“Rebel – Winter Gdns B.Mouth – INCREDIBLE (met them etc)”
So, my second Cockney Rebel gig … but my first experience of rubbing shoulders with the stars!
Winter Gardens in its heyday… and as it fell into disrepair
The Bournemouth Winter Gardens always felt like a strange music venue to me. It was built in 1937 as an indoor bowling-green. Then, after WWII, Bournemouth Council converted it into a Concert Hall and improved the landscaping around it.
It was blessed with perfect acoustics – rare for old converted theatres – but the seating layout never really felt suited to anything approximating a ‘rock concert’ to me.
It started suffering from a lack of use in the early 90’s, the cost of renovation outweighing the possible income. In 1999, the Council invited development proposals from the private sector for the entire site but only where those proposals retained the Winter Gardens. Sadly, no application was successful, and in 2007 the complex was demolished in preparation for a new mixed use development.
This gig was – I’m pretty certain – my first at the Winter Gardens and I went to it with my friends Niles, Sarah and someone else whose name I can’t recall. (Alex?). We all caught the train down, hoping to then catch the last train back after the show.
Yep, that never happened.
This was the all-new incarnation of Cockney Rebel – now billed as Steve Harley AND Cockney Rebel – drummer Stuart Elliott the only surviving member from the 1974 shows. Elliot later recorded with Al Stewart on his breakthrough “Year of the Cat” album and has since played with the likes of Sting, Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney.
Harley’s new laid back bassist, George Ford, was the brother of Emile Ford, both of them founder members of the Joe Meek-produced Checkmates, who nabbed 1959’s Christmas Number 1 spot with the doo-wop classic “Why Do You Wanna Make Those Eyes at Me For?” (Damn, I’ve just discovered that he died in March 2007. RIP George)
Keyboard player Duncan Mackay came to Cockney Rebel via a spell as a member of both Sergio Mendes ‘ brazilian rhythms band and – even more unlikely – Jon Hiseman’s blues/jazz combo Colosseum II. Before joining Harley he had already released one solo album and was preparing a second. (Life after Cockney Rebel included playing on Kate Bush’s first three albums, several Alan Parsons Project…. erm, projects, as well as becoming a member of pop group 10cc)
Guitarist Jim Cregan’s pedigree included playing on Julie Driscoll ‘s debut album and being a member of both Family (of whom I have waxed lyrically before) and Roger Chapman’s post-Family band, Streetwalkers. He was married to songstress Linda Lewis, who enjoyed a Top 20 hit single in 1973 with “Rock-a-Doodle-Doo” and would go on to enjoy further hits. Cregan’s rightful place in the musical firmament was somewhat assured in 1975 when he joined Rod Stewart’s band, eventually becoming his music director and (with Rod) co-writing worldwide smashes such as “Forever Young“, “Passion” and “Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me)“. He has since won Grammys and plaudits galore.
Tonight in 1975 the band evidently gelled to such a degree that one (OK, very biased) 17-year-old reviewed the concert as INCREDIBLE
They were good though, very good. I can still remember elements of this evening. Their renditions of both “Best Years of our Lives” and “Sebastian” have remained with me all these years, the crowd singing and swaying along in unison.
The support act for the night were Sailor, who had enjoyed a minor hit single the year previous with “Traffic Jam” and who – maybe as a result of this support slot with Cockney Rebel? – would enjoy massive success at the end of 1975 (and into 1976) with a pair of very infectious Top 10 smashes, “Glass of Champagne” and “Girls, Girls, Girls“. Their sound was a peculiar hybrid of catchy lyrics backed by a weird glockenspiel/jingly-jangly acoustic guitar mix. To replicate their oft-complicated studio sound, group founder Georg Kajanus traveled with a piece of equipment he called “The Nickelodeon”; a huge keyboard contraption that had to be wheeled on and off stage by several roadies.
And, yes, since you’re not asking, the band DID dress up in sailor costumes. Despite that – no, not because of it – I enjoyed them a lot too and happily bought their singles when they were eventually released.
After a fun performance by Sailor and a stellar show by Cockney Rebel, the best part of the evening was still to come…
My friend Niles had a habit of wanting to meet all the bands and artists he went and saw. He would either loiter by the stage door before the shows, blag his way into the soundchecks or ‘stalk’ the band whenever they left the auditorium. Tonight was no exception – he was eager to meet Steve Harley & Co…. secretly I suppose I was too, although I wasn’t prepared for what we had to go through to do so.
By the time the four of us had got out of the Winter Gardens crowd, the band had already left, but Niles found out from a roadie where in Bournemouth they were staying for the night.
The Roundhouse Hotel was quite the trek from the seafront but we walked there nonetheless. Niles casually strolled into the hotel foyer, managed to stumble across Rebel’s tour manager and said we all wanted to meet the band and get their autographs. The tour manager told us we might have a ‘bit of a wait’ whilst they all cooled down following the show. Niles told him we didn’t mind waiting and that we would be outside near the hotel’s entrance.
So, we waited…
… and waited…
… and waited…
… and waited…
… and then Niles went back in to ‘jog memories’…
and we waited…
… and waited…
… and eventually the group came out (albeit piecemeal) most of them somewhat amazed that the four of us had hung around for so long.
We told them they’d done a great show – the usual overawed “blah blah blah” – and got their autographs, each on a page of a notebook Niles always (naturally) carried with him for such eventualities. Harley himself was a little standoffish (as I have stated before, he did have the reputation of being a bit of a twat), but the other guys in the band – especially George Ford – were lovely to us, asking where we’d come from and what other bands we liked. (I believe I said Be-Bop Deluxe?)
That set of autographs remain one of the few things I have kept in good condition. In fact, I framed it along with a bunch of other 70’s/80’s/90’s ‘music memorabilia’ (concert flyers, ticket stubs, etc) a few years back…
Here it is, safely under glass…
That’s Harley’s moniker top right (“forever….”), Duncan MacKay’s top left, George Ford’s below with Jim Cregan to the right of that. Towards the bottom is Stuart Elliot’s theatrical scrawl. There are two other autographs on the page that I couldn’t remember or make out…. well at least until I found the tour programme from the show.*
Squeezed in below Ford’s and next to Stuart’s scribble is the autograph of Lindsay Elliot, Stuart’s brother, who played percussion on the tour. At the bottom right of the sheet, obscured by the camera flash reflecting off the glass (sorry about that readers) is “Snowy“. This was from Snowy White, a guest guitarist, whose later career would encapsulate being a full-time member of both Thin Lizzy and Roger Waters’ band.
After the band went back into the hotel, a certain realisation set in. That realisation was that – given the fact it was now way past 1 a.m. in the morning – we had most certainly missed the last train home to Southampton.
As was often the case in those days, a (doubtless worried) parent was called with the unfortunate news that a) we were stuck without a way of getting back, and b) he would have to come and collect us. I think on this occasion it was Niles’ dad who drew the short straw, forced to get dressed, drive to Bournemouth, find us, and then transport each of us to our respective homes.
It was a great night though, a great gig and my first meeting with anyone ‘famous’. Over the course of my career in the industry I would meet many, many musicians, producers and record label bosses and was able to cast aside any ‘starstruck’ emotions. But this night in 1975 I was most certainly in awe of meeting a few of my ‘heroes’, cementing my love for the music of Cockney Rebel.
*Yes, I kept it… guess what the EFA70sTRO posts will padded out with the next few days?…