It all started for me when Dave Martin from a Portsmouth band, The Wrong Direction (formerly known as The Tea Pots), became a customer of mine in 1966/7 when I worked in W.H. Smith’s bookstore in Cosham. We got talking and after he discovered I was an avid record collector asked if the band could borrow a few discs to learn the tunes and words with a view to including the material in their live shows (I can only recall one they did,” Piece of my Heart,” by Erma Franklin) This led to me being invited to their rehearsal sessions in the Southsea Rowing Club and from there to their live gigs as a sort of roadie - I could hump the equipment but couldn’t, at the time, drive - still it meant them being able to socialize instead of carrying amps and drum kits down and up various stairs.
The band were regularly in work at venues across the South many of whom didn’t have DJ’s as such, so on these occasions I would plug a turntable in to the band’s equipment and play records during their breaks- the DJ bug had hit home. The first “DJ gig” as such was at the Royal Ballroom in Bournemouth
One night Dave mentioned that he had been attending a new plush cabaret venue in Portsmouth’s Tricorn Centre and had heard they were looking for a DJ so off I trotted and met a Mr Morgan (his wife was the Club’s accounts lady). I was invited to come along on the following Friday evening and just play a few tunes whilst the resident trio had their breaks (Mood Indigo if memory serves me well) and prior to the Cabaret top of the bill coming on. Amongst the acts that appeared were the very young Freddie Starr, Little and Large, Larry Grayson, Denis Lotis, Dickie Valentine and the like. Wearing a collar and tie and parting my 60’s long hair into a decent parting I played middle of the road tunes of the day which a few punters danced too.
I seemed to be getting more and more dancers on the floor and subtly updated the music and was asked if I would DJ on a new Monday Night session purely to be run as a discotheque. The first few weeks saw very small attendances but to help the cause, in those days, one could advertise cheaply in The News (Portsmouth)and Anne, the secretary, and I made up some rather silly “run on” ads for the paper and they seemed to work. Within weeks we were attracting attendances in the hundreds (the Club Capacity was 500) and with the addition of live bands saw the house full signs up by 9pm. Looking back it was strange to think that although we had a mix of bands , music wise, most were well received. Early favourites were local soul band The Image, Shy Limbs, Heaven, Smiling Hard, Brownhill Stamp Duty, Mud, Sweet, Status Quo, Alan Bown Set, Argent, Jimmy James Vagabonds etc. and in ‘69 a skinhead group, Slade, first appeared. They stormed the venue but their image was not the best (though what a good idea dreamed up by their Manager ex-Animal member Chas Chandler). The Club’s management were a little reluctant to book them back in case it attracted trouble but back they came and played regularly until they had the first big hit Get Down and Get With It which was a great live show favourite.
I was often joined on the DJ consul by Mecca DJ ‘s Tony Power and Bob Walker, Mark West, photographer Nigel Grundy and Pete Mitchell.
Monday nights also saw the beginning of the Tricorn Club jam session where members of several local bands would rehearse for an hour or two then perform a 30 minute spot at around 8.30pm – Many times one could see 8 to 12 players on stage often led by Smiling Hard’s Phil Edney (nowadays in the SOS band and of course The fifth Queen member).
As the weekend Cabaret nights at the Club began to lose appeal more and more local entertainers (at cheaper rates) were brought in but eventually disco took over and in the early seventies The Tricorn Club was an out and out dance venue.
Many visiting American acts played the venue including Motown stars of the day, Mary Wells, The Elgins and Edwin Starr. The BBC brought their popular lunchtime show Radio One Club for live broadcasts presented in turn by David Symonds, Noel Edmonds and Emperor Rosko; Robert Palmer made his first Tricorn appearance as a member of Alan Bown on one of the shows.
The Club began presenting various all-nighters, they had lunchtime discos with the band from the night before often playing live, a film night (with burger and chips thrown in) showing awful black and white B films through an old projector.
Jon Isherwood began his Barrell House Folk Club on Tuesdays with many of the big attractions of the day including Alex Campbell, Jasper Carrott, Dando Shaft, Noel Murphy, Amazing Blondell. The management decided to present folk until 11 followed by disco till 2am which I had the dubious task of presenting - it’s true to say the folkies didn’t take to kindly to me - I still recall Alex Campbell telling the crowd to “Boo the Bastard” as I walked in and boo they did.
After the demise of the folk night, agent Ricky Martin and myself opened the Tuesday CROMAT nights aimed at fans of ‘progressive’ music- I played the records most weeks made up of my growing collection of ‘decent’ music but every so often we drafted in John Peel, Jeff Dexter, Pete Drummond, Bob Harris and the like to preside over the evenings. We had a most impressive line-up of bands and acts including Paul Rogers, Wishbone Ash, Vinegar Joe, Da Da, Focus, Gentle Giant, Uriah Heep, Hackensack, Alex Harvey Band, Viv Stanshall and Roger Ruskin Spears, Barclay James Harvest,Heads Hands and Feet, Elkie Brooks, Sutherland Brothers amongst others.
The Friday and Saturday disco nights remained popular until the mid-seventies when two events happened - one was an almighty punch up between two rival gangs- the fact the management had heard this was going to happen and arranged the police (with dogs) and Navy patrol all lined up in reception didn’t help and when The Paul Surrey Set played their last song bang off it went- the other was Pleasurama opening a new disco on Southsea seafront called Nero’s. With its top Club lighting effects, beautiful waitresses in costume, plush seating there was no way it wasn’t going to take over as the number one venue in town which it did around the time of the “disco boom” that was Saturday Night Fever.
The Tricorn plodded on - I left to join Nero’s and returned to The New Tricorn Club which saw its popularity return with a new look. I became Manager for a year or so – great fun until Pleasurama reared its head again and took the place over. They changed the name to Granny’s and filled it with rather silly garden furniture and brought in a new Manager Roger Quinn. It later became Gabriellas but didn’t last long.
Greatest memories of the Tricorn for me were the fun, the people, visiting celeb’s i.e. Pompey Footballers always got in free, Davy Jones who the old lady on reception wouldn’t let in after I had invited him to judge a competition we were having, “Say’s he’s an ex Monkee,” she said on the internal phone to me, Hurricane Alex Higgins, Marc Bolan, Paper Dolls (the Girls Allowed of their day), the lovely cup winning goal-scorer from Southampton FC footballer Bobby Stokes,
Gethyn Jones, the BBC radio presenter, who helped make my dream come true by getting me on the wireless. On cabaret nights the stage came out and up to present a full space for the acts - I sat on the stage button backstage one evening, (I was rather pushed back by an amorous young lady), which retracted it back down and under whilst a band were performing (I still recall the speakers, amps and mics dropping off the front), The famous hen night that got coverage across the world- A male stripper hadn’t turned up so I was ringing around to find a replacement. I got one and the evening, arranged by Portsmouth DJ Steve Kingsley, was a success but a week later a national paper rang me to ask if they could come and photograph our DJ’s and myself in our ripped suits. Radio Luxemburg mentioned the evening then another newspaper contacted us.
Page three of The Sun claimed I had run three circuits round the Club pursued by panting women with tape measures and feather dusters. The lighting engineer had shimmied up his lighting pole but when his strength gave out he slipped down to be stripped by the grasping hands of excited women.
None of this happened - somebody had rung round claiming it had – I was suspended for a week (from work, not in a hen night situation!!).
I loved the Tricorn – it was certainly my Birdcage of the late 60’s and 70’s and am still amazed how many people can remember being there and the acts they saw.