Entrance to Malvern Winter Gardens
Sweat, smoke and patchouli oil
by Jerry Chester, BBC H&W Web Producer
Confessions of a teenage prog rock fan and memories of gigs at Malvern Winter Gardens.
If you were a long-haired teenage progressive rock fan (Motown and soul was for people with short hair who wore Crombie overcoats), and you lived in Worcester, there was only one place to see bands live – the Malvern Winter Gardens.
Birmingham was the other end of the earth (though I did go and see Pink Floyd there in 1974 after a mate turned up on my doorstep and asked if I fancied going to see a gig that night – I told him to get lost, until I found out who it was.), Hereford was the other side of the universe.
Now and again the odd band would play Worcester – '73 was an exceptional year, with Bowie rolling up in June to do one of the last ever Aladdin Sane gigs at the Gaumont, and Mott The Hoople playing the same venue in November, rashly choosing as support band some outfit called Queen!
However Worcester did have the Worcester Music Centre, in the basement under Russell and Dorrell's department store.
Apart from the rows of shiny guitars I coveted, but could never afford, and the small four-track recording studio run by the legendary Muff Murfin, this was also the place you went to get tickets for Winter Gardens' gigs – exotic pieces of brightly-coloured card, the size of a postcard.
After the ticket had been bought, the next problem was getting to Malvern. Public transport was out of the question – that cut into my beer money – so the choice was either to hitch, or to scrounge a lift off a mate.
I can still vividly remember going to see a gig in Malvern with my mate Ian, and hitching back afterwards.
For once, the very first car we thumbed actually stopped, and we got a lift all the way back to Claines, where we both lived.
Yet something was wrong, and we couldn't work out what.
Then we realised that Ian had DRIVEN us to the gig in his Dad's car, which was still in the car park at the Winter Gardens. It was a long cold hitch back to Malvern.
I also remember a nightmarish lift to Malvern in a souped-up Ford Anglia belonging to the drummer in another band, who seemed intent on breaking the land-speed record and/or all of our necks.
Into the smoke
The Winter Gardens had an atmosphere all of its own, once sampled, never forgotten.
You entered and went down a long set of stairs to what is now the very posh vestibule of Malvern Theatres – light, airy and stylish.
Be Bop Deluxe poster
Back in the '70s it was a dark, airless and faintly seedy hallway, filled with denim clad bodies, and the smell of sweat, tobacco smoke, patchouli oil, and other cheap perfumes.
The first priority was to get a drink, which meant turning left into the bar area. Bizarrely this had a bar at either side of the room, staffed entirely by people who moved at the speed of a limpet, and who had the mathematical powers of a two-year-old.
People were always queued six deep at each of the bars, those at the back slowly losing the will to live.
Support bands at the Winter Gardens rarely got a big audience, not because they were rubbish, but because most of the audience was still trying to get a drink.
If you were lucky enough to get a drink you then crossed the smoke filled room again and entered the main hall.
Sit don't dance
Back in the '70s people sat and watched bands perform – progressive rock fans considered it the height of bad manners to stand up, or worse still to dance.
Numbers were listened to in reverential silence - any whooping, hollering, or clapping being saved for the end of each number.
Mostly we sat on the floor, a bum-numbing experience, though there were chairs around the edge of the hall, usually occupied by those more interesting in snogging than listening.
Naturally there are gigs that stick in my mind: Both times that I saw the excellent Be Bop Deluxe they were played off the stage by their support act, in one case by a local band who had an absolutely amazing drummer. It’s the only time in my life I’ve applauded a drum solo.
Quo came on stage in '72 and announced "We're called Status Quo, you're going to hate us, and we don't care." They were great.
Dr Feelgood, complete with the insane Wilko Johnson on guitar, played an amazing gig, and managed to get people off the bottoms and dancing.
Thin Lizzy played there on the Live and Dangerous tour, and were sensational. It's an urban myth that Phil Lynott wrote the song "Don't Believe A Word" about a girl he met in Malvern.
Then there were the weird bands - the Heavy Metal Kids (which I think was one of the original names suggested for Led Zeppelin, before someone with a brain became involved in the conversation). Their lead singer climbed all the way up the PA stacks and lighting towers while singing.
Then there were The Doctors of Madness, one of the strangest bands I have ever seen, who dressed like Goths, and played some magnificently pretentious twaddle.
I also remember the bands who never made it to the Winter Gardens at all. I seem to recall Procal Harum cancelling at the last minute, which annoyed me, as I was a huge fan.
I later roadied for a gig of theirs in Edinburgh and did evil things to the drummer’s kit. Petty, but it made me feel better.
I think ELO (or the Electric Light Orchestra as they were then) cancelled twice, and a band called Daryl Way’s Wolf played instead. They were rather good, Daryl Way being the violinist with Curved Air.
Perhaps this is also the time to say sorry to the guy whose hand I deliberately stood on while we were watching Man play – he'd pushed in front of me in the bar queue. And to Liz, who several times suffered my attentions on the chairs at the side of the hall (but only until the band came on).
I was sad when the Winter Gardens was refurbished. These days, when I sit in the excellent Forum Theatre, watching a performance, part of me still yearns for the cold hard floors of the Winter Gardens.
Mind you, it would play hell with my back.
If you have any memories of the Winter Garden, or any other gigs in Herefordshire or Worcestershire then email us. You can check out more memories on The Music Map.
Alison Evans writes:
A group of us went to see the Pretenders at Malvern Winter Gardens - they were amazing! It was either just before or after one of them died, can't remember who or how? Just remember that the atmosphere was brilliant.
last updated: 03/06/2009 at 07:26