Nigel Grundy: ‘Portsmouth seemed to have many bands who were on the London circuit’

Nigel Grundy with exhibition of photographs of bands from the 60's, 70's, 80s. Picture: Allan Hutchings (141925-603)
Nigel Grundy with exhibition of photographs of bands from the 60's, 70's, 80s. Picture: Allan Hutchings (141925-603)
Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Cllr Ken Ellcome with Jean and Allan Thompson. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

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By the end of tomorrow we’ll have become punch drunk with Glasto. Our newspapers, TVs and tablet screens will have been filled with images of the 200,000-plus revellers having the time of their lives down on Worthy Farm, Somerset.

There were similar massed goings-on across the Solent the other week at the Isle of Wight Festival.

And then there was Portsmouth on July 4, 1970. At the Tipner dog track on a balmy Saturday, on grass littered with canine muck left from the last meeting.

This was seven weeks before the legendary Isle of Wight Festival for which 600,000 tripped across the water to gawp in wonder at a bill which included Ten Years After, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Joni Mitchell, Free, The Doors, The Who, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix.

There had been two previous festivals on the island so it wasn’t as if festival-going was a novelty, but Tipner didn’t work despite a bill which included Uriah Heep, the Strawbs and Portsmouth’s own Gentle Giant.

It was the same three weeks later when popular Portsmouth folk singer/comedian Jon Isherwood put on a one-day folk festival at that greyhound stadium. The bill included Diz Disley, Pat Nelson, the Portsmouth band Rosemary and Jasper Carrott.

A few of you might recall it, but for those who don’t, pop along to The Portsmouth Pop Music Experience – Access All Areas and take a look at a display board entitled The Tipner Music Festivals. You’ll see a picture of the audience from the July 4 gig which should have been captioned ‘One Man and His Dog’.

The AAA exhibition opened last August on the Guildhall’s first floor and hundreds of people have already ambled down memory lane to look at thousands of posters, pictures and other memorabilia of the thriving Portsmouth music scene from the 1950s and ’60s.

It’s free and all part of the Portsmouth Cultural Trust’s (the people who now run the Guildhall) brave attempt to make the building more accessible and give it to the people.

Collection curator Nigel Grundy spent much of the ’60s and ’70s photographing the groups who turned up in the city in those days. That’s his picture of Pink Floyd in their dressing room on South Parade Pier (above).

‘They all came here and in retrospect played the strangest of venues. There was Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues and Chris Farlowe at Kimbells.

Johnny Cash, Billie Jo Spears and Glen Campbell played a festival on the old airport site and then there were these...’ He points to ticket stubs among the vast display, days when the Rolling Stones rocked up to the Guildhall and were bottom of the bill and likewise when a quartet of mop-topped Liverpudlians first played Portsmouth in 1963 and were first on.

‘Can you believe it, just 8s 6d (42p) to see The Beatles and 6s 6d (32p) for the Stones,’ laughs Nigel.

One of his smal team of associates running the Experience is DJ Pete Cross. His picture appears in the rogues’ gallery spinning discs alongside Noel Edmonds at the old Tricorn Club back in 1968/69.

Pete, who is painting an adjacent room in preparation for the exhibition’s first expansion, says: ‘I remember Dickie Valentine, a huge name back then, did the opening and then did a two-week residency.

‘And one night a week we ran a progressive music club for which Bob Harris and John Peel came down every week.’

But why did Portsmouth produce so many home-grown bands and attract the big boys in their droves?

Nigel adds: ‘Portsmouth seemed to have many bands who were on the London circuit and the chap who ran the Birdcage Club in Eastney Road had a lot of London contacts. And, of course, the A3 made it easy for them to come down.’

But as with all permanent exhibitions, AAA has to grow and Nigel and his team refuse to stand still.

This week they’ve taken delivery of a 12ft-long amp made by Marshall and which could only get into the Guildhall by opening its ceremonial front doors. ‘Status Quo wanted it at one time but it wouldn’t fit in their transport.It raised a few eyebrows when we got it out of the van in Guildhall Square,’ says Nigel.

In a few weeks a 1960s’ Lambretta will go on display in the gallery which is divided into three so it can show one, two or three exhibitions simultaneously.

‘We’ll display it in the 1960s’ room to help show off the music of the Mods. To accompany it we’ll paint a nine-feet diameter Mod target, on the floor. A few years ago who would have thought all this would happen in the Guildhall?’

Other developments include the construction of a rock music cinema and an internet broadcasting radio station. AAA Music Radio will go out via a link on the Guildhall website.

A recording studio is being built. Nigel adds: ‘Instruments and amplification equipment is being donated by local and national businesses.

‘The studio will be for educational purposes to teach young people how to produce, record and edit tracks. Guitar and other instrument workshops are planned.’

And after last week’s production of The Who’s rock opera Tommy by theatre group CCADS at the Kings, the theatre where 40 years ago The Who and Elton John were filmed on that stage singing Pinball Wizard, there’s a new exhibition.

It features memories of some of the extras who made the film in Portsmouth in the summer of 1974. It opens on Tuesday to run for eight weeks.

Nigel says: ‘The modern music scene is a vital part of Portsmouth life. To be able to curate a living museum has been a lot of hard work for us all, but we know it brings back wonderful memories for everyone who’s seen it.’