I count myself extremely lucky to have lived through the golden age of Rock Music. From the early sixties to the early seventies there was a great scene going and you could see anyone. That was the golden period for me.
In 1964 I was fifteen and embarked upon my love affair with live Rock Music – something that has lasted to this day.
My first gig was the British Birds with Ron Wood (later of the Stones and Smallfaces). For the princely sum of 22p I got to stand in front of the stage at the Walton Hop at the Playhouse while they blew me away. I followed that up the following week with the original Them with Van Morrison. They were awesome.
That wasn’t a bad way to get your feet in the water! I was hooked.
By the late sixties I was eighteen, had a motorbike so could get around, lived in London and so was going to at least three gigs a week. I lived for live music and there was so much to see.
I frequented places like UFO, Middle Earth, Eel Pie Island, Les Cousins, the Marquee, the Toby Jug, Klooks Kleek and a range of Folk Clubs, pubs and colleges. The Underground Scene was burgeoning. I was into Folk, Blues, West Coast Acid Rock, Psychedelia, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Progressive and Folkrock. I had discovered Roy Harper (at least one gig a week) and Captain Beefheart.
It seemed to me that everyone was on all the time. You simply checked out the gigs in the NME or Time Out and decided who to go to see. There was so much choice it was ridiculous.
My favourites were Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, Country Joe and the Fish, Pink Floyd, Nice, Family, Doors, Hendrix, Cream, Traffic, Jefferson Airplane, Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack, Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention, Edgar Broughton, Frank Zappa, Who, Jackson C Frank, Free, Pretty Things, Led Zeppelin, John Lennon, Incredible String Band, Beatles, Stones, Arthur Brown and, of course Roy Harper.
All of them were playing, along with loads of others, and it was just a question of who to go to see. On top of that the old rockers like Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard were touring and the Blues guys like Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and Hound Dog Taylor popped up. I was lucky enough to catch Son House, Bukka White, Big Joe Williams and Skip James. Then there were the rump of the Beat groups with old favourites like the Downliners Sect and Nashville Teens. Then there were the Folkies – Fairport Convention, Davey Graham, Stefan Grossman, John Fahey, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn. You simply could not get to see them all. I missed a few.
We were just spoilt for choice. There were free concerts and festivals. You could wander backstage and talk to the band. You met up with friends and made new friends. It was hectic. It was mad and it was hugely exciting and enjoyable.
We thought it would last forever. So many people I didn’t get to see because I figured I’d catch them next time and sometimes next time didn’t come around.
There were magic moments standing in small clubs while Jimmy Page and Robert Plant blasted you with the force of early Led Zep, watching the amazing Hendrix close up, watching Peter Green mesmerise in John Mayall and then with Fleetwood Mac, seeing Captain Beefheart at his peak with his wonderfully powerful voice and amazing band, seeing Jim Morrison do his theatrics in the Roundhouse, listening to the delicate melodies of Jackson C Frank, watching Clapton up close as Cream performed, marvelling at the guitarwork of Davey Graham, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, Hearing Sandy Denny and Joni Mitchell sing, the harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, watching the amazing lightshow and fabulous music of Pink Floyd in the UFO Club, standing in a small pub in front of Paul Kossof as Free blasted us, watching the Stones in Hyde Park, and of course, being ravaged by the power of Roy Harper blasting his poetic songs with such verve and angst.
I don’t know how I had time to do anything else and still I managed to get a degree. It saddens me that I missed so many acts that I’d give anything to see now.
I never got to see the Beatles, John Lennon, Bob Dylan (before the crash) or Howlin’ Wolf. And I could have done. I kick myself.
Apart from the wonder of seeing top artists playing in small clubs there were other factors. There was a brilliant social scene. The Underground was a community of Freaks with idealistic and creative values. I made some great friends. Then it was cheap. There were numerous free festivals. it cost between 10p and 25p to get into the clubs. An all-nighter with four or five top bands would be around 50p. A three day festival – like the Reading Blues Festival or Woburn Abbey was around £1.50p. It wasn’t going to break the bank.
It was miles away from the big stadium scene that came in the seventies. When you had seen Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin for a maximum of 25p in a small intimate club why would you splash out £10 to see them in a lousy stadium?
Well it was a different experience wasn’t it? As sound systems and screens got better it became an event worth going to – but it wasn’t the same. Not the steamy bouncing hot sweaty clubs.
These days I am still gigging. I like my small club experience with bands like the Fall, Arthur Brown, Loudhailer Electric Company, the Magic Band, Love, The Mississippi Allstars, Blockheads, Stiff Little Fingers, Wilko Johnson, Sharks, John Otway, Billy Bragg, Lee Perry, Nick Harper, White Stripes, Jake Bugg, John Cooper Clarke and the like. I even do stadiums with the Who and Bob Dylan.
I’ve got used to the prices but a lot of the guys have been dying off lately and I don’t take to a lot of the new stuff. I’m a bit of a dinosaur. But I did get to see most people during those golden days back in the sixties. Those are the days that I enjoyed most!!
PS – the only other brilliant time was Punk and the brilliant energy of the Stranglers, Sex Pistols, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Buzzcocks, Clash, Doctors of Madness, Stiff Little Fingers and all those other geniuses!! I bounced around with the best.
Right there at the front. That’s where it jumps!!
Long live Rock!!! Here’s to the next wave!!!