Listen to Nirvana Live at Portsmouth Polytechnic i...

Listen to Nirvana Live at Portsmouth Polytechnic in 1989

Back in October 1989 iconic label Sub Pop Records sent to Europe Mudhoney for a tour with labelmates Tad and a then relatively unknown Nirvana in tow. The bands played all over Europe and the UK, with shows at loads at cities all over including Portsmouth. Back then (and up until the late 90s) the Portsmouth Polytechnic (now the University of Portsmouth) Student Union Ents Hall was a great live music venue that drew bands big and small and on the 28th of October 1989 the young and fierce Nirvana hit the stage. As it was back then too, you had a bootlegger in the crowd capturing the performance and you can listen to that below. The show almost didn’t happen after Kurt in Rome a few days before almost called it a day and quit the band from emotional exhaustion.

Small live music venues were and still are the very best places to to discover tomorrow’s huge recording artists and festival headliners while they are learning their trade, while they are still raw, unpolished and vital. If you were one of the lucky few who caught the show please let us know your memories as a comment!

On this tour was Sub Pop Label co-founder Bruce Pavitt tagged along to document grunge’s first foray across the Atlantic, photographing the bands onstage and off. The best of his intimate shots are collected in the book Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989.

Nirvana Poster

“…I had a very deep belief that these were some of the greatest rock and roll bands in the world. And if only other people had the chance to witness this, they would be as swept up as we were.” – Bruce Pavitt

Kurt signing an autograph in the OG Rough Trade on Talbot Road in London. Photo by Bruce Pavitt.

Tad and Nirvana caught a hovercraft ferry to Portsmouth to meet up with the Mudhoney tour. Photo by Bruce Pavitt.

Set list:

Love Buzz
Floyd The Barber
Big Cheese
Spank Thru
About A Girl
Token Eastern Song
Been A Son
Negative Creep


  1. Neal Layton

    6 February

    I my GAWSHHHH– I was there. I think I can even hear my mate screamin in between songs!! MEIN GOTT!

    BIG props to whoever had the foresight to bootleg. Shame it did’nt capture the endless stage diving that I remember!

    Crazy crazy times that shaped my youth. Thanks for this guys.

    Wondered if there were any more bootlegs form this era? Mudhoney, MBV, Dinosaur Jr???!!!

  2. Richard Thomas

    22 May

    I remember this gig. Kurt Cobain came up to me and my mate Andy after the set and asked if he could bum a cigarette. We only had a couple left so we said no. Maybe things would have been different if we had only given him one…

  3. Rupert Leighton

    3 August

    Yeah. I was there. With Neil and Andy and Katy. Maybe George (Shoorge!) too. It wasn’t full. Stood there observing with arms crossed, assessing, nodding. Quite stoned as I remember. The gig I tell my Nirvana t-shirted teens about.

  4. Mr Nomansland

    11 October

    I was there too, but don’t remember much stage diving in fact I thought the place was pretty empty. I spoke to Tad who said he didn’t mind performing to so few people.
    I remember Nirvana being very rough, but loved them.
    Hopefully someone can confirm for sure, but I was convinced that The Cataran opened and had a mop top singer thrashing about, but I have read only one comment online where someone said they were disappointed they didn’t play. Anyone ? 🙂
    I have a first gen recording but don’t know if it’s this source or not.
    Sold my Nirvana washed out t-shirt a few years ago for £237 and TAD one for a little less.

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