Catching Up With … Dancing Tony From Nirvana’s Live at Reading DVD

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Antony Hodgkinson, aka Dancing Tony, was the drummer for British rock band Bivouac in 1992. As a labelmate to Nirvana (both bands were signed to Geffen), Hodgkinson had interacted with Kurt Cobain and Co. for a couple of years, picking them up from the airport when they came to England, hanging out with them at shows they played. One thing led to another, and he ended up dancing with the band in, he estimates, nine shows, including Reading Festival gigs in ‘91 and ‘92.

Nirvana’s Live at Reading DVD, officially released in November (it was previously widely bootlegged), features some of Hodgkinson’s best—or, at least, most notable—work from the latter festival. He’s the guy on stage, in the center of the maelstrom, wearing baggy women’s clothes, Chuck Taylors, clownish face paint and a tie, convulsing, flapping and pogo-ing to the sound. He’s seen on stage for 12 of the band’s 25 songs. At one point, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic credits him with writing all of Nirvana’s tunes.

These days, Hodgkinson is a 42-year-old, twice-divorced father of two kids, living in Nottingham, England. He still plays drums, and the many projects with which he’s involved include a soundtrack for Julian Cope’s new novel and a short film called “Crazy Horse” that he dances in. He also installs recording studios.

Paste recently caught up with Hodgkinson about the ‘92 Reading show and DVD release, how his Native-American heritage influenced his dancing, and what those moments on stage with Nirvana meant to him, then and now.

Paste: How did dancing with Nirvana come about?
Hodgkinson: Me and Dave [Grohl] got on real well. I was well into their music, but it was like a dare to dance to it. Kurt thought it would be a good idea. Suggestions flew around. I was finally like, “Fuck it. I’ll do it.” And they were like, “Well, you’re gonna have to wear ladies’ clothes.” And I was like, “Whatever. I’m not proud, you know?”

I think Leeds was the first show I did for them in 1990. From what I remember, it was quite a heated show, really. It seemed quite violent. It was one of those shows where Kurt may have—or, I should say, may not have—hit somebody with his guitar.

Paste: The Reading ‘92 show took place shortly after the band had become a worldwide phenomenon. What are your memories of it?
Hodgkinson: It was the crowd that did it for me, in a way. I guess a lot of people expected Nirvana to not turn up, or that something bad would happen to Kurt. There was a lot of anticipation. You could feel the vibe, the electricity coming off the audience. And when the band came out and started into “Breed,” I came on, and it was just full tilt, really. It was quite a strange moment. It was like falling; there was no way of stopping it. You just had to go with it. It set the hairs on the back of your neck.

Paste: You were wearing a tie.
Hodgkinson: I was wearing a tie.

Paste: Do you still have that tie?
Hodgkinson: No, I’ve got the trousers still. They’re crocheted blue-and-white trousers. They belonged to a friend’s girlfriend at the time. I just wanted something weird and clownlike.

Paste: After 17 years, what is it like to see yourself on DVD in that moment?
Hodgkinson: I was actually dreading watching it for a couple of reasons. I was worried I would be too critical, that I would think, “You just look like a complete asshole.” But also, it was the last time that I saw Kurt.

So watching this video again, there was that sense of dread. But I felt quite elated upon watching it. I actually I did shed a tear on the last bit of the DVD, when Kurt’s backstage, talking to a young boy and his dad, and Kurt says, “Don’t smoke.” That was Kurt. He was a really sweet guy. And then the titles rolled up at the end, and I saw that they put me in the credits. It was just a sweet memory, really.

Paste: You live in Nottingham now?
Hodgkinson: I live about a minute’s walk from town.

Paste: Were you born there?
Hodgkinson: I was born in St. Albans in the south of the country. My birth mom is actually a Lakota Sioux, Native American. So I’m half Sioux. I don’t know how she ended up in England. But I was born in the ‘60s, and it was out of wedlock. I think she was 16 or so when she had me at a birthing home. I was adopted and raised by my adopted parents in central England. But I’m quite proud of my Sioux heritage.

Paste: Can you talk about the Sioux and their history of dance?
Hodgkinson: They do have a history of dance. It’s ritualistic. It’s inherent, really, dance within us. I don’t know if you’re familiar with “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” A lot of the tension around that time was caused by the U.S. government being paranoid about the Native American nations instigating the Ghost Dance. The Sioux believed that it would help their forefathers to rise up and stop the oppression. The white population was still very intimidated by the collective Native American psyche. And a lot of our Native Americans were massacred because they were gathering to do the dance.

Paste: How would you describe the dancing you did on stage at the Nirvana shows?
Hodgkinson: It’s just a cross between Native-American dancing and punk pogo-ing. It’s a simple form. If you get tired, jump up and down and shake your head.

Paste: You’re busy with a number of projects these days. What’s an average day for you like?
Hodgkinson: Probably installing a studio, and then coming home and mixing one of my projects. I’ve got kids, as well: a son who’s going to be 14 and a daughter who’s nine years old. They’re both creative.

Paste: What did your kids say when they saw you on the Nirvana DVD?
Hodgkinson: My daughter is at the age where she is not quite interested yet. My son is a funny one, really, because I did tell him, and he forgets. He’s very artistic and his head is full of ideas, and so you tell him things and he just sort of dismisses it. So I gave him the Nirvana Live at Reading DVD for Christmas and he goes, “Oh, so you’re on this?” And I go, “Dude, how many times have I told you?” I asked him recently, “Have you seen the DVD yet?” “Oh, no.” He’s just not that bothered with it. What does a dad have to do?

Paste: Do you want to share any particularly fond memories of interacting with Nirvana during that time?
Hodgkinson: Not that long before I met the band, I had had quite a bad illness. I had been in the hospital and almost died. By the time I met the band, I was physically recovered but still quite psychologically damaged. I was a bit depressed. But Kurt was quite understanding of it. I used to act a bit weird and say weird things. But he was very accepting of it. One of my fond memories was the band taking me in. They were just like, “He’s going to be a bit weird. Fair enough.” They let it pass. And they let me on stage with them.

It’s hard to quantify it, but I guess it’s a piece of rock ‘n’ roll history now. And when I was a child, I always wanted to be a part of rock ‘n’ roll history, watching Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and all that. And now, accidentally, I’ve fallen into that sort of mythology.