Archivist recalls time in Rosemary rock band

Rosemary in the bushes at the Rock Gardens, Southsea
Rosemary in the bushes at the Rock Gardens, Southsea
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The feature in The News last week about the demolition later this year of the SPACE art gallery in Portsmouth, brought back many happy memories for Dave Allen.

It’s part of the university (previously Portsmouth Art College) and back in the day it was a regular venue for bands.

A promo picture of Rosemary posing in a London park

A promo picture of Rosemary posing in a London park

Dave, the official archivist for the history of popular music in Portsmouth, said: ‘It’s a classic “white cube” gallery these days and often used for teaching, but back in the heyday of the art college dance it had a stage on which bands performed.’

He sent a poster from April 1970 advertising a forthcoming gig featuring two leading local bands, Rosemary and Mushroom.

Dave said the poster was designed by Geoff Allman, then a graphics student from Eastney, who now heads a big design company in Manchester called Spoken Image.

He added: ‘I was in Rosemary and we were awaiting the release of our first single that month which sadly never materialised.

‘Mushroom (formerly Coconut Mushroom) were another leading local band signed to the Beatles’s label Apple – again dreams rather turned to dust.’

He added: ‘It was also the venue for some extraordinary experimental concerts of avant garde music with visits and contributions from leading figures like Cornelius Cardew, Gavin Bryars and Ron Geesin and involving at times a young man called Brian Eno.

‘The most public manifestation was the (in)famous Portsmouth Sinfonia who even enjoyed a hit.’

The Sinfonia was an orchestra founded by students at the art college in 1970.

It had an unusual entrance requirement in that players had to be either non-musicians or if a musician, play an instrument that was entirely new to them. Among the founding members was one of their teachers, English composer Gavin Bryars.

The orchestra started as a one-off, tongue-in-cheek performance art ensemble but became a cultural phenomenon over the following 10 years, with concerts, albums, a film and a hit single. They last performed publicly in 1979.

Dave wonders how many of you remember attending gigs by Rosemary and Mushroom and the Portsmouth Sinfonia.