A muggy night at London’s Kilburn National Ballroom in September 1987, and German industrial-meisters Einstürzende Neubauten are headlining. The support act? 1970s glam rock entertainers Showaddywaddy. As one press report aptly put it, “Say WADD?”
It was a source of bafflement and astonishment, and some who were present still can’t quite comprehend what happened. But happen it did…
On 7 September 1987, industrial experimentalists Einstürzende Neubauten played their sole UK date of the year at London’s Kilburn National Ballroom, promoting their fourth album, ‘Fünf Auf Der Nach Oben Offenen Richterskala’. Their support act? Seventies Ted-rockers Showaddywaddy.
Four years earlier, EN had made their UK and London live debut on a thrilling bill with The Birthday Party and Malaria!. Signed by noted disruptor Stevo to his Some Bizzare label – home to Soft Cell, The The and Cabaret Voltaire – EN followed up their avant-punk first record ‘Kollaps’ (1981) with the more evolved ‘Zeichnungen Des Patienten OT/Drawings Of OT’ and ‘Halber Mensch’ albums (1983 and 1985 respectively) and performed with acts such as goth band, The March Violets, and Boyd Rice’s noise duo, NON.
EN’s improv-screamed, construction-site Sturm und Drang developed elements of blackened ambient and electronic dance music, and they took jackhammers and drills onstage, as well as guitars and an experimental drum set-up. They’d performed at the ICA with a cement mixer in tow for ‘Concerto For Voice & Machinery’. An audience riot ensued after the band tried to tunnel through the floor wielding petrol chainsaws, choking said crowd with fumes and spraying them with shattered glass. Einstürzende Neubauten –fittingly, ‘Collapsing New Buildings’ – were a wild, inventive, speed-fuelled gang of Teutonic sonic nihilists. So how did they come to be paired with Leicester’s crepes-and-drapes hitmakers?
“We were working with Derek Block Associates, trying to relaunch,” says Showaddywaddy frontman Dave Bartram. “We were going a bit tougher and leaving the glammy, teenage side behind. Our agent Mike told us this guy Stevo had been in touch, offering a gig with Einstürzende Neubauten, and I thought, ‘Stevo’s trying to have a bit of a laugh here. He thinks he’s throwing Showaddywaddy to the lions’.
Bartram had no hesitation, though.
“We were an adept live band, and I knew all the rock magazines would be there, so we decided to do it.”
“The bill was Stevo’s idea,” recalls ex-EN bassist, Mark Chung. “We’d never heard of Showaddywaddy, and we were in our own world, so we were like, ‘Oh, crazy Stevo, what’s he done now?’ [laughs].”
Showaddywaddy were platinum-selling ‘Top Of The Pops’ regulars, slick entertainers with colourful costumes and choreographed routines. They turned up for the EN show with a scaled-down four-man crew and set about soundchecking.
“We were treated like shit when we arrived,” recalls Bartram. “The crew just looked down their noses at us.”
But by stage-time, the venue was packed and Showaddywaddy had the bit between their teeth.
“We ran out onstage to a sea of black,” continues Bartram. “It was a gothic audience, pallid faces, big hair, piercings. We felt a rush of adrenaline and, for 45 minutes, upped our game.”
Jack Barron from NME found the performance cheesy, saying the group had come from “panto-land” and were little more than “toilet cleaners in rock ’n’ roll’s hall of infamy”. Melody Maker’s The Stud Brothers remarked that the presumed joke billing was only “faintly amusing” and perhaps even insulting to the audience. French photographer Richard Bellia, who shot the gig for the Maker, has had his Showaddywaddy images from that night filed under Chumbawamba for the past 35 years.
“I’d never heard of Showaddywaddy before,” he muses. “I just knew it was another stupid name.”
EN fan Louise Wellenkamp, however, remembers it differently.
“I arrived at the venue and saw who the support was,” she says. “I then tried to explain to my friend David why it was Showaddywaddy, and failed. But then, what a rip-roaring set they did – and how all those pseuds got their 70s on, and seemed to really enjoy it!”
Chung was the only EN member to show interest.
“I was curious, so I popped up from backstage and had a look. I thought it was quite entertaining. As a concert-goer, I prefer the bands on a bill to be different – Stevo took that to an extreme [laughs].”
Some attendees arrived after Showaddywaddy’s slot, but picked up on a vibe as EN hit the stage. Journalist Chris Bohn bumped into former EN tour manager Jessamy Calkin, who said the band were a bit cross about the bill.
“There was a bit of a buzz and ill temper going down in their set, I felt,” says Bohn. “But that’s what Neubauten did anyway – making a bracing, physical kind of music. It was a highly exhilarating show.”
But he was also hearing that Showaddywaddy had “turned the situation on its head a bit” and that “some fans were won over”.
Graeme Bent from Sounds was impressed. He called Showaddywaddy “a difficult act to follow”, writing that EN were “sorely disappointing”.
At the front of the stage, rather than focusing on spidery frontman Blixa Bargeld, Richard Bellia instead found his attention being drawn to drummer FM Einheit.
“It was exciting that he was scraping metal with a power drill and some sort of engine that he’d built,” says Bent. “It didn’t feel rock ’n’ roll at all. It was like a demonstration of power.”
In the crowd, writer Marcello Carlin commented that Showaddywaddy had been “more up for it” than Neubauten, and that he’d seen “co-drummer Romeo Challenger at the side of the stage, keenly observing Neubauten’s percussive doings”.
Bartram, meanwhile, stood at the back of the hall.
“As their set wore on, the crowd response was a bit on the low side,” he remembers. “At that point, I felt that we’d risen to the challenge and it had worked.”
Proof of that came with the headline of the live review in Melody Maker: “England 3, Germany 1”. Here, The Stud Brothers asserted that, “If Blixa and the disorganisers had hoped Showaddywaddy would be blitzed offstage, they were sorely mistaken”.
For Bartram, it’s the weirdest gig he ever played.
“But I think we gained a new-found respect from certain quarters,” he claims. “And then, many years later, that performance got into Time Out’s ‘100 Greatest Live London Gigs’!”
So what was Stevo thinking when planning the event?
“It’s just yin and yang, innit?” he says. “I liked the idea of rock ’n’ roll beside anti-rock ’n’ roll. The media promoted the idea that there was going to be anarchy. But Showaddywaddy were bigger than Neubauten, and the fans thoroughly enjoyed it. They were doing that 1970s Mud dance in Dr Martens, with mohicans and anarchy symbols.”
Looking back, with such a mixed reception, does he consider the gig was a success?
“Well,” says Stevo, “we’re still talking about it today, aren’t we?”