Howdoo you Brummies and Mates across the world.
I promised you the Brummies Abroad this month, unfortunately, due to excessive demand for me to play gigs and things, it all went South. Nonetheless I will be bringing you that annual event a little later on in the calendar but for now.
The Gig Ladder
The first time I played for anyone was at school, probably like everyone else
who fancied themselves as a budding rock star, my mate and I played "I'm a Hog For You Baby" by Screamin Lord Sutch, during music class. The teacher provided us with the classroom type amplifier that all education establishments had in those days, around 3 watts I think. As I recall my guitar unplugged, was louder than the amplified signal! Naturally we got the applause of our classmates which I think gave us some confidence for future events. I think we even did an encore!!
Confidence is key and, in Birmingham in the early sixties, there were youth clubs and coffee bars that you could "cut your teeth"on as a group then. It started as a mix of Shadows stuff with a few Everly Brothers songs. I can't even begin to remember all the different places I played at as a 14 year old, but for sure I did a lot with our band, often for nothing as auditions. Sometimes we would go down really well and get ourselves a return, paid gig. Then it was up to you how you approached the next time, sharpened up a couple of songs during practise and the inclusion of the current number 1 song in your act was sure to get the crowd to like you. Once you had proved yourself at a bigger youth club you found yourself getting a lot of other Youth Club work all around the west midlands. It was good steady bookings but by now, with your confidence on the rise and comparing yourself to groups who you once admired, you felt armed to get yourself a booking at a better known place where adults went!!
So we started to turn down Youth club bookings, started playing RandB and decided to move up the ladder to Pubs and Clubs. There were hundreds if not thousands of pubs in those days and on a Friday and Saturday Night they would each have a band in them and we got our first proper pub gigs under our belts, we learnt a lot about stage craft and had a fantastic time, our lipstick smeared van would announce us to all we passed. OK we had done the pubs but there were Dance Halls to conquer now, with audience capacity of a thousand at some venues.
There was always a good route to getting proper bookings at Dance Halls and that was via The Reagans, an Irish family who booked a couple of the top venues in the city. Probably every good band that came out of the 60's would have played at one of those venues The Ritz and The Plaza, Handsworth. They would hold competitions for bands where you would have your "ordeal by fire" by playing to an audience for 15 minutes, at some of these there would be judges, or at others it was based on the audience reaction. If you won, you got a couple of gigs. My Reagan experience was through this medium and as I recall there were four or five groups, maybe more. We all played our slot, we all played "Heart full of Soul" by the Yardbirds and we thought we had it in the bag, note perfect, bags of energy and the latest song. We didn't win, ironically, losing it to a current Youth Club band who had bussed in their supporters for lung power and when they announced their name, Shitty Little Band ( I think that was their name?) they got the most prolonged cheer and we got our coats.... we did however pick up a manager that night.
From then on, with this group and others, I played at all the Seaside Piers, Town Halls, City Halls and Assembly Rooms you could think of and including RAF bases and Universities. Really large crowds, screaming girls at some.
From 17 I was playing with a bigger band and gigged at all the entertainment venues I had read about in the NME. It was an achievement. There was only one "Festival" and that was Reading Jazz Festival. Not even Glastonbury yet.
I had reached the peak. There was no more to strive for. The Beatles played Shey Stadium to 56,000 and from then on things went mega huge
Festivals really arrived with the advent of flower power. Woodstock, Isle of Wight and Glastonbury and they were getting bigger and bigger.
To be booked to play a Festival is a sign that you are on the up.
Groups sell their souls to get on a proper Festival stage these days. Being booked to play a Festival gives you enormous bragging rights in the music community when you say "We're doing Glasto" or some other known musical event. You see yourself being watched by a crowd of cider soaked hippies and students all "Giving it some" at the front of the stage "This is what I've strived for all my life, now is MY moment" adrenalin is pumping round your veins and you find yourself not eating
Such was that feeling and state of mind of a mate of mine who I've known for a long time when he said they were doing a known festival with The Prodigy. On the main stage, fantastic sound rig, lasers and lights up the ying-yang. He's a drummer, he practised day and night leading up to this, he lost pounds in weight, there was no way he was NOT going to enjoy every minute of it, this his virgin BIG festival.
He prepared his phone to take a picture of the audience as he got on and off the stage.
He didn't bother with the going off photo as there was no visible change. He now had to face those who would inevitably ask how they went down at the festival!
I bet they would have got a better audience in a youth club. Its guaranteed as a musician that you will always get the stuffing knocked out of you at every step of the way, it's how you take the knocks that counts.
So here we are, at the top of the gig ladder, major festival. For most of the emerging groups of the 60's none of them got to stage 3, the Dance Hall.
Nonetheless they probably had just as much fun as most of the others but maybe got a serious girlfriend or steady job which became more of a priority leaving those who had more drive to be a musician to continue up through the upper echelons of venues of the 60's. Dance Halls are now really popular again because of Strictly Come Dancing.
There are thousands of Festivals but Youth clubs are largely a thing of the past. I feel sorry for Groups these days who are hard pushed to get on the roundabout of gigs, pubs are thin on the ground and the "Pay to Play" practises of unscrupulous promoters and fake agents deprive them of their ambitions.
I'm glad I played when I did, it was the most glorious of times.
First gig on the moon will be next. It would be the only time I would want to go on first!!
I wish you all a joyous Bank Holiday and may the sunshine on you and yours eternally.