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)