You'd See His Hand Come Up Over The Piano And Take A Drink. Continued

For the past sixty years the Civic Hall and the adjoining Wulfrun Hall have been the most significant dance venues in Wolverhampton. Both halls really came to prominence during the Second World War and continued to host many of the larger formal dances throughout the 50s and 60s, particularly those organised by some of the main local industrial enterprises. Firms like Goodyear, Die Casting, Boulton & Paul and other business concerns like the Express & Star or Beatties regularly had dances at one or other of the halls.

At the beginning of the 60s such dances would probably include one of the local dance bands like Stan Fielding, Mac Thomas, Reg Bartlam, Dave Cadman or Johnny Neenan with a visiting 'top-line' band like Eric Delaney or Ken Mackintosh. Each band would have their own vocalists and there would be a leading jazz band like Bob Collier, Chris Barber or Acker Bilk also performing. As more local groups emerged, some of them managed to get on the bill for those dances, as George Maddocks recalls:

"I remember we (the Strollers) played at some of those big dances, one example was the Wolverhampton Public Transport Annual Ball in 1963. It was quite an achievement to actually get on to the bill for one of the more formal dances, especially at the Civic as there was still a lot of resistance to groups at such affairs. It was felt that rock 'n' roll or beat music had no real place at such formal affairs."

"Once groups began to be included, they normally played in the Wulfrun because it was the smaller of the two halls and it was thought fewer dancers would want to listen or dance to the groups in comparison to the big bands. In many cases that was probably true but the groups soon started to get more than their fair share of the dancers' interest, so it became quite common for them to get to play in the Civic itself."

The Civic did become a regular beat venue in 1963 when Len Rowe from the Astra Agency began Monday night's Rhythm Rendezvous. The intention was to present a number of local beat groups, often alongside visiting groups from Liverpool and other areas, and give them an opportunity to play for local teenagers. The intention was almost certainly to give local teenagers a regular dance venue and offer an opportunity for them to hear 'good' beat music.

The Monday night sessions were amongst the most popular events at the Civic with incredible numbers of teenagers turning up to dance to a wide variety of local groups. Once again, one of the first groups to actually play at the Rhythm Rendezvous sessions was the Strollers, as Tony Perry recalls:

"The Rhythm Rendezvous nights were on Mondays and were organised by Len Rowe from Astra. There used to be something in the region of a thousand kids at one of those sessions. It was a hell of buzz to play to so many kids. The only problem at the Civic was the acoustics. It still is."

Johnny Shane & the Cadillacs. One of the more popular groups who played at the Rhythm Rendezvous sessions. (Bev Parker)
"One Monday night Len asked us to support another group from Brum. We didn't mind, if there was one thing which we did not have it was an ego problem. We did our set and went down really well but the Brum group really flopped

The group turned out to be the original Moody Blues with Denny Laine who we all knew from his days with the Diplomats. We thought they were great and we were proved to be absolutely right when Go Now went to No.1."

Playing at the Civic was regarded by many of the local groups who emerged in the 60s as one of the ultimate accolades, since the Civic had played such a significant role in Wolverhampton throughout the lifetime of individual group members. As John Howells remembers when the 'N Betweens joined Astra:

"Joining Astra meant that a number of venues were opened up to us, including the Civic. We could never have played there without being involved with Astra. It was one of those venues you had thought about but never really felt that you would get to play. In fact, we played at the Civic a number of times."

Jimmy Lea has some fond memories of the Civic:

"It was at the Civic that I first saw the 'N Betweens. They were on the same bill as Georgie Fame and I thought they were great. The Civic had always meant classical music to me before that day. I had actually played with the Youth Orchestra at the Civic, playing the New World Symphony.”

"That visit to the Civic was a very major event for me, since it meant that I got to see some decent groups. On that same bill was Spencer Davis with Stevie Winwood and he really blew me over with his sound. In those days the Civic was one of the only places in the area where you could actually see good groups.”

"My next visit to the Civic was to one of the Monday night sessions. Once again, it was primarily to hear the 'N Betweens perform. That Rhythm Rendezvous was an outstanding idea, since it offered an opportunity to local groups which many of them would never get.”

"It wasn’t really that long after I first saw the 'N Betweens at the Civic that I joined them and we played the Civic again. It was a dreadful experience since both Mick and John were on the point of leaving and the group was not really together.

It was made even worse by the response of the fans who were very discontented about the group changing personnel and members leaving.

They reacted very negatively to the group that night.”

Danny Cannon & the Ramrods. Danny Cannon (Robinson) seen here with the Ramrods at one of the many dances at the Civic. Notice the music stands for one of the big bands who would also have appeared at such affairs. (Pete Walton)
"Since the Civic is quite a big place, it’s really intimidating when it seems the majority of audience is against you and on top of that the acoustics are their usual dreadful selves. I think the Civic must rank as one of the worst places to play because of the acoustics."

One night at the Civic Hall which is very well remembered by local punters who were in attendance and by members of Light Fantastic in particular was when Ron Dickson, the 'Dracula' of the group had an accident which could have proved much more serious, as Dripper Kent recalls:

"One evening we were playing the Civic and Ron was doing his Dracula act. As part of the act he chased some young girls upstairs and he balanced himself on the balcony above the stage. The idea was that he would wrap himself in his cloak and jump down on to the stage. He did jump but landed awkwardly with his knee coming up and hitting him under the jaw. He was knocked out. Most people thought it was all part of the act and clapped wildly. We didn't realise he was really hurt until a little while later.”

The Civic was one of the few places in Wolverhampton where punters could often see more than one of the local groups performing on the same bill. This was particularly true when concerts were arranged which involved visiting or touring recording artists. Such occasions also allowed the punters to 'compare' local groups with other 'better known' groups and performers. One example was in the summer of 1966 when the Montanas and Blues Ensemble appeared on the same bill as Dave Berry and the Merseys. The Midland Beat reported as follows:

'MONTANAS STOLE THE SHOW - Dave Berry and the Merseys may have pulled the crowds in but it was the Midland supporting groups who stole the show and earned the cheers of the crowd at a recent Wolverhampton Civic Hall show. It was a PMA production which also included Tony Rivers and the Castaways and the Move on the bill. All the artists performed well but it was definitely the Montanas who were the most outstanding. They preceded Dave Berry but they performed so well that he had some difficulty following them. They did Ride Your Pony, You've Lost That Loving Feeling, and L-O- V-E and the instrumental Hava Nagila. The high spot of their act was undoubtedly their Batman sketch which was mimed to tapes. They rounded off their act with a powerful rendition of River Deep, Mountain High. It was a sensational performance.’

That outstanding performance by the Montanas was not the only example of one of the town's groups 'stealing' the show from more famous contemporaries. Both the 'N Betweens and the Californians appeared at the Civic as part of major line-ups and often emerged with most of the laurels. As one regular attender at the Civic Hall states:

"The Civic had loads of famous groups on during the 60s and I probably saw almost every one of those shows but the times which really stand out for me were those nights when one or other of the local groups got up and showed the more famous stars that we had plenty of talent round here. Groups like the 'N Betweens, Californians, Herbie’s People and especially the Montanas were equal to virtually any group of the time and how they all didn't make it really big beats me.”

While the Civic Hall and to a lesser extent, the Wulfrun Hall, were the 'live' venues to which most of the local groups initially aspired, it was not long before both were seriously challenged by the emergence of a major rival in the form of the Club Lafayette. The new club opened its doors officially in September 1968. It was very much the brain-child of the leading members of the town's Astra Agency, namely Stan and Peter Fielding and Len Rowe who had been joined by that time by Tony Perry and George Maddocks. The intention was for the Agency to find suitable accommodation for new offices and for a night club which could present high class live musical entertainment. Astra was then located above the Criterion (now the Higher Education Shop) in Princess Square. The building that was chosen by the agency for the new club had previously been the Percy Thomas Hall (now the Stakis Casino) located in Thornley Street. It had been used by the Agency for the Blue Flame Club and could be described as one of Wolverhampton's first 'authentic' R&B venues. The 'new' club was very much a product of a concerted effort by the agency's management, as Tony Perry describes:

"It was a really exciting time because you knew you were creating something which was going to be big. It was going to take off we knew that. It was just a matter of keeping faith with it."

"We all put in our pennyworth. Stan, Len, Pete, George and I would work through the night and then turn up at the office the next morning. We were intent on seeing it through. It was going to become something which Wolverhampton had never really had before."

The new club was advertised in the local press in mid August in the following way:

‘CLUB LAFAYETTE - Did You Know There Was A Brand New Club Opening In The Centre Of Wolverhampton? It will be for over 18s but young at heart. Entertainment will be on a scale far above anything that has yet been presented in the area. Groups have already been booked on your behalf to appear in the New Nite Spot. - MR. BARMY BARRY personally recommends you to join as soon as possible as membership is strictly limited. Membership forms are available at Astra Agency. Opening mid-September with the FORTUNES and the PEDDLERS. SO DON'T MISS OUT! APPL Y NOW for membership of this Brand New Luxurious Night Club. Open seven nights a week with spacious car parking facilities only across the road.’

The management was to keep its promise by booking some of the foremost musical acts of the period, although it was not to prove financially viable for a couple of years after opening! Again as Tony Perry recalls:

"We were pretty naive at the time and so we genuinely expected the club to make an immediate profit which of course it did not, especially when we had an opening night with free drinks and food for our guests!"

"While we had some outstanding acts on in those early days they didn't necessarily do too well on the door. Perhaps the best example was Scott Walker who was one of the most outstanding voices of his generation but did just twenty minutes for us and then high-tailed it out of the back door. He didn't take much at all on the door either, so we could hardly cover his costs."

"Experiences like that though were more than made up for by some of the other acts who appeared at the Laf. One of the most fantastic nights was when Jethro Tull turned up really late and went straight on. They must have started their set at about midnight but the audience had waited so patiently and then gave them a really rousing ovation. Ian Anderson was brilliant that Sunday night. It was a really great experience. They were late because they had been recording Top Of The Pops and the recording had run over."

"It wasn't too long before the Laf got a good reputation with the agencies and with the groups. We used to get phoned up quite regularly by managers of groups asking if we could give such and such a group a plug at the club. One outstanding example was Status Quo who played at the Laf one night when their manager asked if we could fit them in to allow an A&R man to see them in action."

"One other thing which started to happen as well was that managers would ring us and tell us that their group was about to release a record which was likely to be successful so we would be well advised to book the group a couple of weeks later. In many cases we made good money in this way because the group attracted a good crowd because of their chart success."

"For me personally one of the most outstanding nights at the Laf was when the programme Colour Me Pop was recorded there and Trapeze played. I became closely involved with Trapeze so I might be a little biased but they were fantastic that night and the programme was excellent."

Trapeze. It was at the Lafayette that the five-piece Trapeze recorded their incredible Colour Me Pop session which would stand today as an outstanding example of late 60s progressive popular music. (Mel Brookes)
"The creation of the Lafayette was designed to help live music but there came a time when many of the groups began to price themselves out of such clubs and as a result we and most every other venue had to seriously consider replacing groups with resident DJs.

We had some really superb jockeys at the Laf like Barmy Barry, Andy Archer and Evo but none of them could ever replace the sound of a group playing live. At least that’s my point of view."

George Maddocks became the manager of the Lafayette and not surprisingly looks back at those times with genuine affection:

"In the early days I was very worried about the financial outlay we were making and whether it would prove to be a success. It was very much Stan Fielding’s baby. He had always wanted to open a night club in town which offered good live music. I remember some of the original backing came from Dougie Eades who ran the Cleveland Court club."

"My worries proved groundless because after a couple of years the Laf began to pay us back with profit. Being manager at the Laf was quite an experience and one which I would never have missed for the world"

"The opening night was a bit of a hotch-potch with the local bands playing and Barmy Barry performing in his inimitable way but it soon settled down and we had some really great nights at the club. Some of the artists who appeared there were incredible. It was often down to Maurice Jones who was the booker for Astra. He never forgot a contact and managed to negotiate so many superb deals for us. It’s not surprising that his company, MCP, is so successful nowadays."

"Scott Walker was the first big name to appear at the Laf and the sound he made with the Ronnie Scott band behind him was awesome. The thing I most remember about that night was having to pay Maurice King for Scott’s appearance and having to raise the fee out of our own pockets because the door receipts did not cover it. Maurice King was not a man with whom you argued!"

"Some of the bands we had at the Laf really stick out in my memory. There was Eclection who I thought were exceptionally good and always did a great session, Cliff Bennett was there quite often and always put everything into his set. One Sunday night the lead singer of Eclection had a bad throat and the agency asked if we would accept another replacement band. It turned out to be the original Yes. That was some time before they made it really big. Others who stand out are Thin Lizzy, Status Quo, Jethro Tull and of course Led Zeppelin."

"The first time we had Led Zeppelin at the Laf we gave them forty quid for the night. That’s amazing when you consider they were about to become the biggest group on the planet. John Bonham’s sister-in-law worked behind the bar at the Laf and it was on her say-so that we hired them. That first time the queue went all the way around the block. The second time they played at the Laf we paid them a grand and the punters paid a fiver each which was quite unheard of at that time."

"In the 70s we used to have a sort of Student‘s Night on a Wednesday at the Laf and the one week we booked Cherry Vanilla backed by a three-piece group. Cherry Vanilla was OK and we paid her forty quid and the three-piece got twelve quid to cover expenses. The three-piece just happened to become Police later on. So we had seen and heard Sting for twelve quid. That’s just how incredible it was at the Laf in those days."

"One other night which I recall was when Stevie Wonder just happened to make an appearance at the Laf. He wasn’t booked but just turned up. He did a short impromptu performance!"

It is fair to say that the Lafayette provided some of the most unforgettable evenings for young Wulfrunians since the club atmosphere was so much more convivial than the impersonality of the package tour performances at the Gaumont or the concerts at the Civic or Wulfrun Halls. It meant that punters could be within 'touching distance' of some of the country's biggest stars and feel that the performance was almost, 'especially for them'.

If we look at the Lafayette bills for just two months (June-July 1969), we get a general impression of the quality of some of the performers who played there:

Charlie & Inez Fox   Mick Abrahams
Platters   John Hiseman's Colisseum
Freddie King   Dave Berry
Chicken Shack   Eclection
Jethro Tull   Roy Harper
John Lee Hooker   Sounds Incorporated
Spooky Tooth   John Peel
Sweet   Liverpool Scene
Herbie Goins    

Many of the local groups also appeared at the club during those same two months, including:


Montanas   Jason Cord
Californians   Light Fantastic
Staffords   Trapeze
Jam Sandwich   Sight & Sound
Wellington Kitch    

The Lafayette succeeded in providing Wolverhampton with a range of top class popular musical entertainment the like of which the town had never previously witnessed. Many of the punters who regularly attended the Laf readily support this view:

"I joined the Lafayette as a member from day one and was probably as regular an attender at the club as anyone. It surpassed every venue which the town had previously had because it offered a wide range of music and an atmosphere which had a real touch of class.”

"Night after night I went to the Laf because it was very much the in place to go. It was where you saw most of your mates and their girl friends and it was where you could be sure to see some top class music. Groups like Jethro Tull, Status Quo, Thin Lizzy, even Led Zeppelin played there and I don't think there was another place in the West Midlands which could rival it for top names.”

"Blues was my thing and the Catacombs was probably the one other place in the town you could go to hear blues or underground music but the Laf had several of my own favourites on like Duster Bennett, John Lee Hooker or John Mayall. It was preferable to the Catacombs because of the more comfortable surroundings."

"I was there the night Jethro Tull turned up really late. It still sticks in my mind as one of the best nights of my life. He was great and the atmosphere was terrific."

"Positively the best group to emerge from the town during the 60s was Trapeze and I remember the show they recorded at the Laf for BBC2. It was part of the Colour Me Pop series which was rather like the predecessor of the Old Grey Whistle Test. Trapeze was then a five piece outfit and they made a really tremendous sound. The fact it was all happening at the Laf made it that much more important and significant to me and the others there.”

"I had regularly gone to the shows at the Gaumont and the concerts and dances at the Civic but they could not compare to those nights at the Laf. The whole place was so compact and had a truly homely but special quality. Because you were seeing such great acts and in a night club setting made it that much more special to us, since hardly any of us had been anywhere near a night club in our lives.”

"The Blue Flame had been a little bit special because it had that hippie or Bohemian feel about it, but when the Lafayette came into being in Thornley Street everything seemed to go up a level. We now felt that the town was at last on a par with any of the surrounding areas, especially Brum.”

"Many of the local groups, especially those who were with Astra used to come into the Laf at the end of the night after their gigs and there was always a great atmosphere. Some of those groups got the opportunity to jam with some really big names. Even the nights when it was only a local group on at the Laf it seemed that they played that much better. It must have had something to do with the atmosphere of the club."

While the Lafayette was very definitely the premier club in the town and for some miles around, it was not the first 'club' to host groups. The vast majority of the groups had begun their days playing in local public houses, local halls, Youth Clubs and local Working Men's Clubs and Social Clubs. The Midlands was amongst the main areas of the country for such clubs and it had not taken the 'social secretaries' of those clubs too long to realise that their patrons were very keen on the sounds of the local groups. They became quite big 'draw-cards' for the clubs. At the same time the managers of the groups also began to 'court' the clubs as did the entertainment agencies who realised that there was great financial potential in those same clubs. Certain of the WMCs and Social Clubs began to specialise in live music, notably:

Bilston United Services   Pensnett & Bromley British Legion
Essington WMC   Boney Hay WMC
Bradmore WMC   Lower Gornal British Legion
Tettenhall Institute   Heath Town WMC
Chubbs Social Club   Penn British Legion
Brownhills WMC/Social Club   Dudley Liberal Club

Some of those clubs had groups playing almost nightly for the majority of the decade.

Another set of clubs emerged during the 60s which specialised in live music and in some cases could be described as the earliest local attempts at cabaret or night clubs. Once again, the groups found regular work at places like:

Stage & Sportsman Club Temple Street Casino Club in Walsall
Regent Dance Club Temple Street Bolero Club in Wednesbury
Kabin Club (Milano) Darlington Street Quarry Club in Lower Gornal
Catacombs Temple Street Steering Wheel Club in West Bromwich
Oasis Club Berry Street Le Metro in Livery Street in Birmingham

As can be seen from the above, young Wulfrunians were spoilt for choice during the 1960s in terms of the numbers of groups and venues which were available to them. It was impossible to open the Express & Star any evening and not be able to select a venue which was not within travelling distance, even in those days of busses being the normal mode of transport rather than the car. Just to see your favourites made the inconvenience worth it!

Return to the
previous page
Return to
the Contents
Proceed to
part 9