What is your idea of a dream music concert? As a British teen in 1965 mine would have been something like this: First, I’d book the Rolling Stones performing some rhythm and blues favourites like “Pain in My Heart” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” I’d also invite some other contemporary bands like the Moody Blues, Georgie Fame and Herman’s Hermits. For the second half of my fantasy concert I’d bringing on the heavyweights: the Searchers, Them (featuring Van Morrison), and the Animals, along with a couple of the U.K.’s best solo artists: Dusty Springfield and the young folk singer from Scotland, Donovan. To top it off I’d have the Beatles, singing recent hits like “I Feel Fine” and “Ticket to Ride” before closing with “Long Tall Sally.” And finally I might have the Kinks wrap it up with “You Really Got Me”. If only, right?
Well, if you were with me and my cousin Annie at London’s Wembley Empire Pool on April 11, 1965, you wouldn’t have to dream; you could have witnessed that very concert, filled out with other current faves like Cilla Black, Freddie and the Dreamers, folk-rockers the Seekers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and more. It was absolutely fab!
Each year, beginning in 1953, the British music weekly NME (New Musical Express) polled its readers on the best of the year. The winners were then invited to perform and, at the height of the British Invasion, that meant the Beatles, Stones, Animals, Who, Cream, Kinks, Hollies, Van Morrison, Roy Orbison, etc…………….all on the same bill!
You might think that a concert featuring so many future classic rock acts would last for a week, but in those days it was all about running on stage, playing a few hits and beating a hasty retreat. The entire show took about two hours from start to finish.
Although they famously performed on the rooftop of Apple in January 1969, the May 1st 1966 NME concert was The Beatles’ final scheduled live appearance in Britain. It took place at the Empire Pool in Wembley, London before an audience of 10,000 – including me and Annie, of course !
Apart from local concerts in Brighton, Hastings and Plumpton in 1967 I also went with Annie again to the amazing N.M.E. poll-winners blow out! Check the line up…….
Back in the days of 45’s – vinyl discs – real records – my family would gather around the ‘record player’ sing along and dance. When you only had a handful of ‘records’ it was easy to learn the words and I remember me, my cousin and my sisters mimicking the Rolling Stones when they had their first hit. Of course, I was Mick Jagger. While I later shared many concert adventures with cousin Annie my live performance adventures began at Boy Scout camp! We were on the Channel Island of Jersey when a swarthy man in a trenchcoat approached me selling tickets to a show in the local village hall. It was August 1964 and when I heard the entertainment was none other than the Rolling Stones I begged my Boy Scout leader to let us go. So we did – the whole troupe – all in uniform witnessing the rude boys of pop music in action. It was the beginning of a new era in the Boy Scouts, after that we drove in our scout van to see concerts all around the south of England. It was exactly the right time for all the great bands. I got to see and hear the best – along with Annie. And…………. I never wore my scout uniform to any more gigs!
There were pubs and clubs during that era where emerging bands would play to tiny audiences, and me and my mates would cruise them looking for ‘chicks.’ Annie introduced me to folk clubs around Sussex visited by many of the greats; I regularly heard Alexis Corner in a London blues club and, before they started their major tours, in May 1967 I saw Steve Winwood’s Traffic perform in Eastbourne at the grimy basement dive I frequented.
Another very memorable gig was the first time I heard Pink Floyd do a solo gig. It was February 11th 1967 in the open courtyard of Falmer House at the University of Sussex and was one of David Gilmour’s first gigs playing alongside Syd. They draped a huge white sheet on the walls and there was a chap up in the gallery with a projector and some immiscible coloured fluids (and possibly a blowlamp) creating the first lightshow that I ever saw. Pink Floyd are responsible for every bloomin’ disco, every wedding party, every party from those days having a lightshow but they’ll always be a pale shadow of the psychedelic accompaniment to Pink Floyd’s act that that evening.
Among other highlights are three special Jimi Hendrix concerts. the first was on October 22nd 1967 at Hastings Pier Ballroom which was a tiny venue of less than three hundred people. What a night that was! Before the gig Jimi stood at the bar quietly talking with his team, untroubled and unmolested. I watched the show pressed to the front of the stage. Jimi was about six feet in front of me strolling across the stage playing his guitar with one hand, playing it with his teeth, on the floor, and behind his back, then later he poured lighter fuel on it and set it alight. I noticed the sexy groupie right next to me making eyes with him all night. She rushed backstage as soon as he finished, presumably to get his ‘autograph’!
Not long after, on December 2nd 1967, I drove the scout van to Brighton. It was a package show in The Dome with Amen Corner, The Move and Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett on the verge of insanity, but topping the bill was the Hendrix Experience. Jimi emerged onto the stage wearing glimmering pale-blue crushed-velvet flared trousers, and his performance completely surpassed the other acts, both in impact and musically. He was sweating profusely under hot lights and muttered things to the audience, completely cool and unconcerned at their reaction. During songs he hopped up and down as his tongue flickered in and out. His set included Foxy Lady, Purple Haze, Hey Joe, Wind Cries Mary, I Don’t Live Today ending with Wild Thing and the whole place erupted! I was so blown away with the first show that I went back in line and got a ticket and watched the second show in which he played several different songs. Outside waiting in the cold van were my fellow passengers who missed the chance to see the maestro play twice. I must have pissed them off but guess what? I didn’t care as that night remains one of the best memories of my life.
On 1 and 2 September 1968, the Bluesology festival, one of the earliest rock festivals in the UK, was held in the grounds of a beautiful Chateau near Worcestershire, England, and featured Joe Cocker, Fleetwood Mac, Family, The Move, Duster Bennett, Chris Farlowe, Wynder K Frog, Geno Washington and the infamous John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. To the horror of my family I hitchhiked to the gig and my last ride was in the Bluesbreakers roadies van. I got to help them unload their gear and was rewarded by leaning on the side of John’s hammond organ during their set on the crowded stage. This festival was the first time many of us ever heard Joe Cocker’s version of ‘With a little help from my friends’ and Fleetwood Mac still had Peter Green as lead guitarist playing the classic ‘Oh Well’
The band that totally blew me away was Family. I remember Roger Chapman swinging the mike stand around and swirling the microphone round his head as he let out the lead till it touched the sides of the tent. He also threw it out into the crowd and pulled it back at the last moment before it hit someone then he hit one of the overhead lights which smashed to pieces. That was rocknroll in the ’60’s.
The Animals were one of my favourite bands but split up in 1967. When I heard that they were having a one gig reunion in their hometown of Newcastle in the City Hall I decided to drive there, in my very first car, a 1948 Ford Popular. The four hundred mile trip there, in December 1968, was really tiring driving the slowest car on the road and sitting in the exhaust of every vehicle that past me by and I discovered that the back seat was not designed for sleeping comfortably. It was all worthwhile seeing the boys and hearing them play their hits using the city’s iconic 1920’s concert organ, the last of its kind and the finest in the U.K.
In June 1970 I went to The Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music. Michael Eavis was also there and got inspired to hold the first of what would become the Glastonbury festival of contemporary performing arts. The festival featured a line-up of the top American west coast and British bands of the day, including Santana, The Flock, Led Zeppelin, Hot Tuna, Country Joe McDonald, Colosseum, Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, The Moody Blues, Dr. John, Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, Canned Heat, It’s a Beautiful Day, Steppenwolf, Johnny Winter, John Mayall with Peter Green, Pink Floyd, Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Keef Hartley, and the Maynard Ferguson Big Band. This line-up was comparable with the legendary Woodstock and the more famous Isle of Wight festivals but attracted way less press coverage and was a smaller affair, which is what I liked.
Led Zeppelin headlined the first night for a fee of ₤20,000 and their performance is considered by critics, and the band, as one of the most important of their career. With well over 200,000 people it was also one of the largest crowds the band performed to. Pink Floyd headlined the second night and premiered “Atom Heart Mother“, which featured a complete brass band and choir. It started at 3 am, on a starry bright night, due to major delays. I camped out on the hill above the stage, the sound was clear as a bell and, thanks to the Floyd’s use of parachute flares, the whole Festival site was lit up and glowing psychedelic. Or maybe that the mushrooms effect?
Later that same year just up the road from my rural East Sussex home was the 10th National Jazz, blues and Pop Festival at Plumpton Racecourse. Of course, I was there pitching my tent on top of my friends VW van and, eating yoghurt for the first time, but the music is what is most memorable. On the bill was Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Family, Fotheringay, Peter Green, Keef Hartley, Incredible String Band, Cat Stevens, The Strawbs, Wishbone Ash and Yes plus the newly formed Ginger Bakers Airforce (with Steve Winwood) stepping in at the last minute and playing long past the curfew time. I really liked that it was not too big and possible to get close to the stage.
As student living in London for five years from 1969 I was blessed with endless opportunities to hear lots of great music. The best shows were in small venues – Student Union Halls, pubs and clubs but the gigs were growing in size and new venues opened. One of these was the Crystal Palace Garden Party and I attended the 3rd in June 1972. On the bill was the Beach Boys, Joe Cocker, Richie Havens, Melanie and Sha Na Na. This was my first Ritchie Havens concert the second was in Puna, Hawaii twenty five years later. Even though he blew us all away, Joe Cocker cut his set short, explaining to the crowd that he had to get back to West London for ‘an appointment’. Apparently he was deep into his addictions at that time and needed his quick fix. Very sad!
Cousin Annie would sometimes come to London for gigs and is responsible for turning me on to the Grateful Dead. We went to hear them play at the very regal Alexandra Palace on September 10th 1974. It was the second night of their short, seven show European tour that is legendary in Grateful Dead history for its excess – with the phenomenal ‘wall of sound’ speaker system and other, more chemical, indulgences. I’d hung out with plenty of hippies by then but had never experienced anything like the ‘Deadheads.’ Apparently, there were nights on this tour that were really, really sloppy with stupendously coked-out, run-ragged versions of songs but according to legend they also produced more interesting music than the band managed in most of the 70’s and luckily for us that night was one of the best.
In true Deadhead tradition I’ll give you the rundown.
They played a 30 minute version of Dark Star, also Weather Report, Stella Blue, Peggy-O, Around and Around,Mississippi Half-Step, Beat it on Down the Line, Tennessee Jed, Black-Throated Wind, China Cat Sunflower, I Know You Rider,
Loser, Black Peter, Let it Grow, Me and My Uncle, Dire Wolf, Ramble on Rose, Big River, Morning Dew, Sugar Magnolia and let’s not forget the powerful, stand-alone Not Fade Away in the second set. The music is really high quality, very popular with Deadheads and still available on Dick’s Pick’s.
Not all my music experiences came from attending concerts. I was lucky that my girlfriend Jilly lived acres the road from the famous Rainbow Theatre. We’d lie on her bed with the window open and listened to bands like the Who playing the ‘Tommy’ opera, Van Morrison, Queen and Genesis. I especially remember hearing Deep Purple who were listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as ‘the globe’s loudest band’ for a 1972 concert at the Rainbow which rendered three fans unconscious. It was a far cry from the Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Vera Lynn music that entertained my parents generation. But, as a child of the ’60’s, life had changed into something far more radical and renegade.
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