Playing the West End Ballroom in Birmingham

 In May 1965, we played the first of 2 or 3 gigs at the West End Ballroom in Birmingham. The West End was a really old-fashioned ballroom, which was very active in the 1920s and, from old photographs; it looked like not much had changed by the time we played there.

Birmingham was just over 100 miles from Newport and, whilst we did have bits of the M50 and M5 motorways open, the roads weren’t as good as they are today. I remember the incident that Glyn refers to later was the first time we played the West End, when we only had Chippy’s small van, I believe a Commer Cob, and Glyn’s car to take us. I was in the van with Chippy and our equipment and the rest were probably in Glyn’s car.

On one of the motorways, I remember a van that had ‘The Fortunes’ written on the side passed us, with a couple of band members waving and laughing at us. I think that annoyed Chippy as he put his foot down and sped past their vehicle.

A few miles later, we heard a banging noise coming from the engine and shortly after the van lost all power and coasted to a stop on the hard shoulder. When Chippy opened the bonnet, the engine looked in a sad condition. There appeared to be a piston or big end, whatever they are called, sticking out that shouldn’t have been. We were stuck quite a few miles from the venue with all the band equipment.

There were no mobile phones back then, so we had to walk to the nearest telephone on the hard shoulder and found the number of a firm who would tow us to the West End Ballroom where we met up with the others, who were getting worried by then. We off-loaded the equipment and Chippy arranged for the van to be taken to a garage.

By the time we went on the stage, which was only a foot or so off the dance floor, I was in quite a state, preferring not to be too rushed and needed things to go right, whenever I went on stage.  The Disk Jockey had been playing pop records, from people like Sandy Shaw, just before we went on and when we opened up with the first number, which was Smokestack Lightning, the large audience all appeared to move rather quickly towards us; the sprung dance floor exaggerating their movements. For a moment I thought they didn’t like us and wanted to tear us apart. However, it became obvious that they did like us a lot; it was just the first time that most of them had seen a group like us.
 
There was a similar reaction when we played I Wish You Would, which was a Billy Boy Arnold song, which was recorded by the Yardbirds. There is always something hypnotic about playing those two songs that have strong riffs and predominantly featuring a single chord. With a brilliant front man in Adrian and the raw energy of the rest of the band, we soon had the audience in the palm of our hands. It was a great night, with what appeared to be several hundred people in the audience, most of which were dancing.     

At the end of the night, we had the issue of how we were going to transport all our band equipment back to Newport. As the Ballroom wanted to close their doors, we had to take all our equipment outside and stack it near the front doors. It was lucky it wasn’t raining as we didn’t have covers for the amplifiers and there was a lot of loose stuff, such as microphone stands and power extension leads. It looked as if we had been evicted from the place. I think I stayed behind to look after the stuff, whilst the others looked for someone to take the equipment home and us.

They eventually persuaded a chap driving a black taxi, to transport most of the equipment and 2 or 3 of us back to Newport, for what I thought was £25. Glyn remembers it as £50, but whichever it was; it was a small fortune and completely wiped out our fee for the gig. I remember being in the back seat with drums, cymbals and an amp all around me; the front passenger seat had the guitars, being held by someone, either Andy or Percy and the rest of the stuff in the boot. I think Glyn managed to get some of the equipment in his car, with the rest of the band. It was a long journey and I eventually got home about 7 a.m. with just enough time to have a cup of tea and get ready for work.

4 comments

  • Geoff Ashton

    Geoff Ashton Kingswinford, near Birmingham

    Hi, I like your comments on your trip to the West End Ballroom, Birmingham, I was very pleased to note your remarks about the DJ. Well I am pleased to tell you that I was the DJ Playing records while waiting for you to arrive, So at last I now know why you where Late!. Wish I was 18 again, Those were the Days. Best Regards, Geoff Ashton. PS Hope you've got a new van?

    Hi, I like your comments on your trip to the West End Ballroom, Birmingham, I was very pleased to note your remarks about the DJ.

    Well I am pleased to tell you that I was the DJ Playing records while waiting for you to arrive, So at last I now know why you where Late!.
    Wish I was 18 again, Those were the Days.

    Best Regards, Geoff Ashton.

    PS Hope you've got a new van?

  • The Pieces of Mind

    The Pieces of Mind

    Geoff nice to hear from you. Yes those were the days, it's a shame the West End has gone. We are still gigging after reforming in 2013 and I do have a new-ish van which hasn't broken down yet, All the best and take care

    Geoff
    nice to hear from you. Yes those were the days, it's a shame the West End has gone.

    We are still gigging after reforming in 2013 and I do have a new-ish van which hasn't broken down yet,

    All the best and take care

  • Paul Clifton

    Paul Clifton Northa'nts

    Hi Geoff Great to see that you are still about. I was one of the DJ's before you went on to work at the Silver Blades and the Heartbeat. Went out with Caroline the managers secretary from the West End Ballroom. Used the stage name of JonPaul. Cheers

    Hi Geoff
    Great to see that you are still about. I was one of the DJ's before you went on to work at the Silver Blades and the Heartbeat. Went out with Caroline the managers secretary from the West End Ballroom. Used the stage name of JonPaul.

    Cheers

  • The Pieces of Mind

    The Pieces of Mind

    Paul great to hear from you. To be honest, I am surprised people remember the place. We loved it.

    Paul

    great to hear from you. To be honest, I am surprised people remember the place. We loved it.

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