February 1994 saw Suede return to the UK after a series of concerts in the States.
These live dates were there first UK appearances since Glastonbury in 1993…a festival where they shared the bill with Rolf Harris, The Saw Doctors and something called Superchunk.
The first of these UK dates provided people like me with the chance to hear, for the first time, some of the songs that would make up “Dog Man Star” which wouldn’t be released until the autumn of 1994.
These dates would also be the last time that the original line-up of the band played live together with Bernard Butler leaving soon after the show at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh…a show that I attended.
None of us knew it would the last time.
How could we?
The Queen’s Hall was a bit of a Britpop haven, maybe even, Heaven for the likes of me across 1994…I also saw Sleeper and Blur there.
I had seen Suede the first time they had played in Edinburgh, before the first album was released, in a tiny venue called, imaginatively, The Venue when they were supported by The Auteurs. That night was a flurry of emotion. I knew that I had witnessed a band that I could love and that I had arrived, for the very first time, at the start of something.
The band came to the stage and played “Pantomime Horse”.
Imagine being so confident in your catalogue of songs that you can start with something as magnificent as “Pantomime Horse”. Remember at this point there was only one album and a clutch of singles. No lengthy back catalogue to trawl through, no “greatest hits” set to pitch at your adoring fans. At this point Suede were still pitching for adoring fans.
“Hello Scotland” said Brett as the grand, gothic, opera of the song ended before screaming “HIT ME” and launching into the manic madness of “This Hollywood Life”. A song none of us knew but somehow by about half way through we were singing along…or yelping and whooping along at least. Suede live were ferocious…like the Sex Pistols or Spiders From Mars era Bowie on speed.
“Here’s a song…” announced Brett with near disdain, as if he was about to present us with a cover version of “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” and not “We Are The Pigs”. Then that intro from Bernard…guitars soaring, swirling, swooping around the venue before Brett eventually leads us all in a chant of “WE ARE THE PIGS”. None of us know what it means but we also know that it means…everything. And nothing. Then Brett tells that this was part two of another song…
“Animal Nitrate” has every body, every heart, every mind, every soul…shaking, jumping, moving, flouncing, mincing and rejoicing. The crowd descends into a sort of madness with bodies battered and bruised by the end of the song…and everyone grateful for it. It says something about what was going on in British music in the nineties that a song like this, by a band like this, could not only break into the charts but become a radio friendly anthem. And what it says is…only good things.
Another new song, “Heroine”, was next and provided us all with a glimpse into where the band were heading more clearly than the other new songs had. It was darker, more twisted, peculiar, angular…less “Suede” and, perhaps, more Suede? It was followed by “My Insatiable One”, an old one, but a song that, even now over 25 years later, sends a shiver down the spine. It may be a cliche but it is true that Suede across those first three albums were producing more genuinely wonderful songs than many bands manage across decades long careers. That a song like this could have been cast out as a b-side is both incredible and awe inspiring. Genius I tells ya.
“Good singing…well done.” yelps Brett at the end of “My Insatiable One” and then tells us that there will be an “interlude”. “This is a song about a dirty lady I once knew…what are you wearing? You’re mothers clothes? That’s what I’m wearing…I saw her earlier.” That came in response to someone yelling out the question “What are you wearing?”. Then he led us all in a rendition of “There’s only one Simon Gilbert” in the style of the football terracing classic which concluded with “Thank fuck for that.”
Another b-side, “My Dark Star”, followed this slightly peculiar break in proceedings and served to prove that Suede ’94 were so good live that they could litter their set with songs that the casual listener wouldn’t even be aware of and still make them feel like they were hearing songs they knew and needed. To further prove the point they played “He’s Dead” next…another b-side. Just think about this for a minute. When was the last time you went to see a band in concert who had the confidence to play one b-side in their set? Two? Three? Sometime? Maybe? Ever? Never? Then think about finishing that run of b-sides by segueing into “Loch Lomond”!
“Technical difficulties” blighted their first attempt at “Metal Mickey” before they set the place alight with the song proper. The genteel people of Scotland’s capital greeted this temporary pause in proceedings with great patience with one particularly lovely chap screaming “FUCKING GET OAN WI IT” to which Brett responded, “You come and fucking play it” to a round of applause. Everything was forgiven when they overcame the troubles and powered their way into our collective hearts and minds with one of the greatest singles of the decade…shake, shake, shake to the trumpet indeed.
Another song that would eventually appear on “Dog Man Star” came next. Known at this point as “Losing Myself” it became, of course, “New Generation” the sort of glam rock, pop stomp, that really only Suede could deliver. The title may have been changed by the time the album was released but the song itself arrived fully formed here. It caused chaos in the pit and even further back people were finding that gay abandon had taken control of their feet as they stomped and strutted along to the Bowie-esque beat.
We were brought back down to earth in a way that only Suede could manage…by lifting us to the Heavens. “Sleeping Pills” is a fragile, ethereal, butterflies wing of a song. Death stalking the house in a low cut blouse, Brett reaching for notes that are always just out of reach and finding ones that work better instead, Bernard and Matt creating a wall of sound that surrounds us, protects us, comforts us and challenges us, Simon drumming with a lazy style that is borne from the knowledge he is really flippin’ good. It is a perfect moment. Everyone still. Listening. Feeling. Wanting. Accepting.
Then “So Young” which was delivered with a level of rage and passion that I hadn’t experienced from the band before and that was probably the result of their frustrations by the glitches that had interrupted the set on one or two occasions.
I have a memory of the band playing “Stay Together” here too but I can’t be sure. Did I dream it? Is it possible that the last song they played with Bernard in the band was this epic? It seems too good to be true. A beautiful moment to mark a terrible one. With Bernard gone there were serious questions over what Suede would do next…more precisely there were questions about whether or not Suede could do anything without him. What we were about to find out was that not only could they but they would…and how.