News Stories

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.

 

 

The Way of Life

Nick Warburton has provided this comprehensive overview of The Way of Life

This historically important band is best known for featuring future Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham and bass player Dave Pegg, who went onto Fairport Convention among others.
The Way of Life #1 (June 1966-September 1966)
Reg Jones – lead vocals, harmonica
Chris Jones – lead guitar, rhythm guitar, vocals
Mick ‘Sprike’ Hopkins – lead guitar, vocals
Tony Clarkson – bass, vocals
John Bonham – drums, vocals
One Sunday (either 12 or 19 June but the latter is more likely), the Jones brothers auditioned about 20 drummers at the Club Cedar where the new outfit had a gig that night. John Bonham, who’d worked with Clarkson and Hopkins in The Nicky James Movement, turned up and landed the job.
The Way of Life was augmented for its first few gigs by Nicky James on second lead vocals but he did not stay long.

Selected gigs:
19 June 1966 – Club Cedar, Birmingham, West Midlands (debut)
21 June 1966 – Carlton Club, Erdington, West Midlands
24 June 1966 – Sydenham Pub, Sydenham, West Midlands
25 June 1966 – Hereford Lounge, Bull’s Head, Yardley, West Midlands
1 July 1966 – Hereford Lounge, Bull’s Head, Yardley, West Midlands
8 July 1966 – Hereford Lounge, Bull’s Head, Yardley, West Midlands
9 July 1966 – Hereford Lounge, Bull’s Head, Yardley, West Midlands with The Falling Leaves
14 July 1966 – Station Inn, Selly Oak, West Midlands
15 July 1966 – Sydenham Pub, Sydenham, West Midlands
16 July 1966 – Hereford Lounge, Bull’s Head, Yardley, West Midlands
23 July 1966 – Carlton Club, Erdington, West Midlands
30 July 1966 – Station Inn, Selly Oak, West Midlands
5 August 1966 – Carlton Ballroom, Erdington, West Midlands with Little People
20 August 1966 – Carlton Ballroom, Erdington, West Midlands with Long Stack Humphries
10 September 1966 – Carlton Club, Erdington, West Midlands with Outer Limits
21 September 1966 – Mackadown, Kitts Green, West Midlands with Modernairs
24 September 1966 – Station Inn, Selly Oak, West Midlands

The Way of Life #2 (September 1966-January 1967)
Reg Jones – lead vocals, harmonica
Chris Jones – lead guitar
Mick ‘Sprike’ Hopkins – lead guitar, vocals
Tony Clarkson – bass, vocals
Mac Poole – drums
John Bonham was sacked for playing too loudly and his friend Mac Poole, who’d worked with the Jones brothers in The Chucks from January-April 1966, took his place behind the drum kit. Poole has also played with The Incas and The Seed during 1966.
In December 1966, The Way of Life signed with the Rik Gunnell Agency and recorded some tracks in London. However, the following month John Bonham convinced the Jones brothers to re-employ him. Poole subsequently joined Hush.
Selected gigs:
30 September 1966 – Bell Hotel, Northfield, West Midlands (Poole’s debut – from his diary)
5 November 1966 – Mews, Moseley, West Midlands with Locomotive
26 November 1966 – (Club Cedar, Birmingham?) with Elkie Brooks
2 December 1966 – Mad House, Erdington, West Midlands
9 December 1966 – Carlton Club, Erdington, West Midlands
December 1966? – opened new club in Liege, Belgium (most likely the New Inn Club)
31 December – California Ballroom, Dunstable, Bedfordshire with The Quiet Five
4 January 1967 – Hereford Lounge, Bull’s Head, Yardley, West Midlands
5 January 1967 – Carlton Club, Erdington, West Midlands
9 January 1967 – The Belfry, Wishaw, West Midlands
11 January 1967 – Heartbeat, Birmingham, West Midlands (Mac Poole’s final gig – from his diary)
The Way of Life #3 (January-February 1967)
Reg Jones – lead vocals, harmonica
Chris Jones – lead guitar, rhythm guitar, vocals
Mick ‘Sprike’ Hopkins – lead guitar, vocals
Tony Clarkson – bass, vocals
John Bonham – drums, vocals
Tony Clarkson’s younger brother had gone to school with Birmingham-born, Canadian-raised siblings, Ed and Brian Pilling, who had returned to the West Midlands from Toronto to form a group. Introduced to Clarkson, the trio decided to put together Wages of Sin and lined up gigs in Germany.
Clarkson enticed Mick Hopkins away from The Way of Life. John Bonham was also invited but decided to stay with the Jones brothers. The Wages of Sin would become Yellow Rainbow and then Zeus, becoming Cat Stevens’s backing band.
Selected gigs:
12 January 1967 – Gig in London (according to Birmingham Evening Mail)
13 January 1967 – Penthouse, Birmingham, West Midlands
16 January 1967 – Caravelle Club, Birmingham Airport, Birmingham, West Midlands
20 January 1967 – Royal Oak, Hockley Heath, West Midlands
21 January 1967 – Elbow Room, Aston, West Midlands
26 January 1967 – Station Inn, Selly Oak, West Midlands
28 January 1967 – Penthouse, Birmingham, West Midlands
29 January 1967 – Gotham City, Birmingham, West Midlands
30 January 1967 – Heartbeat, Birmingham, West Midlands
31 January 1967 – Carlton Club, Erdington, West Midlands
4 February 1967 – Le Carnaby Club, Leicester, Leicestershire
18 February 1967 – Tiles, London with Hush and The Question
The Way of Life #4 (February-September 1967)
Reg Jones – lead vocals, harmonica
Chris Jones – lead guitar
Danny King – bass, lead vocals
John Bonham – drums, vocals
Chris Jones assumed the lead guitar role and Danny King was brought in on bass and second lead vocals.
Danny King was a respected singer on the local scene and had led a succession of groups since the early 1960s starting with Danny King & The Dukes. After fronting Danny King & The Royals and Danny King & The Jesters (with Chris Jones, he formed Danny King & The Mayfair Set. During 1966, King left to sing with Locomotive.
Shortly after joining The Way of Life, the quartet travelled down to London and played the Bag O’Nails. During the summer of 1967, The Way of Life, added Bugsy Eastwood from The Exception as a second drummer, but he did not stay long.
Selected gigs:
11 March 1967 – California Ballroom, Dunstable, Bedfordshire with The Quiet Five and The Essex Five
13 March 1967 – The Belfry, Wishaw, West Midlands with Manchester’s Playboys (billed as New Way of Life)
25 March 1967 – The Mews, Moseley, West Midlands
5 April 1967 – Mackadown, Kitts Green, West Midlands with The Exception (billed as New Way of Life with Danny King)
17 June 1967 – Handsworth Plaza, Handsworth, West Midlands with The Kinks
21 June 1967 – Hen & Chickens, Langley, West Midlands with The ‘N’ Betweens and Priority
5 July 1967 – Industrial Club, Norwich, Norfolk
The Way of Life #5 (September-October 1967)
Reg Jones – lead vocals, harmonica
Chris Jones – lead guitar
Dave Pegg – bass, vocals
John Bonham – drums, vocals (replaced briefly by Phil Brittle)
After Danny King left, Dave Pegg came in from The Exception, a band that had shared the stage with The Way of Life at least once earlier in the year.
Pegg had an impressive pedigree, having previously worked with The Trespassers, Dave & The Emeralds, The Crawdaddies and Roy Everett & The Blueshounds before backing Jimmy Cliff for a few months from November 1965-February 1966. He then hooked up with The Uglys in mid-February 1966 before joining The Exception later that year.
Laurie Hornsby’s book Brum Rocked On!, notes that the new line up rehearsed at the Warstock pub. Dave Pegg’s diary notes that the line-up’s first gig took place at the Swadley Youth Club. The bass player recalls that he played about 20 gigs with Bonham before the drummer left.
According Harry Barber’s book on the Band of Joy, drummer Phil Brittle took over briefly before leaving to join the fourth line up of The Band of Joy in late September. He only stayed a very short while however, before John Bonham took his place and met his future Led Zeppelin colleague, Robert Plant.
Selected gigs:
15 September 1967 – Swadley Youth Club, Swadley, West Midlands (Pegg’s debut – from his diary)
17 September 1967 – Crown & Cushion, Perry Barr, West Midlands
18 October 1967 – British Services Club (Perry Common British Legion?)
23 October 1967 – Queen’s Head, Erdington, West Midlands (Pegg’s final gig from his diary)
The Way of Life #6 (October 1967-circa January 1968)
Reg Jones – lead vocals, harmonica
Chris Jones – lead guitar
Jon Fox – lead guitar, vocals
Danny King – bass, vocals
John Panteney – (Pank) drums
Dave Pegg left in late October 1967 to join The Ian Campbell Folk Group and later found fame with Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull.
The Jones siblings brought back Danny King to replace Dave Pegg on bass and recruited Jon Fox on second lead guitar and vocals. Fox had started out with his own outfit, Jon Fox & The Hunters, in the early 1960s. He subsequently became a member of Johnny Neal & The Starliners before forming The Varsity Rag in 1967.
The Way of Life also found a new drummer, John Panteney, who had worked with The Chantelles (after the Jones siblings had moved on) in the mid-1960s. He then played with several other local acts before agreeing to join The Way of Life.
However, it was yet another short-lived version. By early 1968, Fox had moved on to form Cathedral while Panteney joined Paradox with future Magnum singer Bob Catley.
Selected gigs:
7 November 1967 – Industrial Club, Norwich, Norfolk
4 January 1968 – Birdland, West Bromwich, West Midlands
The Way of Life #7 (January-November 1968)
Reg Jones – lead vocals, harmonica
Chris Jones – lead guitar
Danny King – bass, lead vocals
Barry Smith – drums

The Jones brothers rebuilt the group by bringing in drummer Barry Smith, who’d worked with them previously in The Chucks during 1965. Smith had started out with former Way of Life bass player/singer Danny King in his early 1960s band, Danny King & The Royals. Later on, he worked with Danny Burns & The Phantoms.
The final incarnation recorded some material for Polydor Records before splitting up in late 1968. The Jones brothers continued to play live on the local scene. Reg Jones died in 2004 and Chris Jones passed away in March 2014.
Selected gigs:
17 March 1968 – Crown & Cushion, Birmingham with The Penny Peeps

Sources: all West Midlands gigs were sourced from the Birmingham Evening Mail, which is an amazing resource for music journalists. Other magazine/newspaper sources were: Melody Maker and Eastern Evening News.
Copyright © Nick Warburton, 2014. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior permission from the author.
Thanks to Mick Hopkins, Tony Clarkson, Dave Pegg and Mac Poole (who both shared dates from their diaries), Jon Fox, Harry Barber, Laurie Hornsby, John R Woodhouse, who runs the Brumbeat website. Mick Bonham’s book John Bonham: The Powerhouse behind Led Zeppelin was another great resource.

Kinetic Circus

Charles Davies sent in this Led Zep ticket and says ‘Me and my 3 mates saw THE BAND. i think the tickets cost £1 each .INCREDIBLE. We stood next to Roy Wood!!’

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.