Over the years, the University of York campus has had its fair share of famous artists that have played on campus. From the legendary Jimi Hendrix concert that went down in York history, to the Boomtown Rats gig that rocked Central Hall. We asked our alumni what their favourite memories of gigs on campus were. Here’s what they had to say…
Elton John in King’s Manor
“King’s Manor was the scene of a memorable 21st birthday bash for four of us whose birthdays fell after our finals but before the end of term. We each put £25 into the kitty which provided hiring the place, catering, booze, and hiring our choice of musicians.
Finally, at 11pm, a young man wandered into the big lounge, sat down at the piano, and just started to sing and play, not loudly, not showing off, almost for himself. And no-one left for the last buses, while others drifted in and stayed, mesmerised and enthralled. Until finally the porters called a halt and chucked us all out, including the pianist, a very young Elton John.”
– Gill, 1970
Bob Marley and The Wailers (1972)
“Apart from Paul McCartney and Wings in Goodricke, my best memory was probably The Wailers in Vanbrugh in 1972. Bob Marley playing in Vanbrugh- unbelievable really. I only went because someone I knew told me that they would be good, I hadn’t heard of them and (until that night) wasn’t a fan of reggae or had even heard much apart from Desmond Dekker. Obviously they were incredible and we were ridiculously close to the stage. I’m 70 now and still think it was one of the best gigs I’ve been to.”
Jimi Hendrix in Hendrix Hall (1967)
“I was at the Jimi Hendrix concert! Squashed right up against the platform on which the band were performing. Jim bent down and said, ever so politely, “Could you get me a glass of water?”
– Elizabeth, 1968
“It was electric and astonishing. At the time no-one had ever seen anything like it… I watched him that night and just thought wow. In those days he’d smash his guitar against the speakers, play it behind his head and even set fire to it. He was a total showman but also an absolutely amazing musician.”
-Phil, who helped book Hendrix to play at the university (read more)
If the Jimi Hendrix gig was anything to follow, a 1968 article in Nouse remarked: ‘Wild rumours circulating yesterday concerning the possible imminent arrival of Dylan, the Beatles and the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra for a group session in Central Hall were crushed by a representative of the Vanbrugh JCR: “The fee was somewhat too high for a mid-term event.”‘
Boomtown Rats, Lenny Henry, and Steve Hackett (1983)
“Some of my favourite memories of gigs on campus are Steve Hackett, who played in 1983. He signed my ticket and didn’t answer my question about why he’d left Genesis. 29 years later, I’d read up. *He* asked *me* why he had!
Boomtown Rats. Afterwards, Bob Geldof mentioned me in a YSTV interview about ‘unsafe’ dancing in Central Hall. He said ‘There was a guy in the front row with a broken arm and he was happy enough’. I was.
Teardrop Explodes, which deafened my right ear a bit. My seat was level with the speaker stack tweeters.
Lenny Henry, who took the mick out of me when I had to go to the Gent’s halfway through.
Derwent Summer Balls, every year. I was front row for Bad Manners, and sprayed in Buster Bloodvessel’s sweat. Many other bands there each year.
– Martin, 1985
Fun fact: During the Boomtown Rats’ 1985 gig in Central Hall, Bob Geldof invited those who couldn’t see to come closer and dance. Nearly 300 people surged to the front and danced on the orchestra pit cover, causing over £1,000 worth of damage.
Paul McCartney and Wings in Goodricke (1972)
“Wings played in Goodricke in 1972 or 3… with roadies turning up and offering an unnamed band for the night, with a % of the door going to the student union as Leeds Uni had turned them away.
Free played in Central Hall. They were building a wall of amps and speakers across the stage like nothing we’d ever seen before. Curved Air in Central Hall too, who were putting speakers at the rear and flying the violin around the room.
I have a vague recollection of King Crimson with a massive array of drums, timpani, etc, and possibly Soft Machine too. Hopefully this will jog other people’s memories and fill in the gaps.”
– Nigel, 1973
The Kinks in Central Hall, Horslips, Dr. Feelgood and more…
“The Kinks at Central Hall, the big gig for Rag Week, was worth getting a stiff bum on those awful bench seats for. Horslips in Langwith dining room were brilliant, touring their album ‘The Tain’.
Dr. Feelgood (the original line-up with Wilko Johnson) always kicked up a storm. They came so often I actually didn’t go and see them on one occasion. Which I have regretted ever since, of course. Once they played Derwent dining room and were very well supported by YU’s very own Doctor Fidgety Feet.
Ian A. Anderson a few times in JCRs and dining rooms, always an entertaining evening. I was lucky enough to catch him a few years ago – nearly 50 years on – and he is still well worth seeing.
I saw Pete Atkin several times. This was during a spell when he released several albums so he was touring a lot. The first time was solo in (I think) Langwith. A year/album or two later he played Wentworth dining room, obviously budgets were bigger by then as he had a band with him. And I got a very stiff bum (bit of a theme there) sitting on the floor. The last time I saw him at York he had Clive James in tow and had graduated to Central Hall – which was good, but I thought he was better suited to the smaller more intimate venues.
And the one that got away. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band played Central Hall for the big freshers’ weekend gig in my last year. At the time I had never heard of them and thought the band name was pretentious, so I didn’t go. By all accounts they were brilliant and I really regret not going. In the end a few of us trekked over to Leeds Uni to see them in that funny gap between Finals and the end of term. No photos I’m afraid – I couldn’t afford the film!”
– John, 1976
My Bloody Valentine in Vanbrugh Dining Hall (1988)
“There are so many gigs to tell, so many happy memories. I was involved in what we called ‘Ents’ from very early on, and was often part of the team setting up and stewarding gigs which in those days were in the college dining halls only (thanks Bob Geldof). One gig that stays in my mind was My Bloody Valentine in Vanbrugh Dining hall in around 1988. My recollections are of a wall of high volume noise from the band, a high volume of alcohol consumption by the band and a very lively mosh pit. At one point the stage was shaking so much I had to stand behind it to stop the drummer from falling off. Because of that it isn’t my favourite gig!
I also remember fondly riding the porters trolleys around campus collecting and returning staging blocks. The trip downhill from Alcuin to Vanbrugh was the best!”
– Tim, 1988
Shy FX at Halifax College (2018)
“When I was part of the HCSA we booked drum and bass legend Shy FX to play the Halifax Freshers Week in 2018. On the morning of the event I received a call from the booking agent saying that Shy FX had been in a car accident the night before, immediate panic set in! After what seemed like an eternal pause he continued to say that he fortunately was completely fine just a little shaken up and would still be playing for us that night, huge relief!
That evening Shy FX was ready to go on stage but his MC was nowhere to be seen. After a lot of phone calls we were told he was ‘at reception’ but this didn’t turn out to be the Roger Kirk Centre reception as we hoped. An impromptu search party was urgently sent across campus on foot, on bikes and in cars. Soon enough our rogue MC was recovered at Langwith College reception having just said “University of York” to the taxi driver whom had presumably just picked a random location. Our MC took to the stage 10 minutes after Shy FX had started playing but the Freshers didn’t seem to notice and it turned out to be an amazing night.”
– Ollie, 2019
Hawkwind in Vanbrugh College (1972)
“There was a night in late ’72 I think when Hawkwind performed in Vanbrugh dining hall (yeah, I may have the wrong month at a distance of 50y). Along with a good number of other flared & denimed fashionable folk I queued in the drizzle to get a good spot when the doors opened. Looking across at the Music Dept, we could see an entirely different queue (dressed differently too), presumably waiting for a different event.
Brock & Co. performed very poorly for us that night, but hey ho. I learned a couple of days later that the other queue had been for a visit to the university of Dmitri Shostakovich. My more cultured friends had the better of the evening.”
A review of the aforementioned Hawkwind gig appeared in a 1972 issue of student newspaper Nouse and wrote: “The whole group agreed that it had been a had gig – nothing had gone right”
The Thompson Twins at Freshers’ (1981)
“My freshers night in October 1981 was The Thompson Twins. I was fresh out of a small town in Cheshire and was awestruck when the woman from the band was doing her hair in the women’s toilets. Never forget that night.”
Kiki Dee, Georgie Fame and others at the 1967 June Ball
“I still have the programme for the 1967 June Ball at the King’s Manor. It featured Humphrey Littleton, Georgie Fame, Kiki Dee and others.”
Fun fact: The first University of York summer ball in 1964 featured guest stars Lulu and the Luvvers. When they were booked the group was unknown, but by 6th June Lulu’s single ‘Shout’ was climbing to the top 20 and about to launch her to stardom. The ‘all night rave’ ended at 6.29am the next morning.
DJing in Halifax College
“Having taken up DJing in my late teens, Halifax college was the scene of my first ever ‘gig’, having signed up for the university DJ society, and asking for a slot at an open decks night. I remember being incredibly nervous stepping up to play for an hour or so, and the acoustics left a lot to be desired, but I got through it… and it must have gone okay, as I went on to run the society a few years later.
Of more note is that 20 odd years later, I’m still DJing fairly regularly, and alongside the guy who organised that night, who went on to become a best friend, and the best man at my wedding.”
– Richard, 2005
Finally, we had to share this iconic poster held in the university archive advertising The Who with support from Jan Dukes de Grey in 1970:
Feeling nostalgic about gigs on campus? Share your own memories of campus concerts on our virtual memory map. The University Archive is also looking to expand its collection of material on Student Life. If you have any programmes, posters or photos from campus gigs that you’d like to contribute, find out more by heading to the Student Life Collection webpage.