Canterbury Scene @ Bishop’s Stortford

While researching my book I was lucky to exchange e-mails with Dez Quarrell about the musical activity in Bishop’s Stortford, the city where Pip Pyle and brothers Phil and Steve Miller grew up and first played music together in the band that would become Delivery. As it turned out, Bishop’s Stortford remained a rallying point long after these musicians had moved to London and elsewhere. Bands like Hatfield and the North, Gilgamesh, National Health and Rapid Eye Movement played some of their earliest gigs at the Angel Underground and parent venues, and Dez’s account below offers many priceless anecdotes and little-known facts, most of which didn’t fit in the book but have found a proper home, I hope, on this blog.

Dez Quarrell : I’ve tried to put back together the Bishop’s Stortford timeline as best as my memory will recall – it went as follows…

railwayhotelIn 1968-69, the Rambling Jack’s blues club was held in an upstairs room above an old open-fronted stabling in the courtyard of the old coaching inn, the Railway Hotel. Steve Miller set up the club and booked the best bands from the British ‘blues boom’. I was too young to blag my way in, but can remember being very envious of my elder brother getting in to see Mick Abrahams’ new band Blodwyn Pig.

In 1969-70, the musical focus moved to Rhodes Hall, a large hall attached to the birthplace house of Sir Cecil Rhodes – the dodgy British colonialist responsible for the worst excesses of the British Empire in South Africa. These weekly gigs were run by an arch money-grabber called Reggie Reed, who carried on Cecil’s record of exploitation. One band had to jack up his Jaguar and remove the tyres, travel a respectable distance away into the countryside and ring Reggie from a callbox, and a position of strength, before receiving their fee in grubby notes. Well, so the story went, it might not have been true, but it’s definitely good enough to be true !

Most of these gigs ended up in fights on the dancefloor between the greasers – bike boys – and local travellers – Romanys. When the lights dimmed, you made for the nearest emergency exit and ran. I can never remember any encores ! Bands I can remember performing were Black Sabbath, Mott The Hoople, Audience, Mighty Baby and the only one with a vague later Canterbury connection, Yes, with Bill Bruford on drums.

triadMeanwhile, big plans were afoot just across the road at the old Maltings buildings – a major arts centre was planned to transform the crumbling group of Victorian industrial edifices. The centre was to be called Triad because there were three buildings : a large central one, flanked by two long, thin drying houses. Initially there was a lot of community support and effort to get the whole thing up and running, but it was a massive job. The two flanking buildings were the first to be renovated, called Millars One and Millars Three. The big central building was planned to house a large theatre and concert hall with seating for 650 or so – it never quite happened, and now it houses an indoor bowling green, offices, a taxi firm, a little greasy spoon café, and a lot of still derelict space.

Anyway, Millars One was to contain a hall with stage and capacity 250/300 and a licensed restaurant on the ground floor at the riverfront car park end of the building, with a dance hall/rock, pop and jazz performance space above. Millars Three was to house a dance studio, a studio theatre and a base for a local theatre in education group. A lot of volunteer work went into the initial clear-up and decoration. My schoolboy band was given two small rehearsal rooms to tidy up and paint and decorate in return for free rehearsal space. Meanwhile, a group of fans and local musicians started the job of tidying and decorating the restaurant and performance space above in return for being allowed to run a regular club there on Sunday nights – later Sunday and Wednesday nights. The club opened in 1970 and was called Millars One, after the building, not Steve, although I’m sure he was involved !

Delivery in 1968 : Phil Miller, Steve Miller, Jack Monck and Pip Pyle

The club featured an eclectic line-up of folk, rock, jazz and poetry, but regularly featured two major local bands : Steve Miller’s Delivery and CMU. Other acts featured were Steve Tillotson, an original member of T-Rex, poet Adrian Henri, Steve Tilston the folk singer, Kevin Ayers and the Whole World – featuring Mike Oldfield, Lol Coxhill, David Bedford, etc. -, Keith Tippett, Van der Graaf Generator, and quite a lot of local rock bands and pick-up groups.

Poster for Roger Odell’s occasional big band from 1970 – the first known instance of Phil Miller and Alan Gowen performing together

Lol occasionally guested with Delivery, and then became a regular as a solo performer and in a duet, firstly with David Bedford (“Pretty Little Girl Come Walking In The Woods With Me” and “Don Alfonso the man from Oxo” regularly brought the rafters down), and later duets with Steve. There was quite a lot of experimentation going on. Roger Odell, inspired by Miles Davis’ album “Bitches Brew”, brought together a double quintet called 360° Inter-Planetary Solar Complex on a number of occasions to play some Miles-like material. Each time the line-up varied, but I seem to remember Pip being present on one occasion.

The club evolved to be run by the local agency which handled Delivery, CMU, etc. Run by brothers Chris and Mark Harrison and Dick Offer, they were called Aardvark and based in Chuch Street, Bishop’s Stortford. These were heady days ! CMU got a contract with Transatlantic Records, took the Purcell Rooms on London’s South Bank and the Edinburgh Festival by storm and appeared on BBC2’s “Late Night Line-Up”. Delivery did a couple of Radio One sessions and got their recording deal [with B&C]. I remember Pip sporting the Larry Smart painting on his bass drum for the first time, his fabulous double kit, and then his disappearance and replacement with Laurie Allan from Formerly Fat Harry.

CMUAfter CMU‘s first album “Open Spaces” the band split. Musicologist Ed Lee, taking Terry Mortimer and James Gordon to form Trident, while Roger Odell took the name CMU with guitarist Ian Hamlett for a short-lived jazz fusion outfit featuring Steve Cook on bass and Frank Roberts (later a Robert Wyatt sideman) on keyboards. After Frank left, the band took a solid step towards rock. Larraine rejoined on vocals, together with vocalist/composer Richard Joseph and organist Leary Hasson from Marsupulami, and recorded their second album “Space Cabaret”.

Caravan with Steve Miller

About this time, Carol left Delivery, and after a gig or two, Phil was spirited off to join Matching Mole. I can’t remember where Dyble, Coxhill & the Miller Brothers came into the timeline, and have a hazy memory as to whether or not they played a gig at Millars One – things changed very quickly. Around this time, Steve joined Caravan for “Waterloo Lily”.

One of the last gigs at Millars One was Kevin Ayers with the Bananamour group featuring the wonderful Archie Legget. Millars One went on until early 1972 when the arts centre manager, Ted Smith, much more a classical music man, took control of all the programming at the centre.

moatAround this time, Aardvark got the call to book the Music In The Moat concert at the Tower Of London. The original line-up sent the New Musical Express into ecstasy – I think they called it a bill made in heaven : John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, CMU and a reformed Delivery. Alas, Mahavishnu Orchestra had to pull out and their place was taken by Barclay James Harvest – oh well !

Gilgamesh in 1974 : Mike Travis, Steve Cook, Alan Gowen and Phil Lee

Just after the Moat gig, I left school and joined CMU as a roadie. By 1972/3, the music had returned to the Railway Inn, in the same room as Rambling Jack’s. The club, now named the Angel Underground, was run by Aardvark. It featured the usual suspects plus regular performances by Carol’s new band Uncle Dog, a young Henry Cow, Alan’s band Gilgamesh, Judas Priest – we had them, and Barbarella’s in Birmingham took CMU in an odd exchange ! – and two bizarre outfits called Brewer’s Droop and Gnome Sweet Gnome – what happened to them ?

In 1973, CMU split and I moved to Cambridge. While there, the band I was working with shared a bill at the Architecture School’s Red Event with the Global Village Trucking Company and Jack Monck’s band.

When I returned to Bishop’s Stortford in Spring 1974, music promotion had returned to the hands of the sharks at Rhodes Centre, and Roger Odell and I decided we’d strike a blow for the common musician and start a musician-run club. We approached the new landlord of the Old Maltings public house located in the restaurant section of Millars One at Triad, and we’d got our venue. All gigs were free, but I took a hat collection with a recommended donation of at least 30p each, and we took a percentage of the landlord’s bar take. Roger was then working in Mecca clubs in London in cover bands and wanted a hobby band to keep him sane, and my band needed somewhere to play. It started with Roger’s projects supported by my bands, and as other local bands got to hear about it they came along too – at least they weren’t being ripped off by a promoter ! And it was a place to try out new material.

Tracks performing at the Triad : Martin Elliot, Roger Odell, Bill Sharpe and Keith Winter

George Khan’s Stagecoach came along, Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd came to blow, as did Jimmy Hastings, Steve Marriott of the Small Faces and many more rock and jazz players – London was only an hour’s drive away.

About this time, Roger formed a more stable unit called Tracks, which would in the end evolve into Shakatak. Tracks’ first line-up was a much more jazz-fusion centred band. Roger played drums, Steve Miller played piano, Phil Miller and Keith Winter on guitars and John Culleton on bass. Soon Steve dropped out and was replaced by Bill Sharpe on keyboards, and Ian Hamlett joined on guitar. Eventually the band would drop down to just Keith Winter on guitar. Bass players changed quite often – one notable bassist was ZTT guru Trevor Horn.

Bill Bruford

In 1975, the Triad Arts Centre went into voluntary liquidation, but we headed up a user group and the liquidator allowed us to continue with a bring-your-own-beer bar. We went one step forward from the two nights a week we had been running and ran 7 evenings and 2 lunchtimes. There was a folk night, a poetry night, trad jazz night, be-bop night, even an old folks singalong night, all with bring-your-own-beer and a hat collection. Alas, we were so successful that a commercial buyer was found for the centre, but they let us stay on for our Sunday jazz/rock sessions.

In 1976, National Health got in touch and wanted to do a pre-tour warm-up in front of a friendly audience, and they came and played I think their first gig in the concert hall to a fantastic reception. I can remember being amazed at Bill Bruford‘s flight cases. This was the real big league ! They were supported by a rather interesting folky fusion band featuring Rick Biddulph, but I can’t remember the name of the group [Crass Stupidity – ed.]

Steve Cook

There was a hiatus in 1977 when I’d moved to Harlow and started a shortlived venue downstairs at a pub called The Orange Footman, Jazz at the Club. It only lasted six weeks but featured some great music from, among others, Henry Lowther’s Quarternity, Stan Sulzmann, avant-garde drummer Eddie Prévost featuring a marvellous young bassist Marcio Mattos, and my old friend Steve Cook came along with another old pal from Seventh Wave (whom I’d been a roadie for too), Peter Lemer, in a three-piece completed by John Marshall. That must have been June, because Steve tried to get me to come back and roadie for a trip to Paris he was just about to make, which became Soft Machine’s “Alive and Well In Paris”. Thank heavens I kept my dayjob – there wasn’t much future with that band !

In 1978, I moved back to Bishop’s Stortford and I re-started the club Sunday evenings at Triad on the same basis as before – hat collection and part of the bar take. Initialy it was just Tracks and an American band called Antares – with Jamie Snead and Kevin Flanagan, while they were students at Cambridge – on alternative weeks.

Alan Gowen in 1980

Sometime in May or June 1981, we borrowed the big hall again for a benefit for Alan Gowen‘s widow Celia after his sad demise. It featured Pip Pyle, Steve and Phil Miller, Lol Coxhill, Steve Cook who’d played in Gilgamesh and Tracks – Roger Odell and Alan were old mates when Alan lived in Harlow just down the road. I think Rapid Eye Movement played too, but I can’t honestly remember.

By 1981, Shakatak had started to take off, and Pip was back on the scene living in Hatfield Broad Oak. He’d got lots of ideas he wanted to explore and he became virtually resident at the club for a while. Rapid Eye Movement, the best band ever to leave no trace, played about every fortnight – Pip experimenting with clap-track, syn-drums and all manner of electric stuff and recording devices. His other band with Elton and Marcio Mattos were regulars too.

Mark Hewins

We had by that time an educated audience that didn’t object to free music and Mark Hewins‘ first outing was long remembered by all present – he spent most of the night playing his guitar with one of the metal posts that provided the superstructure of the building !

Pip always had many stories while leaning against the bar – exploding toilets that had them evicted from small Paris hotels in the middle of the night (I seem to remember he was much in awe of Mark’s explosive techniques !), Pip’s retaliation for Elton pissing in his wellies at a party at Hatfield Broad Oak by shitting into Elton’s saxello in the back of a London taxi cab…

Elton Dean and his (clean !) saxello

I don’t know if I ever believed them, or for that matter even questioned their veracity – Pip was a great storyteller, that’s how I’ve earned my living these past years so that’s one professional praising another ! What I’d give to still hear him telling his tales now…

Late in 1981 or early 1982, Triad changed hands again. Danny Kersey, the old manager, moved to a nightclub in Stanstead Mountfitchet, about six miles away. We moved the club there for a few weeks, but it didn’t work – a few miles too far, I suppose !

Finally, a word from Dez about his own musical activities…

I played bass and my long-term collaborator was Tony Watts on guitar. We used to watch Phil Miller’s hands like a hawk to see the exotic chord shapes to try and use later ! Steve Miller was very encouraging. When we were about 14, he came along and jammed with us at Triad playing the Steinway in the concert hall. Our best exploits were later in the field of latin jazz, playing Antonio Carlos Jobim numbers.

One thought on “Canterbury Scene @ Bishop’s Stortford

  1. I was amused to read about the dodgy promoters in Bishops Stortford. I had a short-lived band with Steve Gannon and Dick Wall and we got a gig in the town. The venue was virtually empty but the promoter offered us a cheque (unheard of for paying musicians in those days). We refused to take the cheque as we were sure it would bounce. Guns were threatened – we hurriedly took the cheque and hurriedly departed. The cheque didn’t bounce!

    Liked by 1 person

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