The Appletown Chronicles

 

This is a tribute to the 1970's music scene in Hereford and traces my involvement with it...

Mark T.

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In the Beginning…

I was born in Hereford, England, which is about eleven miles from the Welsh Border, at the general hospital which used to overlook the river Wye next to Castle Green but has now been converted to housing.

I grew up on the South Side of the river, which is where all the council (project) housing is located.

Redhill, my district, was working class and if you weren't into football you were into rock music. Martin Chambers, the drummer from the The Pretenders, grew up pretty near to me, though I didn't know him then as he was a couple of years older than me ... and a couple of years means a lot when you are young.

There seemed to be bands all over the place then: Cold River Lady, 9:30 Fly, Cheeks, Dawn Wind, Golden Salamander ... loads of cover bands. There was one local band that used to do The Sweet really well. They were very young ... at least two of them had been expelled from school... and they used to keep all their gear... guitars, basses ... every thing... in an old , split screen, VW van which had windows all around it and yet the gear never got nicked. Me and my friend, Alan, used to go to their van on Sunday afternoons and drool at the red Rapier 44 guitar that was stuck without a case up against the back window - almost as if to advertise the fact that there was lots of gear on board... and nobody... nobody... ever touched that stuff...

In those days Hereford was a bit of a one horse town… except that the horse was usually on vacation.
For kicks we would sit under the apple trees and wait for the apples to fall off… but for all that I loved it, truly.

As children we enjoyed a measure of freedom unimaginable in a big city. When school broke up for the Summer we entered into a two month parallel universe where we would be out from sun rise to sun set roaming the hills, rivers and valleys on the south side of the city; building dams, making dens and rafts, lighting camp fires, climbing trees, fishing and swimming in the water pools of the river Wye. We were Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and that feral existence was what life was about.

Hereford was famous for cider, beef cattle …and, for a while, in the 60’s …hippies.

My parents were both asylum seekers (they were called immigrants back then).
They wanted me to be anything but a musician … so, I started learning classical guitar at age 11 with an old guy called Robert Neville who used to play in dance bands in the nineteen thirties and fourties .

I am eternally grateful to Robert Neville, because those lessons transformed my life – not just the mechanics of learning guitar but culturally as he would end most lessons by playing me recordings of his favourite guitar music which quite often would be played by Julian Bream or John Williams but could equally be Eddie Lang or Fleetwood Mac playing Jigsaw Puzzle Blues.

I moved from there onto electric guitar at around the age of thirteen or fourteen. He expressed regret at this move, not because he felt there was anything inherently wrong with electric guitars, he had played one himself when playing for the dance bands. It was more that I think he saw me as dumbing myself down, taking the obvious route, all cheap thrills and no graft … and for a while he was right.

I think I first got that urge to get a guitar when I saw a flamenco guitarist on T.V. playing guitar for a really pretty dancer … I don’t know who she was but she looked g-r-e-a-t!

Looking back I think that TV performance probably coincided with the first thrust of puberty rearing its wayward head.How many other young lads watching T.V. that night were suddenly motivated to take up guitar I can only guess at, I pretty much decided, from that point on that a musician’s life would be the life for me.
I was not going to work in Bulmer’s or a council office. Playing pretty guitars to pretty ladies seemed a far more interesting way forward and had a curious inevitability about it I found hard to resist – even if I had a will to – which I didn’t.

After a year of getting nowhere with the guitar – things suddenly clicked. Chords and riffs got easier and suddenly the magic of the music was working its way through my fingers in some mysterious way – I’m sure other musicians have told you this – but you get to a point where you seem to become a medium for the music – the music is already there but musicians learn how to become music catchers a bit like Native Americans learned how to become dream catchers.


T.Rex were massive at the time and me and my best friend, Alan Tyler, who also started learning guitar about the same time as me, became a sort of T.Rex juke box.
We knew all the numbers and I became pretty good at developing a Bolanesque quiver to my voice, which I have never been able to totally shake off.

I had been a pretty shy and withdrawn kid up until then. Suddenly the guitar was my passport to social situations I have previously found daunting. A quick rendition of ‘Hot Love’ led to my first kiss, from the beautiful, blond Gillian Evans, on a stair well out-side the music room. Unsolicited, it quickly led me on to more school room boldness such as the afternoon, close to Christmas, when I held the whole class to attention as I played my way through a series of moves, pouting gestures and all, which was meant to be Rex’s latest waxing ‘Get it On’.

This event was received with a pretty mixed reaction - with some calling for more, others chucking balls of paper and at least one pretty, wide eyed, dark haired girl pouting and saying ‘I did know you were like this, Mark!’ …meanwhile some of the lads at the back were not going to have this wus sticking his head above the parapet – and not for the first time I heard some-one saying ‘don’t worry lads, we’ll get ‘im later!’

My glory was short lived, as it often is at that age, and within weeks I had been eclipsed by the best footballer or cricketer in the class (whose name was probably David Watts) … and my fifteen minutes of fame was nothing but a fading memory.

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Already, at that age, I was into a wide variety of music – the list goes on and on but includes, along the way, Hendrix, Peter Green, Marc Bolan, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Tir Na Nog, John Williams & Julian Bream, Pink Floyd, Status Quo & the Kinks. As I got further into my teens my love of music got near to an addiction level so that I was listening to any thing I could get my hands on. Gradually spending more and more time at Buzz Music (see below) and the music section of the town library and less and less time in school.

As kids me and Alan often used to hang around the Flamingo Ballroom, at the top of Dulas Avenue where we lived, and watch the bands unloading (beats watching apples fall off trees).
It was up at the Flamingo that from time to time we met James Honeyman Scott who, I think, was involved with a local band called Golden Salamander. We were all still kids then and Jimmy worked Saturdays at a local music store, which meant he could point us in the direction of the latest sheet music, let us try out guitars etc.

Pic courtesy of Kelvin Skyrme

At the Flamingo we saw Status Quo (who let us in to their sound check and borrowed our football!). It just after ‘Down the Dust Pipe’ when they were making the transition from Psychedelic pop to hard rockin’ boogie band.

At that time we also met Errol Brown of Hot Chocolate (who mended my broken bike chain) and Medicine Head, whose roadie hauled me backstage after I nicked the harmonica player’s red baseball hat, (luckily the band were friendlier than the roadie and let me keep the hat!).
Years later, at a gig at The Purple Turtle in Reading someone was to nick that same hat, in exactly the same way, from me. I expect by now it has been three times around the world – hope some-one’s washed it!

Oh … and we also saw Alexis Korner, Freddy & the Dreamers, Blackfoot Sue, Suzy Quatro and Screaming Lord Sutch,, who did that emerging from the coffin thing which was so English Music Hall / Hammer Horror… but our all time favourites were the Wild Angels. They just tore the place apart every time they came – and they came often.
Think of Springsteen at his best and you will still not get any where near the excitement of a Wild Angels gig. The lead guitarist regularly leapt to the top of his HiWatt stack and rocked it back and forward in such a wreckless manner, while soloing, that the roadies had to jump on stage and hold it all together before it came all crashing down on the drummer. They probably never made it big because they just played rock ‘ roll covers all night – and tribute bands were not big then – in those days you were really supposed to do your own stuff to get a good record deal.
I think they had one album out – which has been reissued by ACE records. Shame video was not around then – it is the only medium that would have done them justice!

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A little Later On

James Honeyman Scott .............................Jim Solar (on the right).........................................Folk Dudes... waitin' for the (plough) man

Around the age of sixteen I started school at Hereford Sixth Form College and began to meet up with various musicians and friends of musicians such as Jim Solar (later to be the bass player with Spizz Energy) and James Honeyman Scott, again, (Pretenders) as well a Perry West (the man from the hills), John Clarke, Richard Wojtuschek and Jean Noel.

Friendships were not tight in those days - certainly not with the bunch of people I hung out with, there were no crews then and people seemed to meet up by accident – it was really un-cool to plan anything – every one valued their independence but slowly a group of us like minded post hippie long-hairs evolved into some loose kind of a clan that hung out together.

 

One place that was good for bumping into people was the Crypt recording studios which was located under the church in Bridge Street.
Most of the younger musicians hung around there at some time or other.
There was a Laundromat next door (which had a coffee & Bovril machine!). It was a good place to hang out when it was wet.
I used to love that Rory Gallagher song Laundromat because this place seemed to be just the kind of place he was singing about.

The crypt was run by this amazing guy called Norm … never found out his second name, he would let the new guys, like me, use the studio during the dead hours (such as Sunday morning) for almost nothing and often played us rough mixes of the new stuff he was recording.
The Crypt was where Jim Scott got one of his big breaks playing on a demo session for Ian Hunter & Mott the Hoople. It was soon after that he joined Cheeks, I think, and then The Pretenders – the rest is history.

 

 

 

Another great place to hang out was Buzz Music, a record shop (and later guitar & amp shop) off Widemarsh Street.
Where else in Hereford, at that time, could a sixteen year old spend the entire afternoon listening LP’s back to back, drinking coffee, hanging out with friends … without even buying a single! … or the coffee! … and it was real coffee … not that insipid mellow birds stuff!
They really did the youth of Hereford a service those guys at Buzz Music – my hat is off… I salute you!

STOP PRESS!

BUZZ MUSIC TRIBUTE SITE NOW UP!

Click here to visit the Buzz Music Site

 

As a group of people we were fairly extreme. Out of everyone I came across we had the most wide ranging tastes in music, mixing sounds like Hawkwind, Can, Pink Fairies, Tangerine Dream and (the newly formed) Motorhead with George Melly, The Chieftains, Planxty & Martin Carthy – crazy combinations, hey?!
Guaranteed to make enemies in all camps!!

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The chief architect in introducing new sounds to everyone was Jean Noel. He earned money as a welder and had the cash to feed our habit with the biggest record collection around, so, for me, Sunday afternoons round his place became a regular music session – Sixteen year old Gary Moore’s Skid Row followed by the traditional flutist John Doonan seemed pretty good to my ears!

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Out There

In those days there was only a few places that did live music in Hereford. By now the Flamingo ballroom, which I told you about earlier, was in its death throws. The last band I saw there was Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, straight after their first single ‘Judy Teen’ was issued. Harley was full of attitude and spent most of the time sneering at the audience or winding them up – which I thought was odd at the time – but this was only a year or so before punk was to emerge, so I think he may have been part of some kind of a ground swell.
Hereford college of Education was just about the only place you could see the type of bands a seventeen year old would like. There we saw the ‘Groundhogs’ and best of all THIN LIZZY! But big bands only came to play there a couple of times a year.

However, something very strange was happening… all of a sudden there were about four folk clubs running in the town.
There was Blues at the Ulu Bar, Contemporary at the Greyhound, and what we would call today unplugged or open mike nights at the Pippin. Most of us had previously found folk clubs hard work and very middle of the road AOR - both performers and audience. The Pippin was already changing things by attracting a much younger crowd but a new club opened which changed every-one’s perceptions of what a folk club should be and who should go there: The Black Lion.

 

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The Lion operated a traditional only policy. Now if any of you have ever been into a Folk Club you will know that this usually means it is normally run by a band of middle aged (often men) with exceedingly large beer bellies, who seem to get very uptight when anything approaching an audience fills the room.

Well forget about that!

The lion was completely different!

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The place was packed with people aged 16 –30, dealers, bikers, hippies from the hills.
Real characters like Dooney, the best floor singer I’ve ever come across, & Keiley, a drinking, swearing, fighting builder with King Charles hair who played the most beautiful List you could imagine on the pub piano.
Herbie was there, occasionally, …he was famous for fifteen minutes for playing on Mike Oldfield’s Ommadawn L.P.
The club well patronised by people who lived in various shared houses throughout the Herefordshire countryside and in town. And if the music was traditional the patrons were alternative.

Jamie (left)

The club organisers were Jamie Davidson and Tom Hanley.
Jamie had moved to Hereford from London and he ran a tight club where the floor singers often outshone the guests.
Even though he was only about twenty four himself Jamie could impress us teenagers with stories of how he had met Shirley Collins or Martin Carthy.

Coupled with the Black Lion club, most of the musicians who played there used to meet at the Queen’s Arms in Broad street on Wednesday afternoons for an informal session.

In these days of all day licensing it is hard to appreciate how much those Wednesday sessions were coveted.
Wednesday is market day in Hereford, which meant that all pubs within a certain vicinity of the cattle market could stay open all day.
By 12.00 noon we lodged ourselves in the tiny backroom of the Queen’s ready for four hours of music. Almost all the musicians that gathered there were singers, it was rare for fiddlers or box players to turn up.
Consequently I learned a wealth of traditional songs at those sessions which I have carried with me ever since and they still form the bedrock of my traditional experience and a bench mark to measure other experiences by.

Want a list of Hereford Pubs?

Well ... Rootdogs SING THEM!

The whole atmosphere was so powerful there – it’s got to be remembered that this was about 1975. The rest of the world was listening to disco whilst we were listening to the Bothy Band and Shirley Collins. The average age of the Queen’s pub musician was twenty with many of the audience as young as sixteen, in fact, I must have been only seventeen at that time. We are not talking a bunch of old timers here. It was a small scale happening which was totally contrary to what was going on elsewhere.

It wasn’t long after that I strapped on my guitar and took my first tentative attempts at performing on stage to a paying audience. My first performance was a pretty sad affair - nervously bolting my way through Johnny Sands or Byker Hill … it may even have been Green Brooms! I imagine that my furtive attempts at sounding ‘folky’ probably ended up sounding more like I had chronic sinusitis - but it was a big leap from busking Syd Barrett songs on the staircase of the Pippin or outside the Litchfield Vaults.

It wasn’t long after that I left home, tentatively using this new, and very green, skill to carve out my own place in the world…


You've read about the 1970's Hereford music scene...

Now find out what it was like in the 1960's via the web-site of Mott the Hoople's keyboard player Verden Allen.

Music in 1960's Hereford with Verden Allen

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Visit Jim Scott on My Space

 


 

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