1981: When Springsteen brought The River tour to Edinburgh

It's 35 years to the month since Bruce Springsteen brought his first ever '˜River' tour to Scotland.

Tuesday, 24th May 2016, 9:52 pm
Updated Tuesday, 24th May 2016, 11:07 pm
Bruce Springsteen - ticket stub from his 1981 River tour gigs at the Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh
Bruce Springsteen - ticket stub from his 1981 River tour gigs at the Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh

His live debut consisted of two nights, back to back, at the Playhouse Theatre in Edinburgh

‘The River’ - the album and the gigs - were my introduction to the Boss.

The concerts were actually planned for March and then rescheduled - my ticket stub still shows the original date. Tickets cost £5.50 or £6 (the 50p presumably being a booking fee. If only charges were as minimal today ...)

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Bruce Springsteen - original 1981 tour progeamme from The River where he performed at the Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh

My dad stayed in one of the row of houses right opposite the stage door at the time, and occasionally got complimentary tickets to compensate for the disruption caused as bands such as the Stones sucked up so much power the residents struggled to get a decent TV reception, not to mention the dull thud of the bass and drums pounding through their brick walls.

So, I got two Springsteen tickets for free.

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.

Any time I go back to the theatre I still pick out my seat in the stalls - Row Z, Seat 49, about one third back to the left of the stage. Perfect view.

Advert for the Playhouse gig - referring to 'The Street Band'

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

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; still vivid 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 the show as he drilled his band one last time.

Bruce Springsteen - original 1981 tour progeamme from The River where he performed at the Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh

I recall peering through the square glass windows that led to the stalls, watching as the final checks were done.

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

There’s a memory of Springsteen on top of the piano conducting the crowd, a mass rendition of the first verse of ‘Hungry Heart’ and a rollicking ‘Sherry Darling’, and while much of his music was new to me, the sheer power of the performance was captivating, exhilarating and utterly joyous.

I’ve seen Springsteen play stadiums across the UK, at 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.

Advert for the Playhouse gig - referring to 'The Street Band'

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

To paraphrase Jon Landau, this was my rock ’n’ roll future - mine and 3000 others packed into the Playhouse that night. To me, ‘The River’ had a carefree swagger and joyfulness that pretty much stands the test of time three decades on.

After the gig we headed round to my dad’s, opened up the garage which was opposite the stage door, and got much, much closer 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, and waiting - until I saw Springsteen depart, a rolled-up white towel around his neck.

That gig had a postscript too.

When Clemons died in 2011, I penned a piece in the Fife Free Press on what the Boss, the big man and E Street meant to me.

A reader shared his memories, and we got chatting about those Playhouse gigs.

I remarked it was a shame no Youtube footage of the gig existed because my memory was of him signing off with a blistering 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 Fogerty/Quo classic.

It would have been perfect symmetry had he booked the band back into the Playhouse for a residency with the 2016 ‘Rivertour’ but such days are long gone. Theatres have long since been swapped for the biggest stadiums in the country. The 6000 of us who saw him back then would be lost in the circa 60,000 audiences at Hampden, Wembley, the Etihad, and even Coventry.

But the chance to hear The River played live once more - in full or even in part - marks this tour out as something special.

I may even do something I haven’t done in decades and buy another programme to sit with the original 1981 edition.

Springsteen’s return to The River 35 years completes a circle ...

>> Bruce Springsteen’s 2016 River Tour is at Manchester, Etihad Stadium May 25; Glasgow, Hampden Park June 1; Coventry, Ricoh Stadium June 3; London, Wembley Stadium June 5