Continuing our series of first hand accounts of student life, music, and protest in Hull during the late 1960s, we were pleased to receive contact from Ed Bicknell, (BA Social Studies, 1969). Ed took care of the Students’ Union Entertainments during that time and was responsible for bringing an incredible list of performers onto campus and into the city. These acts included The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Family, Joe Cocker, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and many more. In this piece, Ed recalls those times and shares some inside stories.
After graduation Ed’s career took him into the music industry where he managed British rock band Dire Straits for many years. During his time with the band, they sold over 140 million records, won four Grammys, three Brits, two MTV video music awards, and spent over 1,100 weeks on the UK albums chart. He says of his distinguished career: ‘Everything I learned at University came into play, even parts of the degree!’
I paid my first visit to Hull for many years about 6 weeks ago ( October 2015) to give “advice” about turning the Holy Trinity Church into a venue ( whilst keeping it as a place of worship), via an introduction from Jane Bennett Powell, who as many will know runs the London Alumni group ( thank you Jane).
I believe it’s the largest Parish Church in the UK ( will take up to 1000) and has fantastic potential – in fact several concerts have already been put on by the amazing team behind the development- a really enthusiastic and dedicated bunch who unquestionably will achieve their goal. What’s odd is that I spent three years in Hull 1966-69 and didn’t know the Church existed !
Having too much fun I’m afraid.
Amazing the changes to the City. So much has disappeared! I was last there playing drums with Mark Knopfler’s “spin off” band The Notting Hillbillies at the City Hall in 1990 I think.
Great gig and audience, all nine of them (I jest, there were 17). I do recall that our dressing room was the “robing room” for the Graduation Ceremony back in June 1969. I recognized the coat hooks!
That was long before there was a Marina, Holiday Inn , Princes Quay shopping centre and Hull Truck Theatre (on the site of the old Mecca Ballroom) and so much else. Oh, and I mustn’t forget The Deep.
I see the Cecil Theatre where I saw the Buddy Rich Orchestra (amazing) is now a bingo hall. Having some spare time I visited to the old student union (Staff House) which I hadn’t been in since July 1969!
A very odd experience. Spooky.
I had a look at the old refectory (on the left after you come in) where I used to put on bands (and the one on the right- now a restaurant/ snack bar I think) which we used for discos (pre “disco”) The centre room/ restaurant right in front as you enter was The Buttery bar back then, and the centre room upstairs we used for films on weekends.
Mostly Marx Brothers and the current fare of the time including many so-called kitchen sink movies- doom laden dramas set “up North”, along with 2001, Far from the Madding Crowd, Marat/ Sade, things like that.
Cans of film would arrive on Friday afternoons and were dispatched back on Monday mornings. The original Reception is now a brick wall on the left as you come in.
My “Ents office” was where the reception lady now sits opposite…..a wall has been taken out but I occupied that for a year fielding calls from booking agents before moving to a room behind the old kitchens and sharing with Chris Mullin (later Labour MP and great author) who was editing the student magazine, Torchlight.
One telephone, one desk. What really struck me was the size and height of the stage and narrow access down the stairs behind. Both so small considering who played there.
I took over running the Union Entertainments in October 1967- the start of my second year doing a BA in Social Studies – a “new” course back then.
I was already running the Jazz and Folk clubs (I’ve no idea how or why I managed that), and helping the various halls of residence put on dances and small concerts, including Needler where I moved that Autumn after a grim year in “digs” in Pearson Avenue eating meat pies with no meat.
There was no election as theoretically required. My predecessor Malcom Haigh (who was tragically killed in a car accident in 1970) simply said ” Don’t be daft, sod having a bloody election. You do it. I’m off to do my finals” and that was that.
I should mention he was a pretty useful jazz pianist and along with a guitarist called Pete Rowntree and a flautist called Neil, we’d formed a band within about two weeks of my initial arrival in 1966.
Malcolm then booked us onto every Campus event he possibly could and we supported the likes of Alexis Korner, Ralph Mctell, Champion Jack Dupree, Michael Chapman (great local folk singer) and so on. Strangely a contemporary recently sent me a tape of one of those gigs (the one with Ralph). Unlistenable! Really dreadful. But at the time we thought we were great. Sad really.
Once I took over the Ents “Committee” ( a fantastic, very organized and supportive bunch), I made one defining decision:
I would put on the bands that I liked and somehow sell them to the student audience which included a technical college next door and a teacher training college nearby. About 10,000 to 12,000 students in total to draw from. It couldn’t have been better time wise.
Many artists who’ve gone on to huge and sustained success since were literally surviving off the “college circuit” which was extremely vibrant then. Plus we had the good fortune to be close to Sheffield and Leeds Universities and I managed to arrange for bands playing there to come over to Hull and vice versa.
Much of The Who’s “Live In Leeds” was actually recorded at Hull City Hall (after I’d left) but as Pete Townshend (sorry, name drop) said to me many years later “Live In Hull doesn’t have quite the same ring about it”. Very droll is our Pete.
This was long before motorways, by passes and bridges over the Humber and getting acts to even consider coming up from London was difficult. In fact one or two simply never made it!
Readers might be interested in how much those who did get there were paid. I know the value of money has changed a teeny bit (!), but here we go:
- The Who (£250, £350)
- Jimi Hendrix (£350)
- Pink Floyd (£150 Union and £300 at the Lawns Centre)
- Muddy Waters Blues Band (£350, VERY chuffed to get them)
- John Lee Hooker (£250, and him)
- The Kinks (£350)
- Jethro Tull (£400- top 3 single)
- Geno Washington (£250 , £300)
- John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers (£300)
- The Moody Blues (£110,£125,£150 -3 visits)
- Joe Cocker and the Original Grease Band (£40 – yes ! Came over from Sheffield)
- Ten Years After (£250)
- Family (£175, £250- in my opinion the best band we had)
- The Alan Bown (£125, £150)
- Ralph Mctell, (several times £50-£75)
- Al Stewart, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn (same)
- Jimmy James and the Vagabonds (£200)
- The Action (£75)
- The Pretty Things (£125)
- Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum (£125)
I kept all of the contracts and I can’t remember a bad show.
Actually there was one – Manfred Mann, who we put on at the Beverley Road swimming baths with a wood floor over the pool. Don’t ask. They had a bad night (not THAT bad), and voluntarily sent back £75 of the £300 fee. Amazing. Would NEVER happen now.
With that exception the rest were all great and it won’t surprise anyone to know The Who were deafening and duly smashed everything at the end of ” My Generation”. Moon’s drum kit ended up in the audience and when they’d finished nobody applauded and no one left. Too stunned. Brilliant.
In THAT hall.
Pink Floyd did a bit of “performance art” at the first show. During one piece the roadies came on and boiled a kettle. The whistle in the spout produced exactly the right note at the right point in the song.
We had two local bands who I’d regularly pay £50 to support. Mandrake Paddle Steamer from Scarborough who had a singer called Robert Palmer (RIP), and a blues band called The Rats.
Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey. They became David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars. Great musicians and even better guys who I stayed in touch with right up to Mick’s sad passing in April 1993. Fitting that there is a Memorial Stage in his name in Queen’s Gardens.
Mandrake Paddle Steamer had the dubious honour of FOLLOWING Hendrix at a Skyline show in March 1967. Particularly intimidating since at the end of “Wild Thing” he stuck his guitar in the ceiling tiles and as it howled with feedback walked past me on his way to the dressing rooms ( actually the kitchen).
“******* great” was all I could say, which solicited a big grin.
To put those fees in context using “current” currency- a regular Saturday night gig in the Union would cost about 25p. The Union Ball in Feb 1968 which featured Julie Driscoll and the Brian Auger Trinity (number 4 single from memory), Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Blossom Toes, disco, steel band AND a meal was priced at around £1.25p.
When some of the acts sold too many tickets for the Union building we had to move them into either the Mecca Ballroom ( Mayall/ Tull/ Kinks, cap about 1800) or the Skyline ( Hendrix/ Geno, 1500 on top of the Co- op) in Hull itself.
Those shows were open to the general public. Student Union gigs were not due to restricted capacity (about 900 packed in) and the licensing regulations.
No one, least of all me, took any notice of fire limits. I don’t think I even knew what a fire limit WAS back then and certainly no fire officer or anyone to do with Health and Safety EVER visited the Union. Very different times.
In fact not one of those acts ever had more than two road crew, no one had a truck bigger than 3 tons, no one brought any lights, no one did a sound check , no equipment arrived before 5 pm and no one went on later than 8.30 pm. Sets were either 2x 45 minutes or 75 minutes.
As I say, VERY different times.
Of course ALL of this had an ulterior motive. Girls. Now I need to be politically correct ( not something on the screen in the late Sixties), but it has to be said that Hull was a very…. how can I put this ….”sociable” place to be. I’m sure every other further education establishment across the UK was then and still are, but in terms of Union “jobs”, running the Entertainments had a certain cachet that didn’t really come with the North Sea Fishing Society or the Men’s Knitting Association ( no offence intended).
In closing I must add that the entire University experience could not have been better in terms of the career I eventually fell into.
After failing utterly as a “professional” drummer and being sacked from an embryonic Average White Band for not being Scottish (in truth I wasn’t good enough), I accidentally bumped into one of the agents who used to try and sell me his crappy bands, on Oxford Street in early 1970.
“I can’t pay you anything but you can have half of everything you earn for the office” is stamped into my mind as if it were yesterday.
So with no money, no immediate prospects and in spite of the fact he had NO acts, I took up his “offer” and some years later had the good fortune and HUGE luck to be asked to see a “new” band looking for management playing in a tiny London club for £25 whilst renting a PA system for £75.
The band was Dire Straits and that night changed my life.
I went on to work with them, Mark Knopfler, Bryan Ferry, Gerry Rafferty (RIP), Scott Walker, Paul Brady and The Blue Nile over the next 30 years and EVERYTHING I learned at University came into play, even parts of the degree (the law and economics bit!) Lesson One: If you can’t read a poster from the top of a double decker bus it’s not going to be worth diddly squat.
Who it is, where it is, when it is and how much is all you need.
It took me 3 years in Hull to learn that and I had the best time.
The BEST .