and St James’ Park? Sure, the decision to visit the north east resulted in Springsteen donating around £20,000 to the cause of the striking Durham miners and their families, but philanthropy aside, what put the home of Gary Megson and Glen Roeder in their thoughts? Money had to have been talking. The Geordies have always been ambitious and, at the time, Liverpool and Everton – the kings of English football – were struggling to fill their grounds to capacity every week (despite unprecedented success) as the realities of Margaret Thatcher’s malignant misery hit hard on Merseyside. Maybe Neil Kinnock’s move on Militant, and their expenses, put the mockers on Bruce’s limo service?
Fast forward three years, to 1988, and the E Street band were back in the country with the ‘Tunnel Of Love Express’ tour. ‘Tunnel Of Love’ may contain some of the very best Springsteen music, and certainly his best set of songs from needle to scratch, but the tour had problems. Bruce was changing, the band weren’t and his record revealed he was married to someone he didn’t love. Where did this tense and tumultuous concert experience play out in the north of England? Bramall Lane… the home of Sheffield United, then heading into Division Three. At least our city leaders managed to find the dough to bring Michael Jackson to Aintree a couple of months later… Coke or Pepsi, anyone?
Since the turn of the last century, Springsteen and whatever band he’s been touring with (E Street, Other, Seeger, solo and his multiple selves) have played a lot. The tours remain massive and he still resides at the top table of touring acts – indeed, he’s the perfect anomaly: the more he plays, the more tickets he shifts. Like the rest at that level (Pearl Jam aside), The Boss gets into bed with Live Nation these days and Anfield, Goodison Park and the ECHO Arena (even Aintree) aren’t priorities for the oligarchs at the top of that 360-dominated conglomerate. Still, Paul McCartney makes it his business to play here, even if the likes of U2, Coldplay, Kanye West and The Rolling Stones don’t. And therein lies the rub… The Beatles.
Springsteen isn’t a massive fan and The Fabs’ remain our biggest wing men to pull with. Sure, as he’s gotten older, he’s talked about seeing them on the Ed Sullivan Show and respecting their art, blah blah blah. But the truth can be found shining in his old interviews, pre-therapy, when he was less guarded. Bruce was an all-American R’n’B boy – Stax, not Motown. Them, not The Hollies. The Dave Clarke Five, not Gerry & The Pacemakers. The Animals, not The Searchers. And, crucially, The Stones, not The Beatles (that he’s actually called a song ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ says a lot, too… ).
Perhaps we’re just not on his radar. After all, on the E Street Band reunion tour in 1999, many of the group visited town for a look around The Beatles Story (they’d played the MEN, of course, the night before), while Bruce went to the gym. Springsteen has apparently never even set foot in Liverpool – there is talk on the fan forums of him visiting on a day off in 1985, but nothing to substantiate it. And, let’s be honest, you’d remember the biggest selling recording artist in the world (at that time) walking around ‘Spectrum’ (“where fashion costs you less”) in his headband, wouldn’t you?
There are also darker and more serious points to be made. Since 1980, he’s visited Manchester on every visit to these shores, playing at the Apollo, MEN Arena, Old Trafford (football and cricket grounds) and Etihad. He’s been back to the north east, too, with a gig at Sunderland’s Stadium Of Light in 2012 and has even found space for two trips to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena this decade. What have they all got that we haven’t? Is it just a coincidence? Do we care? Obviously the Bunnymen fans who are too scared to lose their cool won’t give a shit, but it’s a vital question as we hear the clock ticking down on rock ‘n’ roll’s originals, the generations that came next and people who are actually willing to pay to hear music. The Beatles, The Stones, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Kate Bush, REM, Public Enemy, Adele… they’ve all played here. But there’s a big Springsteen-shaped hole in that list.
What about it, Boss?
Bruce Springsteen, ‘Born To Run’, is out now and published by Simon & Schuster
Pic courtesy Getty