Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Locarno

Pete Clemon's article for the Coventry Telegraph - this time on The Locarno (later known as Tiffanys and now of course Coventry Central library)

Readable text below the graphics.

The Coventry nightspot where crowds danced to rock legends; YOUR nostalgia ROCK fan Pete Clemons recalls when The Locarno/ Tiffany's put Coventry on the map as a major music venue and a must-play for big name bands. Pete, who is compiling a history of the city's music scene, recalls when the building rocked from the 60s to the 80s during its pre-library days.

THE recent death of Donald 'Duck' Dunn, bass player for Booker T and the MG's, had me casting my mind back and reminiscing about one of Coventry's major dance halls - The Locarno/Tiffany's.

The link, as tenuous as it is, being the fact that for a time Booker T's hit record 'Time is Tight' would welcome in the beginning of another night of dancing and frivolity at the venue.

For those too young to remember, The Locarno was the nightspot in the city centre that operated from the upstairs room where the main Coventry library now is. However, you didn't enter it via the doorway that now exists. The entrance was at the bottom of a tall glass atrium type tower that once stood in the centre of Smithford Way. It was linked to the main building at top floor level by a glazed bridge cum walkthrough.

This old dance hall is arguably as important of any venue Coventry has ever had. Over the years the list of live acts that appeared there, whether it is visiting the city or a local band, quite simply reads like a who's who of British music. The history is quite staggering and I can only touch on it here.

The Locarno was run by the Mecca Leisure Group who, during the 1960s and 70s, were at the forefront of the entertainment industry in the UK. They ran clubs and bingo halls up and down the country and staged TV programmes such as Come Dancing and Miss World. At their peak they owned 80+ similar dance halls. The group opened the Locarno in Coventry during August 1960 and, despite a name change in the mid 1970s to Tiffany's, continued to operate through to May 1981. 

Initially it staged regular Friday and Saturday dances led by the big bands such as the Harry Gray Orchestra but it did not take long for the then popular jazz and 'pop' acts to jump on board with early one off concerts by Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen, Shane Fenton and Screaming Lord Sutch.

For the majority of its 20 years The Locarno was, in the main, a dance hall but it did play host to and is widely remembered for numerous and some quite legendary events. One such event was held on October 22 1966 when John Mayalls Bluesbreakers, I assume with lead guitarist Peter Green who had earlier that year replaced Eric Clapton, along with Ronnie Jones and the Blue Jays held what was thought to be Coventry's first 'all nighter' at the venue. Although that had indeed been an all night event I can safely say it was not the first. Five years earlier, on Friday May 19 1961 The Clyde Valley Stompers, a New Orleans styled jazz band from Glasgow played an event that ended not long before the shops opened on the following Saturday morning.

The rest of the 1960s also saw The Locarno build a rich history of one off concerts as the likes of The Who, The Small Faces, The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, Ike and Tina Turner and many many others all appeared there.

This rich vein of talent kept coming as the 1970s continued where the 60s left off by staging concerts by rock bands such as Pink Floyd, Slade, Mott the Hoople, Judas Priest, Hawkwind and Led Zeppelin. In fact the Led Zeppelin gig was interrupted by a bomb scare. Apparently the only person who refused to leave the venue was Robert Plant who did eventually get his way and was able to resume and finish the gig.

Even local band Lieutenant Pigeon played a gig there at the height of their popularity when they hit the top with 'Mouldy Old Dough'.

The very early 1970s also saw, for a couple of years, regular Sunday evening visits by the finest of Irish show bands. Maurice Lynch, Hank Locklin and The Avons and others all appeared there after the Irish 32 club relocated to the venue from the recently closed Orchid Ballroom.

Chuck Berry also made an appearance.

In fact Chuck's hit single 'My Ding a Ling' was recorded at The Locarno during Chuck's 1972 British tour. A couple of other tracks 'Johnnie B Goode' and 'Reelin and Rockin' also appear on an album called The London Chuck Berry Sessions. Chuck rarely, if ever, gave encores so at the end of the album you can hear the Coventry crowd going mad for more and an announcement that the show was over and that Pink Floyd were playing later and the room had to be set up for them. 

Radio 1 celebrities Noel Edmunds, Dave Lee Travis and Johnny Walker all did gigs as the 1970s saw guest DJs do one nighters. And while mentioning DJs, another noteworthy thing to mention, is the fact that Pete Waterman spent 12 years their spinning the records.

As punk rock / new wave then ska took hold of the country toward the end of the 1970s and into the early 1980s it became almost compulsory for the bands to play Tiffany's. This period saw The Clash, The Stranglers, XTC, Blondie, The Specials, The Selecter, UB40 and The Undertones all hold court. The list was almost endless as Tiffany's became one of the nation's major venues.

It is believed to be the club that is made infamous by and referred to in the Specials song 'Friday Night and Saturday Morning'. And if he ever puts on another exhibition then be sure to catch renowned photographer John Coles priceless photographs from this period.

As I said, I have only touched on part of the story of The Locarno. I have not even mentioned the Bali Hai bar, the revolving stage, the many resident bands, the lunch time sessions or the glitter ball.

And whenever I visit the library, and I imagine I am not alone, my mind wanders back to a time when that room was full of music and the dance floor and balconies full of revellers. The complete antithesis of how it is used nowadays.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Walsgrave Band Nights

Pete Clemons from the Coventry Telegraph
 Pete gives a history of the band nights at the Walsgrave in the 60's and 70's including Pete Waterman's Tuesday night progressive Music gigs 1970 / 71.

(Readable text below the graphics)

Queuing up for band nights at The Walsgrave; YOUR nostalgia ROCK fan Pete Clemons recalls the days when Coventry's The Walsgrave pub was a top music venue, attracting the region's best bands. Pete, who is compiling a history of the city's music scene, remembers long queues forming in wait for its doors to open and of its switch to the Carolina Club in the 1960s to satisfy strict Sunday licensing laws on dances.

ONE of the most popular local pubs of the 1960s was Coventry's The Walsgrave.

This majestic looking building sits proudly out past the Forum, on the bend where the Walsgrave Road meets the Ansty Road and where Dane Road intersects.

It was once Coventry's flagship and benchmark for all things required for a memorable night out. Thursday nights, for example, were hen party nights. Long queues would begin to form at 7pm for door openings at 7.30pm Nurses were always allowed in free of charge in acknowledgement for their outstanding work and devotion at the hospitals.

Sundays would quite often see two sessions. The first at midday till 2pm and then again from 7pm till 10pm.

Strict Sunday licensing laws existed back then which meant that dances were only allowed in clubs. So to satisfy those laws the pub became a club and, as such, the Carolina Club was born with a two shilling (20 pence) membership. There would be band nights that included local (to the region) crowd pullers such as The Mighty Avengers, Tony Martin and the Echo 4, The Matadors and The Beat Preachers (who once supported The Who). As the reputation of the Walsgrave spread it attracted bands from further afield like Denny Laine and the Diplomats, Carl Wayne and the Vikings, Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders and Lady Jane and the Royalty.

The pub was fitted out with permanent state of the art double decks that attracted the city's top DJs such as Mark Brown, Tommy T, Dr Vince and Freddie Flea.

DJs were paid around pounds 1.50 per night while the bands were given between pounds 10 and pounds 15.

The organisers of these dances, Friars promotions, also made sure that a team of bouncers was on hand to cater for any trouble. These included none other than Ken Brown, now proprietor of the popular Browns bar in the city centre.

Ken is, of course, very well known for his time in charge at the General Wolfe at the time it gained its 'legendary' status within Coventry music history.

Thankfully though, trouble at the venue was very infrequent although a set of double doors, similar to those seen in a wild west bar saloon, were left damaged by way of a permanent reminder of the results of some past evictions.

Despite this heavy presence it did not stop the inevitable 'pass out' scams. In essence, people leaving a dance early were handed a pass out which, in turn, was being sold on to late incoming punters for 2/6 (12-and-a-half-pence) or simply being used for another dance.

Management and promoters became aware of this issue and were kept on their toes combating the problem by having to introduce new measures such as different coloured passes for different nights.

Of course disc jockeying back then was a world away from today. Back then DJs had to be real showmen and have bags of personality.

On top of that they selected, introduced and played records for an audience.

They relied on good use of headphones to achieve the smooth cueing of tracks and a flexible microphone in order to introduce the songs.

You also needed a great rapport and a natural patter with the listeners and hecklers. Nowadays, you still need an abundance of showmanship, but the objective is achieved through the use of multi playback devices, cross faders and equalisation in order to deliver the continuous wall of sound required to satisfy the 'clubbers' of today.

By the early 1970s Friars had moved on but The Walsgrave pub still continued to be a popular venue.

The music scene had also changed.

The beat groups had gone and rock was now in vogue.

One of the main protagonists of this new scene was Pete Waterman.

By day Pete worked at the GEC, but by night he was a well known DJ who could be seen at any number of venues across the city.

One of his ventures was the Tuesday night progressive evening at The Walsgrave.

Trevor Teasdale, luminary, promoter and poet from that period remembers those evenings well.

Trev would help the bands unload equipment, set up and run the door.

Pete would put bands on like Indian Summer, and Wandering John but would also find slots for folk acts like Rod Felton and Dando Shaft.

Apart from the DJing, Pete would quite often join the bands on stage accompanying them on flute. This was, of course, during his early days and Pete would find worldwide fame in his own right, particularly with the creation of Stock Aitken and Waterman.

Today The Walsgrave still stands proud. It is more renowned for its food, but even now, after all these years, they can still occasionally find the room for a band to play.

In this article Pete Clemons mentions that i (Trev Teasdel) helped with Pete Waterman's Tuseday night Progressive Music nights 1970 / 71. So below I've included a few tickets from those gigs. I used to do the door and help set up.  Pete and I both worked at the GEC Telecommunications at the time where Pete also the shop-steward. Pete had written some music to one of my lyrics (A Lotta rain is Fallin') while there and asked me help out at the Walsgrave. It meant I got in free and witnessed some great local bands, some of whom I knew and had put on at the Umbrella Club and a lot I hadn't.

Bands included Indian Summer, Wandering John, Last Fair Deal, Asgard, Rod Felton, New Modern Idiot Grunt band, April, Audience (from Birmingham),  Gypsies Kiss. Roger Williamson's East Light, Dando Shaft, Pantomime (Birmingham band), Skid Row, Flying Hat Band and many more.
Pete Waterman - Coventry Days
I'd get there about 7pm and we'd open at 8pm. Pete would go through the records he was intending to play, current hits like - Yellow River, In the Summertime, Alright Now, soul and progressive tracks and oldies seg  The Small Faces, to name but a few. I'd help the bands in with their equipment, talk to him about music and on one occasion he introduced me to Rod Felton ( a solo contemporary folk and blues artist). The next week we went on walkabouts before the gig to Pete's parents house, (where the road is now named after him!). He'd be collecting bits of disco gear, and then caught the bus from Ball Hill to town calling in at a record shop near the arcade. Some of his fans from his Locarno discos would wave and call out to him. After that it was a trip up to Earlsdon Cottage - where they had jazz and folk nights. On this occasion  Rod Felton was on and was sitting on the grass playing guitar as we arrived. Pete had gone to collect his flute from Rod as he intended to play it later at the Walsgrave. Before we left Pete played some melodic flute to one of Rod Felton's songs. Sadly we didn't have mobile vids back then!

Gypsy Lee were on that night, a heavy R & B band and Pete got up to sing a raucous version of Rock me Baby, giving the flute some welly Jethro Tull style. They were popular nights with some good music and some good bands. Pete was a workaholic, DJing 7 nights a week and working at the GEC during the day - until about 1973 when he left to open Soul Hole Records.

Trev Teasdel - Cov Telegraph pic 1973
Ad from Broadgate Gnome 1970