Bruce Springsteen in Edinburgh: Two legendary Playhouse gigs, 40 years on

Forty years ago, Bruce Springsteen played two nights at Edinburgh Playhouse - his first ever gigs in Scotland.

By Allan Crow
Friday, 14th May 2021, 12:24 pm
Bruce Springsteen - ticket stub from his 1981 River tour gigs at the Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh
Bruce Springsteen - ticket stub from his 1981 River tour gigs at the Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh

Incredibly, he hasn’t played the capital with his full band since those back to back nights.

Edinburgh somehow fell off his radar as his E Street tours moved from theatres to stadiums.

But what of those 1981 gigs?

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Springsteen had announced shows in March of that year with tickets costing £5.50 or £6.

The dates formed part of the third leg of a world tour to promote his 1980 double album, The River.

After two stints which took him across north America, the UK gigs slated for March were put back to May to let an exhausted frontman recover.

It was his first sojourn to the UK since two London gigs in 1975.

Ticket stub and programme Bruce Springsteen's 1981 Playhouse gigs.

The European tour spanned 34 shows in ten countries, and the UK leg took him to Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Edinburgh before lodging in London for six nights at Wembley Arena.

The two Edinburgh gigs, on May 16 and 17, quickly sold out.

I was offered £100 for my two tickets; an enormous sum for a skinny kid who lived seven floors up in the flats at Cobbinshaw House in Sighthill.

I knew little of Springsteen or his music, but figured he must be something special if the ticket were worth that much.

Bruce Springsteen in 2016 when he brought The River tour back 35 years later, this time to Hampden Park (Pic: Greg Macvean)

I’d mentioned to my music teacher at Wester Hailes Education Centre I was off to see the gig. He told me Springsteen would change my life. He was right.

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My dad stayed in one of the row of houses right opposite what was the stage door at the time, and often got complimentary tickets to compensate for the disruption caused.

So, I got two to see Springsteen for free.

Legend has it he drilled his band through a lengthy soundcheck - he was still on stage as we stood in the foyer outside the stalls, with our noses pressed to the glass windows.

The memories of the gig are fragmented but still vivid snapshots from an evening which sparked a lifelong love affair with Springsteen’s music.

I can still recall the sonic boom of Clemons’ sax solo hitting me square in the chest and knocking me back into my seat - Row Z Seat 49. Perfect view.

There was the thrill of watching the Big Man and Springsteen sliding on their knees across the Playhouse stage, and the Boss weaving stories into the introductions of some of the songs.

Much of the music was new to me, but the sheer power of the performance was captivating, exhilarating and utterly joyous.

The set spanned some 24 songs, mainly from The River, and culminated with a rollicking encore of Born To Run, Detroit Medley and a cover of John Fogerty’s Rocking All Over The World.

I’ve seen Springsteen play stadiums across the UK, at Hyde Park and the Olympic Stadium, and watched him transform Wembley Arena into a village hall to celebrate the music of Pete Seeger.

But that very first Playhouse gig still stands out among them to this day.

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