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Where the Stones were fourth on the bill

Odeon, NottinghamIf you look carefully at the top of the building in the photograph, you’ll see the faintest shadow of the long-gone neon sign that read ODEON. I took the picture on a raindy day a couple of winters ago, while passing through Nottingham, my old home town. How many of the hundreds of people walking along this pavement every day know that it was here, in this cinema on Angel Row, a hundred yards or so up from the Old Market Square, that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones played, in 1963 and ’64? And now it’s finally vanished. The demolition crew have done their job and the construction workers are in, filling the space with a building apparently intended to provide housing for students.

Buddy Holly played the Odeon in 1958: three shows on the night of March 8, during his only UK tour. I missed that one, being only 10 at the time (although I’d already saved up to buy the Crickets’ “That’ll Be the Day” on 78), but three years later I saw Cliff Richard and the Shadows, just after Brian Bennett took over from Tony Meehan on drums — a source of some regret, since Meehan was my first drumming hero. The screaming meant that not much could be heard. But at least Hank Marvin gave me my first sight of a Fender Stratocaster in action, and they were still doing the famous Shadows walk, much copied by we schoolboys in front of bedroom mirrors.

OK, I’ll own up: I missed the Beatles there — three times, on the first occasion with Roy Orbison — and the Stones. Absence of cash, I expect. I wouldn’t have been able to hear them above the hysteria anyway, although I’ve always kicked myself for not making it to the Stones’ show in October 1963, since it also featured the Everly Brothers, Little Richard and Bo Diddley, all of them above the Stones on the bill when the tour started. My friend Phil Long remembers Little Richard’s set: “One of the best I’ve ever seen. He jumped off the stage, ran all the way round the theatre, then got back on the stage and started taking his clothes off and throwing them to the audience… there was a riot.”

The most memorable concert I did manage to attend at the Odeon was on May 12, 1964, the fourth date of a 22-night package tour headlined by Chuck Berry, with support from Carl Perkins, the Animals, the Nashville Teens and King Size Taylor and the Dominos. It was great merely to see Chuck, who provided so many of us with the inspiration for our own bands, but he gave a pretty uninterested performance — as indeed he would do on every subsequent occasion I saw him. He was accompanied by King Size Taylor’s excellent band, and I seem to remember that about half the set consisted of throwaway instrumentals; has any great songwriter ever taken a less obvious pride in his achievements? But it was enough to hear those guitar intros ringing out, and to witness his perfunctory demonstration of the duck walk.

Carl Perkins was not exactly spectacular, either, in his very short set. And so, curiously, the musical highlights were provided by two English bands. The Animals, of course, were excellent. “Baby Let Me Take You Home”, copied from “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” on Bob Dylan’s first album, was nudging the Top 20, and their act still had the R&B edge honed in Newcastle’s Club A Go-Go. But they also played their epic four and a half minute version of another song from Dylan’s debut: “House of the Rising Sun”. It hadn’t yet been released, or heard on the radio, and its arrangement — featuring Hilton Valentine’s arpeggiated guitar, Alan Price’s wailing Vox Continental organ and Eric Burdon’s baleful vocal — was nothing short of stunning. Five weeks later it would enter the charts, on its way to No 1.

It was the same with the Nashville Teens, whose set included John D Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road”: another dramatic song, its structure and mood inspired by the compositions Willie Dixon provided for Muddy Waters and other blues stars. The group, from the Surrey stockbroker belt, did an enthusiastic job of impersonating the sound of the Chicago stockyards, and by July they were on their way to the UK Top 10. By August “The House of the Rising Sun” was on its way to No 1 in Billboard‘s Hot 100, while “Tobacco Road” topped out at No 14 in the US a month later. Heard for the first time in live performance, both made an immediate impression.

And now the Odeon has disappeared. I suppose it’s not exactly like losing the Cavern or the Marquee. But it would be nice, when they finished its replacement, if someone thought it worth putting up a plaque to remind passers-by of former glories. Buddy Holly, The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. The Everly Brothers. Little Richard. Bo Diddley. Chuck Berry. Not bad, eh?

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. I fully understand the impracticality of preserving the sites of some of these momentous historical moments. (My ex Father-in-law has a Newcastle nightclub menu from those package tour days, upon which he has the autographs of every Beatle, Gerry Marsden and Roy Orbison) -but I think a plaque is most definitely in order.

    August 22, 2013
  2. Squid Griffin #

    About 12 days ago I lunched with old friends at Taco Punk, a new eatery in Louisville, Kentucky. It was mentioned in last Saturday’s Guardian Travel section!

    Years before it was the Shel-Mar Follies, a burlesque house which went from burlesque when it meant the early Marx Brothers and so forth played there to later days when burlesque meant a strip club. As a nervous Southern Baptist 15 year old I was dragged there by older boys. The strippers were old and tired and I felt awful watching them stumble through the least erotic dancing ever…surely I would go to Hell for this one.

    About halfway through what I laughingly call a program a chant goes up for “Colonel Pork Chops, Colonel Pork Chops”. I joined in having no idea on Earth who the good Colonel was. To my surprise a rather defeated looking African-American male walked onstage by himself in a battered suit and raincoat. It did not look promising.

    My attention was raised when a voice in the darkness behind me said, “ya’ knows da Colonel played wif Sonny Boy Williamson off and off till ole Sonny died, yessiree…”. This guy played with (I presume) the second Sonny Boy?

    Colonel Pork Chops pulled out two…wait for it…here it comes…spoons. I was heartbroken. Spoons! He proceeded to whack them together hard and in great percussive rhythm and hmmm along with his cutlery beat, creating a sound I can still hear today. He banged those spoons together, on the mike stand, on his jaw bone, on his head, on the stage floor and all around him…going on for a good two minutes.

    The Shel-Mar Follies was silent. I had never heard such a driving rhythm and Colonel Pork Chops could shift gears up and back. I think he was playing Pan-American and then a bit of Train 45 but I am not quite sure, I mainly remember the overall compulsive rhythm he created with two spoons and his humming.

    After two minutes he stopped with a shave-and-a-haircut, six-bits ending. There was silence for a moment and then the Shel-Mar Follies crowd of guilty young men, lonely old men and near asleep waitresses erupted in cheering. I bet the Colonel got a solid minute’s applause with calls for more ending only when the next stripper stumbled onstage.

    When I lunched with friends less than two weeks ago at Taco Punk I dare not repeat the story or mention Taco Punk was once the Shel-Mar Follies (corner Shelby and Market, you see) as there were ladies present and I am still not proud of being in such a dump but have mercy, Judge, the name Colonel Pork Chops lives forever in at least one blues freak’s memory bank.

    Thank God no one tore it down. In fact the city fathers are fixing up the entire neighborhood. It is called Nu-Lou now for New Louisville.

    August 22, 2013
  3. Agree a plaque would be a cool idea. Arriving in Nottingham in 76, I never saw any gigs at the Odeon (but lots of movies). In 1981 I picked up a near complete set of The Beatles Book for ten pence each at a junk store in Radford. And out of one of the fan club mags fell a well preserved ticket for The Beatles at The Odeon, which I still have (does quick check): Thursday November 5th (1964 at a guess – never had years on tickets in those days). Row T18 of the stalls.

    August 22, 2013
  4. Terry Reynolds #

    As a student union entertainments secretary, I booked Chuck Berry for a 40 minute set in (I think) 1968. He turned up about 15 minutes before he was due on (his pick up band had arrived early and set up), asked for his money in cash before he would play, and then played exactly 40 minutes, finishing mid-song and was gone in his taxi before the band had got off stage. ‘Uninterested’ doesn’t get anywhere near describing his performance.

    August 22, 2013
    • Mid-song! Never heard that one before. Hilarious and tragic at the same time.

      August 22, 2013
  5. John Poole #

    I believe the source for the Animals’ ‘Baby Let Me Take You Home’ was a Bert Berns produced single issued as by the Mustangs, rather than Dylan’s first album

    August 22, 2013
  6. Keith Smith #

    Richard, I saw the same Chuck Berry tour at the Southend – on – Sea Odeon (now a college building) and it has stuck with me as beng one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen. For some reason he was on fire that night. He was much taken with the Nashville Teen’s pianist, John Hawken, who was supplementing King Size Taylor’s band. He singled him out for praise several times, gave him solos and even claimed to want to take him back to the US to be his pianist. Berry came back in 65, this time with The Moody Blues, Jimmy Powell & the Five Dimensions and Graham Bond as support and whilst not as exciting as the 64 show it was still pretty good. Perhaps being on the Thames Delta brought out the best in him.

    August 23, 2013
  7. Ivor Williams #

    The Granada in Bedford suffered the same fate years ago. It was a grand old cinema with a majestic entrance. I saw a host of groups there in the 60’s ( missed the Beatles twice ). Best evenings of all were The Everly Brothers and Lonnie Donnigan. Saw The Stones in Cardiff in 66, couldn’t hear a single note. In 1970. I saw them give a sublime performance in the RAI in Amsterdam in 1970 though.

    August 24, 2013
  8. Chris Michie #

    My first rock concert (before they were called that) was Bob Dylan at the ABC cinema in Edinburgh in 1966. I think there is some footage of the street scene in “Don’t Look Back.” This was one of the “electric” Dylan concerts; first set acoustic, second set full-on band with the monstrously loud Mickey Jones on drums. There was a fair amount of heckling from the purist folkies (someone even shouted “Judas” — perhaps it was the same chap going to every gig in the hope of being immortalised on tape) and a lot of the electric material was unfamiliar, since “Blonde on Blonde” hadn’t yet been released. Also the PA (two cinema speakers, probably A7-type horn systems or something similar) was unsurprisingly inadequate, so vocals were pretty indecipherable.

    I wish I could say I had a great time but I was a bit non-plussed by the new material and the band balance was not great; I thought the drums were the loudest thing I’d ever heard. But within a year I was spending my school holidays and my pocket money at the Marquee Club and the Windsor/Kempton Park Festivals, so it didn’t put me off.

    I went back to the Edinburgh ABC as a sound engineer in the mid-’70s (possibly with Roxy Music) and remember it as being one of the better UK gigs for sound. Those large (2,500 capacity) cinemas were highly suitable for pop/rock music as they had a fan-shaped floor plan (better than the shoebox-shaped Newcastle Town Hall, for example) and often had a lot of sound-absorbent material on the walls.

    February 24, 2014

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