I Was There When: Rockpile Stole Thunder from Van Morrison @ UVM, Burlington, VT 10/14/78

Memories of Rockpile creating a minor windstorm at UVM’s  Patrick Gymnasium certainly validate a documented history in which Van Morrison ultimately became  tired of following  these rock and roll purists on stage: the Belfast Cowboy allegedly departed the Bottom Line in New York City between shows later in this very same autumn tour, leaving  Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams to fend for themselves for the evening. No doubt Rockpile did and probably with as much aplomb as they opened for Van The Man in Vermont as he supported his Wavelength album released earlier that fall.

Contrary to their high-spirited music, Rockpile was a stoic sort in their slightly less than an hour on stage, though no more or less than the headliner himself. Almost all business as they ran through a selection of songs including “Switchboard Susan”  and “Queen of Hearts,” mostly written and sung by the two principal authors alternating lead vocals, guitarist Bremner had his chance to shine in the spotlight on “You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine.” Yet his voice wasn’t a virtue so admirable as his lead instrumentals, the pithy likes of which solos arrived in the same sweet, short a succession as the songs that rolled on in an unfortunately abbreviated setlist.

“So It Goes” and “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ‘n’ Roll)” bounced off the concrete walls of Patrick Gym, eliciting at least some isolated, knowing grins throughout the Burlington audience, while the four bandmates exchanged comparably sporadic smiles on stage. But even as Rockpile played almost in defiance of the general diffidence before them, the contradiction of attitudes did nothing to undercut the ebullience in the music they made: much as their style meshed reverence for roots with a more contemporary pop attitude, Edmunds’ gnomish presence was an odd but nonetheless concrete complement to Lowe’s lanky nonchalance, while the edgy insistence of Terry Williams’ drumming never subsided and so helped pull together the wide range of material.

With precious few of the attendees there to see anyone but Van Morrison, the response was, as noted, decidedly mixed and all the more noticeable given the breathless pace at the tunes issued forth from the stage). Hopefully, those who recognized Rockpile and relished their ever-so-spirited performance were no less scarce than those novices who discovered what a special thrill Edmunds, Lowe and company could provide even when, as with this billing, given just half a chance.


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