The Music of Portsmouth in 1968

New Year's Eve was once again fairly conventional in the city including Jack Hawkins' Big Band at the Locarno with the Mel Douglas Four and Anne Shelton and the Mike Negal Trio at the Pack. The newly-opened Tricorn had cabaret with Dickie Valentine, while Fred & Winnie Noakes were still offering Old Time Dancing. However, the New Year was exciting as the Who came to the Brave New World. In his first column, Spinner reported, "jazz dies at the Oasis, but pop stronger than ever". He described how local musicians Dave Pittard & Pete Bugg (ex-Chapter Six) "seek bass and organist to form a blues group" and mentioned local band Blues Convention. Despite their recent local Poll success, Soul Society split. Elsewhere, local performances featured Human Instinct, Blackout, Cloud, Chances R, KC's Convention and Coconut Mushroom who played at London's 100 Club. St Louis Checks changed their name to the Magic Roundabout. Despite the shift towards experimental rock there was also "vintage" rock & roll at Fratton's Railway Hotel with Southern Sounds & Apex Four.
The Guildhall offered folk fans the Dubliners in January, then Jon Isherwood, Pat Nelson, Diz Dizley and the Strawberry Hill Boys (subsequently the Strawbs). There was also a March concert at the Oddfellows Hall starring Sandy Denny and Strawberry Hill Boys. Folk-blues performer Gerry Lockran returned to the Railway Hotel, followed in May by Roy Harper and Diz Disley. Maynard Ferguson's Big Band came from the USA to the Guildhall.
At Highbury Technical College, the students booked Amen Corner who failed to arrive. The Pretty Things substituted but Skip Bifferty stole the show and the college's student band Harlem Speakeasy also appeared. Rikki Farr's Brave New World opened a licensed bar and took an increasing eclectic approach. The club featured the Amboy Dukes, the Herd and future Woodstock stars Ten Years After; invited Jon Isherwood to run Sunday folk nights with the Singing Postman, Jo Ann Kelly, Cliff Aungier and Malcolm Price, and offered jazz acts like Dakota Staton, Stan Tracey and Tubby Hayes. It also booked more soulful performers like Jimmy James, the Carl Douglas Stampede and Chris Farlowe, while Pete Brady brought his records show back to Eastney. Humphrey Lyttleton appeared there with Elkie Brooks, John Peel compered Blossom Toes and Gary Farr, and other acts included Lace, Family, Spooky Tooth, Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger. The latter two and Zoot Money also played the Guildhall and in April so did the Bee Gees with Grapefruit and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. It was a strong period for pop at the Guildhall including Gene Pitney with Don Partridge, Status Quo and Simon Dupree & the Big Sound and at the end of April, Duane Eddy and the Chantelles. In early May, Johnny Cash arrived with June Carter, the Statler Brothers and Carl Perkins. Two weeks later saw the Seekers and Russ Conway, while Julie Felix, Manfred Mann and Lace entertained students from Milton's College of Education at Clarence Pier.
Harlem Speakeasy played in the new auditorium at the Convent of the Cross School in Waterlooville. Two of their friends, art students Geoff Allman and Martin Richman went with them, watched a young man called Cormac improvise strobe lighting and decided to form what would become Portsmouth's leading psychedelic light show. Their first gig with Harlem Speakeasy came at Broderick Hall, Gosport on 22 March and the following weekend they appeared together in Lymington. Tangerine Slyde were a rare live band at the Marina and Life appeared at the Parlour. The Guildhall was mainstream with the Four Freshmen and Scaffold followed by Englebert Humperdinck and one-man-band Don Partridge.
In April, local bands attracting attention included Southampton's Hendrix/blues influenced Brother Bung, Inspiration, Monk, Tangerine Slyde, Lace, Universal Trash Band, Technicolour Yawn, EXP, Wrong Direction and blues band Pevensey Browne Melon, while Spinner predicted "Coconut Mushroom will turn professional within a week". Meanwhile an interview with Derek Shulman confirmed that they "love the Vat crowd" but in early April, Spinner reported the club's unexpected closure. While the number of local bands seemed to increase weekly, some rock venues appeared under threat but Harlem Speakeasy and their lights could be seen for 3/6d at St Margaret's Church Youth Club in Highland Road. Shortly after their reformation, Magic Roundabout split, as organist Rod Watts and drummer Alan Williams departed, but the band reappeared as England, while Rack changed their name to Virgin Circle and the Beatles' Apple label signed Coconut Mushroom.
The main local gig of the year was the Lord Mayor's Charity Dance at the Guildhall on 30 April, featuring Machine, Harlem Speakeasy, Blackout, Lace, Coconut Mushroom, and dancers Crimson Ballet. The evening ran from 8pm - 1am, and tickets cost 5/6d (27.5p). Spinner mentioned the "creditable light show at the Guildhall" - Allman and Richman again - now called Light Emporium. The duo were paid 10/- for their efforts and their success led to a light show residency at the newly opened Paradise Found Club at the Foresters Hall in Fratton Road. Geoff Allman's diary of the Guildhall gig records the Harlem Speakeasy set list, which indicates the kinds of numbers covered by local 'soul' bands at that time. There were songs by the Impressions, Junior Walker, the Temptations, Otis Redding, Edwin Starr, a medley of older rock & roll songs and another medley by Stevie Wonder. There was a hint of newer styles in their cover of "All Along the Watchtower" although the set ended with soul 'crowd pleasers' "Sock it to 'em JB" and "Land of 1000 Dances".
When Light Emporium appeared at Paradise Found with Lace and Life they met audience hostility. Portsmouth had its version of the summer of love and hippy culture but there were still gigs and venues around the city with an older, tougher ambience. Working bands and light shows could not afford to decline gigs and things might be particularly difficult for light shows, often on tables in the middle of the audience. A week later they appeared there again with Brother Bung and the Universal Trash Band. The lightshow had now expanded to include two girl dancers 'Fred' and Jane but they were harassed by audience members, one of the bouncers received broken ribs trying to halt a fight, the police were called, arrests made and the club closed down. In May, Harlem Speakeasy and Light Emporium appeared together for the last time at Copnor's Red Door as the band were turning professional having signed with London agent Richard Cowley (Chrysalis). In mid-May, another new club, the Incredible Black Cat opened in North End featuring local bands Virgin Circle, Tangerine Slyde, Technicolour Yawn, Brother Bung and Lace.
On 16 May 1968, plans were announced in the Evening News for Portsmouth Students' "Dance of Words", starring "a myriad of poets, musicians, dancers and avant garde theatrical companies headed by Radio One DJ John Peel". The audience were "expected to sit on the floor" and Spinner added that Portsmouth is now "attracting some attention away from London as one of the truly progressive centres". The event at the Guildhall on 27 May, featured Fairport Convention, Gary Farr, Free, John Peel, Coconut Mushroom, poets Brian Patten and Michael Horowitz, Principal Edward's Magic Theatre, King Idas Watch Chain, Pete Brown and light shows. The full page newspaper report informed us that 1,100 people attended and that the "general policy was to do just whatever one felt like doing" including "..poetry spoken to an improvised jazz background". One of organisers, student 'Guff' Putowski said it was "something more than just an ordinary dance or concert".
The notion of Portsmouth as a leading "progressive centre" owed something to the establishment in 1968 of the "Portsmouth Arts Workshop" - one of a network of such venues around the country. The main influence was the recently opened Arts Lab (Jim Haynes) in London's Drury Lane one of the centres of Britain's emerging 'counter culture' or 'underground'. There were three organisers in Portsmouth - all architecture students at the College of Technology, Stefan Szczelkun, Peter Jones and Mel Croucher. Croucher - from Portsmouth - and Jones had started with a blues band and a brief series of gigs at the Indigo Vat. The Arts Workshop was generally held in K Block and former stables (since destroyed) opposite Park Building behind the Guildhall. Guest artists included Roland Miller, the Exploding Galaxy, John Stevens, the Liverpool Poets, the People Show, bluesmen Alexis Korner and Spider John Koerner and Marc Bolan who arrived with John Peel and his Tyrannosaurus Rex partner Steve Peregrine Took - around the time that they played the first Hyde Park free concert in London with Jethro Tull, Roy Harper and Pink Floyd. Yoko Ono, booked for the workshop, did not appear but contributed material for the weekly booklet of poems. The students operated with the support of their department and produced experimental films and even video - a rarity in 1968. Environments were created using plastic and other found materials and on occasions the participants created street theatre in the city centre. Years later in his PhD thesis, Szczelkun recalled the events as "a celebration of everyone's creativity". He believed that they were "radically challenging culture, society and ourselves" in what constituted the beginnings of the "counter culture" and a "new alternative society". He added "our efforts were imbued with tremendous hope, optimism and utopian zeal".
Radical politics informed another experimental venture at the College of Art just prior to its integration into the new Portsmouth Polytechnic. Jeffrey Steele, systems painter and new Head of Department had introduced an 'experimental music' option to the fine art course with the support of Maurice Dennis who ran complementary studies but also played for decades in local 'traditional' jazz bands. In the autumn of 1968, Ron Geesin, who would collaborate with Pink Floyd's Roger Waters on the soundtrack to The Body, arrived as a lecturer - followed in 1969 by Gavin Bryars. They explored the collaborative art/music practices of America's Black Mountain College (notably John Cage) as well as the European avant-garde (Schoenberg, Webern, Stockhausen etc). There were a series of visiting lectures from Morton Feldman, Cornelius Cardew and others and Cardew's Scratch Orchestra and Marxist-informed politics were influential. There was a series of Thursday lunchtime performances of Terry Riley's 'minimalist' composition "In C" with keyboards and amplifiers borrowed from local groups. The Portsmouth Sinfonia emerged from this project, involving many students and guests, including Brian Eno. Players had to be either non-musicians, or play an instrument that was entirely new to them. They went on to perform at London's Festival Hall and Royal Albert Hall and even reached the singles charts in 1981 with "Classical Muddly".
The 'New' Indigo Vat revived and was listed by the Evening News along with the (no longer Soul) Parlour, Incredible Black Cat, Paradise Found, Manor Court Youth Club and the Locarno. Sadly, just days later Spinner announced "Indigo Vat closed by promoter Ann Luckett" because of "some very childish people with fuzzy hair who ought to be in a nursery". Coconut Mushroom appeared at the Brave New World where "jazz & folk look like folding" and the club's application for a late licence was rejected. Light Emporium appeared at the Parlour with Blossom Toes (Friday) and Fire (Sunday) who - like the Mushroom - were said to have signed to Apple. Chris Ryder and Mick Gill of Cherry Smash joined England who aimed to play west coast music while Mark Tuddenham was now playing guitar with Cherry Smash. A month later Spinner suggested that England were "going down extremely well with student audiences (who) seem to appreciate west coast sounds more than most fans". Meanwhile their former vocalist Chris West was rehearsing with Tangerine Slyde. Julie Felix returned to the Guildhall on the first day of June. KC's Convention re-named themselves Winds of Change, while the debut by local blues band Chicago's Insolence at the Incredible Black Cat was well received.
The Brave New World presented American soul act James & Bobby Purify, PP Arnold and Patti LaBelle & her Blue Bells. Local bands were attracting regular gigs in their own right with Inspiration, Crimson Ballet and Fire all "well received" at the Parlour and Lace, working on "unusual numbers", appearing at Copnor's Stacey Club (4/6d). The Savoy promoted a Charity night on Thursday 13 June featuring no less than twelve groups and two lightshows. The main acts were RCA recording band Skip Bifferty, the Mojos and the (British) Amboy Dukes. They had another major event on Thursday 26 June with a varied bill of pop stars Dave Dee, Dozy, Mick & Tich, rock & roller revivalists the Wild Angels, Brother Bung and northern pop soul band Rivers Invitation. In July 1968, Harlem Speakeasy released their first single on Polydor, the cover of a Drifters/Bert Berns song "Aretha" backed by the group's own pop-psychedelic "Sights of Pegasus". The group withdrew from live gigs to rehearse for professional work around the country to support the release.
In July there was a gig promoted by Southern Grammar School on all three floors of Kimbells featuring Lace, Cherry Smash, England, Nite People, Pat Nelson and Jon Isherwood. In the following week Spinner previewed Apache's (Rikki Farr) promotion of Traffic, Family and Spooky Tooth in the open air at the end of South Parade Pier, promising a contribution from Light Emporium to provide "off beat atmospheres". The tickets were 10/- (50p) and Spinner subsequently praised the "success of (this) experimental show which attracted a gate of 2500" despite the fact that for various reasons the main pier lights had to remain on and the lightshow could not operate. Spooky Tooth returned with Fairport Convention, Skip Bifferty and England at the Guildhall and traditional jazzmen Kenny Ball and Ken Colyer were there too. Repartra & the Delrons and the Foundations appeared at the Locarno in Arundel Street.
On 18 July, the main music story in the Evening News, was about two new singles by Harlem Speakeasy ("Aretha") and folk singers Jon Isherwood and Pat Nelson. Nationally, Melody Maker's review of "Aretha" described a "bright arrangement that has the same calypso feel of Unit Four Plus Two's 'Concrete and Clay' Quite fun". A week later the group were at number 10 in the Evening News chart although the single sold only around 500 copies nationally. Local bands continued to provide much news at this time with new band Dawn including former members of Soul Society & Chapter Six while the Universal Trash Band were "completely changing their style and are also looking for a new name and image". Tangerine Slyde were at the Black Cat for a week's residency while the Shades played their first gig at the Golden Bell pub in the Tricorn. Glass Menagerie and cult singer Terry Reid appeared at the Brave New World as DJ Erroll Bruce departed and Harlem Speakeasy launched their professional career supporting the number one act the Equals. One national newspaper suggested that for the band's USA release they would have to drop the name Harlem but the release never happened.
August opened with a range of acts visiting the city including Amen Corner at the Locarno, Blossom Toes at North End's Parlour and ska band the Skatalites with the Motives on the Solent Beat Cruise. Coconut Mushroom denied rumours of a split, having recently played in Switzerland, Scotland and elsewhere in Europe. Their new single "Run Run" was due for release on 18 September. Cherry Smash had a new single imminent and a new agency MMF (Ricky Martin, Alan Matthews, Robin Ford) represented Blackout, Image, Gold Dust, England, Race & Heaven - the latter, the reformed Universal Trash Band. Blackout also reformed as Gold Dust. In mid-August Harlem Speakeasy returned to Portsmouth to headline a more modest Lord Mayor's Charity Dance, which had moved from the Guildhall to the Conservative Hall in Fratton Road. Nocturne and Virgin Circle played support. Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera appeared at the Parlour in North End.
On the local music scene, the Brave New World finally closed in late September 1968. It became a mainstream nightclub, renamed the Pack. Rikki Farr shifted his attention to the first and smallest of the three Isle of Wight Festivals, entitled "The Great South Coast Bank Holiday Pop Festivity". It ran from 6pm on 31 August until the following morning and featured Jefferson Airplane, the Move, Arthur Brown, Plastic Penny, the Pretty Things, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Fairport Convention, Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation and others. The Evening News described "The Festival that became a fiasco". Spinner criticised poor refreshments and toilets, technical "breakdowns" - notably the Move's speakers and Airplane's light show - and boredom, suggesting "experimental sounds in pop are laudable but 16 hours of the same sound can prove tedious".
He updated readers with the news that "after three months of constant rehearsal, a new group Heaven makes its debut at the weekend", playing "uncommercial material (which) can be vaguely described as that of Blood, Sweat & Tears crossed with Electric Flag". Their first gig in September was at Dorchester's Steering Wheel Club and they were expected to open a new Portsmouth club "catering for west coast & blues followers". This was an interesting generic description indicating that the new rock sounds were often characterised popularly as "west coast" even when they may have been rather more English. Other British acts playing in the city in September were Skip Bifferty (Parlour), the Small Faces, Simon Dupree & Big Sound, and Madeline Bell with two shows at the Guildhall. The Nice, Family and Pretty Things (Apache Promotions) were at the same venue costing 10/-. In early October Free, who had appeared at the Dance of Words, were at the Parlour - their first club gig in the city.
Cherry Smash were due to release the single "Goodtime Sunshine" on Decca on 4 October but Decca withdrew the release at the last moment. Local folksinger Pattie Barklie completed her album for Fontana while the Salutation pub in New Road was helping to revive interest in live jazz. A regular venue for local acts was the Chords Club in Lymington who booked Tangerine Slyde, Gold Dust and Heaven - described as "Portsmouth's homegrown Family". Despite the growing audience for newer rock music, Spinner suggested that the Inspiration were "proving soul could still be popular" with a capacity audience at the Rock Gardens. Tangerine Slyde attracted a capacity crowd at a College of Technology dance, while "Paradise Found" re-opened in Kimbells with local bands Gold Dust, Lace, Heaven, Chalk Farm and Virgin Circle. Gold Dust were also at the Parlour as were Harlem Speakeasy. Lace were in the EMI studios, where Beatle George Harrison asked if he might borrow a fuzz box, but they were unable to oblige, as they needed it themselves. Their new single "People, People" was recorded in the 8-track EMI studio, Abbey Road at a time when most British recordings were still 4-track. The Equals appeared at the Locarno; the Jacques Loussier Trio at the Guildhall.
Harlem Speakeasy struggled with their promotion to the professional world. They reformed as six-piece, Speakeasy, with a new single "Life is not All" due soon - new members were drummer Alan Williams (ex-England) & Mick Legg (bass), while original members Jon Edwards, Geoff Gunson, Pete Gurd and Sam Eddings departed. The band moved away from soul and pop music to concentrate on modern 'progressive' sounds but it caused problems with gigs booked previously as a pop-soul act. This was a case of a popular local band being 'promoted' beyond their capabilities and the band split as their London contracts were cancelled. Tangerine Slyde reformed with Mick McGuigan (bass) and Ken Cornish (vocals). Cornish was "boggling" after using a 200 watt PA and "being able to effectively overpower the remainder of the group", which in those days was an unusual experience for singers, who rarely had foldback or powerful systems. Meanwhile, EXP retired "to re-think," and Inspiration, Mushroom and Heaven appeared at the Parlour. Sadly, when "many fans turned up" for 'underground' favourites Pink Floyd and the Deviants in the Highbury College refectory, neither group arrived and Coconut Mushroom & Tangerine Slyde entertained the students instead.
In mid-November, Rikki Farr opened a new Sunday night 'Blues' Club at Kimbells with Pete Bardens' Village. The club was advertised as "all very freaky" with Irish band Taste next week. The local folk scene was fairly quiet but Spinner described a performance by Pentangle at the Guildhall, as an "experimental...polished evening". He also called the new Fairport Convention single "Meet on the Ledge", "sheer poetry", the Strawbs "Man Who Called Himself Jesus" as "very moving social comment" and the Band's Music from Big Pink "essential".
A mystery single, "We are the Moles" by the Moles excited speculation in the national and local press. Some thought it was the Beatles but Spinner asked, "are the Moles really Simon Dupree & the Big Sound?" They 'phoned to deny it but it emerged eventually that he was correct. Despite the media coverage, the record was not a hit. As 1968 drew to a close, a variety of recording acts appeared in the city including Blonde on Blonde at the Parlour, hit recording trio the Gun (with Speakeasy) at Kimbells and singer-songwriter Al Stewart at the Railway Hotel Folk Club. There was a second Lord Mayor's Charity Dance at Kimbells featuring Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera, Heaven, Gold Dust, and Virgin Circle. Alan Bown! Fairport Convention and the Idle Race played at South Parade Pier, while Free were at the Parlour, now often known as the Oasis. Among local bands Tangerine Slyde played St Edmund's Youth Club. Wrong Direction played at Manor Court followed by Speakeasy on Friday 13 December - unlucky for the band as they never performed again. Manor Court's Christmas Dance in the school hall featured Alan Bown! the Inspiration, and DJ Steve Hamilton while Free & Chalk Farm played the Oasis. Family appeared at the Kimbells Blues Club on 22 December and on the following night there was acoustic blues at the Railway with Gerry Lockran and Cliff Aungier.
The publication of Spinner's Annual Pop Poll reflected the variety of styles on the live scene:
Local: 1-Inspiration, 2-Heaven, 3-Virgin Circle, 4-Lace/Coconut Mushroom, 6-Gold Dust, 7-Good Life, 8-Brother Bung/Speakeasy (no number 10)
Visitors: 1-Family, 2-Amen Corner, 3-Alan Bown! 4-Gun, 5-Blossom Toes.

NOTE: This is an edited version of Dave Allen's research. The full version can be found at Mick Cooper's website