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The Lemonheads visit Yorkshire's secret School of Rock [October 10, 1993]
How Minsthorpe High School became England's coolest venue; plus Divine Comedy's debut album
Hey, welcome to This Week In The 90s where we tell stories loosely based on what was in the UK charts 30 years ago.
This week, we’re talking about the song that was at Number 14 on October 10, 1993…
The Lemonheads, ’Into Your Arms’
Evan Dando wasn’t especially proud of Mrs Robinson’s success in 1992, but nevertheless, he seized this chance to become a superstar. With a new-look Lemonheads lineup in place—Julianna Hatfield had left to do her own thing; Corey Brennan quit music entirely—Dando started work on a new album and an ambitious world tour.
The tour involved over 100 dates, taking The Lemonheads everywhere from Jay Leno’s show to a prominent spot at Glastonbury. It was a gruelling schedule that took its toll on Evan and the current members of Lemonheads. When People Magazine called Dando to say he’d been voted one of the Most Beautiful People In The World, he misheard and thought they’d said “Most Busiest”.
By October 1993, Dando really was the Most Busiest person in rock. The Lemonheads were pinging around continental Europe while also doing press for Come On Feel The Lemonheads and its lead single, ‘Into Your Arms’. Everyone wanted a piece of Evan Dando.
So why did he shrug them all off and instead play a small gig in a school in Yorkshire?
The answer is…because this school was special. And the kids of Minsthorpe High School asked really nicely.
I know a place where I can go
Being a teenager in a small town is rough. Nothing ever happens. Your life is an endless march of being bored at school, bored in the park, or bored at home.
Rock’n’roll can be distracting, but it often feels so far away. Your town never appears on any tour schedules; if a band does swing by, the gig is always at an over-18s venue. You are locked out, jealously reading live reviews in NME while you wait for your life to begin.
South Elmsall is a typical small town full of typically bored teenagers. Most big bands play in Sheffield or Leeds, both of which are too far away to be nearby. So it must have been pretty exciting when, in 1989, the teachers at Minsthorpe High School organised an in-school concert with the band Cud.
Now, Cud weren’t exactly a household name in 1989 (their first Top 40 single was 1992’s ‘Rich and Strange’). However, Cud were a proper band: they’d done Peel sessions, been in NME, and released a full album. This was a bigger deal than the average school gig.
Cud, to their credit, treated Minsthorpe’s assembly hall like it was The Astoria. The students got a big-energy show, plus an exclusive debut of Cud’s next single, ‘Hey! Wire’.
The students of Minsthorpe High School now had a taste for live music, and they wanted more. This would be impossible, of course. Minsthorpe is a small school in a small town, and LEAs don’t offer much funding for live entertainment.
But… what if the bands played for free?
A place that's safe and warm from the crowd
In 1990, Minsthorpe’s students voted on the band they wanted for their next gig, with U2, Pink Floyd, and Bruce Springsteen all on the ballot. The winner by a Saddam Hussein-esque landslide was The House Of Love, who were then riding high on the indie charts with their big hit, ‘Shine On’.
The House Of Love were from That London, which made them unlikely to gig up north at the best of times, let alone do a free gig in a random school. But the students of Minsthorpe bombarded House Of Love with a letter-writing campaign, sent a petition signed by every student, and showed them the video of Cud’s gig. How could they refuse? Plus, it was for charity!
And so, in March 1990, The House Of Love played to a group of South Elmsall teenagers, each of whom had paid £2.50 per ticket (although some enterprising kids had scalped their tickets for up to a tenner). The event raised £1,000 for a school bus, the kids had a great time, and the band seemed to really enjoy the experience. Word began to spread that Minsthorpe was a good gig.
The Minsthope students began inviting more and more bands: The Wedding Present, The Levellers, Therapy?, Red Kross, Dodgy, Gigolo Aunts, Kingmaker, Eat, and Credit To The Nation. Each band got a heartfelt, handwritten request from the entire school; each band went to Yorkshire and played for free.
When The Wonder Stuff accepted their invite from Minsthorpe, it created a tricky scheduling clash. They’d been invited to play The Great British Music Weekend, a Brit Awards-adjacent event at Wembley Arena headlined by The Cure, Happy Mondays and Ozzy Osbourne. The whole thing was being broadcast on BBC Radio and Sky TV, and could be a huge boost for an up-and-coming act.
After weighing their options, The Wonder Stuff decided to bunk off Wembley and go to school instead.
Myles Hunt of The Wonder Stuff later said that he chose Minsthorpe because he imagined how excited he would have been if someone like The Jam or The Clash had shown up at his school. The band even recorded some material at their show—a live cover of John Lennon’s ‘Gimme Some Truth’ which appeared on the B-Side of ‘Caught In My Shadow’, which reached Number 18.
Minsthope High School wasn’t just a venue. It was in the Top 20.
And if I should fall
The Minsthorpe gigs were organised by a team known as Mel & Trev, with Mel fielding requests from the press, who were increasingly fascinated by Minsthorpe. Select magazine said:
Melanie Jones is the striking woman with henna'd hair who has given Minsthorpe its bizarre rock 'n' roll kudos, by arranging gigs over the past few years by The House Of Love, The Wonder Stuff, Cud, Red Kross and others.
She probably wasn't the first teacher to rue the fact that her pupils couldn't get into over-18 gigs in Sheffield. But she was unquestionably the first to get the Gigolo Aunts to do something about it.
It is pretty cool that Mel & Trev booked these gigs, but that’s not their real achievement. They did something much more impressive, the greatest thing that any teacher can do.
They got the kids involved.
Minsthorpe’s students all worked on the gigs, as roadies, promoters, security, tech crew, and hospitality (and ticket scalpers). One Vox magazine feature mentions “Marie & Diane”, two 15-year-olds responsible for catering seemed to have zero interest in any rock star demands. Pity the poor rock star who asked Marie & Diane for M&Ms with the brown ones taken out.
The “let’s put on the show right here!” excitement of the Minsthorpe gigs in the hand-crafted tickets for each show, filled with doodles and jokes:
And we haven’t even gotten to the best thing.
Here is the best thing: at each of the gigs, the opening act was a student band.
That is an incredible opportunity for any aspiring teenage musician. Imagine if your first gig was opening for Kingmaker? (Suede and Radiohead both opened for Kingmaker, so it seems like a good path into the music industry.)
Chris Charlton, better known these days as St Cyrus, explains what it was like to be part of this:
As a 16/17 year old kid starting out in music, the opportunity to support these bands was life-changing, even if we were a bit shit!
The band I was in at the time was called Happy As Fish. We supported both Dodgy and Redd Kross, who were both amazing and it had such an impact on our gang, most of whom went on to play in bands throughout college.
It was truly inspirational. I think many of the kids involved at the time are still playing music in some capacity. The DIY nature of how they pulled this off also inspired me and others to put on our own gigs in Wakefield when we were a bit older, just because we knew that it was possible and doable.
That scene we helped start inspired a generation of other bands, including Milloy, Pylon, Dugong and most notably The Cribs. We were all in it together and whilst we had the conditions to do it—DIY ethos, venues, understanding landlord, etc—I would definitely say that the Minsthorpe and South Elmsall gigs were an influence.
Mel & Trev made their students believe they could do anything. And that’s possibly why they didn’t feel hesitant about approaching their next target: the World’s 34th Most Beautiful Person and rock’n’roll’s Most Busiest man… Evan Dando.
I know I won’t be alone
The Lemonheads trip to Minsthorpe created quite a bit of media buzz. Rolling Stone and Select magazine both sent journalists to cover the show, while BBC dispatched Andi Peters for Live And Kicking.
When Peters asked The Lemonheads why they’d come all this way, Dando showed him the letter that he received, which had been signed by the entire school and enclosed in a hand-made reproduction of the ‘Mrs Robinson’ cover.
Peters asked if they don’t receive this kind of request all the time. Dando replied, “We don’t often get letters from everyone in a class in a high school. It was a pretty exceptional situation.”
The henna-haired Ms. Jones didn’t appear in BBC’s clip, sadly, but she did talk to Vox magazine in a feature about The Levellers’ trip to Minsthorpe. She reckoned that bands liked doing this gig because:
"The good thing about playing here is that bands don't have to act up to their image: they can be themselves because the kids don't expect them to get off their faces or whatever. I should think there are very few bands who don't go home and put their slippers on..."
Hard to believe this about Evan Dando. A few weeks before Minsthorpe, he smoked so much crack that he lost his voice, resulting in an NME interview conducted through handwritten notes (an event immortalised in ‘If I Could Talk I’d Tell You’). However, Dando did end a performance of ‘My Drug Buddy’ by telling the kids to stay away from drugs and drink tea instead, before jumping on the tour bus and whizzing off to Cambridge to play The Corn Exchange.
Minsthorpe High School’s series of gigs fizzled out around 1994. It’s unclear why, although it was probably something boring: insurance, teacher shortages, parent complaints. Personally, I like to think it’s because the Therapy? moshpit caused structural damage to the school building, which is exactly what would have happened if Therapy? played my school in 1994.
But for one brief moment, Minsthorpe was the most exciting school in the world, and the students there believed they could do anything.
That’s rock’n’roll. That’s great teaching.
Many thanks to Chris for helping with this story. New St Cyrus album out next month featuring the single Dime and Yulia — get it on Bandcamp now!
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New in this week’s charts
Some of the latest hits (from 30 years ago…)
9—Iron Maiden, ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name (live)’
The indomitable rockers return to the charts with their signature tune. This version is from A Real Dead One, their second live album of 1993 after March’s A Real Live One.
24—One Dove, ‘Breakdown’
Even the indie bands were going pop-reggae in 93. ‘Breakdown’ is a sweet little track by this Edinburgh band, with lovely vocals from Allison Dot. It later appeared in The Chase, a fairly terrible Charlie Sheen movie that does have one good scene with Suede’s ‘The Next Life’.
26—Blur, ‘Sunday Sunday’
‘Sunday Sunday’ isn’t a patch on ‘For Tomorrow’ or ‘Chemical World’, and mostly feels like Blur amusing themselves with an ironic 90s take on the traditional Cockney knees-up. Little did we know that this specific sound would drive Parklife and inspire much of Britpop.
40—Carter USM, ‘Lenny & Terrence’
A song about the rubbishness of popular music, specifically referring to Lenny Kravitz and Terrence Trent D’Arby, which feels a bit problematic.
Hear all of this week’s new tracks in the ever-growing 1993 playlist!
Album of the Week
The Divine Comedy, Liberation
If you’ve never listened properly to The Divine Comedy, you might have dismissed them as a Mike Flowers-style novelty band. Neil Hannon sometimes brings this on himself; the chamber music arrangements, Terry-Thomas vocal delivery, and pithy lyrics can sometimes be a bit exhausting.
And there’s a lot of that on Liberation. Hannon draws on Chekov (‘Three Sisters’), F. Scott Fitzgerald (‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’), and William Wordsworth (‘Lucy’), which would be great if he was writing a novel, but maybe not such a compelling pitch for an indie-pop LP.
However, stick with it and you’ll find that Hannon’s music is beautiful and often achingly sincere. Tracks like ‘Victoria Falls’ show his real ambition, which is to become the next Scott Walker.
Later albums from Divine Comedy are a bit more accessible (especially the brilliant Fin de Siecle) but this is a key part of Hannon’s story. It also includes one great single in the form of ‘The Pop Singer’s Fear Of The Pollen Count’.