Episode 40. Goin' Down De Mont
I recently contributed several short memories to a new book all about the De Montfort Hall in Leicester, a venue I attended on many occasions to see the great Rock bands of the 70s. Below are two of them which I have expanded on to give a bit more background and should you happen to enjoy them, I have no doubt you will enjoy the rest of the book.
Be Bop Deluxe (28 September 1976)
It is sad trait of the human race that any marvellous invention designed to assist mankind will eventually be adapted or misused in a way the inventor never intended. Indeed, said inventor may well have come to rue the day he had the idea in the first place. Take the example of Alfred Nobel, the very same Alfred Nobel who bequeathed his fortune and lends his name to The Nobel Prize for it is he, who in 1867, invented dynamite as a more efficient way to mine coal. Sadly, it was not long after his death in 1896 that his labour-saving compound was being used to blow soldiers in World War 1 to smithereens. Then there is Orville Wright who with his brother Wilbur is credited with the first flying machine in 1903. Wilbur died in 1912 of typhoid but Orville lived another thirty-six years after the death of his brother, long enough to see their machine be developed into something quite different than a people carrier. History does not record what Orville said or thought on 6th August 1945 when combined with a far more powerful and developed explosive than Nobel had envisioned or would have wanted, the Enola Gay dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, the advancements of their combined inventions, killing tens of thousands instantly. They were the lucky ones. Hundreds of thousands more suffered mental and physical scars for the rest of their lives. That bomb, along with the one dropped on Nagasaki, unleashing a horror that has ramifications to this day. One can only hope the Orville took solace in other more enjoyable uses of flying marvel.
Now in that very same year that the Wright Brothers were unwittingly inventing jetlag, a man named Albert J. Parkhouse working for Timberlake & Sons in Jackson, Michigan invented something that some seventy-five years later would also be misused and abused by mankind, if not by a smaller and lesser-known group: Leicester’s Rock fans. Albert by all accounts was quite a tinkerer and after hearing grumbles one day from his fellow employees that there were not enough coat hooks at the company, fashioned two ovals out of a single piece of stiff wire and then twisted the ends together to form a hook. Lo and behold, the wire coat hanger had been invented and it was this simple invention albeit in its more familiar modern-day form that would cause the loss of revenue to Rock promoters such as Harvey Goldsmith and Adrian Hopkins at the De Montfort Hall in the 1970s.
Albert J. Parkhouse and his invention
The conversation at school with my friend Andy ‘Man’ Haley probably went something like this.
Man: Going down De Mont tonight?
Me: No. I haven’t got a ticket.
Man: Neither have we. Come to my house about seven o’clock.
Nothing else would have been said including who the ‘we’ were. Man Haley lived just a ten-minute stroll across Victoria Park from the De Montfort Hall and walking up his street around 7pm I noticed a half a dozen familiar faces outside his house from our school, as well as Mick Laundon, a local lad who I knew by sight only as my mother had told me to stay away from ‘that Mick Laundon’ on several occasions. He had a bit of a reputation in our area, if you know what I mean. A couple of others arrived and we set off for the De Mont, me still none the wiser. We mingled with the throng heading towards the gig who would have had tickets and once there, hid around the corner from the right-hand fire-escape doors until the main crowd had gone inside and we could hear the support band start their opening number. It was then that Mick removed a well-worn example of Albert’s invention from under his jacket and with great stealth, crept around the front to go to work.
The fire doors on either side are set back from the main entrance and were not the fire doors of this day and age. Quite possibly, they were most likely the original doors installed on it’s opening in 1913 (and were probably not even intended as fire doors but modified at some point). Made of wood, the years had taken their toll and there was a small gap between them which Mick eased the coat hanger through, gently bent the hanger to the left and then hooked the part inside over the crash bar - Push Bar to Open – and pulled back. The door swung open and Mick in a hushed voice shouted ‘Go!’ We rushed around the corner. Mick was holding the door open and I was shoved inside. The doors lead to a set of stairs which I half stumbled up, not having a clue what I was doing or where I was going but rounding the top, I found myself entering the balcony. I stopped dead in my tracks at the realisation of what had just happened but then a smack on my back and a voice saying ‘Move’ snapped me out of it. Gathering at the rear, we split up into ones and twos so as to avoid attention and made our way innocuously down the stairs into the general admission area, rendezvousing as previously arranged at the mixing desk. ‘Act cool’ shouted Man in my ear over the volume of the support band and I did my best but the adrenalin was still pumping. Had we really just got into a gig for free? Yes, we had. Wow! I learned at school the next day that this had been going on for some time with the older lads and for the next year or so we used the technique often but eventually the De Mont security got wise to the trick and placed guards at the top of the stairs. Boo-hiss, but undeterred we found other ways to get in free - it was that or go back to buying tickets. Well, what else could a poor boy do? No harm done and years later, I met Harvey Goldsmith. Judging by the size of his Rolls-Royce, the loss of revenue hadn’t seemed to cause him any great financial discomfort.
Photo 02 Leicester’s De Montfort Hall. The small door on the right surrounded by three windows was our means of entry.
The Clash (28 May 1977)
There is children’s television show in the UK called Blue Peter. It is the longest running children’s television show in the world, has been going since 1958 and generally speaking has small segments dedicated to pets, exploring the world around you and other things of general interest to kids. One particular segment had one of the hosts making something useful or practical out of what we would now throwaway without a second thought. For example, have you ever thought of what you could do with a box, some lenses from your broken bicycle lamp, an old tea chest, some darning needles and a bit of glue? Undoubtedly not but years before Blue Peter started, in 1923 to be precise, one man did. His name was John Logie Baird and it’s because of him that we can still watch Blue Peter today for as I’m sure you know, he invented the television and that list of junk above was what he used to do it with. Yes, really.
Let’s stay with Blue Peter momentarily as there were some memorable occasions on it. For example, in the same year that I was learning how to get into gigs for free with a coat hanger, Blue Peter demonstrated the first mobile phone. Not in itself anything momentous compared to say the assignation of Kennedy, the death of Princess Diana or any other world-stopping moment that have been broadcast on the telly but nevertheless, memorable to an impressionable teenager and although my memory of that is a bit hazy, another broadcast from that year is crystal clear. It wasn’t on Blue Peter though.
It was Friday, 1st December. The telly was on and a rather bland early evening news programme called ‘Today’. Its presenter, Bill Grundy, was clearly drunk – he often was – and towards the end, a group of uncouth louts dressed in outrageous clothes and rags were introduced as a new signing by EMI Records. It was my first sight of the Sex Pistols and the stream of swearing on prime-time television that followed shocked me as it did the nation. I was shocked in a good way though; I thought they were great and needed to know more about this lot.
The infamous Today show broadcast.
Front Row: Sex Pistols, Rotten, Jones, Matlock, Cook
Back Row: Punks known as The Bromley Contingent: Simon ‘Boy’ Barker, Steven Severin, Simone Thomas, Siouxsie Sioux.
Watch the interview here:
I was more into heavy and prog rock at the time but Lance “Butch” Clark was the kid in our year who was in the know about punk. He read the NME front to back every week and was the first person I knew of to start wearing safety pins and ripped clothes around Leicester. He looked like a punk as well, spiked his hair a bit. We were never great mates, just associates really but at school the following week, he told me he had also seen the Today broadcast as had a few others in my year. We all wanted more and from then on, we went to him for all our punk news. It was Butch who told me that the Sex Pistols were going to play at Leicester University one Friday night. Well, we just had to go. It never happened though so the first concert by a real punk band was to be The Clash at De Mont on Saturday, 28th May, 1977. I was going, so was Butch, Andy ‘Man’ Haley and Andy Merriman as well. Both were also big Pistols fans.
We got to the De Mont in the afternoon and hung around the backstage door. Butch was ‘messed up’ as the Punks said, dressed down and looked the part, something that could not be said for the other three of us. After an hour, a coach arrives and off steps some punkish looking people who we took to be the support bands (Buzzcocks and Subway Sect) followed by a few—it has to be said—rather shabby looking women who later turned out to be the opening band, The Slits. They were followed by Joe Strummer, Topper Headon, Paul Simonon and Mick Jones, the latter of which belched at us with a grin. Andy Merriman suggested that Butch actually looked like one of the band and Andy Haley then urged him to follow the band in which Butch did. The stage door closed behind him. We were quite stunned and expected the doors to open any minute and for Butch to come flying out, but he didn’t.
The three of us remaining bought tickets and went in. It was a great gig, Buzzcocks were probably the best and I doubt there were 300 people inside (although ticket stubs say otherwise). We caught up with Butch who told us that he hung around backstage after he got in wondering what to do until one of the grey-haired De Mont staff asked if was looking for something. Quick as a flash, Butch asked him where the bar was. “Don’t you know?” asked the geriatric. “Course not. I haven’t fackin’ been ‘ere before ‘av I!” Butch said, after which he was left alone, chatting occasionally to the band members who no doubt wondered who the hell he was. Then, as the doors opened, he slipped into the audience. A memorable gig in many ways but No. 1 would be Butch walking into a gig as one of the band members. Sheer class Butch.
The Clash ticket stub. The number is 489 but I am 100% sure there were nowhere near that many in the audience.
For more stories read Going Down De Mont published by Spenwood Books and written by my ol' mucker Bruce Pegg.