Opera North

35 Bands You Wish You'd Seen at Rock City

16 December 15 words: Ruby Butcher, Ophelia King

We take a look back at some of the most prolific acts to jump on the stage of one of Nottingham's best gig venues...

1980 - The Kinks
When The Kinks emerged in 1964, they fast became one of the most influential and important rock groups of their era. The band's third single You Really Got Me became an international hit, topping charts in the UK and US. The band visited Rock City during their revival years, which took place during the late seventies and early eighties, before they eventually broke up a few years later due to declining commercial success and ‘creative differences’.

1981 - U2
The Irish rock band, fronted by Bono, formed in 1976 during their high school days, when Mullen allegedly posted a note looking to start a group. To this day, they are still making music and have sold more than 170 million records, making them one of the bestselling music artists ever, with thirteen studio albums and 22 Grammys under their belt. The Sunday Times Rich List 2013 estimated the group's collective wealth at €632,535,925. All because of a note. Wow.

1982 - B.B. King
American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, Riley B. King is widely known for his influences in electric blues guitar. He was born on a cotton plantation in Mississippi but has spent most of his life recording and touring worldwide. King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just five years after he played at Rock City. Rolling Stone ranked King No. 6 on its 2011 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

1983 - Def Leppard
Def Leppard were among the most successful of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands in the early eighties and were associated with the growth of the Glam Metal scene. They have released eleven studio albums and have sold more than 100 million records worldwide. They played at Rock City during the height of their commercial success, despite slightly disgruntling their British audience due to the Americanisation of their music and image.

1984 - The Smiths
The legendary Manchester group that took the eighties by storm have been critically acclaimed as the most important alternative rock band to emerge at their time. The band who have recently been nominated to enter The Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame broke up in 1987 and despite being offered a shit-tonne of money, Morrissey and Marr have insisted the band will never play together again. Well done to the lucky few who were at this gig.

1985 - R.E.M
When R.E.M played Rock City in 1985, the American rock band were touring their critically acclaimed debut album Murmur; proclaimed album of the year by Rolling Stone. Lead singer Michael Stipe, lead guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry were together for over twenty years before they called it quits in 2011. Our guess is that they were as tired of playing Shiny Happy People as we were hearing it.

1986 - INXS
This eighties ‘pub rock’ band from dahn under had a bit of a hit in the UK, thanks to a fair bit of decent music writing, frontman Michael Hutchence’s ‘good looks’ and a romantic partnership with Aussie songstress Kylie Minogue. The band have an impressive backlog having released twelve albums in total, won 24 awards out of the 46 they have been nominated for and sold over 45 million records worldwide. Not bad going that...

1987 - Guns N’ Roses
LA rock band Guns N’ Roses had just released their debut album Appetite for Destruction when they played Rock City in 1987. The album reached number one on the Billboard 200 on the strength of Sweet Child o’ Mine. Despite 22 lineup changes, and the fact that almost everyone in Guns N' Roses has been fired or has fired someone else at some point, they're are recognised for reviving the mainstream popularity of rock music.

1988 -  Pixies
Pixies were formed in 1986 after suitemates Black Francis and Joey Santiago met at the University of Massachusetts; although they were significantly more successful in the UK than their home country. In March 1987, the band spent three days straight recording music in a warehouse, which became their first eight-track EP Come on Pilgrim. Pixies jarring pop sounds is said to have influenced the likes of Nirvana, Radiohead and The Strokes. They also recorded the soundtrack for Shrek 2, which is just pretty cool.

1989 - The Beautiful South
With tunes like Perfect 10 and Sail This Ship Alone, The Beautiful South were a proper funky band with interchangeable members, finally split in 2007 after nineteen years of distinct sounds, warm voices and 15 million records flogged. They talk coming out on the other side of heartbreak with a grin, loving people no matter their size, and general positive vibes. We had the pleasure of their company in 1989, all thanks to Citeh.

1990 - The Red Hot Chilli Peppers
When The Red Hot Chilli Peppers hit the stage at Rock City in 1990, they had just signed with Warner Bros Records and were ready to record their album Blood Sugar Sex Magik which would become the band’s first commercial success. The Chillies formed in LA in 1983 and went on to win seven Grammy awards – four of which were for their 2006 album Stadium Arcadium. The band have sold over 80m records worldwide with their iconic rock sound, with emphasis on funk and punk rock.

1991 - Nirvana
Nirvana are unquestionably one of the most important bands of our time. They hit the stage of our humble Rock City in 1991; the same year they happened to release their iconic breakthrough single Smells like Teen Spirit. The success of the single, and therefore the band, widely popularised alternative rock music and they have been considered the flagship band for Generation X. The gig took place during the Dave Grohl era, only three years short of Cobain’s tragic death. We've dug out some pretty interesting stories about what went down.

1992 - The Cure
Think Beleibers are bad? Let's remember some of the mental stuff that The Cure fans did back in the day. The band rose to fame in the eighties with their gloomy Goth-pop and had the world in a frenzy; Riots formed at an oversold stadium gig, crazed fans self harmed on stage. They played at Rock City during the Wish Tour. Nothing newsworthy may have happened that night, but we can bet the atmosphere was intense.

1993 - Rage Against The Machine
The band are widely known for their gigantic rap metal hit Killing in the Name Of, which is still blasted out on dance-floors around the globe fourteen years after its release. Despite their music's unusual mix of elements and their loud, left-swaying political voice, the boys still achieved commercial and critical success and have sold over sixteen million records worldwide. Hats off to them. We bet their gig at Rock City was something to remember.

1994 - Oasis
The Beatles-obsessed, side-burn-growing, Mancunian Kings of Britpop, Oasis, once ventured South East of their Northern home to do a gig at our favorite venue. The tour took place after they released their debut album, so before you start picturing the whole of Rock City packed out with pissed up mods singing along to Wonderwall, it hadn't actually been written yet. We bet it was still a cracking gig though.

1995 - Ozzy Osbourne
Often heard shouting “Sharon!” Ozzy Osbourne rose to stardom in the early seventies as the lead singer of Black Sabbath. After being fired from what is widely considered the first heavy metal band, the wild man of rock went on to have a successful solo career, releasing eleven studio albums. He has since been given the impressive titles “Prince of Darkness” and “The Godfather of Metal”. Do we even need to mention the bat incident?

1996 - Iron Maiden
Formed on Christmas day 1975 in East London by bassist and songwriter Steve Harris, heavy metal band Iron Maiden spent four years fighting for recognition before scoring their record deal with EMI records. Despite very little TV or radio support, Iron Maiden are widely considered one of the most successful heavy metal bands in history, selling over 90 million albums. The band are known for having incredibly dedicated fans, with one particularly committed supporter changing his name to Iron Maiden. Imagine.

1997 - David Bowie
David Bowie was first known to the public in 1969 when his tune Space Oddity reached the top five of the UK Singles Chart. Bowie then went on to have UK number ones with his singles Ashes to Ashes and Under Pressure – his 1981 collab with Queen. In the seventies and eighties, Bowie’s androgynist appearance played a huge part in his iconic image and he was known for his alter egos; particularly Ziggy Stardust.

1998 - Green Day
American punk rockers Green Day were formed in 1986 by vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt. Despite being one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time, the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten was quoted saying “They didn’t earn their wings… and if they were true punks, they wouldn’t look anything like they do.” Deep. Regardless, the group have won five Grammy Awards, including Best Rock Album for American Idiot and Best Alternative Album for Dookie.

1999 - Joe Strummer
Best known as co-founder of The Clash, singer songwriter and musician Joe Strummer left behind him an incredible punk legacy. Joe Strummer and The Clash made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, and were widely labelled ‘The only band that matters’. Most of The Clash’s debut LP was written in a council high rise on London’s Harrow Road, owned by Mick’s grandmother, who apparently regularly turned up at gigs… We can only but imagine her doing her thing in Rock City.

2000 - Slipknot
American heavy metal band Slipknot is famous for its outrageous and attention-grabbing image, sporting clown masks with an energetic and aggressive style of music. The band formed in September 1995 and have since put on some impressive live shows. Clown is rumored to have – dare we say it – eaten a poo on stage, and the band once got mistakenly busted for armed robbery. All in the name of metal, hey.

2001 - Muse
English rock band Muse is made up of lead vocalist Matthew Bellamy, bass guitarist Christopher Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard. Matt Bellamy is said to have confessed that the band were all off their faces on mushrooms when they recorded Plug In Baby. The band originally formed in 1991 in Teignmouth, Devon and have gone on to release seven studio albums. Muse won a Mercury Prize nomination for their album Black Holes and Revelations which was named the third best album of 2006 by NME.

2002 - Queens of the Stone Age
Riff orientated, heavy-rockers Queens of the Stone Age formed in 1996 in Palm Desert, California, and their sound has evolved to incorporate various styles and influences; including working with ZZ Top member Billy Gibbons. NME reported that Homme came up with the lyrics “Nictone, Valium, Vicodin, Marijuana, Ecstasy and Alcohol” for the Feel Good Hit of the Summer by listing the drugs that were in his system after a three-day bender.

2003 - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were birthed in the year 2000. With their dance-floor-ready sound and edgy image, they soon became a household name in modern Indie-rock. NME named their album Show Your Bones the second best album of the year and rated Fever To Tell the fifth best album of the decade. It's no doubt they tore up the Rock City stage at their gig, as Karen O is renowned for her unpredictable performances and flamboyant costumes.

2004 - Kings of Leon
If you're talking about the biggest indie acts to come out of the last decade, you have got to mention this lot. Their best-selling singles have been anthems for the millennials, and whether you love them or not you probably know all the lyrics to Sex On Fire anyway. During their tours, they've headlined some of the biggest festival and stages across the globe, and of course our one and only Rock City.

2005 - The Killers
The band that brought us sweaty dancefloor indie hits such as Somebody Told Me and Mr. Brightside soared to fame with their debut album Hot Fuss back in 2005, and managed to get a slot on Rock City’s main stage during their tour. Brandon Flowers wasn't joking when he sang about Glamorous Indie Rock ’n’ Roll either, he has since received a few notable men's awards such as ‘Sexiest Man’ ‘Best Dressed’ and ‘Most Stylish Man of the Year”.

2006 - Fall Out Boy
Known as one of the bands that were at the forefront of the rise of Emo Rock in the early 2000’s, this high-energy, pop-punk band gained a devoted audience as the rewards of their heavy touring, catchy songs and Pete Wentz’s fringe. Despite being considered underground, they have had a fair bit of commercial success. Let's face it, you’ve definitely caught yourself singing along to Sugar We're going Down or Dance Dance whether it’s your cup of tea or not...

2007 - Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse was known for her winged eyeliner, crazy hair and her eclectic mix of music genres, including soul, rhythm and blues and jazz. The late singer-songwriter rose to fame with her debut album Frank, which found her nominated for the Mercury Prize. Amy was the first ever British female to win five Grammy Awards, after her success with follow-up album Back to Black in 2008, including Best New Artists, Record of the Year and Song of the Year. And, yes, we miss her too. 

2008 - Elbow
They've been playing together as a band since 1990. The English alternative rock band had just released their album The Seidom Seen Kid – which won them the Mercury Music Prize - when they came to Notts in 2008; the five-piece went on to win the Brit Award for Best British Group in 2009. The British group became an institution for beautiful sounds, gentle melodies and heart wrenching lyrics, with songs such as Fly Boy Blue / Lunette.

2009 - The Specials
English two tone and ska revival band The Specials were formed in Coventry in 1977, by keyboardists Jerry Dammers, vocalist Tim Strickland, guitarist Lynval Golding, drummer Silverton Hutchinson and bassist Horace Panter. And if you were a teen in the late seventies, they were easily the best band on the planet. The band were iconic for their mod-style sixties rude-boy outfits, and their music; which combines a rocksteady beat with dance-worthy ska. What’s not to love?

2010 - Mumford and Sons
This folk-singing four piece helped everyone realise they really love banjos, with their Grammy Aaward-winning album Sigh No More back in 2009. Despite being a bunch of waistcoat-wearing southerners, they apparently had a great time when they came down to Notts, with Winston Marshall of the band saying that "Rock City is the hairiest venue in the UK, in a good way". You're not wrong there Winston.

2011 - Bring Me The Horizon
Hailing from Yorkshire, this enigmatic five-piece were at the forefront of the rising hard-core/screamo scene in the mid-noughties. After the incident back in 2007 when frontman Oliver Sykes gave the band a questionable reputation by allegedly urinating on a female fan who refused to give in to his advances, it’s a bit of a surprise they were invited back. But hey, they put on a hell of a show…


2012 - Rasmus

This Finnish Rock band may have been more of a one hit wonder than the rest we’ve mentioned, but what a hit it was. Once In the Shadows was in your head that was it, you’d be singing it for days on end. We miss the times when songs like this could create such a big presence in the commercial music scene. Rasmus played at Rock City around the time of their self-titled eighth studio album release.

2013 - Foals
Foals formed back in 2004 and have made a name for themselves over the years through their catchy indie-rock and lively performances. In 2008 the NME readers voted these guys ‘wildest’ performers due to front-man Yannis’ signature dance skills. They have released four studio albums and have graced stages at festivals such as Glastonbury and Coachella. These enthusiastic Oxford boys have been nominated for fourteen music awards in total but have only won three. Poor babies.

2014 - Flaming Lips
Flaming Lips formed in Oklahoma back in 1983 and have since gathered a bit of a cult following with their seventies-influenced experimental psychedelic rock sound. Despite being from America, they've had more hit singles in the U.K. and throughout Europe than in the US. Frontman Wayne Coyne has had some surprising collaborations with popular music artists such as Justin Timberlake and Ke$ha, and has recently released an album in collaboration with Miley Cyrus called Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.

2015 - The Libertines
Yes, that’s right. If you haven’t already heard, The Libertines are back together and touring once again, and it wouldn’t be a proper UK tour without a visit to ye olde Rock City now, would it? Infamously wild front-man Pete Doherty has cleaned up over the past year, but sober or not, the man and the band are legendary, racking up a platinum record with their second album and continuing to make girls and guys weak at the knees worldwide. 

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