Episode 12. A night out in the eighties.
A few years ago, I interviewed the great organist Brian Auger and after chatting for a while, I delved into my love of the 1960s and asked him if the stories I heard were true and that in those days, you could wander into the clubs like the Cromwellian, the Scotch of S. James or Blaises and bump into your heroes of that time. Was it really true that on any given night you could go in and see a couple of Beatles and Rolling Stones having a few drinks together with Eric Burdon from The Animals? Was Hendrix always hanging out at those places with them and where Clapton, members of The Who, The Kinks and any number of others always around? “Yes” said Brian “That’s just how it was”. When I asked session guitarist and member of Amen Corner Andy Fairweather Low a similar question, he gave pretty much the same answer and added “…and it was that way because it was all new”. Those days are long gone of course and spotting any one of that first wave of great Rock stars in any local club these days would set the internet alight, me again having pangs of regret that I had not been in the right place at the right time to witness the event but oddly enough, I sometimes now find myself in a similar position to Brian and Andy: the wheel as they say, has turned.
In the mid-seventies in the UK, we had a buffet of great music. Disco, Funk and Soul were aired on the radio next to Glam, Rock and Pop and although you probably didn’t like everything, it was all good quality. The only two genres thing that didn’t get its fair share of radio were Progressive who’s bands didn’t put out or sell many singles anyway and Heavy Metal (or Heavy Rock as it was better known then) so even though Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and Black Sabbath were turning out great records and selling thousands, hearing them on the radio was more by chance than anything else. The fact is though, whilst Heavy Metal was ignored on a regular basis by the media it wouldn’t and never did go away. There was still a healthy support for it - especially in the North of England - so after the Sex Pistols and Punk had shaken up the music business in 1976/77 and teenagers were ready for something without the pomp of Prog the flair of Queen but with the guts of Punk, the simmering volcano awoke and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal erupted. I was living in Leicester when it all started but it wasn’t long before I moved to London and for once, I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
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9th July 1982 This is how we used to dress. Ken Tubby (with back to camera), Lee Latham and myself were asked to do a fashion shoot for one of the Sunday Papers.
In the 1980’s, the Holy Trinity of The Ship, the Marquee and the St.Moritz were not the only places we all used to go to but being only one hundred yards from each other and on the same street made them a lot easier to navigate to especially after copious amounts of alcohol. The Ship located at 116 Wardour Street was always a good starting place and its part in Rock History long established. An old favourite of David Bowie, Hendrix and The Clash and anyone who happened to play the Marquee on any given night, it is the closest pub to the old Trident Studios (17 St Anne’s Court) and many a famous and not so famous musician has had a good drinking session after a recording session at Trident; these days a blue plaque on the wall of The Ship celebrates the time when Keith Moon was barred for letting off a smoke bomb in there. Walking through the Wardour Street entrance, you were faced with a long room, the bar running half way down the left wall that rounds at the end with a few stools for people to sit on. The right side had tables for two and the far end, tables for four or more as well as the toilets. One evening, just after opening, I wandered in and looked down the bar to see just one other customer sitting right at the end. He looked at me, I looked at him and I ordered a pint. ‘I should go down and say hello’ I thought to myself so picking up my pint I started to walk. His eyes followed me all the way down the bar and just as I got to the end and was about to speak, a grumpy ‘Fuck off’ came out of his mouth at which point I nodded shyly and took a table on my own. Those were the only words Gary Moore ever said to me.
The Ship. After signing there first recording contract for Trident, Queen celebrated here; Freddie had a Gin & Tonic.
Thankfully that isn’t my only recollection of that pub and as mentioned, it was a regular starting place for a night out. At that time, it was overtaken by the NWOBHM crowd so on almost any night, you could see members of Angel Witch or Praying Mantis or Girlschool, Tank, Rock Goddess or Samson, in the pub with an occasional Def Leppard or Iron Maiden member stopping in for a quick pint. It was a second home to the writers and photographers from Kerrang! and Sounds and needless to say, Lemmy was omnipresent. After a chat and a few pints of beer we would all, in small groups or individually, gradually make our way down to the Marquee at No. 90* to check our names off the guest list with Bush† and if for some reason we were not on it, blag our way in. Bush was always generous to us all and it was only the rarest of nights when the place was rammed to the rafters that with his head in his hands and tears in his eyes, he apologized and said he couldn’t let us in because of fire regulations.
Once past the ticket booth, a small black corridor lead to the front bar where more familiar faces could be found. Neil Murray was often there enjoying the current success of Whitesnake as was David Byron, ex-Uriah Heep and now fronting his own Byron Band; his guitarist, Robin George, often also put in an appearance. Steve Zodiac from Vardis was always instantly recognizable with his long blonde hair and once your eyes adjusted to the light, members of Mama’s Boys, Weapon and Rogue Male were easily recognizable. On a good night, a total of 350 people would go through the door to watch a band rock the Marquee, their peers there to give them support, often having been on the night before or going to be on the following week and once the show was over at around 10:00pm, it was back to the bar and it wouldn’t be long before someone would say ‘Going over the road?’. The St Moritz beckoned.
Almost every week was a good week at the Marquee. Admission fees were usually £2.00 or £2.50.
Not to be confused with the actual restaurant called St Moritz which was at 161 Wardour Street, the club was in the basement next door at No.159. The two were affiliated though having been started in 1960 by their owner, a man we knew simply as ‘Sweety’ and it was an actual club; you would join it and have a membership card. This however was no guarantee of you getting in because Sweety could be in a bad mood for some unknown reason and his door man was a fearsome looking man named Hans – presumably Swiss – who, it was rumoured, was in London having escaped from Europe for killing someone. On some nights, the combination of the two at the entrance could lead to a good fifteen minutes of arguing and bribing before you were allowed in whilst on other nights, you were welcomed with open arms. There seem to be no reason for either situation, it’s just the way they were but the bad nights it may have been due to a recent visit from the London Regulations Authorities as Sweety was happy to give out 4,000 memberships every year to a place that was clearly suited to 120 people. It would have been fun to see us all with membership cards turn up the same night.
So leaving the Marquee around 11pm, we would walk back up Wardour Street, past The Ship which was now closing its doors for the night and hope that Sweety was in a good mood. To be fair, most of the time he was and once down the stairs, overpriced beers were purchased and a post-gig analysis made of the band we had just watched. Somehow Lemmy always made it there ahead of everybody else and was playing the fruit machine as you entered - and he would play it all night. It wouldn’t take long for the Marquee band to arrive and the obligatory ‘good show’ and ‘like the new stuff’ comments were made and then it was just on to getting as drunk as you possibly could. There would usually be were a large selection of the people you met in The Ship before the show and a few others would wander in after having played gigs across town. One night, I walked down the stairs and saw a guy standing on his own and a dozen or so others sitting around tables chatting with each other. It was only just gone 11pm which was early for the Moritz so it wasn’t unusual for the place to be a bit sparse and recognizing this lonesome chap I introduced myself and offered him a drink. He gratefully accepted and we proceeded to talk the night away as more and more people arrived. By the end of the night, we were so drunk we sat under a table as there were no chairs left and we were two of the last to leave at 3am, each of us attempting to carry each other up the stairs and out onto the street to figure out how to get home. A taxi came down Wardour Street, my new friend hailed it and told me to get in. He gave the driver a £20 note, ‘Take him home.’ he said and I asked ‘What about you?’ ‘I’ll be ok’ he replied as he stumbled about. As the taxi drove off, I looked out the rear window and saw him hail the next taxi coming so I settled down for the ride home. To this day, I haven’t had the opportunity to meet him since so just in case he reads this, Jake E. Lee, thank you very much.
The small doorway to the left, the entrance to the St Moritz Club. It’s still going, go and have a chat with Sweety about when The Kinks played there.
Going back to Brian and Andy, to me those 1960s days and their stories are golden but I appreciate that NWOBHM fans, especially the younger ones or ones who didn’t live in the UK, my stories are also golden. Was it really like that? Yes it was.
*This is the second location of the Marquee. It originally opened on 19th April, 1958 at 165 Oxford Street and then moved to Wardour Street on 13th March, 1964.
†Bush Telfer was the manager and booking agent for the Marquee.