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Friars website introductions

 

Kris Needs

Original Friars member, author, journalist, legend
 

‘Is it a frog in a boat?’

‘Erm, yeah.’

‘Cool’.

In reality the funny little motif on the back of the Friars Aylesbury membership card was an ink blob which swelled off my quill and deposited on the only bit of card I had left. In the psychedelic style of the day, I made it look like it was supposed to be a mystic sign, never guessing it would cause such scratching of heads and discussion.

       Such was my entry into the world of Friars Aylesbury, which I’d first heard about from the man who came up with the idea and happened to be my chemistry teacher at the time, Robin Pike. He introduced me to David Stopps, who I had seen around the town but, being only 15 at the time, I wasn’t yet fully settled into the town’s pub circuit. I spent most evenings painting psychedelic posters instead of going out or doing school work but they won first prize at the Aylesbury Arts Festival. My art teacher was pleased so I saw it as practise for the artist career I’d decided on. They asked me to design a card and, after a few attempts, hit on the sweeping leaf Friars logo and frog in a boat. I think I was paid a quid.

       Come opening night on June 1, me and my mate Graham from school got there early, intent on signing up. Not knowing about things like guest lists I paid to get in, getting back the membership card I’d just designed and seeing that I was number six [although that may be wrong as I can’t find it anywhere!].

       At this point I had only seen three gigs in my life – all thanks to Robin Pike’s coach trips which ran from the Grammar School: the 1968 NME Pollwinners Concert with the surprise Stones appearance, Donovan at the Royal Albert Hall and Jimi Hendrix that February at the same place. We dutifully sat and watched each of the two acts: pretentious prog band Mandrake Paddle Steamer posturing through titles like ‘Cougar And Dark’ and the fantastic national steel blues guitar pickings of Mike Cooper.

       Great stuff, couldn’t wait for the Pretty Things next week. Then the bubble burst when both Aylesbury Grammar School and my parents took exception to my attending what was already being dubbed the usual den of drug-crazed hippies. Although I sneaked in to a couple for a few minutes while going to the Aylesbury Arts Workshop [situated where the Civic Centre toilets currently survive], I wasn’t officially allowed back into the club until the following December, thus missing Free, Blossom Toes and King Crimson.

       I did manage to see the East Of Eden-Fat Mattress double-header at the Borough Assembly Hall in September. East Of Eden blew me away with their unique hybrid of free jazz, Eastern ragas and Irish jigs which took off into the stratosphere during the lengthy instrumental sections. They were also the first group I dared approach, in the alley to the left of the pub leading up to the Borough Assembly Hall’s entrance. Luckily Dave Arbus was a thoroughly nice geezer and I never forgot it [especially in the light of the obnoxious arrogance I would later encounter quite regularly. Fat Mattress, trading on Noel Redding playing with the Experience and feeling he should front a band, were pretty limp with one of the Flowerpot Men singing [Not Bill & Ben, the flower-power band].

       Now 16, I managed to start going again on Mondays from December, starting with Keith Relf’s Renaissance. Some tremendous nights through until July, standouts including East Of Eden [starting the ‘Jig-A-Jig’ routine which would catapult them into the charts], Edgar Broughton Band [my first stage invasion, singing along to ‘Out Demons Out’], a surprise appearance from the unknown Black Sabbath, Hawkwind’s proto-synths, Genesis while they were new and exciting [although Phil Collins was always an arrogant tosser], the crazed Writing On The Wall, mighty Graham Bond and his Hammond organ and the awesome Van Der Graaf Generator [more nice blokes]. I gave up sitting on the chairs and hung round in what was now called Leapers Corner. Here you would wait for the more frenzied songs then jump up and down, waving arms and legs in different directions. Some bands, like Sweetwater Canal, even got the thumbs down for not inspiring much limb-flailing lunacy.

       Special mention has to be made of Andy Dunkley, the man who played records in between groups. I was a massive Peel fan but here were those records in their shrink-wrapped glory. I loved the look of an American import, still do. The ever-pleasant Dunkley turned me on to many things. I remember walking into an empty Friars one balmy evening and he was unveiling Creedence Clearwater’s ‘Bad Moon Rising’. Life is good, I thought. It’s partly thanks to the good vibes established by Andy before bands that I decided I wanted to be a DJ later in life [and was a few years later]. The look and feel of records at that time is also a big reason I loathe and despise faceless, funless download culture.

       One night stands out at the beginning of December 1969: the Friars debut of Mott The Hoople. I’d read about them in Zigzag, the first fanzine which Pete Frame had started and could be bought in the Friars foyer [Another life-shaping factor as one day I’d be its editor!]. Mott had been put together by producer Guy Stevens as a head-on collision between Jerry Lee Lewis and Bob Dylan. Singer Ian Hunter’s ballads were uncanny Dylan soundalikes but shot with his own personality and the band’s internal dynamic. It was on the rockers that they really bust out, like their own ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Queen’ and an incendiary instrumental version of the Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’. Guitarist Mick Ralphs and bassist Overend Watts had the longest hair I’d seen and, as they stretched the song with organist Verden Allen wreaking psychedelic swirls and drummer Buffin upping the tempo into a runaway locomotive it dawned on me that this was the maddest noise and band I’d yet encountered. This was the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll and unbridled mayhem which would later be revealed as punk rock. In my face, up close and blowing up Aylesbury ex-servicemen’s club 38 years before the demolition dullards brought it down to make way for that repulsive Veridian Ghetto. Leapers’ Corner went bananas, which the group really appreciated, getting off on the response and pushing themselves harder. A mutual admiration society was born, Mott returning twice more to this venue.

       Mott were great blokes too. When Robin Pike booked them in to play the Aylesbury Grammar School Christmas dance, they sneaked me in as a roadie as I was underage after I’d met them in the Millwrights over the road. I started following them everywhere, meeting a fellow fan called Mick Jones who went on to start The Clash. I thought they were the best group in the world, they talked to me like a human being and, as they progressed, the songs were turning into towering masterworks. In 1972 I would start their fan club after Bowie entered the picture, but another story!

 

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