My Life In Music

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The Songs of Leonard Cohen

College Years 1969 to 1972

In 1968 a record was released called “The Songs of Leonard Cohen”. This was called a sleeper, it gained popularity gradually by word of mouth, there was no big commercial promotion of it, a bit like Joan Baez’s first album several years earlier. This record made a big impact on me, perhaps as much as Bob Dylan’s recordings of the mid 60s. Leonard Cohen was an established poet who had decided to move into music. Originally he had intended to sell his songs to other singers, most notably Judy Collins who was the first person to record his songs, but was eventually persuaded to make his own recordings, even though he had misgivings about his voice. The end result was unlike anything heard before. His lyrics dealt with love, despair and alienation and he sang them in a world-weary baritone voice. There was none of the anger present in Dylan and he eschewed rock music for an individual take on folk which seemed almost Continental in style (he became very popular in France) although it was a totally original sound. Producer Bob Johnson (who had recorded many Dylan and Simon & Garfunkle tracks) loved the songs so much that he gave up producing records and formed a band with Cohen with him on keyboards. I think “Suzanne” is one of the loveliest and most original songs to come out of the 1960s. I will say more about Cohen later, especially about when I saw his band at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970.

In 1951, the year of my birth, William Faulkner in a book called “Requiem for a Nun” said “the past is never dead. It’s not even past”. This evocative phrase  means, I think, that what happens in the past stays with you and is a part of what you are. This is true for both individuals and society. Historical events create and inform the present.

I didn’t go to college because I wanted to be a teacher. I didn’t even particularly want to be a student, but considering the options open to me at the age of 18 it seemed like the least awful one to do. From my first reading of Charles Dickens’s “Hard Times” at a young age to my first viewing of the film “Metropolis” by Fritz Lang later on I had an abject fear of becoming a cog in the wheel of industry. I thought if I ended up in a factory or office job I would somehow lose my personality and no longer be an individual, that I would become faceless and soulless. This concept of freedom has influenced everything I have done, although on several occasions I have felt trapped and unable to break away from my, sometimes self-imposed, chains. Individuality is weak and the forces of society and conformism are very strong. Indeed, the past WILL get you in the end!

What I really wanted to be was a professional singer/songwiter like Dylan or Cohen. I knew you could make a good living on the folk clubs. The problem was, at that stage, I simply wasn’t good enough. I needed more time to develop the skills required. I also needed to find my own voice. I thought that going to college to learn music would give me the time and facilities to do this. In many ways this is what happened, in others I lost some of my inspiration. Naivety and innocence can often produce inspired work and I sacrificed some of this as I acquired knowledge and experience. This is especially true of my poetry and writing which I changed to fit in with the conventions of the time. I ended up sucking a lot of the passion and chaos out of it in order to be more accepted.

Middleton St. George, the only College in Europe with it’s own International Airport!

At the beginning going to college was a traumatic experience for me. Middleton St. George College of Education was a long way away. It was situated between Darlington and Stockton in the North East of England on the same site as Teeside Airport, literally in the middle of nowhere. On my first day I took a train from Leicester carrying a blue cardboard suitcase full of my belongings, changed at Derby and arrived in Darlington about three hours later. At Darlington I changed trains and went to Dinsdale. When I got off there was no one else on the platform and I was still two miles from the college! I can’t remember what happened after this but I think a minibus may have picked me up. I arrived at the college a bit disorientated and was shown to the room I lived in for the next two years (it could have been three but I moved to Darlington for the third year). My initial feeling was that I had made a mistake going to college at all but I stuck with it and am glad I did.

Dinsdale Station in 1969. Grim and forbidding!
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This is where I lived for two years. The block on the right R1E. The middle building was the library.

The music department had it’s own separate block with practice rooms, a superb library and state of the art equipment (for the time). We were given keys so we could use the facilities 24/7. There was a comprehensive collection of instruments that we could borrow at will and the residential rooms and meals were all good. Really, I had nothing to complain about. As part of the course I had individual lessons in singing, piano and clarinet and we also had tuition in harmony (including keyboard harmony), music history and composition. The teaching was first class. On top of that we were given an “Arts North” card that gave us free admission to many concerts and talks in the North East. One of the best ones I went to was a talk by Paul Oliver who was a leading authority on the blues at the time. His books and field recordings were a big influence on me. In my final year I wrote a dissertation on “The Blues” and got a good mark for it!

This is a plan of the music block where I spent so much time. By looking at this I can visualise it all. It was a great practice and performance space. I was very lucky!

I felt a bit out of my depth. My fellow students all seemed better than me. I had quite a bit of catching up to do but I eventually managed it. My piano teacher, Mrs. Robinson, said that I was like a cake that had been iced before it had been baked, which I thought was a rather good metaphor. By the end of the first year I felt like I was making better progress. Ironically, considering I was having no lessons on it, my guitar playing was really improving and my songs were getting better. I had a good guitar to play now along with a decent clarinet and access to quality pianos, courtesy of the college.

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Winters could be bad at MSG. Sometimes the wind from the North Sea was so strong you couldn't walk against it!!
Winters could be bad at MSG. Sometimes the wind from the North Sea was so strong you couldn’t walk against it!!

From being a major part of the Leicester music and poetry scene I became fairly anonymous at college. It was quite a difficult transition. The movers and shakers of the college music and arts scene were, obviously, mainly in the second year and I was seen as a young “fresher” with not much to offer. (The college had only opened in 1968 and there were no third years yet.) At least, I had to prove myself. It was like starting from scratch. I again began to doubt the wisdom of attending college but I persevered and gradually I made friends but not in the same way as in Leicester. I became more of an outsider and my friendship group were outsiders. I realised that my social group in Leicester, though quite large, were part of the new counter-culture so we were all kind of social outsiders. Weird was groovy! The predominant groups at the college were quite conformist and probably saw me as a bit strange. The college was quite isolated from urban areas so it lead to the forming of cliques and closed social groups which were difficult to break into. It did have it’s own airport though. The whole college had been an RAF base and the runway became Teeside International Airport. There were restaurants and shops there and they even had entertainment at the weekends. Because the runway was particularly long it was used as a testing ground for the supersonic aeroplane Concorde that was being developed then. So, we often saw Concorde taking off and landing with it’s distinctive moveable nose!! Amazing!!

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Here is a picture of Susie Walker 3rd from the left on a “float” for student “Rag Week” in 1970. Playing the piano is another friend, Richie Close, a brilliant musician who sadly died young.

At the end of the Summer Term I went to a festival in Bath with a girl I’d befriended called Suzie Walker. This was the Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music. In the spirit of reckless spontanaety we hitched all the way to Bath with no coats or sleeping bags or much money. When we got there we walked for miles to the festival site because the roads were totally blocked by traffic. It felt like the end of the World! Then it started raining and never seemed to stop. In the absence of having tickets we managed to get into the festival by bribing a security guard. Incidentally, this was the festival that inspired Michael Eavis, who also bribed his way in (or maybe he climbed through a hedge I can’t remember), to create the Glastonbury Festival which still happens now.

Luxury camping at Bath!
Luxury camping at Bath!

The word Rock wasn’t yet used widely and the idea of Pop Music wasn’t yet totally reviled by the cognoscenti. This was the first really large scale festival in England and had an audience of more than 200,000. It was also the first major U.K. gig for Rock Legends Led Zeppelin (They were going to call themselves the New Yardbirds but Keith Moon of the Who said that if they called themselves that they would go down like a lead Zeppelin). Other luminaries on the bill included the Moody Blues, Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Country Joe MacDonald and a whole host of others, some of whom didn’t get to play because of the appalling weather and the gridlocked traffic. There was no helicopter here like at the Woodstock Festival the previous year in America. In fact, on the Sunday, Donovan (who wasn’t actually billed to play) kept the festival going for more than two hours while other acts made their slow way to the venue. I didn’t learn until recently that the John Mayall Blues Band who played at the festival included Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac on guitar and Rick Grech of Family on bass, who I had much to do with in the late 70s.

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Led Zeppelin at the Bath Festival

The summer of 1970 was an important one for me. Before I went to college I was in a relationship with a girl in Leicester. We were very close and were eventually married in 1972. Her name was Sally. I visited her quite often at weekends and saw her in the holidays. She was a beautiful free spirit and we got on really well. In 1968 she had hitch-hiked around Europe with a friend and had lots of wonderful experiences. In 1970 we decided to do the same thing and hitchhiked all over Western Europe (East was out of the question then due to the Iron Curtain and the Cold War!). We went to Paris then travelled through Belgium and went to Amsterdam which was a hippie Mecca at that time (still is I suppose, in some ways). From there we travelled to Germany via the war graves cemetery at Arnhem which made a huge impact on me, the graves seemed to go on forever! From there we went to Mainz and hitchhiked all the way down the beautiful Rhine Valley until we got to Basel in Switzerland. Quite by chance, here, we went to Picasso’s last exhibition before he died! It was high up a hill in a Chateau. There must have been a hundred paintings or more all done in a period of about two months. A final blaze of creativity!

From Basel we went to Interlaken. My plan at this stage (not that much planning went into the trip!) was to go up the Jungfrau to the highest station in Europe. I’d been there on a school trip a few years before. Unfortunately, the cost was exorbitant, more than a train journey to Paris, and we couldn’t afford it. Then disaster struck. We had been staying in youth hostels and a cheap little tent. On this occasion we were in the tent when the rain came down with a vengeance. We were totally washed out. Fortunately, a local guest house took pity on us and let us stay cheaply while we dried out.

From Interlaken we crossed the border and went to France eventually arriving at Avignon. Here we stayed for over a week at a camping site by the river overlooking the famous Pont!! This was a lovely place and we had a really nice, relaxing time there with lots of excellent conversations by the mighty river. The town itself is amazing and was the Papal Seat at one time. Some incredible, austere buildings and there is a massive arts festival there in the Summer.

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The famous Pont at Avignon. The camp site was on the opposite bank.

After Avignon we returned to England. This is is quite hazy in my mind but I think we hitched to Paris and then got a train to Dover or Folkestone. I know we didn’t go back to Leicester because where ever we arrived Sally decided to hitch back to Leicester and I went to the Isle of Wight Festival. I remember feeling bad about her travelling alone but I was determined to go to what became known as the “Last Great Event”. Fortunately, she did get home alright!

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There is a lot written and discussed about this Festival and I don’t intend to go into all of that. You can find lots on the web. Needless to say, I didn’t arrive at the festival until the Saturday. I had no ticket and joined the ranks of the great unwashed on the hill called Desolation Row (named after the great Dylan song). From this position you could see and hear everything going on quite clearly. I saw the classic Joni Mitchell set where she was interrupted by a deranged American anarchist. I also saw the ubiquitous Donovan (although, again, he wasn’t on the main bill) and the relentlessly cheerful John Sebastion, a great set from Blues group Ten Years After and then it all goes blank til the next day when I saw Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and Leonard Cohen after it was turned into a free festival. I think I may have seen Joan Baez as well but that is a bit hazy. The problem was that, like Bath, the acts were going on at all sorts of strange times. Leonard Cohen appeared in his pyjamas after he’d been woken up early in the morning after Jimi Hendrix finished his set. He turned in a brilliant performance, though, which has fairly recently been released as a DVD. Following Hendrix was not an easy thing to do but he managed to pull it off to the amazement of people like Joan Baez who was so impressed she later recorded one of his songs. Perhaps the best performance was from the Who. I missed it at the time but have since seen it on DVD. Amazing!! The Who at their very best!!

The rest of the time I spent outside with an amazing bunch of people and we created our own festival. You could get everything out there, I had some of the best food I’ve ever tasted. The main festival were packed in like sardines while we had room to move. The alternative festival with The Pink Fairies and Hawkwind playing on the back of a lorry was also lots of fun. There was a war going on between those who wanted a free festival and those who didn’t. There was some amazing rhetoric that is captured in the DVD of the festival. One person describes the main festival as a “psychedelic concentration camp”. I didn’t realise until much later that many anarchists and veterans of Paris May 1968 and highly radicalised Americans had come early to the festival in order to disrupt it. What had begun at Woodstock the previous year was being carried on at the Isle of Wight! The organisers of Woodstock were far more savvy and understood what was going on and involved major figures in the counter-culture and avoided most problems although they eventually had to make it a free festival. The organisers of the Isle of Wight were totally out of their depth and managed to alienate virtually every group of people there, including the performers. On the other hand, some estimates say that there were more than 900,000 people at the festival and there was no major incident and everyone got on really well. I recall an incredibly friendly and supportive bunch of people. It was a success of the hippie “peace and love” philosophy. There wasn’t much peace and love coming from the organisers though! The gap between the Music Business and the counter-culture was becoming apparent. One person on the DVD talks about a “new feudalism” with rock stars as aristocrats and fans as serfs. The financial rewards for the top bands were so great it’s not surprising they moved away from the counter-culture. Joan Baez was quite insightful at both Woodstock and IOW when she spoke of fans resentfulness of highly paid “stars”. It didn’t stop her from claiming a huge fee for herself, though, from both festivals! Meanwhile, most of the lesser known bands were playing for next to nothing.

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Desolation Row!! This is where I was camping. Amazingly, I didn’t hear of one incident of theft or any other personal crime whilst I was there even though everything was just left lying around!
Security guards with dogs patrolling the fences that were continually under attack at the
Security guards with dogs patrolling the fences that were continually under attack from disgruntled anarchists at the “psychedelic concentration camp”.

I really don’t know how I got off the island but I know I wasn’t in a rush. I can’t even remember how I got back to Leicester. It’s quite a long journey. Maybe I hitched but I wouldn’t be surprised if I got a train or bus.

Leicester group Family at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 with Rick Grech on bass and violin.

At the end of August I went back to college for my second year. This was more fun and I was involved with performances and concerts of the college choir. Alan Oyston, who was my music professor, was a brilliant choral director and I was involved in complete performances of Haydn’s Creation and Handel’s Messiah with live orchestraA wonderful experience. I also played the lead part in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial by Jury” with a full orchestra which played to capacity audiences. It was given a contemporary feel with me as a hippie outsider fighting The System. We went on various interesting trips too. I saw Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Leeds Opera House. We also sang at York Minster which was a remarkable experience. My social group broadened and I became good friends with Geraldine Lodge and Val Harlan. They were both talented people and we collaborated on performances and writing. I bought a small reel to reel tape recorder and we made recordings of our work. Val was a brilliant artist and poet but, unfortunately, I didn’t keep in touch.

In 2018 I went to a college reunion in Darlington. I obtained quite a few photos including this one of the “Trial By Jury” concert in which I played the lead “The Defendant”. I would have been on the left of this picture. It was a great experience. Alan Oyston was an excellent teacher and musical director. Very talented. He also taught me choral singing especially polyphonic sacred and secular music. I especially loved the music of Palestrina.
My good friend Geraldine Lodge.
My good friend Geraldine Lodge in Darlington.
Geraldine looking like a Nouveau Vague French film star!
Geraldine looking like a “Nouveau Vague” French film star in Darlington! We were probably the ultimate hipsters at that time!

During the Easter vacation of 1971 I did another bout of travelling, this time to Spain. Sally was staying there with her friend Roma at a place called Altea (or so I thought). This was, obviously, before the days of mobile phones and even landlines were quite rare then especially in Spain. We communicated by telegram which I can say from experience is not ideal. When I arrived at Altea, having hitchhiked through France and Spain, there was no sign of Sally and my last telegram had been undelivered and was at the local post office! Actually, getting there had not been easy. I got a lift through most of France on the back of a Triumph Bonneville motor cycle (one of the last ones made in England) by an American serviceman based in Naples. It took me a whole day to recover from this. Then, lifts had not been easy in Spain and I spent many miles walking with a pair of crazy Dutch guys who had walked most of the way from Amsterdam. They looked so weird that nobody would give them a lift (or me while I was with them)! Eventually, I split from them and did a bit better although I missed their company. They were very funny and totally fearless! My last lift was with a bunch of Basque nationalists who were pretty scary and said how much they admired the IRA! I think that they had guns in the boot of the car! I kept quiet most of the time I was with them and was very glad when they dropped me off!

I asked around and people told me the girls had gone to Marbella on the south coast. This was a couple of hundred miles from where I was but there was no point in me staying. I hit the road and got a lift to a town called Lorca. This was good because I was a big fan of the poet. Later on I went to Lautrec in France (not far from Toulouse) because I liked the artist, but that is a different story! Then the rain came! There is a saying that “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain” but the rest of it was falling on me, in giant drops the like of which I’d never seen before. I decided to go to the station to see if I could get a train. The nearest station to Marbella was Algeciras so I bought a ticket and off I went on probably the slowest train ever. It took more than 24 hours to get there! The train stopped at every station on the way for about an hour. At one station I went for a leisurely meal with two Spanish students I had befriended. We got back to the train in good time!

From Algeciras I got a bus to Marbella and booked into the Youth Hostel, which had all the facilities of a luxury hotel. Most of the people staying there were American backpackers doing a tour of Europe. I got quite friendly with them, especially a lunatic hippie from Montana, who used to give me amphetamines bought legally from the local chemist, and a beautiful girl from Alaska called Clara. One of them had a guitar and we had impromptu concerts in between swimming, diving and playing tennis. I managed to make quite an impact with my renditions of American folk songs and Bob Dylan numbers. At this point I began to realise how many songs I knew, although at no point had I deliberately learnt them. It had been a process of osmosis as I played the records over and over again in my room!

Marbella Youth Hostel, A bit like a 4* Hotel. It’s still there now.

Swimming Pool
Main Entrance

Leisure area.

Needless to say, my reason for going was a complete failure. I found out that Sally and Roma had gone back to England a week earlier! Our paths had probably crossed! I decided to make the most of it and stayed in Marbella for two weeks. Then, I needed to get back to college for the summer term. At the hostel I had befriended two Germans who owned a car and were travelling to Bourdeaux in France. This was a long way and I offered to share the petrol if they took me with them. They said yes, but they didn’t want money. They wanted to know the meaning of Bob Dylan’s songs and offered me a lift if I could explain them! At this point I became Marbella’s leading Dylanologist as I travelled the whole length of Spain giving my meanings of songs like “Desolation Row” and “Visions of Johanna”. Quite an experience which left me totally exhausted. Unfortunately, at the end of it, I don’t think they had a clue what I was talking about! They understood no more than when we left. Never mind, by that time I was in Bourdeaux and, anyway, I had just been making it up as I went along (which is probably what Dylan had been doing too, albeit in a totally inspired way)!

Bourdeaux is a university town and at that time many of the students were highly radicalised. There was a hardly a space on the walls of the ancient town that wasn’t covered in anarchist or Situationist slogans. I stayed over night but was running out of money so I decided to sleep rough on the beach. I woke up in the morning to a crunching noise. It turned out to be a wild pony eating the bottom of my sleeping bag! I waved my arms about to scare it off but it started rearing up at me! Time to beat a hasty retreat and I hit the road and hitched to Paris. There I managed to get a cheap flight (cheaper than the bus or train although, to be honest, the small propeller plane looked and sounded past it’s best) from Beauvais Airport near Paris to Ashford in Kent with a bus link to London. Then I hitched to Leicester. Home at last, but not for long. I had to get the train back to college for the summer term, the following day!

This term passed fairly uneventfully. I spent a lot of time playing tennis and developing my music skills. I also did a four week teaching practice at Spennymoor secondary school in County Durham. This went better than my first teaching practice, which had been quite stressful, and I enjoyed doing it. I didn’t just teach music but did a number of subjects with the younger pupils including English and Environmental Studies (Geography).

At this time I had decided, against the wishes of my tutors, to spend my third year out of college and live in Darlington. Towards the end of term I rented a room in a lovely, slightly dilapidated Georgian crescent on Woodland Road that I would move into in September. In terms of my development it turned out to be a good decision and I met up with a new crowd that were creative and had a lot to offer.

At the end of the second year I wrote an article in the student magazine criticising the college for it’s authoritarian attitude and demanding openness and democracy for the students. Three weeks later I received a “Level 3” warning and there would be no further warnings. I was told to buck my ideas up or I would be expelled. Strangely, I never seemed to have received a Level 1 or Level 2 warning! I began to realise the danger of throwing stones whilst being in a glass house. At the beginning of the third year the Principal E.L.Black dedicated his opening speech to rebuking the contents of my article. I’d obviously ruffled some feathers. On the other hand I had fallen behind with my work and had some catching up to do.

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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