When you analyse the development of rock over the last forty years or so, all roads lead inexorably back to one man.
How so? Without the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed there would be no New York punk deriving from the Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie and Television. Therefore no exportation to the white British Working Class of this art school generated sound. Vis no Sex Pistols, Joy Division or the Clash. Moving it on you have the Smiths, Springsteen, REM, the Stone Roses and then Nirvana and Radiohead following into the Libertines and the bands inspired by them.
The Beatles and U2, although mighty and deservedly massive sellers, really just reflected and stylised what was going on in music at the time, whereas Reed was genuinely innovative and what he produced spawned countless other artists, the old cliché being that the Velvet Underground album shifted only 2,000 or so copies at the time, but each person went on to form a band.
Our Sixth Form was universally mainstream as far as music went, the most experimental we got was Bob Dylan and you would have attracted derision for anything more offbeat.
It was only at University and coming into contact with Belfast Grammar School boys who had smoked pot, and listened to more ethereal music such as Lou Reed, Nick Drake and early Pink Floyd (Mike Fisher please stand up. He’s gonna kill me for this!) that I became exposed to stuff out of the conventional 18 year old standards.
Mike played me Transformer and the Velvet’s album, which I got. Eventually.
But Berlin… I just never understood it, and I think you need much more life experience than I had at the age of twenty or so, as the themes are pretty full on and something that I got a handle on from my teaching career and more recent work at the sharp end of people’s personal misery.
But anyone with an ounce of empathy, and more maturity than I possessed as a privileged (and it was a privilege in the mid ‘eighties) University student couldn’t be fail to be moved by the story of love, hurt and rejection narrated in this very special record which has the feeling of Cathy Come Home about it.
Reed released it in the direct wake of Transformer, and clearly the world wasn’t ready for it. But now, revised and revisited some thirty years on, it feels really fresh, and above all relevant for our times.
The show was stunning, and it helped that Rich somehow obtained second row tickets, so it felt incredibly intimate, but still with the innate power to move.
Reed is clearly passionate about the record and put his heart and soul into an incredibly intense performance, ably supported by his band, choir and wind section. But I was relived that the children crying section from “Kids” wasn’t present, as I can’t cope with it.
This event was possibly in the top five gigs I have ever been at. A total privilege. The Boy Robinson Dun Good.