Monday, 31 August 2015


Bowes Lyon House was host to many acts in its early years that were unknown but went on to fame and fortune. A look back at the autumn of 1965 gives us two good examples.
In 1965 Eric Clapton was well known as the lead guitarist in The Yardbirds but he left when they started to play more pop songs in an effort to get into the charts. He joined blues band John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and toured with them. 

Although highly regarded they were not commercially successful. They did not play huge venues and were featured at Bowes Lyon House on   Thursday 21st October 1965.

Eric is clearly visible on the left of this picture with the famous Bowes Lyon brick wall behind him. The press did not name-check him and the only newspaper comment afterwards was that "the group is high in the list of popular Blues Groups." Eric appeared on one album with the group and left to form Cream in the summer of 1966.

Paul Simon had appeared at Bowes Lyon House a few weeks earlier. On Tuesday 21st September, for a grand total of 4 shillings, you could have attended Paul’s performance in the “Lyons Den”. This was much smaller than the main hall and used for folk acts and solo performers. 

Paul’s appearance did not warrant a newspaper review and the only witness I could find said the show was poorly attended and Paul sang “very quietly”.

Paul played many similar venues in the UK in 1965 following the release of an album called “The Paul Simon Songbook”. This record was not a success. Soon after he returned to America, joining up again with Art Garfunkel to promote a single called “The Sound of Silence”.  By February 1966 it was a worldwide smash and the days of appearing at small venues like Bowes Lyon House were long over.

Sunday, 23 August 2015


As it is Keith Moon's birthday here is a rare picture of him in Stevenage in the 1960's. 

The picture was taken at The Who's first appearance at Stevenage Locarno (Mecca) on Wednesday 14th July 1965.

Some of the audience were also pictured on the night.

The Who are currently on a 50th anniversary tour. 

They played Stevenage Mecca again on 3rd November 1965 but I don’t think they are planning a return visit to coincide with the anniversary.

It only cost 5 shillings to see them in 1965. Bit more now.

Thursday, 13 August 2015


There were many local groups who thrived in Stevenage during the 1960s’ “beat boom”, playing small venues and appearing as support to famous acts in the area. A few even made records and played gigs around the country hoping for a big break.
This page is about a local band who went through various changes but lasted a few good years in the business. Kit and the Saracens were a beat group from Stevenage who flirted with fame and evolved into a well-regarded soul band, (the Jimmy Brown Sound) a few years later.

                     Promotional photo taken on the Stevenage Locarno (Mecca )stage

Colin Standring was their rhythm guitarist and shared his memories of life in a local band in the swinging sixties.

“Kit and the Saracens was formed by pupils at Alleyne's School (when it was still a boy’s grammar school) in 1962. Founder members were Kit Galer (vocals), Howard Cook (lead guitar), Bryan Jackson (bass), Geoff Brown (drums) and David Hawley (rhythm guitar). I joined in 1963 when Dave Hawley’s family emigrated to Beirut. Ken Hensley joined on guitar a few years later and being older and more talented soon took over as leader and songwriter.

We won several “Beat Contests” in which several bands played off against each other for the coveted prize of a “recording test” in London. NOT a contract but we had hopes. 

We played lots of local gigs in Stevenage (Mecca and Bowes Lyon), various village halls around North Herts, the California Ballroom in Dunstable and a few gigs in North London. We also played at the “Big Beat Barbecue” at Stevenage Football Club where we shared the bill with the Searchers and the Swinging Blue Jeans.   We had bought our gear on hire purchase so anything we made (£10 or £20 a gig) was used for those payments. We got  a few shillings pocket money each to buy a pint.

We started out with rock n roll, moved via the Beatles into the Stones and more blues based guitar music. We later changed direction and became a 7 piece soul band with saxes and hammond organ. Ken Hensley stayed as leader but Kit was replaced as singer by Allan Greed who had a great soul voice. He had been in another local band, the Deltics. We then changed our name to the Jimmy Brown Sound and went professional in the summer of 1965. 

By “professional” I mean we travelled up and down the country in an old dormobile van for an average profit of £6 a week each. I left for a while and the band did a UK tour backing soul singer Arthur Alexander. I rejoined in 1966 and the band continued to play gigs up and down the country. Memorably (for us) we opened for the Who at Oxford Town Hall. John Entwistle and Keith Moon were late, the crowd were restless so they asked me and Geoff (drummer) to start the show with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey.   When Moon and Entwistle turned up, Moon was totally out of it and there was one hell of a fight in the dressing room afterwards.

In early 1967 Ken Hensley left the band to form the Gods (he later joined Uriah Heep) and both sax players quit. A decimated Jimmy Brown quartet went to Germany for a month’s residency in a cellar club near Frankfurt. Poor audiences and no money led to us returning to the UK penniless. The equipment was repossessed and we disbanded. Fun while it lasted.”

Many thanks to Colin for sharing these memories

Monday, 10 August 2015


This was the first appearance of The Small Faces in Stevenage. They had only released two singles at the time - "Whatcha Gonna Do About It" which had charted and "I've Got Mine" which hadn’t. The line-up was Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane , Kenny Jones and new keyboard player Ian McLagan.  It cost 5 shillings to get in to see them on this "Big Beat Night".

The crowd response was enthusiastic and luckily photos have survived:

A local paper, Stevenage News was in attendance but were not so impressed. Their unnamed reporter wrote:

"They came. They saw. They conquered. But oh! What a watered down victory. The Small Faces have no class at all. Even as the stage swung them round into the Locarno Ballroom, the timing of their short introduction refrain was way up the creek. They finished well before they faced the large audience. But girls jammed against the cow gates in front of the stage didn’t seem to mind. They screamed and they screamed and they screamed. It is difficult to say what the Small Faces sang during their two half hour spots. They wended their way through a variety of inaudible numbers with the singer being drowned by the backing. The Small Faces have a long way to go before reaching a decent standard of professionalism.” 

Lead singer Steve Marriott was also captured in the Mecca spotlight.

Les Brown was there: " One of my most vivid memories was when the Small Faces played there. The ballroom was packed out and the girls were screaming and fainting and being carried out into the fresh air". 

The undoubted appeal of The Small Faces led to them appearing again at the Mecca in May and July 1966. The admission fee went up to six shillings on those nights.

Sunday, 9 August 2015


Bowes Lyon House had opened as a Youth and Community Centre in 1965 offering a range of activities. The main hall was big enough for live music and many unknown and well known acts played here over the next three decades.

The Who were on the cusp of stardom when they appeared here on 17 June 1965. Their first single "I Can't Explain" had entered the charts in April 1965 and their reputation was growing, As a "mod" town Stevenage was an obvious place to play.

Ian Hughes: "Groups only played a twenty minute slot in those days not a whole show. When The Who came to Bowes Lyon House they came straight from playing their new record on TV and then played live. Its strange looking back we almost took for granted going to these things. Little did we know how amazing it would be to look back on."

Mick Hopkins : "The thing I remember most was the gradually building atmosphere. As the main hall filled up everyone was trying to get a decent place and there was a lot of pushing and shoving, all good natured, although I'm sure if the health and safety people had come round they would have shut the place down for overcrowding.
We were all shouting for them to come on and the noise was incredible, and all the time the PA was announcing that unless we calmed down they wouldn't come on. This was repeated several times and eventually they appeared. As you probably know, Pete Townshend in particular got a high from an appreciative audience, and this one was particularly appreciative. It's difficult to say why the audience were more wound up at this appearance as many of us had seen them before at places such as Watford Trade Hall and Hitchin Town Hall (when they were still the High Numbers). Having seen them a few times previously, the only difference I can recall from their other gigs was that they were much more responsive  to the crowd, and this I put down to the atmosphere which had been created. Anyway, it must have been a good one for them because as you know, they played the Locarno a few times and gave us a dedication on Quadrophenia. We saw them several times after that, but eventually they calmed down (apart from Moonie), or maybe it was them, and us, getting older. However, they are still the most exciting act I've ever seen, and I've seen a few!"

Note: The Who would never return to Bowes Lyon House but played Stevenage Locarno (Mecca) six times between July 1965 and May 1967.

Friday, 7 August 2015


Stevenage was a developing new town in the 1960’s with a young population, much of it transplanted from more familiar areas. Settling in and working were important but so was entertainment. The new town and the new residents needed facilities and the importance of popular music in those days could not be overlooked. Stevenage boasted two top venues for entertainment – the huge Locarno Ballroom or Mecca as it was known and the more intimate Bowes Lyon House.


                    Interior of Stevenage Locarno (Mecca Ballroom) 1961

The Mecca ballroom opened in 1961 and had the requisite revolving stage and luxurious fittings. Old time dancing and bingo was on offer at first but “Big Beat” nights became popular from 1963 onwards as the beat boom exploded nationwide. The Mecca was an important venue able to attract stars including the Rolling Stones, Who, Animals, Small Faces, Cream, Tom Jones, Stevie Wonder, Ike and Tina Turner etc. Important local bands that nearly made it, the Niteshades for example, and others who did, Family, also played there.

Bowes Lyon House was a smaller venue which operated as a youth club but offered more variety: folk, blues, jazz and pop acts all appeared there. It also featured up and coming stars: Dana Gillespie, John Mayall, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart and the Who all performed there before they became well known. Famed Mod bands like the Action and the Creation were asked back several times due to the big Mod presence in Stevenage and the surrounding area. Bowes Lyon House was also used as the venue for the "church rave" scene in top teenage film Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush – filmed in Stevenage in 1967 of course.

                                    Bowes Lyon House in 1964

Unfortunately I was too young to attend these events but I have interviewed many who were there and it is their memories I wish to share. I will also post memorabilia from the Stevenage venues in the hope this blog may give a flavour of an exciting time.


My thanks to all those who have assisted and continue to come forward with their stories.

Gary Howman