The Astoria, London, December 3, 1989. Sub Pop, a tiny, Seattle-based independent label building a reputation as a home for regional punk bands, was showcasing three of its acts at their biggest show to date. All the attention was on the headliners, Mudhoney, whose anarchic take on the 1960s garage band sound had become a surprise hit. Also on the bill was Tad, featuring a behemoth-like frontman called Tad Doyle who had enough charisma to translate into breakthrough appeal. And in third place, an unremarkable addition to the burgeoning grunge movement called Nirvana.

That summer Nirvana had released their debut album, Bleach, to polite uninterest from the world at large. At that time the British music press were obsessed with the acid-house-meets-indie-rock hedonism of Madchester bands such as the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays, and didn’t want to be bothered by a bunch of mopey Americans with ripped jeans and a few old Neil Young albums. At the Astoria, Nirvana and Tad tossed a coin to see who would go on first. Nirvana lost.

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