October 23, 2004. The Sonic Cathedral must be built. From the terrible photos of our opening night you can see my rudimentary attempts to replicate some kind of cross between Slowdive at the Yamaha Band Explosion in September 1991 and Warhol’s Silver Clouds. In reality it was just The Legion’s long, dark room barely illuminated by some cheap strobes and a looped DVD of old clips from The Chart Show, Rapido and Snub TV projected onto a big screen. I opened the night with Syd Barrett’s ‘Golden Hair’, a nod to Slowdive and the perfect scene-setter for the madcap evening ahead. Most of the rest is lost to time and alcohol, but I remember The Radio Dept being amazing and, when they played ‘1995’, I cried. It was a mixture of relief, excitement and the realisation that this wasn’t a one-off at all – it was the start of something.
Thursday, February 24, 2005. Engineers hit the floor. The second Sonic Cathedral night almost didn’t happen because of some atrocious winter weather, which made the ski lodge vibes of The Legion even more apt. I got stuck at work and, by the time I arrived, Engineers had set up on the floor rather than on the ad-hoc benches and plywood stage. I got talking to the bass player, Mark Peters and almost 15 years later released his debut solo album. Guesting on the decks was Sonic Boom who played some top tunes (I recall Kraftwerk’s ‘Neon Lights’ and The Syndicats’ ‘Crawdaddy Simone’).
Saturday, March 25, Wednesday, March 29 and Friday, March 31, 2006. Sonic Cathedral goes on tour. In March 2006 we decided to take the Cathedral on the road with Mark Gardener and a strong supporting cast of shoegaze and nu-gaze heroes. In Norwich, I couldn’t even get into the auditorium to see Mark’s old Ride bandmate Loz Colbert (who played a solo set and later joined Mark for a version of ‘Vapour Trail’) or local heroes Sennen because it was so full; in Liverpool it was the opposite, despite Sice from The Boo Radleys returning to Merseyside to support with his then band Paperlung (the poster did crop up on a later episode of Hollyoaks, though). Nottingham was a raucous Friday night with 3am licence. At about half past two in the morning I drunkenly suggested to Mark that I put out a 7” single for him and, in that moment, the Sonic Cathedral label was born.
Thursday, May 25, 2006. Serena-Maneesh commandeer the Cathedral. This was a classic, the second of two nights in two weeks (there was even a story previewing it on NME.COM). The High Dials opened and Will Carruthers was the special guest DJ – I asked him to sign my copy of Playing With Fire and he scrawled something obscene, which still makes me chuckle every time I play it. S-M were incredible and ended up trashing the stage, which was a first. Fun fact: this gig appears in Eric Green’s shoegaze documentary film Beautiful Noise, but blink and you’ll miss it…
Wednesday, July 26, Thursday, August 24 and Thursday, September 29, 2006. It was all Fields around here when I was a lad. Across the summer of 2006 we co-hosted three incredible parties at The Legion with then up-and-coming folk-gazers Fields. The line-ups included iLiKETRAiNS, the return of our favourites The Radio Dept, French prog-gazers Cyann & Benn (who went on to become our very own Yeti Lane), and the Secret Machines, featuring the late Benjamin Curtis who handed me a CD of demos by his new band School Of Seven Bells (I went on to release their debut single the next year). Fields also played on all three nights, and the whole place looked incredible thanks to a very generous budget of £3,000 courtesy of Atlantic Records; we got in a lighting engineer, and spent every penny on yellow balloons, badges and some incredible plastic flowers and foliage from a bespoke retail display shop. Sadly/luckily the initial plan hatched with Fields’ manager Simon White to end the final night by leading a procession to burn a replica Wicker Man on Old Street roundabout never came to fruition, but these three nights were memorable enough.
Sunday, July 20, 2008. Sonic Cathedral gets Trucked. We were invited to curate the Barn Stage at the brilliant Truck Festival, which was run by our good friends Robin and Joe Bennett of Goldrush (who we had first met when they were playing as Mark Gardener’s backing band a couple years earlier). We had the whole Sunday line-up to ourselves and, despite the difficulties of turning a dungy barn into a dingy venue, put together an incredible bill of friends and favourites: Kyte, Le Volume Courbe, The Early Years, The Tamborines, Neil Halstead, Ulrich Schnauss and Spectrum. Maps were headlining and it turned out to be the final performance by the first live incarnation of the band. They ended with an incendiary version of ‘Leave Them All Behind’, which prompted a stampede into the Barn as everyone thought Ride were playing. We did have shoegaze royalty in attendance, however, as surprise guests Chapterhouse (well, three-fifths of them) came on last to play a very special version of their song ‘Love Forever’ with Ulrich. Not everyone got the message, however, when some idiot made off with Andrew Sherriff’s prized guitar. The thief was apprehended while trying to leave the festival the following morning, and Chapterhouse went on to reform properly the following year.
Friday, February 27, 2009. Sonic Boom meets with the MGMT. The first Sonic Cathedral night the Dome, inspired by visits to the Dirty Water Club and a memorable Upset The Rhythm show with Deerhunter. It was a Friday and the general vibe was unhinged. To cap it all, MGMT were in town for the NME Awards and had delayed their flight back to New York so they could come and see Spectrum; they ended up onstage for ‘Suicide’. Sadly, there are no photos of this, but there is a video and the whole story of how it led to Sonic Boom producing their second album, Congratulations, here.
Friday, April 24, 2009. Neil Halstead dives into his past. We finally got the late, great Gravenhurst to play a Sonic Cathedral show in the rarefied surroundings of St Giles-in-the-Fields church. Nick Talbot was nervous about swearing in church and playing before one of his heroes, Neil Halstead, who alongside tracks from his then current solo album Oh! Mighty Engine and the regular assortment of solo and Mojave 3 songs, added a couple of older classics to his set: Slowdive’s ‘Alison’ and ‘40 Days’. Rachel Goswell was in attendance and it felt like there was finally an acceptance of the past; the shoegaze tide was turning.
Sunday, May 18, 2014. Sonic Cathedral turns 10 in style. When the Cathedral opened its doors around the corner at The Legion, I wouldn’t have even dared to dream about this show. We celebrated our birthday a few months early, just so it could double as the first show in 20 years by the newly reformed Slowdive; that they were joined by a line-up that included live sets from Mark Gardener, Ulrich Schnauss and guest DJs including Andrew Weatherall and Emma Anderson still blows my mind to this day. The night sold out in advance with no-one knowing the line-up, but many making an educated guess because the first official show was the next night at Village Underground. This one was the special one, though; I’ve never felt so much love in one room, everyone was willing the band on and the atmosphere around the venue from the moment we opened at 4pm was electric. My then four-year-old son swapped Panini World Cup stickers with Slowdive guitarist Christian Savill just before they soundchecked ‘Catch The Breeze’ and I wept like a baby. This was the World Cup of gigs and we won.