If you happened to wander past a club where the poster at the door announced tonight’s band as Blue Sunday And The Cockroaches or perhaps Hornets Attack Victor Mature, you probably wouldn’t give it a second thought. You almost certainly wouldn’t bother to go in. But you’d have made a serious mistake because both of those unpromising monickers were actually pseudonyms for two of the world’s biggest bands, playing secret gigs.
As I see it, there are two main types of secret gigs. The true, authentic, secret gig is one which is not announced or advertised in advance, and is usually done by a band or an artist just for fun, or to prove a point about their own popularity. The other kind is the “secret” gig, usually dreamed up by some marketing executive at a band or artist’s record label as a promotional stunt. A “secret” gig is usually advertised upfront with slightly mysterious ads or radio spots so that fans will figure out who the real artist is and go to the show causing a sell-out and thus providing additional media exposure for the band.
Here’s ten names used by well-known bands to play what I believe were genuinely secret gigs, plus a couple of details about each gig. See how many you can identify before scrolling down the page to find the answers.
1977, Aug 19 : The S.P.O.T.S at The Lafayette Club, Wolverhampton, England.
1978, Jul 19 : Dr. J Jones & the Interns at The Starwood Club, Los Angeles.
1981, Sep 14 : Blue Sunday And The Cockroaches at Sir Morgan’s Cove, Worcester, Massachusetts.
1982, Sep 27 : The Garden Wall at The Marquee Club, London.
1988 Aug 17 : Charlotte And The Harlots, Queen Mary College, London.
1991, Mar 19 : Bingo Hand Job at The Borderline, London.
1991, Aug 14 : The Four Skins, at The Marquee Club, London.
1993 May 14 : Fate Of Nations at The King’s Head pub, Fulham, London.
1995, Dec 14 : The Lemmys, at The Whisky A Go Go, Los Angeles.
2014, Sep 10 : The Holy Shits! at Concorde 2, Brighton, England.
Feel free to write to me and complain that I didn’t include Venison at Dingwalls in Camden, London (actually The Strokes); or Gums And Noses (actually The Libertines) or Melvin Giganticus And The Turd Burglars (actually Led Zeppelin). The way I figure it, ten is the ideal number for a list, so I chose the ten I thought were most interesting.
19.8.77 Lafayette Club, Wolverhampton – S.P.O.T.S stood for (Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly) The Sex Pistols had become so notorious by mid-1977 that if they played under their real name, their shows would probably be shut down by local authorities. On this short tour, they played six gigs in all, each of them featuring a different name for the band. According to The Pistols’ Paul Cook, “We decided to do these gigs, like, just for one, ‘cause we want to play anyway, and we hadn’t played in England for such a long time. And we couldn’t publicise them, ‘cause if we did, some councillor might just come and say, ‘Right, you’re not playing here,’ which they have done and they can do, for any stupid reason. So we decided to go to each individual promoter ourselves, who owned their private clubs and who could put us on without having to ask someone else, and told them to keep it secret. But we knew enough word would get out that people would know we were playing – which they did. So it weren’t totally unfair on the fans anyway, ‘cause most of them who wanted to see us come to see us. And all the places were packed out, so enough word got ‘round for people to know we were playing.”
1978, Jul 19 : Aerosmith played a surprise 1978 gig at the Starwood Club as “Dr. J Jones & the Interns at The Starwood Club, West Hollywood. Aerosmith played less than ten shows using this pseudonym in 1978 and 1979 at a time when they could easily pack stadiums.
1981, Sep 14 : Blue Monday And The Cockroaches at Sir Morgan’s Cove, Worcester, Massachusetts. A pseudonym for The Rolling Stones. This was a low-key secret show in advance of the Stones 1981 tour of the USA. About 275 tickets were distributed from unmarked cars driving around town, and Worcester radio station WAAF staffers distributed tickets to anyone displaying the station’s logo on T-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, etc. In the event, 4,000 people turned up, plus the local riot squad with helicopter assistance. At the suggestion of the police, the venue doors were opened so that the massed can fans could hear the gig from outside.
1982, Sep 27 : The Garden Wall at The Marquee Club, London. Genesis had been known as The Garden Wall back in the late 60’s, and they revived that name for this one-off secret gig. As is often the case, some of their smarter fans figured it out, put the word out on the grapevine, and The Marquee was packed to the gills.
1988 Aug 17 : Charlotte And The Harlots, Queen Mary College, London. This was effectively a 19 song set by Iron Maiden as a dress rehearsal for their upcoming Monsters Of Rock festival appearance.
1991, Mar 19 : Bingo Hand Job at The Borderline, London. This was actually R.E.M. road-testing some new material under a somewhat saucy assumed name. They have also played under the name Hornets Attack Victor Mature.
1991, Aug 14 : The Four Skins at The Marquee Club, London. Mötley Crüe played secret gigs under the pseudonym The Four Skins as a warm-up for their imminent 1991 Monsters of Rock show at Donington. The small ad in the British music press accurately described The Four Skins as “Unannounced, Unprofessional, Unrehearsed and Ungodly Loud”.
1993 May 14 : Fate Of Nations at The King’s Head pub, Fulham, London. Robert Plant played this secret show as Fate Of Nations, which was also the name of his upcoming album.
1995, Dec 14 : The Lemmys, at The Whisky A Go Go, Los Angeles. Metallica called themselves The Lemmys when they played at the 50th birthday party of Lemmy of Motorhead at The Whiskey A-Go-Go in West Hollywood in 1995. Wearing fake mutton chop moustaches and sporting freshly-drawn Ace Of Spades tattoos they ripped through a six song set, beginning with Overkill and ending with (We Are) The Road Crew. “That was the biggest compliment anyone has ever paid me,” Lemmy later stated. “But they got their tattoos on the wrong arm, every one of them.”
2014, Sep 10 : The Holy Shits! at Concorde 2, Brighton, England. While warming up for the release of their album Sonic Highways, The Foo Fighters displayed admirable modesty by performing in this tiny club as support to the tribute band The UK Foo Fighters.