From playing support to the Kinks to arriving by motorbike - Mel Bray remembers his student days at UEA in the 1960s
In 1966 UEA was in its very early days and just about everybody there at least recognised each other by sight. Not surprising then that a handful of musicians from different academic disciplines got together early in that year to form UEA's first ever rock band.
We each had our own instruments but the Students Union coughed up the dosh to buy and lend us gear including a PA system and amplifiers. For reasons long forgotten we were named The Rhum Hound Complex. The line-up was Tony Hulme (keyboards, guitar and vocals), Dave Long (sax), Rick Halstead (sax), Arnie Bennet (Fender bass), Jim Andrade (drums), Pete Tyler (vocals) and Mel Bray (guitar and vocals). Dave, Rick and Jim were all excellent jazz musicians but Rhum Hound played a mix of R and B, rock 'n roll, blues and soul.
Very quickly we found ourselves on stage as support to some of the big bands that were doing the universities circuit at that time - they included John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers (including Eric Clapton and Peter Green), Gino Washington and the Ram Jam Band, the Yardbirds, the Pretty Things and many others. As far as I remember we didn't get paid a penny but had a great time.
Among repeatable recollections was the time when we shared a scaffolding stage with the Kinks for a big open air event in Earlham Park. As we were setting up, a voice from the Kinks team dryly declared, "They won't be playing on that stage". It bluntly went on to explain, "With their trousers they'll never get up there!" A special set of steps was created and when the Kinks arrived in the evening they were able to ascend more or less comfortably. They were wearing pastel coloured suits and the trousers were so tight that they could barely bend their legs!
At some point in 1966 I purchased a thing called a fuzz box which made the guitar sound like the riff in the Rolling Stones Satisfaction. Sadly it disappeared shortly afterwards - thought to have been nicked by a well-known band who were the only ones to have access to the room where I had left it! I refrain from naming them.
We also played elsewhere including a gig at Essex University where we were support for a chart-topping band called Pinkertons Assorted Colours. In the opening set our bass speaker unit blew and Pinkertons quickly and generously lent us their brand new one. Embarassingly our stuff seemed more to the student taste than the Pinkertons' pop and their reception was mixed. Then as if to add insult to injury in the second set, our bass amp successfully destroyed the Pinkerton's substitute speaker! They had yet another spare to finish the evening with but not a happy night for them.
At Keele University we found ourselves swapping gear with a well-known band who were equipped with the latest Vox amplifiers. They were relatively feeble compared to today's equipment, but three or four times more powerful than what we were using. Not realising quite how loud these amps were we simply used our customary balance settings (i.e. up to Spinal Tap level 11). The result was that although everything sounded great from on stage the hall rapidly emptied and people started dancing on the other side of the wall. How the world has changed.
There was a degree of theatricality in some of the Rhum Hound performances, notably a spoof psychedelic gig in the early stages of the 1967 "Summer of Love". In the course of it a pulsing foetus and video of Donald Campbell's crashing Bluebird (including soundtrack) were projected with kaleidoscopic patterns on the hall wall. The band was enveloped in swirling mist from melting dry ice. At one point the two sax players smashed television sets to pieces with axes while the singer repeatedly shot himself with a blank pistol. Innovative for the time but quite a mess to clear up afterwards.
I departed for my year abroad and returned in the autumn in 1968 to discover that nearly everybody in the band had graduated and left the previous summer.
We nevertheless got in contact and decided to re-form for one final performance. It was to be another theatrical spectacle but this time evoking the world of 50's rock 'n roll as "Red Satan and the Thunderstones".
I had the honour of being a black clad sunglasses wearing Red Satan who took centre stage after riding into the hall on a motorbike as the band played the incessant riff of Elvis Presley's I'm evil. With my back to the audience I suddenly turned, pointed to them and sang "If you're looking for trouble - you've come to the right place". The evening stormed through one crazy number after another and included the appearance of a mock "Southern Preacher" who read religious tracts and called for us to be banned on moral grounds. It was a rocking good night but I guess he won, because that was the end of Red Satan and the Thunderstones and The Rhum Hound Complex. These days I think it would be called performance art. And we did "Do different".
See some of Mel's photos in the Photo Booth
From Rockpile to the Zutons via Gig in the Park and the Albion Fairs, John Marshall Potter fondly remembers gigs at the LCR
I found it really nostalgic looking through the long list of gigs at the LCR. The first gig Iattended there was in October 1979 for only £3!! It was Dave Edmunds’ Rockpile with UB 40 as support. I don’t remember that much about it now.
Way back then, there were great gigs all over Norfolk and Suffolk. West Runton Pavilion was still a major touring venue and Norwich hosted several smaller venues such as Whites Wine Bar and the Gala Ballroom.
All of the best acts of the time used to come to East Anglia and the LCR was at the hub of it all. I remember the Tourists in 1980 and being gutted that I missed Dread Zeppelin in 1990. The last gig I went to was the with my wife Becky in 2008 but the best thing about reading the list is how many of the artists who played over the years I went on to book for “Gig in the Park” in Halesworth, which ran from 2001 to 2012 . The guy who originally started Gig in the Park had a disastrous year in 1999 at Sibton Park, which ended in the gig being cancelled. I think it was the December of that year we ran a benefit gig for the event at the LCR featuring The Globs, (Global Village Trucking Company) and Ezio. I don’t think it made much money…
All of the years we ran Gig in the Park, the UEA box office sold tickets for us which gave the event great publicity in Norwich.
The music in this part of the world has helped shape my life. I became involved with the Albion Fairs in the early ‘eighties and have run and promoted events ever since.
We are currently approaching year six of FolkEast at Glemham Hall in August. My love of the folk genre started when I saw a guy called Martin Carthy in Lowestoft at the old Waveney folk club and then discovered Folk Rock and saw Fairport and Steeleye Span in Norwich.
I can’t remember if the UEA ran events at Saint Andrews Hall but I remember twice seeing Hawkwind there and Lindisfarne but the most memorable would have to be Curved Air (Oh Sonia!).
Since the ‘sixties this part of the world has been right at the forefront of the music and arts scene. Who remembers the Spalding Festival, The Bungay May Horse Fair and the Eye Show?
Lots of events have come and gone and today we still have some great, home grown, festivals: Maverick, Harlequin, Maui Waui and FolkEast, but the one constant that has never let this area down from the ‘sixties to present day is the UEA LCR.
John Marshall-Potter Co Director of FolkEast Festival
Photo Credit for Dave Edmunds at UEA: Trevor Benbrook
The Kinks, Jeff Beck, velvet shirts and great memories from VERY early gigs at UEA and the Norwich music scene in the ‘60s and ‘70s as sent through by some of UEA's alumni.
UEA’s folk music scene started in 1964 with a couple of singer/guitar players and a few interested listeners. Starting a university society/club was easy in those days as the general motto was: “if you need it, start it!”.
The 1964 intake saw the arrival of more singers/guitarists, who helped others climb onto the stage. Slowly but surely we thought about expanding and attempts were made, with the support of some of Norwich and Norfolk’s local clubs and performers, to offer additional club and concert facilities. The university facilities were wonderful. Everything was situated at The Village and everyone, staff and students, pulled together for the future. Thus, if you wanted a sound man, the university electrician would come along and set everything up, ditto for lighting, and by the end of 1965 concerts were being organised in the university hall where one of the electricians even turned his hand to making “demo tapes” of performers and performances!
I was one of these founding fathers. I took a rest in 65/66, to take my finals, but returned to do a PhD in September 1966. Chris Fletcher, who had run the society while I was doing exams, needed to concentrate upon his own studies but we had been joined by a new student Guy Hewlett, an accomplished singer guitarist/banjo player just up from London. Guy and I formed a duo - The Kimeridge Clay - and took on the task of being “residents” but also started looking at using The Village as a concert venue. Thus we formed Folkscene UEA and by 1968 we were featuring top artists such as Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick, and Tom Paxton, over from the US. Other names still known today included Bert Jansch and The Pentangle and Ralph McTell who, at the time, was wrestling with whether or not to stop his teacher training course to take the professional plunge.
More big names followed and UEA rapidly became one of the UK’s top Folk Venues. Even so, we certainly did not dominate the local folk world and we gained a huge amount from the support and wisdom of local singers and organisers such as Alex Atterson. Alex ran one of Norwich’s best clubs and he introduced us to many far-flung UK performers such as John The Fish and Brenda Wooten - regular visitors to The Village in those days. John, now 80, is still, in 2016, doing the (very) occasional performance in his adopted Cornwall. The story also goes that Alex Atterson persuaded Ralph to release ‘Streets of London’ as a single. The rest, as they say, is history!
I still have the play-list Guy and I performed from during 1967 to 1969. And we even have a ticket or two!
I have very warm memories about an outdoors concert in May-June (probably early June) 1966 at the campus. It was headlined by the Kinks, who were very good, an effective band outdoors. But the surprise success was Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band. They were exceedingly good, and got the whole audience dancing along with them. Their sound was captured fairly well on their Live albums, but on that evening they were on their top form. Sadly, their studio records were lacklustre.
Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon captured on disc similar performances. This concert was held on a warm summer's night. Much beer was drunk that evening. After it I returned to the sole male block at Horsham St Faith.
I went occasionally in to the City for music. One pub had a large cellar and the music was popular with many African-American USAF personnel. It was loud and hot in that cellar. I was much impressed by Zoot Money and his Big Roll Band.
In 1967-8 I went to see Jeff Beck (now sadly passed away). It was in the big hall and it was packed. I liked his hit 'Hi Ho Silver Lining' and we expected there to be good music for dancing. Instead it was very good guitar music, but very much for standing and listening. Perhaps it was the first time I was aware of the divide between rock 'n' roll and the coming progressive music against which the punk bands rebelled.
The first real music gig I ever attended was in the LCR at UEA. It was Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, an African-American blues and folk duo, both of whom have since passed away.
The concert was in the year 1973-74, my first year at UEA, and the memory of it has stayed with me all these years!
The '70s was a great time to be at UEA. Our freshers week concert of East of Eden, Thin Lizzy and headliners (not a term we used back then) Horslips, showcased the best of Irish rock and helped burgeon my relationship with my first serious girlfriend.
There are far too many gigs to name check them all but a few more highlights include Curved Air playing at “horshvitz” (Fifers Lane, Z block was modelled on a Swedish prison or so the rumour went). I dragged my next door neighbour along and Clive was very impressed with Sonia Christina..... even the feral cats that lived in the heating ducts were cool that night. Sitting outside the LCR on a summer evening listening to Gryphon, Paul McCartney and Wings and their 10(plus) encores. And of course, Golden Earring (I only really enjoyed Radar Love but great band live nonetheless). My girlfriend was very taken with the bass player and brought me a velvet shirt so we could 'role play'.
At that time concerts were held at Horsham, on campus at the LCR and village and at the Art College in Town. There was a very active folk scene with both floor singers and bands like Steeleye Span, the Chieftains, Fairport Convention, Silly Wizard, Five Hand Reel and Pentangle, songwriters like Ralph McTell, Richard Digance, John Redbourne, and Bert Janch and Fred Wedlock and instrumentalists like John James.
It was also possible to find Jazz in the waterfront pubs and cellars but this was not my scene back then. While Classical music was generally restricted to the village or various of the numerous Norwich Churches. The latter with the even more numerous pubs being the essential and only guides to navigation in Norwich prior to the invention of SatNavs. All good natured directions given to green students by the very friendly locals involved things like right past the Maddermarket or left by the Wild Man.
Many if not all of these bands featured prominently in my collections of vinyl and then CDs and now are on my playlists. Being at UEA stoked a lifelong interest in music of all kinds and this along with the many other things I learnt about life while studying Biological Sciences in Norwich have helped me steer a course through 3 separate careers and through life. In those days you really got an 'Education' and the government paid you to do it. Still more than repaid with a life time of taxes, I suppose.
If it isn't obvious I really miss those days and the friends we had. So I hope you have enjoyed reading this and it inspires you to explore some of the music Norwich still has to offer.
AP 1973 to 1976.
Listen to a playlist inspired by the memories above - UEA Gig History 1963-1975
My Norwich, your Norwich
By Emma Outten
The live music scene at UEA may have changed since writer and comedian Charlie Higson graduated, but one thing remains the same: it is very much alive
Charlie Higson graduated from UEA in 1980 with a BA in English and American Literature. While there he met fellow musicians Paul Whitehouse and David Cummings who played together in punk bands and later created the award winning comedy series The Fast Show. He has gone on to have a varied career as an actor, novelist, writer and TV producer.
Pete Bye has just completed his second year as a medical student. Alongside this, he is an accomplished blues/folk musician and was last year’s winner of the UEA student radio ‘battle of the bands’ contest Livewire Presents. He spent the past year as treasurer for UEA’s rebooted Live Music Society (LMS).
Charlie Higson arrived in 1977 at the height of punk and immediately formed a punk band with fellow student and new friend Paul Whitehouse. “We were called The Right-Hand Lovers” says Charlie, “It was pretty wild.” He was living on the old RAF base at Horsham in his first year. “We played our first proper gig there,” he recalls.
Pete Bye’s first gig, by contrast, was at a Green Party Society event. “Despite having no political motives and not having played for a while, I thought I’d give it a go,” says Pete.
Music had attracted Pete to UEA in the first place. “During an open day, I’ve a clear memory of seeing two guys performing an acoustic set in the square,” he says.
Charlie and Pete made their musical marks in the post-punk and folk genres, respectively. “At the risk of blowing my own trumpet,” says Charlie, “I was reasonably instrumental in getting a decent local music scene going.” There were punks in Norwich in 1977, he says, “but none of them had really got it together to form bands and find places to play.”
Charlie’s first band went the way of many student enterprises. “Unfortunately most of the members of my band were thrown out of University before the end of their first year (including Paul), so I had to start another band, which eventually became The Higsons,” says Charlie. “At the start of the 80s some university friends started their own record label called ‘Romans in Britain’, and local bands recorded songs for a compilation album called ‘Norwich - A Fine City’.”
A certain East Anglian-based DJ heard it. “John Peel lived not far from Norwich and picked us out to record the first of many sessions over the years,” says Charlie. It was a great kick-start to their career. “On the back of this we released our first single, I Don’t Want to Live with Monkeys,” he says, recalling the track that got them to Number 5 in the UK Indie Charts in 1981.
Recording technology has changed a bit since Charlie was storming the charts, of course. Pete spends time playing music in his room and uploading tracks onto the internet. “It’s worlds away from the technology of the 70s,” he agrees.
The LMS, recently given a new lease of life, now aims to promote local talent by hosting gigs in the Blue Bar on campus and The Ten Bells bar in the city centre.
“LMS had been around for a while but was almost completely defunct when I joined,” says Pete. A friend of his put together a new committee and invited Pete to become treasurer on the grounds he was “his only friend who could be trusted with money.” The society was built up from nothing, he says, and was nominated for most improved society at the Union Awards night in 2013.
“Being a part of LMS has given me opportunities to play live and contributed towards my (moderate) success on the University music scene,” says Pete.
Music has always provided common ground for UEA students. “As far as I know there was nothing like the Live Music Society in the 70s,” says Charlie, “but, as now, there was a very active music scene and a lot of opportunities. One of the great things about UEA was that it had a full time ENTS officer – a great guy called Nick Rayns, who sadly died recently.
“I remember seeing U2, Madness, The Specials, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Fall and many more.”
Pete knew a bit about the music scene at UEA before he arrived. “I had heard rumours about the infamous LCR [recently re-named the Nick Rayns LCR] and some of the big names that had played there. The venue, along with The Waterfront and Norwich Arts Centre, remains the cornerstone of any Norwich music-lover's calendar.”
Charlie and Pete were both involved in UEA’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2013. “I think UEA was quite different to a lot of other universities,” says Charlie, “it certainly had a very forward-thinking feel to it.” Pete agrees: “You see a lot of that in the Live Music Society, too,” he says.
This article was first published in UEA’s Ziggurat 2014/15
Photo credit: Right Hand Lovers by Dave Guttridge (see Dave's Desert Island Gigs blog here)
Zodiac Mindwarp, SPK, rockist posturing and someone called Duran Duran
By Ian Simmons
I was at UEA from 79-82, having used the NME gig guide to select my university rather than the usual prospectuses, and was a regular gig-goer in the city until about 1988. I saw some of the most amazing shows I’ve seen anywhere at UEA.
My first gig was Secret Affair and Squire at Horsham on 4 October 79, I suspect they weren’t that great, but it was in my Freshers' Week, so of course, everything seemed wonderful. My second gig, on the 26th, was one of the best gigs I’ve ever attended by any standard. This was The Specials, Madness and Selecter, all of whom had their first singles out at that point, they were all on their very best form, the atmosphere was electric, the show superb and I loved every second of it, plus I kissed a lovely girl who had just decided she was giving up her original name and becoming Alice, it never went any further after that evening, more fool me, but it definitely contributed to about as perfect a gig experience as you could get.
I seemed to go to an awful lot of Elvis Costello and Jam gigs during my UEA days, I think they used us as a warm-up gig for their tours, and neither ever disappointed. I also saw the Fall a lot, often with an amiable John Peel in the audience, if it wasn’t on a broadcast night, having first encountered them as an unsigned support band to Siouxsie and the Banshees in Croydon and been blown away; looking at the gig list a lot of them bring back memories.
The 8 October 1980 Echo and the Bunnymen show at K Block was startling, they had the whole stage draped in camouflage, and several huge smoke machines going the whole evening, with massive white searchlights behind the band, so they basically appeared as silhouettes in the fog throughout; a bravura show of confidence dreamed up by their then Manager, future KLF provocateur Bill Drummond - they were great musically too.
I was taken to the December 1980 Hazel O’Connor gig by a girlfriend, although I always thought her a bit fake. We arrived just after the support band started and having eyed them up for a song or two decided to decamp to the bar, as it was clear that these Duran Duran fellows were dull losers going nowhere…
I started 1981 with what looked like a great gig on paper; U2 and Altered Images. I had both their first albums and had been playing them a lot – Altered Images were splendid, sparky and whimsical, but U2’s performance put me off them for the rest of my life. Even at that stage their show was bombastic, with Bono doing the full on foot-up-on-the-speakers, head back, arms thrown wide rockist posturing, and The Edge soloing flamboyantly. Having been a Croydon punk in 1976 I thought this was the sort of self-indulgent bollocks we’d consigned to the bin when we got rid of Led Zeppelin and their tedious dinosaur ilk. Not impressed!!
Another stand-out from that period was the February ’82 Teardrop Explodes gig, this was not long after their hit with ‘Reward’ which they played as their third song. A couple of songs later Julian Cope shouted out “What shall we play now?” and some wag yelled “Reward!!” so they duly played it again, and pretty much every alternate song Julian repeated the request, with more and more people shouting “Reward”, with the end result being that they must have played it half a dozen times that night, which was wonderful and absurd, and somehow very Norwich. I actually went backstage afterwards and spent some time talking with him about our shared interest in obscure US 60’s garage bands. He was wondering if they should do the next gig in alphabetical order. He also insisted on giving me his autograph even though I didn’t collect them. I gave it to a girl outside who hadn’t plucked up the courage to ask him for one. He is lovely bloke, I recently saw him do a solo gig in Newcastle and met his daughter who was running the merch stand.
After graduating I ended up hanging out with the local bands a lot and shared a house with most of Testcard F at some point or another, but still came back for gigs. The 1983 SPK gig in the Barn ought to be on the list of the loudest - it was ear shattering, and their use of angle grinders somewhat concerning, as they sprayed incandescent sparks up into the thatched roof and it was a wonder it didn’t catch fire. I was also at that absurd Gregory Issacs gig where he failed to make it out of London. If I remember correctly though, Steel Pulse were support and played an extra long set. They were really good, and even though we got sent home and got our money back, I think it counted as a win. It was also around this time that, now teaching in Lowestoft, I turned up at Zodiac Mindwarp gig in shades and a leather jacket to find most of my 6th form group in the audience, which was awkward.
Norwich was particularly good for gigs in the 80s, with not only UEA putting on excellent bands. The Gala Ballroom in the city also had an enviable track record. A weird country and western venue with a bar tricked out like a wagon train that used to roll out a plastic ice rink on Saturdays, it did host rock gigs for a while, before it got turned into a laser tag arena. It was there I saw The Smiths when they just had one single out, and they came through the audience to reach the stage, Morrissey strewing gladioli as he went. I also saw Nico at her icily mordant best – her 80s gigs have a reputation of being horribly shambolic, but not this one, it was enormously atmospheric such that the hair stood up on my neck during “Frozen Warnings”.
Picture note: I am on the right with my friend Grant Urbani dressed to the nines in our Mod gear for a Purple Hearts gig in K Block in early 1980. I had just bought the suit, which was an original 1960’s mod suit that fitted me perfectly, from a charity shop on Maddermarket (an amazing find!!). It is now in the costume and textiles collection of Leicestershire Museums, to whom I donated it in the 90’s when I had become too fat for it.
Volume - A Cautionary Tale of Rock and Roll Obsession
A digested book extract on the triumphs, humiliations and joys of a student proto-rock journalist at UEA in the '60s
By Oliver Gray
There was a weekly magazine at UEA, read by virtually everybody, called Chips. It had a music column called Popinion, written by student called Chris Foren under the pseudonym of “L’étranger”. Foren’s claim to fame was that he knew a pirate radio DJ called Keith Skues. Popinion was a singles review column in an era when no self-respecting student bought singles. Plus, Foren insisted on unnecessarily mentioning Keith Skues several times each week.
Now anyone who has read this far will have discerned that unnecessary name-dropping is not entirely an alien concept to me. But Foren only had one name to drop, and it got on people’s nerves. Having hugely enjoyed those first few live gigs, I couldn’t understand why Foren never even mentioned any of the live music at UEA. So I approached him.
“Good idea. Why don’t you do a live music column to run alongside my singles column?”
It was as simple as that. Foren was influential on Chips, so I immediately had not only an outlet, but a regular and widely-read one.
My bluff had been called, and the opening salvo was far from auspicious. The first OLLIPOP (sad but unavoidable title) must have been in early 1968 and was a retrospective on some recent concerts. Praised as the most memorable gig was the appearance of Savoy Brown, which had indeed been impressive. These heavy, long-haired bluesers, starring the well-smoothed Kim Simmonds and the gormless “Lonesome” Dave Peverett had initially baffled but then won over the audience, more used to soul bands. Most of them good-naturedly sat down on the floor and shook their heads to the beat, but some complained that they couldn’t dance, and that was the theme of the inaugural Ollipop: Be tolerant, man.
The final gig of the 1968 Spring term was The Jeff Beck Group.
What joy! Here was another chart hero refusing to behave as he should. With Ron Wood and Micky Waller, he performed a set of vicious blues and R&B, studiously ignoring all calls for “Hi Ho Silver Lining”. On lead vocals was a pencil-thin, strutting Mod with shades and a unique hedgehog haircut. His name was Rod Stewart, and he’s never been as good since.
The soul groovers who wanted to dance had had their day, because the social secretary, a burly, determined Welshman called John Morgan, had an agenda of “progressive rock”. He pulled off quite a coup by arranging for Pink Floyd to visit UEA, in a surprising but clever double bill with Fairport Convention (because both were represented by the Bryan Morrison Agency). Being now UEA’s official Rock Bod, I was keen, if not confident, to try and do some interviews. But, apart from the friendly-looking Sandy Denny, the Fairports looked scary. Tyger Hutchings, in particular, seemed aloof and unsmiling, so I decided to go for the brilliant guitar player with the Bolan-style corkscrew hair.
“Excuse me, have you got a few minutes to spare?”
“Only if you ask extremely intelligent questions.”
As Elizabeth from Hungerford would have said, it’s not the trousers that matter. Despite the total change of appearance since those days, Richard Thompson was as affable then as he is now.
This version of Fairport (there was never a better one) still contained Ian Matthews as well as Sandy Denny, who was cheerful and relaxed. On drums was Martin Lamble and later that night I met a girl who knew him from home in Golders Green. She went on to become his girlfriend and they were still going out together a few months later when Martin was tragically killed in a crash in the band’s van.
The interview revealed exciting things such as the fact that they would describe their music as “electric folk” (goodness), that they never had trouble winning over audiences and that, if they had to compare themselves to any other bands, they would say Big Brother and the Holding Company. At the time, I was astonished:
There didn’t seem to be any similarity between Sandy Denny and Janis Joplin. History was to prove, however, that there were, indeed, a number of similarities, not least in their volatility and their embracing of the darker side of the rock lifestyle.
The Fairports gave a revelatory performance. Sandy broke the audience’s hearts with her versions of “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” and we sat cross-legged on the floor, enraptured. The atmosphere intensified with the arrival of the Floyd, who were headlining. The light show, so innovative for its time, wafted and flickered over the band as they played endless, mesmerising versions of “Astronomy Domine” and “Careful With That Axe Eugene”. They looked so frightening on stage but they, too, were happy to be interviewed. Roger Waters was particularly magnanimous towards Fairport, calling them “the best electric folk this side of anywhere”.
Asked to classify their music, they declined, just calling it “our thing”, but they did explain that the music was improvisational to a large extent, with no two performances ever being the same, and that, since the departure of Syd Barrett, the bulk of the writing was done by Roger Waters and Rick Wright. Their forthcoming album, they revealed, was to be called “Saucerful of Secrets”. That day marked my growth into someone who was always going to like good music regardless of category. This was because, despite the brilliance of the evening, there were still a few soul groovers in the audience who complained that they couldn’t dance. To them, I signed off the column with a pompous but sincerely-meant put-down: “To those who went away mumbling discontentedly, I would say don’t criticise what you don’t understand, because any sort of sincere invention is valid.”
Blimey! Bob Dylan put it more succinctly.
When Free eventually played at the university, I knew I had finally found my kind of music. Paul Rodgers was so macho, doing impossible splits in his skin-tight trousers, manipulating the microphone stand like no one before, and barking out the songs in a voice and style which would be copied for decades. The sparseness of their music appealed: the bass used almost as a lead instrument, the hard but unfussy drums (a stark contrast to currently-fashionable show-offs like Jon Hiseman), and the trebly vibrato style of the unhealthy-looking, disgracefully unkempt guitarist. He stayed at the back of the stage, leaning back against the amp and pulling grotesque faces, but otherwise avoiding guitar hero poses.
This was Paul Kossoff, and it was Paul I homed in on for the interview, because I was intrigued that this wild man could be the son of the gentle and benign David Kossoff, who I had often heardreading Bible stories on the radio. The report in Ollipop gives a good idea of the naive style of the column:
“Andy Fraser, Free’s bassist, is a mere 16 years old, and very accomplished too. The lead guitarist (the bristly one on the right) is Paul Kossoff. He studied classical guitar for five years and has been playing blues for two. Paul and Andy do most of the writing.
On March 10th, their first LP emerges, entitled ‘Tons of Sobs’ (yes, they hate it too!). They were terrifically together on stage, but will they come across well on record? We shall see. Career-wise, nothing particularly exciting is coming up, which is sad. Ambitions? A hit, they say, is not the greatest objective, merely recognition and the chance to make a living out of what they enjoy doing.”
Towards the end of my second year at UEA there was another excellent double bill, headlined by the Nice, whose single “America” had charted, despite its great length. Now down to a trio, they were popular with students because of what appeared to be an anti-establishment stance and because Keith Emerson stuck knives into his Hammond organ. I interviewed the bassist Lee Jackson, who was gratifyingly anti-pop:
“We refuse to put classifications onto music. We prefer just to call ourselves a ‘musical group’. We don’t like the fashion of calling any musician who isn’t a cretin a genius. We look forward to playing at places like the ICA where we don’t have to think about pleasing the masses.”
This was the kind of thing I liked to hear, but I had less success with the support group, The Idle Race. I wanted to quiz Jeff Lynne about his association with Roy Wood of the Move (with whom, although I didn’t know it, he would soon form The Electric Light Orchestra), but Lynne was furious. He only wanted to talk about the new Idle Race single “End of the Road”, and refused to continue the interview. Something similar happened soon afterwards when I tried to interview Joe Cocker. He was so drunk that all I got was a series of unbelievably filthy jokes and some unprintably scurrilous gossip.
Ollipop led to a number of such humiliations, but few were worse than that handed out by Jon Hiseman. Colosseum had come to play at UEA and I had been promoted by the new Social Secretary, Neil Merchant, to being resident DJ for the gigs. I got to stand behind the curtains and play music in between the bands. On this occasion, I had acquired a highly-prized American import copy of Ten Years After’s live extravaganza “Undead” and, having ostentatiously carried it round under my arm all day, was eager to show it off.
I placed the needle onto my favourite track, an immensely long (and, in retrospect, rather preposterous) version of “Woodchopper’s Ball”. After a couple of minutes, Jon Hiseman’s moustachioed face appeared round the curtain:
“Excuse me, young man. Could you turn off that infernal row? We’re trying to do a soundcheck.”
Also playing that term was Bakerloo, who featured Dave Clempson, who later ended up with Colosseum after leaving Humble Pie. For me, Colosseum was another Keef Hartley special. Although they called themselves Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum, the best songs were written by their guitarist James Litherland. “Elegy”, from their “Valentyne Suite” album, is a superbly poignant song.
The humiliation at the hands of Jon Hiseman was as nothing compared to my second encounter with Sandy Denny. Fairport’s return visit to UEA was not a success, because Sandy had a bad throat and was also in a black mood. At first she refused to go on, but the Social Secretary waved the contract in her face and insisted.
She coughed her way through the first song, but during the second, her voice gave out completely. The band left the stage and I had to rush back to my post to put on a record. Sitting backstage on a flight of steps was Sandy Denny, just in the process of lighting up a King Size Benson and Hedges.
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” I enquired, remembering what a warm, friendly person she had been on the band’s last visit.
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe smoking a cigarette isn’t a very good idea if you’ve got a bad throat.”
“Well,” replied Sandy, “you are just a pathetic little creep and you can fuck right off.”
The last ever Ollipop adventure was the best, in that it involved my original favourite band from way back, the Hollies. You know how you feel when a band lets you down and betrays the musical faith you placed in them? How must fans of The Frantic Elevators feel about Mick bloody Hucknall whining “My Way” in a dicky bow? Or what The Thompson Twins became? Or The Leyton Buzzards turning into Modern Romance? Well, that was how I felt about The Hollies at that point.
I’d stuck with them through thick and thin, bought every single (yeah, yeah, the shed) and also every album, out of the purest admiration for Tony Hicks, who I secretly hoped would go solo or start up another band. As people sneered at all my Hollies albums with their cod-psychedelic sleeves, as they dressed up inelegantly in beads and kaftans and performed songs like “Fifi The Flea”, I still kept the faith. It was confusing, though, because the bassists kept changing, Allan Clarke kept leaving and returning, and, to be truthful, I hated his voice anyway. And when I met them, things were at their worst.
Amazingly, the goofy Graham Nash had turned out to be the most credible in the band, going off to America to work with David Crosby and Steve Stills. The only reason that I admired Tony Hicks (apart from his hairstyle, obviously) was his snappy little guitar solos, and he’d completely stopped doing them. On “Stop Stop Stop”, he played the banjo, and on “Carrie Anne” there was an appalling steel drum interlude which was inserted, pre-recorded, into live performances. For Christ’s Sake! The only saving grace was that Nash had been replaced by a fairly cool character from The Escorts called Terry Sylvester. Hell hath no fury...Just think of those Frantic Elevators fans.
When the early Hollies had covered classics by Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, they had done so with flair, and even added character to them. But now, they had done something unforgivable. They had not only recorded but actually released an abomination of an album called Hollies Sing Dylan. In this, they took all the master’s most commercially accessible songs and ritually disembowelled them. Their big band swing version of “Blowin’ In The Wind” must surely be a candidate for worst cover version of all time. And now, Neil Merchant had booked them for the UEA Rag Barbecue.
This bold event, which took place in Earlham Park, Norwich in summer 1969, was doomed, as are all events which have no clear rationale. Set up as a proper festival (we had to build fences of almost Glastonbury proportions to keep out fictitious gatecrashers), it starred (wait for it) The Hollies, Marmalade, Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Tich, Spooky Tooth and The Soft Machine. The idea was to draw in punters from outside (although the Beat Group era was all but over) as well as muso students (who, of course, wouldn’t be seen dead anywhere near Dave Dee and the like). Spooky Tooth wisely didn’t show up, Soft Machine played a cursory set and disappeared, and the event was a financial catastrophe.
Determined to get the interview with The Hollies, I chased them round all afternoon and evening. Before the gig? Too busy. After the gig? Too tired. What about at breakfast the next morning? Okay, when are you leaving? Eight o’clock? Bloody hell! There was another problem, in that I had a visitor for the weekend, in the form of Elena, a Yugoslavian girl I had met at Easter in London. John Yorke had secured me a job serving at the Railbar in Euston Station, a distinction which, I recently discovered, is probably the only thing I have in common with Damon Albarn, apart from drinking too much.
Elena didn’t speak a single word of English, so we communicated by looking at each other approvingly. Except that, on the day of the Rag Barbecue, we didn’t even do that, because I spent the whole time swanning around being important backstage, while she had no backstage pass. By the time I’d finally fixed up the interview, Ian Wingfield had stepped into the breach and, judging from the leers he was giving out over the next few days, what passed between them was more than admiring glances. But I had no time for all that, I had to be at the Castle Hotel at 7 am.
Thank goodness, The Hollies had changed out of their white stage suits and looked more or less as they ought to. They immediately started asking the questions I’d hoped they wouldn’t: Had the students liked their act? Had the barbecue been a financial success? It was obvious that they, too, were unsure of their career path and were still trying to recover from Graham Nash’s departure. And they were on the defensive about the Dylan album:
“Does the issue of the LP indicate a drying up of impetus after the departure of Nash? Yes, although there are several new songs ready now and they are adjusting to the new situation. Why had they recorded already familiar numbers? Simple (from Tony): It’s sad but true that people just don’t buy Hollies LPs, so they were going for the people who only buy records with familiar songs on them. I doubted whether this market actually existed, but this week’s album chart proves their point.”
Some clever dick entitled the article “Ollie’s Hollies”.
Before leaving, I did extract one scoop from Tony Hicks: “We’ve found a song for a single. If it comes off, it’ll be another “Whiter Shade of Pale”. Sure enough, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” appeared a few weeks later and made almost anyone temporarily forgive the band their sins. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the sins became unforgivable. They recorded an album called Confessions Of The Mind. On this opus, there’s a track by Tony Hicks, called “Too Young To Be Married”:
Tew yerng tew be married,
Tew yerng tew be free - ee,
Tew yerng tew be marr - eed,
But what could they dew?
They were gonna have a bay - bee.
I’m a faithful sort of chap, and I still go to see The Hollies today, complete with their ever changing lead singers. But my love affair with the band ended with Hollies Sing Dylan, and so did Ollipop.
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