On This Day (February 29)…Rainbow Cause a Riot!

Rainbow performed on this day in 1980 at the Wembley Arena in London, England.

Poster for the show. Retrieved from here.

Although all of the members of the band were from England, Rainbow’s Down to Earth tour had yet to go there prior to this batch of concerts. They had spent the duration of their 1979 touring year in the United States, where guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was determined to have chart success, and had begun their 1980 touring schedule in other parts of Europe. This interview with keyboardist Don Airey and drummer Cozy Powell that appears to have been conducted just prior to the group’s attempt to tackle England suggests the band was in good spirits about the prospects of their upcoming tour.

Perhaps the results of this day’s concert proved why they were a bit cautious.

Photo from the concert. Retrieved from here.

The Concert

The band had already had their fair share of trouble during their Down to Earth tour. There were a few recorded instances of the group simply not playing an encore due to unknown reasons. At another point, a few members of the band, including Blackmore and vocalist Graham Bonnet, had fallen ill. Bassist Roger Glover had collapsed onstage earlier that month, and a few days after, former Deep Purple singer David Coverdale had come backstage after a show, resulting in some sort of altercation. Arguments over Blackmore’s unprofessional manner had even resulted in a brawl during a concert the previous autumn while the band was still in the US.

Ticket from the show. Retrieved from here.

The crowd, based on reviews, was a bit of a tough one. Some of them expressed dissatisfaction with the long instrumental solos the band typically played. Blackmore in general was noted in several places to have had a poor night, missing notes and having a bad solo spot. Graham Bonnet was criticized for his lack of stage presence as well. The support band, Samson, was apparently quite poor as well. They were unceremoniously booted off the tour the next night. To top it all off, the sound system was cited as pretty bad as well.

Others seemed to enjoy the concert. Even a few fans who didn’t particularly like the instrumental solos admitted that Airey and Powell provided absolutely brilliant work. Some reviews that actually focus on the content of the concert said that generally the music was drawing favorable reactions from the audience. This enjoyment, however, was overshadowed by the conclusion.

The results of the concert. Retrieved from here.

The trouble really began by the end of the night, when the band did not come back on for an encore. Outraged fans rioted, throwing chairs and even fire extinguishers; later reports of damage also indicated damage to doors. 10 fans were reportedly arrested for an assortment of charges. Eventually, the damage was estimated at £10,000. There were many hurt feelings expressed in music magazines in the following days.

Rainbow’s publicist denied any reason for this refusal, and initially there was no knowledge of the party responsible for what many angry parties saw as a snub. Reports soon emerged that four of the five members of Rainbow could be counted as ‘angry parties’, and had reportedly been excited to play an encore as well.

The fifth member, Ritchie Blackmore, was steadfast in his refusal. He was known to sometimes refuse to play encores to audiences he seemed undeserving; perhaps he had decided that the Wembley audience had been too negative to him to deserve an encore. It’s also possible that he was resentful towards other members of the band; as I’ve noted above, despite the incredible quality of the concerts, there was a good deal of tension behind the scenes. Within just over eighteen months, three members of the band would move on to other projects and hopefully more pleasant bandmates!

This concert is known to have been recorded, and is in circulation online. Fans can decide for themselves whether the band was bad, the crowd was bad, or neither.

Bootleg cover. Retrieved from here.

The Venue

Rainbow performed this concert at the legendary Wembley Arena, which had previously been known as Empire Pool and is now the SSE Arena. It had been built in 1934, opening on July 25th of that year. As the name suggests, the site was originally a massive Olympic-sized pool.

Building exterior. Retrieved from here.

It was designed by Sir Owen Williams, an English engineer, making it a rare and notable case of a building designed without the help of an architect. Also notably, it was built entirely out of reinforced concrete and glass; there is no steel involved in the construction! Furthermore, the concrete was of such high quality that the building has only had one major round of renovations, and is generally considered to be in good condition even to this day.

The pool within the arena was last used in 1948 at the Olympics. It was also used for other sporting events and, beginning in 1959, concerts. The stated capacity of the arena for these concerts is about 12,000, which conflicts with the number given for the Rainbow concert. The stated record capacity that I have found is 12,470 from a 2007 concert by Pearl Jam.

Here are some of the concerts that took place here known to have been recorded.

Most recently, it was the location of the musical biopic Bohemian Rhapsody‘s launch. You can find other upcoming events held at the Arena here at its website.

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