Story 1985-06-04 St. James Park, Newcastle, England

Born in the U.S.A. Tour hits the old St. James Park Twice

Greetings Facebonkers. It's anniversary season for those of a Springsteen disposition. Most of his UK shows have taken place at various points in the four-month period from April to July. This week we've been marking his 1981 stand at Wembley Arena, his 1985 gigs in Slane and Newcastle and his concerts in Glasgow, Coventry and Wembley four years ago. Today I'm going to focus on Bruce's two 1985 concerts at the old St James' Park football stadium, home of Newcastle FC. Conveniently, they took place just three days after the humongous megagig at Slane Castle in Ireland that I told you about four days ago, so I'll pick up where I left off.

On 2nd June 1985, the sunny morning after the Slane event, we dragged our aching and sunburnt bodies out of bed only a few hours after we'd climbed into them, counted our limbs to check they were all still there, climbed into our hired minibus and spent the day travelling slowly down the east coast to the ferry port at Rosslare, in time to catch the evening crossing to Fishguard in South Wales. After that 172-mile journey, we drove another 250 miles through the night (I still remember the lights of the huge Port Talbot steelworks as we passed it on the M4) in the direction of London, arriving at Dan's place around breakfast time on 3rd June. Once we'd got our heads down for a few hours, we drove a further 280 miles to Newcastle (actually our drivers Dave and Jeff did that, while we sat behind them apologising for not being able to drive), finally arriving at the B&B that would be our home for the next three nights. Back in 1981, some of our gang had seen Bruce play a single night at Newcastle City Hall, which had a capacity of 2000. Now he was playing two shows in the city for a combined crowd that was 40 times bigger.

The Newcastle concerts were Bruce's first in the UK for four years. Consequently they got more media coverage than his three London shows a month later. Since ending his 1981 tour at Birmingham NEC, he'd released "Nebraska", a stark solo acoustic album that only appealed to his hardcore fans, and "Born In The USA", a rock album that struck a chord with everyman and his dog, topped the charts, sold in millions and made sure that he returned as an all-conquering rock hero, a fact that long-term diehards in the 25-35 age bracket found hard to accept. We viewed the Johnny-come-lately new fans (who would likely move on to the next superstar in a year or two) with suspicion. Some of them only knew "BITUSA" and others probably thought "Born To Run" was written by Frankie Goes To Hollywood and a New Jersey was something granny gave them for Christmas. As a result, Bruce's music received wider exposure, which was no bad thing, but the intimacy of his earlier shows was missing. Crowd-pleasing rockers took precedence over the romantic epics from his first few albums and a great deal of his slower, quieter, introspective material. A necessary adjustment for a mass audience in big outdoor venues. Nevertheless, it was what it was, an unrepeatable career peak that the old guard were temporarily sharing with hordes of youngsters wearing sweatbands and wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, even if they'd been no further than the Isle of Wight. Despite our reservations, there was never any question of us boycotting the gigs in protest at the new normal. Bruce's live reputation was still second to none and while seeing him in a football stadium was not ideal, it was preferable to waiting 14 years until he played indoors with the E Street Band again.

After 35 years burning down the road, my memory of the next two days is a little hazy. My time was spent wandering around town, queueing to get in, grabbing occasional food and drink, socialising with my fellow travellers, meeting other fans, attending post-gig Bruce parties and buying numerous local broadsheet newspapers, whose souvenir editions were packed with previews, reviews and photo spreads throughout Bruce's sojourn in Newcastle. The national press also got in on the act, with headlines like "Salute Bruce Springs-Tyne" and "Boss Of Tyneside". We felt it was our duty to boost circulation. Bruce's shows were a big deal for the rock scene in the northeast and for Newcastle in particular, which had in recent years hosted concerts by Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, but was now the location for what the "Northern Echo" called "The Greatest Show On Earth".

Although the capacity of St James' Park (close to 40,000 each night) was undoubtedly huge, it was less than half the size of Slane. The shows took place in a stadium instead of a field, there were no dangerous slopes, no senseless drunks (thanks to a ban on alcohol), more crowd control, stands to sit in and no trespassers, all of which made the Newcastle concerts a considerably more comfortable experience and enabled us to concentrate on the show with no fear of being trampled underfoot. Reviews suggest that it rained on the second night but I don't recall that at all. Maybe my sunny disposition blocked it out.
The sets didn't change all that much on the 1985 European tour but we did get a handful of alternative choices over the two nights that weren't played at Slane, including "Racing In The Street", "Darkness On The Edge Of Town", "Because The Night", "Can't Help Falling In Love" and the rarely-played Vietnam-themed B-side "Shut Out The Light", which Bruce prefaced with his now-familiar story about how he met "Born On The Fourth Of July" author Ron Kovik. This selection was particularly special because it was dedicated to Paul Lucas, one of the travelling family of Springsteen fans I'd recently met and was standing close to at that moment. He'd spoken to Bruce before a soundcheck on 3rd June and given him a copy of the book "Dispatches" by Vietnam war correspondent Michael Herr, which described war from the soldier's point of view. His request for "Shut Out The Light" had been met with "maybe second night" and so it was. Paul's reaction could be heard on the bootleg tape that later circulated, together with that of multiple strangers who didn't have a clue who he was but cheered anyway. This fact was later noted in a review by pop magazine "No. 1". "Bruce dedicates a song 'to Paul, if you're out there'. 10,000 people cheer and wave. Are they ALL called Paul?"

The next day, our travelling band went their separate ways after a tiring week on the road. Some crossed to the European mainland to see more shows, while the rest of us went home to recuperate and prepare for the next UK gigs at Wembley Stadium and Leeds Roundhay Park in early July. Meanwhile, Bruce jetted off to Gothenburg for another two-night stand, having given $20,000 to the Northumberland and Durham Miner's Support Group.

Of the six shows Bruce played in the UK that year, the pair in Newcastle featured the lowest audience capacities at close to 40,000. This was roughly one third of the total number of people who saw him on his entire 16-date UK tour in 1981, which illustrates the massive increase in his pulling power in the mid-eighties. This level of popularity has never waned on this side of the ocean in terms of attendance at E Street Band gigs. In the 35 years that have elapsed since 1985, Bruce has only played 12 indoor concerts with his old cohorts in the UK. The remainder took place in stadiums and at festival sites, including Glastonbury, Isle Of Wight and Hard Rock Calling. It's interesting to speculate what course his performing career might have followed if Bruce had decided to release "Nebraska 2" in 1984 instead of "BITUSA". His visits may not have been so frequent and he certainly wouldn't have made that giant leap into stadiums. We would probably have seen him at the City Hall in 1985 instead of St James' Park. He finally did appear there again on the Tom Joad solo tour in 1996 but, as ever, that's another story.

Saunders over and out.

By Mike Saunders via Facebook.com.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License