building you love is getting knocked down the initial reaction to its
replacement can only be fairly hostile. Such was the case when, as a
reporter on the local Bucks Advertiser, I was invited to a sneak
preview of the long-awaited new Aylesbury Civic Centre sometime in
summer 1975. Of course, I feigned interest in how it would benefit the
local community etc, but the uppermost thought in my brain was how
Friars might settle in here.
It looked promising though: big enough to hold around 1200
people with all mod cons as opposed to the BAH’s primitive facilities.
The vibe would be all important; if that could be transported from the
Ex-Servicemen’s Club to the BAH with such success than this should be a
doddle. And it was, although it soon became obvious that this was one
hall which greatly benefited from a proliferation of punters as far as
atmosphere was concerned. Music-wise it would not matter if your worst
nightmare was on as there was a large, comfy bar!
It felt good to be doing Friars flyers again. On September 13,
1975, Friars returned with a bill topped by Greenslade, fronted by the
voluminous organ of ex-Colosseum keyboards-man Dave Greenslade. The
first band to actually appear at Phase Three were Warren Harry and the
Yum Yum Band, then regulars on the pub scene with their snappy pop.
Warren always performed like he was onstage at Hammersmith Odeon and
certainly boasted the star attitude. A lovely bloke and it was so sad
when he died in 2008.
Also on the bill were me and Otway, back together again that
year playing the same songs [which he still does now!]. The chicken
impersonation was fun. Definitely one of those nights where the event
overshadowed the groups! However, the following week saw the FA debut of
the new MOTT, our fave band minus Hunter but plus two new guys. They
went down a storm at a time when some raucous, slightly eccentric rock
‘n’ roll was much appreciated amidst all the excessive noodling going
on. And it felt good to be scribing the name MOTT on a flyer again.
One of the differences between this Friars incarnation and the
previous ones was that Aylesbury’s night-life at that time wasn’t just
confined to a couple of pubs populated by the hardcore caners. Since the
closure of Phase Two, something of a scene had sprung up around Thursday
nights at the Bell Hotel which would swell through the following year
into the Aylesbury Rock Explosion. Everyone got on well, bands were
forming and soon there would be more venues. A lot of good-natured
drunken socialising went on in that Civic Centre bar while bands like
Tangerine Dream, Stackridge, Sailor and Camel enraptured their hordes in
Two particular 1975 nights stand out, both in November: Dr
Feelgood, who’d just released their Malpractice album and were
now like a barely controlled explosion having honed their onstage
personas into one deadly unit, like all the best groups. Best of all in
those often-flossy times, you wouldn’t want to meet man-in-black
psycho-guitarist Wilko Johnson or clenched-teeth hoodlum singer Lee
Brilleaux in a dark alley. Punk had already started.
other was Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. I’d been a massive fan
ever since hearing the man on John Peel in 1967, captivated by
Beefheart’s elemental blues roar, surreal lyrics and the
extra-terrestrial syncopation of the Magic Band. They churned through a
selection of ‘greatest hits’ careering between their Safe As Milk
debut album, the astonishing Trout Mask Replica and a nifty
tap-dance by John ‘Drumbo’ French, one of the original Magic Band
members. It was amazing to see Beefheart on the Friars Aylesbury stage,
one of music’s most fascinating legends [whose dark tale I would uncover
when I got to know Drumbo in 2008 but in 1975 this was unbelievable].
the show several of us noticed the walrus-‘tached figure of Captain
Beefheart seated at the side of the hall, receiving his often-gibbering
fans, sketchbook on his knee in which he constantly scribbled and drew.
He was charming, friendly and appreciative of the compliments, even
drawing me a flock of birds and handing it over [although he kept the
portrait he did of Colin]. The only bummer was that I’d been away at
journalists’ college for two months so had handed over doing the flyers
to Budget Stopps!
Musically, early 1976 was pretty barren in the mainstream. Something was
definitely needed to liven things up there, but Aylesbury continued to
bask in its own scene with gigs now happening at the John Hampden pub.
Every lunchtime a small gaggle would sit in the Civic Centre bar and
plot to take over the world. Pete Frame appeared in July with the first
issue of The Aylesbury Roxette, which he had designed to make out
to the world that the town was a cultural epicentre, thus stoking the
scene [with an essential dose of irreverent humour]. Pete would later
hand the mag over to me and Colin with Chris France as advertising
manager and Geoffrey Tyrell supplying a steady stream of gorgeous photos
from whoever was visiting Friars. We’d lay it out after hours at the
Bucks Advertiser offices in late night cowgum-and-beer sessions.
Even when I wasn’t always doing the Friars flyers I still got to do my
own version on the back of the mag.
Otway had done his usual sneaky one where he suddenly started playing
with other people without telling me, Pete decided to form me a band
with Colin on guitar and sundry other local musos which he called the
Aylesbury Bucks before we’d even done a gig. We’d rehearse at his
country cottage in North Marston, charging through tracks from his
extensive collection of 60s garage punk by names like the Seeds,
Strangeloves and Standells, then play the Hampden and Leighton Buzzard’s
Tiddenfoot Leisure Centre [making the cover of the Roxette!].
progressed I was becoming aware that something was stirring in London.
Magenta DeVine, the Roxette’s gossip columnist named by Frame,
had been going on about this group called the Sex Pistols while I’d been
fervently following this new phenomenon called punk rock in the music
press. After Pete started me writing me for Zigzag I began
interviewing several of the prime movers, including the Stranglers and
Ramones. My first major interview was with the fabulous Flamin’ Groovies
from San Francisco, then belting out their own take on primal rock ‘n’
roll and widescreen classic pop filtered through early Beatles and
Stones but credited with being punk godfathers as they’d been playing
with flash and attitude since the mid-60s. I struck up a great
relationship with this bunch of amiable loonies and started badgering
David to book them at Friars, which happened in November. Then, after
Chris France booked The Clash to play Leighton Buzzard’s Tiddenfoot
Leisure Centre it’s safe to say I was never the same again. Apart from
being the most exciting rock ‘n’ roll band I had ever seen, this was the
future. I started hanging out with them and going to every gig I could.
Obviously the prospect of this group at Friars became a top priority.
Meanwhile, a bunch of Essex rockers called Eddie and the Hot Rods were
gaining quite a local following playing the pubs before their Friars
debut in October: more of a high-energy rock band like Dr Feelgood but
paving the way for guitars and an absence of two-hour synth solos. The
Groovies came in November and were spectacular, a true Friars band if
ever there was one.
was the year when everything changed. Every day seemed to bring a fresh
development as the most exciting musical revolution for years turned
everything upside down. Friars’ started dipping its toe into the punk
cauldron in March when the movement’s supreme godfather Iggy Pop
appeared for the opening date on his tour promoting his comeback album
exciting twist was that the album had been produced by our old mate
David Bowie, who was on the tour playing keyboards. ‘I said I’d be
back!’ joked a relaxed-looking Bowie as he hung around the hall waiting
to soundcheck. He was obviously happy to be in Aylesbury again but
maintained a distinctly low profile all night, not wanting to impinge on
Iggy’s night. The gig was attended by a horde of London punk luminaries
who I’d met at gigs, including Johnny Thunders [diligently checking out
the toilets!], the Heartbreakers, Generation X, a couple of Pistols etc.
The gig has since gone down in history as Iggy’s Bowie-driven comeback,
low-key but riveting.
ball was rolling now and the rest of the year saw the Ramones, the
mighty Motorhead, Blondie, Mink DeVille, Talking Heads, The Jam and Ian
Hunter, another punk godfather here for the eighth birthday bash, storm
the hall in their own unique way. Take the Ramones, who made their first
appearance prompted by a petition circulated by Colin Keinch. Lovely,
hysterically-funny characters who remain the masters of the non-stop
punk rock barrage. Mink DeVille were a total contrast but still a
quintessential New York band, evoking classic 60s street soul fronted by
the smooth Willy DeVille. One of the best Friars nights ever as the club
showed why it could be so special: the crowd had this ability to plug
into what an act were doing, even if they weren’t fans, soak it in then
roar back their appreciation, spurring the group on to greater heights.
Still with the Big Apple, Blondie needed no introduction and played one
of their first major gigs in their own right to a crowd stoked by their
perfect pop celebration and Debbie’s charisma, tonight heightened by
black see-through blouse and leather trousers.
Motorhead gig in August marked the start of another beautiful friendship
as I did my common routine of interviewing the band for Zigzag,
which I was now editing, while reviewing the set. It was the first time
I’d met the legendary Lemmy, who greeted all and sundry with a bag of
battery-acid speed and a flick-knife, barking the command, ‘Do it till
it hurts!’. Definitely one of the most gloriously loud, dirty and
uproarious bands to ever grace the club, which they would return to
several times. Lemmy always made a beeline for the fruit machine for the
Green Man pub next door, whose world-revered jukebox was often dominated
by Motorhead. [The pub was like a Friars satellite, the jukebox chart
reflecting who’d been appearing]. In 1979 I got Motorhead to put on
Father Christmas outfits for the cover of the Christmas Zigzag,
the photo also ending up adorning of the ‘Ace Of Spades’ single.
its 1977 supernova, punk was now part of the musical mainstream and
reflected in the Friars gig-list with bands like Siouxsie and the
Banshees, Buzzcocks, Lurkers, Jam, Stiff Little Fingers, 999 and
Adverts, supported by the new band me and Colin had formed called the
Vice Creems. We played local gigs like the Britannia but, after our
first single, the rhythm section’s girlfriends started lowering the
thumb and, on the eve of recording the second 45, the group stood as
just me and Colin with Olympic Studios already booked. ‘Don’t worry,
I’ll get you a band’, said Clash guitarist Mick Jones, which turned out
to be himself, drummer Topper Headon and Tony James from Generation X on
long-awaited Clash gig finally happened in June, 1978, an incendiary
affair coinciding with the release of their second album Give ‘Em
Enough Rope. Although one of the most passionately-received gigs in
Friars history, it went without much fuss and they returned in December
then January 1980, doing a secret warm-up for the 16 Tons tour with Ian
Dury also on the bill. The Vice Creems supported at very short notice,
finding a new rhythm section in three days. I could spend a whole book
going on about The Clash - and have! Suffice to say, they’re up there in
the very best gigs seen at Friars.
Siouxsie and the Banshees were the other group I always seemed to be on
the road with, massively popular at Friars, but this period now seems to
melt into a succession of brilliant, often surreal events and images,
like walking across the Market Square with Chrissie Hynde, past the
queue for the Pretenders gig and into their luxury tour bus parked by
the Market Square phone box. Then there was the incredible Kid Creole
and the Coconuts show in June 1982, on the tour accompanying their
Tropical Gangsters album’s UK breakthrough. One of my personal
favourites as what looked like a Broadway show hit the Friars stage,
fronted by the zoot-suited Kid, comic foil Coati Mundi in his sailors’
outfit and the exotic Coconuts in their jungle gear, backed up by the
most ferocious funk machine. Like Mink DeVille, it was another of those
nights where the hall’s orbit seemed to shift onto some delirious
plateau where time stood still and the world outside really didn’t
matter. It was rare to find that anywhere else in the country and,
believe me, I did enough touring during those years. The sheer diversity
of artists appearing – from Kid Creole to the roots reggae of Clint
Eastwood & General Saint and Dennis Brown, the cream of punk to the
Kinks, could not be beat either.
I had to moved to London and missed several gigs which, as the club
prided itself on mirroring the times, involved a fair number of vacuous
80s names who were fun at the time but are now all-but-forgotten. It’s
almost taboo to mention his name now but, it has to be said that some of
the most unadulteratedly silly nights came courtesy of Gary Glitter,
although PiL and Grandmaster Flash were good, even if I can’t remember
Friars closed it was as hard to believe then that it had been going for
15 years as it is now to take on board the fact that the first night was
40 years ago. Friars nights were often special, often coming through
against all odds. Even if Phase Three now saw David Stopps dealing with
mainstream instead of underground, he still managed to imbue it with
that original spirit, crucially aided by the Civic’s John Braley, Robin
Pike and others hopefully listed elsewhere. Just take a look at these
pages if you don’t believe me!
Dedicated to the memories of Joe Strummer, Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee