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Magic dance hall nights rocking out at The Matrix; YOUR nostalgia ROCK fan Pete Clemons recalls the heyday of one of Coventry's favourite dance halls - The Matrix Ballroom. Pete, from Keresley, who is compiling a history of the city's music scene, charts the venue's history and the orchestras, famous bands and acts who played there over the years.
COVENTRY was once upon a time, and not so long ago, awash with factories that manufactured everything from cars to telephone equipment.
And almost every one of those factories came with its own social club that took care of the workers leisure time and gave them, and their family, entertainment and activities on many levels.
I myself worked, at one time, at the GEC which was typical of all the other factories that existed back then. It had several social clubs that catered for an entire range of bar games including snooker and dominoes as well as being the base for the football and rugby sections along with a variety of other sports and activities. And these clubs were not solely for the use of employees as guests were also very welcome into them.
Some of these social clubs also had large ballrooms that were the focal point for all manner of functions ranging from office parties and presentation evenings to dance orchestras.
Another such company, known as The Matrix, was born in 1953 out of Coventry Gauge and Tool which itself was formed at the end of the 1930s. At its peak the company employed more than 2,000 people and had a reputation of having one of the finest ballrooms in the area.
The Matrix Ballroom on the Fletchamstead Highway near the old Standard Cinema (now Maxim's casino) was one of the city's favourite dance halls. It boasted a large dance floor and seemed to attract the bigger and more popular dance bands. I am guessing that this was partly due to the fact that it was situated on the A45 which, back then, was a major trunk road through the city. Even today you can recognise the building as it is now used as the HSS tool hire store.
The bands started performing at the Matrix soon after the company was formed with, for the first couple of years, The Jack Owens Orchestra taking up a residency and followed then by The Paul Stanley Orchestra for the next few years.
But by the end of the 1950s the place was attracting bands and orchestras the calibre of those led by Johnny Dankworth, Ted Heath, Ken Mackintosh and Ronnie Aldrich and, such was the popularity, advance tickets were being made available from Jill Hansons record shop in the city centre.
The early part of the 1960s saw the dance bands becoming freer. Rock and roll had kicked in and the formalities of the orchestra, although not lost forever, were being left with the older generation. The needs of the younger workforce and music fan were being met and during 1961 and the early part of 1962 the traditional dance orchestras were being replaced by the likes of the accordion-led Pat Gissane Show Band and The Temperance Seven who specialiSed in 1920s style jazz and swing.
September 1, 1962 saw the hall reopen after the summer. The bands that night included Swedish instrumentalists The Spotnicks and suddenly there was a new feel to Saturday nights. The beat groups had arrived.
Incredible as it now seems but a band called The Beatles played the venue on November 17, 1962. This was only weeks after Ringo had taken over from Pete Best on drums, two days after returning to the UK after a two-week residency at the Star Club in Hamburg and just days before they recorded their second single Please Please Me. Famously the hitman Pete Waterman had been in attendance and recalled that around 80 people had been in attendance to see them.
Within a year The Beatles had been followed by groups like The Searchers, Freddie and the Dreamers and The Rolling Stones. Even American acts like Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard performed there.
After a brief refit the venue reopened as the New Matrix during mid-1965 and the previous successes continued by way of visits by Manfred Mann, Van Morrison's Them, The Small Faces and countless other bands. And these big name chart acts were quite often supported by a local band as happened when, for example, when The Beat Preachers supported The Who during August of that year.
November 1968 saw a regular Irish club move in, The Hibernia Club. For a year or so the atmosphere of the hall changed again as Saturday nights were alive to the sounds of The Skyliners and The Yankee Clippers Show Bands and their assortment of jigs and reels.
There was still room however for rock and pop as the late 1960s saw the likes of Joe Cocker, Desmond Dekker and The Equals all perform at The Matrix. The Hibernia Club continued to put on the show bands at the venue until it moved to the Foleshill Road during mid 1969.
The 1970s all but saw the rock and pop disappear. Occasionally a local band might play but not on the regular weekly basis that the venue had previously been used too. For several years throughout the 70s though the musicians union staged an annual big band competition at The Matrix. During the day up to a dozen youth orchestras would appear such as the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra.
It was a very popular event.
Another use of the hall during the 1970s and 1980s was that as a venue for an annual beer festival. But the Matrix Ballroom effectively ceased as a music venue during the mid 1980s and remained unused for many years.