20. Vega 4 – The Fleece, Bristol – 17/07/2003

Previously on Sweating With Strangers: the Bluetones spent 90 minutes trying to convince 21-year-old me to buy a cd, which is definitely the easiest sales pitch of all time.

Street Teams: I’ve never been on one, even though it seems like the kind of thing I would do, but that’s mainly because I don’t much like talking to people I know face-to-face, let alone doing so to strangers. I also failed as a salesman, because I have no interest in overcoming people’s objections, whether I disagree with them or not, so I envisage the following types of encounters would take place:

  • “Hey man, would you like to see The Wildhearts live this weekend? No? Well you’re clearly a chode. Go away.”
  • “Hi there, would you like to go to this Ed Sheeran concert? No? Yeah, neither would I. Good choice. Run away as fast as you can!”

But, I am aware of them, and although they seem to be less common these days – I’m guessing Twitter does much of the heavy lifing – there was a time when it seemed you couldn’t breathe within half a mile of a venue without having promotional materials thrust into your hands by eager-eyed fans.

I guess the fact that they do still exist suggests that artists find them to be valuable ways of getting people through the door, as in theory, they should be populated by super-fans, who can convince people they need to see this show, and provide them with all the information they require so they’re ready to rock out once inside.

In theory then, they would seem a very strange thing to take umbrage with, wouldn’t they? However, the concept of Street Teams was forever tarnished for me on a night in 2003, when a young man in a ‘Vega 4 Street Team’ t-shirt did just a fantastic job of making a gig all about him.

After seeing the band open for Bryan Adams the summer before, their debut album, Satellites, had become a firm favourite of mine, with it’s powerful ballads (as opposed to power ballads) and Johnny McDaid’s soaring vocals.

Image result for satellites vega 4

They’d impressed me as a live act, so I was keen to see them headlining, and bought tickets to a show at Bristol’s Fleece and Firkin (as I think it was still known then).

After my ten weeks of boredom in the summer of 2002, I was determined to have more fun before returning to uni for my final year. I still couldn’t afford a car of my own, but luckily my sister was learning to drive at the time, and thus there was a perfectly adequate vehicle chucking around at home, which I was able to guilt trip her into letting me use whenever I wanted to go to a show. I must have tripled the mileage on that car over the course of one summer, starting with this jaunt to Bristol.

I was accompanied by my friend Haynes, who had also witnessed Vega 4 at the Bryan Adams show, and we pootled off down the motorway, stopping off at the home of one of my university friends for dinner. We then headed into Bristol, getting lost by a construction site, and seemingly driving down a railway/tram line which was in the process of being built, before we finally found the venue.

I was excited to go to the Fleece, as I knew it as one of the ‘pubs’ Status Quo had played on their ‘Pub Tour’ in 1999, so I was expecting an intimate show with the band setup in the corner of a boozer. But to my surprise, what I found was a proper live music venue, with a full stage and a long bar along one side of what was, quite clearly, a prime pit for moshing. This would be a very strange place to sit and have a quiet pint and watch the football. Damn you Status Quo! You lied to me!

Nevermind, this was still a perfectly acceptable location to see Vega 4 in, I thought, and if I’d ever lived nearer Bristol, it was definitely the kind of place I would have frequented… um… frequently. On this night, however, it turned out to be the wrong venue for the wrong band.

Firstly, Vega 4 just weren’t built for a venue this small, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. Their sound was too big, their songs too epic. It was no wonder they’d so impressed me on the large stage and in the sprawling fields of Warwick Castle: that was where they belonged. They made music to fill stadiums, and to be complimented with giant light shows, not to be played in dirty little clubs (which, again, is meant as a compliment to The Fleece).

Completely contradicting that statement though, and highlighting the band’s major problem at the time, is that they were also not popular enough for a venue this large! The Fleece holds 450 people, and – allowing for 16 years of faded memories – I would guess there were 100 people in attendance that night.

Had we all been crammed into a 100 capacity bar, this would’ve been fine. If all 100 of us had crushed ourselves up against the barriers, desparate to be near to our heroes, this would’ve been fine. But the sad truth is that I would estimate 98% of the people there had seen the band supporting someone and were vaguely interested in checking them out again, rather than being die-hard fans who just had to be there. So most people milled around by the bar or the edge, leaving the kind of large gaps at the front that just don’t scream “all-time greatest gig experience”.

All that being said.. it still could’ve been an enjoyable night. After all, this was never the kind of band that necessarily needed a heaving mass to be appreciated. They were so damn good at what they were doing, that I could happily have stood stock still in silence, watched them perform and then gone home thinking “wow”.

But someone had other ideas, someone who, it could be argued, had not done his job well enough, and was partially responsible for the gaping spaces in the room. Yes, an actual member of Vega 4’s Street Team spent the entire show literally bouncing around the sparse crowd trying, presumably, to whip us all into a frenzy. At the conclusion of every song, he would cease bouncing, suck in as much air as his lungs could hold, and then bellow ‘VAAAAAAAYYYYYYGA FOOOOOOORRRRRREEEEE” with such a lack of emphasis or passion, that it sounded not a jot like he was cheering them on, but more like he was aggressively heckling them, a la Bart Simpson and Darryl Strawberry.

I cannot fathom his logic. If Vega 4 blew up and became the new Coldplay, it would have been richly deserved in my eyes, but even in that dream scenario, there would have been zero call for bouncing. If they had won Best Album and Best Band at the Brit Awards and sold out an arena tour in 5 minutes, no one at the closing Wembley Arena double header would have been jumping around. I doubt anyone would have moved save to sing along and maybe sway a little. So quite what he hoped to achieve with 100 people who only vaguely knew the songs, I have no idea.

“Oh this is a lovely acoustic ballad, now it’s growing into a soaring epic number, how lovely”
“VAAAAAAAYYYYYYGA FOOOOOOORRRRRREEEEE”
“You’re so right! LET’S BOUNCE MUTHAFUCKAAAAA!”

Didn’t happen.

But there is one of my two lasting memories of the show: the annoying street team twat, bouncing around and shouting at the band. Congratulations fella. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re proud of your legacy.

The other memory? They started with a song that wasn’t on the album and didn’t make it on to any other recordings of theirs I’ve been able to find, but it was BRILLIANT. I can’t imagine anyone will be able to, but if someone could confirm what it was called and find me a copy of it I’d be forever grateful.

Oh also, the support band were really good, I think, but I can’t remember who they were. Go on, someone fill me in.

No set-list thoughts I’m afraid, as all I remember is an unknown opening song and a shouting moron. I’ve yet to return to The Fleece, sadly, and I never saw Vega 4 again either. 3 years after this show they hooked up with Snow Patrol’s producer and decided to make the next Snow Patrol album. The result was You and Others, which was really good, unless you don’t like Snow Patrol, but probably not Snow Patrolly enough if you really do like Snow Patrol. Say Snow Patrol again. Snow Patrol.

That album didn’t make them into megastars, but it did give birth to this stunning song, which is one of my all time favourites, even if maybe eleven people worldwide have heard it.

After that, they disbanded, and singer/guitarist Johnny McDaid decided it was probably more profitable to make actual Snow Patrol albums, so he joined them! He also writes songs for Ed Sheeran, and married Courtney Cox, so he’s probably not short of a bob or two. I saw him on Michael McIntyre’s show recently and thought ‘I once stood 10 feet from you while you laughed nervously and looked angry at a shouty Bristolian.”

I wonder if he remembers.

Snow Patrol.

That’s a wrap for this week. Thanks for reading and not sharing, because none of you are sharing these and it doesn’t upset me at all.

Come back next time, when we’ll begin a two-part journey into the land of bland American Radio Rock, but in a good way.

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