Six things... Stewart Lee has loved at Southbank Centre

Monday, March 26, 2018 - 12:52

Stand-up and writer Stewart Lee has been described as ‘the comedian’s comedian’, with a distinctive performance style that drew critical acclaim for his BAFTA Award-winning BBC series; Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle.

Pleasingly, not only are we big fans of his, but he is also a big fan of us. Ahead of his own appearance on our Royal Festival Hall stage with Content Provider in April, Lee kindly took a moment to share his memories of six favourite Southbank Centre performances.


The Southbank Centre has been a central pole of my cultural tent since I moved to London 30 years ago, with early 1990s shows hosted by the London Musicians' Collective being especially important to my post-provincial discovery of cool metro-shit.

It was very difficult to pick a top six, with gigs by Lee Ranaldo and William Hooker, Hawkwind, Television, The Soft Boys, Shirley Collins, Sonic Youth, Acid Mothers' Temple, The Stooges, Faust, Ornette Coleman, Iva Bittova, Sonny Rollins, Boredoms, Evan Parker, Alan Tomlinson and Harry Hill doing John Cage, and Camille Paglia in her leather trousers all lodging in the memory. How does one get to curate a Meltdown? Is it gauche to just ask? Anyway, here's six heavy hitters.

Derek Bailey and The Ruins

The Purcell Room

3 April 1997

Twenty-one years ago and this was a life changing gig.  Free jazz guitar pioneer Derek Bailey was playing with Japanese improvisation duo The Ruins. At one point, lost in a reverie, he wandered into the back wall of the building, clanging his guitar into it. The Southbank type stiffs in the room seemed embarrassed. Uncle Derek did it again and seamlessly incorporated his accident into his arsenal. I realised you had to roll with what happens. What happens in the room is the gig. I went on to win Celebrity Mastermind answering questions on Derek Bailey.

Derek Bailey & The Ruins -The Purcell Rooms South Bank, London April 3, 1997 - Improvisation 6

Tony Conrad

Queen Elizabeth Hall

30 September 1998

Minimalist drone avatar Tony Conrad played one wavering note on the violin for a hour and then stopped, and in the moment he stopped I was forced to contemplate the vastness of the gulf between absence and presence.

Patti Smith & Kevin Shields' The Coral Sea

Queen Elizabeth Hall

22 June 2005

Patti Smith's poetry uncoupled from rock backing, and Kevin Shields' abstract guitar whoosh unleashed from the framing device of My Bloody Valentine. And we were near enough to the front to see exactly what effects pedals he was using, and on what settings.

John Peel Tribute Night

Queen Elizabeth Hall

12 October 2005

The Fall, in a peak late period incarnation, at the bottom of the bill; country chanteuse Laura Cantrell; the sublime protest reggae of Misty in Roots; New Order playing a Joy Division set with an appropriately busted guitar amp; and Delia Smith.

Peter Brotzmann & Full Blast

Purcell Room

November 2008

Pinned to the walls by the German free jazz saxophonist's unforgettable noise trio.

In Search of Nic Jones / The Nightingales

Queen Elizabeth Hall / Purcell Room

28 May 2011

In 2011 The Southbank Centre invited me to curate a three day 'Austerity Binge' in tandem with my stand-up run at the Royal Festival Hall, and I gave myself some tough choices. This night saw missing-in-action folk hero Nic Jones, and supportive friends and collaborators, trawl his much-missed back catalogue. Nextdoor Birmingham's Beefheart-channeling post-punk survivors The Nightingales played the set of a lifetime, Robert Lloyd leaving the stage to roam the royal venue and compromise its dignity. I scampered between both stages in a daze.


Stewart Lee brings Content Provider, his most successful full-length stand-up show ever to Royal Festival Hall for three nights between 19 and 23 April.

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