The Time Machine has previously travelled back to Worthing gigs of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, a golden era for the town’s music scene, kicked off by promoter Freddy Bannister and his wife Wendy.
In his autobiography, ‘There Must Be a Better Way’, he writes, “Worthing, despite its image as the geriatric epicentre of the south coast, was probably the liveliest of the venues we ran.”
The gigs took place at the Assembly Halls and the Pier Pavilion and, in the ‘60s, featured everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Fleetwood Mac to the Walker Brothers. Later on, other promoters followed Bannister’s lead and kept the town’s reputation flying high. This month, then, the Time Machine celebrates your memories recalling the period.
Geoff Baker remembers being one of the mods who walked out of Jimi Hendrix’s 1966 gig: “I did stay for a while but when Jimi knelt over his guitar, poured lighter fuel over it and set it on fire, I’d had enough and went for a drink over the road at the old Marine pub.”
He adds, “The Supremes were billed to come to Worthing and I bought a ticket to see them. We waited for ages and then, eventually, three black girls trooped onto the stage and started to sing – or possibly mime – Supremes songs. I don’t know who these three girls were but they certainly were not the Supremes!”
“One of the best gigs I saw was Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages. I thought it would be a laugh to see them but I was blown away by their brilliant rock’n’roll. The Savages came on stage first wearing leopard-skin loincloths and, after playing a few numbers, a coffin was wheeled out and Lord Sutch came out of it wearing a black suit and top hat. He took off the hat to reveal very long hair which he swung round in time with the music. It wasn’t until later that I learnt that the Savages included Keith Moon on drums, Jimmy Page on lead guitar and Paul Nicholas as backing singer. No wonder they were so good.”
Laura Schofield was a 16 year old schoolgirl when she decided to see a band called Genesis that she’d read about in the NME: “Arriving at the Assembly Hall slightly early, we noticed a very handsome guy heading towards us. He wanted to know if we had change for the phone box. He was stunning to look at with a bald patch at the front and a pixie-like nose. I fished around in my pockets and found sixpence for him. He thanked us and made his way into the nearby phonebox, grinning. Later on, my friend and I watched the support band [Northern Irish prog rockers] Fruupp, then Genesis took to the stage with ‘Watcher of the Skies’ from their new album, ‘Foxtrot’. I think this is the tour when it was first performed. Their imagery was still very much [the spooked Victoriana of] their ‘Musical Box’ period and Peter Gabriel told some strange stories between songs. We suddenly realised the guy we’d spoken to earlier was Peter Gabriel, only just becoming known and still able to walk around fairly unnoticed, apart from us girls who thought he was gorgeous.”
For David Colworth the 11th May 1972 was a pivotal day. It was when he saw David Bowie’s epochal gig launching Ziggy Stardust at the Assembly Rooms. The evening made such an impression he later published a short but evocative book, ‘I Played Ziggy’s Guitar’, recounting the evening and other Bowie-related events of his teens. In the adapted section below, he and his friend Ellie arrive early at the gig and a roadie shows them into the dressing room. Bowie, initially reticent, comes to life when Colworth asks about ‘Running Gun Blues’, an obscure song from the previous year’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ album…
“So you’re the one who bought The Man Who Sold the World’, are you,” Bowie joked, “I’ve often wondered who it was!’
He picked up his guitar and began to strum. “It starts off with D, C and G, like this. See? And then it goes like this…” He ran through the rest of the song, showing the chord changes as he went. He seemed intrigued that we knew this album. “So what do you think of the LP then? Any other tracks you liked?”
“My favourite track is ‘Life on Mars’. I was wondering on the cover, why does it say ‘Thanks to Frankie’ next to the title?”
‘Oh, that’s all to do with Frank Sinatra,’ David laughed, “I sort of took inspiration from his song ‘My Way’. The tune was originally a French song and I wrote an English lyric for it, but it was rejected. A guy called Paul Anka in America wrote the ‘My Way’ lyrics instead. So I kinda rewrote the tune with my own words, and ‘Life on Mars’ is what came out.”
“Oh, and that song about Andy Warhol. Who is he exactly?’
Bowie grinned. “He’s an artist friend of mine who lives in New York. He does all sorts of crazy stuff, like painting Campbell’s soup tins.”
“Oh, I see…”. But I couldn’t see at all – why would someone want to take a tin of soup and paint it? This was a very strange world indeed, but one I wanted to get to know better. By this time, David seemed quite intrigued by Ellie and me. It was almost as if he were touched by our genuine interest in his work. Two fifteen year old kids in Worthing, of all places, had turned up to ask all sorts of detailed questions about his songwriting.
It’s easy to forget, but at that point in his career, he’d been trying to make it in the business for nearly ten years, and had seen one flop after another. In his mind, maybe he feared that Ziggy would be his last throw of the dice.”
Colworth goes on to detail the concert and its aftermath. His book is available from Amazon. As for David Bowie, turns out he did have a few more tunes up his sleeve.
Do you have any memories of music life in Worthing? We’re interested in stories and scenes from any era, perhaps from the time of the concerts mentioned above? Or earlier, from dances in the ‘40s and ‘50s? Or how about ‘90s and Noughties gigs? We’d love to feature it and chat about it. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas H Green