The Rollercoaster tour was conceived as a lower key, British answer to Lollapalooza back in the early ’90s when the American franchise had just begun and was still a touring show featuring cutting-edge bands.
Curated by The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Jim Reid, the Rollercoaster tour featured The Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Blur and Dinosaur Jr sharing headlining duties as they played a series of concerts at several large venues across the UK in the Spring of 1992.
Reid explained, “Everyone was talking about Lollapalooza, which to us was pretty crap. We did it, playing at 2pm after Pearl Jam, and it was fairly disastrous. So we thought, Why not do a good version of it? We were just trying to shake things up, to make it not like a bunch of boring blokes standing around with pints of beer. We were sick to death of plodding up and down the UK on our own, playing the same shitholes. It felt more like being a rock star – more a Bowie/Bolan thing.”
Looking at the line-up for Rollercoaster tour now – two and a half decades later – it’s worth trying to give it some context. The Jesus & Mary Chain were of course long-established by this point and had just released their well-received fourth album, Honey’s Dead. At that point it had been seven years since Psychocandy, the album that defined them and, though they were still a big deal, in terms of popularity and cool, you could have said that they were past their peak. Or maybe it just seemed that way because we were just teenagers while the Reid brothers were past 30 by then.
My Bloody Valentine were absolutely at their peak, though nobody knew it at the time. Their hugely powerful cacophony and uniquely beautiful melodies had made them massively popular and inspired a whole raft of bands to try to emulate them. No one could get close. The previous year they’d released the majestic Loveless album. It seemed like they would only get bigger and bigger. As it turned out they wouldn’t release the follow up to Loveless until 2013. This was as big as they’d get.
Dinosaur Jr brought some US glamour to the show – not in a KISS/New York Dolls sort of way, obviously – I mean look at them. It was kudos and variety that they provided, as well as grunge credentials. At that time, when American alternative rock had just crossed over into the mainstream, Dinosaur Jr’s ’80s output had been namechecked constantly as an influence by bands from the scene. They’d also released their successful major label debut Green Mind in 1991 and were shaping up to follow that up with Where You Been in ’93. So they were on good form and very much in vogue; having them on the tour and a lot of sense .
Blur’s inclusion made less sense. Graham Coxon has admitted “I was shocked we were asked, but absolutely over the moon. It provoked quite a lot of passion in people – like “What the fuck were Blur doing on there?”.
Their signature tune had been There’s No Other Way, an irritatingly catchy, baggy, pop number that had jauntily made it into the UK Top Ten in early 1991. By the time of Rollercoaster, the baggy scene was over and Blur were beginning to look like indie also-rans who’d fluked a one-off, big-selling single – like Candy Flip or something. What actually happened of course is that they became leading lights of the Britpop scene that dominated the middle of the decade. I wouldn’t have predicted that. At the time they seemed like the poor relations on the tour, but they turned out to be the only band on the bill to have their most successful years ahead of them.
Me and Millhouse went to the Birmingham NEC leg of the Rollercoaster tour along with Jason, the drummer in our (shit) band, his girlfriend Bianca and her best friend Claire. Bianca was a self-consciously cool indie girl – all flowery dresses and superior attitude. She was in my year at school and we got on fine, but she liked to behave in a mature manner at all times, whilst I was – and still am – fond of getting silly. That’s why she went out with Jason who was a year older than us and was the proud owner of a rusted Austin Metro. Claire was similar, but not as pretty, although Millhouse fancied her desperately anyway. Claire’s made her lack of interest in Millhouse very obvious. My girlfriend at the time wasn’t invited on the trip because there was only room for five in the Metro and I was a crap boyfriend.
Millhouse organised the trip, because that was his role and because he wanted to spend time trying and failing to work his way into Claire’s affection. Jason’s job was to drive. My role was to write it all up 25 years later.
Of course being 25 years later a lot of the details are forgotten. I know it was great and that it started early so everyone could play a full set; not like a festival show where most are abbreviated. I remember J Mascis’s ear-splitting solos and the hooks on Freak Scene and The Wagon; songs that I didn’t know that well at that time. The Jesus & Mary Chain were impressive too; the muscular beats and crisp guitar sound of Honey’s Dead translating perfectly to the vast arena of the NEC. Even Blur were good, maybe conscious of their status as poor relations and keen to prove their worth to an indifferent crowd. Their set was memorable for the film they showed at one point – a reverse chronology of a cow’s life, from kid eating burger, back to abattoir and finally standing, chewing the cud in a field. It was strangely touching.
My Bloody Valentine were the main attraction for us. While the other groups raised their game for the bigger venue and the huge, diverse crowd, you felt like MBV could have played to ten times as many people and kept them enraptured. They could have done it with the same sound system too – this was during their ‘holocaust’ days and shit, they were loud. You could physically feel the swirling, squally feedback take your breath away. It was mesmerising. The cotton wool in Millhouse’s little ears had never worked so hard. I don’t want to take the piss out of people for taking care of their hearing – I know tinnitus is a horrible, horrible condition – but Millhouse was 16 at the time. It wasn’t natural for him to be thinking like that. Besides, he was wrong, my hearing is still fine now.
My Bloody Valentine’s performance of the glorious Soon stays with me to this day. As does the sense of bewilderment that me, Millhouse and Jason shared at their sheer musical competence. As members of a (shit) band ourselves, we were awestruck by their ability to all remember in unison how many times to play the descending riff after the chorus of Feed Me With Your Kiss.
Strangely my clearest memory of the Rollercoaster tour comes from before we even got into the venue.
As well as being a golden era for music, 1992 was a fantastic time to be a smoker. It was still fairly cheap, the packets featured only small written warnings of the hazards inherent in your habit, rather than large, graphic horror photos of your likely future and you could smoke pretty much anywhere. And yet we got the idea from somewhere – the ticket or the letter that accompanied it, maybe – that cigarettes weren’t allowed in the NEC Arena.
At least three of us smoked at that time and we debated the situation all the way there. It was going to be a long gig and we didn’t want to wait until after the concert for a cigarette. But we didn’t want Security to take our smokes off us either. Then, Bianca spoke up. She had an idea. Her vintage suede coat had a small rip in the lining. She would squeeze a packet of B&H into the lining through the rip and retrieve them inside the venue. It was a brilliant idea. Well, no, it was a shit idea, but Bianca was saying it, and she was just so sensible and mature. If she thought it would work, we were willing to accept that.
We parked up and walked the long walk to the venue, joining long queues of German army shirts, cardigans, plaid, combat shorts, flowery dresses, Doc Martens, band t-shirts and tie-dye. Banks of security guards checked tickets by the doors. Bianca remained cool.
We got closer to the front and could see that everyone was being patted down before they got through the doors. Seeing this, Bianca took off her suede coat and draped it over her arm casually. She remained unfazed and we believed in her. Me, Jason and Carl joined the male queue, with male security staff, Claire and Bianca joined the ladies’ queue. Bianca, retained an air of total confidence in her smuggling abilities. She got to the front of the queue before we did and was patted down by a sturdy lady in a black bomber jacket. Bianca remained impassive throughout, even when the bomber jacket woman gestured for her coat.
By this time me, Millhouse and Jason were at the front of the queue and being searched. We stood there with our arms outstretched looking over as Security Lady squeezed the coat and found something suspicious. She stopped smiling. Bianca’s face began to get red. Security lady turned the coat inside out and began talking to Bianca sternly. Bianca got redder. Security Lady found the hole in the lining, reached in and pulled out the golden box of contraband. From five metres away, I could feel the searing heat coming from Bianca’s face. Security lady summoned her colleagues as she opened up the cigarette packet and tipped out the contents into a tray, all the while talking sternly to Jason’s glowing girlfriend. Within a couple seconds Bianca was surrounded by big fellas in black bomber jackets, pointing accusing fingers at her and questioning her angrily about her subterfuge, demanding to know what else she’d hidden and why. We looked on helplessly, wondering if this was the end of our night, as well as our cigarettes.
After a couple of tense minutes the crowd of bomber jackets began to disperse until it was just Bianca with Security Lady admonishing her as she slid the cigarettes back into the tattered packet with trembling fingers. Eventually, Bianca, and the cigarettes were allowed through to join us.
She traipsed over to us, with her sweaty, red face turned to the floor to avoid the sniggering gaze of the many hundreds of people who had witnessed her humiliation. It turned out that while trying to sneak stuff past the security team was frowned upon, you could smoke in the NEC after all – just not in the seats. So that was good.
Although, thinking about it, I don’t think Bianca actually smoked.
A few years later Mrs NoiseCrumbs was working at the NEC and could get us reduced price tickets for shows. Being a massive venue, not that much worth seeing came up, but among the bands we did see were The Beastie Boys, Black Sabbath and AC/DC. We had tickets for The White Stripes too, but tragically they split up before they did the tour. Another band we saw there was Blur – the poor relations of Rollercoaster filling the Arena on their own on their ‘Greatest Hits’ tour. I still wasn’t really a fan, but it’s funny how things turn out.