People from the era tell their stories.
» Mick Freeman
I'd just come down from London in the mid 70's, no real idea of what I was going to do, my folk/blues band had broken up a few years before, I'd got married and was drifting. My wife got a job at The Arnolfini as assistant to the gallery coordinator and I got a job working behind the bar. The 'foni had just moved to the new site, everyone was excited, and suddenly we could do what we iked. Sue Bigger ran the place, she played her own my music, I could play mine and folks bought things in.
We were playing Patti Smith, Springsteen and others and gradually an odd early punk/bikers scene developed. It all really culminated for me with what was (I believe) the last gig of The Cortinas before moving to London. Suddenly Mary Ann and were asked if we wanted to run my own pub, The Old Castle Green, in Old Market. Old Market then, 1978, was off the map. Winter quarters of a travelling fair, full of drunk Irishman and Scotsmen, failed petty thieves and old age pensioners. It was weird, but a chance to do what we wanted, stock my own juke box with my music, have my own bar billiards table and cook Mexican/Cajun food (not easy with what was available back then!)
We were around the corner from Biggles Music, one of the unsung heroes of the music scene then, so it wasn't long before they started coming in for lunch/"just the one before I go home. Next bands started coming in to eat and drink and be amused by the best juke box in Bristol. Soon enough someone (think it was Crazy Trains) asked if they could play one night, we said sure, but we can't pay you much, and there we go. It wasn't long before we had live music a couple of nights a week.
I had old contacts in the folk world so one night was folk, often Steve Payne, Jim Reynolds, Alamo or other local talent, but every few weeks a name who was passing through and stayed the night and played, people like Burt Jansch, John Martyn, Cliff Aungier and John Renbourne. The interesting thing was that most of the two audiences stayed for each other's gigs, which resulted in some interesting crossovers later. Returning fixtures were John Schofield & Paul Davies of Crystal Theatre. I can't remember how we first got to know each other, I think it was through Dave Borthwick who was starting to learn his craft and working part time at the 'foni. We stayed friends with Dave for years and his girlfriend at the time, Lynni, worked with us for years. Paul & John would work at the Castle when they were in town, I think more for the crack and free booze than for money. Paul would work as the greeter at the door on busy nights, doing his best oleaginous waiter act, confusing Old Market drunks and making girls giggle. He also had a habit of asking customers if they "Would like their food pre-chewed? Many of our guests prefer their food pre-chewed as they are in a rush
to get back to work."
The Heat, as they were then, wandered in one day from shopping at Biggles. Richie Gould said they were looking for somewhere to play and I said we'd be delighted to have them on. Their gig blew me away, I'd be a big fan of Ska & Blue Beat and hadn't heard anybody play it for years, 'course I had no idea what was blowing up in Coventry at the time! Russ and Stig were the real power houses of the group, quiet and unobtrusive, but what great players! Neil was a great anchor for the band and Dave was the incongruous one, fancy hair, always smiling, he looked like he should be in a glam rock band! Then there was Steve, the prototype rock singer of the sixties. Short, aggressive, a big hit with the ladies, but with a young wife who didn't let him out of her sight at gigs. The band turned out a sound that was part Police, but Specials without the brass and all energy, when I played it over here on my show one listener remarked that they must have been a great live band, they were!
John Schof was in the night they first played and he and I were blown away by them, we decided to manage them. This made perfect sense, neither of us knew anything about Management except being exploited by others and the fact that Andy owned a studio that we could use. We took them around to Kenny who recorded some demos that came out great (I'm SO pleased I can now throw out my old cassettes) Now what do we do?
We ended up sharing the demo with Rialto, they were handled the Korgis and I think Andy knew them well. They took over management and managed to get out one single before The Police swept on the scene and middle ska explosion happened. Had we seen them a few months earlier things might have been very different, I listen to 54-46, Too Young Girl & One More for the Road now and feel elated again, but very sad. I always felt they blamed us a bit for not getting it released earlier.
Once a month we would have "Hugget" playing the pub. This was Tony Dodds, Pete Evans and Hugget himself, the only member of the band under 60 (Joke) Tony & Pete had played with the legendary Mike Tobin and the Magnets, a Bristol band who nearly made it, and Tony remains one of the best guitarists I've ever seen, a disciple of Albert Lee and his "Country Boy" was always a highlight of the Wednesday night. All oldies, but it was music well played and, again, pleased everyone. Mike Tobin would do a few numbers some weeks and he became almost a regular at their gigs. Another regular were The Wild Beasts, Rockin' Rob, Andy, Martin and Kenny. The Green had a cricket team at the time and Kenny & I would squabble over who was wicketkeeper. We kind of lost contact after Andy built the studio, Kenny had finally found his true love and, I think, seemed to be there 24 hours a day. He was singlehandedly responsible for some of the best music coming out of Bristol at the time. I never felt the single showed what they could do, but I think by then Kenny's mind was elsewhere. Martin, also on the cricket team and a damn good bowler, linked up with Shoes for Industry for a while and was another great example of the cross-pollination at the time. On occasions Hugh Gower would get back to Bristol for a few days and sit in with someone, often The Beasts, and I remember the anticipation before Hugh's arrival, almost like royalty!
One of the bands that played the Green a lot was Crazy Trains. I liked their energy and style and thought that they could, maybe do well. I suggested to Mike that he should manage them and he did, nearly breaking through, but like so many at the time, not quite. We were away from the bedsitter land of Clifton, so pulled more from Montpelier/St. Pauls and Cotham, this meant we had some of the very early gigs of Gardez Darkx and the Untouchables, also oddities like Earl Shakespeare, one of the true characters of the time, I often wonder what happened to him. Juan Foote "n" the Grave were also frequent visitors, not as often as I'd have liked, but we really couldn't afford to pay more than 50 quid then. I remember they always bought a wonderfully crazy entourage with them too.
Bristol was very like a number of villages back then, don't know if it is now, and that had a huge effect on the bands. Once Trinity opened up we became a regular watering hole before gigs and many discovered us. Venue starting up around the corner also made a difference. Suddenly there were Electric Guitars and Exploding Seagulls on the scene and I remember also the insanity of the Spics early gigs, Toss and Mike always seemed happy in those days, hope they still are.
We moved on to The Bell, Hillgrove Street after a while and more of the same ensued, in fact I'm not really sure which memories come from which place, after all, if you remember it you probably weren't there, I do remember the last night of the Green with great pleasure though. The A.T. s played and I ended up doing a rap about the history of the pub that I'm told wasn't bad. Last words have to go to Biggles Music though, Phil, Richie and Bob were responsible for so much, and how they kept going is beyond me. They provided me with the PAs that made gigs possible at stupid prices, spent a lot of money in the pub and nurtured many a nascent talent. I know Richie is still playing, I often wonder what happened to the rest, maybe, if Neil is still involved with Venue, he knows?
Mick Freeman (April 2010 from the USA)