STOKEBEAT

 

Thanks to Shelley Whitney who wrote all of this...and took the pictures too.

 

Hope Street Springs Eternal. 

Every town has its legendary venues. Dumps, dives, shit-pits and shit-holes every band is obliged to play in, put up with ferocious landlords and get badly paid for the privilege. But it's all part of being in a band, it's part of the fun of it, escaping into the night, gear and limbs intact, from some hole.

This is a highly personal voyage through some of the music venues and places in Stoke in the seventies and eighties. Some of them are still, some of them aren't. Art springs from the environment in which it was created.  This was mine.

Hope Street

Hope Street is Stoke-On-Trent’s answer to Greenwich Village. It’s in Hanley just up from where Tesco used to be before it relocated to the rest of Hanley. It used to be thriving with music shops, fancy dress shops, delicatessens, and café’s. There was a new age shop or 2, a sex shop, a bar/club, and all sorts of interesting folk hanging around. These days, a lot of the shops are still there, but like Greenwich Village, the street itself has gone to seed a bit.

But back in the day …

Hope Street was famous for its music shops above all else. There were about 3 or 4, all on the same side of the road and all packed with the covetous and unaffording. It occurred to me that as you stood on the corner looking down, one’s commitment to one’s art could be seen in the distance you were prepared to travel down the street: the beginner at the entrance, the serious muso right down at the far end. So from the top …

On the corner, you had the notorious Chatfields. Chatfields supplied the area’s schools with those horrendous instruments of musical torture upon which kids learning how to play are obliged to practice. All those discordant school orchestras and frustrated music teachers had Dennis Chatfield to blame for supplying them with these hideousnesses. Any new rock musician tended to fetch up here too. Young and pale, too scared & inexperienced to dare to venture further down, they were entranced by the shiny guitars in Chatfields’ shop window. And by the apparent benevolence of the staff therein, who were only too happy to sell you anything so long as A) you were prepared to pay through the nose for it, B) if you wanted an amplifier, you couldn’t have anything that wasn’t H/H & C) you were prepared to put up with their supercilious attitude. If you were really lucky, you got Dennis Chatfield’s intake of breath. I once bought a Rickenbacker 360 from them as they were the only shop in the area who would import them. It cost me a fortune and as I handed over the cash, I asked if he would throw in a set of strings.

            “Hoooooosssssh” went the intook breath, “Ok, what type?”

            Fender Super Bullets; brow furrowed and eyes darting warily from side      to side, “Hoooooosssssh” again, “What gauge?”

            11’s, please. “Hoooooosssssh” for a third time; “Ok, here you are”.

            And how about a lead … and so on.

Over time, the schools contracts ran dry, the staff moved on and unable to move with changing times or cope with the fact that people discovered how crap H/H amps were (well, ok, the p.a.’s were ok … just), Chatfields went into terminal decline, before being shut altogether and being demolished to make way for a bar.

Next down the road came Kay’s, the perennial survivor. No-one really knew what it was there for as it had a crap rep for selling crap guitars. It always seemed to be changing owners, which was a good thing ultimately as it’s actually pretty good these days.  Further down you had Allied Music in what is now a jewellers. You couldn’t get proper guitars from there, just copies, so the discerning player quickly by-passed this place and ended up at Custom right down at the far end.

Now if you were serious about your music, you proved it by not just gazing longingly at the battered old Fenders in the Custom shop window, you had to go in and try them out. To the uninitiated, this place seemed a right den of thieves, full of dodgy characters and mysterious whisperings, punctuated only by intermittent blasts from an electric guitar. There was a code in the language and you felt an idiot using it yourself because you knew, and they knew and you knew that they knew you hadn’t got a clue what they were on about. And Reg, who owned it, had an indeterminate past, steeped in music, being part of a world the rest of us could only dream about. I remember him  laughing when I wanted the 2 extra springs in the back of my strat that someone had taken out so they could be like Hendrix. I didn’t want to play like Hendrix? Nope. 

And the shop! What a hole. And you know what? We loved it. You could  get decent gear at good prices, its very shabbiness kept the poseurs and plebs out and if there was a problem, like there was when the Marshall bass top I bought from them on Saturday caught fire on Wednesday at the Rose & Crown, they were only too happy to sort it out. Ah yes … But then Custom became R & B and moved over the other side of the road in a much bigger & shinier shop. It still felt like you were entering the forbidden city some times, but in this move, something was lost and it became, a Music Shop. You could still get good gear at good prices, but, it really wasn’t the same. I’m not sure what happened to Reg, but the shop is still there, these days called The Rhythm House, still doing the business …

Once you bought your gear, gigged with it a few times … the inevitable thing happened.  It got nicked.  Where did you go?  To the police, so our boys in blue could get it back for you and apprehend the villain? Not a chance.  You went to Rosina Ward's in Hope Street. The biggest second hand shop going. There'd be a good chance you'd find your gear there, having been sold there by some shifty swine, who'd signed the disclaimer Rosina ritually handed out to purveyors of all items, declaring that the item/items (delete as necessary) were their's to sell, that they were over 18 years old and no hire purchase agreements were attached to them.  And having bought your stuff back at an exorbitant fee, you were back in business. Alas the same can't be said for Rosina Ward ...

The Rose And Crown.

If you come out of Festival Park, go under the flyover and round the roundabout as if you were heading towards Newcastle, you’ll pass a lone building, a business premises for an organisation called BRB. Whatever it is now, this will always be, for some of us, nothing to do with BRB, or business or anything corporate … this was The Rose & Crown. For a few years, in the mid 70’s till the mid 80’s or so, this place was the hub of a lot of interesting stuff going on in Staffordshire. Apparently, Climax Blues Band formed & were named here as part of the Blues Workshop; John Otway wanted to play the grubbiest, grimiest venue in the city & was directed here. Stoke Musicians Collective did loads of gigs here 1980/81.  Grace always seemed to be here too except in the summer months of 1980, which saw Strange Brood, The White Lightning Blues Band and the Moonstone Blues Band more or less perform in rotation every weekend. It was fantastic. Anything went … watered down booze, dog turds on the stair carpet (the band room was upstairs), skinning up in the bogs, a goodly smoke of mother nature in the car park or the alley out back …

One Wednesday night, we were playing there and I was feeling very pleased with myself, oh yes, because I had just bought a Marshall Bass top from Custom Sound on a very good deal, a very good deal indeed. I always felt I was playing catch up with the 2 guitar players, one of whom had an AC30 and the other a Fender Showman or something. I was using a knackered AC30 as a bass amp but it had given up the ghost a few days earlier, so it was time for a change. So I scored the Marshall.  Can't go wrong with this, I thought.  So towards the end of the second set, there I was, thrumming away and it started making some really odd sounds.  Really bizarre distortion … and then came the smell of burning, followed immediately by, “Hey, your amp's on fire ...” I turned round and saw all this smoke pouring from the amp, which, of course, had been a great deal, and it was genuine Marshall smoke ... “Oh wow, “ I said, “Great light show.”

I did my first gig with Strange Brood there in October 1978, when we were still called Oasis (!!!!!) … I did my last gig with them there in September 1980, the day after the 10th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s demise.

 

The Bowler Hat

 

This was in Burslem, up Moorlands Road.  It always seemed to me that really clever bands like Grace and their like played there, the likes of us wouldn't be allowed. But as it turned out, they let the hoi polloi play there too. I played there in August 1980, I think it was, with Strange Brood. It was funny really. Our guitar player had been ill all week with some sort of heinous stomach bug and he hadn't eaten anything all week, he told us. Come the gig, it was rock 'n' roll business as usual (or our version of it) and he cruised on a full tank. Or so he thought. Halfway through the 2nd set, there was an almighty thump to my right, I turned round to have look-see … poor guy had hit the deck, red stratocaster and all. He lay there moaning and groaning like a good 'un, a deathly shade of grey and his body twitched periodically. “Oh shit, now what do we do???”  We dragged the casualty off stage and propped him up in a chair and gave him a pint to nurse … well, the damage had already been done, hadn't it?  In the meantime, John Orme from the Moonstone Blues Band was in the audience and whilst he didn't really know our songs that well, he at least made a better job of standing upright.

El Syds

 

Aaaaah, the legendary El Syds, the nightclub above Syds Bar.  In its original form, the room was shaped, the band setting up on the dancefloor, which was in the area bordered by the 2 limbs. The problem was, the ladies toilet was to the left of the band at the end. If you were sitting down that area, it was fine, you got a great view of the musicians' profiles, if that's your bag, you got to go to the loo if you wanted … but if you wanted a drink, you had to negotiate your way through wires, amps, guitars and pissed off musicians to get to the bar.  Likewise, if you were a girl enjoying a head on view of the band from the bar, but you wanted a wee, you either risked using the men's facility, by all accounts, truly described as a bog or you took a chance on incurring the band's wrath and made your way through the band to the loos. Making sure you went before the bod coming the other way heading for the bar. 

Heymaker once played there on punk night, quite by accident.  But hey, the punks loved the ' Maker's brand of revved up Steeleye Quo.  I played there with Strange Brood and again with The Headset a couple of times.  It was at one of these gigs that I heard one fan mutter to his mate, “I don't get you.  You like Sabbath AND this lot.”

They did a fabulous Sixties disco at El Syds on Saturday night, on the early 80's, with Jeff and Nigel DJ-ing on alternative nights. I got to admit, Jeff did the better night, way more interesting stuff to dance to. The doorman was a guy called Mick, I think. Nice man, but I noticed something really odd about him each time I saw him, but I couldn't put my finger on it.  Finally it dawned me.  On the Friday punk/futurist/alternative night, his bald pate shone out in the lights like a shaft of gold.  On Sixties night the next night, he sported a fine head of hair …

Syds Bar deserves a mention. It was such a cool place: mods, rockers, hippies, punks, anyone really, all in the place together having a good time, never any trouble. I always remember the toilets: the men, they went to the Albert, while women got to go to the Victoria.

 

Alas, the bored giveth, and the bored taketh away … Syds got sold to some old, drunken, has-been footballer, who named it after himself, expanded the nightclub bit, and ruined it all before putting the thing out of its misery by turning his attention elsewhere.

Bridge Street Art Centre.

 

This was a fabulous place to play.  They had big names and local bands on here. Heymaker had a Monday night residency here 1982 onwards for years and built up their rep.  Here, I saw Alexis Korner, father of the British Blues boom, who gave such bods as Mick Jagger, Jack Bruce, Brian Jones and “the bass player with the most amazing name, Andy Hoogenboom”.  Now whatever happened to Andy Hoogenboom???

 

The Art Centre, for many, was THE gig to play. It conferred authenticity and acceptance upon you.  You could be taken seriously if you played there. Plus you also got to see Cyril the landlord's dog, this Borzoi, leaning against the bar, a pint between his paws, looking like he was about to chat up the barmaid.

 

It's sad the influence a certain, dyspeptic has-been sportsman has had around town.  His wife at the time bought the building and opened a fitness club there.  In the 1990's, someone called Des somehow acquired it and gave it a new lease of life as The Old Frog Inn.  It was a pretty good place to play too, but it didn't have the romance of the Art Centre. It was very slick and very professional.  Des, who ran it, had this habit of telling you that “it's looking good, it's looking good” for your next gig as he scanned the bookings diary for a free date for you.  Sadly, it was only open a few years and then that was your lot, mate. Shame, there were some great nights in that place. I wonder if the current owners know … or even care.

The Hempstalls

 

The Hempstalls was in Hempstall Lane, funnily enough. Sadly, it's no longer there, the building has been razed to the ground and a care home put in its place. Which is fabulous for the residents, as they get to live on the site where some good local music was played, but it's a pity too, as it was once a thriving venue. It was a huge building. They had the bar one side of the pub and the band room the other, easily the bigger room. There was a stage with this echo gizmo thing you could plug a mic into and make it go woh woh woh woh oh like this is is is is when you pressed the footswitch.  You always got a good crowd in … no-one minded paying the price of a pint of beer to hear an evening's worth of excellent original music. Aaaaaah, those were the days …

The Bear

 

Such a cool venue. The bands played in a basement club. I loved playing here.  I also have vague memories of seeing All The Madmen here, though the recollection is hazy as the vision swims drunkenly in front of my eyes.  I loved The Bear.  Can you believe it … it's been turned into apartments.  Sacrilege.

The Borough Exchange.

 

This had the reputation for being a real villains pub, but by the time I got to play there, the only people who drank there were refugees from The Black Horse, who couldn't get a drink anywhere else once that august establishment had time called on it. I pulled up round the back, started unloading the car and heard this growling and barking above me.  I looked up. A rottweiler gazed indignantly back at me from the roof. “oh shit,” I thought, “what kind of joint is this?” An impossibly thin man came out of the back room.  “Fifi,” he barked, “shut the fuck up.” Suitably chastened, Fifi beat a retreat to a more obscure part of the roofscape.  “Hi, I'm Nick, I'll be looking after you tonight.  Anyone hassles you, you ask for me, Nick the Glass Collector, and I'll sort 'em out, give 'em a good nutting.”  At various points in the evening, he'd come up to me.  “Anyone giving you any trouble??? Bunch of dickheads in here tonight.” “Nope, everyone's been lovely, thanks.” “Fucking pity, wanna give someone a nutting.” “Sorry, they've all been perfectly charming.” And he'd go off collecting glasses muttering about giving someone a “fucking nutting.”

 

There was a man in a suit by the bar, nodding his head and tapping his foot. We'd been playing for some 20 minutes and he'd absorbed every nuance, every note. With a bound as sudden as it was unexpected, he began to  dance. His arms whirled, his head bobbed, his long legs contorted themselves into shapes and aspects legs have no right doing.  In his bloody suit.  I was trying to sing but couldn't stop laughing … and then he stopped.  He leaned against the wall next to the bar, a glazed look on his face … and a dark and inexorably expanding patch appeared in his crotch.  It crept ever outwards from its hideously central point, downwards towards each impeccably ironed trouser leg. And the accountant, still gazing balefully ahead, totally whacked out, he slid slowly down the wall, arriving at his destination on the floor in a crumpled heap. Sensing an opportunity for a nutting, Nick came over, regarded the besuited mass lying blissfully on the floor, muttered something unintelligible, picked it up and deposited it outside without ceremony. 

The point had been made … the gig had been played … the band had been paid … we got out of there as soon as we could, leaving Fifi barking on the roof and Nick still looking for someone to whom he could give a fucking nutting.

The Talbot

 

In Stoke.  Guns N Oatcakes always seemed to play here.  So did Don't Ask. And The Hidden Persuaders.  Why??? Fuck knows. It was a dump.

 

***

Revisiting those venues and photographing them got me to thinking about those days and how different it is now. Then, if you were in a band and your band didn't write your own stuff, you were considered to be a bunch of talentless no-hopers, not worth a tin of baked beans.  You had to write your own material if you wanted people to take you seriously and listen to you.  These days, you get slagged off for doing too many originals and you can't get gigs unless you're a covers band.  So how short-sighted is that?  Once upon a time, all those songs so beloved of cover bands and their audiences were unheard originals … Audiences have so little expectation of themselves and the musicians charged with playing for them. 

Back in the day, the joke was that if you wanted to hear a dicey rehash of The Quo or the Everley Brothers or whoever, you went down to the local WMC. Now I'm sure no-one ever got into playing music to do dicey rehashes of anything, but in a depressed, low wage area, economic necessity comes up hard against artistic ambition and for some, all their skills are pressed into service to generate an income. Music ends up being a job of work rather than creative or artistic expression. Sad. We had a drummer once who'd done the club circuit and he said “you don't play songs you don't like, you play songs you fucking hate.” Says it all really.PICTURES:

1 Remains of Strange Brood & Lemmings posters, Hope Street, Hanley

2 The back of Syd's Bar

3 The back of what used to be The Rose & Crown

4 The Bowler Hat, as was

5 Bridge Street Arts Centre

6 The site of Syd's Bar

7 The site of The Hempstalls Inn

8 What used to be The Rose & Crown

9 The site of The Bear Hotel

Make a Free Website with Yola.