Secret Affair, 1978
Coming from a small mining town in South Yorkshire, you learned to adjust your expectations as to the sorts of shops, facilities and entertainment you could reasonably expect from your home town. We had Sheffield to the south and Leeds to the north, so that was where the best shops were and where the big league bands would play; a division three or four town like Barnsley usually had to settle for division three or four bands playing at its venues. Doubtless, we are all familiar with this if we’ve been brought up not in cities but smaller urban places.
Rarely, then, was Barnsley graced by big names. In other posts I’ve discussed Son of a Bitch/ Saxon. I think it’s fair to observe that as SoB they played their home town a lot; once they were reincarnated as Saxon and entered the big league of rock bands, their allegiance to their native venues waned- and we did not see them again (something similar is confessed to by Danse Society– see the separate page on them).
Barnsley Civic Hall- and beyond
If we had to travel to Sheffield to see Wishbone Ash or Hawkwind, who deigned to journey to Barnsley to entertain us? Well, in February 1974 we were visited by Mud. They were at the peak of their career that year and in that very month they resided aT number one in the charts with Tiger Feet for four weeks. A girl from my class went to see them at the Civic; at that stage I hadn’t yet fully appreciated that you could personally see the people on the television actually playing live in front of you. She wrote up the night for our school magazine and I read the account with a mixture of jealously, awe and despair. After the gig, a horde of screaming girls with their Mud scarves tied to their wrists crowded round the back of the Civic hoping for a glimpse of the band. They were graced with a wave from a lofty dressing room window- and the donation of a pair of old socks cast down from on high. So starved of culture and so pathetically grateful were the female youth of Barnsley that this was recorded as one of the highlights of the event. Worn socks; the odour of success; we were not worthy- and, indeed, most of the time we weren’t. A headline national tour heading our way was a rare thing indeed- although it is to be noted that, during the sixties and seventies, .nationwide tours tended to mean just that and bands would play even quite small venues: a look at the gig listings on the British psychedelia website Marmalade Skies amply demonstrates this fact.
Later, on April 1st 1979, I recall that we were visited by Ponders End and Bitter Suite who played a double bill at the Civic Hall. These two bands were local, from Doncaster and Sheffield respectively; they had forged their reputations playing covers in working men’s clubs and they shared a member in John Parr, who is best known for the song St Elmo’s Fire released in 1985. Bitter Suite particularly specialised in Tamla Motown and soul covers whilst Ponders End were a WMC ‘supergroup’ comprising members from other bands playing the Yorkshire club circuit. My diary tells me that I went to the gig; however, I must confess that I don’t recall it at all otherwise. Possibly, it was one of the those nights which I do remember spending ensconced socialising in the Civic hall bar- sorry, Ponders End, but take comfort from the thought that your performance gave me an excuse to meet up with friends from school and provided a backdrop to our drinking and chatter. Curiously, my own band Damascus- after my departure- went on to perform covers around the South Yorkshire WMCs.
Ponders End and Bitter Suite gigged regularly at the Civic and at other venues around about- their were plenty of working men’s clubs to play as well as Changes bar at 2, Sheffield Road (I saw some band play there myself and the gigs were often free). One Civic gig in September 1977 by Ponders End also featured The Sneakers, pub rockers from Leeds who were active on the West Yorkshire circuit between 1977 and 1979.
I may give the impression that it was all about rock at Barnsley Civic, but this would be to mislead you. The council did not neglect soul in its booking policies. Perhaps the biggest name to play was The Real Thing, who appeared in late October 1978. They can of course boast ‘You to me are everything’ (number one for three weeks in July 1976) and ‘Can you feel the force?’ amongst their hits. They are still playing, which is a tribute to their stamina and appeal.
The Real Thing
In September 1978 Sweet Sensation played at the Civic. Like The Real Thing they were a black British soul band, formed in Manchester in 1973. After appearing on New Faces they were signed to Pye and had a number one hit in October 1974 with ‘Sweet sad dreamer.’ Whilst paving the way for successors like The Real Thing, Sweet Sensation did not enjoy the same success. They failed to be selected for the Song for Europe in 1977, were subsequently dropped by their label and faded from view, as the Barnsley Chronicle review of their poorly attended gig suggests. They split not long afterwards.
Another soul band to visit us, as I have mentioned in a previous post, was Kokomo. They were the support for Son of a Bitch (soon to be Saxon) at one Civic gig. My main recollection of the night is their anomalous performance as warm up for a metal band. I was used to seeing rock bands play and must confess myself to having been a little surprised that a soul/ funk band actually operated in the real world and went out on stage on to perform live. I thought they only existed to mime on Top of the Pops, for some reason. I recall too that I was impressed by their array of percussion- bongos, sleigh belFormed in 1973, Kokomo were a successful white soul/ funk band who recorded three albums during their career. ls, maraccas and other instruments the names of which I didn’t know. The other salient event of the night was the fact that one of my friends burst his jeans zip as a result of getting wildly over-excited by the vocalist Dyan Birch and the percussionist Jody Linscott- or so other friends of ours alleged. It may just have been a wardrobe malfunction, as we say today.
The Barnsley folk festival at Easter 1978 featured Celtic folk rockers Five hand reel who played the Civic on March 26th. They were distinguished and successful enough to produce four albums between 1974 and 1980. Barnsley had an active folk scene then, with regular ceilidhs held at the Centenary Rooms atop the Civic- a notorious den of underage drinking, I can avow. The festival bill also included Mike Harding, who was one of the funniest live acts I’d ever seen. Other significant artists to appear at the festival include Barnsley’s own folk rock band and ceilidh regulars Oscar the Frog- highly regarded in folk circles but not widely known, despite one album in 1980- and Hedgehog Pie, a folk band hailing from Newcastle who recorded five albums between 1971 and 1978.
Five Hand Reel at Reading, 1977
The Barnsley Chronicle in January 1978 promised a visit by Sheffield New Wave band The Push. Many who actually saw them suggest that they were more along the lines of pub-rock chancers who had jumped someone else’s train. As far as I can tell, they never arrived in town so I never got a chance to judge for myself at the time; you can listen to them on YouTube though. They are chiefly known for one single, Cambridge Stomp, and for the fact that their vocalist was Ray Ashworth, an actor who, when his thespian career took off in Emmerdale, Coronation Street and The Bill, left the band, resulting in its demise.
Lastly, and right at the end of our period, Jam inspired mod revivalists Secret Affair played the Civic on August 28th 1979. They had recorded their performance of their best known hit ‘Time for Action’ for Top of the Pops in the morning and then rushed up the M1 to Barnsley to perform that night (as you would). The single creditably reached number 13 in the hit parade that autumn and the song still sounds good after 35 years- listen to it on You Tube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZCOwnMEVvE). I must confess, though, that I wasn’t at the gig: I was seeing a girl in a pub instead….
I should also mention the appearance at the Civic Hall on June 2nd 1978 of rock band Nirvana. As the dates indicate, this is not the Nirvana that spring instantly to mind, nor the British psychedelic rockers Nirvana who were based in London in the 1960s. Rather it was Rochdale’s own semi-legendary Nirvana. They are primarily memorable for including Tony Crabtree, blind since birth but a virtuoso on the keyboards and guitar. His axemanship was likened to Hendrix’s at the time. He passed away in 2005 after a long creative career in the industry.
The Bay City Rollers played twice in 1974, in May and September. They were greeted by the tartan hysteria that they were attracting just then. Long, hectic queues developed an hour and a half before the doors opened at the May concert and by the time the band came on the crowd was “hysterical.” The reviewer nonetheless praised BCR: they played “faultlessly” he thought, in conditions “which many other groups would have refused to play under.”
Despite this long list, I must include a note on the realities of paying a small Yorkshire mining town. The local paper, the Chronicle, repeatedly complained that bands appeared but hardly anyone bothered to turn up to see them. The big names like Steve Harley got a crowd but smaller, up and coming acts, often had barely 50 in their audience. In 1974, for instance, these poor turnouts afflicted Sweet Sensation, Medicine Head, Rudi Tchaikovsky, The JSD Band and Terra Nova. These are just a few examples.
That- I think- is a list of the main visitors to the town during the period 1974-1980, but I invite readers to contribute other recollections.
OTHER GIGS: readers have alerted me to other Civic Hall gigs that I had not spotted: Barnsley also was visited by the following artists:
- Leo Sayer;
- Glitterband– September 29th 1974;
- Brian Eno– in fact, he cancelled a March 1974 gig because of serious ill-health;
- Cockney Rebel, June 17th 1974, supported by Be Bop Deluxe and Coast;
- Be Bop Deluxe supported by Coast December 1st 1974;
- Small Faces;
- Wigan’s Ovation– A British northern soul band, described by the local paper as “some of the worst music ever heard at the Civic Hall.”
Any recollections? Any dates??