When Pink Floyd played The Lawns and Jimi Hendrix was at RAG week

David Graddon (B. Sc. Econ 1966-69) was of the generation of students mentioned in Stephen Williams’ popular post ‘1967: an end to gowns and flour’. Here in a continuing series of recollections of major bands playing in the late 1960s, David recalls the night Pink Floyd played the Lawns and a personal, first hand evaluation of the student protest of the time.

It occurs to me that next October 2016 will be the 50th anniversary of the opening of Nicholson Hall, and I know that I was the first occupant of a brand-new single room in Nicholson, and lived in it for my whole 3 years at Hull. I have fond memories of the site, and the restaurant/entertainment facilities because between 1966 and 1969 we hosted Pink Floyd and Free in the restaurant.

Can we ever forget feeding ourselves, and lady guests, from a Wee Baby Belling cooker, and sharing a small fridge between 8 souls? Lads in Nicholson, lassies in Grant – is it still the same? The university authorities were very keen on “in loco parentis” in those days, and fraternising ended at 10.00-10.30 in the traditional halls.

John Kenyon was our Warden, lovely man, great historian, fantastic record collection of jazz and blues, and a light touch as the warden.

I remember seeing Jimi Hendrix in the Skyline Ballroom above the Co-Op in Rag Week in 1967 when Purple Haze was his new second single, and he played like a magician for an hour – unforgettable. He wasn’t top of the bill, either.

The main feature of the night was the wall of Marshall amplifiers and speakers, which Hendrix used as a scratching post for his guitar, and banging the guitar against them. When one column fell over, the roadies re-build it, and then stood behind it holding it up as Hendrix attacked it again. Most of the act was as you will have seen it in old clips – Hendrix playing with his teeth, kneeling on the floor with the guitar between his legs, setting light to it with lighter fluid. Just three guys, but so much noise and such expertise. The night was definitely organised by Ents Committee as part of Rag Week in 1967; Hey Joe was his first Hit, and Purple Haze was his new single, if this helps dating. Rag Week events were university student functions, not necessarily open to the general public.

Ironically, I think more people came to see Arthur Brown; the Crazy world of Arthur Brown had just had a monster hit with “Fire (I am the God of hellfire)” and had been on Top of the Pops on the telly, and Hendrix hadn’t.

Pink Floyd at the Lawns – I remember it, and I don’t (like they say: if you remember it, you weren’t really there) My memory is that Mick Murray as Head of Ents at the Lawns site managed to book them for £370 for the night (similar price for The Who). Ed Bicknell, as University head of Ents, may remember more.

We’d never done a major concert in the Lawns Restaurant, and the University set a fire limit of either 500 or 1000 people for it. This meant we could sell tickets for £1.50 each, and make some money for student funds. We built a stage on one side of the hall for the band, and another on the other side for ourselves, to produce the light show. You have to bear in mind that this was long before stadium tours with wagons and wagons of equipment, and a road crew of 1000’s. The band came and played, and lighting, special effects if any was down to the venue to produce. Because we were going to project pretty coloured lights on the walls, which were dull concrete, we had to go down to the Hull newspaper printing plant, and get end-of rolls of white newsprint to paper the stage wall, which was fun.

We also had to accumulate a number of slide projectors to get enough light on the stage so the guys could play, and enough to have some shining while the others got a new colour pack (think 5 glass slides, some food colouring assorted, bubbling agent, and explosion effect with solvents). My colleagues and I were building this on our stage (we got £15 between us, but we would have paid for the privileged position we were in) when one van with two roadies appeared, and asked us to help with their set-up, which we did.

Sometime later another van arrived, which was the 4 members of Floyd, and we did a very short rehearsal to make sure they did have enough light. They were famous as the originators of a light/sound package, but only in the clubs in London which were better equipped with stage lights, etc., and they didn’t travel with one of their own. So we’re all ready, and the audience arrives and sits on the floor (People didn’t dance to Pink Floyd, they just absorbed it). They play Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, and Interstellar Overdrive, and we go mental with the colours and the swirls, and a great time is had by all.

And then it’s over, but not finished – we have to clear up the building, and the roadies have to pack up the van. And we get to have a long conversation with some tired but elated musicians, and find out what it’s really like being a 1960’s student-focussed band who are never going to be Top 10 material, but are hoping to play what they want to play, have fun, and make people happy. But they got rich and famous later, but that, my children, is another story.

Next episode – the Floyd at Leeds City Hall: 360 degree sound systems, sea creatures in rubber costumes walking the aisles, and the smell of seaweed – more equipment for that, but not, sadly, us.

I also remember the student protest of the time. A lot of noise, some newspaper headlines, and no change at all. My Hull Uni friend Francis Arthur Green went to Paris in ‘68 full of supportive enthusiasm, and came back with a gashed head from the French Security police, who were not at all like the friendly British bobby.

One or two Paris student organisers became famous, and turned up 30 years later as MEP’s, with their snouts in the trough. Protests can be magnificent, and romantic, but they die away – people move on. Economics is what forces change; East Germany had crumbled by 1989, Tiananmen was ruthlessly crushed, and democracy replaced by some extra measure of wealth for the workers. The Haight – I went there on holiday in 1979, and of all San Francisco it’s a dump that you wouldn’t want to visit after dark.

Photos are highly rare of the time: there were no mobiles with cameras, and cameras were expensive (there was only one phone in each college, on the Common Room wall, and very little enthusiasm to answer it). With no social media to send them to, we just lived in the moment with friends who were there. There was a Hull University newspaper taking pictures, but mostly so they could get in free; students are nothing if not pragmatic.

Why did we demonstrate with the sit-ins? The answer in one word was Vietnam, and the US draft. “Old enough to fight and die, too young to drink legally.” There were these guys, like us ,but out in the real world, while we were treated like children by the University authorities, not trusted to have a view on how our university should be run, or what its goals should be.

Having said which, I’m really pleased the education was free.

©David Graddon (B. Sc. Econ 1966-69)

 

8 thoughts on “When Pink Floyd played The Lawns and Jimi Hendrix was at RAG week

  1. What a fascinating account – I was a Nicholson resident (85-87) and remember winning an INXS album on my first night! Not quite as cool as seeing Hendrix, although I always remember Hull did brilliantly for acts in the Union. Don’t really remember anything in the Lawns though. Thanks for sharing that David.

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  2. all that glorious detail about the staging for the Pink Floyd created a wonderful image… can’t imagine today’s students being asked to build the stage and handle the lighting etc for XX or whoever the kids listen to these days. Thanks for sharing these memories. I think students had more heart in those days, they cared they had principles and stood up for what they believed in. Were they free thinkers, did they make up their own minds on who and what to believe? And is that the difference between then and now?

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    1. Michelle, I think it’s a question of why we went to university; the government paid for whatever course you wanted to do, and then paid you to do it. You could study whatever subject, however unlikely to get you a job (I have a friend with a degree in Egyptian Hieroglyphics), but you knew you WOULD get an excellent job because there were few students, and we were the best and the brightest, and much in demand. So it was three years of intellectual fun and stretching yourself, with no debt at the end. There was no record of what you did (no social media), so no need to worry about the view a future employer might take of your activity. All the great and good came and gave talks to student societies, and responded to questions and to heckling, and no one felt threatened. I watched Vic Feather (then General Secretary of the TUC) face angry questions from students even further Left than he was, and he demolished them with argument like a modern stand-up comedian. Were we free thinkers? I don’t think so – we all came in with opinions and prejudices from our parents, schools and social class; but then we mixed with others unlike ourselves, and left with our prejudices either confirmed (but now with some evidence) or more or less modified by experience. If that’s not true now, I feel sad for all concerned. Thanks for the comment.

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  3. Brilliant memories and I am kicking myself for not being sensible enough to attend the Pink Floyd gig. Mind you it was a long way from Needler to the Lawns and there was inter hall rivalry to consider. We certainly used to play Nicholson Hall at football on the Lawns site. A female friend of mine, who did the same course as me, contacted me after seeing my article and commented that Cleminson and Needler regarded themselves as the premier halls of residence well above Thwaite and Ferens and immeasurably above Nicholson, Grant, Lambert etc. She was from Cleminson and I was from Needler, so I have to agree with her exquisite taste but I am sure you Baby Belling crew got by!!
    Joking apart I actually stayed at one of the Lawns Halls with my wife at a Convocation event and very comfortable they were but as I remember they took two occupants and you could get fed in the communal area of the Lawns. Very way out concepts from us traditional hall whallers or whallies.
    I totally agree with your point that we need some memories from Ed Bicknell about the music scene in the sixties, as he was a total legend at the time in securing top groups for ridiculous prices. It is almost bizarre to think that the Universities were able to attract the highest level of pop group for an absolute pittance. Ed was supreme in doing that and also was able to attract the group or artist that was not yet known but was the best thing of the future. At Needler he got Jethro Tull and Ralph McTell before anyone else had ever heard of them and for a pittance and I remember Ralph McTell kipped in my room and I drove him to Paragon Station the next day. He debuted ‘Streets of London’ at Needler and it went down a storm and he was a really cool and unassuming guy. These days they would want a mint and 5 star accommodation.

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    1. I’m very pleased to tell you that Ed Bicknell’s account of his time running the Ents Committee at Hull will be posted this Thursday. His piece taught me several things about the University I didn’t know, not to mention about a couple of well known bands!

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  4. Well, then – thank you David for that amazing PF gig! In retrospect, what a privilege to have seen them in such an intimate venue, playing that amazing music. I remember watching (yes, sitting on the floor!) entranced by Set the Controls…

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  5. Thank you David for your great memories. I too was in the audience that night for Pink Floyd. I wasn’t sitting down, but was right at the back leaning against the back wall in quite a crush. I have never forgotten it because the base was so loud (we just weren’t used to it then!) that the vibrations from the base came through the brick wall and into me!! Reluctantly I had to leave briefly because it jangled up my insides so much I thought I was going to be sick! Happy days…I was back as quickly as possible. I was lucky enough to be there at the time doing English and Drama Joint Honours and my boyfriend at the time knew and helped Ed Bicknell. I was also in the front row when Ralf MacTell did that gig and remember it, the room, even what I was wearing…it was a wonderful, intimate gig in an ordinary room! I also have a memory of whoever sang ‘Light my Fire’ doing a similar gig. I feel so privileged that we could be part of musical history, without knowing it at the time although we did recognise the amazing raw talent we were able to see.

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