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Rock 'n' Roll Wiltshire
Devizes Corn Exchange
Seventies gigs at Devizes Corn Exchange
Read an account of the many gigs that famous bands played at Devizes Corn Exchange in the early seventies, from someone who was there.
Devizes Corn Exchange was a little-known jewel in the crown of the Wiltshire music scene in the early 1970s.
Holding a commanding position in the small town's Market Place, alongside the equally imposing Bear Hotel, it became the unlikeliest of venues to host a plethora of the biggest contemporary music acts of that period.
This was largely down to being the chosen venue of up-and-coming local promoter Mel Bush, who would subsequently go on to front the massive Mel Bush Organisation - one of the biggest concert promoters in the country.
That a town with a population at the time of around 10,000 should be blessed with such a wealth of top-line gigs was in itself an anomaly, but the relatively intimate venue was always full to the brim, and is it any wonder given the quality of the bands that passed through on a regular basis in those halcyon days.
My first exposure to the delights of live music came in 1971, at the age of 15, when I went to see Status Quo in the Corn Exchange.
The band were in transition from psychedelic pop-stars ('Pictures of Matchstick Men') to three-chord boogie merchants ('In My Chair'), and my abiding memories of the gig were the massive stacks of Marshall amps and speakers, and my inability to hear a word my parents said to me the following morning!
At the instigation of my father, who was rather concerned at the company I might keep if I sat on the floor with the legions of Afghan-coated, joss-stick wielding, stoned hippies, I was safely ensconced, by prior arrangement, up in the balcony with a couple of schoolmates. We were all gig 'virgins' and under the watchful eye of the Corn Exchange’s resident Custodian.
That gig will live in my memory forever and only served to make my thirst for live music ever stronger.
Thankfully the fertile venue more than sated my appetite as a procession of big-name bands arrived to tread the boards, and I became brave enough to enter the 'hippies' den' downstairs.
Just some of the names that readily spring to mind; Yes (pre-and post- Rick Wakeman), Rory Gallagher (who played for the best part of three hours!), King Crimson, Thin Lizzy, Osibisa, Rod Stewart and The Faces, Chicken Shack, Ashton Gardner and Dyke, Nektar, Hawkwind, Juicy Lucy, Cochise, Man, Curved Air, the Groundhogs, the Edgar Broughton Band and the Pink Fairies.
Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy
And, of course, all concerts were replete with the-then obligatory psychedelic 'liquid light-shows'.
The venue slowly petered out as a major force when Mel Bush went on to greater things in the mid-seventies, although the occasional local entrepreneur would try to emulate past glories without ever succeeding.
One such memorable incident occurred when an ex-sixth form colleague of mine from Devizes School decided to take the plunge (he must have seen pound signs in his eyes!) and put on a gig featuring a band called Refugee, who counted ex-members of The Nice amongst their number.
At the last minute, Refugee pulled out and the booking agency sent a fledgling Dr Feelgood in their place.
The in-your-face Canvey Island rhythm-and-blues band was such a culture shock to the resident hippy audience that many demanded refunds, and the rookie promoter absconded with the door takings during the evening.
This prompted Dr Feelgood to storm off midway through their set, not to return, and my abiding memory being of a very angry Wilko Johnson departing the stage with the words: "Someone's going to get their f****** nose broke!"
Fortunately for this article, I assiduously kept pocket diaries, (as any self-respecting teenager did in those days!), and those for 1972, 1973 and 1974 are still in my possession and intact.
As a result I am able to definitively verify the following dates/bands/comments (many of the names mentioned above must have played in 1971, as they don't appear in said diaries, and by 1974 I had passed my driving test and graduated to gigs in bigger locations, e.g. Bath and Bristol).
So here goes (and any additions to those listed would be gratefully received).
Friday 18th February 1972: (from America) Cat Mother and The All-Night Newsboys, Jimmy and Vella, plus a screening of the Hendrix movie ‘Jimi Plays Berkeley’.
Friday 2nd June 1972: Hawkwind (featuring 'exotic' dancer Stacia)
Friday 28th July 1972: Rod Stewart & The Faces, Demick and Armstrong, Willie Cochrane (bag-piper)
Friday 15th September 1972: Pink Fairies (no-show, as P.A. system failed to arrive)
Friday 22nd September 1972: East Of Eden
Friday 19th January 1973: Man, Asgard (Welsh band Man went on to become my favourite live band from that era and subsequently played for me at my 40th birthday party in Cheltenham in 1996!)
Saturday 27th January 1973: Mike Cooper’s Machine-Gun Company
Friday 23rd February 1973: Thin Lizzy, Gentle Giant (my notes say that Thin Lizzy’s set was marred by a serious outbreak of violence between Hell’s Angels in the audience)
Friday 13th April 1973: Ellis (first solo project of ex-Love Affair front-man Steve Ellis)
Friday 8th June 1973: Barrelhouse, Now
Friday 22nd June 1973: Suzi Quatro
Friday 29th June 1973: (from America) McKendree Spring
Saturday 21st June 1973: Man, John St Field
Saturday 6th October 1973: Judas Priest
Friday 15th March 1974: Budgie
Saturday 11th May 1974: Global Village Trucking Company
Saturday 25th May 1974: String Driven Thing
Friday 5th July 1974: Nektar
Friday 16th August 1974: Budgie
In recent years Devizes has undergone something of a renaissance musically, with blues and blues-rock coming to the fore in the form of local heroes the Innes Sibun Band, the Jon Amor Band and the now sadly-defunct the Hoax.
You will still find the occasional gig held in the Corn Exchange (more often than not in conjunction with the annual Devizes Festival or Carnival Week) and several local pubs hold regular blues/jazz/folk nights.
But those golden days in Devizes in the seventies will never be far from my memory and provided the launch-pad for a lifetime of concert-going.
last updated: 12/01/2010 at 13:20
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Amy Barrett (Kenny )