If, like me, you grew up in Leicester in the 1960s, then there’s a pretty good chance your first visit to the De Montfort Hall was over Christmas to see a pantomime, that peculiarly English form of entertainment where B-list celebrities dress up in drag and hurl double-entendres and faux cake batter at the audience.
At some point during the 1968 Christmas holiday, Mum and Dad gave my brother and I our first introduction to the tradition of yelling “Look behind you!” and “Oh, no it isn’t!” in a crowded theater. The star of the show was Tommy Trinder (“You lucky people!”)–that much I remember–though whether he was the star of Cinderella or Aladdin is a mystery lost to the mists of memory.
Around that time, I also graced the stage for my first and only time, playing xylophone for the Leicestershire Schools Orchestra while developing my first crush on a recorder player whose name, I vaguely recall, was Tina. I also was fortunate enough to attend classical concerts by the Halle Orchestra, which was the resident orchestra at the time. Through the school, we got discounted tickets, and I remember sitting in the choir stalls behind the tympani section, feeling the bass notes vibrate in my diaphragm, watching the conductor gyrate and grimace and looking out over the audience thinking that nothing could be cooler than making music in this hall.
And then April 2, 1973 happened.
I have completely forgotten whose idea it was to see Status Quo. It was probably a kid named Jimmy Sands, who became my concert-going partner in those early days. I do remember tickets were 45p (50p if you bought them after April 1, when VAT was introduced for the first time in the UK). That made them pretty cheap by the standards of the day, as concert tickets at that time were around £1.00, or the amount of money I earned in one week on my paper round.
At the time, Quo had just released Piledriver, the album that transformed them from 1960s psychedelic one-hit wonders to the hard-driving boogie band that we now know and love and that laid the foundation for the massive success that was just around the corner. “Paper Plane” was in the charts–it was the only song of theirs that I knew, which was probably reason enough to hop on the 67 bus and head to the De Mont.
The memories from that show are still vivid some forty years on. The light show, primitive even by the primitive standards of the day, consisted of about a dozen red-gelled PAR 64s that came on at the beginning of each song and went off at the end. And the stage show, such as it was, mostly involved draping long hair over guitars, as the Piledriver album cover aptly illustrates. Once in a while, however, Messrs. Parfitt and Rossi would walk to opposite sides of the stage and run full tilt at each other in a game of chicken that had the road crew scrambling to untangle leads after every pass.
I was hooked.
That night, Paul Canny was hooked too. A resident of Lodge Farm Road, he was a student at the Gateway School and the Loughborough College of Art and Design. A guitarist and veteran of the Leicestershire music scene for many years, Paul currently lives in Castle Donington and works as a graphic designer.
My first gig at the De Mont was Quo, and they still had seating in the stalls which confined the inevitable melee of headbanging to a narrow strip of space between the front row and the stage, and down the centre aisle. It wasn’t many moons later that the seating was removed for rock concerts, only reappearing for more refined acts such as Ralph McTell and Renaissance. [Go here if you want to find out when, and why, the De Mont made the decision to go general admission in the stalls.]
The Quo show also marked the start of a ritual that would be repeated numerous times in the years following: the mad scramble to catch the last bus home when a show ran long. With “Roadhouse Blues” still ringing in our ears, Jimmy and I began legging it down Granville Road to the corner of London Road and Evington Road where, if we timed it just right, we could meet the 67 at around 11:05 PM, five minutes after it left the town center. Missing it meant a sheepish call home to Mum and Dad, a possible week-long grounding and a very long and potentially dodgy walk back to Evington. Needless to say, we didn’t miss it very often.
One person who missed it, on his very first concert no less, was Stephen Hill. Raised in Evington and a pupil at the Wyggeston Boys’ School during the 1970s, he went on to work for a number of bands, including Motorhead, in the 1980s. He now lives in Egham, Surrey, and runs Steve Hill Marine.
His first concert was Hawkwind on July 16, 1973, and his story of that night is a memorable one.
At the end of the show, we go round to the back of the hall to the stage door to see the band, as you do when you are a kid. All of a sudden, the door gets kicked open, and some great big hairy Hell’s Angel-looking guy comes running out of there with a girl in his arms. And he says, “Who knows the way to the hospital?”
So Mr. Do-Gooder here goes, “Oh, I know where the hospital is, mate.” There’s this great big American car behind us–massive great thing–and this great big hairy lemon throws the girl in the back seat, grabs hold of me and says, “Right, come on! Show me where the hospital is.” And this is at half-past eleven at night. I was on a curfew, and the last bus was at twenty past [sic]! If I didn’t get back to Evington, I had to walk, and it was about three or four miles!
So I jumped in this motor and leave all my mates behind. And this girl wasn’t very well–she was looking a bit touch-and-go to be honest. So this fellow goes up the road past my school. He gets to the top of the road and we need to turn right to get to the Leicester Royal Infirmary. And there’s a great big No Right Turn sign there. And I said “Oh, sorry, you can’t turn right here.” And he says, “F#!k off!” and just turned right in this great big American car.
We get to the Royal Infirmary and they rush her in there. Now the girl’s name was Stacia Leach [now Blake, the band’s dancer at the time], and the bloke driving the car was none other than Lemmy. And eventually he comes back out and I said, “How’s the young girl?”
And he starts looking at me–he’s from a different world from me, he’s no middle-class, fourteen-year-old kid–and he’s looking at me like I’m a right plonker. And he says, “Give me your name and address. We’ll send you an album.”
So I got home and got a bollocking off my Mum and Dad. But a few weeks later, I got a package in the post from Hawkwind’s office in Notting Hill, London. And it was an album, signed by the whole band, and all these years later, I’ve still got it with the original postage stamps on it!
That same year, Alan Meacham-Roberts sang at the De Mont. Al was raised on the Rowlatts Hill estate before moving to Blundell Rd in Evington when he was seven. He attended Linden Junior School and the City of Leicester Boys School, then went on to work as a roadie with the legendary NWOBHM band Diamond Head. He is still in the music business, living in the south of France, singing with his band Blah Blah and working with Colgan’s Brewery, the Riviera’s only craft ale manufacturer.
In 1973, as a part of the Linden Junior School Choir, I was invited to become part of a larger choir for a concert and my joy was compounded by the fact that it would include a rendition of Peter and the Wolf narrated by the amazing Johnny Morris and also a performance by my heroes The King’s Singers. I remember my pride as I took my place on the inclined seating behind the stage and underneath the awesome pipes of the organ towering above me. The sense of musical history and the honor of being within these walls was almost religious in its intensity, and I reveled in the privilege allowed to the young and humbled boy that I was.
I wasn’t to step inside those hallowed halls for a further four years, by which time I had become a long-haired teenager obsessed with the band Thin Lizzy and desperate to experience my first ever rock concert.
I sneaked out from school early and took the bus to the venue arriving first outside the venue and queued with a friend for four hours before the concert was to start. This ensured that I would have my place at the feet of Brian Robertson for the gig. And what a gig! My life was changed from that day onward and music and gigs were the only reasons for existing.
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