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  • Writer's pictureKeith Jeffrey

Is “When Nirvana Came to Britain” the laziest rock documentary ever to hit the airwaves?

For those of you may not know I was involved with Riverside, the legendary Newcastle music venue, in the 80s. One of our many claims to fame was hosting Nirvana’s first European show. I often pretend to impressionable youngsters that I was behind that booking and bask in reflected glory.

Truth was I couldn’t be arsed with all that miserable guitar crap. Why should I when Public Enemy and Trouble Funk were around?

Anyhoo – the documentary. Wow. Could it have been any lazier?

The 80s – ONLY formulaic Stock Aitken and Waterman around says Jo Whiley illustrated by Kylie singing “I should be so Lucky.” Then Nirvana come along and everything is transformed.

Where on earth do we start with that?

All this happened in the 80s:

- Hip Hop achieved maturity

- Techno and house emerged, all that EDM filling up the charts right now? That’s where it came from.

- On U Sound. Mighty, mighty stuff

- Reggae had a GOLDEN Period.

- Music from all around the world revealed itself to European audiences

Honestly I could go on, and that’s not even to mention all those noisy guitar bands like the Mega City 4, Senseless Things et al who ploughed the same furrow as Nirvana.

Racist if you ask me.


Peel was playing Nirvana’s first album throughout 1989. He raved about it. No mention at all.

A venue wouldn’t take Nirvana because they were too outrageous.

My guess is that they wouldn’t take them because at point they weren’t that popular.

None of that stuff was except Mudhoney who sold out the following month.

Certainly not in Newcastle. I have the receipts.

We sold 296 tickets which meant we just about broke even on the show.

Faith No More had sold out the week before.

The 3 bands that night got £637.10 (me neither) A quite big fee for us at the time.

BUT here’s the kicker.

TAD was the main draw that night. They headlined, not Nirvana.

NO MENTION of TAD AT ALL on the documentary apart from a fleeting reference.

Alternative lifestyles??? Gimme a break.

Let’s just use CRASS as an example of a band actually pursuing those ideals for at least 10 years before. There are others.

Rave also gets a passion mentioned in passing as if young people had only by 1989 had got interested in alternative lifestyles. RIVERSIDE was actually it. A Social enterprise WAY before its time.

SO what did this “alternative” band do the next time it came to Newcastle? Did it return a favour to the community owned venue who had taken the risk first time around?

Of course they didn’t. They took the cash from another promoter after having cancelled a second show on us. Maybe it was the agent, who cares?

And then they hit big and off they went.

Look I have no particular beef against Nirvana BUT this documentary did not explain how Britain helped them achieve success. Instead the producers settled for the hoary old tropes of scuzzy digs, lack of cash and "ooh weren’t they wild, they even dived into a drum kit!"

At the time they were just another band on the up who eventually made it big.

The same story could be told of Gaye Bikers on Acid or thee Hypnotics, bands of similar stature at the time but for some reason did not cut through like Nirvana dd.

Understanding why Nirvana and not say Mudhoney made it would make for a far more interesting documentary.

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