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13,508 (and counting) posts since we started blogging 13 years ago. 926 of them this year alone and, so far, 90 this month (July 27).

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Reminiscing in (and out of) Tempo by Andy Hudson. Part Four - Ally Pally & Knebworth

“Andy! What the hell are you doing in Middlesbro’ – Come down to London and we will get some things going”. A sentence from George Wein that changed my life.

So, I nervously left the North East and decamped to Highgate/Muswell Hill in North London.

Alexandra Palace or “Ally Pally” as it was affectionately known locally was but a short drive away and within sight of my new abode and so I did a recce and planned a major event with George – a two-stage concept which would feature - as the t-shirt shows The best line-up in the country.

It was a joyous event and had some unforgettable musical moments: For me there were a few odd side stories too.

I had brought down some helpers from the North East including Colin Rowell, the legendary stage-manager who went on to The Tube and other international events including many more for me, and “Fred”, who was the Geordie estate manager for the Gosforth Park Hotel, as site boss. In mid show I received a radio message.

Fred to Andy ower!

Andy here, go ahead Fred.

There's a limo just pulled up to the artist gate  - driver says he has a guest – not on any list – Says he’s a Coont or summat.

What’s he look like?

Hang on arl hev a look.

.

He’s a black fella in a sailor’s hat – says  a lot of his marras are playing and somdy in a jacket invited him.

….The light dawned on me. (L: Bill Basie, hugs Illinois Jacquet on stage with Young Mustachioed self.)

My favourite Music Moment was the very last set with Hamp’s Big Band – 10 minutes to go. Major power failure from the main generator. No lights no sound system – made no difference whatsoever. Lionel and the band roared on.

There are photos of the early Capital Jazz festivals here in this link, many taken by my old friend, the late David Redfern - arguably the best ever music business photographer (He was Sinatra’s photographer of choice, by way of endorsement.) Getty Images bought his archive from his estate. LINK TO Capital Jazz Early Years

That first event lost George and I, as I recall, about £60k, BUT the concept was established and that we would take it to profit onwards was our belief.

So 1980 was planned to be bigger with 6000 seat indoor concerts in addition to the weekend outdoor festival.

Event 2 was advertised and was already into profit on advanced sales which was hardly surprising with this stellar bill ... 

And then this ...

The biggest fire since the blitz on Thursday 10 July started at about 14:10 hrs – the day before our event which saw the old palace consumed by fire.

I was in the building at the time along with Brian Theobald, the jazz agent and partner in Ronnie Scott’s, we had to sprint from the building as the fire roared up from behind the organ loft in the Great Hall  and licked along the roof.

I lost everything that day including, eventually, my house which was bank collateral.

When I come soon to writing my more general memoirs there will be a feature about a man seen running from the organ loft 5 minutes before and several other suspicious events that had me wondering ...

Capital Radio were very good to me and also committed to ongoing support. They had been up to that time 30% partners in the venture and George and me the rest. So they took full naming rights and changed my relationship to manager/producer of the event onwards and George as the principle talent supplier.

The next chapter turned out to be almost as catastrophic as a major fire. I had persuaded Lambeth Council and Wandsworth Council to be allowed the use of Clapham Common for the replacement festival for Ally Pally as the council boundary line passed through the site. Bizarrely on the proposed conditions of use, the Wandsworth part required twice as many toilets per 1000 attending to that of Lambeth…bringing a whole new meaning to “taking the piss”. The scene was set and we were under construction when… enter stage left ... “The Brixton Riots”. Being just around the corner from the common, the Home Office declared a “no-go" area for the festival to which 
we had also added Ella Fitzgerald to the Bill.

In the Summer of 1980, I had promoted and produced the Beach Boys/Santana at Knebworth and had a relationship with the fabulous Lytton-Cobbold family that have lived their since the 15th century, in fact their student sons Pete and Richard at the time were working as fence builders for the Festival.

For Knebworth 80, I had purchased 2500 metres of 2.5m corrugated iron fencing/10,000 metres of electric cabling and appropriate switchgear and 5000 metres of plumbing infrastructure, all of which were stored in a compound at Knebworth (that went on to be the infrastructure to several more Knebworths, many years of Monsters of Rock at Donnington and a number of private gigs before it eventually disintegrated  when the paint of the collected graffiti  crumbled and failed to combat the rust - kept the family going in the odd lean time.)

One telephone call later we started and moved the whole operation from Clapham to Knebworth overnight, also creating a smaller stage for the support bands (including Melly) on the back of a curtain-sider 40 foot trailer…

At one point the MD of Capital Radio summoned me and asked if from now on would I do all the onstage intros and compere work as although agreed that Capital DJs would do the introductions, one had just introduced Ira Sullivan as I.R.A, Sullivan which didn’t fit well with the recently discovered terrorist bomb at London’s Mansion House. And so all you punters were stuck with me for the next 10 years as the host/presenter. The show must go on…and it did. It worked well enough for us to plan for another Festival in 1982.

Having moved to a double stage for a quick turn-around on the famous Knebworth Rock site this went swimmingly well until the last show.

I have never been one to “hang out” with artistes for as the producer promoter you’ll be told of all that is wrong - hotel room/flights/catering etc. and in 50 years in the business, Lance Liddle is one of the few musicians that has ever bought me a drink (long time ago mind!). But I have always had an expectation that artists will do as we have agreed.

Sometimes, like with Hamp, they have a mischievous, cantankerous even, attitude to timing and equally timing can be an issue with penalties for over-run etc. Also at a festival, to my view the most important participants are the paying punters without who even the greatest or genius performer is a total non-entity

Mid afternoon – a rare appearance by Benny Goodman who takes the stage and proceeds to play acoustically. In the Globe, Newcastle - we’d probably go along with him and shush everyone. In a 34 acre field with 8 generators and the rear of the crowd being 150 metres from the stage front – this behaviour is a nonstarter. The crowd became angry, I know as I had ventured out to see. And I then rushed backstage and on to the stage. The audience saw this guy (me) come on and whisper in Mr Goodman’s ear and quickly move him to a mic which a stage crew member had been trying to get him to do since he began.

Whisper went….

“Mr Goodman, You have been a hero of mine on records for years and until earlier we had never met - Now you are being a fucking idiot - so go to that mic and play …or I will pick you up and carry you off the stage and sue you for an unbelievable amount is that clear?” - obviously said with a smile.

The show went on.

Last act was once again Lionel – he is the obvious closer. I had made it clear to Hamp and Brian Theobald, who had been acting as his agent for the European tour, we had to finish at 10pm as due to earlier issues (1978 Led Zeppelin started their show nearly 2 hours after it was supposed to have finished).

Brian said “Ok Andy – leave it to me - Oh, can I borrow a couple of crew?”

Lionel did his set  including his drum solo bit and did a false finish and then left the stage encouraged by Brian to come down to the pit area. Within 5 seconds Brian had used the 2 crew to remove the stairway to the stage (some 8 feet high) and poor Lionel was seen running around the stage trying to find how to get up. Meanwhile I was on front stage with a mic, 20,000 watts of PA and a lighting crew that I was paying. Thanked everyone etc and up came all the exit lights – end of show 9:59 pm.

Funniest bit for me was listening to Brian berating Hamp for moving the staircase.

Ray Charles @ Knebworth.  

Eastside Torpedos @ Knebworth

Next reminiscence takes us to The Royal Festival Hall and JVC - Andy Hudson

Part Three.

Part Two. 

Part One.

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