Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nico in Cardiff

In October 1978 Siouxsie and the Banshees embarked on a UK tour. Added to the bill as a special guest was former Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico. When they showed up in Cardiff it turned out to be one of the most notorious gigs in Welsh musical history. Over the years I've heard so many conflicting reports about Nico's performance that night that it's hard to separate fact from fiction. What's certain is that she arrived on stage with only a harmonium for accompaniement. Despite the fact that she was an absolute legend she was continuously booed and heckled. The audience wanted punk rock not some fragile relic from the sixties. Sid Vicious had been arrested in New York for the murder of Nancy Spungen just a couple of days before and the Cardiff punks were in no mood to take prisoners. They wanted blood. Nico had to cut short her set after just a few songs when she was struck on the head by a bottle. Her parting words were: "If I had a machine gun, I would shoot you all." Years later in an interview she said of that concert: "John Cale was born just up the road, I expected more from those people."

However, six years later, in 1984 Nico was back in the Welsh capital this time supporting her then partner in heroin addiction John Cooper Clarke. I was in attendance at this gig which took place at St David's Hall. It was an unusual place for the pair to perform, the venue being mostly associated with classical music and acts from the mainstream. We hunkered down in our plush seats and watched as Nico took to the stage. She talked slowly, introducing songs from her repertoire in those familiar low, teutonic tones. The conclusion of each song was marked with warm applause. Nobody booed, heckled or threw missiles. Then John Cooper Clarke did his set and managed not to make too many mistakes or forget his words - when he did falter the crowd filled in the gaps for him. For an encore Nico and John Cooper Clarke performed a couple of numbers together with their backing band. For the life of me I can't remember what songs they actually did - I've even considered undergoing hypnosis to retrieve the buried memory. Whatever, the crowd lapped it up and everybody went home happy. As polite and sedate a gig as I've ever attended.