High Wycombe’s 1978 tale of gigs that ‘never were’ continued on Friday 12th May when The Vibrators date at the Town Hall was pulled just days beforehand. Crowd trouble at Town Hall gigs earlier in 1978 had prompted promotors to keep selected gig line-ups secret until the week leading up the actual date but, on this occasion, it was a tragic incident at a Vibrators gig in Preston that prompted the cancellation.
The 12th May 1978 gig date at The Town Hall had been promoted some weeks previous with a line-up of ‘Special Guests’. Local music fans interested in attending had to keep a keen eye on the music press, coupled with regular visits to the record shops in High Wycombe Town centre for a chance of confirming who might be playing.
The cancellation of the gig was confirmed in the NME published on Thursday 11th May 1978 when they reported a shocking incident at a Vibrators and Depressions gig at Preston Polytechnic on the evening of Saturday 6th May 1978. The report read: “One person died and three others were hospitalised after a riot broke out between sets at a gig in Preston last Saturday.” The incident happened after support band The Depressions had just finished their set. The NME Phil McNiell’s commented in the Thrills section: “The audience seated in a kind of auditorium around the dance floor, watched with horror as two rival football gangs – Preston North End and Blackpool supporters – fell on one another wielding chairs, tables, metal barriers and whatever else they could lay their hands on.” As the incident unfolded, both bands were back in the dressing and unware of the brawl taking place. Two people were left unconscious on the floor, with 22-year-old Henry Bailey of Higher Walton, near Preston, later dying of head injuries on his way to hospital. The Vibrators, understandably, did not take the stage to play their set, with the venue swarmed by police in attempt to try control the chaotic and destressing scenes.
The incident made the national paper headlines and subsequently tour dates scheduled for the following few days at Blackburn and Sunderland and then High Wycombe were cancelled by the tour agency. However, other venues were not so quick to make a decision. The High Wycombe date on the 12th May was relatively quickly replaced by a show at Manchester Rafters, while the majority of the remaining dates were left unchanged.
The NME report also claimed a team of 70 detectives were assigned to the case, with the officer in charge stating: “[We] are prepared to track down every single person at the college that night in order to find the killer.” Looking back some 40 years after the incident, it appears that nobody was ever convicted.
So, it was sobering report from a gig at Preston that consequently left the High Wycombe punters without another weekend gig and a chance missed to see a band who were just breaking into the charts having been part of the original punk scene two years previous and who played The Nag’s Head in both September and November 1976.
For your listening and viewing pleasure
Automatic Lover – Vibrators – BBC Top of the Pops – 16 March 1978
Vibrators –4 songs BBC Old Grey Whistle Test – 4 April 1978