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The Crown

The Crown is arguably the most important venue in Birmingham’s music history. It was here, in the upstairs room, that Henry’s Blues House was started by Jim Simpson and would play host to the early gigs of Earth, before they renamed themselves Black Sabbath.

But the The Crown was also a focal point for Brummie punks as it spread out of London. The Crown, or more specifically, the room above the bar which played host to all the amazing gigs and nights, is under threat with the brewery wanting to convert the space in to apartments. This would be a terrible fete to befall a genuine Birmingham cultural heritage space. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of the possibilities of what we could do with this room, a dedicated site for Birmingham Popular Music attracting tourists to the spiritual home of the legendary Sabbath, where you can still read the graffiti of the punks, Drongos For Europe, scrawled on walls, Sheldon Punks on the stairs.

Tom Pickering lived at The Crown while his dad, Tom Picking Snr ran managed it. Tom has written in with a wonderful recollection of his time their:

Hi

My dad (also called Tom Pickering) was Landlord of the crown from the late 1950’s through to about 1970. It was a tied house at the time (M&B) but revenue from the two dance halls went to the landlord if he arranged events there.

I was born in a local hospital in 1964 and my sister actually born there in 65.

There are actually two performance spaces upstairs – a main dancehall with a side “snug” bar and a smaller room (called the Boatman’s Bar – and decorated with utterly incongruous sea related paraphernalia) with higher ceilings (and much better acoustics) both were used interchangeably in the 1960’s – though the second room seems to be the host for most of the Henry’s Blues House meetings.

The list you have online starts in 1970 – but music was a huge thing much earlier than that. I remember it was called “underground” music and started around 1967 – 68.

My gran used to do the catering for the pub and fondly remembered the bands who used to play there. I remember at the height of the newspapers monstering of Ozzy Osbourne her telling me how he was a good kid and always super polite to her on the catering station – although always hungry and trying to scrounge a sandwich.

The Crown was one of only a few venues in the city centre with a license for music and dancing so it attracted the early folk scene too. My mom has stories about the Chieftains having a residency there in 1964 / 65, and there were regular appearances from local bands like “Denny Laine and the Diplomats” and the Moody Blues.

There was a pie stall on old bombed out building near the front door which was hugely popular with local biker community. They labelled themselves “Ton Up Kid” and their big aim was to do 100 mph on their old Norton and BSA motorbikes. these kids formed the nucleus of the early heavy metal fan base.

One of the things that people forget is that there were an utterly notorious set of “cottages” outside the crown (underground public toilets now filled in on the corner of Hill st and Station St) which made it a haven for the early LGBT / Trans community. Who used to mix utterly happily with the Bikers, Rockers and Folkies. It was a very special, if somewhat unpredictable place.

The period 1970 – 75 was when most the Henry’s gigs happened – we had been moved out of the Crown by the brewers. Between 74 and 77 the old place fell into a terrible rut. There was always an undercurrent of violence about the pub, with such a disparate community there frictions and jealousies would be bound to spill over, but my father used to keep a very effective door squad in place and it never really became toxic.

When he left the violence became untenable, and the pub was let out as a tenancy in late 1976 / early 1977. My dad took up rental and returned to what had, by now, become an absolute shambles of a place. He bought back his old door squad and the violence all moved back away.

This is when Billy Dupre asked my dad for his old bar job back. Billy was a lovely gentle sort of a guy – a real 1960’s hippy and kids all loved him (me included) He asked if he could run the (now closed as a fire hazard) back lounge bar as a venue for his “punk” friends – and change the music on the jukebox to allow him to do this.

So he set up and before long the Crown was swarming with Punks. We re-opened the old upstairs dance hall and used it as a venue for a “punk disco” with Billy and his friends playing records. The ATV show Revolver filmed a bunch of the filler “crowd” footage up there.

The Punks made enormous peacock there for 2 years or so until the 1979 Thatcher Govt brought the full weight of the transition to a service economy down to bear – Birmingham was one of the worst places affected and the scene moved first to a mix of Punks / Skinheads (drawn by a shared love of Reggae) and then to a preponderance of skinheads with a few punks.

The two punk bands who got their break there were GBH (famous – still touring) and Drongo’s For Europe (not famous – still touring). GBH had a long term residency there – contact them they have some great stories of the place.

The skinheads drew in the far right and (by this stage of the recession) despirate for money my dad started renting out the lounge and upstairs as a venue for some pretty unsavoury groups. Column 88, Combat 18, British Movement, Ukranian Ex-Servicemens Association (these were some bad bad men) all regularly used the place.

The local bands going through there at the time included UB40 and The Beat – who name check the Crown on the final line of their single Tears of a Clown where Ranking Roger declares that he’s “going down town, going down the crown”. For a while Pig-Bag used the downstairs as an informal “club house” – Art School kids and Skinheads – it was a weird mix.

Curiously there was never any real friction between the mixed race SKA / Skin / Two Tone kids and the Far Right. A more cynical man than I might speculate that that they used to unite in hating the Asians. It was this background that gave rise to the unique multi-racial mix of the Zulu football supporters.

There was an attempt in 1980 – 81 to bring back Heavy Metal to the place – we hired the DJ from the Beerkeller (Bogarts) and this was quite popular for a while – but no real live music. The posters you see up on the walls in the photos are all from that period.

The graphiti (Bill Has Joy… etc) all dates from 1979 and is very much the hall mark of the punks.

By 1982 music had all but stopped at the place. It became home to the Zulu’s and all the Punks moved on. We moved out in the autumn of that year.

Hope this gives some flavour.

Tom

But the The Crown was also a focal point for Brummie punks as it spread out of London. The Crown, or more specifically, the room above the bar which played host to all the amazing gigs and nights, is under threat with the brewery wanting to convert the space in to apartments. This would be a terrible fete to befall a genuine Birmingham cultural heritage space. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of the possibilities of what we could do with this room, a dedicated site for Birmingham Popular Music attracting tourists to the spiritual home of the legendary Sabbath, where you can still read the graffiti of the punks, Drongos For Europe, scrawled on walls, Sheldon Punks on the stairs.

We want to save this space, or at least enter into discussions with the developers to re-think their plans and release the asset, which is of cultural importance to the city, which they are custodians of.

Would love to crowd this page with photos, ticket stubs, memories, gigs listings, anything to do with your time at The Crown and your thoughts about what we can do to save this amazing place!

To kick things off, here is flyer for the regular punk ‘discos’ that took place at The Crown, I’d love to hear from anyone who went there or has photos, who the dj was, and who the phone number belonged to!

If you can’t read the type because of the ingrained dust and bleed of the ink it says:

PUNKS OF ALL SEXES

ARE WELCOME EVERY FRIDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHT

AT THE CROWN HOTEL HILL ST BIRMINGHAM

THE DJ YOU KNOW WOULD RATHER REMAIN INCOGNITO PUBLICITY WISE

ITS FREE      ITS FREE

643 1506

KEEP IT ROCKING

And this is what the upstairs looks like today, Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, Champion Boy Dupree,Thin Lizzy, not to mention the punks of Brum and countless others have all been present in these rooms, even the posters remain.

 

 

Henry’s Blues House

Hill Street/Station Street

Henry’s Blues House was great venue, and was situated on the corner of Hill Street and Station Street. It featured many of the up and coming local blues,and R&B bands, including Robert Plant, Crawling Kingsnakes and Band Of Joy. Led Zeppelin was one of the first bands to play there.

Band Of Joy

Jim Simpson was a well known musician and band manager and photographer for the Midland Beat newspaper.He was manager and trumpet player of the pop group Locomotive, and opened the club seeing the potential for his band in playing at the venue.

Earth then Black Sabbath

Thinking this might be a good opportunity, the members of Earth the name before Black Sabbath approached Jim to see if they could perform there too. Jim Simpson was at that time managing local bands Bakerloo Blues Line and Tea & Symphony. It was obvious that Earth needed a manager who understood their music so Jim allowed them to open for the well-known band Ten Years After at the club. The audience response to Earth’s performance was favourable so Simpson also agreed to manage them

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

Bakerloo Blues Line, Tea & Symphony 25/06/68
Tea & Symphony 27/03/71
Anno Domini 09/05/71
Paladin 11/05/71
Karakorum 06/06/71
Pete Brown & Piblokto! 08/06/71
Thin Lizzy 11/07/71
Anno Domini 18/07/71
Alan Bown 08/08/71
Gypsy 10/08/71
Open Road 10/11/71
Gypsy 12/11/71
Status Quo 24/11/71
Blonde On Blonde 16/12/71
Stackridge 19/12/71
Tea & Symphony 21/12/71
Gypsy 19/03/72
Gnidrolog 26/03/72
Budgie 09/05/72
Thin Lizzy 16/05/72
Capability Brown 30/05/72
Trapeze 20/06/72
Warm Dust 18/07/72
Thin Lizzy 29/08/72
CMU 17/09/72
Supertramp 19/09/72
Strife 01/10/72
Budgie 03/10/72
UFO 10/10/72
Chicken Shack 31/10/72
Judas Priest 27/12/72
Skin Alley 30/01/73

 

Jim Simpson hosted a talk about Henry’s at The Crown where regulars attended and talked about some of the great bands that they had seen play there and the memories of the music and wider cultural landscape of Birmingham. The talk was attended by an ex-member of Henry’s, Member 199 according to the membership card he brought with him!

 

Bandanna

In the early 1970’s a group of musicians were rehearsing in the function room of the Queen’s Head pub in Erdington, Birmingham playing mainly blues based rock music. The band consisted of Tim Holmes (bass), Terry Drew (rhythm guitar), Charlie (drums), and Gbeam (lead guitar) known for his habit of calling everyone he met ‘gbeam’ or ‘smackbeam’.

The band had been looking for a vocalist for some time and someone suggested to Dave Kirby that he auditioned for the position. Dave turned up at the next rehearsal and was duly appointed as lead singer of the band.

At this point the band’s name was Ion Mistress. They were playing around the pub circuits of Birmingham at venues such as Henry’s Blues House. Following musical differences Gbeam left the band to be replaced by Tim Holmes’ cousin Julian Price (lead guitar) and Charlie left to be replaced by Eric (drums). With the loss of Gbeam the band moved away from the blues based style to a more Birmingham style of rock and began writing their own music with a Deep Purple/Black Sabbath feel resulting in the band moving to more mainstream venues such as The Eagle, Barrel Organ and Bogart’s.

In the mid to late 70’s once again musical differences forced changes to the band and Julian and Eric left to be replaced by Pete Butler (lead guitar) and Ray Richmond (drums). Terry Drew also left to follow a spiritual path. This left Ion Mistress as a four piece band with Tim Holmes’ fluid bass riffs complementing Pete Butler’s Richie Blackmore/Jimmy Page style riffs, with Ray Richmond keeping the rhythm section tight and Dave Kirby’s power vocals leading from the front. The band was now set for a new phase and it was felt that a new name was also needed. Bandanna was born.

Bandanna (mk1) 1975-1978 was Dave Kirby, lead vocal, Tim Holmes, bass, Ray Richman, drums and Pete Butler, guitar and vocal

Biog Pete Butler

After the obligatory school bands, in the summer of 1975 I answered an audition and went to the Queens head in Erdington to meet the remaining members of local band Ion Mistress, Dave Kirby and Tim Holmes. I remember it was quite daunting as I had to go to the other end of Erdington High St! ….unknown territory

After beating off the likes of Ozzy Osborne’s younger brother (also called Ozzy) and along with drummer Ray Richman we formed Bandanna (mk1)

We were, of course, very serious and rehearsed 3 nights per week in a room above the station hotel in Sutton Coldfield. We quickly wrote a set of new original material along with 2 covers (Blue Oyster Cult and BTO..let’s rock!!!)

We bought a van and a very nice Cerwin Vega P.A. from Pete Oliver. We had 3 roadies, Steve, Ada and Tony, who loved Jackson Browne (I ribbed him mercilessly about his taste in music as I called it “soft” …one of my favorite songs is now a Jackson Browne!)

Soon we were on the local rock cct, Bogart’s Sat Lunch, then the night club circuit (Barbarella’s, etc), the University cct, Working Mens clubs cct (mostly, not sure why, in the North on England, the M6 was our constant companion / route. We would schlepp all our gear up rickety fire escapes to be told „no one in tonight boys, footballs on”

Tim was very handy in the workshop and we soon had the obligatory drum riser and lighting gantries and our manager, one Pete Wetton, bought some pyro equipment (Pyro Pete as he was from then on referred…The problem was that most of these places couldn’t accommodate this “kit” We would play on tiny stages with drum riser, smoke machines and pyros, many times the drums took up the entire stage.

One night at the infamous Tonypandy Naval Club we nearly killed a headbanger with the pyros, the poor chap had is head directly over it when it went off, obviously had his eyes tight shut, luckily for us.  Insurance was something older folks had!

We played London pubs, e.g. the rock garden, Covent Garden with the ex Nice bass and drummer. It was sad to see that Jackson and Davison were in the tiny rock garden and Emerson had gone global by then.

We played support slots for Motorhead at Marquee (5 pound fee) and Strife.

Motorhead anecdote….The band, who were all rather nice, had a group of Hells Angels in tow for “security”; now we were old school and wanted to change into our “stage clothes”…I had seen queen (supporting Mott the Hoople) ! at the town hall that year and my girlfriend at the time (now happily married ), created me a rather fetching Silk Bat-Winged top a la Brian May (see pictures) which I had to wear for the Marquee

The dressing room at the marque is very small and in there were 2 of the aforementioned “security” guys. The head angel was a veritable mountain of a man called Levi and one of his “team” had upset him….when I got into the room I wedged myself in the opposite corner to these 2 and tried to tune my guitar , which I then leaned into the corner while I changed my clothes, I heard the most awful sound and it was Levi beating his friend viciously and then timing how long it took for the little guy to come around, if it was too fast , he got hit again..nice. Then a glass came flying across the room and hit my guitar,,, the indentation is still there, I picked up the guitar and ran onto the stage for cover.

Earlier in the evening Lemmy had asked me if he could borrow my amp as his had blown up the previous evening. He was a very nice chap so I agreed; also Phil Taylor borrowed some drum stuff from Ray. When the gig was over I noticed that all of the lent gear was missing, now I had not long before witnessed the dressing room ultravilolence but, I plucked up the courage to approach the roadie who was loading their van and just said “I think you have some of our stuff” “oh sorry” he said and promptly handed it all back, phew!! I didn’t fancy hospital food; I just wanted to get home.

We did support gigs for Budgie who were quite unfriendly, Sassafras, who’s lead singer Terry Bennett was a real gentleman and helped us a lot, Trapeze, Max Boyce the comedian and many more.

The high water mark was undoubtedly our support slot for Budgie at Newcastle City Hall. It was the jewel in the crown of the town hall cct which at the time was THE cct to play. All the big bands did it and it was fantastic to hear our music echoing around these venerable galleries. We had a great reception from the crowd.

In 1978 we supported The Damned at Northampton Cricket Club. By then punk had taken a hold on the agents that we worked with. After this gig we thought decided that this punk was not for us and decided to have a hiatus.

Bandanna Mk2 1980 to 84 was Dave Kirby, lead vocal, Mark Whitehouse lead guitar, Mick Hackett, Bass and synth then Mick Walker, then Paul Prior, bass, Brett Lane then Paul Thurlow, drums , and Pete Butler, guitar and vocal, Kevin Hunt lead guitar and synth.

During the pause I tried out for Working Mens Club band and met Mark Whitehouse; he was quite a character, he had beautiful Les Paul artisan but couldn’t connect his pedals! I Immediately thought “now here’s a chap I could work with” so I asked him to be my co guitar in the reformed Bandanna mk2

I asked Dave Kirby and my old chum Mick Hackett, an ex-colleague in BT , Mick knew a drummer called Brett Lane so that was the 1st line up sorted.

We decided not to use any of the material from Mk1 and so, as we did back then, wrote a whole new set based around the twin guitars and opted for a more pop rock feel. More like Thin Lizzy, Toto, Boston, Journey etc etc

We started Monday nights at the railway, in Curzon St, the Landlord was Bernard and his wife Winnie. We quickly moved to Thursday eve, then to Friday (ever closer to the coveted Saturday night top spot. That was occupied for a long time by Bernie’s favorites, the Dealers, but as soon as they had a break we were in like a shot.

Things had moved up a gear or two when we recruited Paul Thurlow. He brought a tightness that we had lacked before and he was, and still is, one of the best drummers around.

The Railway was then sold to Fred Waite, the father of some of the Musical Youth group. He invested a lot into the pub, new stage, in house PA etc and we continued to get good crowds.

Mick Hackett decided to move to Nottingham so had to leave the band….how parochial is that!! Paul knew Mick Walker who promptly filled Mick Hackett’s shoes and bought some fresh blood.

Towards the end Kevin Hunt and Paul Prior ably filled others shoes. Kevin moved to Australia and formed a very successful Pink Floyd Tribute Band.

Eventually, Paul T decided he needed a break from music. At the time we were disappointed that we hadn’t been more successful. In hindsight it was the correct thing to do as we had gone as far as we could.

Since then I worked with a singer and drummer called John Hopcroft .

We formed a band playing West Coast American covers with  Phil Brittle on Drums, Mick Walker on Bass, Pat Geddes Smith on Sax and keyboards and Paul Davis on guitar an vocals  We recorded a version of Chaka Khans (Michael Sembello) Eye to Eye which I am rather proud of which may be uploaded.

I also played with a 7 piece Rock on Roll band called the red river rock and roll show featuring Ted “Big Daddy” Lee and “Rockin Roddy” on vocals. It was great fun and have too many stories about them to go into here. Pat the Sax was there too.

I also played with a social club band called Midnight Express who were fab, with Phil Brittle drums, Andy Abbot on bass (From 60s band Muscles), and Mike Munslow on piano (mike is a fab piano player and we were bloody good.

Since then I moved to Bavaria in south Germany and have a little rock covers trio called Francis Collection.

Www.franciscollection.com

Mick Hackett started in covers bands while still at school in Halesowen, moving to original rock bands at 18 and cutting his teeth with Snakeshead before joining Bandanna after meeting Pete Butler at work. He left when he moved to Nottingham in ’83 where he played with a few original bands but it ain’t Brum and he soon shelved it for a few years. After a couple of bouts of life threatening illness he decided that life is indeed too short and returned to the scene with 3 Above The Shark, a powerful covers band who were an integral part of a thriving East Midlands pub circuit. Forming Not Now Kato, an ‘original covers’ good time band, both bands ran side by side for several years. This was followed by a dabble in rock theatre as Nigel Tufnel with acclaimed tribute show The Spinal Taps, before hitting the pub scene again with The Incredible Skank Brothers, a very successful high energy Ska show, who are currently ruling the roost in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.

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