Tony May talking about Bands On Hastings Pier
Hastings Pier may just be a derelict and rusting shell at the moment but its great to know that ‘the old girl’ is far from forgotten in the minds of many in the town and a number of nostalgic groups have popped up since the fire on social media websites like Facebook.
One such group –‘ Bands We’ve Seen On Hastings Pier’ http://www.facebook.com/groups/196962362327/ has proved particularly popular and has become THE place to visit on the Internet for those who desire to wax lyrical about anything to do with the Pier’s illustrious musical past.
Reading through the many posts makes you realise just how special a place Hastings Pier was in its heyday and its amazing to see just how many popular performers have contributed memories and/or photos to the group pages. In fact, almost anyone who has ever meant anything to the musical side of Hastings seems to have joined the conversation at some point and told a story or shared a memory or photograph.
Interestingly, those who had a close association with the Pier in the 1970’s seem to be the most vociferous members and there are numerous posts from Hastings favourites like Phil Thornton, Mick Mepham, Pete Fairless, Johnny Mason (Alan Esdaile), Terry Huggins, Ken Dengate, Robert Wren and a host of others.Don’t for a second though think that the party is an all male affair. Oh No! Plenty of ladies including Pam Shallcross, Yvonne Cleland and Margaret Haywood are regular posters and are just as passionate and chatty regarding their own personal memories.
It never ceases to make me smile when I think of the ‘eclectic’ selection of acts to have appeared on the Pier over the years…One of the weirdest groups of all perhaps was ‘Gong’. A ‘space rock, psychedelic, progressive rock band’, the group was never one to do things by half and Phil Thornton remembers that “UV lights, gliss guitar and paper plates” were all ingredients of the bands stage show.
Showmanship, visual effects and stage presence was all the rage in music during the 1970’s Glam era and plenty of people have posted about ‘Fusion Orchestra’. Now, this name is unlikely to mean anything to those of you who followed the charts then but the band played at least three times in Hastings during the early 70’s including at least one gig on the Pier. If I tell you that the groups lead singer, Jill Saward, later went on to front the 80’s jazz/funk group, Shakatak, you may well get the impression that Fusion Orchestra was some kind of disco outfit. WRONG! In fact, the band played a pretty unique style of progressive rock and Jill was as well- known for her ‘erotic’ performances as for her considerable talent and stagecraft. Many of Fusion Orchestra’s songs were 10 or 11 minute long epics and as such provided Jill with plenty of opportunities to ‘mesmerise’ her audience as much with her movements and gestures as with her powerful voice. The mainly low-key or chorused vocal style Jill used/s with Shakatak gives little indication of just what a superb vocalist Jill is. If you fancy checking out her ‘wilder’ days I thoroughly recommend the bands only official album release ‘Skeleton In Armour’…
Reading some posters thoughts is also quite eye opening and its amazing what…
a) Some bands are prepared to do to try and get noticed
b) What the Pier management seemingly allowed to go on back then.
c) What some bands are NOT prepared to do once they are noticed!
Linda Wren recalls for instance being at a ‘Mr Big’ concert when their support band, ‘Jigsaw’, set fire to their drum kit at the end of their set! Now there’s Health & Safety for you! Talking of Health & Safety, Mick Mepham also recalls a gig by Status Quo where over 2,000 people were in attendance. According to Lloyd Johnson, however, the legal limit for the Ballroom was only 1,200! Reading stuff like this, you can almost understand why things have gone so far the other way these days!
Michael Wilson meanwhile remembers a gig by ‘Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ where the crowd greeted the band on stage by chanting ‘Geno, Geno, Geno’ (the name of one of the groups biggest hits) only to be told by the lead singer, Kevin Rowland, that they were not going to play that song tonight! In fact, if you are reading this Kevin, I wouldn’t bother to join ‘Bands We’ve Seen On The Pier’ as it is fair to say that you and your band are not one of the ‘fondly remembered’ to have played Hastings Pier!
One thing which strikes a chord with me in the light of some of my recent articles for this magazine is how many of the groups most regular posters are people who at one time or another worked on the Pier. Sure, a fair few of these did so as musicians but many had far less glamourous occupations and yet have plenty of fond memories…
Graham Howe was a ‘roadie’ during the 1970’s and posted to tell the tale of the time the tour truck for the band Golden Earring went through the Pier decking and had to be pulled out again by Hartnell’s of Brede. Another roadie, Glenn Caroline Piper, enthuses about the actual gig and remarks how the band had a Quadraphonic PA system. Such a concert must have been a special experience because Quadraphonic recording, records and record players failed to really take off and swiftly ended up as a short-lived experiment in the history of recorded music!
Talking music and Hastings Pier would not be the same though without mentioning Hastings premier synth band, Expandis. What ‘Die Laughing’ did for the reputation of rock in Hastings so Expandis were the flag wavers for the more electronic end of the scale.
Phil Thornton of the band has many memories of Hastings Pier both professionally related and otherwise. Philip Shallcross describes Expandis as a “collision between Kraftwerk and Iggy and the Stooges…in space” and recalls ‘dancing tea bags and alarming stage-diving and serious microphone abuse’, whatever that may mean – it all sounds like typical rock’n roll to me!
As far as my own personal memories of the Pier as a music venue go, my main recollection is of getting ‘all dressed up in glittery garb’ to go to a Gary Glitter concert (in about 1981) only to ‘wimp out’ about going in when I found the ballroom to be packed to the boards with Skinheads! A right plonker (Rodney) I’d even made a special plaque to try and give to Gary at some point! I’ll always remember the strange looks I got from the bouncers on the door when I arrived and still shudder with embarrassment when I think of how I had to sheepishly ask for my money-back (can’t recall if I got it though?). Oh well, maybe in hindsight it was just as well I didn’t go in – I would probably have been safer with the skinheads than with Gary!
The influence that Hastings Pier must have had on the local record buying public is summed up best perhaps by another memory of mine. In the early to mid 1980’s, I had a friend who collected records and was a regular at gigs on the Pier. When he died in 2001 he had amassed over 11,000 albums amongst which were the entire recorded works of Gong, Fusion Orchestra, Budgie, Man, Genesis, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Steeleye Span, Golden Earring, Gary Glitter and a whole host of other acts to have played on Hastings Pier.
To end though, I think Phil Thornton’s memory of being at a gig on the Pier during a storm is the best way of demonstrating just what a unique music venue Hastings has lost…
“I think it might have been Fruup or Budgie, anyway it was a bit scary (and a bit cool!) – the waves were slamming against the ballroom floor and going outside was VERY scary as the waves were hitting the ballroom/bar windows !!”
Tony May Hastings Town Magazine
Deborah Anderson… I grew up in Hastings in the 60′s & 70′s & have great memories of seeing punk bands etc. ..The Stranglers, The Damned, Sex Pistols (with Glenn Matlock) The Jam, & best band ever…The Clash as well as the Specials, Selecter etc as well as local bands..Huggy’s Plastix, the Teenbeats. A brilliant place to spend my teenage years til I moved to London in 1982 & well am still there, still into my music
Colin Jefferys… Blimey we must of gone to all the same gigs. I left Hastings in 81. But yeah the clash was a standout moment. The pistols were awful but I loved it.