Live music thrives in Bedford due to the hard work and dedication of the club-owners, promoters, musicians and the great gig-going public. From open mic nights and intimate gigs to the latest must-see bands and revival acts, Bedfordians are spoilt for choice. We asked some of our town’s movers and shakers for their live music memories (an edited version of this article appeared in the February 2013 issue of The Bedford Clanger. You can read it on line at http://www.scribd.com/thebedfordclanger)
First up, Kev Bailey of The Pad Presents remembers some of the long-gone music venues and the bands that played there. U2 in Queens Park anyone?!
The Horse & Groom, Queens Park: The classic backroom of a pub, this was used in the early 80s by local and touring bands on the circuit, gigs worthy of a mention include U2 and Marillion, this pub has since been demolished.
The West End Club: A social style club in Queens Park, popular with all the local bands in the early 80s inc Dum Dum Boys, Los Marbles, and Sunglasses After Dark
Bedford Boys Club, Bradgate Road (now The Place) : A great venue active during the 80s but forced to close due to noise levels. The venue featured a sunken dance floor which was built to house a boxing ring with a higher standing around the outside. This was the venue for my first ever local gig aged 14 when I saw Sheffield electronic industrialists Cabaret Voltaire, other notable gigs at this venue include The Fall, New Order, The Cocteau Twins, Test Dept, Virgin Prunes in the earlier part of 80s then a wave of bands visited around 1987 1988 with some highlights including Spacemen 3, The Godfathers, Dr and the Medics, Balaam & The Angel and the Chiefs of Relief, an early rock / dance rap crossover band that never really made it but they were way ahead of the game, the band featured the let Matthew Ashman from Bow Wow Wow and Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols, it’s the only time a Pistol has ever played in Bedford as far as I know, I will try and bring P.I.L to town one day though.
Polhill College or now Bedford University:The college and local promoters had a spate of putting a few odd gigs on there and as a venue was actually really good, one classic gig sticks out in my mind and looking at the line-up it was pretty special:
Other notable gigs there included Ghostdance and The Godfathers and a smaller gig in the Union bar featuring cult band Bob.
Bunyan Centre: Unusually this venue hosted a lot of post and 2nd wave of punk in the early 80’s, gigs there included The Exploited and Theatre Of Hate to name but a few, however a lot of regular crowd over-excitement brought a swift end to this sort of show at this council-run property.
George and Dragon Mill Street: The upstairs of the George and Dragon hosted a few gigs around 1985/1986 and found itself hosting lot of the bands that were part of the NME C86 scene, notable gigs up there included The Soup Dragons, The Wedding Present, Shop Assistants, The Mighty Lemon Drops, and my fave show was from an obscure band called Bogshed.
Winkles (now the Pad): Still the same size building then as it is now nothing has really changed over the years in that respect however there was the odd gig that took place at this venue both pre my time and later days, gigs included the Galaxie 500, Silverfish (later Ruby), The Cloud (later Teenage Fanclub) the Membranes (ft John Robb / Goldblade) and there was an early visit from a band called the Wake which featured Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream on bass.
Greyfriars International Centre (now Esquires): The early days of the venue the main gig room was downstairs (where the nightclub is now) and a healthy live scene developed around 1987/1988. Some of the more memorable gigs included The Primitives, Voice Of The Beehive, Cardiacs and Robin Hitchcock as well as a very healthy local band scene.
Bowen West theatre – Lansdowne Road (now derelict ): Part of the university this was used for a couple gigs in the late 80’s, one stand out gig included the US band Ultra Vivid Scene. The stage was very low and the building had tiered seats resulting in a small dance floor in front of the stage. A lively crowd at the Ultra Vivid Scene show saw the crowd spill onto the stage with the singer getting punched in the mouth by accident, I think this was the last gig at the venue!
Esquires – 1990 onwards: Esquires grew out of the ashes of the G.I.C and opened up for business around March 1990 reverting to the gig venue being upstairs and the original gig hall turned into a night club (now Holy Moly’s). The opening of the venue coincided with the Madchester scene in full swing and the venue had visits from Teenage Fanclub, Spiritualized and Stereolab. I promoted my first gigs that year bringing Ocean Colour Scene and Chapterhouse to town and I have never really been able to leave it alone since! John Peel also showed up a Babes In Toyland show that year as well, his first and last visit to the venue.
The history of Esquires from that point in is quite well documented through various websites however there are some favourite gigs that do need a mention, Mansun (Glastonbury Warm up), Shed 7 + Supergrass, Super Furry Animals, Space, Therapy, Muse and a personal fave gig of mine Carbon Silicon which featured Mick Jones from the Clash: putting on a band with a member of the Clash don’t really get much better for me! Another funny story that springs to mind is when the Thirst Club scooped a warm up show for the Cambridge Folk festival with The Beautiful South, the gig was supposed to be low key and just really for fan club of the band and the gig was not to be advertised locally, for some reason the tickets sales were very slow on this gig and it did not sell out which was very odd when commercially the band were at their peak, it later transpired that the record company mailed the database of people living in the Bradford area instead of Bedford, that explained the lack of people and the number of Northern accents in the building that night.
The Angel MK 1 – Elstow Road: Famed on the Jazz circuit as well as Rhythm and Blues etc the venue also hosted the odd gig in the late 80’s of interest with worthy visits by Urge Overkill, Thrilled Skinny and the venue was later home to the Thirst Club at the very beginnings of the Brit Pop explosion, some great bands came through at this time including Elastica, Sleeper and Compulsion and the infamous and only visit to Bedford by Oasis. Another notable gig would be Credit to The Nation, the bands politics had recently upset the NF and as a result the venue was threatened to be firebombed on the day of the gig, I think it’s the only gig that has had a police car out the front all night!
Civic Theatre – Horne Lane: Now turned into offices for Bedford Council this venue never reached its full potential for the gig going public and now never will. There are some gigs that took place worthy of a mention including headline shows from New Wave of New Wave band S*m*a*s*h, acid jazz funksters ‘the Emperors New Clothes’ and a gig by Shed 7 which was recorded by Radio 1 who later aired some live tracks recorded at the show. These live tracks also surfaced later on the b-side of one of their top 20 singles.
The Angel mk2, The Broadway (Now Klub Kristal): Owned and run the same person as the original venue I started promoting there along with local indie legend Milky (qv) as the Roar Club around 2006 / 2007. Although it didn’t last long, some of the stuff we managed to bring to town was quite impressive including a sweaty show with ska legend Neville Staple, The Young Knives, Bromheads Jacket and a low key warm up date with Razorlight which sold out on 2 minutes online. We also put on early shows from Jamie T with Laura Marling supporting who we paid just £12.50! The club lasted about 18 months then went as quick as it arrived.
Corn Exchange – St Pauls Square: Prior to hosting our first gig as Pad Presents in 2011, I promoted a gig at the venue back in 1990 with Ocean Colour Scene, back then the venue was ill equipped for gigs and after that initial effort by myself I never promoted there again or saw a band at the venue up until we started putting events on. Roll forward to 2011 and our initial trial for a show was to host a Ska Festival for St Georges Day. Pleasingly we found that the staff at the venue were as enthusiastic as ourselves and got right behind us to make the gigs work. We have tried to promote a varied music programme at the venue for Bedford as much as the enjoyment for ourselves. So far we have had shows from Levellers, The Beat, Neville Staple (The Specials) Adam Ant, From the Jam, Chas & Dave, The Selecter, The Blockheads, Alabama 3, Marc Almond, The Damned, The Dickies, Vintage Trouble, Bad Manners, Dr Feelgood and Hawkwind entertaining close on 8000 people in our first 2 years. We aim to bring some great acts to Bedford this year and have already booked Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks and US Punk legends The Misfits. Bands that have already played for us are frequently asking to return.
Looking into the future we will continue to bring new stuff to Esquires, just in last in the last 18 months we brought Ghostpoet, Mona, Alt J, Parma Violets to name but a few to town and we will continue booking established touring acts the town, quite often we are asked who are we going to book next? On the list of a few bands I would love to snare include some mid 90’s indie action from Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays, Shed 7 or similar and looking further back I would love to get Echo & the Bunnymen, Public Image Ltd and Peter Hook and even Soul II Soul playing in town, as long as people keep on showing up we will try and deliver the goods, what this space!
Next up, Gareth Barber of the Pad Presents shares his behind-the-scenes secrets:
Bedord Clanger: What is the most memorable live gig you’ve been to in Bedford?
Gareth Barber: There are probably 3 gigs that stand out, Graham Coxon, being supported by the then unknown Bloc Party a few years back, Myself and a good friend Marcus semi stalked Coxon around town during the day while we were giving out flyers for the afterparty, a night called ‘Superchunk’ we used to run at The Pad, eventually we spoke to him in Cafe Creme, gave him a flyer and he took the mick out of us! The others are Ghostpoet and Seafood at Esquires and also Vintage Trouble, we’d booked them the week after seeing them on Jools Holland, the place was packed and they played for nearly 3 hours non stop.
(Watch Vintage Trouble here: http://youtu.be/6fbMmrDItSg)
I’m not sure if the main memories from that one are from the band being incredible, the week of leg pains afterwards or a certain someone being passed out supporting his weight on his forehead in the Esquires cloakroom.
BC: What makes live music so good?
GB: The obvious one is seeing artists in the flesh, people that, especially when you are younger, you spend hours of your time on, sitting in your room playing their cds over and over until your parents get to the point of wanting to kill you. Overall though it’s the experience that a live show gives you, the atmosphere, the anticipation when the lights go down, sharing the moment of being in a room with however many other people that a as passionate about what is happening in front of you. And the beer, beer in plastic cups.. Lovely..
BC: What is the best gig you’ve ever put on?
GB: For atmosphere I would probably say Does it Offend You, Yeah?, the band had an insane tour manager called Lofty who staggered out of the van when they turned up, with a beer in his hand, muttering something about drugs. He then preceded to stumble about for the rest of the day whilst hitting on a Vice magazine reporter they had in tow. At the time I was only 22/23 years old and myself and Chris Smith ran regular gigs under the name ‘Hungry Bears’ (I don’t know why). We had booked them a couple of weeks after they were on the front cover of NME, but also accidently booked them when esquires was already booked upstairs. We had to put them on in the club downstairs and hired in a ridiculous 12K PA that made your teeth tremble, the kids were going nuts and myself and Chris ended up holding 200 of them back behind makeshift crowd barriers with the band playing right in our faces. Some guy broke his collarbone, that’s when you know it’s been a good gig! Other than that probably Skinnyman at The Pad or the first ever big gig we put on at the Corn Exchange.
BC: What would be your dream line up?
GB: Hard question because there are loads of people I’d love to book or would have loved to if they weren’t now defunct or dead! Some strange line ups coming up but out of the alive – Outkast with Eels, Devo, Queens of the stone Age, Justice and Aphex Twin. From the not alive/defunct section it’s going to be more obvious, Hendrix, Beastie Boys, Gangstarr, The Clash, ESG. Me and my lady friend Lou would actually die happy if LCD Soundsystem reformed and I got the chance to put them on.
BC: Why do you love what you do?
GB: I got the bug from the first ever show I put on, speaking to a man with the biggest grin on his face ever, telling me how happy he was that we’d put his favourite DJ on. It’s a weird, almost addictive buzz that happens from the moment you book someone after spending hours of your time chasing them, all the way through to the pressure of fronting loads of money not knowing if it’ll work, only having your gut to go on and then it all coming off (or not) in the end. You get to meet loads of weird and wonderful people and I like the pressure to make sure it’s a good show, which in the end is the most important thing. The only reason I started is because I didn’t like what was getting put on, which at the time wasn’t alot, so I did it myself. The added bonus is that it adds to the cultural side of the town I live in and in turn hope that it promotes the town in a positive way too.