Apart from specific moments, it is difficult to separate the two consecutive nights that collectively form my night to ‘roughly’ remember. The nights in question were the 30th and 31st of October 1990 and time has blurred many details between the two. At the time I was a student at college in west London and the union periodically circulated a list of opportunities for the students to work as stewards at events in Wembley Arena. The vast majority of the acts provided no interest whatsoever to me, but as I glanced down the list, lo and behold, the Grateful Dead were performing for several nights, over Halloween no less. This was clearly too good an opportunity to miss, so I persuaded a couple of mates to also sign up on the basis we were skint, the tickets were all sold out and I figured I might never get to see them again if I didn’t go.
On the first night we turned up at the appointed time, wearing semi-respectable clothes, ready for work. Before the event started, the stewards were invited into a meeting room for a chat with the police. An officer politely explained that the group we were about to see had a loyal following of ‘Deadheads’ that toured with the band and were notorious for taking drugs. They informed us that they had taken a difficult decision, but that they would not stop any illegal behaviour in the arena as they did not want any trouble to escalate, and although we might find this activity upsetting or offensive, we should not attempt to stop it. Armed with this information and a bright orange vest, I was subsequently placed on the main entrance to the arena for the night, where I spent my time helpfully informing all the obvious candidates of the police decision. Needless to say we seemed to be extremely popular with the crowd who send their time dancing around us, proclaiming we were the best security ever. I am pretty sure the herbal odour and the party atmosphere added to the fun. I remember them playing ‘Queen Jane Approximately’ and closing with ‘The Weight’.
The second night was Halloween and we had a lot more idea what to expect. We knew that our position at the main entrance was absolutely useless once everybody was in the arena so we would serve no function once the Dead were onstage. We dutifully stayed in position during the first set, but once the interval was called, my partner in crime and I duly headed around the arena to the backstage area. We went through security, removed our hideous hi-vis vests and headed into the backstage bar for a pint. After a while of looking casual, drinking and chatting with some of the crew, we were approached by the bar manager. He was pretty cool about it, gave us a smile, confirmed we really shouldn’t be associating with the artists and suggested we leave once we had finished our drinks, which seemed entirely reasonable.
Given that I had little intention of ever working at Wembley again and my pay-free position at the back was of little import, when the second set started we abandoned our post to casually walk all the way down to the front, past the various other stewards. We dumped the jackets and spent the rest of the night partying and imbibing free Jack Daniels right at the front of the stage. It was a great night, Jerry had no voice to speak of this at this point in the tour but the atmosphere was absolutely electric. They played ‘He’s Gone’ for Brent Mydland who had passed away in July 1990. It was great to see them play ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and as anticipated, they closed with Jerry howling ‘Werewolves of London’, which remains etched into my memory to this day.
The recordings are available for streaming and the tracklisting indicates the second set alone was nearly two hours long. Oddly I don’t remember getting back home afterwards. Thirty years later, I still have the memories and the t-shirt, my only tour t-shirt to still survive this long. My only regret is that I didn’t sign up again for the third night, it was an extra date that was added later due to demand and it would turn out to be the last time they played in Europe. I remain grateful to Wembley Arena and the staff for a top night, with apologies for me being such a bad employee.
Theres always a bit of subtefuge that seems to enhance the experience. I remember years ago blagging my way (with my brother in law who did most of the blagging) to an Adbullah Ibrahim concert at the roundhposue – I’m sure it was all the better for the fact that we schouldn’t have been there.
Thats the ROUNDHOUSE BY THE WAY!
I was there at the shows… my last Dead shows 🙁
Sadly mine too, but at the time it was a celebration not an ending.