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13 November 2014

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Rock 'n' Roll Wiltshire

You are in: Wiltshire > History > Rock 'n' Roll Wiltshire > Seventies gigs at Devizes Corn Exchange

Devizes Corn Exchange, as it stands today. Photo courtesy of Jules Leece.

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.

Status Quo

Status Quo

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

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!"

Dr Feelgood

Dr Feelgood

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
created: 23/02/2009

Have Your Say

Leave your memories of gigs at Devizes Corn Exchange below.

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val marsh
i remember going to watch suzy quatro and im almost certain that mungo jerry played at the corn exchange and stayed at the black swan across the road brilliant memories :)

Paul Melksham
Was a DJ at Corn Exchange in 1969 worked with The Move that, the usual DJ Mad Mick was unable to do the DEE JAYING, so I did it. Mel Bush was running it in those days with some members of his family. If I remember Mel and his family lived in Box.

Paul
Saw Rory 1st April 1971 at Devizes. Don't remember him playing for 3 hours though. East of Eden (Jig-a-Jig) were the support act.

David Rose
Remember the Suzy Quatro concert in 1973. I was too young to go in being only 13 so I hung about outside listing to "Can the Can" "Devil Gate Drive" to name a couple. Great memories, thanks for sharing. :-)

Adrian Osborne
Remember the June 72 Hawkwind show well because I and one of my ex Chippenham School friends George Bush were hitching from London to Chippenham and got picked up just before the M4 by the band. We had a very cool trip down and happily detoured to Devizes to watch the show. We had a great time!!Thanks again guys!!!

Amy Barrett (Kenny )
Loved reading your article, it brought back many memories. My friend Frances Driscoll and I would hitch over to Devizes from Marlborough every friday night to see a band playing at the Corn Exchange. I think it would have been 1970 - 1973. As well as the bands you mentioned I remember seeing T-Rex(Marc Bolan & Micky Finn) Mungo Jerry and Matthew's Southern Comfort on the night Hendrix died and they were No 1 with Woodstock !!!!!! I remember that it was a family affair at the Corn Exchange,Mel and brother Bev on the door, sister Ann and Zena taking the money at the box office,brother in law Steve doing the disco and Gran sorting out the cloakroom with Mels Mum !!!! Oh and his Dad was always around keeping an eye on things.What a flood of happy memories you have brought back from my teens, thanks.

stuart randall
I remember booking Persian Wood (Swindon Band) as support act for "FAT MATTRESS" Noel Redding(Ex Jimmy Hendrix)At The Corn Exchange. Funny although Mel Bush is a mega Millionaire we still keep in touch now, in Sunny Mallorca.

clive goodman
Yes a nice article, Juicy Lucy did a fantastic Robert Johnson bit with Neill Hubbard, Glen Campbell, and the lead singer called Ellis I think, also saw Marmalade, and oh no Picketywitch, well it was my then girlfriends sisters birthday or something, Sta Webb was then and still is a good night out.

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