30 June 1978 – The Skids – Nag’s Head

Scottish punk/new wave band The Skids played their first gig outside of Scotland or London on Friday 30th June 1978 (*) with a date at a Ron Watts promoted night at The Nag’s Head.

Skids – Return To London (and make first visit to High Wycombe) advert from Record Mirror – June 1978

(*) I’ve seen the date of The Nag’s Head appearance documented as both Thursday 29th June 1978  and Friday 30th June 1978. – The Thursday date was certainly the originally intended date and would tie in with the usual Thursday ‘Rock Night’s under Ron Watts’ promotion.  The music paper listings for that week show Thursday 29th June but I was delighted (and more confused) to discover the above tour advert in The Record Mirror showing The Skids ‘Return To London’ dates with The Nag’s Head appearance indicated the 30th June. My theory on why it might have been moved is below.

The Skids had been formed in 1977 in Dunfermline by then 19-year-old guitarist Stuart Adamson. He recruited Bill Simpson (bass), Thomas Kellichan (drums) and a 16 year old Richard Jobson on vocals. They played their first gig in August 1977 and released their first record in February 1978, the Charles EP on the No Bad record label (Tracks: ‘Charles’, ‘Reasons’ and ‘Test Tube Babies’). The EP was championed by John Peel and led to a rapid rise in their popularity away from their homeland.

Skids 1978 – Bill Simpson, Richard Jobson, Stuart Adamson and Thomas Kellichan

The Skids subsequently made their first journey ‘down south’ during April 1978, playing well-known London venues; including The Rochester Castle (Stoke Newington), Red Cow (Hammersmith), Hope and Anchor (Islington) and The Nashville (Kensington). The trip coincided with a record deal being signed with Virgin Records.

Their return south in June 1978 followed a first John Peel session recorded on 16th May 1978 and first broadcast three days later. The tracks were: ‘Of One Skin’, ‘Open Sound’, ‘Contusion’, ‘Night and Day’ and live favourite ‘TV Stars’.

The tour dates show The Skids playing a 28th June 1978 show at The White Hart in Acton.  Listings show this gig with the Scottish lads supporting Tubeway Army (Gary Numan’s electronic band in the making).  By some accounts it was a violent evening at a venue famous for its ‘punk’ nights.  I also noted a couple of other interesting gigs from the same weekly listing. The Clash made their Aylesbury Friars debut on Wednesday 28th June 1978 in front of a sell-out 1,000 plus crowd – they had played the Nag’s Head in November 1976 in front of barely 100 people!  On Thursday 29th June 1978, David Bowie played before around 20,000 fans at London’s Earl Court.  He had made a very early appearance in High Wycombe during 1966 – also playing to less than 100 people.  Perhaps the original date was moved to avoid clashing with The Bowie date? Members of The Skids were big fans of Bowie? Meanwhile, if you stayed at home to watch Top of The Pops on the Thursday night, you could have seen Dave Lee Travis presenting a typical show for the year – culminating in John Travolta and Olivia Newton John’s – ‘You’re The One That I Want’ video being shown for the third consecutive week. It would remain at No.1 for a further seven weeks! There was hardly a ‘punk’ revolution storming the top of the charts in the summer of 1978!

Back at The Nag’s Head the crowd for The Skids was also around the 100 mark. Promoter Ron Watts recalls the evening in his 2006 autobiography – 100 Watts – A Life In Music, saying:

“The Skids [were] yet another band with obvious massive potential. Richard Jobson was a dynamic singer, not blessed with the greatest of voices but he could handle a crowd. They also had Stuart Adamson, a guitarist who went onto even greater things with Big Country before sadly committing suicide in America. That was a real tragedy; Stuart had so much talent, yet he couldn’t cope with the situation.”

Success for The Skids would come relatively quickly following their Nag’s Head appearance. Within 12 months they had recorded three further sessions for John Peel and released a trio of singles that would propel them into the limelight.  Their debut on Virgin, ‘Sweet Surburbia’, was released in September 1978, while their ‘Wide Open’ EP released in October 1978 featured the storming lead track ‘The Saints Are Coming’.  Both singles had minor chart success but that was blown out of the water with the release of ‘Into The Valley’ in March 1979 – reaching No.10 in the UK charts and earning them regular appearances on Top of the Pops.  The track was taken from their debut album, ‘Scared to Dance’ – released in February 1979.  In November 1979 – less than 18 months after their Nag’s Head show, they had sold out The Rainbow Theatre in London.

For your listening and viewing pleasure – starting from the era The Skids played The Nag’s Head

Skids – 1st John Peel session for BBC Radio One – recorded 16th May 1978

The Saints Are Coming – The Skids – BBC Top of the Pops – November 1978

Into The Valley – The Skids –BBC Top of the Pops – March 1979

References and further reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skids_(band)

http://www.the-skids.com/WEBPROTECT-timeline.htm

http://auralsculptors.blogspot.com/2012/01/tubeway-army-early-years.html

https://writewyattuk.com/2017/05/26/absolute-game-on-reconvening-the-skids-the-richard-jobson-interview/

24 May 1968 – Jethro Tull – Nag’s Head

The Nag’s Head hosted an early appearance for folk/prog rock giants in the making Jethro Tull on Friday 24th May 1968.  The band, formed in late 1967, had released just one single at the point of their Nag’s Head appearance and their debut album had yet to be recorded.  Less than a year later, their first vinyl long-player had hit the top 10 UK album charts and by the early 1970’s they were touring the world playing huge arenas.

Jethro Tull adverts from The Bucks Free Press for gigs at The Nag’s Head and The Crown, Marlow – May 1968

Promoter Ron Watts recalls the gig in his 100 Watts – A Life In Music – autobiography, where he claims he trialled an admission charge increase method.

“The normal price of admission was six shillings, but rather than reduce the price for an unknown band as Tull were then, I charged 6/6 (32 ½ p). I gambled that people would think that the higher price meant Tull were well-known, and potential customers would be too embarrassed to admit to their friends that they’d never heard of the night’s star attraction. The gamble worked, the place was full and Tull did a great set.”

The original band members had met in Blackpool. They found success after moving south to base themselves in Luton and settling on the name Jethro Tull.  Scottish born Ian Anderson on lead vocals and flute was a main focus, with other band members at the time of their High Wycombe appearance being Micky Abrahams (guitar), Clive Bunker (drums) and Glen Cornick (bass).  They released their first single, “Sunshine Day/Aeroplane” on MGM records in February 1968, although it was miscredited to ‘Jethro Toe’.

Following their appearance at The Nag’s Head, on 29th June 1968 Jethro Tull played the first ever free concert at Hyde Park, along with The Pink Floyd, Roy Harper and Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Footage of the concert was filmed by Pathe news and has since appeared in documentaries about the band.  In August 1968 they appeared at the National Jazz and Blues Festival at Sunbury-on-Thames and by most accounts, this was the point they became recognised by the national music press and their career blossomed as a result.

Support to Jethro Tull on 24th May 1968 were The Nag’s Head houseband Dynaflow Blues.  They would also share the bill with Jethro Tull at the National Jazz and Blues Festival at Sunbury-on-Thames in August 1968.

Watts also promoted a Jethro Tull gig in Marlow the following week, with a show at The Crown. Watts added in his autobiography: “Six months later Tull’s first album, This Was, had made the top ten album charts and the band had been the hit of that summer’s festival circuit. People were coming up to me in awe, saying, “You booked them, and they became stars.” It was nothing to do with me, I’d hardly heard of Jethro Tull when they played the Nag’s, but they helped me to get a reputation for being able to spot up and coming acts. That meant people were happy to see bands they didn’t know, because they thought that a few weeks later they’d be watching Top of the Pops and telling everyone that they’d seen all those performers playing at the Nag’s.”

It doesn’t appear that Jethro Tull ever returned to play High Wycombe again but there is another connection with the area as Ian Anderson moved to live in Buckinghamshire for a number of years from the late 1970’s through to the early 1980’s – residing in a farm house in Radnage – a village about 7 miles from High Wycombe.  Footage of the farm (with recording studio added), plus the 1968 Hyde Park film, appears in the YouTube clip below.

For your listening and viewing pleasure

Fish ‘n’ Sheep & Rock ‘n’ Roll – Ian Anderson documentary – Channel 4 1987

Hyde Park footage is from 1:30 – filmed 29th June 1968
Footage at Radnage is from around 27:30

References:

http://www.ukrockfestivals.com/hyde-pk-6-29-68.html

http://www.ukrockfestivals.com/sunbury2.html

11 May 1978 – Wayne County (cancelled)/Stukas – Nag’s Head

High Wycombe favourites Wayne County and The Electric Chairs were due to play at The Nag’s Head on Friday 11th May 1978. This date appears in printed and online histories but my research some 40 years after the original date had revealed that Wayne was forced to cancel the gig late in the day due to illness.  Those arriving at the London Road venue hoping to see Wayne with The Electric Chairs would have been shown a telegram taped to the wall from Wayne apologising for the cancellation and indicating a new date would be arranged as soon as possible.

Wayne and The Electric Chairs – circa 1977

Wayne County and The Electric Chairs had appeared in High Wycombe on at least three previous occasions prior to the scheduled May 1978 date. The first, as part of the March 1977 US Rock Week at The Nag’s Head, drew a decent crowd and prompted promoter Ron Watts to invite them back for another appearance just a month later on 9th April 1977. However, a November 1977 headlining show at The Town Hall proved a step too far, with audience numbers not that much greater than a crammed Nag’s Head and an atmosphere toned down from the intensity of The Nag’s Head stage.

The return to the Nag’s Head on 11th May 1978  was billed as a ‘farewell’ concert for Wayne County – farewell being to the name ‘Wayne’ and hello to the soon to be ‘Jayne’.

The few who stayed on at The Nag’s Head on Friday 11th May 1978 would have seen support band Street Chorus, followed by headliners The Stukas.  Street Chorus appear to be a soul band with horns and a Hammond Organ.

Stukas debut single – reverse of picture cover with details of band members

Meanwhile, The Stukas were returning to The Nag’s Head having supported Chelsea at the same venue a year previous. They had built a small following throughout 1977.  However, by mid-1978 it appears their momentum had waned and they gradually faded from grace leaving a small back catalogue of songs from 1977-1978.

Jayne County and The Electric Chairs would return to High Wycombe later in the year.

26 April 1968 – Dynaflow Blues – Blues Loft Nag’s Head

West London based Dynaflow Blues made their Nag’s Head debut on Friday 26th April 1968 as Ron Watts’ recently launched ‘Blues Loft’ venture at the London Road venue continued to attract attention.  Looking back on the 50th anniversary of their appearance at The Nag’s Head, Dynaflow Blues drummer Mel Wright has shared more of his memories, press cuttings and priceless photos from the time.

Dynaflow Blues had been formed out of Shakey Vick’s Big City Blues Band who received an encouraging reception from High Wycombe Blues fans after playing their first gig at The White Hart with Champion Jack Dupree in March 1968 and then nearby at The Angel.

Watts then moved the ‘Blues Loft’ to The Nags Head, with the opening night on 5th April 1968 featuring Jack Dupree (accompanied by Shakey Vicks’s band).  Savoy Brown followed on Friday 12th April 1968, with Chicken Shack on Friday 19th April 1968.

Watts was soon to book in the newly formed Dynaflow Blues at The Nag’s Head. Mel confirms the line-up of the band as Ron Skinner (vocals/bass), Rod Price (guitar), Chris Elvin (blues harp) and Mel Wright (drums).

Dynaflow Blues – picture taken on the footbridge opposite The Nag’s Head during the Spring of 1968. Left to right – Chris Elvin, Rod Price, Ron Skinner, Mel Wright. Sitting at front, Ron Watts. Photo by Ron Holley and kindly supplied by Mel Wright for wycombegigs.co.uk

Mel recalls: “The 26th April 1968 gig at The Blues Loft was our third gig of that week, after playing at Ron Watts’ The Thames Hotel in Windsor. We were excited to play The Blues Loft and had an enthusiastic crowd come to see us.  We had a new set of songs that included ‘Big Road Blues’, ‘Stones in My Passway’ and ‘Too Much’ – a mix of Robert Johnson, Jimmy Reed and Tommy Johnson numbers.  Ron Watts was very pleased with the rousing packed reception and reunited us to play with Champion Jack Dupree at Conway Hall, London.  This was another great gig which we prepared by rehearsing to his album ‘Blues From The Gutter’.”

Dynaflow Blues were based in London and Mel says they were not used to the warm welcome they recieved when they played in High Wycombe. He added: “During 1968 we played at The Blues Loft at The Nags Head five times – alongside Jethro Tull, Chicken Shack and Savoy Brown and Shakey’s new band (we were still friends!). We also accompanied Texas bluesman Curtis Jones.”

Mel’s memorabilia collection includes a Bucks Free Press article from May 1968 that reviewed those early days of The Blues Loft. The Teen and Around column said “The club itself has a very good atmosphere. Everyone is very friendly. The audience show their appreciation of the music with lots of foot stamping and cheering of they think a piece is good.”

Blues Loft memorabilia – Bucks Free Press article 24 May 1968, poster and advert

Promoter Ron Watts was also asked in the article to define the type of music played at The Blues Loft. He said: “The type of blues featured at The Blues Loft is not the country or folk blues, but their city cousin, the amplified swaggering music of the negro ghettos of North America. It shares the same roots as country blues but has absorbed elements of jazz and other musical forms.  The Blues are an emotional outlet based on the fact that if you tell the world your problem, the problem is shared.”

Mel goes on to say that Ron Watts also formed The National Blues Convention and as Watts’ gig empire grew he wrote to Mel in August 1968 from his Aveling Road, Wycombe address to ask Dynaflow Blues to play at his second Blues Loft venue at The Derby Arms, Aylesbury. There were also invites for his other gigs, including The Crown – Marlow, Rugby Club – Maidenhead, and later at The 100 Club in London.  Mel added: “During this period Roy Holley, a local photographer became a good friend and took lots of pictures of Dynaflow Blues around the Nags Head. This all helped us get a manager. Tom McGuinness, along with Manfred Mann, had formed an agency and got us on at The Marquee club and National Jazz and Blues Festival at Kempton Park.”

Dynaflow Blues went their own ways by the end of 1968 but Mel reminds us that Rod Price went on to play with Foghat in The States and become quite a star! Indeed, he was right.  A quick bit of internet research reveals that Price went on to join Black Cat Bones (late 1968/early 1969) – replacing Paul Kossoff.  They recorded their only album, Barbed Wire Sandwich (released November 1969) but it failed to be a commercial success and the band subsequently split-up around the end of 1970.  Price joined Foghat in January 1971 – with their debut album, ‘Foghat’ released the following year and produced by Dave Edmunds.  It was through these recordings that Price would become renowned for his slide guitar work.

Dates of those early Blues Loft gigs at The Nag’s Head as advertised in the Bucks Free Press

Friday 12th April 1968 – Savoy Brown Blues Band plus Sunshine

Friday 19th April 1968 – Chicken Shack

Friday 26th April 1968 – Dynaflow Blues plus Watercolour Blues Band

Friday 3rd May 1968 – The John Dummer Blues Band (featuring Tony McPhee)

Friday 10th May 1968 – Giant Marrow Fat

Friday 17th May 1968 – Dynaflow Blues plus The Colin James Blues Band

Friday 24th May 1968 – Jethro Tull

Friday 31st May 1968 – Battle of The Blues – Dynaflow Blues versus Giant Marrow Fat

Friday 7th June 1968 – Shakey Vick’s New Band

Friday 14th June 1968 – Doc K’s Blues Band

Friday 21st June 1968 – Black Cat Bones

Friday 28th June 1968 – Dynaflow Blues plus Colin Smith

Please share any memories or memorabilia from these gigs.

January/February 1978 – High Wycombe music memories

January and February 1978 were relatively quiet months for live gigs in High Wycombe, compared to the wealth of shows in the closing months of 1977. However, I doubt it wasn’t for the want of trying on the part of local promoter Ron Watts.

Watts’ baby was The Nag’s Head and he put on Liverpool ‘power-pop’ hopefuls The Yachts on Thursday 19th January 1978.  The Yachts had appeared at the same venue on 16th October 1977 shortly after the release of their debut single on Stiff Records, ‘Suffice to Say’ and the popularity of that gig saw a repeat booking – albeit not a date to set the pulses racing for those keen to see something new in the same week that The Sex Pistols had played their final live date.

However, there was excitement for fans of the local music scene when the national music press, including NME and Sounds, reported that The Rich Kids, a band who included former Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, were due to appear at The Town Hall on Saturday 28th January 1978.  The High Wycombe appearance looked to be a real coup for Watts as it would be part of national tour that had seen virtually all dates sell-out.  But there was bad news in store for Watts and punters, when, for reasons I’ve been unable to trace, the gig was cancelled and the local gig goers were left with another free Saturday evening to fill.

‘Pub Rock’ outfit Roogalator played at The Nag’s Head on Thursday 2nd February 1978.  They had been a regular live act under Ron Watts – dating back to a late 1975 gig at The Crown in Marlow.  They went on to appear at The Nag’s Head during 1976 and 1977 – drawing decent crowds from their loyal following despite not entirely fitting in with the direction that popular music was taking.

Their Nag’s Head date came a few weeks after they appeared at ‘Front Row Festival’, a three-week event at the Hope and Anchor, Islington, in late November and early December 1977. This resulted in the band’s inclusion, on a UK top thirty selling double album of recordings from the festival released in March 1978.  They disbanded shortly after the release of the album.

One of the most popular dates during January and February 1978 was a Patrik Fitzgerald gig at The Nag’s Head.  I’ve yet to be able to confirm the exact date but it was February 1978 and most likely on the regular Thursday slot.  Support came from Frumious Bandersnatch and one of the last appearances by local band, The Party.

The picture below is an extract from Issue 2 of High Wycombe fanzine The Buckshee Press. A great selection of pictures by Pete Bird and Henry.

Bandersnatch, The Party, Shucks and Patrik Fitzgerald – pictures by Pete Bird and Henry – as published in The Buckshee Press – April 1978

Several music historians have designated Fitzgerald as ‘folk punk’, presumably based on his link with rise of the punk movement during 1976 and 1977. He released three EP’s through London record label Small Wonder – the first and best known being ‘Safety-Pin Stuck in My Heart’.

He proved popular with the crowd and would return to The Nag’s Head and Town Hall later in the year.

For your listening and viewing pleasure

The Bingo Crowd – Patrik Fitzgerald – 1978 Revolver TV

5 April 1968 – Blues Loft opens at The Nag’s Head in High Wycombe

My research for wycombegigs.co.uk has confirmed that Friday 5th April 1968 marks a significant date in the live music history of High Wycombe – it was the opening night of the ‘Blues Loft’ in the upstairs room at The Nag’s Head on the London Road.  Organised by a then 25 year old Ron Watts, it proved to be the start of many years of live gigs at The Nag’s Head.

Nag’s Head – Blues Loft – Bucks Free Press advert for opening nights on 5th and 12th April 1968

The advert above, taken from the 29th March 1968 edition of the Bucks Free Press, shows that the acts on the opening night were ‘Champion’ Jack Dupree backed by Shakey Vick’s Blues Band.  The following week, Savoy Brown would continue the Blues theme that would run on an almost weekly basis for the remainder of the year.

Watts had chosen The Nag’s Head after he had arranged Blues gigs earlier in the year at Wycombe pubs, including Ye Exchange, The White Hart and The Angel. Watts explains his choice of The Nag’s Head in his 2006 autobiography – 100 Watts – A Life in Music.

“I went to have a look at the upstairs room, and it was perfect. The bar was at one end of the long, narrow room, which had windows along one side and when we started there were two open fireplaces that came in handy during the winter, when the place could be freezing cold until the customers started to arrive. There were proper dressing rooms, at first to the side of the stage and later, when we had to install a fire escape in the area they took up, we used a small room behind the stage, with direct access onstage. With a capacity of 200, the room was bigger than the ones I’d used before, but I never had any doubts that I could fill the place. And for almost 25 years, I did.”

In my efforts to track down more information on the 5th April 1968 gig, I discovered a webpage (on http://blues.gr/) that contained a picture of Jack Dupree, playing in front of a poster for the opening two nights of The Blues Loft at The Nag’s Head.  The poster is now recognisable as the style that Ron Watts introduced for his Nag’s Head promotions.  It is understood that Les Watts (no relation to Ron) designed the posters.  Behind the band, there is also a sign (partially covered) that says Big Ron’s Blues Loft.  The photograph appears to have been sent to as a memento by Jack Dupree. So much information in just one photograph!

‘Champion’ Jack Dupree at The Nag’s Head – 5th April 1968 – picture kindly supplied by Mel Wright – taken believed to be taken by Roy Holley

I was subsequently delighted to have made contact with the drummer in the photo – Mel Wright – who believes the picture was taken at the Nag’s Head on that opening night – 5th April 1968 and taken by Roy Holley.

Mel was drummer for Shakey Vick that night and later when on to form Dynaflow Blues, who performed at The Nag’s Head on at least five occasions before splitting up towards the end of 1968.

Recalling the night of the first gig at The Nag’s Head on 5th April 1968, Ron Watts said:

“So many people turned up that the bar staff got caught on the hop, working flat out from opening time until last orders. I realised all the other stuff I’d been involved with had been a dress rehearsal. The Nag’s was where I became a real promoter.”

Watts was well known for having his helpers during his promoting days. Nag’s Head landlord at the time, Ron Saunders, was no doubt delighted with the extra trade coming through his door?  Although the Nag’s had a history dating back to the late 19th century, this appears to be first time it had been used a regular venue for live music.  The previous year (1967) it had been used as a disco and during the early months of 1968, the local ‘High Wycombe 18+ Club’ had used it for their new HQ which met at the venue of Tuesday evenings.  Watt’s efforts to promote gigs, saw him use local man, Nick Prigg.  According to Watts, Prigg was a ‘big beared guy’ who drove a wan around with his mate Ivan, covered in posters.  The van was then used to sell hot-dogs in the Town Centre when the pubs closed.  This was pre-kebab days!

Mel kindly sent another photo from the same gig (again taken by Roy Holley of Pinnions Road, High Wycombe).

Line-up in the picture is Ron Skinner (bass), Mel Wright (drums), Rod Price (guitar) and Jack Dupree (piano/vocals). Out of shot is Chris Elvin (Blues Harp).

Please get in touch if you have any memories or memorabilia from these early Blues gigs at The Nag’s Head. I plan to publish further articles throughout 2018 to mark the 50th anniversary.

To give a feel for the kind of music you would have heard that evening:
For your viewing and listening pleasure

Calcutta Blues – Jack Dupree – Beat Club, German TV, June 1969

Savoy Brown at Fillmore East 1969 – music dubbed to colour footage

References:

http://blues.gr/profiles/blogs/brit-author-and-musician-mel-wright-talks-about-british-blues

http://www.melwright.co.uk/

http://www.britishbluesarchive.org.uk/

http://shakeyvick.com/

 

4 April 2018 – Talking punk on Emperor’s Bits for Wycombe Sound

Not put off by my guest appearance on 21st February 2018, Andy Aliffe invited me back on to his ‘Emperor’s Bits’ show on Wycombe Sound on 4th April 2018 – this time talking about the early days of the ‘punk’ scene in High Wycombe.

The Emperor’s Bits – Wycombe Sound radio show featuring Andy Aliffe (right) and Stevyn Colgan (left).

This was another hugely enjoyable hour were I was joined and helped out by friend and Wycombe Sound’s Punkarolla host, Andy Chalk.

We got a chance to remind listeners that the likes of The Sex Pistols, Damned, Clash, and Stranglers all played the legendary Nag’s Head back in 1976 – while the following year the same venue hosted The Jam, XTC and Elvis Costello.

Of course, we couldn’t leave without a mention for ex-High Wycombe Grammar school boy Ian Dury, who played High Wycombe during his early career with Kilburn and The Highroads, before returning with his Blockheads on the Bunch of Stiffs tour at The Town Hall in October 1977.

Highlight of the show for me was hearing former Bucks Free Press junior reporter Janice Raycroft talking about the iconic Sex Pistols at High Wycombe college in February 1976. Janice, now editor of Buckinghamshire Life magazine, recalled in vivid detail her interview with Johnny Rotten, seeing Sid Viscous wielding a knife and the mixed reaction of the audience.

The show also briefly touched on the 50th anniversary of the first ever ‘Blues Loft’ gig at The Nag’s Head and it’s hoped a further edition of The Emperor’s Bits will be dedicated to the history of this sadly lost venue.

The show is available on the listen again function until 2 May 2018.

http://listenagain.wycombesound.org.uk/index.php/shows/the-emperors-bits/

Emperor’s Bits line-up 4th April 2018 – Stevyn Colgan, Andy Aliffe (nice hair), Andy Chalk and Paul Lewis

1968 – High Wycombe music memories

This page was initially written during the early months of 2018 as a brief introduction to my ongoing research of the history of live music in High Wycombe for the 50th anniversary of 1968.

1968 saw another boom in the popularity of live music throughout the UK and the High Wycombe venues were quick to take advantage of the growing market. The already popular High Wycombe Town Hall, was eventually joined by what would become an iconic live music venue in the Town – The Nag’s Head in London Road.

Well-known names to appear at The Town Hall included Traffic, The Herd, Love Affair, Amen Corner and a return for the ever popular Move.  Legendary Rock ’n’ Rollers Bill Haley and The Comets would also appear at the Town Hall during the twilight of their career.

Bill Hayley and The Comets – High Wycombe Town Hall – 30th April 1968

The Nag’s Head would kick into life in April 1968 when young promoter Ron Watts took his ‘Blues Loft’ events to the upstairs room – initially bringing in cult Blues artists ‘Champion’ Jack Dupree, Shakey Vick and Savoy Brown. Later in the year he would promote an early ‘out of London’ show for Jethro Tull.

During a year when High Wycombe town centre saw the building of their new Octagon shopping centre, other venues would also look to take advantage of the demand for hearing the latest music being played on BBC Radio 1 (launched in September 1967) – either through Discos or live gigs – this included The Townfield House in Totteridge Road who hosted a very early appearance for 1970’s glam rockets in the making, Mud.

I plan to feature articles relating to the most memorable and significant gigs of 1968. As mentioned, the research is ongoing and once again, I would be delighted to receive your High Wycombe music related memories and memorabilia from the year 1968. Please use the usual contact methods.

In the meantime, and as a brief insight into the musical landscape of 1968, take a scroll through the list from the link below and see how many tracks you are familiar with and then realise they are ALL from 1968 and a good half-dozen or so played High Wycombe during the same year!

http://www.uk-charts.top-source.info/top-100-1968.shtml

1978 – High Wycombe music memories

1978 would see another shift and mixture of trends in UK popular music and those changes appear to be reflected in the live music scene in High Wycombe.  Memories of the year to follow throughout 2018, in the meantime a bit of background on the music culture of 1978, based on my own memories.

From a popular music point of view, 1977 will always be remembered as the year that ‘punk’ made the breakthrough from an underground scene but by the early months of 1978, many of the higher profile acts from the ‘safety pin’ brigade had either burnt-out or, in the eyes of punk idealists, ‘sold-out’.

High Wycombe had been blessed with a host of the breakthrough ‘punk’ acts during 1976 and 1977 but while The Nag’s Head and Town Hall continued to be the main outlet for gigs during 1978, the venues struggled to keep pace with the ever-changing demands and complications of hosting live music.  Several gigs throughout 1978 suffered from various combinations of poor attendance, violence, last minute line-up changes, rumoured ‘special guests’ that didn’t show or in some cases a complete cancellation.  Just finding out about gigs was a challenge in itself.

However, there were still noteworthy gigs in store for the local punters, thanks mostly again to the promoting connections of Ron Watts. Gigs at The Town Hall would include Siouxsie and The Banshees (still without a record deal until much later in 1978), Generation X, Rezillos and 999 – all returning to High Wycombe after Nag’s Head appearances in 1977.  There were also debut appearances for The Lurkers, Motorhead and Penetration.  Down the road at the Nag’s Head, gigs were generally ‘punk’ free but would include a number of post-punk (or new-wave’) bands looking for a breakthrough – most notably, The Skids.  Meanwhile, local bands aiming for a piece of the action were generally restricted to support slots at the two major venues but there were occasional headline slots gigs at High Wycombe College and Townfield House.

High Wycombe would also host bands as a direct consequence of the fall-out from the split of two of the original iconic punk bands. With two High Wycombe appearances to their name during 1976, The Sex Pistols played their final live show on 14th January 1978 during a tour of the USA.  A few weeks later, The Damned, also with two or three Nag’s Head shows under their belt, disbanded (albeit temporary).  Spin-off bands would come to High Wycombe later in 1978.  This included former Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, who would bring his Rich Kids (featuring Midge Ure) to The Town Hall.  Meanwhile, Damned drummer Rat Scabies would also grace a High Wycombe stage with his band, The White Cats – there would be mixed reaction to both those gigs!

Meanwhile, the other punk originals who had played locally during 1976 and 1977 (including The Clash, The Stranglers and The Jam), had outgrown the venues available in High Wycombe.  However, the local rumour mill, stirred up on more than on occasion by local promoter Ron Watts, always seemed to have the possibility of one or more of these names returning as a ‘special guest’ – sadly they never seemed to happen.

In contrast, all this was happening as record sales (still vinyl back then), particularly singles, were set to reach a new high. The popularity of buying discs prompted an expanding culture of record selling outlets in High Wycombe – the town’s shops and market stalls would become meeting places for local music fans desperate to buy the latest releases and also find out about where they could see their vinyl favourites at a live gig.

However, don’t get the impression that this era was all about the ‘punk’ or the ‘new-wave’ scene. A quick look at the UK singles charts from January 1978 reveals that ‘Mull of Kintyre’ by Wings had hogged the top spot for several weeks, while No.2 was ‘Floral Dance’ by The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band.  The closest to ‘punk’ in the charts at the time was ‘Mary of the 4th Form’ by The Boomtown Rats.  Local heroes Otway and Barrett had also just managed to creep into the early January 1978 top 30 with their iconic ‘Really Free’ single.

1978 was also a year where the Disco scene boomed following the massive success of music-based films ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Grease’. The two films would account for 18 weeks of No.1 singles throughout 1978, while the respective albums would take the top spot for 30 weeks.  The films would also attracted more punters to the local Cinemas than most of the gigs in High Wycombe during 1978 – with queues a regular occurrence when they were shown at The Palace Cinema in Frogmore.

The rise of the Disco scene was mirrored by a wealth of new sounds that would make the weekly BBC show Top of the Pops a sometimes bizarre mix of disco, new wave and novelty. The line-ups could see The Adverts up against Althia and Donna, The Stranglers take on The Smurfs, Elvis Costello v Earth, Wind and Fire, The Rezillos v Rod Stewart, The Vibrators v Village People and The Jam v John Travolta to name just a few culture clashes.

To help capture these new sounds, the local music scene was boosted in 1978 by the opening of two new record shops. Second-Hand shop Scorpion Records had opened in late 1977 and became the outlet for ticket sales for gigs at both High Wycombe Town Hall and Aylesbury Friars.

Rising Sun Records would also open in early 1978 at the rear of ‘Wycombe Fayre’ – a small shopping arcade built constructed in 1977 on the site of the former Woolworths store on Church Street.  At the time of this article (2018), The Chiltern Shopping Centre is now on that site.  Meanwhile, Derek’s Records in Octagon Parade, became Venus Records and became another regular haunt of local music fans hoping to find details of the latest gigs.

I’ll be aiming to dig a little deeper into some of these gigs for the 40th anniversary during 2018 and would be extremely grateful again for any memories and memorabilia you may have tucked away.  Please get in touch via the useful contact methods.

20 January 1978 – XTC release debut album

Swindon based XTC released their debut album White Music on 20 January 1978. The Virgin record release came just over six months after they had made two appearances at The Nag’s Head.  Their debut at the London Road venue came on 16 May 1977, with promoter Ron Watts bringing them back again on 6 June 1977.

White Music included classic pop singles ‘Radios in Motion’, ‘Statue of Liberty’ and ‘This is Pop’, plus their take on Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’. The album, recorded at The Manor Studio in Oxfordshire, was put to tape at the time of their Nag’s Head appearances and produced by John Leckie.

The XTC line-up for White Music was Andy Partridge (guitar and vocals), Colin Moulding (bass and vocals), Barry Andrews (keyboards and piano) and Terry Chambers (drums). That line-up would record follow-up album Go 2 in October 1978 before a change of personnel saw Barry Andrews depart – eventually opting not to replace him with another keyboard player and instead bring in second guitarist Dave Gregory.  XTC would go on to record the straight pop album Drums and Wires – recorded at Townhouse Studios in West London and produced by Steve Lilywhite after the band were apparently impressed with his work on Siouxsie and the Banshees debut The Scream.  The second single from the album, ‘Making Plans for Nigel’, would become a Top 20 UK hit just a few weeks after a May 1979 appearance at High Wycombe Town Hall.

For your listening and viewing pleasure

White Music – Full Album audio via YouTube

BBC Sight and Sound – March 1978

Live on French TV – Chorus 1978