Nottsvana: The Story of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain in Nottingham

Friday 05 April 2024
reading time: min, words

Many would say Nirvana were the biggest band of the nineties, despite them only being active for the first half of it. However, not many people know about the links between the city of Nottingham and one of the biggest bands in rock history…


The Tour Booker

In 1987, Russell Warby moved to Nottingham from London to follow his girlfriend who was enrolled on an art degree course at Trent Poly. Russell had planned to start an art foundation course at a local college but the course was full, which meant he had to start looking for work.

As Warby explained to IQ magazine, “We’d been in town for 24 hours and a new club opened called The Colour Wheel. The venue manager there really knew his stuff and was doing gigs with bands like Spaceman 3, Sonic Youth, Psychic TV and My Bloody Valentine. I’d got more into the US underground music at the time so I started promoting shows with him, and in 1988 I took it over.”

It was when Russell heard Love Buzz, Nirvana’s first release, he knew he had to work with the band. “I knew I loved it in about four seconds. It was a reaction to bland music; an attempt to get back to what had come from the birth of rock ’n’ roll. I could hear this American underground band that sounded like a rock band whose singer was channelling John Lennon.”

Russell then booked Nirvana’s first ever UK tour from a tiny flat on Belton Street in Hyson Green. The world would never be the same again. He ended up booking more of their shows and became the long-term agent and manager of the Foo Fighters and The White Stripes. 


The Nottingham Gigs

During the 1990 Sliver Tour, Nirvana stopped by Trent Polytechnic alongside L7 and Shonen Knife. It was Saturday 27 October 1990 and the final night of their tour. In his Nirvana biography, author and journalist Everett True recounts how he ended up on stage with the band.

“The lights were going up and the crowd trudging home satiated, when Kurt ran back on to the stage to announce, ‘We’ve got a very special guest for you’. The fans raced back down the front, expecting Tad at the very least, only to hear Kurt complete the words, ‘Everett True from Melody Maker’. I stumbled up to the microphone and muttered something about how I’d only play a song if Nirvana played one afterwards.

"Kurt strapped his left-handed guitar over my shoulder – wrongly – and he and Krist settled behind the drum kit, then started bashing away. We lasted about two minutes into my Sub Pop single Do Nuts until Kurt began to comprehensively trash the drums at which point I quit my vocal duties and turned around to watch.”

The full audio from this show can be found on YouTube (link here).A little over a year later on Tuesday Nirvana played their second and final Nottingham show at Rock City on Tuesday 3 December 1991, with Captain America in support.  

The Dancer

The Nirvana Rock City gig was part of the Nevermind Tour and a Japanese TV company was present on the night, which is why you can still watch so much of this gig online. In some of the footage you can see a man frantically dancing on stage with the band That man is Antony Hodgkinson (aka Tony The Interpretive Dancer) a friend of the band who occasionally joined them to thrash away as they played. 

Once the drummer for Nottingham bands Bivouac and Punish The Atom, he befriended Nirvana through his friendship with Russell Warby. Speaking to LeftLion in 2010 he said, “It was all improvised. My job was just to be weird with it and get lost in it really. I can dance a lot 
better than that, but that wasn't the point really. It was to be part of the gig and to show that anybody could do it.”

The most famous time Tony danced with the band was on stage at Reading Festival: “The last time that I actually saw Kurt was at that show. I had a tear in my eye at the end when they gave me a credit on the DVD. It was amazing really. What was it? About fifty thousand people? The energy I was getting from the audience sort of jeered me on more. I overdid it in the first song and ended up wearing a neck collar for two weeks afterwards because I gave myself whiplash.”

The Jumper

Remember Kurt’s iconic red and black jumper that he wore in the video to Sliver, shot in 1993? Could it be coincidence that a red and black striped jumper was sold to him by Nottingham resident Chris Black, the former drummer in Nottingham’s Riff Bastard a year before.

Chris grew up in Belfast and was present at the legendary Kings Hall gig in June 1992, with Teenage Fan Club and The Breeders supporting. He told the story to LeftLion in 2015: “I got into the gig with my brother Jay because he had a spare ticket. I was up at the front watching The Breeders and some kid with dreadlocks stagedived. I had dreadlocks too and the bouncers came and found me, grabbed me and pulled me outside to have a wee word.

“I was getting a massive kicking when the stage door opened. The band came out, told the bouncers to leave me alone and invited me backstage. While I was back there Courtney Love came over and asked me loads of questions about the jumper. She eventually emptied her pockets and offered me £37, which seemed like a lot of money at the time.

“I’ve tweeted Courtney semi-regularly since asking her if I can have it back. I’d like to find out where it is. Ideally I’d like to buy it back off her, and then probably sell it and buy a house from the profits.”

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