From Taste, Elton John and Led Zeppelin to... Cheese: Memories Of The Marquee

During the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, the Marquee Club in London was the place to see great live rock ‘n’ roll. Some of the most famous names in music history played there, including many leading Irish lights. Paul Charles recalls those heady days, and remembers the special magic of the immortal Rory Gallagher.

In the mid-1960s when I was 15, I was living in my native Northern Ireland and managing my first group, the Blues by Five. As the name suggests there were five of them, and they played their (Ulster) version of the blues.

At that time, the legendary Marquee Club was really our nirvana. The Marquee Club hosted more groups in a week than we saw in the countryside in a year. We had to be satisfied with the rare, treasured opportunities to see the local heroes: Taste, The Interns, The Method, Sam Mahood & The Soul Foundation and The Gentry.

By the time I moved to London in 1967, I quickly discovered the Marquee Club was right, slap bang, in the middle of the then current Cultural Revolution. As soon as I managed to find my way around the Big Smoke, I set my sights on 100 Wardour Street in general, and the Marquee Club in particular.

What can I say about the Marquee Club? Well, it was not just the name of a large room with four walls people thronged to in order listen to music. The latter seemed to be the case with most of the “clubs”. In contrast, the Marquee Club was a “club” in the true sense of the word. It was where like-minded people (members) met in the shadows of the stripped, faux tent and canopy to enjoy a common interest: listening to the Marquee’s special blues-based type of music.

The greater the number of duffle-coat-clad members of the audience on any particular night, the more pure the music tumbling down from the stage seemed to be. I was so in awe visiting the hallowed venue for the first time that I’ve quite forgotten the name of the act playing. But I do remember the dark (sweating) walls; the club playing their own signature tune (a version of the Woodchopper’ Ball I believe); they also had a visible club secretary, Mr John Gee, who announced, with impeccable diction, the forthcoming attractions, before introducing that night’s group.

There was also, generously piled by the box office, for everyone in attendance, a giveaway calendar listing the complete programme for the next month.

I know for a fact I visited the Marquee Club on the 13 March 1969 to hear Terry Reid. I remember it well for two reasons. First, when I arrived up in West One there wasn’t the usual hive of activity in and around the door of 100 Wardour Street. Instead there was a large sign on the inside of the locked door stating that Mr Reid would not be appearing as advertised due to an undisclosed illness.

However, and secondly, my disappointment was (thankfully) only temporary because on my way back to Piccadilly Circus to catch the tube home, I happened to pop into Musicland and in the current American Imports section I came upon Van Morrison’s revolutionary masterpiece, Astral Weeks. I didn’t have enough coins in my pocket to purchase the album on the spot so I tubed it back to Wimbledon, scraped up the required funds from my mates and promptly returned to collect my prize. I have to say, it is the piece of music I have enjoyed most, out of all the records I have purchased, in the intervening 49 years.

As a fan, I spent many a great night in the Marquee Club shifting from foot to foot to get in a better position to see and hear the music of: Taste, The Spencer Davis Group, The Moody Blues (8.10.68), Cheese, Stackridge (let there be lids); Barclay James Harvest; Focus; Jethro Tull (26.11.68); Granny’s Intentions (way before their time: the country-rock scene didn’t catch up with them until a few decades later); Rare Bird; Elton John (whose backing was, I believe, Hookfoot); Faces (a total hoot); Genesis (the Peter Gabriel version); Clark-Hutchinson (performing Improvisation on a Modal Scale, in all its majestic ten-minute glory) and Ten Year’s After (who also performed a version of The Woodchoppers Ball).

Cheese were incredible. They featured Roy Abbott on guitar and Nicko Halliwell on keyboards plus John Wilson on drums, and Charlie McCracken on bass. They played on both the 25 and 29 June 1968. I was ecstatic not to mention lucky to catch them on both nights – they did a brilliant version of The Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ – because the band split up a few weeks later when Charlie and Wilsie left the band to join Taste.

In addition to Taste, I caught Rory Gallagher after Taste disbanded – indeed I was at The Marquee on the majority of the nights Rory played there and later, much later in 1986 in fact, I became Rory’s agent.

As a fan there was, of course, a whole host of other acts I had the pleasure of witnessing, including Joe Cocker and the Grease Band (featuring Henry McCullough, ex of The People and Eire Apparent); Stud (featuring John Wilson and Charlie McCracken after the Taste split); and Anno Domino (I was their publicist and I believe the first night they played the Marquee Club they supported Joe Cocker). Anno Domini also supported Stud at the Marquee Club on 5.1.71.

I visited the club at least once a week and sometimes twice – and, honestly, these visits were the highlight of my week. I used some of these early 1970s trips to the Marquee Club in my 2016 novel, One of Our Jeans is Missing and immensely enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

As an agent, I remember your band weren’t paid a guaranteed fee when they played the Marquee Club, because the artist always received 50% of the door take. I believe this emolument was eventually increased (via 55%) to 60%. Those were also the days before catering clauses became a major part of every act’s contract rider, but the Golden Spoon wasn’t too far away. Neither did the Marquee Club have an in-House PA system, so everything had to be carted in via the rear entrance in Richmond Mews.

The Marquee club didn’t provide a stage crew to help the visiting crew carry in and set up the band’s gear. In fact when Fruupp, the first band I booked into the Marquee Club, on the 23 July 1971 – for what was the first of their 10 appearances at the club – the musicians, plus our one roadie and myself, as both manager and agent, had to hump it all in, set it up and break down the gear ourselves. Fruupp were the next act I managed after The Blues by Five, and Vince McCusker on lead guitar and myself were the link between both bands. None of the above bothered us one bit because Vince and I had a band on stage, at the club we’d read and dreamt so much about, since the Blues by Five days.

I remember the Marquee Club being adventurous in their booking policy. The Marquee Club, became part of the Marquee Organisation and John Gee left to work at Radio Luxembourg and was replaced by Jack Barrie. In the 1970s Jack Barrie booked the majority of the New Age and Punk bands I was representing as an agent: Radio Stars; The Buzzcocks; The Undertones; Radiators From Space; The Human League; Sniff and The Tears; The Boyfriends; Tenpole Tudor, Penetration; 999; The Count Bishops; The Hammersmith Gorillas: The Lurkers and the Gang of 4.

On top of that there was also some of the old guard, artists like Skid Row; Fruupp; The George Hatcher Band; Racing Cars; Motorhead; and The Boyfriends. There was even the occasional trip to the club to see artists I didn’t represent. For instance artists like the best non-punk band to come out of the punk/new-wave era, Dire Straits, who were there on 21/3/78.

The Marquee’s brave booking policy also extended to the Marquee Organisation’s annual Reading Festival. We agents would have our separate, annual lunches with Jack where, after the social proceedings were dispensed with, he’d say, while shuffling to find a more comfortable position in his chair, “Okay Paul, who do you have for me for this year’s Reading?”

Elaine in the Marquee Organisation’s office always kept us agents up to date with all the comings and goings at the club. She frequently referred to us as, “her boys” and she would show us the safe place to stand in the new bar, stage right, to ensure we weren’t going to be permanently attached to the carpet. She’d also try and have the correct spelling of Fruupp’s name in the Marquee’s adverts and listings and not the oft misspelt Frup, Fruup or Frupp as opposed to the usual mostly anything but the correct FRUUPP.

The lesson I quickly learned was: be careful with the actual names of the acts you choose to represent. I always imagined Gnidrolog might have a lot more than 4 alternate spellings of their name to contend with.

The stellar Elaine would also make sure all her agents were properly accredited on the Reading Festival weekend. I remember one rainy festival, I spent a few (maybe even several) extremely enlightening hours in the backstage bar being entertained by Mr Nick Lowe (the Bard of Brentford and key member of Brinsley Schwarz (9.6.70) and Rockpile). It was the first time I’d met Nick, although I’d often seen him on stage with the Brinsleys, as they were affectionately known. A few years later I became Nick’s agent and have remained so since. Talking about decent blokes, one year for some reason or other I’ve never been fully able to recall or understand, I ended up hanging out at the artist’s entrance at the Reading Festival. I don’t know why I was there, or who I was waiting for. I imagine I had most likely been stood up. During the process of standing around with both my hands the same length, someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around only to find Phil Collins.

Phil was the drummer with Genesis and apart from his band being the main act of the day, they were also a band, which my band, Fruupp, frequently supported on the circuit. Being the gent he is, he came across to me to say hello and we chatted for ages about our bands and eventually, “he walked me in” (an euphemism for someone with a pass, getting someone who hasn’t, into an event.)

On one special evening (23/3/71) the aforementioned Elaine secured me a couple of tickets for the Led Zeppelin stop-off at the Marquee Club, on their “back to the clubs” tour. The club was packed to the rafters, but not quite as packed as it had been for the night Taste broke the box office record, which had previously been held by Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix had apparently sold 1,500 tickets and Taste, the story went, had even bettered than by another couple of hundred. Where they all were, I’ll never know.

Taste live, on any of their frequent Marquee Club appearances, were a true sight and sound to behold. If there’s a better band in the world I’ve never seen them. Rory and co would be on fire, absolutely amazing. Rory had learned earlier on in his career the secret to a great gig is not playing to the audience but playing with them. And the end of each Marquee Club performance Rory, Wilsie, Charlie and the audience would be equally drained.

You’d swear as Rory duck-walked across the stage he could have, if he’d wanted to, kept on going and risen up from the stage and continued his magic, six inches above our, the audience’s, heads. You’d wander out into Wardour Street after a Rory show and you’d still be buzzing with it the whole way home – and sometimes even through to the next day, when all you’d want to do would be to plan your next visit to the Marquee Club.

 

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