My Life In Music

1968 Year of Revolutions

It’s been said that if you can remember the 60s you weren’t there. I’ve got the opposite problem. I can remember so much I can’t see how I managed to fit it all in. This is particularly true of 1968. I have lots of separate memories of things but I have a job working out the chronology. I do know that this was the year that I started doing gigs. Mick Pini was an inspiration to me. He had an electric guitar and was the first person I knew who had a Marshall “stack”. This is a powerful amplifier and a separate speaker cabinet for those who don’t know. The result is a very loud sound and the ability to create distortion. I went back to Mick’s house and he demonstrated it to me. As he played the house started shaking and I thought the window frames were going to fall out! It was monumental!! Even at that point Mick had the talent to create a really expressive sound and he was later to become one of the best blues guitarists in the country.

From my point of view I had a problem. Although my vocal skills were improving I hadn’t started playing the guitar yet. At that time my favourite group was The Doors. I had a passing resemblance to Jim Morrison and I could imitate his voice quite well. This proved quite popular with the girls! I could sing every song on the “Strange Days” album from beginning to end and remember all the words. This ability to learn and remember lyrics eventually caused me to be called “The Human Juke Box”.

I became influenced by avant garde jazz. In Leicester, a dedicated music library opened called Goldsmiths where you could borrow records for a small fee. It had mainly classical music but they also had a folk and jazz section. I was  impressed by recordings of Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and particularly John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and Archie Shepp’s “The Magic of Juju”. I decided to dust my clarinet off that I hadn’t played for a while and start playing free jazz. I found that I could make it sound a bit like an electric lead guitar and I also used it to create weird screaming noises. I got really experimental!! Poet Terry Wilford recently reminded me that I played the clarinet under water in the Town Hall Square fountain on one occasion! I was also writing strange apocalyptic poems influenced by William Blake and the language of the King James Bible and I would perform these interspersed with free jazz improvisations. My reputation as a performance artist increased and I began to be invited to perform at gigs and jam sessions. I think I was seen as a bit of a novelty act but at least I was out there doing it.

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A collage of me and Annie Williams during my wild clarinet playing days.(Photos by Chris Hennessy)
Site of Raynor’s Nightclub (The psychedelic Crocodile Club) just off Granby Street behind The Grand Hotel.
Advert in the Leicester Mercury for my first paid gig! Gensian Sprunt was crazy DJ Stuart Greasley and Pete Metcalfe was a brilliant up and coming singer/songwriter. The term “Blues” was quite loose but most of the bands were influenced by the blues. It was the beginnings of “Rock”.

It was at this time I got my first paid gig and had my name advertised in The Leicester Mercury. A giant step for me! It was at a place called Raynor’s, a slightly seedy 50s style night club tucked behind the Grand Hotel. It was rumoured that the owner was associated with the Kray Brothers (an East End gangster family who were literally carving out a criminal empire at the time). This could be true because Charlie Kray (the one who wasn’t a total psychopath!) lived in Leicester for a while in the early 70s. I met him in the Town Arms once. The club had decided to have a hippie night every Monday evening called “The Crocodile Club” which featured live bands, DJ Stuart Greasley (who called himself “Gensian Sprunt”) and the best light show outside of a Pink Floyd concert. The light show was created by dripping different coloured inks on to a slide projector and it bubbled and moved as it heated up. As you can appreciate, it wasn’t the best thing to do to a projector and they had a fairly short life! Stuart had a crash helmet covered in wire wool and as a finale he covered it in lighter fuel and set it on fire, while he was wearing it! He was a bit of a prat but very entertaining! He got the idea from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and he would play their record “Fire”. No health and safety then, but I imagine it contravened fire regulations! When I finished my gig it went down so well they invited me back the following week. However, the doorman hated me so much he refused to let me in until the organisers intervened. OK! I wasn’t exactly playing middle of the road, easy listening music!

Poet Terry Wilford on the left with D.J. Stuart Greasley (Gensian Sprunt)

Leicester University and Leicester College of Art (now DMU) put on lots of gigs. Saw the Who, Pink Floyd, Incredible String Band, Marsha Hunt and countless others at these venues. Also there were gigs at the Corn Exchange and of course the Il Rondo on Silver Street. Mick and I (especially Mick) got quite friendly with Fleetwood Mac who played in Leicester quite regularly. Mick actually stayed with Peter Green in London and it has been said that he carried Peter’s style forward into the 70s and 80s. He was certainly a big influence and a superb guitarist. Julie Driscoll of the Brian Auger Trinity, who made one of the best covers of a Dylan song ever “This Wheel’s on Fire”, was known to be emotionally volatile and would occasionally throw her mic into the audience. On one occasion it landed squarely on my forehead nearly knocking me out!! I’ve suffered for my art!!

Here’s an ad for “The Crocodile Club”. There was a psychedelic disco night with a live band on Saturday nights and a Blues Club on Mondays. I jammed with the Hydro Elastic Blues Band and did some gigs with them as well as doing my own stuff.

Poetry was undergoing a major revival. In 1965 Allen Ginsberg had crossed the Atlantic and was part of a big poetry event at the Royal Albert Hall. This event was a triumph of grassroots organisation, done at the last minute, that helped to create a self confidence and creative surge that epitomised the age. Filmed by Peter Whitehead (“Wholly Communion”) it was a brilliant success and by 1968 there were many live poetry events around the country. Penguin Books released a series of modern poetry books and many poets were becoming popular. These included Roger McGough (who formed a group called Scaffold with Paul MaCartney’s brother Michael and had significant hits with “Lily the Pink” and “Thank You Very Much”), Adrian Henry (who also performed with a group called Liverpool Scene) and probably the best of all, Adrian Mitchell whose poem “Tell Me Lies About Vietnam” is pure genius.

Here’s a film of Adrian Mitchell reading his poem filmed by Peter Whitehead:

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Leicester had a vibrant poetry scene mainly due to the efforts of poet Boyd K. Litchfield. Boyd came from “down south” and was the epitome of the Romantic Poet. He was prolific and looked the part. He was also a brilliant organiser of events. The main venues for poetry readings was the Town Arms on Pocklington Walk and the Chameleon Coffee Bar on King Street. There was also a lot happening at Leicester University presided over by G.S.Fraser who was a published author and professor at the University. The chairman of the more conservative Leicester Poetry Society, Alan Bates, was a frequent visitor to the Town Arms and would hold civilised gatherings at his house on West Avenue for poets, artists and intellectuals. He had the most amazing collection of books I’ve ever seen. Another interesting character at the time was Charles Hickson who was a brilliant poet, an incredible raconteur, and looked like a caricature of George Bernard Shaw. He still holds the record as the only person I’ve ever known to have read all of the novels by Proust!

My first real success as a musician was to be invited by Boyd to form a band with him. I had already performed with him on several occasions creating a musical backdrop to his poems. We were later joined by a musician known as “Antique” John ( we loved nicknames in those days!) who played a dulcimer-like instrument called a Chinese Banjo. This created a kind of shifting drone which gave a rhythmical base to the performance. All the music was improvised and spontaneous. It never sounded the same twice. We ended up playing all over the country including legendary venue The Roundhouse in London, on the same stage as the likes of The Doors, Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd, all leading lights at the time. Heady stuff indeed!

Boyd at his wedding in 1968 at Leicester Registry Office. “Antique” John is behind with a cigarette.
Site of the Art Centre on Cank Street. Depressingly, most of the places we went to seem to be “To Let” or have been pulled down!.

At the same time as all this was happening my days were spent hanging out with Mick Pini. We spent much time wandering around town, especially the New Walk area. We also went to the Chameleon and a cafe at The Art Centre on Cank Street which was on the top floor of the building. This contained garish, commercial prints that no one, unsuprisingly, seemed to  buy. They seemed to do better on the picture framing side of the business though. They were very nice and let us sit there for hours over one cup of tea which they even sometimes gave us for nothing. It was like a social club for hippies and misfits and they played some really good records. I remember hearing “I am the Walrus” by the Beatles for the first time there. Eventually they started putting folk concerts on there at night with candlelight. Very nice.

It was at the Chameleon that I really got into playing chess. There were some really good players there and it was months before I won a game. My game improved no end, though. It was a hip place where you could drink real coffee and listen to cool jazz. It was here that I really got into the music of Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk. Legendary local singer/guitarist Maurice Coleman used to play there regularly. At the time his gentle jazz ballads seemed incongruous compared to the psychedelic scene I was part of but he was a truly great performer who I grew to love.

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The Chameleon Coffee House, King Street, Leicester (Photos by Chris Hennessy 1969)

It was at this time also that we met Hank. Hank was amazing! He was a student at Leicester University but he didn’t seem to attend many lectures. I think eventually he was expelled! He played the guitar and harmonica and sang in a gloriously mournful, out of tune voice. He sounded a bit like Tom Waits but many people thought he couldn’t sing. I thought he was brilliant! He was before his time! It was from him that I learnt my first chords on guitar. He also sold me my first guitar, an old jazz  guitar with f holes. It cost me a pound! He had a brilliant repertoire of songs, many of which I still play now. It was from him that I also learnt the basics of blues harmonica and how to bend notes and this became a new string to my bow or rather a new blow to my harp!

Chameleon Dreams by Kenny Wilson This is a recent song of mine about this period using a sample of the voice of Jack Kerouac.

Hank at the front with guitar. This was a “happening” outside Leicester Museum. Behind him is Bill “The Crow” (also known as “Monkey Jim”) and Jim Woodford. Behind Jim and not seen apart from her arms is Marlene “Queen of the Hippies”

There were many parties in those days. Highfields had become the bohemian area and people often opened up there flats and bedsits for gatherings and events. The “King of the Hippies” in Leicester was Dave Brooks. He was a painter of weird, exotic fantasies that he would bake in an oven so they looked really old. He had a book by Laurence Lipton called “The Holy Barbarians”. It was like a manual of how to live the hippie life based on the  community at Venice Beach, Los Angeles. This became a kind of blueprint of how to furnish your room with Indian tapestries,rugs and low key lighting with different coloured bulbs. Very atmospheric! His girlfriend caused quite a stir when she posed nude in the shop window of a newly opened boutique on Silver Street.

Hank up a tree in the garden at Leicester Museum.

At one party I was near the record player looking through the record collection. I came upon what looked like an interesting record called “The Velvet Underground & Nico”. I put it on the turntable and was immediately struck by the dissonant qualities of the music. It was a track called “Heroin” and it fitted in well with the kind of music I had been making using drones, feedback and extreme lyrics. After a short while the party host rushed up to me and told me to change the record. He hated it even though he had bought it. I told him I thought it was great and he gave it to me on condition that he would never have to listen to it again. I thanked him and that became my favourite record of 1968. I played it so much I virtually wore it out. When the follow up “White Light, White Heat” was released I bought it straight away and that also became a favourite. It made a big impact on my performances especially the track “Sister Ray” which mixes a monotonous beat with dissonant improvisation and feedback. It became a template for many of my own pieces.

The Town Arms now called Pirates Bar, Leicester’s only Pirate themed pub!! Mercy!! Bizarrely, in a previous incarnation it was Leicester’s only ancient Egyptian themed pub!! They weren’t even on acid!! (Since this photo was taken it has changed again and is now called Duffy’s Bar. It has gone back to being a live music pub)

The Town Arms was a centre for acoustic and folk music as well as traditional jazz which still had a big following with an older crowd. Russ Merryfield, a stalwart of the folk scene, started a jazz band there and continued to do a regular Friday slot for at least twenty five years after that, maybe more. He gets my award for the longest running residency of all time! Local promoter Tony Savage also ran a club there which featured some of the best folk singers in the country like Alex Campbell and Bert Jansch. They were paid well and you could make a good living in the folk clubs. They earned more in a night than most people earned in a week! It gave me ideas for a future career! Regulars at the Town Arms were bluegrass musicians George and Thadeus Kaye. They sometimes had impromptu jams in the bar downstairs. They were incredibly good technically and I picked up lots of tips from them, especially George who sang, played guitar and became an expert fiddler.

Site of the Nautique (also called Nocturne). The owner subsequently opened a club called the Longship which was where Curve Theatre is now.

A place of note at that time was a club called the Nautique (also known as the Nocturne) on Wharf Street. There was a room at the back where Leicester group Family practised. At that time Family became Leicester’s most commercially and artistically successful group. Their album “Music In a Doll’s House” stands up to this day as a seminal piece of psychedelia. Several years later I would play and write songs with Rick Grech who was the bass and violin player and had a subsequent successful career with the likes of Blind Faith, Traffic and several others, perhaps most notably, his collaborations with Gram Parsons. Sadly, he died in 1990 at a comparatively young age.

Street Fighting Man. Paris May 1968

1968 was a time of great political upheavel. In May of that year Paris erupted into riots and there was a general strike in France that toppled the government. Not long afterwards Britain had it’s first major riot since the 1930s. This occured at Grosvenor Square, London outside the American Embassy. There was a massive demonstration against the war in Viet Nam. Police, who were untrained and unused to dealing with this type of event decided to attack the demonstration with a charge of horses. This resulted in total chaos and a riot ensued which was controlled very badly by the police with innocent people being caught up in the violence. The images on TV were quite shocking! The revolution was being televised!

Terry Wilford and friends including well known Leicester Anarchist Pete Miller (3rd in from the left looking straight at the camera) at an anti-war protest in London. Pete Miller climbed up the Leicester Town Hall one time and placed an Anarchist flag on top, which was a highly dangerous thing to do. He was fearless!

Leicester had it’s own anti-war demonstration that passed quite peacefully although there were scuffles on the junction of London Road and Charles Street where I ended up being pushed into a cordon of police. Scary!! The situation in America, however, was far worse. The war in Viet Nam had escalated and the draft had been extended and many young people were being forced into the army. Demonstrations in America were dealt with in a far more brutal fashion than even here, culminating in the Chicago riots outside the Democratic Party convention where many people were injured. Things got even worse later on when National Guardsmen opened fire on student protesters in Ohio killing several of them (Neil Young wrote a song about this: “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, We’re finally on our own, Last Summer I heard the drumming, Four dead in Ohio” recorded by CSN&Y). On top of that public opinion in America was turning against the war. It is the most televised and photographed war in history and many of the images were profoundly disturbing especially the photograph of a child running down a road screaming, covered in napalm (a particularly vicious weapon that stuck to the skin and burned constantly). There were reports of massacres and high levels of drug abuse amongst soldiers most of whom didn’t want to be there and didn’t know why they were there. The use of defoliant Agent Orange was destroying the rain forests and causing skin diseases. It’s doubtful if anyone with any sense could possibly support the war. As one of the chants went at demonstrations “LBJ, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today!!” It’s a shame, really, because LBJ came to power with a liberal agenda which never really found expression. Many young Americans found ways of avoiding the draft by going to Europe or Canada or faking psychological problems and illnesses. This is the background of what became the “counter culture”. People started looking for different ways to live that didn’t harm the planet or themselves. To his credit British prime minister Harold Wilson refused to let Britain be drawn into the conflict even on a token level, an historical precedent that Tony Blair should have studied before he took Britain into two equally pointless wars as an ally of George Bush!

Disturbing images of the war in Viet Nam

Recently, Terry Wilford reminded me that one of the places we went to on a regular basis was the Chaplaincy Centre on Newarke Street. This had a coffee bar and was open late at weekends. There was a room with a piano on the top floor where we had weird jams and improvised dance sessions. It was a great place that was there until the mid 70s when the Art College became a Polytechnic. After that it became part of the Phoenix Theatre.

A group of friends at Town Hall Square in 1968. At the front is Alan Lord a brilliant artist who died tragically young. Next to him is Marlene “Queen of the Hippies” and next to her is the wonderful, gentle Percy Frape whose brother Marty followed a very different path as a henchman for the notorious Kray Twins.

By 1969 the dream was over. A friend of mine committed suicide shortly after having a bad acid trip and the “best minds of my generation were destroyed by madness”(from “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg but applicable to a number of people I knew). People seemed to be either getting religion or joining extreme left wing political parties. Personally, I had no desire for spiritual salvation or replacing a bad system with something even worse. The year of the Woodstock festival seemed to be the end of an era for me.The good times didn’t seem so good.  I spent the summer in Folkestone staying with a friend and in September went to Middleton St. George College of Education, County Durham to train as a teacher, main study Music. 1968 remains to this day the period I remember as my “Golden Age”, a time and a  feeling I have constantly tried to get back  to and I think, in recent times, I have begun to achieve that!

80 thoughts on “My Life In Music

  1. Your’s is a great story; I’m enjoying reading.

    Your path and mine crossed briefly during the John Cusack era in Leicester. You must remember ‘Rock at the Phoenix. And we did a gig at Mallory Park where you did your solo set and we (Rhinestone) did ours. There’s much more even in that small chapter of your marvellously compelling tale of your life in music.

    Good luck. I’m following your blog. Hope to see you fairly soon.

    Al Owens

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    • Hi Al yes I certainly remember that. I think my job was to be a pretend American country star. I laid on a particularly unconvincing Texan accent but I think I got away with it!

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    • Lol I remember the art bar movies at the phoenix and maurice coleman playing when I was on the Leicester band scene

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  2. Excellent, I really enjoyed reading this, bought back good memories of a period when life was changing quickly.

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  3. Fascinating. Brought back memories and especially the Jaques Loussier concert in De Monfort Hall which you dragged me along to, but loved it. Is my memory faulty but did we also see the Swingle Singers together? Anyway loved the references to the Town Hall which I thought I lived in for a few years, but never aware of Alan Bates and the Kray brother connections. Anyway fascinating. Come and do some busking in Liverpool. I go to a folk club every now and again. Google “Radical Liverpool” Try and do a performance at one of their shows which is about once a month.

    Bye the way I know a John Cusak, who died recently and was at Liverpool University. Architect.

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    • Nice to hear from you Nev. I think you mean Town ARMS. Town Hall was the criminal courts! We did see the Swingle Singers. I should have also perhaps mentioned going to see Roland Kirk in Nottingham after which we attempted to walk back to Leicester and ended up sleeping in a launderette in Loughborough. Will definitely come to Liverpool.

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      • I should also have mentioned the time we went to the American Blues concert at the De Mont in 1967 I think. We went backstage and were introduced by Kokomo Taylor to some of the greatest names in American blues like Son House and Willie Dixon. Legendary

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  4. My god, how you have signposted the route through my own teenage years in Leicester…was Boyd’s band called Soop? I was in One Hand Clapping, and ran the two free concerts on Welford Rd Recce…and my dear friend Mick Pini played for us…Ned Ludd…as did Pesky Gee…and again as Black Widow by the second event…Grizelda…I’m in touch with bass player Paul Witherspoon…as well as Roger Chapman and other local starts…then we had Jody Grind, Battered Ornaments and Bridget St John…all powered by a petrol-leaking Honda generator. I knew a great guy called Pete Gumley who ran blues clubs…in fact just met him again after all those years…and I remember the Chameleon and Circa Design next door…Pete Josephs owned the Chameleon didn’t he? I’d love to get in touch with Mike Prudens, a fine guitar player with his band Phase of Reality…as well as the towering Tony Shipman of Arnhem Bloo and Spring. I remember Terry…memphis…the lightshow bloke…and actually I always thought I was a bit well-known myself in Leicester for while because I helped set up Leicester Arts Lab…poetry, guitar…events. And I paid Led Zep in cash for their Leicester debut…£175 for three hours!! Ask me anything, I remember most of it!

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    • Thanks for the comment. Mike Pruden is still in Leicester and doing regular gigs.It was Pete Josephs who ran the Chameleon. I’m sure Shaun Knapp would like to speak to you. You can find him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/HighFlyingAround
      It sounds like you’ve got a great story to tell. I remember the free concerts and also the arts lab. It was at St. Michael’s Church Rooms I think (Now a block of flats) courtesy of Derek Sawyer, the hippy vicar. Cheers!

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    • Welford Rd free concert also had Edgar Broughton Band as well as the leaky honda generator; sadly “Electricity” was in pretty short supply for them to do their best with the underpowered P.A. system but hey; it was free! Give my regards to Pete Gumley; I wonder if he remembers me?

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      • I organised, MC’d and ran both of those two free concerts and sadly Edgar Broughton never played for us. The first was all local bands, Pesky Gee, with Roger Chapman on vocals for two songs…Ned Ludd of course, the amazing Spring…who became Arnhem Bloo…of the other way round…and one or two other locals…the second concert was supported by Blackhill, who kindly sent Jody Grind, Pete Browns Battered Ornaments and Bridgett St John to play for free.

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      • Thanks for your comments Stuart. It was a magical time and so much happened then. It would be good to have some kind of reunion!!

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  5. Great blog and great memory – very useful for those that forget details like me. I was in the Hydro Elastic Blues Band and ran a blues club in Raynors. I’m in the front of the picture at the Welford Road Rec free concert which was my first ever job as a roady (for Mick Pruden and Kath of Phase or Faze of Reality – great blues band), a career which lasted 18 years and took me to some great places. I have fond memories of Chris the Floor and the Chameleon and Nautique etc.

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    • Nice to hear from you. I played/jammed with you a few times. Can remember a weird gig in Coalville where I couldn’t seem to play anything at all (out of my comfort zone!), Keep in touch.

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    • Hiya Pete, I have many fond memories of Raynors Club etc. Even your hippy pad off London Rd with the amazing starburst lamp effect on the wall! I used to date Kath’s sister in those days! Great to see you’re still out there pal.

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  6. Hi Kenny. Really enjoyed our chat last night after your Rose and Crown gig. Reading your blog has certainly stirred a few great memories…… The Chameleon was one of my lunchtime retreats in about 1966. Getting away from the most boring job of my life, at the Eagle Star, we got 1 and 1/2 hours lunchbreak which was incredible. I still bump into Peter Josephs from time to time and remind him of his Spag Bol and Spanish Omelettes on the menu……ground breaking stuff at the time – at least it was for me!!
    Hope your lift eventually turned up last night and look forward to sharing a pint next time.
    Jim Funnell

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    • Thanks Jim
      Yes the Spag Bol and Spanish Omelettes were Revolutionary as were the exotic egg mayonnaise sandwiches. Real filter coffee was also fairly new at the time. Great speaking to you!
      Kenny

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      • Hi Ken I can remember Mr Dickson one morning ranting on about the evil drugs that were being taken at the nite owl and half the pupils had nite owl stickers on there school bags and any pupil seen there would be in big trouble big ouch !!!.great nights in the old crows nest on Tuesday nights with you and Ric many good times thanks.

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  7. Pingback: The Decline of the 1960s Counterculture and the Rise of Thatcherism | Kenny Wilson's Blog

  8. Another funny story about the nite owl a friend of ours Penny climbed out of her bedroom window got the bus into town went to go into the nite owl only to find out that her dad Pat was the doorman

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  9. Oh, Wow! Kenny, i don’t think we met but I’m loving your blog. I became a huge Mick Pini fan after i saw his band Ned Ludd play at Welford road in 1969 with… yes, Litchfield reciting poems and chanting his own take on Hare Krishna. The Spring also played and a drum solo was given by a twelve year old Mark Stuart with whom I played at Il Rondo in 1973. Great days, The Chameleon, The Arts Centre and Pat’s Pantry were places I knew and lament the passing of, you though I was at the time [13/14] I bought my joss sticks at Bric-a-Brac in New walk. Hotcha! Great work, Kenny…

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    • Thanks for that David, I’m sure our paths must have crossed. I was only 16/17 at the time! Pat’s Pantry sounds familiar but I’m not sure I ever went there. There were a few top places I never went to like The Burlesque and The Chicane Club. In fact, I only went to the House of Happiness once, I think, before it closed. There were other places like the Costa Rica near the railway station which was only open for a short while and, of course, The Churchill on Silver Street which was quite a trendy place at the time, with a good jukebox. Maybe I should also mention the Hind which still has it’s 60s basement relatively intact (though not in use), the Fuddyduddy (previously Kenco Coffee House) on Granby Street which opened late and latterly had disco nights, and also the Student Chaplaincy Centre on Newarke Street which opened really late at the weekends and you could just hang out or play the piano on the top floor. There were also some top jam sessions there in the basement!

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  10. Kenny, I meant to mention that I’d seen a band called Grizelda [featuring Wes mcGhee and Paul Witherspoon] at The Phoenix around 1970/71 who were on the Leicester circuit with Pesky Gee aka Black Widow, Gyspy, Ned Ludd and others. I was working at the National in 2001 in My Fair Lady and who should be doing the rock music for Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale along with Bernie Marsden from Whitesnake but Wes McGhee who was initially a bit freaked at having some actor come up to him and compliment him on his very distant past. Wes now has his own studio in Hertfordshire…

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  11. And I was Grizelda’s roadie at the time, I remember the Phoenix well, as I was at college along the road and used to help with the lunchtime gigs and event there quite a bit…I remember Alan as being the head electrician, who helped me understand stage lighting, and I aslo recall hearing Jethro Tull LPs through the theatres big PA, as Robin Anderson was the then director, and must have got all the albums early. I’m in touch with Paul Witherspoon who is in New Zealand, but haven’t seen Wes for years since he played a gig in Sunderland. I heard he had a stido in Bishops Stortford, but when I was working there a few years back I couldn’t find out where it was…back there in August for a night if Wes wants a beer…or a port and brandy which is what he used to sip for his voice. I am good friends with Mick Pini of Ned Ludd who now lives in Germany, but is playing The Musician in Leicester next month…do go and see him. He always was, and still is, a terrific guitar player.

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  12. Hi again Kenny…I just read your life in music again…I see you did teacher training at Middleton St George… i once did some work at the training college by the airprot, and at Dinsdale Park/Hall Special School…I live in Durham and was at college in Sunderland…another coincidence, another reason for a reunion!

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  13. Hi Kenny I was at MSG at the same time as you. I was part of the Phys Ed crew but always envied musical talent. Ironically I now work in Leicester (and live in Barrow) and am an expert at cleaning carpets upholstery etc. I loved PE teaching but love more what I do now.
    Love your blog and the history attached

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    • Hi Stuart
      Thanks for the comments. MSG was a long time ago but it left a deep impression on the people who went there. I’m amazed how many ex students I’ve come across over the years considering how short it’s existence was. The music scene was amazing then and there were some great local bands who played at the college! I spent most of my life trying to “make it” as a musician but actually spent most of the time being a teacher so my training came in useful. I’m retired from teaching now and am having an amazing time without all the pressure and aggravation! Music is still the most important thing to me though and I’m still working on it!

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  14. Weird…I’m from Leicester, did a project at MSG years ago, and was in Barrow on Friday night to see…Leicester boy from ned Ludd…Mick Pini…talk about joined-up thinking…

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    • Well, to add to that I saw Mick Pini last night at the Musician in Leicester! There are certainly a few coincidences there!

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  15. I couldn’t get to Leicester this weekend, so Barrow…just 130 miles from us…was the nearest! How was the gig?

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  16. Love Pete G’s comment on Chris The Floor Still with us?.Complements to Kenny on rich tapestry of bygone but not forgotten times. Seems just like yesterday or was it a dream.Good luck with the gigs brother. Was George Parker involved with Nite Owl.,seems to ring a bell?

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    • Don’t know which Chris you are but my name back then was Chris the floor. I can be contacted on Facebook under my name Chris Angus.Have been clean and sober now for 32 years otherwise I would be long gone like so many old friends.
      Great blog Kenny brought up many memories for me ,thankyou.

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  17. Pingback: Mods in Leicester U.K. in the mid 1960s | Kenny Wilson's Blog

  18. Just read this having read the piece about the “Mods in Leicester” Great memories. I used to DJ (or present records as it was called then) at The Ilrondo and then went on to DJ at The Palais.

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    • Hi Jim, i used to go to Il Rondo 1966 / 67 time and i am trying to date when Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee played there. Do you have any recollection of this ? Thanks

      nick hairs

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  19. Kenny, this is all just wonderful. Whenever I visit my mother in Leicester, I make a point of walking back to the station via Pocklington’s Walk in the hope that The Chameleon might suddenly spring back to life. I remember that Ned Ludd did stunning versions of Walk in My Shadow and Rock Me, Baby. Your blog is brilliant; keep posting!

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  20. Hi, I was a member of Ned Ludd with Mick, Arthur, Romeo and Tom in the 60’s. Loved the article and of course the references to local bands around at that time. Yes, they were great times! I’ve often wondered what happened to Pete Gumley. Pete will recall that we met on a bus to London, as a result of which he joined my band at the time called Hydro Elastic Blues Band, which evolved into Ned Ludd. Three of us got together in 1990 to form Behind the Bikesheds. Sadly Romeo was too busy playing with Showaddywaddy to join us.
    Just like to say ‘hi’ to everyone who remembers us and supported us at some great gigs around Leicester and beyond. Our highlight was probably playing the Cavern in Liverpool on 14.2.70. Let me know if you’d like any more memories! Regards, Nigel Payne.

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    • Hi Nigel
      Great to hear from you and thanks for the kind comment. Yes, I actually jammed with you on my clarinet a few times! A remarkable period when everything seemed possible!

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      • Forgot to say. Do you have any photos of the period? There seems to be precious few of them!

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  21. Nigel; just to let you know Pete Gumley is alive and rocking still. We sat and enjoyed a pint or three at the fabulous Esplanade Club in Watchet a couple of weeks ago while watching The Lewis Creaven Band; an outstanding act if you ever get the chance to see them 🙂

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  22. I remember you well Nigel, and didn’t you play through a Bell amp? I’m in touch with Paul Witherspoon from the Hydroelastic Blues Band, and we’ve just designed Mick Pini’s latest CD cover for him. I met up with Pete Gumley in Leicester a couple of years ago, maybe three, to see Mick at the Musician…Pete lives in Leicestershire, a very good man to know, he’s on Facebook, as am I ..Stuart Langford

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  23. Hi Stuart. Ha ha, yes indeed – a Bell amp! The only other person I saw with the same amp was John Mayall who was playing his organ through one. Must have been very painful! His guitarist was a certain Eric Clapton who one night at the Il Rondo took the time to sit on the edge of the stage and show my mate and I some chords etc. I saw Mick Pini about 5 years ago at the Musician. He spotted me in the crowd, got me upon stage, handed be his old Strat and left me to carry on where he’d left off! As for Pete, it must be almost 45 years since I last saw him. I see Romeo from time to time at the Wheatsheaf in Woodhouse. Ned Ludd singer Arthur died on the golf course about 10 years ago. So sad. I’m still doing the odd gig and treated myself to a Gibson 335 earlier this year. If only I’d bought one in the 60’s! Keep in touch mate. Regards, NP.

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    • Hey there Nigel – Heatwave – Payne – good to know all these people are still alive and kicking. I’ve left an email address which you should be able to get from Kenny. I left a message earlier in the year – Kenny, can you forward a message to Nige’s email please?

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  24. Hi Glad to hear that Pete is alive and kicking. Please pass on my best to him if you see him soon. KRs, Nigel P

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    • Dear Nig, regards duly received as I get email updates on Kenny’s excellent blog – I left an email address somewhere there and can be easily found on facebook

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  25. Hi Kenny, got a few acetates somewhere but only one or two photos. I’ll test out my scanning skills and send you a band picture from 1969. KRs,
    Nigel

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  26. yes, I do remember that. The newspaper cutting from that time reminded about John McKitrick who was a very good harp player. I was gutted when he emigrated to Australia..

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  27. Hi Nigel heatwave Payne, long time no see, would love to catch up with you somewhere. I’m in Derbyshire and on facebook. If you’re not on facebook we will have to trade email addresses and I’m not sure this blog is the right place for that. so.. are you on fb or linked in? Peter Gumley is easy to find on either

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  28. Ned Ludd! I genuflect with deep respect. I saw your band, Nigel, at the Welford Road Recreation Ground in 1969 and at the Leicester Poly. I was and remain a fan. Tom was the bass player. wasn’t he? I remember the version of Walk in my Shadow you used to do and Mick Pini’s solo. Romeo Challenger is a great drummer and I had the lucky experience of having a jam with him at a huge house party in Evington in about 1970/71. Ned Ludd receive a mention – for what it’s worth (a lot to me, actually) – in my book about Van der Graaf Generator. Please excuse me, even at 60, I remain a star-stricken school-kid and Ned Ludd will always be right up there in the firmament…Kenny, your blog is terrific.

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    • I hope David is reading this…Mick Pini of Ned Ludd fame is of course still playing the blues, and will be at The Musician in Leicester in April 2016…I have the pleasure and pride of calling Mick my friend, and we have designed two recent CD sleeves for him, including his newest release Happy with the Blues. He was, is, and remains one of the finest guitarists we have, a man totally devoted to his music, and completely accessible to his fans and admirers, of whom there are many thousands. David, go and say hello when he’s at The Musician, mention my name too, and enjoy a night of greta live music. Stuart Langford stuart.langford@gmail.com

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  29. Hi, Kenny, I loved reading this detailed, inspirational and evocative piece which, having been born in 1950, relates so much to my own experience of music – from those early radio favourites to the Beatles to Velvet Underground/Leonard Cohen- and, apart from the Jazz, practically everything else. I also loved your philosophical approach and completely identified with your notion of looking for a sense of personal destiny and purpose. Having grown up in the dull and stifling town of Coalville, and then later going into a hum-drum job, I felt lifeless and without a means of expression – although I didn’t know that at the time! But, even in Coalville, you could see live bands 3 -4 times a week – at the Grand Ballroom, the West End Club (I remember the Move when I was 15) and 2 or 3 pubs. There is nothing as exciting as live music.
    So the changes and excitement in music,during those first two decades of my life, kept me going – I think that music saved my life! It was – and still is – the mainstay of my life.
    I did, in later life, find a channel for my own creatively – in literature, poetry and drama – and found great expression in teaching for a while. But I guess I’d really love to write – you have inspired me – at least, to comment here.
    Anyway, a great piece and don’t forget the George at Hinckley in the 60s – the Who, Small Faces, Georgie Fame and many more!

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    • Yes, we shared a similar time and what a time it was. I know that Coalville was on the live music map and I played there a couple of times but I don’t remember the George I’m afraid. You’ll have to write your story. Apart from being worthwhile in itself it’s also very therapeutic experience I think.

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  30. Started your blog Kenny got as far as 1971, I’ll read the rest later. Enjoying it, my era and time ( I was born 1949), but my experience lacks the music, though did see Wilson Picket at the Nite Owl.

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  31. Found your blog in a search for Pink Fairies Il Rondo 1973 to link to a poem Ive just written having re-connected with Mick Pini & Rick Martinez (the wonders of facebook!). I used to come over to Leicester to go to the Churchill and occasionaly Il Rondo & the Uni & Poly for bands despite being officially too young for pubs. Lovely to read such a comprehensive memory of these happy times ;-D Josephine

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  32. Whilst reading your blog and seeing the black&white photo of Mick Pini, it reminded me that he used to be in a four piece band with Johnny Butler (of Diesel Park West)…..I think they were called Baby. The photo has one of the other members of the band (bass player I think) standing to Micks left.
    God knows how I remember this stuff when I cant remember where I left my glasses!

    Great blog…..and thanks for the memories.

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  33. Your article has made me weep. I was there but too young and too excitable to join in. Legay, Mick Pini, Ned Ludd, Boyd Litchfield, The Chamelion on New Walk, Griselda, The Spring, Gyspy thank You, thank you , thank you for re-affirming the truth of that time for an underground music smitten young man…

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  34. Hi, I’ve just read your blog. having found it looking up the Il Rondo. I was spellbound reading this! Although 7 years younger, I used to hang around many of the places you described…oh the memories! Being a bit of a misfit, loving music and motorbikes, I spent a lot of time skiving off school at 15 in The Churchill, Il Rondo and the arty cafe on Cank street, (I hung around for a while with Mick Pini), and the record shop on Silver Street. Our paths maybe crossed in those magical days of the early 70’s. I’m still a misfit, into music and motorbikes….

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    • Hi Suzanne and thanks for your comments. I’m sure we must have come across each other as the Silver Street record shop was virtually my second home. I was involved in organising all kinds of gigs with Mick Pini and Terry Tilley, the shop owner. What happens when you are young is so important. I know it is what made me what I am today. Thanks, and drop by again. I will be moving into the 70s soon!

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  35. Though I left Leicester in !969, coming back for a brief spell or two afterwards, you have stimulated some of my memories of the time leading up to then. I did my time at Loughborough Art College, more or less for the same reasons you studied music, I didn’t really want to do any of the jobs on offer. You keep on reminding me of places I went and you write in a very readable way.

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    • Thanks for the comment Bryan. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading your blog and your memories of Leicester. I haven’t written much on this page for a while but I feel motivated now to continue the story. Come back soon when there should be more.

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  36. Slightly tiddly now.
    Anyway, all my late teenage memories rekindled.
    Re the Chameleon, I was in there one night when arseoles from the National Front decided to work it over.
    The Friday before I was in the Rutland and Derby (superb hosts Don and Betty) when the same wankers decided to smash it up because it was full of commies and lefties.
    I’d not been long in the army, very unfashionable at the time, and was quite aggressive. In the Chameleon, I had a good go at them cos Pete Joseph’s was a star.
    The Phoenix Theatre sparky Steve Thackeray joined in against them although be was weedy, congrats.
    Re music, you never mentioned Pete Metcalf’s and Livvie Julian Linwood Wright, fab blokes.
    And JLW wrote the telling graffiti in the bogs of The Magazine, Void K. Litchfield!

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    • Amazing. I was there that night as well. I was a witness when the police came. About ten years later I had to go to court but he pleaded guilty and I didn’t have to take the stand. Forget the guy’s name now but it will come to me. Was one of the founders of the British Movement and associate of National Front founder Colin Jordan. Horrible people! They used to meet in the upstairs room of the Princess Charlotte.
      I am still in touch with both Pete Metcalfe and Julian. Wonderful people. Thanks for the comment.

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  37. Wow! Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. For many reasons….I was also born and bred in Leicester….lived in Clarendon Park (which my mother often delighted in referring to as Knighton; as you say, the then posh area!) just off the Queens Road. Often used to play at the Washbrook. Remember the derelict thatched cottage soooo well. Fell in love with it and have never looked back with my love of old and characteristic properties. I seem to remember it having a sign outside saying ‘Danger! High Voltage!’ I went to Jonathan North Girls School a year before you went to Lancaster Boys. My younger brother attended Lancaster Boys. I also went to Charles Keene College…again a year before you. And so it goes on. So many similarities. Which brings me to the music. Both my brothers were drummers and I recognise so many of the names you refer to. Oh, and forgot to say, I also played clarinet by choice, at school… I know George and Thaddeus Kaye very well. My now husband played banjo with them and I lived in a flat with Thad’s girlfriend. Unfortunately, Thad died 15 years ago. A very sad moment. Such an individual and so talented. I have many happy memories of the Town Arms and I remember sitting in the bar downstairs whilst they were picking. Don’t like it’s new name by the way. Anyway, Terry (my husband) and I played much bluegrass back in the day. I play double bass. And a few years ago, we got back into it and play to this day…. Thank you so much for your blog. Wonderful memories.

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  38. Well, I think we must have come across each other. The Town Arms is called Duffy’s Bar now and is better than the Pirates Bar but it is not the same as the old days in the Town Arms. There was a really vibrant folk and jazz scene then. Anyway, things are still happening and I hope to run into you sometime!

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  39. Lots of names here that I remember, particularly Mick Pini and Boyd Litchfield. I left Leicester a few times, and then for good in 1975. I used to hang out in the Chameleon, and I worked behind the bar in the Rutland and Derby for a couple of years too. I wonder, is the Tony Moore who has written above the Tony Moore who lived in Clarendon Park and who went on to become a postman in Canada?

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    • Yes, Martyn.
      I remember well us a having a weird kind of party when a select group came round to 55 (?) Richmond Rd. to ceremoniously wash your Levi’s.
      Tony Moore

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      • Yes, it was No. 55. You have a good memory, better than mine indeed for I can’t remember anything at all about my Levis. Except that, in those days, they almost certainly came from Irish in Silver Arcade along with my beloved Ben Sherman shirts. I hope we didn’t wash the jeans in the recommended way! That would have been embarrassing if there were girls present.

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