Portsmouth Music Scene
This paper draws on a project called “Pompey Pop” that in one sense I have been involved in for around fifty years and in a more specific and structured way for the past two years. The on-going project set out initially to document popular music in and around the city of Portsmouth, from the end of the war in 1945 to 1969. This detail can be found in a number of publications and websites – especially www.pompeypop.co.uk/. In this paper I will draw on that information, identifying some broader ideas about that scene, popular music in general1 and about methodological issues that have arisen in the process.
Southsea, is at the southern end of Portsea Island, including the city’s four miles of seafront. It was forbidden territory in the summer of 1944 as a key site in the D Day embarkations but at the war’s end, those miles of esplanade, parks and beaches seemed a vital element in Portsmouth’s future prosperity and recovery from severe bomb damage:
The citizens of Portsmouth had always been aware of the economic problems brought by relying on the dockyard, with its economic expansions and post war contractions. Ways were sought to broaden the economic base. One was by promoting Southsea as a seaside resort2
This future included entertainment on the council-owned South Parade Pier and other locations, although in addition to holidaying families enjoying their trips to the seaside, Portsmouth & Southsea could offer relatively cheap, popular live entertainment throughout the year to city residents and to servicemen, often far from home.
Directly opposite South Parade Pier and esplanade stood the Savoy Buildings including smaller bars, shops and a large ballroom with two stages. During the war it was a hostel and café for Royal Marines and Royal and Merchant seamen. The holiday camp entrepreneur Billy Butlin purchased it in January 1946, and it reopened on 1 August 1947 with Nat Gonella and his Georgians, Tito Burns’ Accordion Club and Ray Ellington. For the next two decades it was a key local venue for live music, dancing and romancing – plus a fair amount of drinking and the occasional fight.
On VE Day 1945 there were street parties around the city and over 1,000 people pressed into the surviving Empress ballroom to celebrate. That was a Tuesday and on the following weekend, Billy Tennant and his Band entertained dancers on the South Parade Pier. One week later, Eric Winstone’s Full Orchestra appeared there. A pattern of live entertainment was set – Winstone and Tennant were leading British acts of the war years, while local musicians played support or worked in the smaller venues. Elsewhere there were two ‘Co-op’ halls (one is now the Wedgewood Rooms) as well as three theatres (the Theatre Royal, King’s and Empire) and they catered frequently for the young adults who had survived the terrors of the war.
In the summer of 1949, Yorkshireman Tom Peaker took a summer season job as a musician in Southsea. Tom had a good voice and was proficient on violin and saxophone. When the summer ended, he saw good prospects in the city’s three theatre orchestras and future summer seasons, and moved his family south to settle in Southsea. He became one of many local professional musicians – all required to be members of the Musicians Union - who could find a relatively anonymous living through regular live performances in the city’s orchestras and dance bands during the 1940s and 1950s, although that living began to decline thereafter for a variety of reasons including the preference of 1950s teenagers for guitar-based rock & roll and skiffle. During the 1960s, Tom moved on to the bands on the great Southamptonbased transatlantic liners and like many local musicians supplemented his income with part-time work.
Nonetheless one key point of this project is that these older musicians and styles did not suddenly disappear. In the mid-1950s he had played in the Combined Theatres Orchestra at the seafront’s Savoy Ballroom on an evening featuring around a dozen dance bands, orchestras and jazz groups. On that same evening Terry Flynn played vibraphone and piano with the Club Quintet and Terry is still playing in cabaret and Portsmouth’s big band in 2011. On the same bill was drummer Arthur Ward who had played with Portsmouth’s Johnny Lyne Band in 1953 when they won the Melody Maker’s national competition in Manchester. By the early 1960s, Arthur was in weekly residence at another seafront venue, Clarence Pier, adjacent to the funfair and close to the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour. Here on Saturday nights, Arthur’s dance band would share the bill with the new beat groups including Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, Dave Dee & the Bostons and Rod Stewart & the Soul Agents. During the 1960s, Arthur employed two singers who had come from local beat groups, Mike Devon, who with the Diplomats supported the Beatles at the Savoy Ballroom in April 1963, and Mick Reeve who as a member of local beat group the Talismen won a major national competition in 1963 with a feature in the national weekly Record Mirror. Through the ‘swinging sixties’ across Portsmouth and Southsea, local musicians crossed over, venues shifted from tradition to innovation and back again and bills were often shared. Live music in Portsmouth in that period encompassed local, national and international, professional and semi professional dance bands, ‘traditional’ and modern jazz, folk music, skiffle, rock & roll, vocalists, pop, comedy, beat, rhythm & blues and rock acts.
Portsmouth “has the highest population density of any unitary/ local authority outside London”3 and is Britain’s only island city. In the 1960s, it was predominantly working class because its major industry was the dockyard and navy. Until the end of the 1960s, all the Dockyard technical workers were men but many women were employed in the prolific local corset trade, which had emerged from traditional sail making. Even today when it is in the national news, the topics are normally about the navy, dockyard, defence - or perhaps football. Portsmouth’s levels of health and educational achievement continue to be below the regional and national average4 and it has today the highest levels of alcohol-related illness in the south east5, despite a significant decline in the number of public houses in the city since the 1950s6.
Portsmouth has a tradition of live entertainment – mostly of a popular variety and reaching back centuries7. The large population in this small, clearly defined urban environment provided a regular local audience in the 1950s and 1960s, when every major British and most major American acts visited the city in addition to the many local performers. Our project lists about 170 local pop/beat/rock groups active from the late 1950s to the end of the 1960s with around 1,000 musicians – aside from those who played in dance bands, theatre orchestras, the folk scene or the traditional and modern jazz bands. Of those groups, only two gained significant national success, Manfred Mann who included local musicians and played regularly in the city’s clubs and pubs prior to their hit records and Simon Dupree & the Big Sound – an entirely local group who enjoyed one Top Ten hit in 1968 (“Kites”) and became ‘prog rock’ group Gentle Giant in 1970.
A few other local acts flirted with national success, and a few local musicians of the period went on to work with bigger acts, but no major claims can or will be made for the impact of Portsmouth’s popular music beyond the island and surrounding region. Indeed Portsmouth may be of interest because it appears unremarkable, although we are interested in the particular features of its music scene and how these resemble and differ from other places. To date, our primary task has been accurate documentation but ultimately we hope to produce accounts that are faithful to the ‘case’, yet may be read by ‘outsiders’, familiar with the broader subjects and issues and able to make other connections or draw other illuminating conclusions. In this paper I will identify some of those possible topics.
The first, already mentioned, is to refute the idea that with rock & roll, the transformation of music and fashions in Britain was so all encompassing that the old order was simply swept away. More broadly, the project rejects any incremental account of popular music, which might suggest that each new fashion simply replaces the previous one. As I have suggested, this was certainly not the case in Portsmouth. Even by New Year’s Eve 1969, as the ‘swinging sixties’ came to an end and popular local rock bands were playing at the new Tricorn Club and downstairs at Kimbells Ballroom things were more traditional elsewhere. Upstairs at Kimbells there was a formal dance just as there might have been in the 1940s, and it was much the same at Dorothy Whitbread’s Dancing School in the city centre. The Oasis Club which had featured local and national rock bands in the late 1960s, offered a quartet and insisted “collar and tie essential”, Hayling Island’s Sinah Warren Holiday Camp had a ball and buffet while Ron Bennett, his band and pianist Bill Cole who had also appeared at the Savoy in the mid-1950s, were entertaining the diners (and dancers) at Southsea’s Queen’s Hotel. The Broadsiders sang in the 1970s at the Jug of Punch Folk Club, while ‘original’ British guitarist Bert Weedon starred in the pantomime Aladdin at the King’s Theatrei.
Perhaps this, plus its unremarkable contribution to the national scene, suggests Portsmouth was lagging behind comparable British towns and cities. The evidence suggests otherwise. Most of the leading British dance and jazz bands (Ted Heath, Joe Loss, John Dankworth etc) visited the city regularly after the war, and from the point when the bombed Guildhall was restored and re-opened by HM the Queen in the summer of 1959, it became a concert venue for most leading popular music acts
including Louis Armstrong, BB King, the Beatles, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Gracie Fields, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Haley, Jimi Hendrix, Woody Herman, the 1965 Motown Revue, Muddy Waters, Pink Floyd, Buddy Rich, Cliff Richard & the Shadows, and the Rolling Stones. The folk revival led to the establishment of a number of local clubs and concerts offering Martin Carthy, Carolyn Hester, Bert Jansch, Ewan McColl, Ralph McTell, Tom Paxton, Buffy Sainte Marie, Paul Simon, Doc Watson and Josh White. Building on the local popularity of Manfred Mann, the new British rhythm & blues scene arrived at Kimbells Ballroom in January 1964 with a regular venue which became the Birdcage Club and over the next four years, presenting acts like Graham Bond, Cream, the Drifters, Ben E King, Alexis Korner, John Mayall, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, the Small Faces, Ike & Tina Turner, the Who and the Yardbirds as well as cult mod acts like the Action, Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames, Chris Farlowe and Jimmy James & the Vagabonds. Towards the end of the decade new acts like Country Joe & the Fish, Cream, Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, the Mothers of Invention and Traffic visited, while throughout the decade leading ‘pop’ artists from Billy Fury through the Merseybeat groups, to Cilla Black, Donovan, the Hollies, Tom Jones, the Kinks, Dusty Springfield and the Walker Brothers also appeared in the city.
During the 1960s, the clubs and ballrooms, with capacities of a few hundred (and not all licensed) and the Guildhall with a concert venue holding 2,000 – and often two houses per night - were sufficient to attract most significant artists. Most of these were intimate venues with fans within touching distance of the musicians, giving a particular ‘feel’ to the live gig. Only the Guildhall differed, but this seated concert hall was still much smaller than most that attract major acts today. In addition, the smaller youth clubs, church halls, pubs and schools gave a start to the hundreds of aspiring locals and as they improved would get support spots to the major acts in venues like the Savoy Ballroom. This could not have happened without a significant audience for such a range of live entertainment, catered for by the proliferation of local boutiques, coffee bars and venues in an increasingly ‘swinging’ city.
This point leads us to contest a second popular view, particularly prevalent in wellknown work on the period by Sandbrook and others - that the ‘swinging sixties’ was limited geographically to certain parts of the country, in particular certain ‘groovy’ areas of London. This ignores the thriving live music scene in cities like Portsmouth and the link between this scene and other fashions and behaviours, particularly among young people.
Sandbrook reasonably seeks to “avoid the predictable and tiresome ritual of either romanticising or demonising the sixties” and suggests that
Almost all these accounts concentrate overwhelmingly on the activities of a relatively small well-educated minority, usually people who were in their teens or twenties at the time and went on to become well-paid writers, journalists, publishers and so on.8
But instead of suggesting that the mistake here is the narrow focus, he uses the point to note the ordinariness of most other people’s lives, stressing instead the popularity of gardening, D-I-Y and other domestic pursuits. He seeks to align the ‘swinging’ sixties with a particular class, yet in its own predominantly working-class, not
particularly well-educated, youthful way, Portsmouth, 70 miles from London, was certainly offering interesting experiences for young people in the sixties and it seems to us a tale worth telling. In an attempt to emphasise the ordinariness of most young people’s lives Sandbrook quotes historian John Benson’s observation that
The great majority of young people spent more time in their bedrooms or at a church youth club than they did at rock festivals or on the football terraces9
This may be statistically accurate but it proves nothing. There were very few festivals in Britain in the 1960s – perhaps only one major event each year, beginning with the Beaulieu Jazz Festivals in the 1950s, followed by the Marquee Club’s Jazz & Blues Festivals at Richmond, Windsor, Richmond (and now Reading) and on to the first Isle of Wight Festival in 1968. I attended Festivals every year from 1967 (Windsor) but certainly spent more time in youth clubs and in my bedroom. And what did I (we) do there? In the bedroom we practised playing instruments, listened to Radio Luxembourg and pirate radio, checked out wardrobes, rehearsed dance moves and learned about sex – we had privacy in often small, overcrowded homes. We took some of those things to the youth clubs and shared them with other young people, trying to look ‘cool’, bringing our preferred records, dancing to the most promising local groups and – given that most Portsmouth schools were single sex – learned to mix, boys and girls. As for football, I supported Pompey through the 1960s but in a home season attending every match would amount to seeing less than forty hours of play – of course we spent more time elsewhere - the question is how we spent it.
A third issue of interest for this project is that despite my claims for a lively scene in Portsmouth in this period, very few local historians have shown much interest in what occurred. There is a fairly significant history/nostalgia industry around British cities, counties and towns and Portsmouth is no exception, yet the many histories published about Portsmouth, even those that claim to cover entertainment and leisure, have said hardly anything about popular music and young people in that period. The main exceptions to that are personal reminiscences and oral history projects by organisations like the City Museum and the WEA10. The prevalent explanation in Portsmouth is that many otherwise impressive histories have been over dependent on archival material (often official documents) and major photo libraries neither of which has much about teenagers, popular music or associated topics. These are more complicated to collect, especially in retrospect, but our project is seeking to address that deficit and add to the information on social history – and to do so while the majority of participants (and their materials) are still alive. It is quite probable that Sandbrook’s misrepresentation of the lives of ordinary, provincial young people is similarly a consequence of an over reliance on historical archives.
Archives and contemporary artefacts are important of course, not least in avoiding ‘false memories’ or romanticism and fortunately records about Portsmouth are there in documentary broadcasts11, newspapers, and diaries and through the cross checking (’triangulation’) of individual memories. One example illustrates the value of this process. On 30 March 1963 the Beatles appeared in the city for the first time, on the penultimate night of a tour with Americans Chris Montez and Tommy Roe. Miles records how on the opening night three weeks earlier, the Beatles had “wiped the
floor”12 with the two stars and took over top billing. Norman similarly notes that “the running order was changed” and the Beatles closed each show13. I read these accounts 40 years after I had been to the show – my first live ‘gig’ at the age of 13 - and they surprised me because I remembered the Beatles closing the first half. The local newspaper had a full review, which praised the British group but revealed no details. Was my memory wrong? From the public launch of the Pompey Pop project 18 months ago, I have asked frequently whether and what people recall of that show. I have received perhaps half-a-dozen replies and have yet to meet one person whose memory is different from mine. Was Portsmouth a (belated) one-off exception? Are these published stories wrong? We cannot be sure but it seems very unlikely that the Beatles topped the bill in Portsmouth and if they did elsewhere, why the change?
As well as methodological procedures, the interest in local memories raises other questions to do with cultural history and in particular a case study history of a period in living memory. It draws upon Williams’ idea of a “lived culture of a particular time and place, only fully accessible to those living in that time and place”14. Over the past two years, this project has enjoyed the close involvement of many people who lived in that period of social change with many willing contributions of facts and memories to add ‘flesh’ to the ‘bones’ of the archival details. I am in many respects a ‘typical’ academic but I was also born and raised in Portsmouth and before I was an academic I was (and still am) a Portsmouth musician and before that I was a fan. From the outset I have sought to produce a specific history that speaks principally for and to those who were there with the hope that it may resonate with others. I still have many good friends from that period and place with whom I share these memories – and now many new friends. In that circumstantial respect alone it would be difficult to replicate what I have done elsewhere, although there may be others like me, and I am not sure that this mix is essential – indeed if I am not careful my prior and intimate involvement could be problematic.
In this paper, I cannot describe every aspect of Portsmouth’s live music scene over these 25 years so I will focus on that transitional period in the mid-1950s. Despite the impact of rock & roll and skiffle in Britain from the mid-1950s, the majority of British hit records and live acts visiting places like Portsmouth in 1956 were the familiar dance bands, orchestras and popular ‘crooners’. During 1956, the Savoy Ballroom presented a number of major dance bands and orchestras including those led by, Johnny Dankworth, Vic Lewis, Ted Heath, Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes, Eric Winstone and Joe Loss. The Squadronaires appeared and in March there was great excitement with a visit for a seated concert by Stan Kenton and his Orchestra from the USA. British traditional jazz was also popular with visits from the bands of Mick Mulligan (with George Melly), Freddie Randall, Alex Welsh and Ken Colyer. In 1954 Colyer had recorded a ten inch LP Back to the Delta which might be considered the first British skiffle record. By the time of his appearance at the Savoy in 1956 Lonnie Donegan with whom Colyer had played in the Chris Barber Band, had enjoyed a top ten hit in Britain and the USA with his version of “Rock Island Line” and the skiffle craze was having its impact. We have photographs of the Saints skiffle group from around that time at Somers Town Youth Club in Portsmouth as well as accounts of other similar groups. Within a couple of years, the Saints became the Cadillacs rock & roll group and enjoyed significant success regionally before careers, marriage and
mortgages led most to leave music by the mid 1960s – although recent retirement brought reformation and they are again playing together in their seventies!
In the mid-1950s, Portsmouth’s own dance bands were very busy and included Roy Richards and his Mayfair Orchestra, Wally Fry and his Collegians, Reg Bannistra and his Orchestra with Johnny Lyne, and Benny Freedman's Orchestra. Meanwhile, Barry McCarthy and his Dixielanders were one of the first local ‘Trad’ bands and a female vocal trio the Liddell Sisters began as a ‘live’ act, miming in costume to current hit records. On advice from a local television producer, the Honeys began singing live and enjoyed a ten-year career. They toured with Cliff Richard, the Beatles, Helen Shapiro, Adam Faith and others, performing regularly in seaside summer shows and pantomimes.
South Parade Pier’s attractions in 1956 including Victor Silvester and his Ballroom Orchestra, Danny Kaye, Cyril Fletcher, Eric Delaney and his Band and Flanagan and Allen who sang and judged the final of the season’s Beauty Contest. In mid-summer the Tommy Trinder Show was under threat because of a dispute between Portsmouth Corporation, the Pier’s owners, and the Musicians Union with the Union demanding a certain rate of pay for the pit orchestra, which the Pier disputed. This was resolved in time for the comedian to appear for the week. Takings at the South Parade Pier in that summer were £137,616, up the previous summer. Also on the seafront, Reginald Porter-Brown was the new resident at the £3,000 wonder organ on South Parade Pier while Gordon Banner was the organist at the Savoy Ballroom’s Tea Dances.
In 1956 when George Formby appeared at the King’s Theatre, the city centre Theatre Royal which was more accessible by public transport, presented magician David Nixon, comedian Reg Varney, vocalist Ronnie Hilton, variety stars Elsie and Doris Waters and comedian Max Miller. In September 1956, the Theatre Royal celebrated its centenary yet a month later it closed down with the management citing “a decrease in patronage and ever increasing costs”. Before it did so, one of its last apparently typical variety shows played its part in British rock history, heralding the birth of the new guitar-based music. I am focusing on this here because it has a broader significance for live popular music, not least because the birth of rock & roll in Portsmouth was as part of a traditional variety show.
On Sunday 9 September 1956, Elvis Presley made his first appearance on the American national television broadcast of the Ed Sullivan Show. On the following day, the Portsmouth Evening News published a letter condemning outbreaks of violence in cinemas showing the latest rock & roll movies. AB Conning (sic) described “crack-brained teenagers capering in the aisles” and condemned the “disgracefully low” fines on those who misbehaved. The Portsmouth cinemas that week were more restrained, showing Lana Turner, Bob Hope, Tony Curtis and Richard Burton but there was excitement of the new kind at the Theatre Royal on Monday evening (10th) at around 7.45 pm.
The new weekly show was typical of the variety bills that the ailing theatre hoped would keep it operational. It opened at 6.20 pm with an overture by the orchestra, followed by dancers Nick & Pat Lundon, comedian Johnny Dallas and singers, Billie Wyner, Maxine Daniels, the “coloured singing star of television and Oriole Records”, and “dynamic” Don Fox. After the interval the dancers returned, then Scottish TV “funster” Andy Stewart and mime artists Ross & Howitt. So far this was pretty normal variety fare until Bernard Delfont presented his headliners, a new six-piece British “Rock ‘n’ Roll” act, Tony Crombie and his Rockets.
Londoner Crombie, a jazz and dance band drummer who had been involved in the development of British Bebop a decade earlier, was seeking to exploit the new musical fashion. According to British pop historian Pete Frame, the Rockets – clearly named in imitation of Bill Haley’s Comets - recorded and released the first British rock & roll records and were the first professional touring British rock & roll act. What is more, Frame believes that they brought their live show to Portsmouth before any other venue in the country15. Over the next 50 years, the city of Portsmouth might warrant little more than a footnote in the history of British popular music but on this night it had an important role in the birth of British rock & roll.
On the following day the city’s Evening News was broadly enthusiastic. The main headline “Rock ‘n’ Roll Greeted with Cheers” preceded a generally positive review of “the most controversial music craze since the Charleston” although it did suggest that the group’s saxophone had been under amplified – a rare wish in those early days for rock & roll to be louder! Reassuringly, the report announced “no wild, riotous debut” to cause anxiety but a performance ending “with cheering and applause that rocked the theatre”. The teenage audience were “shirt-sleeved and sweatered” – fashion and image already linked inextricably to the new sounds in popular music. The newspaper thought this youthful enthusiasm might be considered “mass hysteria, exhibitionism or plain audience participation”, and suggested “Rock ‘n’ Roll may die soon … although at the moment it is a lusty, rowdy, healthy infant”.
It would be wrong to claim that this single week’s residency by Tony Crombie & his Rockets revolutionised the music scene in Portsmouth – I have made the point that to some degree the dance band scene continued through the following decade. However we know that some of the next generation of local musicians attended the show and were excited by the possibilities of the new music. One, Terry Wiseman, plucked up courage to approach Tony Crombie in the dressing room and was allowed to play Crombie’s drums after the show. Terry went on to enjoy a successful local career including playing support to the Beatles at the Savoy in April 1963 when he loaned Ringo his drum kit after a problem travelling to the city. Terry also played with Portsmouth’s Live Five who were briefly with Cliff Richard in Expresso Bongo and toured with Hampshire’s Brook Brothers - who had a hit record with “Warpaint”.
Rock & roll and skiffle made a gradual impact around Portsmouth from that point. In August 1956 the Savoy Ballroom had held a jive competition, and in October the local newspaper featured its first article under the nom-de-plume Spinner who announced that rock & roll “has swamped the Top Twenty”. In the same month, Columbia recording star Ronnie Harris, with Kenny Flame and his (presumably different) Rockets appeared in “Rock around the Town” at the Empire Theatre in Edinburgh Road, a city centre theatre had opened in 1891 featuring mainly music hall. By the 1950s, there were occasional visits from aspiring acts like Morecambe and Wise but it offered mainly static nude shows in the style of London’s Windmill Theatre. The rock & roll venture could not save it however and it closed permanently in 1958.
Elsewhere in the area, Frankie Vaughan appeared at a Youth Club dance arranged by the Hillside and Goodwyns clubs, while in Gosport on 29 November, Lee Tower offered music from the Jack Jones All Star Rock 'n' roll Band. In December, the Evening News published its first Top Ten, with Johnnie Ray’s, “Walking in the Rain” at number one – by which time Britain’s first rock & roll hit, Tommy Steele’s “Rock with the Caveman” had appeared.
Popular music was changing but the new sounds and styles continued to emerge alongside the more familiar music. The local newspaper archives suggest that the early months of 1960 were dominated by light entertainment, ballroom dancing to live bands and jazz, traditional and modern. For example, Acker Bilk was in the city on the first evening of the new decade and would be a regular visitor, Eurovision Song Contest stars, Pearl Carr & Teddy Johnson appeared with Eric Delaney and Lenny the Lion at the King’s Theatre and the Honeys were touring with Adam Faith, including a Portsmouth gig at Fratton Road’s Troxy Cinema, which also presented an evening with Cliff Richard & the Shadows, Kathy Kirby and Norman Vaughan. The Africano Club offered jazz, while Emile Ford & the Checkmates and Frank Ifield shared a bill at the King’s Theatre. Beat group the Downbeats appeared at Ricky’s Club, although the club often favoured record sessions and would be one of Portsmouth’s first regular discos by the late 1960s. British rock & roll star Vince Eagar backed by the Playboys began an attempted comeback at the Savoy, there was a “Top Twenty Hit Parade” show at the Guildhall featuring British stars Craig Douglas, the Avons and DJ Alan Freeman but an all-American show with Conway Twitty, Johnny Preston and Freddy Cannon was poorly received. The Platters visited the Guildhall in January followed by Sarah Vaughan with the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra, although Count Basie cancelled his show.
Three years later the Beatles would be at the Guildhall, followed by the Rolling Stones at the Savoy. From 1964 rhythm & blues largely ousted ‘Trad’ from the clubs attracting hundreds of local youngsters every week, the folk clubs were growing in popularity and these new sounds, boutiques, coffee bars and radio and television shows were contributing to the growth of ‘swinging Southsea’. We have a growing collection of recordings by local groups through the 1960s confirming that popular styles changed frequently over the 15 years from 1956 when rock & roll came to the city. For much of that time, whatever the popular style, groups drew on relatively limited repertoires of rock & roll, beat, rhythmn & blues and soul – much of it from the USA or Liverpool. But by the late 1960s, for the first time local groups increasingly wrote their own material, thereby changing the nature of live entertainment in the city and elsewhere. For some promoters and ‘punters’ this led to a growing fondness for the greater certainty of DJs and discos and in the 1970s, for example, the Savoy Ballroom became Nero’s Nightclub and abandoned live entertainment.
Despite these changes the older world faded slowly and for the most part never quite disappeared – even as live entertainment. This is partly of course due to the growing nostalgia industry and on Sundays throughout the summer, the City Council promotes tribute and nostalgia acts at the seafront bandstand, and the monthly appearance of the local big band attracts a full house to the Blue Lagoon. And while ‘Trad’ left the bigger venues it survived for some time in smaller pubs and special events and even today resurfaces on special occasions, complete with boaters and striped blazers.
In addition to my focus on one city and period, I hope I have identified some broadly important issues around British popular music history – in particular, live music . There is a great deal more to be found on the various websites, publications and planned exhibitions and no doubt much more for us to discover, correct and refine as we develop the work.
POMPEY POP REFERENCES and SOURCES
PORTSMOUTH....THE BIRTHPLACE OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SAYS DAVE ALLENSixty years ago, in September 1956, a remarkable thing happened at the Theatre Royal in Portsmouth. It was the year that two important popular music ‘crazes' emerged in Britain; one, rock & roll, from the USA, the other, skiffle, an English interpretation of an American musical tradition.
Rock & Roll had been around for a couple of years thanks to Bill Haley & his Comets, but in 1956, the UK ‘s ‘Hit Parade’ suddenly included Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, Little Richard and others — including a young chap from Memphis called Elvis Presley.
Skiffle was the ‘invention’ of the tradition- al jazz guys, a small group from the bands of Ken Colyer, Chris Barber and others who would entertain during the band's inten/al with traditional American folk and blues songs on guitar, washboard and bass.
The Rock & Roll outfits of Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, and Gene Vincent featured guitars which had been pretty minor instruments in the previous dance and jazz bands that entertained those more inclined to fox-trot and waltz. This shift was partly due to the younger generation seeking to reject the ‘old hat’ stuff that their parents’ favoured. it was also crucially a matter of technology, because guitarists had come up with the technology that allowed guitars to be amplified so that they could be heard, in the larger dance and concert halls. in addition to the traditional jazz in the London clubs there were cool looking guys in Italian suits playing a British version of modern jazz. Among the leading names was saxophonist Ronnie Scott who in the late 1940s had been playing at the Club Eleven. Tony Crombie, a drummer in his band, earned a living as best he could but when he saw the success of Bill Haley, decided to form the UK's first touring, recording, Rock & Roll outfit.
They were called Tony Crombie & his
Rockets and their agent, Bernard Delfont,
immediately booked the band into the
London Palladium, and a nationwide tour.
Delfont wanted the band to sharpen their
act with a few nights in the provinces and
he put them in as headliners in a week of
variety at the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth.
So Portsmouth can lay claim to being
the birthplace of British Rock & Roll. The
Evening News reported that this new
‘Rock & Roll’ was “greeted with cheers".
The live music scene in Portsmouth
changed quite significantly. From the end
of the war and through the 1950s, the
ballrooms like the seafront's Savoy or Osborne Road’s Kimbell's were at the heart
of live entertainment in the city, catering
for the locals, sailors and holiday visitors.
That was a lively economy with reasonable work for local musicians as well as top
bands like Joe Loss and Ted Heath. With
the abolition of National Service, declining numbers in the services and the shift
to cheap Mediterranean holidays it was
the increasingly affluent teenagers that
became the new audiences in the 1960s.
In 1959, the rebuilt Guildhall began its
concert programme with Sir Thomas
Beecham followed by Chris Barber, Ella
Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and even Louis
Other events in 1966
Dave Allen Pompey Pop: A case study of a local music archive
Dr Dave Allen was briefly a professional pop musician before resuming his studies in visual arts and arts education. He taught in schools, and subsequently at the University of Portsmouth, while continuing to perform as a semi-professional musician. Towards the end of his career he taught and wrote about popular music, particularly around its history in his home city. He retired in 2010 and is a Visiting Teaching Fellow. He still plays in two bands.
Abstract This article provides a retrospective account of the author’s long-time involvement with ‘Pompey Pop’, a project uncovering the somewhat neglected history of the impact of popular music in Portsmouth. The article demonstrates how the dedication of the author, a retired employee of Portsmouth University, to this community initiative has established the importance of popular music to this working-class city and, most importantly, how it has challenged notions of ‘mainstream’ history. After describing the growth of light entertainment in post-Second World War Portsmouth, it challenges a number of preconceptions, ranging from notions of new styles ‘sweeping away’ their predecessors, to tokenized histories of the post-war period always being ‘depressed’, to notions of the swinging sixties being centred exclusively in certain parts of London. Regarding the latter, the article outlines a methodological problem, where writers such as Dominic Sandbrook are regarded as focusing exclusively on archival research, as opposed to also including the oral histories of ordinary people who lived through the period.
Keywords: music archive; Portsmouth music; local history
In January 2018, I gave a presentation by invitation to a conference hosted by the University of South Wales about ‘Local Music Making’. I was invited subsequently to produce this written account, and over a period of 18 months, various iterations were subject to comment and discussion with the convener of the conference, and a peer reviewer for this publication. These communications encouraged me to add this section, seeking to make clear certain specific characteristics of the project I am describing. My presentation was titled ‘Pompey Pop: A Case Study of a Local Music Archive’ and I have decided to retain that title for this article. In this context, the term ‘case study’ was chosen carefully and deliberately.
ago I completed my doctorate, which like all my other qualifications, research and professional practice to that point, was concerned with visual arts education in secondary schools, colleges and universities. It was not linked to music, popular or otherwise, while methodologically I drew heavily on the case study approach of Robert Stake (1994), Helen Simons (1980) and others. They emphasized the ‘deep’ description of specific ‘cases’, principally for readers who begin with some understanding of the subject or topic—and that has always been one consideration of mine both in the more than 20 years of preparing materials and publications for the Pompey Pop project itself, but also in offering this account, where my intention here is to describe in as much detail as possible, what we have done in Portsmouth—there are some issues raised, but there is no major argumentative thread. In discussions of the drafts, I have been asked what the Portsmouth case offers to national understandings of British pop/rock narratives. From the start of the project I have been clear that in terms of significant national/international musical achievements and influences, Portsmouth has little to offer, but nonetheless there is a very full tale to tell, and one that has attracted considerable local interest. Perhaps that might be true of many other locations in the UK and initially all we intended for this project was a local account; perhaps that is sufficient. In my presentations to some academic conferences, others have expressed interest in our project, so I am assuming that the readers of this account are, in those specific case study terms, informed readers who might well interpret what is offered in terms of their specific interests. This account might also offer examples of ways to proceed in developing local histories in terms of achievements and omissions when producing local histories. I have been asked about how Pompey Pop matches other local-academic collaborations; a reasonable question since I am an academic and the individual from our project who has made presentations about it to academic conferences in England (Liverpool), Scotland (Edinburgh) and Wales, while also writing an earlier chapter for an edited collection emanating in Australia (Allen 2015). But Pompey Pop is not and never has been in any key sense a collaboration between the city and its university. On a couple of occasions, I have availed myself of resources from the University of Portsmouth to make presentations, but Pompey Pop is almost wholly a local project. No-one else from the University was involved, while I was a teenage musician in the city, then a locally-based professional for three years before I resumed my undergraduate studies. In almost fifty years since, I have been a very active semiprofessional musician, while the impact on Pompey Pop on the university has been slight. Other than funding a public lecture in 2009, Pompey Pop has not needed the university in what it has done, although this is not to suggest that a stronger collaboration would not have been interesting. That can only be speculation at this point.
Introduction Pompey Pop is the name I gave to a project documenting the story of popular music in the UK city of Portsmouth since the Second World War. It began in a somewhat ad hoc way twenty years ago, but has developed with a clearer focus and more coherent programme since 2009. I have been one of the main participants in the project and in this article, I will describe its key characteristics, events and achievements, briefly describing the local context for readers who are not familiar with the city. I described many of our events, activities and publications in Baker (2015) so, rather than replicating that in detail, I shall devote most of the article to two central issues. Firstly, I shall suggest that the work we have done adds to a number of local histories which have tended to ignore the impact of popular music in Portsmouth. I shall also suggest that our work helps to challenge certain general ideas about life in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s. These relate in particular to the perceived drabness of life in the first post-war decade, and then the extent to which the 1960s was or was not ‘swinging’ in the provinces. I will conclude by considering the successes, failures, gaps, and work still to be done on the project.
The project, 1998–2018 I chose the title ‘Pompey Pop’ for its colloquial alliteration, although it is not used in every aspect of the work. For example, from 2013, I was involved in the setting up of a permanent exhibition in unused offices at the city’s Guildhall, where the Civic Trust that runs the Guildhall appointed a curator who insisted on calling it Access All Areas (AAA). He left after a short period, and two of my fellow volunteers Nigel and Audrie Grundy took over the management of the space and preferred to call it the Portsmouth Music Experience. I am treating it here as part of the Pompey Pop project. In 1998 I self-published a memoir, Almost: Forty Years of Southsea Rock and Pompey Blues, then in 2003 participated in an oral history project at our City Museum resulting in the publication Singing Out: Voices of Portsmouth Rock and Pop Musicians (Lee et al. 2003). These two publications attracted some interest locally, but at this point there was no thought that these were other than one-off events. What changed for me was that late in my career teaching in the visual arts, and essentially by chance, I began also teaching popular music studies on undergraduate courses and became interested in ways in which deep and detailed local studies might complement, extend and challenge the major histories. Then in 2008, I won a teaching award (HEFC) and used part of it to give a public lecture entitled ‘Here Come the Sixties’ which was the first public presentation of a local ‘pop’ history covering the late 1950s, and focusing on the 1960s. Having been an active musi
cian in the city since the mid-1960s, I had many contacts, and I carried out numerous informal discussions and interviews, as well as archival research in the city’s library—particularly searching adverts, reviews and weekly music columns in the local newspaper, the Evening News. I produced a free chronological documentary booklet for everyone attending (Allen 2009), and drew an audience of some 700 people. Among them were people from the City Museum who had produced the 2003 publication, and they were now planning to present a Victoria & Albert Museum travelling show in Portsmouth in the following spring (2010) based on the photographs of Harry Hammond, called ‘The Birth of British Rock’. They invited me to complement Hammond’s photographs by creating a local exhibition from that same period of the 1950s and 1960s. I drew in other people at this point, including a fellow local musician and historian Mick Cooper, and the show brought together a considerable range of artefacts including posters, instruments, records, fashions and stage clothes, and a memory board which brought to light additional items. It was considered a success, and while it was running in March 2010, I set up the Pompey Pop Blog which has run ever since, and now has a partner Facebook site which these days attracts more traffic, covering a broader period than the original focus from 1945 to the early 1970s.1 I retired from the university in the summer of 2010, immediately after the museum show, and this enabled me to devote more time to the project.
In 2011, Mick Cooper and I published an A4 book entitled Dave and Mick’s Pompey Pop Pix, containing over 400 photographs; some colour, mostly black and white, and again focused on the 1950s and 1960s. In terms of defining ‘Pop’, which we did by showing rather than telling, we were representing a range of genres including dance bands, skiffle, pop, rock, jazz, folk and their common variations—pop in this sense an abbreviation of popular, although I have the feeling that the project has perhaps not always done justice to mainstream pop. We printed 1,000 copies of the book, announced that we would not reprint, launched it at a gig which revived Danny Raven & the Renegades who had first played together fifty years earlier, and the book sold out in twelve months. Then Mick Cooper began to develop his extensive website with a record of many venues, acts and events over the past 75 years.2 In 2012, local photographer Nigel Grundy became involved, when he published his memoir My Back Pages: Portsmouth 1962–1972: Aspects of My Life and the Portsmouth Music Scene, and in the next year he and his wife Audrie, Mick Cooper and I, another local musician Phil Freeman, and local DJ Pete Cross, accepted the
invitation to develop the Guildhall exhibition, taking over the running of this large, permanent show in the following year. It is mainly a local exhibition but there have been temporary shows including a collection of local photographers, a local punk show, the making locally of the film Tommy, and images and memorabilia of the Isle of Wight Festivals 1968–1970. Nigel Grundy also carried out an extensive video interviewing project from which he produced a commercial DVD (Grundy 2017). Every member of this core group was born in the mid- to late 1940s, placing our formative experiences in a particular period of pop history—we remember the coming of skiffle and rock’n’roll, and have a particular fondness for our 1960s teenage years. In addition to the exhibitions and publications, there have been a number of one-off and regular radio shows linked to the project on a number of local stations, but the Guildhall exhibition provides a very valuable anchor for the project through its permanence, serving alongside the online sites, as a regular reminder of the work. Periodically I am asked to speak to local community groups, and where possible I try to arrange to do so in, or adjacent to, the exhibition. Then in 2017, I organized a number of responses to the 50th anniversary of the so-called Summer of Love. This was partly the result of a particular personal interest in that period, and I published Autumn of Love: How the Swinging Sixties and the Counterculture Came to Portsmouth (2017) accompanied by a temporary exhibition in the space adjacent to the Guildhall show. The exhibition included paintings, phototexts, mixed-media, collage and montage, displayed on screens on one wall, but more like an installation than a museum show. It is how I would like Pompey Pop to develop, but neither the show nor the book made much of an impact; they elicited far fewer responses than our generally popular more conventional exhibitions and publications.
Pompey: The city of Portsmouth I was born in Portsmouth in 1949 and grew up there through the 1950s. I have at home two photo-books about 1950s childhoods (Feeney 2014; Shepherd and Shepherd 2014) containing many images which resonate with me, except for the surprising, almost total absence of images of the sea. Feeney offers 134 photographs of which just five show images of seaside holidays, and the first comes on 118 of 126 pages.
The second has 66 images and only one, of a Butlin’s Holiday Camp, is even remotely connected to the sea. I grew up in the Southsea area of Portsmouth, less than a mile from the seafront, beach, main pier and summer entertainments, but equally aware of living in a city that housed Britain’s major naval port and dockyard, which was then Portsmouth’s economic heart, as it had been for centuries. In my childhood, Royal Naval sailors in uniform were a common sight around the
city, even more the dockyard workers most of whom lived in the rows of terraced streets in the most densely populated city in the country. In a broad range of social, economic and aesthetic ways, the sea was and has always remained central to the lives of Portsmouth’s citizens. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the seafront enjoyed a thriving holiday trade, and with the Royal Naval Dockyard which was the main source of employment, was central to the city’s entertainment culture. In addition to the local audience, two other groups, summer holiday-makers and sailors, enhanced the local population significantly when it came to providing audiences and consumers, and as a consequence Portsmouth had a lively post-war leisure and entertainment scene. In addition to clubs and ballrooms, there were always many of what Brown (2009a) called ‘drinking houses’, which even 200 years ago ‘enjoyed the patronage of the naval and military fraternity’ (7). The Daily Mail Online reported recently that Portsmouth, with 12 public houses per square mile, had more pubs than anywhere else in Britain (Newton 2018), with the inevitable competition for trade enhancing performing opportunities for musicians. Pompey is simply the nickname for Portsmouth—probably best known these days through its football team. The city’s physical, cultural and civic boundaries stretch onto the mainland, but the city stands for the most part on Portsea Island, a name that is as pragmatic and unambiguous as Port’s/mouth, and the city’s coastal fringe, South/sea; perhaps there is a strong element of that local pragmatism in the Pompey Pop project itself. Media representations of Portsmouth, such as D-Day 75 or the arrival of the country’s newest warship, the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, mostly show the seafront and harbour (port’s) mouth, which leads along the city’s western coastline to the continental ferry port and commercial docks. In addition, most marketing or postcard images of the city show either its historic ships, or Southsea seafront’s beaches, parks and piers, stretching along the Solent coast from Old Portsmouth’s historic towers and fortifications, looking across to the Isle of Wight, five miles away. While these are the popular images of the city, the four-fifths of it that are not represented consist of tight, terraced streets, in what the 2011 census revealed was the most densely populated space in England and Wales (Judd 2012). Culturally, Portsmouth is perhaps best-known for its writers (Wallis 2013): Charles Dickens was born there, but left when he was young, while Arthur ConanDoyle, Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, Neville Shute, James Clavell and Percy Westerman, not all happily, spent time in the city. In recent years, novelist Graham Hurley stayed long enough to situate his crime dramas there, and told the local newspaper, ‘Portsmouth is God’s gift to a working novelist and particularly a crime writer. If you subscribe to the theory that society is falling apart, that it’s imploding, then there’s no better place to see that than Portsmouth’ (Jeynes 2012). Life can be tough, as in most cities, but that view is hardly shared locally; by contrast, Pompey Pop is principally a celebratory project. How is life tough? Portsmouth is not typical of the popular perception of the south-east as a relatively privileged English region. A lengthy report in The Times in November 1968 reported that among the 20 largest cities in the UK, Portsmouth had 2.9% unemployment against 1.7% in the region and 2.4% nationally, plus the highest suicide rate and ‘high incidences of drug addiction and venereal disease’ (10). More recently, politician Boris Johnson was criticized for writing in GQ that Portsmouth was ‘arguably too full of drugs, obesity [and] underachievement’, and was defended by a Conservative spokeswoman who said, ‘according to the government’s own figures, Portsmouth suffers the third highest level of deprivation and fifth highest crime rate in the whole of the south east of England’ (BBC News 2007). In 2014, the Portsmouth News reported wages in the city had suffered more than most places following the recession (French 2014), while in 2015, Public Health England revealed that only Manchester and Liverpool have worse figures for alcohol-related deaths (The News 2015).
Entertaining Portsmouth The late 1950s and 1960s were particularly busy for entertainment and live music in the city, but also a period when memories of the devastation of the war were still vivid. Portsmouth was slow to rebuild the bomb damage that saw the city’s Guildhall reduced to a shell and the nearby Hippodrome, where Fats Waller had appeared for a week in 1939, flattened. Stedman (1995) described the bombing as ‘the darkest and most painful episode in the city’s history’ with 930 civilians killed, many more injured, 6,625 properties destroyed and a similar number badly damaged (1995: 1). In 1944, prior to D-Day, most of the seafront area was closed for security reasons, but within a couple of years, Billy Butlin and others began the process of restoring the Savoy Ballroom and the South Parade Pier opposite. By the early 1950s, these and other venues were presenting a variety of end-of-thepier shows, light entertainment, dance bands and jazz. Mick Cooper’s website lists VE Day celebrations with over 1,000 people dancing at the Empress Ballroom, and on the following first Saturday of peacetime, the Melody Makers dance band at the ATC headquarters in Goldsmith Avenue. It was not long before a number of bigger UK acts were visiting Portsmouth, including the Billy Cotton, Joe Loss and Ted Heath Dance Bands, Ray Ellington’s Quartet, the Squadronaires, pianist Winifred Attwell and comedians such as Terry Thomas, Charlie Chester and the Crazy Gang. On 19 March 1950, the Johnny Lyne Orchestra, one of a number of accomplished local dance bands, played at the Embassy Ballroom; within three years, they enjoyed front-page headlines in the Melody Maker, as All-Britain Champions among amateur and ‘semi-pro’ dance bands (Brown 1953: 1). Johnny Lyne’s success did not lead them to greater glory, although we have recordings of the band playing classic tunes like ‘That Old Black Magic’ and ‘Lullaby of Birdland’, and it is an important aspect of the Pompey Pop project that we have gone beyond our own memories of the significant shift that occurred in popular music in 1956, when the impact of skiffle and rock’n’roll suddenly promoted the guitar as the key instrument for young people. In that year, our generation began buying hit records featuring guitar players like Bill Haley, Elvis Presley with Scotty Moore, and other chart entrants like Carl Perkins with ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ (1955), Gene Vincent’s ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ (1956) or Tommy Steele’s ‘Rock with the Caveman’ (1956). There was also the commercial success of jazz banjo player Lonnie Donegan, who on guitar and vocals led the brief but influential UK skiffle boom. In his recent history, Billy Bragg (2017) suggests that by 1957 there were up to 50,000 skiffle groups in the UK, while one proprietor told the News of the World that in 1957 ‘over a quarter of a million [guitars] will be imported into this country, compared with about six thousand in 1950’ (Bragg 2017: 303). The Pompey Pop archive now holds photographs of a number of Portsmouth skiffle groups of the period including Paul Jones with the Louisiana Four, the Saints, the Krewnecks who played a prestigious support to the Ted Heath Band at the Savoy, and the Mick Glover Combo who, in 1959, appeared briefly as rock’n’roll group the Live Five in the Cliff Richard and Laurence Harvey film Expresso Bongo. The project has always stressed that new trends in popular music do not simply sweep away what came before, even when older styles and genres enjoy less of the limelight. For example, we found substantial pictorial evidence of an event in the city in July 1956, just two months after Elvis Presley’s first UK hit, when 13 local jazz and dance bands (including the Dance Orchestra of the Royal Marines) presented a ‘Festival of Dance Music’ in aid of the Musicians’ Union Benevolent Fund at the Savoy Ballroom. The poster lists the bands, and photographs show the bands set up around the dance floor, with the majority of musicians playing wind or reed instruments, mostly with a rhythm section of piano, double bass and drums.
The Combined Theatres Orchestra includes violinists, but only the modern jazz-oriented Ron Bennett’s Club Quintet have a guitar player (plus vibraphone). Bennett ran the band and his family were the main music shop proprietors in the city. These images provided invaluable documentary evidence of Pompey pre-rock’n’roll, not least through the iconography of instruments, band uniforms and in some photographs the fashions worn by the ‘punters’—including some naval ratings in uniform. I recounted in Baker (2015) how Roberts’s Rock Atlas of 650 locations in the UK and Ireland had little to say about Portsmouth beyond a Mike Oldfield tune named
after the city and a list of musicians born there. I suggested then that Roberts had missed Pink Floyd’s first live performance anywhere of Dark Side of the Moon at the Guildhall, or perhaps the ‘birth’ of British rock’n’roll in the city’s Theatre Royal in September 1956. The latter came to light in Frame’s history of rock’n’roll in 1950s Britain, telling how jazz and dance band drummer Tony Crombie formed ‘the first British rock’n’roll band on the national touring circuit’, Tony Crombie & his Rockets, who made a series of recordings, appeared in a UK movie Teach You to Rock (1956) and ‘made their debut at the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth’ (2007: 195). I might have added that in 1974, Ken Russell directed the Who’s film Tommy, most of which was shot in the city—in the process creating a fire which destroyed the beautiful twotier ballroom on South Parade Pier. I contacted Roberts with this information and when he published his second edition he filled almost two pages with the Crombie story, including a page from Melody Maker, quotes from the review in the local newspaper, and an acknowledgement to Pompey Pop. Despite such tales, Portsmouth’s place in any broader history of popular music is negligible, particularly in terms of local performers. British crooner David Whitfield enjoyed chart successes in the early 1950s, but was simply a sailor from Yorkshire based in the city. Paul Pond, born and educated in Portsmouth, changed his name to Jones and found fame singing with Manfred Mann and the Blues Band, as well as presenting BBC radio’s blues show for decades, but only after he moved to Oxford and then London. The three Shulman brothers, sons of Scotsman Jock who played in one of the local dance bands, followed Paul Jones in forming R&B groups, before switching to soul and naming themselves Simon Dupree & the Big Sound. They enjoyed one UK top ten hit with the untypical sound of ‘Kites’ (1967) before reforming as progressive rock band Gentle Giant. From the late 1970s, Joe Jackson, born in Stoke but raised in Portsmouth, began his professional career, after documenting the earlier years playing music in the city in his excellent memoir (1999). He still has a home in the city. Like Paul Jones and the Shulmans, Joe appears in Portsmouth Guildhall’s ‘Wall of Fame’, but there are few others: Julia Fordham, Mick Jones of Foreigner, Mark King of Level 42 (really from the Isle of Wight) and Spike Edney (Queen etc.). All of which begs the question, why bother with a pop history of somewhere so inconsequential? Beyond the very real pleasure in telling our nostalgic tales, there were two particular issues which seemed intent on ignoring or refuting our experiences and thereby invited a response.
Challenging the myths From the start of Pompey Pop we set out to challenge some of the London-centred depiction of the so-called swinging sixties. Less explicit, was the extent to which our records of entertainment in the city in the 1950s contradicted the frequent
gloomy representations of that decade, which are not too difficult to find in historical records. Nead (2017), for example, suggests
Six years of war had drained the colour from Britain … the aftermath … was perceived and later remembered through a register of greys: the colour of bombed ruins and rubble, the hue of fatigue and austerity, of ongoing rationing and uncertainty (55).
While the war ended in 1945, domestically Nead suggested that ‘for many’ the ‘real end’ did not occur until rationing ceased in 1954 (2017: 8). Harrison (2002) describes how on a visit from the USA in 2000, the British painter Richard Smith was ‘reminded how dark and dreary London … had appeared to him in the 1950s … shabby [and] grey’ (11), while Beckett and Russell (2015) added that today, ‘the place to us would seem dirty and uncared for’, with bombing having left ‘great tracts of bare ground’ before in 1952 pollution brought a murderous fog to the capital (2). Immigrants from brighter, warmer countries were often escaping crippling poverty and unemployment, but Wills (2017) reports how ‘the cold was a shock, and so was the lack of colour. Travellers commented on the drabness of everything, from the clothes to the houses, to the food’ (19). By contrast, and increasingly through that decade, a different picture emerges from the worlds of entertainment, the arts and popular culture. Cross (1985) has acknowledged the economic difficulties of the period, and the lack of often basic needs and resources, but celebrates happier days, with images of people finding pleasures, whether complex, creative or mainstream. And since home life was not wrapped up in multiple television channels or in many cases warmth and comfort, the appeal of going out was the greater. Reilly, born in Portsmouth in 1945, has written of her poor but happy childhood in the city and noted that it did not matter that there was no money for holidays, since it was ‘just a short bus ride or walk to Southsea beach … and the day at the seaside was free’ (2014: 7). Even away from the coast, Cross reminds us of the variety of sports available to participants or spectators, holidays inland as well at the seaside, variety shows and theatre, the cinemas—of which Brown (2009b) records some 30 in those days in Portsmouth, replaced now by one multiplex. The bigger point, which I believe our documentation of the acts, venues and audiences in Portsmouth from 1945–1959 establishes, is that while times could certainly be tough, austere, grey and cold, for many, perhaps most people, they could also be great fun, depending on context and personal circumstances. Our principal challenge, however, has been directed at a very specific representation of the swinging sixties from two opposing angles which ultimately occupy the same position. On the one hand is something like David Bailey’s Box of Pinups (1965) featuring some of the actors, pop stars, models (and criminals) making an
impact in London, or similarly the famous article in the American Time magazine ‘You Can Walk Across it on the Grass’ (Halasz 1966), both of which stressed not really the swinging sixties, but rather swinging London. Time’s article offered a map of ‘The Scene’ which did not even include all of London, but mostly Soho, Chelsea and Kensington, although they did note ‘London is not keeping the good news to itself … the new, way-out fashion … is spreading around the globe’, including ‘the sound of beat’ (1966: 30). If it was global, there was no reason why it could not travel about seventy miles to Portsmouth. Recently, however, a growing number of historians and commentators have sought to diminish the spread and significance of the more exciting aspects of the period, insisting that the swinging sixties should be applied and confined to the boundaries of those privileged parts and people of London. The leading figure to challenge tales of the ‘swinging sixties’ has been Dominic Sandbrook and in 2006, just before Pompey Pop gained momentum, he published White Heat: A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties, offering a very particular view of the period. In the introduction, he noted reasonably that many accounts of the 1960s tend to vacillate between ‘the supposed decadence or utopianism of the period’, while he wished instead to represent those ‘millions’, especially in the ‘provinces’, for whom ‘change came rather slowly’ (xvii). He suggested that those who enjoyed the swinging sixties were a ‘relatively small, well-educated minority, usually … in their teens or twenties at the time [who] went on to become well-paid writers, journalists, publishers and so on’ (ibid.). Interestingly he made no mention of musicians, actors, photographers or visual artists in this passage, but the key points for us are that we were in the provinces, few of us could then claim to be particularly well-educated beyond secondary schools of one kind or another, and none of us went on to any of those ‘well-paid’ positions. Did this mean that we were not part of the swinging sixties? Pompey Pop has acknowledged that local musicians made very little contribution to the national or international 1960s scene, yet we have demonstrated that at the very least we were having a rather enjoyable time with music, fashion and other aspects of what Sandbrook might consider ‘swinging’. Perhaps that is true of other towns and cities? In respect of teenagers, Sandbrook quoted historian John Benson’s view that most young people ‘spent more time in their bedrooms or at church youth clubs than they did at rock festivals or on the football terraces’ (2006: 191). It is an odd argument; a statement of the obvious. Watching your local team’s every home game in a season would amount to about 50 hours, or less than the equivalent of one hour per week in the bedroom. As for festivals, in the 1960s they were relatively rare UK events—jazz at Beaulieu, then the Richmond and Windsor’s Jazz & Blues Festivals every August Bank Holiday, from 1968–1970 the Isle of Wight, and
one or two stately homes hoping for a lucrative payday. Attending one of these for the whole weekend would amount to about the same number of hours as watching the football team, so again one evening each week at the youth club would amount to about three times that figure. There is also a more important point about youth clubs, which begs the question of what is meant by the swinging sixties. In the 1960s, Portsmouth’s secondary schools (grammar, modern and technical high) were almost entirely single sex, and most employment opportunities for those who left school at 15 were similarly segregated. School and church youth clubs, however, provided supervised situations for the sexes to meet socially. Pompey Pop has documented these venues with teenagers meeting around the record player, or frequent weekend dances, while providing regular gigs for neophyte local musicians—many of whom are still playing in the pubs and clubs in the region. It is where many of us learned to play and perform. There were also bigger clubs featuring the same R&B, soul and jazz acts that were playing in all the main London venues, so even if we were not quite emulating the lives of Mick Jagger, David Bailey or Jean Shrimpton, we were certainly having a very different teenage experience from those of our teachers and parents, in their teens. It begs the question whether we think the term ‘swinging sixties’ is some kind of absolute, or whether it might be described by degrees, and compared with what had gone before. I wrote extensively about those who wish to deny the validity of our experiences in Autumn of Love, including a number of contributors to a BBC programme Why I Hate the Sixties: The Decade that was Too Good to be True (Langham 2004), in which writer and journalist David Aaronovitch echoed another of Sandbrook’s views, that ‘the swinging sixties probably only ever existed somewhere in a triangle between Carnaby Street, King’s Road, Chelsea and Abbey Road’. By the time Sandbrook presented a BBC programme on the 1970s, he was suggesting, ‘the swinging sixties only happened to about 14 people in a few privileged enclaves’ (Sandbrook 2013). The Pompey Pop project presents extensive evidence that Sandbrook, Aaronovitch and the others are wrong, and one of our objections is that even where Sandbrook’s publications are impressive they are almost wholly written using archival research. There is of course no obligation on historians to seek first-hand accounts when studying periods where that would make that difficult or impossible, but neither is there any excuse to draw general conclusions about the recent past which can be refuted easily by contemporary evidence. That approach is not helped by the fact that Sandbrook was not born until the 1970s, while even Aaronovitch was only 16 when the decade ended. Another issue, and reason, for the development of the Pompey Pop project was much more concerned with local histories, of which there were many, mostly written, compiled or edited by people working locally as curators, archivists, historians or lecturers. These were often broadly interesting and informative, but there was very little in any of them about the worlds covered by the Pompey Pop project. I have noted previously (Allen 2015) that despite chapters with topics like ‘entertainment and/or lifestyle’, these local histories paid little attention to ‘the experiences of my generation around popular culture’ (168) or more specifically, popular music. Publications such as those by Fox (1989), Stedman (1999; 2002) or Sadden (2009) either missed or ignored a significant slice of the lives of many locals. When I raised that with people in our local museums and libraries they thought this was less to do with what I suspected was a certain snobbishness towards popular culture, and more because of the absence of archival records—something Pompey Pop has set out to correct. It is another example of the issue of the relationship between archival research and ‘living histories’. If it is not in an archive, is it not history?
Pompey Pop: Discovering the past The story of Tony Crombie’s rock’n’roll debut in Portsmouth (above) is easy enough to verify through contemporary newspaper reports and I have met people in the city who told me they were there. There is little reason to suppose they are not telling the truth, but verifying every story is not necessarily so straightforward— even when, as in the case of an appearance by Cream in the city in late 1966, quite a number of us remember being there. In February 2017, a collector and chronicler of popular music memorabilia posted, on Pompey Pop’s Facebook site, a poster for Cream at the Birdcage Club, Portsmouth, on Sunday 9 October 1966. The poster matched a Portsmouth date that apparently had been published in a timeline for bass guitarist Jack Bruce, and a lengthy Facebook discussion ensued about the poster, which I knew was wrong, and probably a fake. But how did I ‘know’, and what does that kind of knowing entail? Historian John Vincent reminds us that ‘studying the past is not possible: it is no longer there’, adding that the only things we can study are ‘particular pieces of evidence … which happen to survive into the present’, while their existence today is often accidental, either ‘in the process of preservation and survival or both’ (1997: 9–10). So, the poster appeared as ‘evidence’, but it looked rather well-preserved and not resembling other posters from the club in the period. My initial response drew on a diary I kept that year, noting that while the Birdcage had been active on the three days before Sunday 9th, it rarely had live acts on Sundays and I had made no Birdcage entry for that day. But only I can claim to know how accurate a diary entry might be, and even then, can I claim that the teenager, a week short of his 17th birthday on that particular Sunday, is the same person writing this, 52 years
later? Is my diary more to be trusted than this apparently preserved poster? By contrast, a couple of months later on Saturday 3 December, in the same diary I wrote ‘SAW CREAM GREAT (SEE NOTES AT FRONT)’, and at the front listed five of the songs they played. But the fact that my diary says I saw them still proves nothing, so where else would I go to seek Vincent’s ‘evidence’? The local newspaper included Birdcage adverts over the ten days before and after that Cream gig for a number of acts including the Move, Herbie Goins, and Ike & Tina Turner, so why was there no advert for Cream? In addition, whatever the date, a number of us recalled that Ginger Baker did not survive the night and after playing the first set collapsed, and was taken to hospital.
It is then surprising that the local newspaper’s weekly ‘pop’ column on the following Thursday (13 October) made no mention of that. In November 1966, the same local newspaper carried the following advert: ‘Cream, Cream, Cream, Clapton’s gang makes only appearance in Portsmouth area at New Spot, Thorngate, Gosport, Monday next’ (7 November). The emphasis is mine, but would they have made such a claim just one month after a gig in Portsmouth? It seems unlikely. On Facebook, some people remembered the Portsmouth night without questioning the date, but when pressed were not ‘sure’ it was October, rather than December, while one respondent even suggested a different venue. The conclusion is, I think, simple. Someone found the reference to Jack Bruce playing in Portsmouth on 9 October, and created a poster to match that date, probably because the value of such memorabilia has increased significantly over the years. The Facebook discussion about Cream in Portsmouth was a relatively parochial affair, although it engendered considerable interest and comment, and in that sense seemed to emphasize the point that the principal rationale for such discussions is to create a reliable record of what happened locally. On the other hand, if it prevents the creation of false artefacts and the exploitation of individual collectors, it may have some broader consequence.
It is a case study of how we uncover evidence at a distance of more than 50 years—through a process of what social research might term triangulation. If someone had created and marketed this poster 15 years earlier, there would have been very little organized discussion or evidence to challenge the representation other than the newspaper archives, which at that time were largely dormant in respect of a topic like Pompey Pop. Ultimately it seemed that people either accepted the conclusions drawn from my investigations, or perhaps they simply tired of the detail and the issue? In any case, the topic ended and the Facebook site moved on. To a large extent this is what we do: recording, developing and sometimes correcting the historical record of what took place, and making it available to anyone with an interest in the information. Whether it has any significance beyond
Portsmouth is for others to decide, because ultimately that is not our motivation. Whether any of the detailed stories (Crombie, Pink Floyd, Cream etc.) matter in the grander scheme of things is similarly beyond our concern. Is there, however, more to say than that, or is it sufficient that local people are able, not least through the proliferation of online resources and contacts, real and potential, to create their own archives about so many aspects of local culture and history? Is that all we need? In Portsmouth, the answer is quite possibly yes, although there are useful things to say about what is not included, despite what might be seen initially as a fairly comprehensive project. In such an analysis, it is perhaps worth asking to what extent the model of Pompey Pop is replicable elsewhere? In addressing that question, there are perhaps four key elements: personnel, artefacts, spaces and funding. I have offered some descriptions of the central personnel in Pompey Pop, who are mostly current/former musicians and in one case a photographer and local historian. I am an academic in arts and cultural practices and a member of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM), but I think my identity as a Portsmouth-based musician over half-a-century and a very local participant in Pompey Pop is far more significant than my academic identity: it is that which has unlocked doors and eased communications.
In addition, since I retired I am not aware of any significant work on popular music at the University of Portsmouth. With regard to my academic identity—and I am still linked as a Visiting Teaching Fellow—I think the extent to which I am therefore entirely ‘local’ is relatively unusual. I wonder how many academics involved in local popular music histories have spent their lives playing music and working in their home town or city, and I ask because it might be one aspect of this project that is difficult to replicate in an academic context—especially since none of the other major participants are academics. For Pompey Pop, my particular experiences are largely advantageous, since it is fairly easy to make connections, have conversations and ask questions—often with people I have known well for decades, and with whom I have shared specific musical experiences. On the other hand, Pompey Pop is somewhat parochial, and perhaps makes it harder to take a more objective view. It probably has its plusses and minuses, but it is what it is, and I have tried to use it productively; the main purpose in recounting the tale is that it is perhaps the least replicable part of the Pompey Pop project elsewhere. While my role as a local academic has rarely been central to the project it did enable the 2009 lecture, and perhaps encouraged the City Museum to invite my involvement in various projects. I suspect any similar project elsewhere would benefit from a working relationship between academics and local participants, and how that might develop would depend on experiences and availability. It is perhaps worth stressing that all the key contributors to
Pompey Pop are retired—we have the time—and sometimes a bit of spare cash to pursue particular projects. In addition to questions of memory (and its reliability), artefacts are of course central to any history of popular music and local projects depend on locating recordings, photographs, posters, tickets and eventually clothes, instruments and the like. Sometimes this is simply a matter of chance, although I believe chances increase through every initiative. There is for example a National Lottery-funded Heritage project at the Guildhall documenting the history of the building, which has just uncovered in filing cabinets in the basement files on all the acts that appeared in the years after it was rebuilt and re-opened in June 1959. It includes programmes, tickets, press releases, photographs of major acts and has triggered a new strand to Pompey Pop. There are other examples: during the 2010 museum exhibition, a man who had often seen me performing locally put me in touch with his friends who had a set of photographs from one summer in the early 1960s which Rod Stewart spent in the city living as a beatnik, immediately prior to his singing career. At the same exhibition, I met the niece of Marion Knight who, in the spring and summer of 1963 as an 18-year-old Portsmouth student, had been the subject of a 30-minute BBC TV documentary by John Boorman, called Citizen 63. By 2010, Marion had become something of a mythical figure, who had not lived in Portsmouth since the mid-1960s, while the film seemed unobtainable. When we met, Marion had a video copy of the documentary, which revealed all kinds of things about post-15 education in the city back then, as well as depicting local teenagers who, just as the Beatles were enjoying their first successes, were engaging in a quasi-beatnik lifestyle, preferring traditional jazz, folk music and Ray Charles to commercial pop, supporting CND, partying on local beaches and dancing the (jazz) stomp at the funfair to annoy the local rockers. The film was also about a teenage girl of course. The Pompey Pop project has included relatively little about women and girls, then or now as local performers or consumers of popular music. Of around 440 photographs, in Dave and Mick’s Pompey Pop Pix, there are no more than 20 show girls or young women, other than occasionally and incidentally among dancers or audiences. Gill Hutchins, who still plays in Hampshire Classical Guitar Orchestra, is the only female instrumentalist in the book; local trio the Honeys are pictured on tours with the Beatles, Cliff Richard, Adam Faith and Helen Shapiro, while well-known visiting singers Sandie Shaw, Julie Driscoll and Sandy Denny are shown at Portsmouth venues. Two local groups from the 1960s, the Fortunes and the Furys, include female singers; there is Audrey Jeans, a pre-rock’n’roll recording artist, as well as dancers Crimson Ballet, two shop assistants in Apache Boutique, club promoter Doreen Parsons, and DJ Linn ‘the Bird’ (sic). There are so few, it is easy to list them all, with the final men
tion for mod fan Cilla Gilmore dancing on stage with Jimmy James & the Vagabonds at the Birdcage Club. It is a picture that appeared on the front cover of their studio album New Religion (1966), and is worth mentioning because while they were the club’s most popular act (29 appearances in 30 months), they are also among the very few black musicians shown in the book. Portsmouth was then and (the university excepted) is still to a very large extent, mono-cultural. Other than the Vagabonds, the book shows individual black members of just two local bands, the Monk and Brother Bung (actually from Southampton) and, from the late 1950s, a black jazz quartet playing after hours at Ricky’s Club. We have been unable to identify them and believe they were visiting the city. Where women feature more prominently in the project is as national/international performers. In our lists of live performances from the 1940s and 1950s these are mostly singers with the dance bands, but with the re-opening of the Guildhall in June 1959, there were during the next decade, appearances such as by Ottilie Patterson (with Chris Barber), Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, the Ivy Benson Orchestra, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Buffy Sainte Marie, Gracie Fields, Helen Shapiro, Brenda Lee, Little Eva, Shirley Bassey, Cilla Black, the Supremes, Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Sandie Shaw, Lulu, Nina Simone, Annie Ross and others. We might look to develop a broader understanding and documentation by focusing more on audiences and consumers, although Nigel Grundy’s DVD has made a start by including interviews with women. Pompey Pop has been pretty comprehensive in documenting the first quarterof-a-century of post-war popular music in the city, and since the creation of the Guildhall exhibition and the Facebook site it has added to that with tales of events, acts and activities from the 1970s onwards. In addition, there are other sites which record the histories of, for example, Pompey Punks, and a couple of significant clubs, the Tricorn/Cromat in the 1970s and Basins in the 1980s. These various sites carry historical information and some add recent and forthcoming events. But they are predominantly, perhaps almost entirely concerned with guitar-based, white acts—more these days featuring women, but still emerging from that rock tradition. Pompey Pop has almost nothing to say about hiphop or its legacy, including grime, which a BBC4 documentary (Williams 2018) described as the ‘most important British musical movement since punk’. If that is true, Pompey Pop did not realize and I am not sure that Portsmouth noticed it either—and neither does the project have much to offer on acid house, the 1990s clubbing scene, or techno. Since our project is run entirely by unpaid volunteers, I think we have contributed to the ‘pressing need’ noted by Baker (2015: 1) ‘to archive the remnants of popular music’s material past’. Perhaps in that respect, our project has done
its job in addressing the lack of archival resources for the period, and it has also responded to those cultural commentators wishing to dismiss the claims of our generation about the 1960s—although it is unlikely they were listening. Perhaps that is all that can be asked of such a project which, if it is to move on filling those substantial gaps, might need to start afresh with new personnel and perhaps different forms and media. In terms of spaces and funding, our project was at times simply fortuitous although those of us centrally involved have often paid ourselves to make things happen, while a little fund-raising has occurred through the sales of some of the publications. The availability of unwanted space in the large Guildhall was especially fortuitous, as was working with the V&A exhibition in 2010, which gave the project significant public impetus. Sadly, this is no longer possible as cuts now prevent the museum from presenting visiting shows or working with local curators. I would like to hope that we have approached the project in what Baker (2015) describes as a democratic way of adding to the national, and perhaps international archive, but that must be for others to judge. I would add, however, that any evaluation of Pompey Pop might wish us to expand beyond our tendency to focus on what might be considered cutting-edge (modern jazz, rock’n’roll, mods, psychedelia, punk etc.) and (white) boys with guitars, to include more on mainstream pop, dancing, fashion, discos, DJs etc.—even without filling the generic gaps identified above. The work is never finished.
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