LOOKING BACK AT ALICE IN CHAINS’ FIRST SHOWS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM: PART 1
Edited by Brett Buchanan
It’s March 22, 1991 and we are on London’s Charing Cross Road. This was back when the Astoria nightclub was just that and not another railroad station, and when the neon flashy white-blinding lights and the black box building meant that you had arrived at the infamous Marquee Club. It’s a cold day, but in the afternoon there are already disillusioned teens and ‘hairy’ adults who have formed a queue stretching past the nearby pizza take away all the way up to another famous club, The Borderline.
Some have tickets, others are desperately seeking them. Tonight the club is hosting British magazine Kerrang’s 10th anniversary party. The headliners could have played on their own and the show would still have been a sellout. Especially Megadeth, who had already sold out the 4,000 capacity Hammersmith Odeon in a few days time. It’s easy to see why there is a buzz at a venue tonight that holds 500 people and has a stage the size of your bedroom.
Joining the guitar wielders are British rockers The Almighty, who would go on to become hugely popular in the UK and the rest of Europe. And opening up proceedings are a little known quartet from Seattle, Alice in Chains.
“I don’t even remember why I was working that night,” recalls Suzi who worked the box office at the infamous club. “As you can imagine the show was a sell out, and there was such an electric buzz, if I recall Metallica and Aerosmith had played here and you could sense the same excitement about that show.”
Whilst the antsy queue grew substantially during the afternoon, Alice in Chains were enjoying themselves as tourists in London. The band took the boat trip down the River Thames. Suzi recalls. “They told me they took that opportunity because the boat went near to Hammersmith, where they were going to play with Megadeth that week, and they wanted to check out the size of the place. At that time, Alice were not known in the UK, so it was a big thing for them. They were really cool, they ended up doing what all unknown bands did first time they played The Marquee. They just chatted to some fans (of the other bands) and hung about in the foyer chatting to me. They looked like rock stars but if no one knows you, then you can be relaxed about that. I remember they kept asking for weed. It came across as if they thought it was legal in Europe or something, I suppose they had heard of the stories in Amsterdam?”
Suzi describes the band as being cool and relaxed. “You got that feeling that when they were going to hit the stage, that they would kick arse as we say in England. But when they were not on stage it’s like the guys from Bill and Ted, y’know like everything’s cool and let’s get drunk. I suppose at that young age you’re going to get out of control there and then and then see what happens after. But I could see that this band probably did have a future.”
That night Alice in Chains came on first and opened up their six song set with ‘It Ain’t Like That’ and wrapped it up with ‘Man in the Box.’ Suzi recalls, “The final song was surreal, because I didn’t know the title but I had heard the song. It was only years later that I learned that Man in the Box was popular in the US at that time, some people cheered during the beginning of the song, so obviously they knew it already.”
Though Suzi only worked the box office she recalls that the small club was like a family and this usually meant that once everyone was packed in for the night’s show, she would often receive a backstage pass. “They usually always gave me one. The thing is I usually just sat there opening up cans of beer for the bands. That show was hectic and crazy though. Because to have these three bands all on one bill and some egos flying around in such a small club it was a little tense. Backstage at The Marquee was SMALL. Basically two small rooms that stunk of piss most of the time. And of course Megadeth wanted their space and tonight it wasn’t going to happen because of course we had to accommodate Kerrang’s journalists so it was cramped. Like throwing a party in your front room.”
Suzi remembers Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley well. “I didn’t even know his name but he was so recognizable, his piercing blue eyes and I believe he had some wacky haircut, maybe long dreadlocks at the time. If you stared at him because of his frame it’s like you don’t want to mess with that guy. But actually once he talked it was the complete opposite. He was down to Earth, nothing fazed him. He wasn’t freaking out that Megadeth were in the same room, y’know because he wasn’t famous at that time but they were. I mean he had respect but really he couldn’t give a fuck. What I most remember is that he spoke to me and wanted to know about my job. Bless him he looked a bit devastated when I told him that the club was not on the original site- which was on Wardour Street, just a stone’s throw away.”
After the show everyone moved on to bigger surroundings for the after show party, but Layne wanted to go somewhere first. Suzi recalls. “Layne just kept going on about the pub, the Intrepid Fox, he wanted to go there. He had read it was a famous pub that rockers would hang out in. He was correct as it was. Slash from Guns N Roses was once chucked out there for getting too drunk. I didn’t go with him, I still had a job to do, but I believe he went there. Sadly it’s not
there any more.” Neither is the old/new Marquee according to Suzi, “Yep that’s gone too, it’s a crime when you think about it. It still has wonderful memories for people that attended so many memorable gigs there. We never had trouble and there was no security at those shows. Fans would turn up and just be cool and enjoy the show.”
The site of The Marquee club where Alice in Chains played their first ever UK show no longer has the atmosphere of a long line of branch pubs. Interestingly though, the pub has kept ‘the shape’ of the old club. So if you’re ever in London take a visit, pop some AIC on and maybe just maybe you can recall that memorable day in 1991.