BRUCE Springsteen and the E Street Band are currently on a barnstorming tour of Europe, and are attracting some of their best reviews of their stellar career.  

The show arrives at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield stadium on Tuesday, May 30, and all the signs are that the performance will be similar to that at a recent show in Barcelona, which led one London newspaper to describe it as “one of the greatest shows ever” - even if there is speculation that Springsteen might not tour again on such an epic scale.

The Murrayfield gig is in every sense far removed from Springsteen’s first-ever show in Scotland, when he and the band played two nights at the Edinburgh Playhouse in May 1981. 

The Herald: The Playhouse in May 1981, where Springsteen made his Scottish debutThe Playhouse in May 1981, where Springsteen made his Scottish debut (Image: courtesy of Point Blank Archives)

Springsteen had first come to European attention in 1975 with his third album, Born to Run. Even before then, the critic Jon Landau, later Springsteen’s manager, had said of him in an landmark review, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen”).

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The artist’s debut European tour included two celebrated nights at London's Hammersmith Odeon that November, but it would take another six years before he played Scotland, by which time he had released his fifth album, The River (1980). 

Queues had stretched round the block when tickets for the Playhouse concerts went on sale in January 1981. For the 6,000 lucky fans who managed to get in, the shows, part of The River Tour, were an instant classic.

The Herald: Ron Adam with his collection of Springsteen ticket stubs, CDs and other memorabilia


Ron Adam with his collection of Springsteen ticket stubs, CDs and other memorabilia

Reviewing the first night, the Glasgow Herald’s John Linklater observed: “Springsteen, a 31-year-old from the small town of Freehold, New Jersey, is a complete entertainer whose recordings speak for themselves and whose live performances are legendary”. 

One fan who was there on both nights was Ron Adam, from Edinburgh. He has become a Springsteen superfan, having seen no fewer than 57 of his concerts in the intervening years, including recent gigs in Barcelona and two in Paris. He did not buy the Born to Run album until 1977, two years after it came out, but it was enough to hook him for life. 

The Herald: A backstage pass for Springsteen's Playhouse concertA backstage pass for Springsteen's Playhouse concert (Image: Courtesy of Point Blank Archives)

“At that time I was living in Kilmarnock. I’d been a fan of his for many years and had been determined to get fantastic seats,” he said. “I completely miscalled the demand for tickets. I think I just thought he was a cult artist. I went to the Playhouse at 4pm on the Saturday intending to queue overnight on a bitterly cold evening in January - they went on sale early in the early hours of the following morning. 

“I was shocked when I saw the queue. By midnight it was down in Princes Street. The queue got progressively longer and deeper.  As it was a becoming a potential traffic hazard, the police insisted the tickets go on sale many hours before the official sale time of 9am on the Sunday.

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“I managed to get four tickets. They weren’t great but at least I was in. Only one night had been announced by that time. The concert was originally scheduled for March 30 but a week before the UK tour began I heard that the dates had all been postponed on the advice of his doctor as Springsteen was suffering from exhaustion.

"I was absolutely gutted, but the tour was rearranged, and a second date at Edinburgh was announced in the intervening period”. After writing a heartfelt letter to the Playhouse manager, Ron managed to get a “stunning” ticket for the new show. 

The Herald: An Edinburgh review of the first showAn Edinburgh review of the first show (Image: Courtesy Point Blank Archives)

"The energy level of the shows was phenomenal, on a par with Springsteen's No Nukes 1979 concert that was released on DVD a while back", says Ron. 

"The Edinburgh concerts were full-blown shows. He did them in two halves; there were 27 numbers the first night and 28 the next. He dropped four songs from the first night and brought in six new ones for the second.

"At that time Springsteen was very laid-back in the way he interfaced with the crowd. I remember him coming down into the audience, with his long guitar lead trailing behind him – these were the days before guitars were equipped with radio mikes – and he walked up one aisle and my seat was incredibly close. I was about two seats from him when he was playing his guitar. It was an unbelievable experience". 

“In all the shows that I’ve seen to date, the set-list has been quite dynamic and if you go to two consecutive nights there are quite a lot of changes. The most changes I’ve seen are 17 from one night to the next.

The Herald: Springsteen wows a vast crowd at Hampden in June, 2013Springsteen wows a vast crowd at Hampden in June, 2013 (Image: Jamie Simpson/Herald & Times)

"The set-list this time around has been very static and that has been a real departure for him. It’s an intense, powerful and emotional show and as if he’s trying to put over a message – there’s a sense he’s playing this show as if he’s playing his last-ever gig with the E Street Band. The theme of the show is almost about him reflecting on growing old. 

“I think everyone is convinced he’ll continue to tour and do shows as an individual. But when I saw him in Barcelona recently it was quite difficult to get my head around that it would be the last time he’ll tour with the E Street Band. They’re all in their seventies now and I can’t see them having the same appetite for touring that the Rolling Stones have had”. 

Ron’s affection for Springsteen has only rarely wavered. There was a time when the singer, having ditched the E Street Band, played with a new group of musicians at the SECC in 1993.

But Ron’s faith was restored when he saw Springsteen return to the Playhouse in March 1996 for a solo acoustic show to promote his then-latest album, The Ghost of Tom Joad. “He was wonderful then”, remembers Ron - who then, in 1999, enjoyed seeing Springsteen reunite with the E Street Band at Earl’s Court, London before travelling to New Jersey in the summer to see three shows before his home fans at The Meadowlands Arena.

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Ron attained his “holy grail” in the context of Springsteen when Bruce played one particular song, The Promise, at a Manchester concert in 2012. “It was a tremendous moment for me", he says. But even better was to follow.

He said: “I’d gone there with one of my friends. We had moved towards the exit before the final song, so that when Springsteen played the final chord of the final number we would be close to the exit. 

“We were walking down the road when these two people-carriers stopped at traffic lights just as we got there. We realised they were carrying the band when we saw Miami Steve in the vehicle closest to us. I wondered to my friend who was in the first car and I just saw an arm with all these bangles round it. I said to my mate, ‘That’s Bruce!’ 

“The traffic lights were still at red and I caught his attention. I indicated to put the window down, which he duly did, and I said, ‘Thank you for playing The Promise. That meant so much to me’. And at that point the lights went from red to green. 

“It was just a fleeting, 10-second encounter, but it was a wonderful thing for me”.

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The Herald: Andy Stenton's glowing review of the Springsteen concert, and his ticket stubAndy Stenton's glowing review of the Springsteen concert, and his ticket stub (Image: Andy Stenton)

ANOTHER fan who was at one of Springsteen's 1981 Playhouse shows was Andy Stenton. In his Scotsman review of the concert (above) he described it as "the greatest rock show Scotland has seen for at least a decade" - an opinion shared by many who were fortunate enough to secure tickets.

Said Andy: "I'd been going to concerts since 1974 and had seen major acts such as The Who, the Rolling Stones and Elton John, all in small venues - the Stones at the Glasgow Apollo, Elton at the Usher Hall. When it got to Springsteen in 1981 I wouldn't even have considered going, however. I had heard about him through a good friend of mine, Ross, who was a real enthusiast.

"At that time I was fortunate to have something of an in with the Playhouse as I knew the manager, Ted Way. When Ross continued to go on about Springsteen I decided to investigate. There was a large queue when the tickets went on sale and I knew I couldn't join it as I had work to do. Ross couldn't either, for the same reason. But I did a story for The Scotsman about bewildered shoppers coming upon this huge queue outside the venue, and Ted gave me a couple of tickets.

"The show was absolutely superb, a knockout. It was great that it was in a place like the Playhouse, where there were only 3,000-plus seats.

The Herald: Springsteen and the E Street Band in action at Hampden, 2009Springsteen and the E Street Band in action at Hampden, 2009 (Image: Colin Mearns)

"The place really was jumping. I've seen many such concerts but Springsteen just brought that little bit extra to it. He was probably one of the first American rock acts I had seen.

"One thing that stood out for me that night was Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist, who blew me away. He was absolutely superb. 

"That for me was the beauty of Springsteen. Although he was the star he allowed the other musicians equal respect and allowed them to enjoy centre-stage.

"He is such a marvellous professional and I just cannot believe that it has been 42 years since we saw that concert. He'd been around a few years before then, of course.

"It was a privilege to see him in a venue such as the Playhouse. These were the days in the Seventies and early Eighties before the days of the big concerts in football stadia.

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"What I would love to see is - and I don't know if it will happen - is for eventually some of these big names actually going to the smaller venues. They've earned an awful lot of money over the years and whether they'd let the tickets go a wee bit cheaper for a certain group of people, I don't know".

Like many fans, Andy is glad that Springsteen is still going strong at 73. "I think he's doing good things behind the scenes as well. I can't be sure about that but I like to think he was, in terms of helping out other people. I think in a sense he's a bit of a socialist".

Andy himself stood outside Eden Park, an Auckland venue, where Springsteen played a few years ago, holding a bucket to collect donations for the City Mission organisation, Springsteen's chosen charity at the time.

Andy however is not going to Murrayfield. "I've seen him three times now and I'm quite happy to look at new acts now, to go along and see them in action. All the old acts I have seen are the ones I wanted to see, and I saw them in their early days. That's good enough for me now. I want to see some fresh talent coming through".