Story 1981-05-26 Brighton Centre (The), Brighton, England

The River in Brighton

Greetings Facebonkers. An amazing 39 years ago this very day, I saw a gig by a visiting American rock star in my hometown that blew my mind and started me on the path to international travel and financial ruin. And I went back for more the next day.

I'd been aware of Bruce Springsteen's existence since 1975, when I heard "Born To Run" on the radio, but didn't actually see the light in a life-changing, tour-following way until July 1980, when I bought "Darkness On The Edge Of Town". In October, I bought "The River" in the week it was released. Soon after that came the first rumours of a UK tour in spring 1981. The first three dates were announced just before Christmas and eight more were added throughout January. I didn't have any luck, but eventually bought a pair of tickets to Bruce's second Wembley Arena gig via the small ads in the music papers. In early March, a last-minute, tour-opening 12th concert was added at the Brighton Centre. It was only announced locally and because my parents didn't buy the "Evening Argus" or listen to local radio, I was blissfully unaware of the gig until it was well and truly sold out. Not much more than a week later, the entire tour was postponed from March/April to May/June, due to Bruce's exhaustion. The Brighton gig moved from 17th March to 26th May. Four more shows were later added to the tour, bringing the final total to 16. These included a second night in Brighton on 27th May. Again, I only found out about this afterwards, but was still able to grab a decent seat from the box office.

On the day of the first show, still ticketless, I went down to the Brighton Centre to see what I could see, including the Edwin Shirley trucks parked round the back. I hung around for a while outside the nearby Metropole Hotel, where I saw Roy Bittan and Garry Tallent coming and going. Garry had obviously just raided Virgin Records. While wandering past the main entrance to the Centre, a guy offered me a ticket for £15, which was twice face value. That was my first experience of touts. Needless to say, I took it. Flash the cash, grab the ticket and don't look back was my modus operandi that afternoon. I worried that it might be a forgery but luckily it wasn't, otherwise I could be telling a very different story.

The Brighton concerts were generally considered to be the best of the tour by those who saw multiple nights. Heavy on material from "Born To Run", "Darkness" and "The River", with new material and a few covers thrown in, they were performed with an intensity that I hadn't seen before and lasted the best part of two and a half hours, not including the interval. They came midway through the UK tour after a five-day break, so Bruce was rested and raring to go. At that point, the tour was moving from theatres into arenas. Capacity at the Centre was around 4,500. (I wouldn't see Bruce play to a crowd that small for another 15 years). My seats were halfway back and very central on both nights, with a perfect unobstructed view. I can still remember the lights going down, the stage rush and the opening chords of "Prove It All Night" (26th) and "Born To Run" (27th) blasting out, and the sweat dripping off Bruce's arm as he strummed his guitar.

After the second show, I hung out with fans at the stage door and saw the E Street Band come out and board their bus. I also glimpsed an old black couple who turned out to be Clarence Clemons' parents. We waited. Security told us Bruce had gone. Some went home. We waited. This went on for a little while. The crowd thinned. We waited. Finally, a guy said "everybody form a line". We were taken down the street towards a nondescript white van or minibus, which had emerged unnoticed from the venue's underground car park. Bruce was sitting in the front passenger seat with the window rolled down. I didn't know it at the time, but this was a regular occurrence. He autographed the back of my ticket on the dashboard (I'd bought a programme the night before and taken it home) and stayed to meet and greet all the diehards. I remember him saying that the Brighton gigs were numbers 100 and 101 of the "River" tour. (I checked. He wasn't far out). It was raining a bit by then and I'd missed the last bus, but I walked home with a big grin on my face, my only regret being that I didn't bring my camera with me. I've lived in London for a long time now but still get back to Brighton and occasionally visit that spot. I certainly will on the 40th anniversary next year.

Saunders over and out.

By Mike Saunders via
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