THE DAY I LENT MY BONGOS TO T. REX
'Mothers' February 7th 2007
Former Move and Black Sabbath drummer Bev Bevan has been kicking off, after a new tourist map of British rock history omitted a number of legendary West Midlands venues. Andy Goff remembers one of the best of 'em...Mothers in Erdington.
Remember where you were when JFK got shot? I do!
Remember where you were when Chernobyl's slight problem became known on the west? I do.!
Remember where you were when Princess Di lived up to her name? Yes, I do!
Remember hearing Brian Redhead telling us that coalition forces had moved against Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991? I do!
Well even better! Remember where you were on 31st January 1968?
Well, I was at Mothers in Erdington.
I saw the amazing Ian Anderson standing on one leg playing a flute, John Peel acting as host and Bakerloo Blues with Dave “Clem” Clempson on vocals and guitar,
Mothers was the Mecca for us music geeks of the 60s and early 70s.
Erdington High Street became the centre of our universe.
The hours I queued there - itching to get inside.
The eclectic bands they had on there are the fables of today. Tony McPhee (Groundhogs), John Fahey (of whom more later), Tyrannosaurus Rex (before they were T Rex - of which more later), Fleetwood Mac, The Graham Bond Organisation, The Nice, Ten Years After, Muddy Waters… the list really is almost endless. A cornucopia of rock, folk, blues: and just about everything.
After you had queued for ages you entered a dark place passing first through the bar area and then into the Big Room which, by today's gig standards, was tiny. A few tables and chairs at the front and sides and then a theoretical dance floor in the middle - but who was dancing?
We were there for the music.
Dope filled the air and an endless pint filled the guts. Gentleness filled the atmosphere and the world was good. Music of the highest order was about to fill the space.
Erdington- Yes! It really was in Erdington - was the only place in the universe worth being in, in those days.
The was a night when Marc Bolan and Steve ‘Peregrine' Took were due to come on and John Peel, who was compeering, made an appeal to the audience. True or not, I doubt I will know, he said that they had suffered a flood and Steve's bongo's had washed away (Now, as I type this, I suspect it was more likely he'd just forgotten them) and did anyone in the audience have some they could borrow. Well I did.
Me and my mate, at the time, Gregory, were bundled into a car, a Zephyr 6, as I recall, and whizzed back to Wylde Green by Marc's manager. I dug out my Edmundo Ross signature bongo's, purchased from what is now Sound Control in Snow Hill, and we scudded back to Erdo High Street.
Steve Took played my Edmundo Ross bongos on stage with Marc Bolan. Afterwards I went backstage and said “Where's me bongo's then?” And Marc said “Thanks mate” and stuck his thumb up. I should have got his autograph. Took died aged 31 when he choked on a cocktail cherry (and not a cherry 'pit' or stone' as you'll still read in some places!) and Marc, as we all know, wrapped himself round a tree.
The night John Fahey played there was a sound problem. I think he was wired in to a gramophone amplifier in the end and it was all “shhhhh shhhhh” in the audience. We hung on to every faint note and feeble word. The volume would have been better if he'd stuck the guitar up his backside.
There was the night I had a chat with the stunning guitarist Tony McPhee from Groundhogs.
That was the joy of Mothers - the artistes would just be there. No sense of celeb, they just mingled and the least prima donnas' engaged.
John Peel complained that people in Brum didn't speak to him - what!
We were just there for the music - so one evening a little bundle of us gathered round him after the show - I think it was the night he spouted a monologue about going to the clap clinic - and we, the cognoscenti, spoke to him.
I recall telling him that I used to tape his late his night shows and had a large collection of them. He said something about that being, he was sure, illegal but it was great I did that.
And then there was the night Country Joe and the Fish were on. Goose bumps have arrived just thinking about it.
It must have been such a contrast for them - Cincinnati or Erdington? Where would you rather play? Well it must have been Erdo cos there was no wild audience participation. We were just there for the music. Although we did join in with the “Fish cheer”.
And then there was Deep Purple. I was deaf for two days afterwards. No wonder I failed my English A level. Addled brain syndrome!
The side entrance where there used to be steps up to the door (now bricked up)
I don't think Jimi Hendrix ever played Mothers, and anyway if he had I wouldn't have had the patience to stand in a four mile queue. That Experience would wait until I heard him a Solent away on the Isle of Wight.
But Mothers, in Erdington, really was THE place. Albeit briefly. It was only open from 1968 to 1971 - by which time I had moved to Bickington in Devon to live in a caravan with my mate Ian - at the back of The Halfway House alongside the river Dart.
I have a pal who has been back to the shop that was Mothers. He reports there is a steady stream of ageing hipplets that drift in to touch the place that was the sky for so many of us of a certain age.
You can order a copy of Kevin Duffy's 1997 book 'Mothers 1968 - 1971' with a foreward by John Peel from Birmingham City Council Central Library
(The controversial map has been compiled by tourist agency Visit Britain. Check out www.enjoyengland.com/rocks)What was the best music venue in the West Midlands? Indulge in some shameless nostalgia and tell us your favourite music hangout on the messageboard.