In 1978 my parents dropped me and my friend off outside the Brighton Centre to see our first ever live concert. It was Thin Lizzy on their Black Rose tour. Our seats were on the left side balcony and I will never forget my first encounter with live rock music. Phil Lynott was a magical songwriter and incredible front man, and the volume! Oh man, the volume, it vibrated my body. That was it. I was hooked on live music from that opening chord.
Over the years I’ve seen countless bands at the Brighton Centre but some stick in my mind. AC/DC with Bon Scott in December 1979 on their Highway to Hell tour. They were then, and still are, my favourite rock band and seeing them with Bon was a gift. It was only a couple of months later that he passed away. Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio on vocals during their Heaven and Hell tour. Another absolute classic moment in rock history. I’ve been there to see Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Slade, Rainbow. I fell asleep at the back of the hall when Rush played there, and I went there with my Dad to see the incredible John Denver on one of his final tours. The Brighton Centre has played a huge part in my musical journey. Never did I think that my feet would one day walk out upon that sacred stage.
Witchfest International had been held for many years at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, another famous venue, but last year we heard that the Fairfield Halls were being closed down, so Witchfest needed a new home, and the home they chose was the Brighton Centre. I was booked to play on the Saturday night on the main auditorium stage. So a couple of days ago I played on that same stage as I had seen so many of my musical idols.
For some reason a lot of rock bands stopped playing Brighton some years back. I think that saw how close we are to London so just don’t come here. There’ve been a few – Status Quo play an annual December concert, but I hadn’t been to the Centre for some years. When I walked in it was just as huge as I remembered it. I walked to the side of the stage and, as there was nobody around, walked up and stood on the stage itself, looking out across the empty auditorium. I cannot describe the feeling I had.
Dave, one of the main organisers of Witchfest, took me backstage to the labyrinth of corridors and there, all along the walls, were photos taken of the artists’ concerts. Bruce Springsteen, The Who, The Jam, BB King, so many, and there was Thin Lizzy in 1981 (I was at that gig too) and Status Quo from 1982, another gig I remember well. Walking back to the stage I took the same route as so many of my heroes. You can probably tell I was properly blown away by all of this.
At 8.15pm, dead on time, I took the stage. It really was the biggest stage I have ever play upon. It felt like there were miles of people to either side and there I was, stuck in front of a microphone at the centre. I had to walk over to each side every now and then to show those people some love too.
The auditorium is a huge deadroom, a recording term meaning that all of the echo and reverb has been removed from the hall by its shape and the use of curtains etc, this means that sound doesn’t carry as well. So when the audience was singing along to my songs I couldn’t hear them as clearly as at some other gigs. But I knew there were voices, and the support from the crowd was wonderful. People were up and dancing and every now and then I remembered where I was and what a moment this was for me as a musician. I’ve heard that Witchfest had just over 3000 people through the door this year – a fantastic achievement after a risky change of venue – and I’d say a good number of those were in that hall with me that night.
Playing at the Brighton Centre, a true home concert as I live just 10 minutes along the coast, was something I’ll never forget. I hope WF will be there again next year and we can do it all over again, but if it isn’t there was a 13 year old boy, who watched, eyes wide, as Lizzy took the stage in 1978, and this past weekend one of his dreams came true.