Four Years of Music in Manchester: 1964-1968
Year One: 1964-1965.
Being born in February 1946 in a working-class part of Hull was beneficial to me. After the war everyone was determined there should be health and education for the whole country and not just the middle classes. My mother Maud who had to pay for my birth picked up the idea that I must pass the 11-plus exam and go to Hull Grammar School. She thought that would lead to University and a Good Job. It would all be paid for by Hull City Council. I was an only child and I worked hard to follow her wishes. She found a student called Eric to come to our house and help me to pass the 11-plus. When I did pass my mother took me into town to the shop that sells the school uniform for Hull Grammar School. I wore the new cap outside in the street straightaway and one of the kids asked me why was I wearing that cap. I told him and the others that I was going to Grammar in September and they just turned their backs on me. I was the only one in our street and it was upsetting but at that moment I was proud to be going there.
My interest is music. I listened to music on the radio as much as I could but my dad Jim bought me a Dansette gramophone for my 16th birthday from the bike shop on Newland Avenue. It was really smart in blue and white with four legs and a turntable for stacks of 45’s or LP’s. The salesman said to dad that it was a nice present and dad replied that he hoped it would keep me off the streets. I hoped I’d just got one because I loved it. I suppose Hull was rough and that made parents worry. You had to be careful going out at night, especially when trawler kids are back from their trips. They’d been out in the North Sea in any weather and when they came back they put on their flashy trawler suits and went round the pubs in gangs. You tread carefully as battles and bottles occur, but I was alright with them. They knew I had no money so when I was with them and it was my time to buy everyone a round they slipped money under the table into my hand so I wasn’t embarrassed.
If I did have any cash like birthdays I bought whatever 45’s and EP’s I could afford from Sydney Scarborough Hull’s best record shop. My favourite artists were Buddy Holly, Duane Eddy, especially for his EP’s, which had the guitar instrumentals ‘Rebel-Rouser’, ‘Peter Gunn’ and ‘Because They’re Young’, and then Elvis, who I played constantly. Bob Dylan’s first LP has come out and he appeared on BBC TV London in a drama, ‘Madhouse on Castle Street’, mainly sitting on the staircase, but he finished by playing,for the first time, ‘Blowin in the Wind’ from the next album, ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’. I bought that LP as soon as I could. I immersed myself in this music and found a record by another American folk singe,r Rambling Jack Elliott, singing songs called ‘Salty Dog’, ‘Cocaine’ and ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’, on the English label Topic. At the same time the Beatles also changed pop in a big way.
As the years at Hull Grammar went by I grew to dislike the place. There was no encouragement for me to do anything like music, art, sports or even woodwork. The school was only interested in their obsession with exam results. I was a top student of history but it was still music that was everything to me. A friend took me to a house in Spring Bank not far from where I lived. He introduced me to his friends a folk group the Watersons. The band were comprised of two sisters Norma and Lal, a brother Mike and a cousin John Harrison. I was astonished by them. They had an autograph of the blues star Sonny Boy Williamson on their mantelpiece and a fox on a lead in the kitchen. Guitars and songbooks were everywhere. I’d found a way of life I thought looked great. From then on I went to the Waterson’s Sunday Folk Club at the Old Blue Bell down by the docks. It was always packed to hear their traditional songs and amazing vocals.
I’d started to listen to blues records from America arriving at a new record shop called Stardisc. They had artists like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson as well as new British blues bands like Cyril Davies’ All Stars and Alexis Korner Blues Incorporated who were bringing the blues to Britain.
I rebelled at Grammar School wherever I could and growing my really long hair offended the Headmaster successfully
I passed all the exams but when I came to apply to study history at Oxford or Cambridge the Headmaster refused permission for the application I needed. It meant I should stay another year so I left the Grammar School by telling everyone, except Mum and Dad, that I was going to leave. I then went and did it and finally told my parents. I spent a year at the Hull College of Commerce doing an O Level in Economics and an A-Level in British Constitution whilst I applied to study Politics and Modern History at Manchester University. I went to Manchester for an interview and I was offered a place
I wasn’t in any way prepared when I arrived. I’m allocated lodgings by the University on Wilbraham Road in Chorlton-cum-Hardy. It’s run by a Maltese girl called Maria on behalf of a Pakistani businessman. There are also three medical students from somewhere in the south of England. One of them has a green Morgan sports car that he squeezes all four of us in for the drive to University. It doesn’t last very long when I’m too slow at getting ready in the morning. In any case, they soon find better lodgings elsewhere. I wander around the University nervous and intimidated. Nobody in Hull had told me what it would be like because no one I knew had ever been to university. I manage to find the tutorial room for Politics and a bigger hall for History lectures but I’m still confused and overwhelmed by all the buildings. I go back to my lodgings and lie on the bed with a strange feeling of a big stone sitting in my stomach.
I decide to go into the town centre to find where the dossers and beatniks hang out. Since I read Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’ I’m keen on hitchhiking and I’ve meet lots of people who have the same ideas. It’s easy to find them on the benches in St Peter’s Square opposite the Town Hall. My long hair and clothes allow me to fit in. I meet a girl called Sylvia, in St Peter’s Square, who has just come up to Manchester University from London. We get on wel, talking about everything. She introduces me to her boyfriend Arthur, who isn’t a student but has come up to Manchester to be with her and is looking for a job. She insists we go to the Student Union and explains what it’s for. I hadn’t realised that the big building on Oxford Road was specially for students with a canteen a couple of bars, two debating halls and offices. There’s a mass of different societies and clubs covering almost anything you can think of. I still find it easier to hang out with the people I meet in St Peter’s Square. They all recommend a club called the ‘Heaven and Hell.’
It’s an old office building on two floors on 22 Sackville Street. There’s a doorman and the Greek owner at the entrance with a football machine to keep them happy. It costs 2/6 per person to get in. The ground floor is Heaven where the bands play and there’s a good sound system. Although they don’t have a bar you can buy a sandwich over the counter or drugs from some dealers. The Pretty Things are playing tonight they’re a bit like the Rolling Stones and have good songs, a rock sound and Phil May the singer is a brilliant performer. The Downliners Sect are the next band coming to play here. They’re also a blues-based rock band who are doing well. I saw them before I came to Manchester at Hull University, which had a package show including others Long John Baldry and the Graham Bond Organisation. The basement downstairs is Hell and very dark. It’s difficult to see the double bench seats that look as if they’re from buses. It’s mainly for people to take drugs and lie about. Some people need somewhere to sleep others to have sex. The whole building is shabby but it doesn’t matter because the atmosphere, the sound of the music and its freedom make it a really popular and great club.
Another club I’m told about is The Twisted Wheel. It’s in the basement at no 26 Brazennose Street just off St Peter’s Square so it’s nearby. Apparently it had been a bohemian club and a coffee bar but it’s changed. Now Saturday nights are All Nighters. Roger Eagle is the DJ and, aside from playing the records, he is also finding bands for the club. He’s booking a lot of blues artists from America such as Sonny Boy Williamson and John Lee Hooker and R&B stars like Inez and Charlie Foxx and Marvin Gaye. He’s also booking up-and-coming British bands like Manfred Man and Spencer Davis Group. The first show I go to is Jimmy Reed who is a great musician and has written many of the best blues songs. He recorded ‘Bright Lights, Big City’, ‘What Do You Want Me To Do’, ‘Shame Shame Shame’ and ‘Big Boss Man’. I’ve heard his records but this is the first time I’ve seen an American Blues artist play live and it’s a revelation. The club is jammed with a hysterical audience and I stand there completely overwhelmed. I’ll never forget it.
After a few weeks, my friends Slim and Trevor Key come to visit me. Trevor is a photographer at Hull Art College and Slim is planning to be a Quantity Surveyor which is highly unlikely given he has no idea what it is. They’re staying in Owens Park a student residence in Fallowfield and we’re having a good time meeting people in the bar. I feel better whilst they’re here and I’m looking forward to going back to Hull in a few weeks for Christmas.
Christmas and New Year in Hull was fun and my mother and father were happy to see me. I saw my relatives and friends but it’s soon time to go back to Manchester.
My digs in Chorlton-cum-Hardy have gone downhill. There are no other students just lots of itinerant builders and casual workers. We have a sitting room with a tele but the only heating is a paraffin heater which leaks and makes your eyes water when you try to watch. I live mainly on the yoghurt that Maria brings to my room. I hardly ever go to the University and when I do I find myself coming back after a short time so I don’t attend lectures or tutorials. It’s like being in Maxim Gorky’s ‘The Lower Depths’. I know I have to get out.
I’m beginning to make some friends and my social life is better. There are some gigs in The Main Debating Hall MDH of the Student Union. Little Stevie Wonder is one of the best shows. ‘Top of the Pops’ is filmed in a converted old church in Dickinson Road in Rusholme. Cecil Korer the floor manager each week comes to the student union to distribute passes to people who will dance in the studio audience and I always try to go. It’s exciting looking to see myself dancing with my long hair on the TV monitor.
Whilst I’m looking at a bedsitter I’ve seen advertised I meet a student Peter Ellis Jones who is living in the building. He comes from Cottingham, a part of Hull, and he’s doing a Drama degree. He’s cheerful and enthusiastic and convinces me I’ll like the room. Quite a few of his drama department friends also live here and I decide to move in. Whalley Range isn’t as suburban as Chorlton-com-Hardy. I meet a really nice and attractive girl, who is regularly walking up and down the road. I tell her I’ve just moved in and I’m a student at University. We get along well but she’s asked me not to hang around chatting too much or it will put her clients off as they drive up. We can wave to each other but that seems to be about all.
I’m often visiting in Owens Park in Fallowfield. Caroline Greenway and Monica Wyatt are a couple of friends and Caroline has decided that my extremely long hair right down my back needs to be cut on the basis that it’s way out of fashion. I fail to understand how I allow her to confidently cut it shorter but she presses on and decides it needs a blond rinse. Next she says I need to get some new Mod clothes as well. Unfortunately I haven’t engaged in much of the academic study. I’ve never really caught up on the work I’ve missed and the first year is coming towards an end. I’m afraid I’ll be thrown out. I thought I’d missed a complete year of a French course so I go to apologise to the lecturer and explain that I’ve had a poor year and I expect to be thrown out. She checks her files and says that I don’t need to worry about the French course I should never have been on it in the first place it was my mistake. I go back to Whalley Range and tell Peter Ellis Jones my dilemma. He’s been obliged by the Actor’s Union to change his stage name to Ellis Jones. It seems they already have a TV actor Peter Jones on their books. His solution for me is that I should immediately transfer to the Drama course for next year. It comes to me as a complete shock. He reckons my academic background will be helpful but I’ll need to audition. I haven’t even stood on a stage let alone spoken but he believes he’ll be able to coach me when we’re back in Hull for the summer. I apply and I’m offered an interview and audition. I apply to Hull City Council and they agree to extend my grant and fees for another three years.
We head back to Hull for our summer jobs and Ellis rehearses me every week until the audition in August. He’s picked the ‘The Hollow Crown’ speech from Richard II. I don’t know why he’s chosen it but that’s what we work away on. Then it’s another train ride to Victoria Station, Manchester. I meet Professor Hugh Hunt in his office in the Drama Department. He’s rather quiet and charming. We chat a bit then I do the audition speech. I’m standing for the first part of the speech but I have to sit down for the line…
“For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of Kings: How some have been deposed some slain in war: Some haunted by the Ghosts they have deposed: Some poisoned by their wives: Some sleeping killed: All murdered: for within the hollow crown That rounds the mortal temples of a king Keeps Death his court”.
I’m amazed when the Professor says that I can have a place and he’ll see me in September.