The night Bruce Springsteen came to Edinburgh

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A photography exhibition celebrating the legendary performances of Bruce Springsteen is probably the closest Edinburgh will ever get to seeing the Boss live again.

He hasn’t played the capital since 1981 when he packed out the Playhouse Theatre for two nights to promote his double album ‘The River’ - Edinburgh somehow fell off his radar as his E Street ours moved from theatres to stadiums and grew with every passing year and decade, save for a Playhouse return for his ‘Tom Joad’ tour in ’96.

Jo Lopez’s images capture every facet of Springsteen’s epic three-hour plus live sets. He’s ‘the man behind the man’... the on-stage photog with the best seat in the house. The title was bestowed by Clarence Clemons, the big man at the very heart of E Street.

Lopez has shot Springsteen at gigs around the globe for the past 16 years, and this is his first UK tour. A Harley Davidson outlet was the authentic rock ‘n’ roll setting for his Edinburgh exhibition, with a similar venue awaiting him in Dublin next week.

But what of that ‘81 gig?
Springsteen had announced shows in March of that year. Tickets cost £5.50 or £6 and quickly sold out.

My dad stayed in one of the row of houses right opposite the stage door at the time, and ocasionaly got complimentary tickets to compensate for the disruption - and the fact bands such as the Stones sucked up so much power the residents struggled to get a decent TV reception.

So, I got two Springsteen tickets for free. Any time I go back to the theatre I can still picture my seat in the stalls - ‘bout one third back to the left of the stage. Perfect view.

I mentioned to my music teacher at Wester Hailes Education Centre I was off to see the gig. He told me Springsteen would change my life.

Outside I was offered £100 for my ticket - an astronomical sum of money to a skinny kid from who lived seven floors up in the flats at Cobbinshaw House.

However tempted I was - and I was! - I figured this guy had to be worth seeing.

The memories of the gig are little more than fragments; snapshots from an evening which sparked a lifelong love affair with Springsteen’s music that will probably be played as I’m carried out the door in my coffin.

Pre-gig we stood in the foyer waiting for him to finish his soundcheck which, legend has it, took some three hours - effectively a show before thew show as he drilled his band one last time.

I can still recall the sonic boom of Clemons’ sax solo in ‘Independence Day’ which knocked me back into my seat, and the thill of watching him and Springsteen sliding on their knees across the Playhouse stage.

Much of the music was new to me, but the sheer power of the performance was captivating, exhilarating and utterly joyous.

I’ve seen Springsteen play stadiums across the UK to Hyde Park and the Olympic Stadium, watched him transform Wembley Arena into a village hall to celebrate the music of Pete Seeger, and sat on the banks of a stream outside the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff listening to him soundcheck ‘Racing In The Streets’ inside the empty stadium - it was a glorious summer’s evening, and it felt like a private performance for an audience of one.

But that very first Playhouse gig stands out among them to this day.

After the gig we headed round to my dad’s, opened up the garage which was opposite the stage door, and got muchncloser than the fans who were behind cordons either side of the lane.

The cars were lined up, and, one by one the band departed. I can still recall standing - and waiting - until I saw Springsteen depart, a rolled-up white towel around his neck.

That gig had a postscript too. When Clemons died, I penned a piece in the Fife Free Press on what the Boss, the big man and E Street meant to me.

A reader wrote to share his memories, and we got chatting about those Playhouse gigs of ‘81.

He reminded me they actually happened in May - I’d forgotten they had been rescheduled from the original March date on my ticket stub which I have to this day - and I remarked it was a shamed no Youtube footage of it existed, because my memory was of him signing off with a rendition of ‘Rocking All Over The World.’

A day or so later he emailed me an mp3 file of the entire gig mixed from the sound desk.. Complete with that Quo classic.

I missed Lopez’ one-off exhibition, but its arrival in town got me rummaging through old concert programmes. Top of the pile, still in its cellophane folder, still in pristine condition, is the one from 1981.

The night Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band blew into Edinburgh for the very first time.