People from the era tell their stories.
» Martin Elliot - Bristol Beat
Martin Elliot - Bristol Beat
I moved to Bristol in 1976 to attend Bristol Polytechnic or as it is known now, UWE. I had lived in Devon during my teen years and had promoted bands (mainly school associates) in town and village halls. I provided the music in-between the bands with my double vinyl decks and 100 watts of power. One summer gig raised an audience of over 400 people - not bad for a promoter aged sixteen.
So, I was keen to pursue more musical activities on arriving in Bristol. Attending gigs was vital and gradually I met like minded folk, musicians, record shop assistants and those keen to become local label makers. The days were exciting since the punk and new wave buzz was having a dramatic effect on the burgeoning local bands and you sensed it might spill over to bigger things. At UWE I had a DJ Friday evening residency where I would play the new wave favourites - Eddie & The Hotrods, Clash, Jam, Buzzcocks, Dr. Feelgood, local bands such as The Cortinas, Social Security and even slyly interplay fast r'n'b from the ‘sixties (Rolling Stones, Who and Pretty Things) but you still needed the disco favourites to appease the crowd. So I felt it was time to get back into promoting bands and I needed a venue. It was the summer of 1979.
The Crown Inn had a Cellar Bar and I had seen one of my favourite Bristol band's Apartment play there. It was a sweaty low arched ceiling venue just like the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool. The Manager gave me a Wednesday evening residency for a trial period of twelve weeks. I produced some posters which had a design with a semi-disguised image of Paul Weller with guitar and gave the name Bristol Beat to the promotions.
My then girlfriend (and for many, many years my wife), Wendy worked to take the money on the door. My first week, on the 27th June, I had booked my initial band contact Steve Bush from Essential Bop and they were supported by the Art Objects. Other bands were lining up nicely for the schedule and Double Vision were next on for the 4th of July. Many of their members were from local private schools and an added attraction was blonde Melanie Dicks who was the main singer and at the time her father was manager of Bristol City FC who were in the top football division and had just finished 13th in the league. Wendy and I were not prepared for the audience that evening as more and more people attended. The trouble was the people attending were the contemporaries of the school-band members and while the gig was great, there was over-crowding on the cobbled street and inevitably under-age drinking. I was reprimanded by the manager and two days later had a letter in the post to say my residency was cancelled. In hindsight I could have predicted the problem.
The band schedule I had booked needed to be maintained and I visited the Bunch of Grapes pub at the bottom of the M32 on Newfoundland Road. It was later demolished to build the Spectrum office. Again, Richard Griffiths from Apartment had led me there and I approached Madge the owner who had a stone like barn to the side called the Stonehouse. She was very friendly and obliging and so the schedule was maintained. We then started a Wednesday weekly residency that became a real meeting place for gig goers and musicians alike. And so, in through the doors came bands - Sanity Trials (not a local band), Apartment, Creature Beat, SOS, The Underfives, Stingrays, Sound To Light, The Review, The X-Certs, The TVI's, Vitus Dance, Puritan Eyes (from Cardiff), The Toys, The Traitors, Color Tapes, The Rimshots, Sound To Light, Siren, and Mayfair. The gigs happened with the background of Heartbeat Records, ‘Avon Calling' album being released in October 1979 which set a benchmark for local bands and the hope of national notoriety. There was also tension in the St Paul's area which was not far from the Stonehouse and the famous riot which occurred in April 1980. On a world front we had Maggie starting her ‘conservative reign' and Reagan at the White House.
I wanted to capture some of the bands who had played at the Stonehouse and asked Steve Street, ex of The Europeans who was now working as a recorder and producer to record two nights at the Stonehouse on Saturday 8th and 15th March 1980. The intention was for it to be released as an album. The bands who were recorded were Creature Beat, Sound to Light, The Stingrays, Color Tapes, Traitors, Mayfair and Siren. It was compiled by myself and released as a cassette album - it was sold at Virgin Records in the Broadmead shopping centre. Thanks to Bristol Archive Records, ‘Bristol Beat - The Stonehouse Tapes' is available again now via digital download.
Naturally, there were a few bands like Apartment who I wanted to record but for various reasons did not appear on the tape. Dave Bateman, Shane Baldwin and Mark Hambly from The Vice Squad regularly attended the Stonehouse and helped Wendy on the door, taking money and looking like unofficial bouncers. They wanted to be recorded but their fan following was huge and a more localised riot may have happened. Another group was the X-Certs and again people like Neil Mackie and Chris Bostock often helped me out at the club. However, I seem to remember bands saying, if they play, we won't. Both of these bands were rising up the local ladder and I was very pleased to see the Vice Squad make it nationally.
My memories of the times were very happy and Mike Carvalho from the Traitors has become a life long friend, thirty years on. I got married in 1980 which curtailed much of my musical promotions. However, I went on to write musical books on the greatest rock ‘n' roll band in the world, The Rolling Stones - my latest was released in 2002 - www.stonessessions.com
I was pleased to bump into Mike Darby recently and reminisce about the Bristol Beat days - his website is testament to the edge and attitude of Bristol music in those days.