|by Chris Groom|
The magical Marquee - mention the name to any rock fan from Rotherham to Rio and the chances are they will have a favourite story about it, even if they didn't visit the place itself.
A much loved, much revered venue with a guaranteed place in music history, despite having survived three changes of address; in fact, during the time taken to put this piece together, former-Eurythmic Dave Stewart has revived the name at a venue in Islington, North London - this fourth incarnation can never be the same, of course, but the name alone is probably enough to make it succeed.
The Marquee was originally opened as a jazz club in 1958, situated in the basement under the Academy cinema at 165 Oxford Street, London W1. By the end of 1963, the venue had also dedicated two nights a week to R'n'B groups, in particular Cyril Davies and Manfred Mann, but although business was booming, the cinema decided to add a second screen downstairs - giving manager Harold Pendleton six months notice to find a new venue. Almost by chance he discovered a ground-floor premises nearby, at 90 Wardour Street - and it is this celebrated second address that most people remember. In March 1964, Pendleton said goodbye to the old Marquee with a Sunday night gig by Stan Getz and the new venue was opened only five days later by Sonny Boy Williamson and the Yardbirds - even though it was Friday 13th! Harold Pendleton's luck held out, as the Marquee became THE place to play in London; a successful showcase gig in that dark, cramped, sweat-filled room could make or break your career and bring your name to the attention of the record company men who simply staggered out of their Soho offices and into the Marquee (often via The Ship public house a few doors down).
The Marquee is an important spot on the Lindisfarne map, as it was here that they first came to the attention of 'Strat' - Charisma Records boss Tony Stratton-Smith. The label moved office several times, but never far from Wardour Street - one of which was almost directly above the venue itself - and Tony also used the nearby drinking club 'La Chasse' to do much of his business. Strat was a true original and quite eccentric - business was no use to him unless it was fun and he set out to make it just that. He also demanded the same originality in the acts signed to his label - a roster where Genesis rubbed shoulders with Sir John Betjemen, where the likes of Audience and Van der Graf Generator mixed with the Monty Python team. The often repeated rumour is that Lindisfarne were signed to Charisma because Strat particularly enjoyed Ray Jackson's harmonica playing; but whatever his reasoning, they spearheaded the labels success and became the first of his acts to put a Charisma LP on top of the album charts.
There is a minor disagreement about the date of the bands first Marquee appearance. Tony Bacon's fine book 'London Live' lists the first Brethren gig as 7th June 1970 and subsequently as Alan Hull & Brethren on 9th August 1970. However, on a trawl through the archives I found a Melody Maker advertisement that pre-dates it by one week; noting that Alan Hull & Brethren supported Daddylonglegs on 31st May - and Ray Laidlaw's recollection - "...our first gig was supporting either Rare Bird or Daddy Longlegs." - would seem to confirm this.
Tony Stratton-Smith had this to say about the June 7th date: "We put the band on at the Marquee on a Sunday night supporting an American band, Raven; there were only about 50 people there and the group were pretty miserable. I remember encouraging them by saying that within six months they'd be turning people away from the Marquee because there was no more room. And that's exactly what happened." The following Sunday (14th June) saw Genesis making their third appearance at the venue, supported by another up and coming geordie band, Junco Partners, featuring future Lindisfarne MkII member, Charlie Harcourt.
Incidentally, both of those early support dates were with American bands. Daddy Longlegs were a four-piece country rock outfit led by Moe Armstrong, who all decamped to a houseboat on the Thames. Raven were very highly rated in the States, with enthusiastic support from the likes of Hendrix, George Harrison and Jimmy Page; but at the time of their English tour they were on the verge of splitting up, and despite a last-ditch management offer from Strat, finally disbanded on their return to America.
Here is Ray Laidlaw's view: "When we were getting Lindisfarne together, the Marquee was seen as the ultimate place to play. Most of our boyhood heroes (the Stones, the Who, Howlin' Wolf, etc) had played there and some of them still did, from time to time. After we made our connection with Charisma Records, we were offered a number of gigs at the Marquee as part of Charisma's regular night there. I think it was weekly, but I'm not sure. Anyway, our rose coloured spectacles were promptly crushed when we first entered the murky hovel that was the Marquee. Much smaller, scruffier and much more down market than we imagined. We had better looking gigs in Newcastle. However, what it lacked in decor it more than made up for in atmosphere. Our first gig was a roaring success and Tony Stratton Smith promptly signed us up to Charisma."
Ray Jackson describes playing at the venue: "Our performances at The Marquee were mixed from the front row by the roadie, the stage being very small and only able to accommodate the performers and their gear. We had no monitor wedges for vocals in those days and everything you heard came back at you from the wall behind the audience. This was no hardship, as it was what you were used to at the time and your ears adjusted to the acoustics very quickly. The more you drank, the better it sounded!
The dressing room behind the stage could only be described as a corridor. There was no wash basin or toilet behind the stage, so apart from tuning up, there was no earthly reason to be there. When the band first played The Marquee, the bar was at the back of the room in a space opposite the toilets, it was only later on our return visits that they built a bar to the right of the stage in a separate room. The bar was double glazed with unbreakable wire mesh glass to keep the noise from the stage to a minimum, but you could still see the stage. Conversation could take place as the sound from the stage was kept to a minimum. Consequently many a review of a bands performance by a music journalist was written from there, without them ever going out to catch the atmosphere in the auditorium. The Marquee was a basic venue in every respect, but it did have an atmosphere all of its own."
The ubiquitous Strat certainly seemed to have a monopoly on the Sunday night spot. A glance at the gig lists for the Marquee sees almost every Sunday playing host to a Charisma artist, with the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band appearing as early as February 1967 and Van der Graf Generator's first of 22 in November 1968. The venue even played a part in getting Jacka some extra session work, as Ray Jackson explained: "Long John Baldry, who happened to be in the audience on the first night we played at the club, asked me to do a recording session for him. He was recording an album at the time with Elton and Rod the Mod co-producing, which in turn got me the session with Rod on Maggie May etc." After a few weeks, Ray took a call from Rod Stewart who asked him along to the studio recordings for the 'Every Picture Tells A Story' LP that produced 'Mandolin Wind' and of course, 'Maggie May'. Jacka continued: "It was Baldry who helped establish the Marquee in the early sixties as a premier R&B venue and he was responsible for all the mainstream blues men performing there. Little is documented about his contribution to the British rhythm and blues scene, which is a great shame."
Journalist Jerry Gilbert covered the Lindisfarne story in an early issue of the much-missed ZigZag magazine. He recalls watching the band progress from support band at the Marquee to national headliners and was among the first rock writers to predict Lindisfarne's success. Here is his reaction when he first saw the band at the Marquee, September 1970, in the company of manager Tony Stratton-Smith - "...the two of us took our place in the painfully sparse arena, and perhaps because my ears had always supported the tenet that song construction, melodically and rhythmically, was all important, I became sold on the band instantly. They had a nice fat acoustic sound which was so erratic and carefree it immediately took me back to my old worn Sonny Terry/Woody Guthrie records. Why, they even played an old Guthrie song, 'Jackhammer Blues'. A few weeks later, still struggling to make an impact, Lindisfarne were back at the Marquee and I recall unhesitatingly singing along with half the songs as though I'd heard them twenty times."
Jerry has always connected this particular part of Soho with the band; he was present some months earlier, on 18th March 1970 when Alan Hull, as a soloist, had played the regular Wednesday folk nights (organised by Judith Piepe, who had a proven track record for finding the brightest performers on the London folk scene). Hully shared the evening with two groups, Sunforest and Continuum - while other Wednesday folk around that time included Magna Carta, Colin Scott and The Strawbs. A few days later, Alan also played a solo gig at the celebrated Les Cousins, a basement venue in nearby Greek Street, 22nd March 1970. Alan probably did not always look too kindly on the London scene, but he obviously thought the world of Strat. Hully had this to say in the booklet from the Charisma box set: "The Nellie Dean, the Kilt & Celt, La Chasse, the Marquee, the Speakeasy and, oh yes, the office... these were the places I usually saw Strat. And, like Alice and the Cheshire Cat, whenever I recall the man in the mind's eye, the first thing that comes to mind is his smile. Kind and compassionate, but at the same time full of fun and with a whiff of mischief."
The locality was certainly an important factor, as Mr. Laidlaw explains: "We went on to play at the Marquee many times and also socialised in the bar in our rare time-off during the first couple of years in London. The Marquee was in the Soho 'golden triangle' which meant it was stumbling distance from The Ship and La Chasse in Wardour Street, Trident Studios in St. Anne's Court and the Charisma offices which moved every few months but never more than three minutes walk from the Marquee. Strat, who was a hugely entertaining man, would hold court in the Marquee bar most evenings before moving on to dinner and then to the Speakeasy for his nightcap. There was always a jolly band of camp followers made up of rock journalists, musicians, roadies, sports correspondants, lissom young ladies and general media types who accompanied Strat on his evening sojourns. It was all extremely good fun and I loved it."
Jerry Gilbert confirms that it was at the Marquee that 'Strat' decided to sign the band to Charisma and at The George public house in WC2 that he conducted his first interview with the band. He continued - "...at the old Charisma offices in Brewer Street, I was played the acetate of an album called Nicely Out Of Tune which mushroomed eleven potential hit singles... they were still coming down from Newcastle, the roadies sleeping in the truck, the band begging drinks in La Chasse club..."
Ray Jackson agrees: "Tony Stratton Smith was promoting the Sunday night performances in the hope of finding new talent to sign to his Charisma label. He had heard a tape and was interested in hearing us play live, so we arrived in Soho after a long drive down the A1 in a short wheel base Transit van. Usually we would have played the night before in Newcastle and driven straight from the gig which was often the case, grabbing what little sleep you could. When travelling, the prime position was to get on top of the PA columns at the back of the van and lie in the space under the roof. This was never more than a 9 inch gap, but it was the only way you could stretch out. We would negotiate 2 hour periods of this cosseted space amongst us, until we reached the venue. I now shudder to think of how dangerous a practice that was and how lucky we were never to be involved in a serious accident."
Lindisfarne's other appearances were on Tuesday 13th October 1970, supported by Every Which Way, Tuesday 3rd November 1970 on a double header with Van der Graf Generator, Monday 5th July 1971 and a Friday night, 10th September 1971 supported by Greasy Bear - whatever became of them!
It was in July 1971 that Charisma took over the Marquee for a whole week, as a showcase for the main artists on their label; Lindisfarne kicked the whole thing off on Monday 5th, supported by Stealers Wheel, followed by Van der Graf Generator (Tuesday) and Bell & Arc on Wednesday 7th, a line-up which would have included fellow geordies Colin Gibson and John Turnbull. Audience and Jackson Heights played the Thursday night, with Genesis completing the run on Friday.
Three further gems from the Laidlaw memory banks: "When it comes to memories of playing at the Marquee it gets harder - it has become difficult to isolate specific gigs. Having said that I do have vivid memories of the following. Travelling down from Newcastle to open for Ginger Baker's Airforce and being told that the grumpy old sod had refused to have anything of his equipment moved. Consequence, no space for the support band. We were mightily pissed off, but could do nowt. A slight compensation was that at that time, Kenny Craddock and Colin Gibson were members of Ginger's Airforce and were most embarassed about the situation. They took us to the bar to try and compensate for our disappointment and the rest of the evening has been deleted from my hard drive. Apparently during the gig we were asked by the Marquee management to moderate our rather loud comments concerning our opinion of Ginger and his parents marital status, which we interjected at every opportune moment. Happy days!"
"I also remember getting a right royal bollocking from Strat and the entire Charisma staff after we had the audacity to start one Marquee gig with a lengthy, surly, noisy, venomous song of Hully's called 'Who's got the blues? Huh!!!' Not the musical calling-card that Strat was hoping we would leave with the increasingly interested media. Another vivid non-musical memory is having to sneak back in to a darkened, empty Marquee to rummage in a pool of vomit to find the false teeth of a very dear Scottish singer-songwriter friend. He had somewhat over indulged and on helping him into our tour bus, we noticed the absence of his gnashers. In a supreme act of self sacrifice, fortified only by hysterical laughter and Guinness, it fell to me to retrieve his falsies. I have never let him forget it!"
Rod Clements recalls another non-Lindisfarne appearance: "I do remember one particular gig at the Marquee with Peter Hammill and his band. Peter was the singer with Charisma band Van der Graf Generator. Jacka and I had both played on his solo album (Fools' Mate, July 1971) and we were invited to get up and play at the album launch. Their keyboard player Hugh Banton played a couple of bars of 'WCST' or 'MMOTC' as we took the stage..."
Ray Jackson continues: "The Marquee and the Speakeasy were the two hubs of the music industry at the time and if you wanted your career prospects to improve, you had to play and be seen at them. You were never quite sure what would happen on stage, as many a jam session occurred when visiting musicians would sometimes be invited to get up and play or sing. Lindisfarne were once joined onstage by Paul Rodgers from Free, who came up to sing with us."
With a manager like Strat, life on the Charisma record label should have been one big party. And it's the hi-jinks at one particular celebration that Si Cowe remembers: "It was Charisma Records' 1st birthday party. I had been down the West End shopping in the afternoon and arrived early at the Marquee, before the party was due to start. So I sat in the bar having a pint and watching the caterers putting the finishing touches to the birthday cake (complete with company logo Mad Hatter icing) on the main table. After the caterers had left, leaving a large white cloth draped over the cake for the grand unveiling, I felt a tap on the shoulder and a voice said "Allo. My name's Keef. Fancy giving me hand to lose that cake?" So Keith Moon (who had also shown up early) and I hid the cake under a nearby table, and replaced it with a cardboard replica. The party got underway and soon it was time for the speeches and cake. Unfortunately, just before the unveiling, Tony Stratton-Smith, the Charisma boss, decided to have a peek under the cloth at the cake. He was not amused. Keith & I grudgingly put it back. Oh well, can't win 'em all. Later on, Glen Coulson from the record company who had observed all this, said "Nice idea, Si, but what you should have done was to replace the cake with Keith. Then, when Strat ceremoniously pulled off the cloth, you should have come running down the table and leapt over him. Then the Melody Maker could have run the story: "The Cowe jumped over the Moon!"
Si went on to confide... "ah, but the real stories happened at La Chasse, just up the road, where the musicians and liggers ended up after the Marquee had closed!" Somehow I doubt we'll get to hear those tales!
Jack the Lad played the popular Wardour Street haunt an amazing fourteen times between 10th July 1973 and 26th May 1976. Mike Clayton was present at many of these and remembers seeing Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel in the audience soon after he had his infamous 'landing-strip' hairstyle shaved across his scalp. Their appearance on 20th May 1975 was only a couple of months after they had escaped (almost) unhurt from a coach crash in Scandinavia, Billy coming off worse with broken ribs.
Billy Mitchell added: "To be honest, the Marquee is mainly a big blur to me. In Jack the Lad mark 1, Ray and I lived in Newcastle, while Rod and Si were down in London; so every time we played there it was a one-off - and guess who had to drive! But Ray was a good co-pilot and eventually became one of the best tab-rollers around. On the odd occasion we stayed in London, we would head straight to the bar after the gig and insist that Strat and (club manager) Jack Barrie buy us loads of drinks. I think I liked that part the best! It was always the place where other musos could check out the opposition - I remember Paul Jones from Manfred Mann coming in to see us."
A venue with a far-reaching reputation - and to prove the point, even our Lindisfarne webmaster has visited the Marquee Club in the mid 70s. During a short stay in London, Reinhard Groll went to see Leo Sayer at the Hammersmith Odeon and Fumble at the Marquee in Wardour Street. In each case, it was not for the artist, but simply to say that he had been to those two famous venues at least once in his lifetime!
After a long and extremely successful stay in Wardour Street, the venue moved round the corner into Charing Cross Road in 1988, gaining a little capacity in the form of some upstairs seating, but losing a large piece of the old magic as it did so, finally closing its doors in 1996. That particular building is now owned by the JD Wetherspoon pub chain, but what happened to the hallowed ground in Wardour Street? Sadly the old place is now Mezzo, a gleaming, air-conditioned restaurant and bar owned by Terence Conran - with not a smokey, drink-sodden, sticky carpet in sight. The new Marquee is in trendy Islington, at 16 Parkfield Street, N1 Centre, with a 1,200 capacity and a Bar & Grill complete with michelin-starred chef, which opened on September 5th 2002 with a private gig by Primal Scream. The music is not yet back to seven nights a week, but it's early days. And who knows, with Sunderland-born (and one-time roadie for Amazing Blondel) David A. Stewart in charge, who would rule out another Lindisfarne appearance to add to Marquee history.
January 2003 Chris Groom
Postscript: Even as this piece was being finalised, news was coming through that the new Marquee was in financial trouble and looking for a buyer... !
Many thanks to Ray, Rod, Billy, Si and Jacka for delving way back into the murky mists of time! To Julia Revell and Mike Clayton for access to their cuttings archives; to Chris (aka Jackamanfan) for his assistance and especially to Tony Bacon, for the invaluable Marquee gig listings in his book 'London Live' - Balafon Books ISBN 1-871547-80-6.
Other albums recorded at The Marquee (a very incomplete list):
The Yardbirds first album 'Five Live Yardbirds' - 1964(?) is probably the best known...
The Who - 1964 (maybe a bootleg)
Fleetwood Mac - 1967
King Crimson - 1969
John Mayall - 1969
Medicine Head - 1975
Atomic Rooster - 1980
Alexis Korner & friends - 1983
Osibisa - 1983
plus the Eddie & the HotRods EP which made the charts in the late seventies