Much to his embarrassment, Bruce Springsteen’s first visit to Europe was hyped to the heavens by Columbia Records. The label were keen to capitalise on the mounting excitement surrounding Springsteen’s third album, Born To Run, which, by mid-October ’75, had reached number 3 on the Billboard 200. On October 27, 1975, both Time and Newsweek put the New Jersey-born singer-songwriter on the cover, buying into the idea of Springsteen as ‘The New Dylan’.
When the 26-year-old musician arrived in west London for his debut bow at the storied Hammersmith Odeon, he was mortified to see the words ‘FINALLY LONDON IS READY FOR BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E STREET BAND’ in lights above the entrance to the venue, and set about tearing down posters in the lobby bearing the same words.
Given the pressure heaped upon his shoulders for his very first show in Europe, it’s unsurprising that Springsteen found his debut London gig something of a slog. Subsequent reviews of the performance suggested that reviewers felt the same. Creem’s Simon Frith dripped sarcasm when he wrote, ‘This is the future of rock’n’roll??’, while NME writer Tony Tyler was similarly unimpressed, writing “Let me state that on Tuesday I didn’t see the Future Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, or The New Bob Dylan.”
“I’m told by Springsteen’s own standards, Tuesday’s was a bad gig,” Tyler noted. “By the standards of the audience it appeared to be a highly – but not wildly – successful gig. By my standards it was a so-so gig, rich with unfulfilled potential but in no way a classic.” And Tyler’s verdict on the title track of the young American’s breakthrough album? “Not much cop.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given this somewhat faint praise, Springsteen chose not to listen to, or watch, the tapes and film reels documenting the gig “for 30 years”. But the word-of-mouth buzz around the gig, and Springsteen’s subsequent return to the venue on November 24, ensured that the gig acquired an elevated position among devotees of The Boss.
“Whatever happened,” Springsteen wrote in his autobiography Born To Run, “that first night at the Hammersmith Odeon became one of our 'legendary' performances.”
A full-length recording of the gig was finally released on CD and DVD, as Hammersmith Odeon London ’75, in 2006. Here’s a snippet to enjoy, the European premiere of Born To Run.