Four Years of Music in Manchester

Year Four: September 1967 to June 1968

My final year in Manchester. Monica and I still have the same flat in Withington opposite the Red Lion. Monica has finished her degree and is starting a job in the centre of Manchester. I’m not involved in the Student gigs anymore which is probably a good thing. I don’t have an office and I can’t strut around the Student Union which is definitely a good thing. I must concentrate on my finals.

The third-year Drama students are sent out to local secondary schools for a weekly drama lesson. I don’t know if this is to provide something new for the children or some teaching experience for the students who might want or need to pursue a teaching career. It’s not easy especially if we bring a Shakespeare text which is difficult for most people. We try to get some improvisation going around subjects that the kids respond to. Talking to a group of young girls we start asking about their favourite records. The Supremes is their immediate answer and before long the girls are in a line singing and dancing  “You Can’t Hurry Love”. They’re really good and from then on we’ve got ideas and our weekly sessions are fun for all.

Jimi Hendrix is going to be playing our delayed gig in MDH. I have tickets and I’m dying to see him despite being on the sidelines of the event. I suppose not being a  figure at the Student Union doesn’t matter when Hendrix’s performance is so extraordinary. He lifts the whole room as if we can kiss that sky with him. It’s the best performance ever in that hall. Luckily I’m wearing something suitable my collarless pink satin shirt with a matching pink satin scarf.

Jimi Hendrix

The regulars in the Students Union canteen still hang out for the Melody Maker debates. Since the ‘summer of love’ psychedelic and rock are the main topics. The Twisted Wheel is still going strong with soul music but it’s a certain crowd who go every weekend to dance to regulars like the Alan Bown Set, the Mike Cotton Sound and Ferris Wheel. The Cavern has changed into The Jigsaw but it isn’t doing well. Chris Wright has moved to London to start a booking agency and management company. He is managing the blues rock band Ten Years After. We still have gigs on Saturdays at the union and this week it’s the Graham Bond Organisation. I’ve booked him a few times in the past when I was running the shows and I get on well with him. Last time he was here I took him for a drink at Mr Smith’s after our show and before his all-nighter in town. He doesn’t seem to be doing well these days. His band isn’t as exciting although he still has Dick Heckstall-Smith on sax and Jon Hiseman on drums, but he hasn’t even brought an organ this time and just used a university-supplied piano. He made it work as always but it took a lot of effort.

We have to write a thesis in our final year. I’ve decided to write about the history of Music Hall. A lot of writing in the theatre these days is involved with this subject. John Osborne has written a play “The Entertainer” based around Archie Rice a failing music hall artist. It’s been made into a film starring Laurence Olivier. Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal Stratford East is also close to the Music Hall tradition in East London. Her musical satire about World War One “Oh What a Lovely War” is now being made into a film. The intention is to take the theatre away from the usual middle-class audience and bring it to a wider audience. Our senior lecturer Stephen Joseph’s pursuit of Theatre in the Round is very much part of that idea. He’s an amazing character. He was the first actor at the new Central School of Drama and was twice decorated in the Second World War as well as being the architect of the first theatre in the round in the UK. My other interest is that music hall is based around popular singers of popular songs. I’ll enjoy getting into that.

I’m working a lot at home so I can listen to a lot of music. This year is pretty incredible “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club” has reached an amazing level in pop music and the “Magical Mystery Tour” is keeping it going. Bob Dylan has changed his style and released “John Wesley Harding”, which I listen to all the time. Obviously I’m listening to Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced”, and “Axis Bold As Love” is just out too. These albums inspire me to start working on the projects we have to do for our course. My first idea is to make a short play for a studio production based on “Of Mice and Men” a novella by John Steinbeck. The title comes from Scottish poet Robbie Burns who wrote a poem “To a Mouse” with the line “The best-laid plans of mice and men so often go awry”. The story centres around Lenny and George two itinerant workers in California during the Great Depression. It’s already been a play in America but I’ve made it short with only the two lead characters and two minor parts. My other idea is to write an original play. I’ve got a title – “If You Can Keep Your Head” – and it’s set in a garage in Brooks Bar in Manchester. I’m aiming for it to be a surrealist pantomime based on the comings and goings at the garage. The owner is threatened by a big petrol company and a young girl goes missing and everything becomes hallucinatory. We have a character, ‘Presence of Mind’, based on the painting by Rene Magritte, with other people appearing and strange events happening sometimes bursting into spoken chorus.

Jimi Hendrix

Going into the Student Union I find the whole place in turmoil. There’s an anti-Vietnam War rally in London next week and people are busy booking buses, printing leaflets and assembling big banners. Usually, all the different political societies just have meetings that most people ignore. This is very different. It engages a large part of the student population just like a big gig does.  By coincidence, I’ve arranged to go to London to work on my music hall thesis in the Theatre Museum at the Victoria & Albert Museum so I’ll be able to attend.

On the day I meet a friend and we wander down Park Lane and turn into North Audley Street heading towards Grosvenor Square. There were quite a few people going the same way. The nearer we get to the demonstration the more crowds and police appear. After a while we decide not to go much further as the atmosphere is scary. Like lots of people, we’re sure we saw Mick Jagger in some sort of rugby shirt. If it was him he was as circumspect as many of us.

A couple of the leaders of our drama group have come to see me to suggest that they would be interested in making my play the last production of the term. They have one caveat, that I should be the director. I explain that although I’m grateful for the offer I have to say no. I’ve never directed a play but my main reason is that after all the work we’ve done this year our last production should be something which is much more of a collective project to reflect everyone’s work.

I’ve got my Music Hall thesis completed and handed in. I enjoyed doing it. It’s the story of a new social scene that all classes can afford in places that were less formal than the established theatres and they also provided refreshments. They became very popular and filled new buildings designed especially by architects like Frank Matcham. The entertainment was mixed with magicians and musicians as well as trapeze and mime artists but the outstanding feature was the stars who sang songs that engaged the audience and told stories which become big hits. There were many of these stars Marie Lloyd, Dan Leno, Vesta Victoria’s hit, ‘Now I Have to Call Him Father’, Harry Champion’s signature song, ‘Never Let your Braces Dangle’, and the amazing George Robey, who sang ‘If You Were the Only Girl in the World’. The Music Hall was just as passionate and exciting as music performance is now.

The year is practically over. Our results are in and I got a good degree. People are drifting away with lots of farewells and promises. A gang of us have decided to have a farewell evening at Le Phonographe Manchester’s first disco famous as George Best’s favourite club.

It was a great night. I have no money so I go to the Benefit Office, who firmly sent me to the Employment office, who don’t seem interested. We have to give up the flat and a friend is taking it over. I guess it’s time to leave Manchester. I can hardly believe what’s happened in the last four years. I had some photos taken and sent applications to every repertory theatre in the country. I’ve only had one audition so far from Bromley Rep. I didn’t get a job. I wonder what sort of future there is for me.

The Jigsaw Club has been taken over by Roger Eagle and he’s changed its name to The Magic Village. He’s announced that they will be booking only progressive rock bands. I’m sure there’ll always be a great club in Manchester.