News Stories

Beshara

Beshara 1982
Beshara were formed 1976 in Moseley, Birmingham and were founded by the late Elias Pharoah (Bass) and the late Ray Watts (Rhythm Guitar) who then recruited Errol Nanton (Lead Vocals) Dixie Pinnock (Drums) and Michael Nanton (Keyboards). They were formerly named ”Cool Dimension” and ”The Kushites” until 1979 when the band settled on the name Beshara meaning ‘surprise’ in Arabic and ‘mystical’ in Swahili. Over the years the line-up of the band changed along with the roles of various members but as of 1980 the ever-present nucleus that was widely known as Ray Watts (Lead Vocals-Rhythm Guitar), Dixie Pinnock (Drums-Backing Vocals), Michael Nanton (Keyboards-Backing Vocals) and Tony Garfield (Vocals – Bass) remained. To add to their harmonies which were now their trademark and their brand of social commentary on lovers rock and cultural reggae, there was even more emphasis on Ray Watts’ natural born voice to the people, Tony Garfield’s riveting bass lines, Michael Nanton’s distinctive keyboard style and Dixie Pinnock’s hard hitting dynamic rhythm.

Throughout the years Beshara gigged extensively all over the UK in the nation’s major colleges, universities and clubs attracting multi cultural audiences. The band never released an album but released 13 singles and enjoyed success with early recordings such as ”Men Cry Too”, which reached number 6 in the reggae charts and was championed by David Rodigan and the late John Peel. ”Glory Glory” featured the complimentary and contrasting qualities of percussionist Raymond ‘Bongo Simeon’ Walker on this much sought after 12” and ”Shadow Of Love” although gaining slightly more commercial interest than “Men Cry Too” reached number 11 in the reggae charts. Beshara received much acclaim when they toured the UK and played alongside UB40, Abyssinians, Beres Hammond, Simply Red, Dennis Brown, Bad Manners, Leroy Smart, Sugar Minott, and John Holt. In the late 1980’s the band was headhunted by I Jahman Levi to back him on his African and European tour, which saw Beshara perform abroad for the first time. The 80’s also saw them achieve well-earned TV exposure by appearing on ‘The Rockers Roadshow’, ‘Black on Black’, ‘Here & Now’ ‘Format V’ and ‘Together’. They were then commissioned to record a score for a BBC Boxing Documentary.

Beshara also appeared as a gospel group in the BBC Drama “Preacher Man” starring the acclaimed British actor John Rhys-Davies who is best known for his roles in “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy”, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, “The Living Daylights” (James Bond) and many more. The band won an award from the Hummingbird’s 1st Annual Black Music Awards in 1987 for ‘Best Sound recording’ in regards to their song “Candi”. Magazines like Black Echoes described the song as “… a commercial bouncer, but solid, revolving around criss cross harmonies, a strong upfront lead and a well oiled busy band sound…” The Magazine also described Beshara as “… so professionally polished and accomplished it makes you wonder why they aren’t huge stars (and ‘live’ they are just as slick, water-tight)…” The early 90’s saw them travel to America to record an album which to date is unreleased. In 1992 Beshara were asked by BBC Radio WM to perform a live concert in Birmingham, which would concurrently be broadcasted live and not only did it gain rave reviews once aired, but also from fans at the concert. However, during the same year the band decided to part ways only to reunite again in 1998 and begin recording what was set to be their debut album in 1999. Sadly Ray Watts (Lead Singer) passed away in the year 2000. Due to this the remaining members of the band decided they could no longer stay together without him and went their separate ways.

In 2000 at the Hyatt Hotel Birmingham, Beshara were presented with an award for their Contribution to UK Reggae music by Street Cred magazine; guests on the night included Jamelia and Brenda Emmanus (BBC Clothes Show). In 2001 the ex band members arranged a memorial tribute concert for Ray Watts at the Irish Centre, Birmingham which led to Beshara performing and sharing the stage with Steel Pulse along with many other artists from Birmingham including Skibu, Reggae Revolution, Jeremiah, Birry The Poet and many more.

2005 saw the ex band members reunite to perform at the ‘32 years of lovers rock’ anniversary concert at the Hackney Empire in London. The concert featured the UK’s biggest lovers rock stars and the band received an astonishing reception, as it was the first time that many of the audience saw members of the band live after years of hearing their songs on the radio and in the clubs.

There’s no doubt that Beshara was an important training ground that eventually led to the main members of the band either recording, backing or touring the world with I Jahman Levi, Pato Banton, UB40, Steel Pulse, Aswad, Luciano, Beenie Man, Musical Youth, Apache Indian, Inner City, Macka B, Alton Ellis, Gregory Isaacs, Half Pint, Reggae Revolution, Johnny 2 Bad and XOVA while sharing the stage with, Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers, Shaggy, Burning Spear, Third World, Yellowman, Black Uhuru, The Wailers, Steel Pulse, Santana, Brazilian greats Jorge Ben Jor, Skank, and Cidade Negra, recording at Eddie Grants studio in Barbados, featuring on major TV shows including Top of the Pops, GMTV, MTV and performing at venues and festivals such as The Sydney Opera House , Reggae on the River, House of Blues, Womad, and The legendary Maida Vale studios. Not forgetting flying on Stings private jet to perform with him in Italy on a television show while still finding time to write and perform on Grammy nominated albums by various artists.

Unreleased material by Beshara will become available in the near future.

Past Members:
Elias Pharoah (Bass)
Errol Nanton (Vocals)
Paul Cunningham (Bass)
Byron Bailey (Saxophone)
Steve Morrison (Trombone)
‘Fluff’ (Toaster)

Past Session Musicians:
Focett Gray (Lead Guitar)
Alan Francis (Trumpet)
Cornelius Wynter (Bass)
Asha Barnes (Percussion)
Raymond ‘Bongo Simeon’ Walker (Percussion)
‘Skins’ (Drums)
James Renford (Saxophone)
Decordiva ‘Dicky’ Gayle (Guitar)

Now this was a gig!

ub40-beshara

Birmingham Town Hall

1950

Friday 20th October 1950

1962

1962

May 1969

May 1969

Oscar Peterson

April 1966

Town-Hall

Thelonious Monk

April 1966

April 1959

April 1959

1959

1959

15th February 1958

15th February 1958

1959

1959

Nov 1957

Nov 1957

1960

1960

wayne-shorter-town-hall

Bill-Wyman-2011

jack-dejohnette-town-hall

Birmingham Town Hall is a Grade I listed concert and meeting venue in Victoria Square England.
It was created as a home for the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival established in 1784, the purpose of which was to raise funds for the General Hospital, after St Philip’s Church (later to become a Cathedral) became too small to hold the festival, and for public meetings.
Between 2002 and 2008, it was refurbished into a concert hall and is now used for performances as diverse as organ recitals, rock, pop and classical concerts and events such as graduation ceremonies for Aston University.
Joseph Hansom, of Hansom cab fame, and Edward Welch were chosen as the architects and they expressed that they expected the construction cost to be £8,000. Hill of London was hired to build the 6,000 pipe organ for £6,000.
Construction began on April 27, 1832 with an expected completion date of 1833. However, Hansom went bankrupt during construction, having tendered too low. The contractors were also losing money. Three guarantors donated money for the building;W. P. Lloyd, John Welch and Edward Tench.

11200935_10152855594553461_6862572415416706209_o

With the injection of this money, the building was successfully opened for the delayed Music Festival
on October 7,1834, despite the building still being unfinished.
During construction, on January 26, 1833, two workers were killed when a 70 foot crane constructed to install the roof trusses broke and the pulley block failed. John Heap died instantly and Win Badger died a few days later from his injuries. They were buried in St Philip’s churchyard and a memorial, consisting of a pillar base made by one of the workmen for the Town Hall,was dedicated to them. Architect Charles Edge was commissioned in 1835 to repair weaknesses to the design of the building.He was also commissioned for the extension of the building in 1837 and again in 1850. Built in brick, created in Selly Oak, and faced with Penmon Anglesey Marble presented to the town by Sir R. Bulkeley, proprietor of the Penmon quarries, the hall is modelled on the Temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome. Some limestone was used in its construction and fossils of plants and animals are visible. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the front arches were glazed to create an entrance foyer.

Charles Dickens gave public readings here to raise money for the Birmingham and Midland Institute, and Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius were both premiered.

Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “Overture di Ballo” was also premiered here in August 1870, as part of the Triennial Musical Festival
which commissioned new works for every season. The hall was the home venue for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from 1918 until 1991 when they moved to Symphony Hall.

In November 1880, the Hall was filled to capacity for a Birmingham public protest meeting in support of Revd.
Richard Enraght, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Bordesley, who was imprisoned in Warwick Prison under the Disraeli Government’s
Public Worship Regulation Act.

On August 9, 1902, the town hall, along with the council house, was illuminated in celebration of the coronation of King Edward VII.
It was illuminated again on June 22, 1911 for the coronation of King George V. In 1901, it was the scene of rioting on the occasion
of a visit by Lloyd George.

It featured prominently in the 1967 Peter Watkins film Privilege and doubled for the Royal Albert Hall in 1996s Brassed Off.

In 1937, as part of the celebrations for the Coronation of George VI, the Town Hall was regaled in the various Arms of the Lord of the Manor of Birmingham since 1166 and each column festooned with garlands. The pediment also had images of Britannia, supported by mermaids, which were sculpted by William Bloye. This decorative scheme for the Town Hall and the whole of the city
was devised by William Haywood, Secretary of The Birmingham Civic Society.

The Hall closed in 1996 for a £35 million refurbishment, undertaken by Wates Construction, that has seen the
Town Hall brought back to its original glory with its 6,000-pipe organ still in place.

The Hall was used for many pop shows, and unlike the Odeon and The Hippodrome, it tended to steer toward a headline acts and just
a couple of support acts.

Many great stars appeared here, in the 1960s and 1970s, such as
The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan

I saw many shows here, including,Traffic and Buffy Saint Marie.

Compiled by Keith Law

Ken Jones of Bright Eyes has sent an incredible list of gigs he attended at the Town Hall (and other venues) from 1964 to 1974, so a huge thanks to Ken.

1964

Saturday May 2nd : The American Folk, Blues & Gospel Caravan featuring Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davies, Cousin Joe Pleasants & Otis Span

1966

November : Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, Incredible String Band (12th)

1968

January : Dave Dee, Dozy, Beak, Mick & Tich (26th)

February : Sam Gopal Dream (3rd), Plastic Penny (11th)

March : Simon Dupree & The Big Sound (8th), Fairport Convention (14th)
Manfred Mann, Moody Blues, Spencer Davis Group, Picadilly Line (13th)
A Mystical Pantomine with The Incredible String Band and their Dancers! (Saturday 16th)

May : Carl Perkins (13th) Blossom Toes (15th), Blonde On Blonde (16th)

July : Marmalade (12th)

August : The Frame (31st)

October : Incredible String Band (Friday 25th), The American Folk Blues Festival (Monday 28th)

November : Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera (24th) Chris Farlowe (23rd), Colosseum (29th), Mike Stuart Span (30th)

December : Gun (14th)

1969
February : Tyrannosaurus Rex, David Bowie mime artist, Vytas Serelis sitar rectal, John Peel catalyst (15th)

April : Pink Floyd & John Peel (Sunday, 27th) B.B. King, Fleetwood Mac, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Duster Bennett (28th)

May : John Mayall’s Blues Breakers (9th) Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, Clouds (Thursday 15th) The Mothers Of Invention (Friday 30th)

June : Led Zeppelin, Liverpool Scene, Blodwyn Pig (Friday 13th), Pink Floyd (20th)

October : Tom Paxton (Friday 3rd), Jethro Tull, Terry Reid, Savoy Brown (8th), Changes ‘69 : featuring Humble Pie & Their Friends incl. David Bowie (Friday 10th), Ravi Shankar (Monday 20th), Incredible String Band (24th)

November : Deep Purple (24th)

December : Delaney and Bonnie & Friends with Eric Clapton & George Harrison (3rd), Ten Years After, Blodwyn Pig, Stone The Crows (10th)

1970

January : Led Zeppelin (Wednesday 7th), Ginger Baker’s Airforce (Monday 12th), Al Stewart, Third Ear Band (Saturday 24th

February : Pink Floyd (11th), The Nice (25th)

March: Love, Colosseum (10th) Fotheringay, Nick Drake (16th)

April : Viv Stanshall’s Big Grunt, Tea & Symphony (1st), Keef Hartley Big Band (Thursday 9th), Roy Harper (10th), Jeff Beck (13th), Johnny Winter, Heavy Jelly, Stackridge (Wednesday 15th) Flock, Edgar Broughton Band (20th), Black Sabbath, Egg (21st)

May : Taj Mahal & Rare Bird (Friday 1st), The Spinners (Saturday 2nd), John Mayall featuring Duster Bennett (Tuesday 5th), Ten Years After, Matthews Southern Comfort, Writing On The Wall (Monday 11th), Deep Purple (16th), Family, Emily Muff (Wednesday 20th), Colosseum (22nd), Roy Harper, Strawbs (28th), Traffic, If (Friday 29th)

June : Soft Machine (11th), Edgar Broughton Band (Monday 15th), Pentangle (29th)

July : Barclay James Harvest (17th), Incredible String Band (Friday 24th)

September : Manfred Mann Chapter III, East Of Eden (12th), Groundhogs (22nd), Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, Tir Na Nog (Friday 25th)

October : The Pentangle (Saturday 3rd), Derek & The Dominoes (5th) Free, Mott The Hoople, If (Tuesday 6th), Tyrannosaurus Rex (not as T-Rex yet!) (Wednesday 14th), Emerson Lake & Palmer (Wednesday 21st), Van Der Graaf Generator (27th), Incredible String Band (31st)

November : Jack Bruce (10th), Fotheringay (13th), Al Stewart (21st), Family (27th)

December : Strawbs, Hard Meat (8th), Pink Floyd (18th) Mott The Hoople, Bronco, D.J. Andy Dunkley (Saturday 26th)

1971

January : Black Sabbath, Freedom, Curved Air (8th), Yes, Iron Butterfly, Dada (19th), Van Der Graff Generater, Lindisfarne, Genesis (Monday 25th), Faces (27th)

February : Alexis Korner, Karakorum (3rd), Deep Purple, Hardin-York (12th), T Rex (Tuesday 16th), Every Which Way, Rare Bird, Jackson Heights, Audience (Monday 22nd), Free, Amazing Blondel (Wednesday 24th)

March : Brinsley Schwarz, Eclection (13th), Atomic Rooster, Audience, Stray (20th), Van Der Graaf Generator, Dog That Bit People (27th)March : Yes, Jonathan Swift (9th), Incredible String Band nb. Malcolm Le Maistre debut (13th), Humble Pie, Comus (15th), Quintessence (Saturday 20th)

April : Electric Light Orchestra (5th), Emerson Lake & Palmer (9th), Steeleye Span, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, Tir Na Nog (12th), Groundhogs, Mick Abrahams, Wild Turkey (13th), Strawbs (20th), Mott the Hoople, Bronco (Thursday 22nd)

May : Head Hands & Feet (12th), Faces (18th), Rory Gallagher (21st), King Crimson (Saturday 22nd), Marmalade (28th)

June : Wishbone Ash, Renaissance, Stackridge (18th), Curved Air, Marc Ellington, Mick Abrahams Band (Wednesday 23rd)

July : The Bronze Summer Outing : featuring Uriah Heep, Paladin (Friday 2nd), Quintessence (23rd)

October : John Mayall, Eggs Over Easy (5th) Incredible String Band (8th), Pink Floyd (Monday 11th), King Crimson (Wednesday 13th), Yes, Jonathan Swift (18th), Steeleye Span, Andy Roberts (19th), Supertramp (20th), Van Der Graaf Generator, Genesis, Bell+Arc, Lindisfarne (Wednesday 27th) The Pentangle (Saturday 30th)

November : Mott The Hoople, Peace (Monday 1st) T Rex (5th), Family (12th), Fairport Convention (Friday 19th), Groundhogs, Egg, Quicksand (Saturday 27th), Lindisfarne (Tuesday 30th)

December : Soft Machine (6th), Amazing Blondel, Sutherland Brothers, Claire Hamill (8th), Curved Air, Skid Row, Nick Pickett (17th), Ralph McTell (22nd) ,

1972 Birmingham Town Hall

January : Trapeze, Brinsley Schwarz (7th), Procol Harum, Amazing Blondel (19th), Black Sabbath, Wild Turkey (24th, 25th), Wishbone Ash (Friday 28th) ,
Barclay James Harvest, Wonderwheel (21st), Dando Shaft (22nd)

February : Audience, Stackridge (1st), Free (2nd), Savoy Brown, Chicken Shack (10th), Third Ear Band (12th), Strawbs (15th), Hardin & York (22nd), Mungo Jerry (29th)

March : Roy Harper (3rd), Jethro Tull (6th), Rory Gallagher, Nazareth (8th), David Bowie (17th), Head Hands & Feet, Patto (22nd), Groundhogs (Monday 27th), Edgar Broughton Band (28th), Curved Air, Gary Moore Band (29th)

May : Hawkwind (12th)

October : Deep Purple (2nd), Jackson Heights, Magna Carta (6th), ELO (10th), Stone The Crows (15th), Steeleye Span, Amazing Blondel (Tuesday 17th), Kinks, Blackfoot Sue (18th), Ten Years After (28th)

November : The Pentangle, Clive Palmers C.O.B, Wizz Jones (Wednesday 1st), Nazareth (4th), Humble Pie (6th), Incredible String Band (10th), Focus, Fruupp (Monday 13th) , Groundhogs, Stray, Gentle Giant (17th), Slade, Thin Lizzy (19th), Ralph McTell, Natural Acoustic Band (20th), Wishbone Ash, Curtiss-Maldoon (Wednesday 29th),

December : Cat Stevens (2nd), Family (6th), King Crimson (Sunday 10th), Quintessence (22nd)

1973

January: Trapeze (12th), Badger (17th), Roberta Flack Friday (Friday 19th question date?), Roy Harper (23rd), Uriah Heep (26th), Al Stewart (27th)

February : Mott The Hoople, Sensational Alex Harvey Band (Monday 19th),
Magna Carta (3rd), Deep Purple, Nazareth (21st) , Can (Tuesday 27th)

March : The Strawbs (Friday 2nd), Procol Harum

April : Arthur Brown (21st)

May : Procol Harum (25th)

June : Captain Beefheart, Henry Cow (3rd) Edgar Broughton Band, Manchild (Monday 4th) Faust, Gong with Daevid Allen (Wednesday 13th) David Bowie & The Spiders From Mars (Thursday 21st & Friday 22nd) Fairport Convention, Kreeds (Saturday 23rd)

September : Family : A Farewell Tour (Wednesday 5th)

October : Faust, Henry Cow (5th) Incredible String Band (19th)

November : Al Stewart (Tuesday 13th) Groundhogs (21st) Mott The Hoople, Queen (Tuesday 27th)

1974

January : Argent (Friday 25th)

February : Ralph McTell (Monday 11th), Neil Sedaka (Tuesday 19th)

March : Incredible String Band (29th)

April : Gong, Hatfield & The North (24th)

September : Procol Harum (Wednesday 11th)

October : Lindisfarne (Saturday 26th)

November : The Spinners (Sunday 3rd), Queen (16th), Ralph McTell (Monday 18th), Captain Beefheart (18th) Bert Jansch (Tuesday 19th) Mott The Hoople, Sailor (27th)December : Rory Gallagher (Monday 16th)

Ron Brinsdon is a very active gig goer! Ron has sent in a bunch of ticket stubs from a range of venues and I’ll be adding these to the site in due course but I wanted to add the Town Hall gigs Ron saw to this page. I have to say that I’m pretty jealous of who Ron saw at the Town Hall. As always, please keep sending in your memories!

Syd Wall has an amazing archive of concert posters and other Birmingham music memorabilia and this is a poster of the Tyrannosaurus Rex gig of the 15th February 1969, with John Peel hosting and featuring a David Bowie mime artist. It’s a stunningly beautiful poster. If you know who designed it, or if you were there, we’d love to hear more! Thanks to Syd for sending in the picture.

 

10986469_10206232174787916_610492591168345085_o-1

Uriah Heap onstage at Birmingham Town Hall, 26th January 1973.

The Plaza’s- Handsworth and Old Hill/ The Ritz Ballroom- Kings Heath

The Old Hill Plaza was one of four venues run by the legendary Irish husband and wife team Mr and Mrs Regan. Mary ‘Ma’ Regan was an ex-schoolteacher and a shy but formidable woman. She came over with my grandfather Joe from Ireland when they were teenagers. During the Second World War she was a teacher and became head of PE for girls for Warwickshire. After that she opened tea shops in the Birmingham area and started tea dances. This then led to the dance halls. They started on a small scale and they had a lot of success. I remember once that Jerry Lee Lewis was due to play at one of her venues. For some reason there was an issue with his piano and they had to use my grandmother’s. She set up The Plaza in High Street, Old Hill, 45 years ago. It was a dance venue, and hosted almost every top act that was in the Top 30, before later becoming a bingo hall. One of Mrs Regan’s great pleasures was to tell people about The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Animals, who all played at The Plaza in the early 1960s.

Bob Bailey, who used to drive the bands, said of The Beatles: “When they played here, there was nowhere for them to stay so Ma put them up at her home in Woodbourne Road, Edgbaston.” She would cook chicken and chips for The Beatles  and made sure Noddy Holder stayed off the ale. The clubs became known as “the Regan circuit” Acts on the circuit included The Beatles, Kinks, The Animals, Dusty Springfield, Brenda Lee, The Searchers, The Tremeloes, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Manfred Mann, The Moody Blues, Jerry Lee Lewis and Del Shannon. In their early days, the beat groups from the Wolverhampton area set their first sights on gaining a toehold on the emerging and rapidly flourishing, Birmingham beat scene. To play at either the Plaza in Old Hill or in Handsworth or the Ritz in King’s Heath (the ‘Regan Circuit’) was seen as being tantamount to recognition of a group as possessing genuine ‘potential’, especially as it was quite likely that you would be playing alongside successful chart groups from Merseyside or Manchester. Hardly any of the groups who reached the Top Thirty during the years 1963 to 1964 failed to play at one or other of the ‘formidable’ Ma Regan’s venues. John Howells of the ‘N Betweens remembers the first time his band met Ma Regan: “We had changed our name from the Vendors to the ‘N Betweensand had started doing more R&B stuff. We wanted to broaden our horizons somewhat and so we went and did an audition for the Regan circuit. We had been told that Mrs. Regan was not always easy to please but she seemed to like us and our style and we got a regular Monday spot at her venues. That meant that you would have to play at two of the venues during the evening, involving a quick hike across from Old Hill to Handsworth etc.” Graham Gomery feels that being accepted on to the Regan circuit was an important step forward

“Getting an audition with Ma Regan was possibly a part of winning the Big Beat Contest, I’m not really sure. Whether that was the case or not, the important thing was that when you started to play on that circuit you got an opportunity to meet and hear other, better groups and that could only be beneficial to you. Coming around on that revolving stage at the Plaza Old Hill was a real event. You felt like a star, especially when you might be following a group like the Beatles, Big Three or Merseybeats etc.”

The Express & Star columnist described Ma Regan as

‘a softly spoken Irish ex-school teacher who uses the same psychology with the groups as she did with school pupils, discipline and organisation’ and the Plaza Old Hill as the ‘principal venue in the area for up and coming groups ‘. It is not surprising therefore that local groups felt that the first step towards success was acceptance by Ma Regan and the opportunity to play at one or other of her venues. It was thanks to an appearance at the Plaza in Old Hill and the personal recommendation of Ma Regan that the Strangers got an offer from Decca to appear on the Brumbeat album.

Bev Bevan, ex Move and ELO wrote:-

Former schoolteacher Mary Regan and husband Joe’s original ballroom venue was the Gary Owen Club in Small Heath, not far from Birmingham City’s football ground, St Andrews. Then came a converted snooker hall in York Road , Kings Heath which they re-named the Ritz Ballroom. Next came the Plaza in Handsworth, and finally the Plaza in Old Hill.The most memorable day in the short but eventful life of Denny Laine and the Diplomats was that of July 5th, 1963, when we were chosen to open the show for The Beatlesat the Old Hill Plaza on the Halesowen Road.

‘Ma’ Regan took care of the business side of things, leaving Joe to run the venues and act as compere, usually dressed in evening suit and black dickie bow.

He would confidently announce the various bands, groups and singers in his lilting Irish brogue. The Handsworth Plaza was the biggest of the four and regularly had half a dozen or more groups performing on the same night. Old Joe was not much of a book-keeper, and a few times, on a night off, we would roll up at the Plaza”, convince him that he most definitely had booked us for the night, slot in with all the other groups there and play a 30-minute set.

Then we would pick up our £12 fee and drive to Alex’s pie stand in Birmingham to celebrate our little con trick. Mary and Joe Regan played a big part in the development of rock’n’roll music in the West Midlands by allowing dozens of local bands the opportunity to play these venues, in front of usually packed audiences.

They also brought to the area some top-line names. We opened for The Bachelors, Susan Maughan, Julie Grant and, also in 1963, an absurdly talented 13 year-old singer, songwriter, pianist and harmonica player who was promoting his big USA hit Fingertips. His name was Little Stevie Wonder.

But preceding The Beatles on stage – wow, this was something else indeed! Remember that this was the beginning of Beatlemania. John, Paul, George and Ringo had already had big hit records with Love Me Do and Please Please Me and had just registered their first number one with From Me To You.

They were currently topping the LP charts with their debut album Please Please Me. Because of our popularity in the Black Country, Joe Regan decided we were best suited for the unenviable task of being the group on stage directly before the biggest pop phenomenon since Elvis Presley.

Actually, the huge crowd – literally hanging from the rafters – was very good to us and many of our own fans were in the audience. Nevertheless we still got the occasional chant of “We want The Beatles, we want The Beatles” from the dominantly female crowd. This night was a double-header for the mop tops and their small roadcrew.

Firstly they were booked to appear at the Regans’ other Plaza in Handsworth. Unsurprisingly, they ran late and our scheduled half-hour spot became an hour or more. Usually we would perform several Beatle songs in our set, but obviously we had to drop those from our repertoire.

Truth was, we were running out of songs to play and reverted to a couple of ambitious instrumentals. We included Hava Nagila (which had Denny playing lead guitar behind his back ) and the Dave Brubeck Quartet classic jazz piece Take Five, which featured me playing a drum solo in 5/4 time.

We realised The Beatles had finally arrived and we could hear them talking backstage. Then we saw them all watching us from the side of the stage. We finished our set, the curtains closed, the crowd now in a state of nervous, near hysterical anticipation. Then two, separate, unforgettable things happened.

Firstly, our rhythm guitarist (under strict instructions from his fiancé Gill),had the presence of mind to ask John, Paul, George and Ringo for their autographs. They all signed the reverse side of one of our Denny Laine and the Diplomats black & white, glossy, handout picture postcards. So there you have it – the four Beatles autographs on one side, and a photo of a group on the other that just happened to feature one Denny Laine, who, 10 years later, would join Paul McCartney in his band Wings.

This is a unique piece of rock’n’roll memorabilia that will one day fetch many thousands of pounds in a Sotheby’s music auction. The second thing that happened is that Paul McCartney strolled over to where I was packing away my drums (no roadies in those days!) and began talking to me. Yes, Paul McCartney of The Beatles walked over to this awestruck kid from Sparkhill, Birmingham and said in his broad Liverpool accent:

“Aye mate, dat was really fab gear dat, really great like, y’know playing dat drum solo in 5/4 time like. Our drummer Ringo, he could never do dat!

The Plaza Bingo Hall at Old Hill ,has now closed following the death of 94 year old Mary. Compiled by Keith Law
The Beatles at Old Hill

 

L

Photograph by Bob Summers, Birmingham History Forum The Ritz Ballroom in Kings Heath featured The Beatles on 15.02.1963 and Pink Floyd 16-12 1967

18 February 1967 – The Moody Blues with Traction and The Attack

Crazy Horse Salon

Where was this venue?

11 February 1967 – Deep Feeling with Me of Life

Caravelle Club

A club in the exotic location of Birmingham Airport!

16 January 1967 – The Way of Life (with John Bonham on drums)

6 February 1967 – Normie Rowe & The Playboys

Thimblemill Baths

Smethwick

….

Thimblemill Road Baths are now 75 years old and are known are more recently as Smethwick Swimming Centre

The art deco style baths opened in 1933 and was once known as a top concert venue with bands including the
The Beatles, The Kinks, the Small Faces and The Rolling Stones appearing here in the 1960s.

The Beatles performed here on November 19th 1962 just before they hit the big time.
As in the other ‘bath’ venues many of the local bands would appear here, either as the main attraction,
or in support

The lounge (now the gym) overlooking the pool, as it was when opened in 1933.
The art deco wall decorations are still visible. In the winter season the pool would be covered over so the baths could be used as a concert hall. They were also used for musical events –

…..

A photographic exhibition has been displayed in the baths for the past three months which traces it’s history
and includes one report which tells of how The Beatles having played at the Cavern in Liverpool one afternoon, then headed to Smethwick for a “prestigious” gig at Thimblemill Road Baths.

Compiled by Keith Law

26 February 1967 – Deep Feeling (with Jim Capaldi on drums) and Clockwork Orange

Le Metro

Snow Hill, Birmingham

Le Metro, at Snow Hill, well actually, it was under the train lines at Snow Hill! I think the entrance was in Livery Street, but I stand corrected.
It was a cavern type club, and if my memory, serves me well, it wasn’t open very long!

I remember going there several times, and seeing many local bands, like the talented but unrecognized band The Stringbeats,
who hailed from West Bromwich. They played several of my songs, and as they were from Caribbean parents, they made interesting renditions of my very ‘white’ songs! Austin the singer, was a personal friend of mine.

The club I think changed names a couple of times, but was certainly to end up as Holy City Zoo.

10672215_1058637650815087_826878396962041729_n

the-holy-city-zoo

Here is a piece from Bob Summers, of the Birmingham History Forum

Quote:
Yes the “Zoo” was the old “Le Metro” and the three owners where Andy Gray, Peter Warren (Who managed many Bars in town inc. Hortze Wine Bar),
and Jonnie Ralston.
The manager of the “Z00” was Duncan Gray (Andy’s younger brother)
It was a lively place while it lasted with many “C” local celebs in attendance.
They did have Live bands at weekends, but I can’t pin point any as they seemed to be young up and coming bands from around the MidlandsIt closed due to bankruptcy, I don’t know if its still used as a club today?

Mny thanks to Bob, for his input.

Compiled by Keith Law

Our aim to build a complete list of gigs at the Metro. Here’s a start but we need your help!

Good Time Losers 18/02/67
Ten Years After 02/5/68
Ten Years After 19/09/68

Belfry

Venue in Sutton Coldfield attached to the equally famous golf course, The Belfry hosted Led Zeppelin amongst others.

25 September 1967 – The Penny Peep Show and Sight & Sound

9 January 1967 – Lemon Lime and The Way of Life

6 February 1967 – Normie Rowe & The Playboys, Richard Henry & The Timebox and Monopoly

Send your content to us

We are now actively looking for content for the archive and will always add content that you send to us. The archive is a labour of love and we update it in our spare time.