History of Tamworth Music Scene

Ever since the Assembly Rooms opened in 1889, the people of Tamworth have had the perfect venue to enjoy the live music of the times. Tamworth has also had many other venues in which people could enjoy live music of all genres.

Back on 25 March 1960 there was  Stompin' at the Assems - Second City Jazzmen with Admission: 5/-.

24 February 1961 - Tamworth Rocks Every Tuesday
“Three hours of crazy rocking and jiving at the fabulous show you can dance or watch”.
With Glen Dale, Ricky Fever, Buddy Britton, Rod Ace and The Rapiers at Assembly Rooms.

1961 saw Teen Beat Nights held every Tuesday at Assembly Rooms. On the 5 May crowds were treated to Danny Storm, Baby Bubbly David Da Costa, Mike West and The Silhouettes.

On 28 September 1962 a Twistacular Dance night at Assembly Rooms featuring Gerry Levene and The Avengers took place. Then on 12 October 1962 Ricky Valance - ('Tell Laura I Love Her') With The Chessmen and The Downbeats , Jimmy Low and Mark Chanelle. Admission costing: 7/6.

The end of January, early February 1963 saw Britain hit by the 'Great Freeze'. It had started at Christmas time and lasted through to early March, with record low temperatures at night, regular snowfalls and the country brought to a standstill. Then...on the night of Friday 1 February 1963, a live band appeared in Tamworth to get all teenagers in the area sweating with excitement - The Beatles appeared at the Assembly Rooms.

The Beatles, although a big act, at this point were not yet the household name that we know today. Three weeks earlier, on 11 January 1963, 'Please, Please Me' The Beatles second 45rpm single had been released, entering the charts on 17 January 1963, it reached No. 2 and spent 18 Weeks in the charts.

An advert first appeared in the Tamworth Herald on 18 January , enticing local youngsters with the line 'Stars of T.V., Radio and Stage - The Beatles'. The advert appeared again a week later on the 25 January: 'Three Groups - Rock and Twist Sensational Dance and Show to Stars of T.V., Radio and Stage - The Beatles'. And then finally, on the night of the gig the Herald carried the advert showing the full line-up for the show: 'The Beatles plus the Midlands top professional group 'Gerry Levene and the Avengers (from Birmingham including Roy Wood on guitar) also full supporting group The Rebels ( A local band from Tamworth).

Doors were shut before 9.30pm and hundreds of fans turned away, including several coach loads from Sutton and Birmingham. The band took to the stage at 11:45pm and played a 30 min set, finishing at 12:15am. The man responsible for bringing them to Tamworth was Vince Baker, a local promoter who was behind most of the high profile concerts held in the town during the 1960’s, including the visit of The Rolling Stones later in the year on 2 December. Jimmy Twigg, a local drummer who supported with his band The Three Spirits recalls –

For some reason we never appeared on any of the promotion material for the Rolling Stones gig although we were booked for it and did appear. In fact I ended up using Charlie Watts drum kit. We were playing our first set when the casting holding my rack tom snapped. The drum rolled across the stage and disappeared into the crowd. The next thing I know is Charlie Watts walking onto the stage carrying his drum kit, he picks mine up, moves it out of the road and replaces it with his. "You can use mine", he said and disappears off stage carrying my drum kit. So I ended up using his kit all night, I suppose it reduced the kit movement!"

Marty Wilde and his Wildcats then brought their hits to the  Assembly Rooms on 6 April 1964 and Van Morrison sang his hit ‘Gloria’ and many others with his band THEM on 1 April 1966. The Assembly Rooms continued to provide chart topping acts throughout the 60’s, before promoter Vince Barker left the town and the high profile visits of the chart topping bands slowly diminished.

As for local bands, The Three Spirits continued to appear regularly as the main local band in the support slot for all big-name acts appearing at the Assems. Earlier in the year the Tamworth Herald reported about up-and-coming local band Johnny Silver and the Cossacks and The Wanderers continued to gig on a regular basis.

Another new local band featured in the Tamworth Herald (5 June '64) were The Blackouts, under the headline: "The Blackouts are ready to leave their hen-house home" we read how they practiced in a hen-house in Elford!

Other local bands playing regularly were The Chequers (who had changed their name from The Rebels) and The Vipers first seen playing on 16 September '64, at the Children's Night at the Miners Welfare Club, Polesworth billed as the  "Children's Own Rock and Roll Group".

It wasn't just the Assembly Rooms that staged top-name acts locally, another venue regularly attracting the big artistes was the Atherstone Memorial Hall. The Big Beat nights on a Saturday in 1963 had proved very popular and the Beat Specials and Saturday Star-Spots continued in '64 with Gerry Levene and the Avengers and Gullivers Travellers ("Come and Nosh Some Good Beaty Blues") regular visitors. The promoter of the events at the hall was one, Reg Calvert who lived at Clifton Hall near Rugby.

In a feature in Record & Film Review in the Tamworth Herald of 5 June 1964 under the headline "Reg Joins the Pirates", we read how Reg, who was in fact the manager of Lord Sutch, had joined the current craze at the time of setting up a pirate radio station - called Radio Sutch.

Shortly after Reg's departure from Atherstone Memorial Hall - Vince Baker began promoting concerts at the venue, running his two venues in tandem, the Assembly Rooms on a Friday and Monday and the Atherstone Memorial Hall on a Saturday.

First DJ hits the town

 One thing which had yet to appear on the local music scene in Tamworth that we now take for granted, was a DJ. Nights out at the Assems and other venues to date, had not featured a DJ. Youngsters were of course used to radio DJs on the BBC Light Programme and if the signal reached the Midlands, those broadcasting from the pirate radio ships, for example Radio Caroline. (Early in the morning of Easter Sunday, 1964, Simon Dee made the initial announcement from Radio Caroline: "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, this is Radio Caroline broadcasting on 199, your all-day music station." Seven million listeners had been claimed by Caroline only three weeks later.) However, in October '64 Vince Baker began regular Monday night events at the Assembly Rooms billed as 'Dances to the Tops in Pops' and they were presented by that 'crazy DJ from Liverpool – David Jackson'. The night would cost 2/6 (12.5p) and sometimes there would also be a band on the bill, but the events were sold as what is now known as a Disco.

On the 4 September 1964, the Tamworth Herald's Record & Film Review page was replaced by a page devoted to popular music, entitled - Pop Bar.

The year ended with a New Years Eve dance at the Assembly Rooms featuring Deep Rivers with John Rivers, Terry and the 'D' Men, The Edwardians and local band The Spirits (formerly The Three Spirits) and fellow local act The Fortune Tellers.

Things were beginning to quieten down musically in Tamworth by 1965. The beat boom that had grown and grown through ‘63 and ‘64 was tailing off and the regular band nights at the Assembly Rooms every, Friday, Saturday and Monday were soon to be a thing of the past. The biggest ‘name’ bands to play Tamworth in ‘65 were The Zombies and the ‘N Betweens (later to become Slade).

Atherstone Memorial Hall, the other main venue was no longer being used for the Saturday Beat Nights, in fact an advertisement in the Tamworth Herald of 12 February 1965 stated: “Atherstone Memorial Hall is now available for casual bookings on Saturday nights.”

In a feature in the Herald on 25 June, we read about a new musical genre making an impact in the town, under the headline: “Folk Club is Born” – we read: “In a clubroom above the Prince of Wales in Lower Gungate last Tuesday, the opening of Tamworth's own Folk Club attracted around 50 young people”. Suggested reasons for it’s new popularity included: “…folk music has been lying just below the surface and now with the influence of American Bob Dylan, Donovan and The Seekers from Australia, it has broken through with the help of the younger generation's ceaseless search for something different.”

The rest of ’65 saw other local acts performing at various venues in the area including Working Mens Clubs, the new Tamworth Progressive Club and Club 21 at the Mile Oak Hotel. The Spirits, Ronnie Hancox Band, Johnny Eville and The Satans could be seen and a band described as the Tamworth Beatles – The Four XXXXs. These were to become bigger and bigger through ‘65 and ‘66 and included on vocals ‘Kip’ Wood – later known as Kippa the DJ - still performing in 2005.

A highly significant change in the local music scene to occur in ’66 was the appearance of the discotheque. We had seen in October of ’64 – Dave Jackson a DJ from Liverpool appear at the Assembly Rooms but the actual ‘phenomenon’ of the discotheque did not arrive in the town until 1966.

The first mention of a disco was in the Tamworth Herald of 24 June ‘66 – the Chequers Club Discotheque, Every Friday, bar and discs until midnight (members only). In July you could go to the Coleshill and Maxstoke Ex-Servicemen's Club - "Top Of the Pops" every Thursday 7.45pm to 10.45pm, Discotheque. The first concert to include a DJ was the final event promoted by 3 Star Entertainments on 7th October ’66 when For The Birds (a new group from Birmingham) performed at the Assembly Rooms. The event included “resident DJ "Mac the Mouth" and his Discotheque.

However, the disco really took off locally when on 18th November ‘66 we read in the Tamworth Herald “Discotheque Opened At Mile Oak” - A new Discotheque in the Mile Oak Hotel opened on Friday night complete with the "new stereo big-sound" and with the appearance of an exclusive nightclub – complete with chromatic lighting. Also, a little earlier, the Beat 66 club at the Foseco Sports and Social Club had big name acts performing with the addition of a “discotheque with our resident DJ - Jeff Owen” (Geoff Owen – Ed.) This venue including the disco, was to really take off in 1967.

As for the local band scene, in the latter part of the year things went from bad to worse, in the Tamworth Herald of 14 October we read:-  

Traditional Dances Now More Favoured

 Beatnik-type dances at Tamworth’s Assembly Rooms are out and more traditional dances our coming in, members of Tamworth Borough Council were told at their meeting.

Councillor H. Titterton reported that block bookings had been made by a reputable firm whose aim was to upgrade the standard of dances and improve the tone of the place.

Alderman Tom Kennedy said that an end to rowdyism and to the bad odour which had surrounded dances at the Assembly Rooms of the past few years would be welcomed on all sides.

Councillor Mrs Lily Tricklebank was less optimistic. She said she could see little or no difference between the groups which had been playing at dances over the past few years and the groups recently advertised.

She criticised the decision to allow the firm making the block bookings to have a guaranteed Christmas holiday dance. Quite a number of charitable organisations have been running dances at a loss and had hoped to recuperate something on the certain profit-making Christmas Dances but had to take a chance of their names being drawn out of the hat, she said. But her move to persuade the council to allocate all the Christmas Week dance evenings by a ballot failed to find support.

The music scene in Tamworth then slowly dwindled through the 70's , with only a handful of the local bands still together and performing on a regular basis.

The saga of what to do with the Assembly Rooms was still continuing, with the Arts Club putting forward an imaginative scheme for improving the building. In March of 1970 the plan was proposed to demolish the building (unused at the time) on the corner of Church Street and Lower Gungate, which had been a theatre, malthouse and Baptist chapel and which was in five years time to become Tamworth Arts Centre.

Of course you still had local bands performing. Most popular venues were Polesworth Working Men’s Club and Memorial Hall, Kettlebrook Working Men’s Club and Fazeley Victory Club, but It wasn’t until 21 November 1975 when Tamworth Arts Centre opened and revived the music scene did we see a return of regular local band nights.

On the 1st October 1977 a major event took place in the town. Willow, a rock band with Mick Rutherford on lead vocals, became the first band to play at Tamworth Arts Centre. On 7 October we read in the Herald how: “Dave Armour, manager of the town’s Arts Centre, has given the go-ahead for concerts in the Church Street building providing the demand is there.” The significance of this event cannot be overstated. This finally gave bands in the town the opportunity to move out of the working men’s club and the youth centre into a proper credible venue. The second band to play were Flash Harry who played on the 18 November 1977 and Willow played for a second time on 2 December. Tamworth at last had a venue where music fans could watch and listen to the music they wanted to hear without the interruption of the bingo caller.