If you were in a north east band in the mid to late sixties it is likely that that there would be two Newcastle venues on your wish list of places to play – the Club a’Gogo and the Mayfair Ballroom. If you did get a gig at either or both of these places there was a good chance that you would be supporting a well known band . Both the Gogo and the Mayfair regularly booked the top touring or chart bands of the day.
There the similarity ends. The Gogo was a small to medium sized venue, which appeared full when there were just a few hundred people inside. The Mayfair, however, had a capacity of a few thousand and, although lacking the intimate feel of the Gogo, had a great atmosphere on a good night.
Unlike the Club a’Gogo which had a life span of around six years, the Mayfair was a popular venue from the sixties until it finally closed in 1999. It is reputed to have hosted Europe’s largest and longest-running rock club, spanning nearly four decades. Some of the biggest bands in the world played at the venue early in their career, such as Pink Floyd, U2 and Nirvana.
The material on this page is primarily about the Mayfair between 1966 and 1971. If you are interested in the Mayfair Rock Disco of the nineties then click on this link.
The entrance to the Mayfair was on the corner of Newgate Street and Low Friar Street (now the site of the Gate Leisure Complex). It had an oblong-shaped ballroom with a large balcony right around the room. There were several bars with seating areas on the balcony plus more bars downstairs in the areas surrounding the large dance floor.
In the sixties and seventies there was a circular revolving stage which enabled bands to set up on each side and follow on from each other without a break in the music. When a really popular band appeared there would often be a wooden barrier in front of the stage to stop over enthusiastic fans getting at their idols.
Pierre Pedersen, the organist with Sneeze, once told me an amusing anecdote about an incident involving his previous band Coloured Rain. It had occurred on 26th September 1968, several months before he joined Sneeze. Coloured Rain had played at the Mayfair on the same bill as Pink Floyd and the Nice (forerunners of Emerson, Lake and Palmer) plus another local band called the Sect. Coloured Rain had drawn the short straw and had to follow on from the Nice. The climax of the Nice’s set was their electrifying instrumental version of Leonard Bernstein’s ‘America’ (from West Side Story). As ‘America’ reached its crescendo with the extremely heavy sound of the Nice reverberating through the Mayfair, Keith Emerson was standing on his Hammond organ, feet on the keys, throwing big knives at his Lesley cabinet. The stage revolved with the last chords of ‘America’ still in the air and with the crowd shouting for more. As the Nice disappeared, Coloured Rain came into view playing a very weak version of the Drifters’ song – “Down at the Club”. The Mayfair floor cleared within seconds and Coloured Rain, in particular, Pierre the Hammond organist, learned the true meaning of the phrase – “a tough act to follow”!
One of the hazards in playing at the Mayfair was that the balcony overlooked the rear of the stage and was a good place for people to stand and aim abuse or even missiles at the band if they didn’t like them. The Alan Bown Set appeared at the Mayfair in 1970 and during their opening number a glass was thrown onto the stage from the balcony area above. The band promptly left the stage and refused to return.
When I appeared at the Mayfair quite regularly with Sneeze in 1969 and 1970 we used to strap our four PA (open backed) speaker columns to the balcony above the stage. After one gig we discovered that someone had methodically punctured each of the sixteen speakers with a knife. Luckily the cuts were clean and didn’t affect the sound too much.
Around the time I was playing at the Mayfair with Sneeze in 1969, the actor/singer Jimmy Nail became a regular visitor. This is what he said about the Mayfair in his autobiography ‘A Northern Soul’: “The number one venue for full-on rock ‘n’ roll, the metal Mecca was the Mayfair ballroom. A thirties-era city-centre dancehall, this two-storey wallpapered palace played host to every band that made a mark in the 1970s and quite a few that didn’t. This was a time when great bands were out there playing live; the music was mostly thrilling, occasionally transcendent, always entertaining.”. Jimmy goes on to list some of the acts he saw on his regular Friday night visits to the Mayfair – David Bowie Tyrannosaurus Rex, Queen, Rory Gallagher, Led Zeppelin, Spirit, the Alex Harvey Band, Deep Purple, Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum, AC/DC, Free, Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash, Nazareth, Family plus many more.
The Mayfair Ballroom, which was run by the Mecca organisation, had a resident band called Jimmy Bence and his orchestra for formal dance nights. The venue was also hired out for corporate events (with or without the resident band) or to local promoters for a fee. A Newcastle booking agent called Ivan Birchall promoted a lot of gigs in the late sixties. He would book one or two top bands and fill the bill out with a couple of local bands that were on his books.
In 1970 the Sunderland promoter, Geoff Docherty began promoting concerts at the Mayfair in addition to the gigs he had been promoting at the Bay Hotel and Locarno in Sunderland. Geoff’s first promotion at the Mayfair on Thursday 9 April 1970 featured Rory Gallagher’s Taste and Black Sabbath.
The first time I played at the Mayfair was with the Jazzboard in April 1966 supporting the Pretty Things. I particularly remember the night because our drummer, Nigel Olsson didn’t turn up. He had been picked up by the police earlier in the evening on a warrant for some trivial matter and they wouldn’t let him go to the gig. We had to persuade the Junco Partner’s drummer, John Woods to fill in for Nigel.
I subsequently played at the Mayfair regularly with three other bands – Village, Sneeze and Scalliwag. I remember one gig at the Mayfair in December 1969 when Sneeze was supporting Love Affair. The Love Affair’s vocalist Steve Ellis surprisingly announced on stage that he was leaving the band. There were lots of tears from the band’s stunned fans.
I suppose there’s one gig at the Mayfair I’ll never forget. That was on the 24th May 1968; the night I first met my wife!
Eddie Martin, the vocalist with popular Newcastle band the Sect remembers that the band used to play every Thursday with two different local bands and usually a top chart band. The bands that Eddie remembers being supported by the Sect were the Troggs, The Move, Humble Pie, T Rex and Dantalions Chariot (which was Zoot Money’s band when he moved away from the soul music).
Here’s list of some of the gigs at the Mayfair (compiled from various sources) for the period 1966 to 1971: –
25/02/1966 – The Animals
21/04/1966 – Pretty Things & Junco Partners
14/07/1966 – Alan Price & Chris Farlowe
20/07/1966 – Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich; The Sect, Pieces of Five
11/08/1966 – The Troggs & Tony Rivers and the Castaways
26/04/1967 – The Tremeloes
27/10/1967 – Small Faces
28/11/1967 – Alan Price Set, Jimmy Powell and the Dimensions & Mr Poobah
16/01/1968 – The Troggs
28/02/1968 – Procol Harum
29/03/1968 – Zoot Money’s Dantallions, Mr Poobah & Pleasure Machine
19/07/1968 – Traffic
26/09/1968 – Pink Floyd, The Nice, Sect & Coloured Rain
04/10/1968 – Yardbirds, Junco Partners & Downtown Faction24/10/1969 – Manfred Mann Chapter Three
11/12/1968 – Sect, Junco Partners, Mr Poobah’s Chicago Line & Traction
12/06/1969 – Maramalade, Sneeze & Animal Farm
15/08/1969 – Deep Purple, The Gun, Doc K’s Blues Band, Animal Farm
24/10/1969 – Manfred Mann Chapter Three
20/11/1969 – The Move, Mr Poobah, Pleasure Machine & Sneeze
23/12/1969 – Love Affair, Junco Partners & Sneeze
09/01/1970 – White Trash, The Windmill, The Sect & Sneeze
13/01/1970 – Traction, Good Lovin’ Band & Sneeze
16/01/1970 – Fat Mattress & Man
27/01/1970 – Sect, Junco Partners, Gorilla & Spyda
03/02/1970 – Sect, Mass Action, Blondie & Envelope
14/02/1970 – Spyda, Junction Partners & Sneeze
24/02/1970 – Animal Farm, Morning Glory & Sneeze
27/02/1970 – Crazy World of Arthur Brown
19/03/1970 – Free, Juicy Lucy, Junco Partners & Raw Spirit
08/04/1970 – Sect, Sneeze, Dogg & Juice
09/04/1970 – Taste & Black Sabbath
16/04/1970 – Yes & Graham Bond
30/04/1970 – Edgar Broughton & Terry Reid
07/05/1970 – Tyrannosaurus Rex , The Sect & Dave The Rave
15/05/1970 – Colliseum & Man
22/05/1970 – Radha Krishna Temple & Black Widow
29/05/1970 – Savoy Brown + Juicy Lucy
12/06/1970 – Edgar Broughton + Quintessence
19/06/1970 – Terry Reid & Fat Mattress with Noel Redding
26/06/1970 – Rare Bird & Hard Meat
03/07/1970 – Roy Harper, Pretty Things & Brinsley Schwartz
08/07/1970 – Junco Partners, Gollum, Saratoga & Sneeze
10/07/1970 – Chicken Shack, Mathew’s Southern Comfort & Man
17/07/1970 – If, Lord Sutch and his Heavy Friends
23/07/1970 – Atomic Rooster & Van Der Graaf Generator
31/07/1970 – Deep Purple & Taste
07/08/1970 – Derek and The Dominoes
14/08/1970 – Quintessence, Mott The Hoople & Supertramp
28/08/1970 – Tyrannoraurus Rex
11/09/1970 – Blodwyn Pig
02/10/1970 – Keef Hartley, Strawbs & Pink Fairies
09/10/1970 – Fleetwood Mac
04/11/1970 – Sect, Raw Spirit & Steam Coffin
19/11/1970 – Chicken Shack
26/11/1970 – Curved Air
15/12/1970 – The Who
22/12/1970 – Edgar Broughton Band
30/12/1970 – Lindisfarne
05/02/1971 – Family & Dada
18/02/1971 – T. Rex
18/03/1971 – Led Zeppelin
26/03/1971 – John Peel introduces Mott The Hoople & Medicine Head
08/04/1971 – Skid Row
30/04/1971 – Quintessence & Stone The Crows
14/05/1971 – Buddy Miles, also Robin Ayers
28/05/1971 – The Faces, featuring Rod Stewart
18/06/1971 – Curved Air
25/06/1971 – Deep Purple & Quiver
03/07/1971 – Procul Harum, Stone The Crows & Chicken Shack
09/07/1971 – Groundhogs
16/07/1971 – Wishbone Ash
23/07/1971 – Coloseum & Osibisa
30/07/1971 – Rory Gallagher & The James Gang
06/08/1971 – Curved Air & Medicine Head
13/08/1971 – Mott The Hoople
20/08/1971 – Quintessence & East of Eden
27/08/1971 – Faces
17/09/1971 – Curved Air
08/10/1971 – Wishbone Ash & Quiver
22/10/1971 – Quintessence & East of Eden
29/10/1971 – Stone The Crows
18/11/1971 – Edgar Broughton Band & Stray
17/12/1971 – Juicy Lucy & Fat Grapple