Brixton Academy: 10 classic gigs

The co-author of 'Live at the Brixton Academy', a new book about the iconic venue's history, picks the shows that built its reputation

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Nowadays it’s one of London’s best music venues, but Brixton Academy began life as a derelict cinema, bought for £1 in 1983. Here are the gigs that built the Academy’s reputation as picked by JS Rafaeli, co-author (with former Academy owner Simon Parkes) of 'Live at the Brixton Academy' – a new book about the iconic venue's history. All images have been captured by the venue’s house photographer Justin Thomas.

  • © Justin Thomas (justinthomasphotography.co.uk)

    The Smiths, December 12 1986

    Morrissey and Marr had returned to the Academy for a storming gig in support of Artists Against Apartheid. At the peak of the obligatory stage invasion during the encore, the band tore into their very first single, ‘Hand in Glove’, ending on the line, ‘I’ll probably never see you again’. It turned out to be the last show The Smiths ever played live together.

  • © Justin Thomas (justinthomasphotography.co.uk)

    Iggy Pop, December 17 1986

  • © Justin Thomas (justinthomasphotography.co.uk)

    Diana Ross, June 1989

    When the Academy first opened in 1983, the only acts that would visit this crumbling venue in the Brixton badlands were reggae artists and the occasional punk band. It was unimaginable that someone like Diana Ross would grace the stage. Things had changed by 1989, however, and the star came out to launch her new record with a secret Brixton show.

  • © Justin Thomas (justinthomasphotography.co.uk)

    Grace Jones, March 1990

  • © Justin Thomas (justinthomasphotography.co.uk)

    David Bowie (with Tin Machine), November 1991

  • © Justin Thomas (justinthomasphotography.co.uk)

    Snoop Dogg, May 1993

    In 1987, Public Enemy played a troubled show at the Hammersmith Odeon. The British tabloids went hysterical and the Odeon panicked and promptly banned all rap music. Their loss was the Academy’s gain, and Brixton naturally became the home of hip hop in the UK, welcoming Run-DMC, Wu-Tang Clan, Dr Dre and Snoop.

  • © Justin Thomas (justinthomasphotography.co.uk)

    Hole, May 4 1995

    Following on from riotous gigs by Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pixies in the late ’80s, the Academy became the go-to UK venue for the new wave of alternative US acts. Courtney Love’s band Hole played their breakthrough show in Brixton. It was also the next venue Nirvana were due to play when Kurt Cobain died. His suicide was not only tragic for grunge fans, but with four sold-out nights booked, it very nearly meant the end of the venue.

  • © Justin Thomas (justinthomasphotography.co.uk)

    The Stone Roses, December 9 1995

    The Academy’s fortunes were helped by becoming the first venue in the UK to receive a 6am licence, allowing it to stage legal raves. Brixton became synonymous with rave culture, with crossover acts such as Primal Scream and The Stone Roses arriving for seminal shows in the mid-’90s. To this day Roses frontman Ian Brown cites Brixton Academy ’95 as the best show the band ever played.

  • © Justin Thomas (justinthomasphotography.co.uk)

    Pulp, December 21 1995

  • © Justin Thomas (justinthomasphotography.co.uk)

    Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds (with Kylie Minogue), August 1996

© Justin Thomas (justinthomasphotography.co.uk)

The Smiths, December 12 1986

Morrissey and Marr had returned to the Academy for a storming gig in support of Artists Against Apartheid. At the peak of the obligatory stage invasion during the encore, the band tore into their very first single, ‘Hand in Glove’, ending on the line, ‘I’ll probably never see you again’. It turned out to be the last show The Smiths ever played live together.


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