Les Payne R.I.P. – 1943-2017

Sad to hear the news of the passing of High Wycombe musician Les Payne on Monday 1st May 2017 at the age of 74.

Les Payne

Les had been an institution in the local live music scene for close on the past 50 years. His fans will remember him as the man who always had time for a chat.  It’s estimated that he played over 6,000 gigs, making him one of the most prolific live acts in Britain and prompting an award and a number of TV appearances in the early 1990’s.

Speaking to the press in 2012 he said “I have been gigging for over 50 years. It is kind of sad in a way as the way pubs used to be has almost disappeared.

“The whole thing has gone a bit pear shaped. It is very hard to make any money being a musician unless you are really famous.”

Les grew up on the Isle of Wight and he did his first gig when he was only 14, in 1956. He moved to Thame in 1963 and was most recently living in Chairborough Road in High Wycombe, where he ran his Dreamcatcher studio.

In 1991 he picked up an award for his gigging exploits – taking the Harp Beat Rock Plaque for representing musicians who played music for a living but hadn’t become a household name.

He dubbed himself ‘The Nearly Man’ in a mini documentary made in 2015.

One of his claim to fame is that he recorded David Bowie’s ‘Star’ before it appeared on the Ziggy Stardust album.

He supported many acts during his long career, including Genesis, Mott the Hoople and Skid Row (featuring Gary Moore). He also played in late 1970’s band Mainland who released records on the Christy Records label. His solo career also stretched across five decades.

In 1981 he produced Marillion’s first demo cassette release featuring early versions of ‘He Knows You Know’, ‘Garden Party’ and ‘Charting The Single’.

Marillion cassette 1981 – produced by Les Payne

In 1982 Les gained publicity from DJ Kenny Everett for his single ‘Who Would Be The Winner’. It was an anti-war song in protest at the Falklands War.  It was promptly dropped by Les’s own record label and banned from almost every radio station because of the message it conveyed.

Commenting on the current music scene back in 2012, he said: “X-Factor is a bit annoying in some ways because it is so about TV. It is not about a career in music. I feel sorry for a lot of the people on The Voice too. Tom Jones said at least we know they will be ok, but they are not. It is not easy. It is a really tough business. I think it has become even tougher.”

He has three sons- Crispin, 50 and Elliot, 36.- His third son, Ritchie, passed away in 2010 aged 28. He also had two step children, Libbie, 34, and Josh, 31 with his wife, Pennie.

The Nearly Man – (Story of Les Payne) – documentary 2015

TV appearance 2006

Playing Gentle Man

You are welcome to post your memories and tributes to Les in the comments section or send an email.

Ron Watts

It would be fair to say if it wasn’t for Ron Watts, the live music scene in High Wycombe during the late 1960’s, through the 1970’s and the into the 1980’s, would have been a much duller place.

Watts first promoted gigs in High Wycombe in 1968, with some of those early names including: John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Jethro Tull, Status Quo, Thin Lizzy and Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Then, having taken a break from promoting gigs in High Wycombe, it was a chance viewing of the Sex Pistols at High Wycombe College in February 1976 that led to him giving them a series of shows at Oxford Street’s 100 Club venue.  In September 1976 he would bring the Pistols back to The Nag’s Head just a couple of weeks before appeared at the famous 100 Club Punk Festival and less than three months before they hit national notoriety via the ‘Bill Grundy’ episode.

Watt’s would go on to bring the up and coming ‘punk’ and ‘new wave’ to High Wycombe during the remainder of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The most well-known names include The Stranglers, The Clash, The Damned, The Jam, Generation X, The Jam, Siouxsie and The Banshees, XTC, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Tom Robinson Band, The Psychedelic Furs and U2.

Ron sadly passed away during the initial research for this website and, in the absence of a working version of wycombegigs.co.uk, I wrote an obituary that was published on chairboys.co.uk on 16th July 2016.

I introduced the piece thus:

Watts is best known for his involvement in the rise of the punk scene in 1976 and 1977, promoting gigs at the famous Nag’s Head venue in High Wycombe in addition to the legendary 100 Club venue in Oxford Street, London. However, it  would be an insult to his legacy to leave unmentioned his part in bringing top Blues acts to venues in the UK during the late 1960’s and beyond, plus his front man role in legendary Cajun Blues band, Brewer’s Droop.

You can read the full piece at:


Ron’s name will pop up time and time again on this website and it would be great to hear your memories and tributes to the man responsible for so many gigs in High Wycombe, many of which provided the inspiration for future bands to form, or in my case, a leading figure in inspiring the creation of this website.