Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Pilot and The Craftsman - Coventry Pub Venues

Pete Clemons focuses on two Coventry venues for his latest Coventry Telegraph article - The Pilot and The Craftsman.

Bands on beat in the city.
Pete Clemons 

I HAVE always personally considered that it was mid 1963 when, from seemingly out of nowhere, a sort of musical explosion happened in Coventry.

Of course, this is not strictly true because a lot of the musicians and singers involved in this release of energy were already established and had actually been around the local circuit for some time. But it just seemed that a lot of events came together at that time which brought to the surface what was maybe a more underground scene.

There is no denying though that there was a fundamental change happening at that time. Rock 'n' roll was far from gone but, at the same time, a large amount of new bands were emerging, energised by the beat boom.

Legendary local promotion company, Friars, were growing and all of a sudden there were plenty of venues willing to embrace and introduce beat music into their own pub or club. By now this revelry was not just confined to weekends. Weekdays were now beginning to get busy as well.

And the Whitmore Park/Holbrooks areas of the city were, very quickly, at the centre of the action in the shape of two very contrasting public houses that sit barely a mile and a half apart. Already established as places for live music and entertainment The Craftsman, on the corner of Beake Avenue and Rotherham Road, and The Pilot in Burnaby Road became magnets for Coventry's musical talents back then.

The Pilot opened in 1938, although it's not clear if that also reflects the age of the building. Looking at an old 1936 Ordnance Survey map of the area the pub is not shown but it is there by the 1955 version. A building plan for the pub was approved on September 7, 1938. However, this is just when the plan was approved rather than when construction started.

The Craftsman opened in 1958 or 1959, the licence having been transferred from a pub in St John's Street which had closed. Again this does not necessarily reflect the age of the building. The pub is not marked on a 1959 map of the area but is shown on the 1963 map of the same area. A building plan, dated December 1956, exists for the construction but again this is just when the plans were approved.

Pre-1963 and both pubs put on free and easies along with trios and quartets led by band leaders such as Brian Willis, Gordon John and Paul Leslie. Beverley Jones, from a very early age, would famously sing at Sunday lunchtimes in The Craftsman from early 1962.

But 50 years ago, from mid-1963, both these pubs were suddenly at the forefront of this new release of musical vitality. For a while during the first half of the 1960s both venues were among a whole host of Coventry pubs that were heavily used by Friars promotions for live gigs.

Initially 1963 saw The Craftsman bring in a resident band, Col Williams and the Easibeats, who would play several evenings a week. The other evenings saw regular visits by acts such as Tony Martin and the Echo Four, The Avengers and The Rave On's.

Down the road at The Pilot a similar thing was happening with The Matadors and The Millionaires appearing there on a very regular basis in the up stair concert room. In fact The Matadors became a permanent fixture at the pub for several years.

1964 continued where 1963 left off with regular visits by Johnny B Great and the Goodmen, Beverley Jones, The Beat Preachers and Coventry's first 'Mod' band The Sorrows. So popular were the bands that, over the weekends, you would have both lunchtime and evening sessions.

Maybe it is down to the geographical location of Whitmore Park/Holbrooks area and the fact that it is on the Birmingham side of Coventry but both venues even staged 'Brum Beat' nights Birmingham acts like Carl Wayne and the Vikings, Gerry Levene and the Avengers and Denny Laine and the Diplomats (complete with future ELO and The Move drummer Bev Bevan - Bev had been a member of The Diplomats around this time) regularly made the journey down the A45 to perform at both pubs.

Of course, both Carl Wayne and Denny Laine would each both reach even greater success with future bands The Move and Paul McCartney's Wings respectively.

One of the problems with The Pilot however was the constant rowdiness and boisterous behaviour that the place seemed to attract and became renowned for. The doormen were always kept on their toes to avert any trouble. It did get to the point where the manager threatened to pull the bands in order to preserve his licence. Toward the end of the 1960s the live music, by way of bands, seemed to dry up at both venues and they reverted back to mainly free and easies for way of entertainment.

However 1969 saw The Pilot become a hub for growing folk music scene. An early resident band was Dando Shaft who appeared there many times prior to them releasing their albums and finding a wider audience.

By 1973 The Pilot folk club had formed and, although relatively short lived, it managed to attract many guests such as Jasper Carrott, Jake Thakery and Harvey Andrews.

Even the legendary Joe Brown and his band at the time, Homebrew, played a gig at the club. It became incredibly popular and regularly attracted three figures on club nights. But increased costs, imposed by the venue, soon put paid to the folk club and it moved on.

Like most pubs though, the 1970s and 1980s saw mobile discos take over and pushing out the live bands. That's not to say that entertainment levels tailed off. There were still some memorable nights to be had at these venues. This brought many spin offs as each became very popular for wedding receptions and other family events.

Today the fortunes of each of the pubs seem to have gone in very opposite directions. The Pilot is still a very imposing building with huge potential but is currently boarded up and there is no denying that it looks very tired and run down.

The Craftsman, however, continues to thrive. It seems to have a really healthy passing trade and appears to be a fairly popular place to go at the moment. The function room with its extensive garden are used on a regular basis by organisations such as the 'All or Nothing Scooter Club' who hold their family days there.

And not forgetting the Saturday football special double decker bus that once took you directly from the pub to the Ricoh Arena - hope fully it will not be too long until that one resumes again.

Also at the Pilot Folk Club in 1973 - Derek Brimstone and Colin Scott.

Trev Teasdel recalls " I did a floor spot that night - to get in free to see Derek play. I was friends with his son Steve - also a good guitar player but who preferred open tuning at the time. I met Steve when i lived in Birmingham for the summer of 1971 - Kings Heath. He was travelling around with a couple of guitar players having been down to the beaches of Cornwall. Steve also stayed with us in 72 at the cottage out  at Shilton. The cottage was original the base of Coventry folk rock band April. Steve taught me the rudiments of clawpicking when I was just learning guitar back then.

It was a well organised folk club and the two main acts were well received"

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