The Kinks, Annie Lennox and Electric Light Orchestra

By Dave Allen – Local music buff and regular at the Guildhall 

After re-building, the Guildhall re-opened in June 1959 with concerts of classical music and top British ‘Trad Jazz’ bands. Exactly ten years later, in June 1969 the main events saw visits by Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. It was a very different world as the ‘swinging sixties’ drew to a conclusion.

In early January 1970, Led Zeppelin were back to open new decade. Through the 1960s, Guildhall gigs had presented a broad range of genres and stars, reflecting the extraordinary variety of music in pop’s early years following the rock & roll ‘revolution’ of the mid 1950s. During that decade many major names in popular music appeared at the venue – mostly in concert and quite often playing two houses in an evening. There were acts from both sides of the Atlantic including some original rock & rollers, modern and traditional jazz, folk and blues acts, beat groups, pop packages, ‘light’ entertainers and historic names such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, the Supremes, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones. There was a remarkable bill in November 1967 with Pink Floyd, the Move and the Jimi Hendrix Experience topping the bill.


In the early years even the most modern acts used fairly small amplification – the Beatles famously toured in 1963 with 50-watt Vox guitar amplifiers, and groups were often required to use the house PA system designed principally for civic speeches. In the autumn of 1965 the local newspaper reported that some groups were dissatisfied with that sound, and increasingly they began touring with their own larger PA systems, while guitar amplifiers became more powerful. This was more than simply a matter of clarity or volume, it allowed groups like the Who, Yardbirds and then Jimi Hendrix to use the amplification as an ‘extra instrument’ – their amplifiers were doing more than amplifying the guitars, as distortion, sustain and feedback became a part of their sound.

Not everyone went down that path of course – the Guildhall still presented mainstream pop acts or modern jazz concerts – but popular music was changing rapidly. When the Hendrix package show arrived in late 1967, Jimi, Pink Floyd (and the Move) had already enjoyed hit singles and appeared on BBC TV’s Top of the Pops but they were bands (no longer ‘groups’) that became known more for their albums as the LP format became increasingly important for a certain audience. More and more acts followed the Beatles’ lead in writing their own material and they often preferred to play just one show a night, with longer sets than on a two-house package tour.

Although he led an English band, Jimi Hendrix was one of many Black American headliners who played the Guildhall in the 1960s – in addition to those above they included Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder and in 1969 a number of major blues names in the second ‘British Blues Boom’, including BB King and John Lee Hooker. But by 1970 concerts were narrowing in focus around the newer and largely white ‘rock’ acts, even where the ‘roots’ of acts like Led Zeppelin, John Mayall, and Free – all visitors in 1970 – were firmly in the blues. When John Lee Hooker returned in 1971 it was as a support act to Mungo Jerry.

There were far fewer jazz gigs too. Early in 1970 Johnny Dankworth came with Cleo Laine and there were one or two visits by American singers whose ‘Easy Listening’ style might occasionally hint at a jazz influence; for example Jack Jones in April 1972 and Johnny Mathis six years later. Other more mainstream popular acts included Val Doonican, Gene Pitney and Leo Sayer but these were rare, and apart from T Rex, and Olivia Newton-John, few of the bigger 1970s ‘pop’ names such as Bay City Rollers, ABBA, Mud, New Seekers, Showaddywaddy, Queen, or Sweet came to the Guildhall, although some, including Bowie and Slade appeared elsewhere in the city. One man on the way to super star status who did come was Elton John, just a few years after he’d ‘depped’ briefly with Portsmouth’s hitmakers Simon Dupree & the Big Sound when their keyboard player was taken ill on a Scottish tour. The ‘Dupree boys’ were now a ‘Prog’ outfit Gentle Giant and they played their home Guildhall in 1974 and 1975. Today they are on the venue’s ‘Wall of Fame’.

Gentle Giant

While the range of acts that appeared at the Guildhall in the 1960s attracted a broad variety of audiences, in the following decade, many of the shows attracted a more specific following perhaps resembling those who watched BBC2s new rock programme The Old Grey Whistle Test or listened to John Peel’s radio shows. That local audience was enhanced partly by the growing number of students in Portsmouth (with its new Polytechnic) as a result of the gradual expansion of Higher Education in the UK.

Beyond rock, perhaps the most regular style was on that borderline between what some contemporary audiences considered ‘folk’ or folk-rock, and singer-songwriters. Traditional folk acts were rarely big enough to fill the Guildhall although there were still a number of active local clubs, but in the bigger concert venue, the more acoustic visitors to Portsmouth began in 1970 with individual concerts featuring the Strawbs, Ralph McTell, Al Stewart and Pentangle  and in following years, the Spinners, the Incredible String Band, Americans Loudon Wainwright and  Tom Paxton – last seen in these parts at the 1969 IOW Festival – Roy Harper, Fairport Convention, Lindisfarne, Steeleye Span, John Martyn, the return of the Strawbs, Ralph McTell and Pentangle and then in 1976 the last and perhaps biggest of them all, Leonard Cohen. From that point the contemporary bands pretty much dominated the venue.

In the first couple of years of the decade launched by Led Zeppelin, came local favourites Family, plus Traffic, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Free, Deep Purple, Electric Light Orchestra, American Leon Russell, Groundhogs, Mott the Hoople and Genesis – initially as support to Van der Graf Generator – King Crimson and Soft Machine. Then followed an historically significant evening on 21 January 1972 when Pink Floyd arrived again, as headliners. Their tour had begun the previous evening in Brighton and they were planning to perform the whole of their planned next album each night, but when technical problems prevented that along the coast, Portsmouth Guildhall was the first venue ever to hear Dark Side of the Moon from start to finish.

After this the top rock acts – mostly from the UK – kept arriving, with Procul Harum followed by Black Sabbath, Status Quo, Wishbone Ash, Jethro Tull, Curved Air, Electric Light Orchestra, Hawkwind, Yes, Rory Gallagher, Bad Company, Humble Pie and others, many returning for a second and even third appearance. In the summer of 1974 The Who gave a special free concert for all the local ‘extras’ who appeared in Ken Russell’s film of their rock opera Tommy, shot almost entirely around the city.

Not all the visitors were from the UK; Dutch band Golden Earring and Americans Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band both appeared in autumn 1975, Germany’s Tangerine Dream came 12 months later and Americans Lynyrd Skynyrd and Focus (Holland) in early 1977. Also in the mid-1970s, new visitors included the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Gong 10 CC, Be Bop Deluxe, AC DC (supporting back Street Crawler), Thin Lizzy, Man, Uriah Heep and the Ian Gillan Band. But in 1976 and 1977 a new audience and a new sound came to challenge the dominant progressive and heavy rock sounds. Many of the early punk gigs in the city were elsewhere, notably perhaps Clarence Pier, but there was a broader stylistic shift often called ‘New Wave’ and a number of those exponents began to appear at the Guildhall.

The first in March 1977 were the briefly fashionable, Graham Parker & the Rumour, then in October the original Dr Feelgood came, supported by Mink De Ville. The following year another double bill brought Eddie & the Hot Rods and Squeeze, the Hot Rods returned for the first Guildhall gig by Elvis Costello & the Attractions’, and through 1978 came Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Blondie, the Buzzcocks and the Jam plus the Dickies. Some of the older acts came from time-to-time; Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Judas Priest and at the start of 1979 Van Morrison and the Hollies, but the new bands continued to bring in the younger audience with the Jam returning in June 1979 and selecting local band The Time as their support.  Other visitors were the Pretenders, the Vapors, Annie Lennox & Dave Stewart in the Tourists, and in July 1979, the American punk (ish) band the Tubes. They had originally been scheduled to play on 11 November 1977 but after City Councillors watched them at another gig they were banned from the Guildhall because it was Remembrance Sunday.

As the decade reached its end there were two particularly interesting gigs. The first which brought a ska influence to contemporary UK music was the now historic first Two-Tone tour of The Specials, Madness and Selecter. Then the 1970s ended with another of those rare things, a ‘home grown’ national star, as Joe Jackson appeared just a few days before Christmas in the year of his big cross-Atlantic hit “Is She Really Going Out With Him”.



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