This month, wanna take you back to a time before I moved to live and work in Moscow. The year is 1976 and an event took place in London which has not been equaled before or since in rock’n’roll history. I know – I was there.
Despite the great rock’n’roll Revival of the 1970s, there wasn’t one radio show on the BBC dedicated to rock’n’roll at that time. It was a real scandal as far as we rock’n’rollers were concerned. Especially as the BBC dominated pop music on the radio at that time – all the pirate stations had long since been banned and only a small number of independent stations, like Capitol Radio, were allowed to operate. Credit to Stuart Coleman, who was the main instigator of the campaign to get a rock’n’roll radio show on the air. As a result of the hard work by him and others, the word went round the country amongst the rock’n’roll community that there was to be a march in London, to try and persuade the BBC to give us what we wanted. This preparatory work went on for nearly 2 years prior to the March, and it paid off – on the day the organising of the event was really excellent.
The proposed march was very much in keeping with the spirit of the times. There were many political demonstrations during that period and so the concept of a rock’n’roll demo really caught the public’s imagination. A petition was also organised, which eventually garnered around 50, 000 signatures.So the great day arrived. On 15th May 1976 thousands of rockers, mainly Teddy Boys and Girls, descended on London from all over the UK, meeting at Hyde Park for a march to BBC Broadcasting House in White City, London. What surprised many of us present, was the sheer size of the crowd. Estimates vary, but it’s probably fair to say around 6,000 turned up. Amazing ! A lot of us present didn’t realise there were that many Teds in the country !
Unlike many of the political demonstrations of that time, the atmosphere at this event was brilliant; good natured, plenty of banter and a real sense of camaraderie. Here are just a few of my favourite memories from that day:
A really old woman wearing a Confederate uniform and carrying a Confederate flag – bizarre ! The Flying Saucers on a lorry, providing us with musical accompaniment on the march – well done, guys ! And that master showman, Screaming Lord Sutch, wearing a leopard skin leotard and gold coloured top hat – brilliant ! Turns out, to help publicise the event Sutch had planned to sail a piano down the Thames. But when he pushed it in, it sank ! Sutch was a real one-off. What a character ! I remember when I worked in north west London many years ago, I had a good friend who played in his band. One night my friend had to wait at an agreed location in Sudbury, for Sutch to pick him up to take him to a gig. My friend waited 2 hours, then gave up and went home. He found out afterwards Sutch had sacked him from the band and replaced him with someone else, but hadn’t bothered to tell him. My friend only found out he’d been sacked through a third party !
In the evening, a huge concert was organised at Pickett’s Lock. The stars were the Flying Saucers and Crazy Cavan, in addition to the Hell Raisers. Now here’s the thing:
Having done my duty and attended the march, I missed the best fun of the day, which was the concert. At that time in my life I was very political, a real leftie. Later that day there was a big anarchist (as I remember) event and once again I felt duty called, so at the end of the march I very reluctantly left my fellow rockers and headed off for it. By all accounts the Pickett’s Lock concert was excellent. One of my favourite CDs in my personal collection is “Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers at the Pickett’s Lock” – a great record of a gig I wasn’t at !
And the end result of all this ? Yes, the BBC gave us a rock’n’roll radio programme. Appropriately it was hosted by Stuart Coleman. But it didn’t last forever. If memory serves, I think it went on for 3 years before the Beeb cut it from it’s schedules. But it was worth it. This was a pivotal event in the rock’n’roll Revival of the 1970s. It got great coverage in the mass media at the time.
Fast forward to 2014 and how many real rock’n’roll national music programmes have we got now on the BBC ? You know the answer to that, folks. Having paid the Beeb license fee all my life, up until I moved to live and work in Russia 10 years ago, after all these years it’s stills frustrating, albeit less so now that I live in another country. Why has significant rock’n’roll coverage been shunned by the BBC for so many years ? If you have your own ideas about this, why not write to the MBSN editor about it. One of my views is that rock’n’roll is a bit too working class for the Beeb and not “trendy” enough for them.
To be fair to the Corporation, they haven’t always got it wrong when it came to pop music. My generation still remembers with nostalgia the iconic “Top of the Pops” on the TV, during the period from the 60s to the 70s. That show even included a little bit of rock’n’roll now and again – for example, Matchbox and also Shakin’ Stevens’ “poppy” brand of r’n’r, in the 1970s. My generation will also remember the impressive “Saturday Club” on the radio at the weekends, during the same 60s / 70s period. But the lack of significant rock’n’roll on the airwaves has to rank as a blemish on the Beeb’s musical history. All we were marching for back then was just one weekly radio programme playing real rock’n’roll; we weren’t asking for the World !
Above all, Well Done to all those who turned up to march on 15th May 1976 – I hope some of you are, like me, still Rockin’ !