With Elton John on the horizon in a few weeks time, we remember the first gig at the stadium with The Wonder Stuff...IT SEEMS rather appropriate that in this the 25th Anniversary of Bescot (Banks's) Stadium opening its doors, we will be staging a summer concert from the legend that is Elton John.
The National Treasure performs here on Saturday, June 13th for what promises to be a fantastic show.
But whilst there have been a long line of talented footballers grace the turf over the past quarter-of-a-century, there has only ever been one previous outdoor concert take place here and that came back in 1991 when The Wonder Stuff took centre stage.
The band, whose roots were here in the West Midlands, were riding the crest of a wave at the time; they had their third album out and the first single from that, ‘The Size of a Cow’, had reached number five in the charts.
This was the first time that they had headlined a stadium show and 18,000 people came along to see them.
“We had been allowed access to the stadium the day before the gig to set up and I must admit that I had been a little nervous about filling such a huge empty space with an atmosphere of a rock gig,” said lead singer, Miles Hunt. “I needn’t have worried as our audience poured in and brought with them the best party atmosphere that I had ever encountered.
“I guess the average age of the crowd was around 18 to 22; it was an unusual event to have in the area and I got the sense that they felt the day belonged to them.
“My over-riding memory of the day was the weather! It wasn’t just a bit of rain we were in for, but very high winds too. This was a particular annoyance as we had invested in quite a spectacular stage set including a three-storey high inflatable Elvis and a track that ran the whole way around our lighting truss from which there should have been suspended various components of our 'Never Loved Elvis' album cover; a massive cake, an American-style police car, a jet, dancing girls… But we couldn't use any of it as the winds would have brought it all crashing down!
“Just a couple of weeks prior to the gig I had met Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer who I invited to come to Bescot to host the day's events; it had been a lose arrangement and come the morning of the gig, I had no idea whether they were even going to show up. Thankfully just before we opened the gates to the stadium they showed up on two Triumph motorbikes, somewhat hung-over from a night out in Manchester with the members of New Order!
“The stadium was excellent as a venue and all the staff were incredibly helpful and friendly. At a guess I would imagine that most of them had no idea who The Wonder Stuff were, but simply because it was such a different event to host there meant that everyone was keen to help out in any way that they could and this contributed to making it such a great day.
“After the gig had finished, we were allowed to have an after-show party in the Boardroom – it was a party that went on for some time as I recall!
“Even though we had to battle with the weather, we all agreed that it had been a successful day.
“It was the first time that we had done such a gig here in the UK. We had the great pleasure of opening shows for the likes of Faith No More and INXS over in Austria and Germany; we were pretty low on the bill at those shows, so the excitement was in no way compatible to what we experienced at Bescot. Also those European stadiums were bigger than Bescot, so even when the headliners performed the atmosphere didn't match what we had experienced in Walsall.
“Bescot was the perfect size to capture the excitement; there was no need for huge screens for the audience to enjoy the show as it was happening right there in easy reach.”
Hunt admits that he was never ‘caught by the football bug’. “I’ve always had my head firmly fixated in music,” he added. “The same could be said about the rest of the band, apart, maybe, from guitarist, Malc Treece, who was a Manchester United fan.
“As a result I’ve never been back to the stadium since, but every time I pass on the M6 motorway, my heart is filled with pride that we once managed to put a gig on your turf. I do have a great sense of pride that we did that, particularly as I lived in Chuckery in 1989.
“Walsall holds a special place in my heart, I had great times there. There were two independent record shops and a couple of pubs that had a great music crowd keeping their bars busy.
“I've always been surprised that no other bands have played at the stadium as our day was such a success, but I suppose secretly I have been proud that we have been the only ones.
“To know that Elton John is now set to play the stadium during the summer, I'm not at all disappointed to know that we will no longer be the only musicians to hold such a high accolade. Elton is one of the biggest stars in the word, I'm thrilled that your stadium has been chosen to host his show and it's a nice feeling to know that only The Wonder Stuff and Elton John have been lucky enough to perform at Bescot - so far…”
Part of the crowd that day was current Saddlers’ boss, Dean Smith. He was a key member of the Walsall back-line in those days and also a fan of The Wonder Stuff.
“I was well into my indie music at the time, and still am,” he said. “Me and a group of mates at school use to go to various places locally and when we heard that The Wonder Stuff were coming to Bescot Stadium, we snapped up some tickets straight away!
“It was a bit surreal watching them from the pitch that I played on, but it was great fun.
“My over-riding memory was of the rain that lashed down, even though it was supposed to be the summer time... typical British weather!
“It failed to dampen the atmosphere, though, and it was a great gig. I can recall Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer being on stage to introduce the band and that also added to the occasion.
“Now all these years later, I’ll be attending the next gig here with my wife when Elton John takes to the pitch in a few weeks time.
“I have to admit that it’s not my type of music, but he is such a fantastic entertainer and it will be great to have such a world-renowned artist here at Walsall FC.”
TICKETS FOR THE ELTON JOHN CONCERT ARE NOW ON SALE FROM THE BANKS'S STADIUM TICKET OFFICE (open weekdays 9.00am until 4.30pm) OR BY CALLING 01922-651 414/416.
PHOTO: Martyn Goodacre.