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An Interview With Antony Hodgkinson, The Guy Who Danced Onstage With Nirvana

Last November, Geffen Records finally released the long-awaited Nirvana Live at Reading concert from 1992. The DVD/CD combo shows the band at the height of their fame — immediately following the release of Nevermind — and in quite a playful mood, as evidenced by allowing their friend to dance like a marionette manned by a seizure-prone puppeteer throughout much of the performance. That friend is then-25, now-42-year-old Antony Hodgkinson. In between his various music projects, Hodgkinson spoke to me from his home base in the UK over Skype.

My biggest question, I guess, is just how this all came about? How did you end up onstage?

Well, I met this agent Russell Warby. He’s quite a big booking agent. He was bringing some bands over from the states and he asked me if I wanted to do a bit of driving for him. I was sort of at a loose end, I guess. And he says there’s some bands coming out for, I think, the Lamefest Tour. It was Mudhoney, Tad and Nirvana in ‘89. This was while Chad was still playing for Nirvana. I just got on well with them and in 1990 they came back with Dave Grohl. Me and Dave just hit it off, got on really well. I don’t exactly remember, but it was like a dare. I was dared to dress up as a woman and dance onstage for them. So I thought, yeah, fuck it.

When was the first time?

I think it was a Leeds University show we did. It was a Nirvana, L7, and Victims Family show. It was quite a hairy show, really. Quite violent. It was just a stream of stage-divers — just a queue — really people trying to punch you out and whatever. I don’t know. You used to get a bit of a weird reaction, but that’s their fucking problem at the end of the day and not mine. So I did that and they were into it, so I did it again. And they used to just call me up when they were in the UK. It was just being at the right place at the wrong time, or the right place at the right time, you know? Did you ever see them live?

I didn’t.

It was so powerful and I was so into it at the time. It was like a dream come true, really, dancing for my mate’s band. It was punk as fuck, really.

What was going through your mind while watching it again?

I hadn’t watched any footage or really listened to them since, the obvious, since ‘94. And I was sort of dreading it, but I had to watch it in a way just to recap, because I was required to do some press and whatever. But I actually quite enjoyed it really. It was quite a laugh. And I remember how raucous it was. I was smiling all the way through. I’d forgotten that Dave was wearing the Bivouac shirt [the band Hodgkinson was in at the time]. He used to do it quite a lot, actually. Just promoting, really. Keep it in the family.

You said you danced at Reading the year before, too. What was that experience like?

In ‘91, they were way down on the bill. I think we must have gone on second or third, or something like that. That show was more nerve-wracking than ‘92. Obviously because I had another year to get used to it. They just catapulted really, didn’t they? An underground band to this, well, they wouldn’t like to be called, but this corporate rock band in a way.

When you were onstage it seemed like you chose what songs you’d dance during. Was that laid down to you?

No, no. I was able to do what I wanted. But, saying that, they did have new songs that I’d not heard before that show, and Dave would be going, “No, I really want you to dance” because he quite enjoyed me dancing. Because at the end of the day, I’d be dancing to Dave. And I’d say “Dude, I’d never heard this before” and he’d just say “It goes like this” and give me a rough idea of what it was. Generally I could go out wherever, but in ‘92 it was, just because of the energy, I found it extremely hard to contain myself, so I was over-doing it. In a way, I was forcing myself to pace myself. It got to the point after the show where I had to wear a collar on my neck because I got whiplash. Like I said, it was a proper, energetic, punk-as-fuck show.

Did you have a plan of action when you went out there?

It was tough to contain the energy. It was full fucking tilt. I actually had heart palpitations when I was watching it again because of the sheer energy. I always tried to avoid Krist because of his bass and I’ve been hit before. And when I was flailing around, when Kurt was coming towards me, I didn’t want to punch him in the face. So it was quite weird to try to contain yourself when you couldn’t contain yourself.

Kind of organized chaos?

Right. It was, really. Organized chaos. Dave was saying last night, it was sort of amateur. Bands now are quite polished. But when Nirvana went out, it was just stomp on the pedal, tell a really bad joke, whatever. Just the energy of it, you know. Incredible. Absolutely incredible.

Did you dance again for them?

No. Sadly, it’s quite a poignant memory actually. ‘92 was the last time I ever saw Kurt, you see. It was quite strange. That was the last English show. There was a feeling that it was sort of a significant event. It was for me, anyway. I can’t quantify why, but I knew it was. Not that many people in the grand scheme of things, for how huge they were, saw Nirvana in the UK, so it has become a quite seminal show.

Any long term effects from that head-banging?

Yeah, my neck. I still feel it. But in a good way. I still have that energy now, but it takes me a longer time to recover. So, unfortunately, I have to look after myself now.

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