The Venues: Royal Albert Hall

The first reference to the Royal Albert Hall I recall was in A Day in the Life, the magnificent final track of my favorite Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Though at the time I didn’t realize the line Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall referred to the famous U.K. performance venue in London’s South Kensington district. The Royal Albert Hall, which had received a copy of the album prior to its release, did and was less than pleased.

According to this item in the concert hall’s archive, the Hall’s then-chief executive Ernest O’Follipar wrote a letter to Brian Epstein, maintaining the “wrong-headed assumption that there are four thousand holes in our auditorium” threatened to destroy the venue’s business overnight. Not only were the lyrics not changed, but John Lennon wrote back to the Hall, refusing to apologize. The venue retaliated with banning the song from ever being performed there.

Excerpt of letter from Royal Albert Hall CEO Ernest O’Follipar to Beatles manager Brian Epstein

The history of the Hall, which initially was supposed to be named Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, began long before The Beatles. In fact, it dates back to the 1900s and Queen Victoria. It was her majesty who in memory of her husband Prince Albert decided to change the name to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences when the building’s foundation stone was laid in 1867. I suppose this makes her a pretty nice girl, though she actually did have a lot to say!

It was also Queen Victoria who opened the Hall in 1871. The building was designed by Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Y. D. Scott, who were civil engineers of the Royal Engineers. The facility, which today can seat close to 5,300 people, was built by Lucas Brothers, a leading British building construction firm at the time. The design was strongly influenced by ancient amphitheatres, as well as the ideas of German architect Gottfried Semper and his work at the South Kensington Museum.

The Royal Albert Hall has seen performances by world-leading artists from many genres. Since 1941, it has been the main venue for the so-called Proms, an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts. The venue hosts more than 390 shows in its main auditorium each year, including classical concerts, ballet, opera, film screenings with live orchestral accompaniment, sports, awards ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets and, of course, rock and pop concerts.

This July 2019 story in London daily newspaper Evening Standard, among others, lists the following concerts as part of the “10 iconic musical moments in the venue’s history”: The Great Pop Prom (September 15, 1963), which featured The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on the same bill with other groups – only one of a handful of times the two bands performed together in the same show; Bob Dylan (May 26 and 27, 1966); Jimi Hendrix (February 18 and 24, 1969); Pink Floyd (June 26, 1969); The Who and Friends (November 27, 2000); and David Gilmour and David Bowie (May 29, 2006). Obviously, this list isn’t complete!

Let’s get to some music. As oftentimes is the case, it’s tough to find historical concert footage from the ’60s and ’70s, especially when it’s tied to a specific venue. One great clip I came across is this Led Zeppelin performance of Whole Lotta Love from a 1970 gig. Credited to all four members of the band plus Willie Dixon (following a 1985 lawsuit!), the tune was first recorded for the band’s second studio album ingeniously titled Led Zeppelin II, released in October 1969.

Since 2000, Roger Daltrey has been a patron for the Teenage Cancer Trust and raised funds for the group through concerts. The first such show was a big event at the Royal Albert Hall on November 27, 2000. In addition to The Who, it featured Noel Gallagher, Bryan Adams, Paul Weller, Eddie Vedder, Nigel Kennedy and Kelly Jones. The choice of venue was somewhat remarkable, given The Who in 1972 became one of the first bands to be impacted by the Hall’s then instituted ban on rock and pop. Here’s the Pete Townshend penned Bargain, which first appeared on The Who’s fifth studio album Who’s Next that came out in August 1971.

In early May 2005, Cream conducted four amazing reunion shows at the Hall, which were captured and subsequently published in different formats. Here’s White Room, co-written by Jack Bruce with lyrics by poet Pete Brown, and originally recorded for Cream’s third album Wheels of Fire from August 1968. Gosh, they just sounded as great as ever!

The last clip is from the above mentioned show by David Gilmour from May 29, 2006, during which he invited David Bowie on stage. As the Evening Standard noted, not only was it Bowie’s first and only appearance at the Hall, but it also was his last ever public performance. Gilmour and Bowie did Arnold Layne and Comfortably Numb together. Here’s their epic performance of the latter, which was co-written by Gilmour and Roger Waters for Pink Floyd’s eleventh studio album The Wall from November 1979. Interestingly, just like The Who, Pink Floyd was barred from performing at the Hall following their June 1969 gig there. It was the first nail in the coffin for rock and pop concerts at the venue that led to a complete, yet short-lived ban in 1972 because of “hysterical behaviour of a large audience often encouraged by unthinking performers.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Royal Albert Hall website; Evening Standard; YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: January 5

Earlier today, fellow bloggers Intogroove and Slicethelife reminded me of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s sophomore album Bayou Country, which was released today 50 years ago. Then I spotted a Rolling Stone story about Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., the Bruce Springsteen debut, which appeared on January 5, 1973. Last but not least, Ultimate Classic Rock wrote about the 40th anniversary of Look Sharp!, Joe Jackson’s first record – three great reasons to do another installment of my music history series, and there’s more!

1962: English rock & roll singer Tony Sheridan released his debut album My Bonnie as Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers. The Beat Brothers, Sheridan’s backing band at the time, actually were an early incarnation of The Beatles. Their line-up included John Lennon (guitar), Paul McCartney (guitar), George Harrison (guitar), Stuart Sutcliffe (bass) and Pete Best (drums). While there are different versions of the story, the release of the album’s title track as a single appears to have played a role in getting The Beatles on the radar screen of a man who at the time ran the record department of the family’s music store NEMS. His name? Brian Epstein.

1969: Bayou Country, the sophomore album by Creedence Clearwater Revival, came out, the first of three records the band released that year. Unlike their debut, which included three covers, all except one tune on Bayou Country were written by John Fogerty. Looking at the band’s sudden success with Proud Mary and the rapid succession of additional records, one could forget they had actually struggled for a decade, initially performing as the Blue Velvets and then the Golliwogs before adopting the name Creedence Clearwater Revival in January 1968 ahead of the release of their eponymous debut album in May that year. Here’s Bayou Country’s strong opener Born On The Bayou.

1973: Bruce Springsteen released his debut Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.  As the above Rolling Stone story notes, while the album wasn’t a huge commercial success, it included various tunes that would become staples during Springsteen’s live performances. One of them is the only Springsteen song that ever topped the Billboard Hot 100, though not in its original version: Blinded By The Light, which Manfred Mann’s Earthband turned into a major chart success in 1976. The record also featured five musicians who eventually became part of the E Street Band: Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez (drums), Garry Tallent (bass), David Sancious (keyboards) and Clarence Clemons (saxophone). Initially, Blinded By The Light and Spirit In The Night weren’t part of the record that was submitted to Columbia. At the insistence of label president Clive Davis, who felt the album lacked a hit, Springsteen wrote both songs. Here’s Spirit In The Night, another tune that was also covered by Manfred Mann.

1979: Joe Jackson made his studio debut with Look Sharp! Jackson was remarkably successful right out of the gate, with the record peaking at no. 20 on the Billboard 200 and climbing to no. 40 on the UK Albums Chart. The lead single and one of his signature tunes Is She Really Going Out With Him? climbed to no. 13 on the UK Singles Chart and reached no. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. I think the above UCR story put it nicely: “Thin and balding, Jackson wasn’t exactly born for the looming video revolution, but he had an impeccable sense of style reflected by the distinctive Look Sharp! album cover, graced with a striking shot of white dress shoes shining in a beam of light on a city sidewalk. Simple and elegant, it summed up Jackson’s early recordings perfectly, evoking all the sleek musical lines and bracing urban wit throughout the album’s 36-minute running time.” Here’s the great opener One More Time, which like all other tracks on the album was written by Jackson.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Ultimate Classic Rock, This Day In Rock, This Day In Music, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: July 24

While one can argue it’s a bit arbitrary to look back at what happened on a specific date in rock history, oftentimes, I find it interesting what comes up. Plus, I haven’t written about July 24. As in previous installments, this post isn’t meant to be a catch-all. Instead, it’s a selection of events involving artists I like. Here we go:

1964: The Rolling Stones were playing the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England. At some point, a group of folks in the crowed started spitting at the band. After Keith Richards had spotted one of the perpetrators in front of the stage and that guy had ignored his warning to cut it out, he lost it and kicked him in the mouth. Things got out of hand quickly, and angry fans trashed the place. The Blackpool city council didn’t like the riot and banned the Stones from playing at the venue. The ban lasted a remarkable 44 years. Then, in March 2008, as reported by The Independent, Blackpool’s council leader at the time Peter Callow declared, “It’s time to bury the hatchet and extend the hand of friendship. I want to say: ‘Come back, Mick. All is forgiven.'”

Rolling Stones Blackpool Riot 1964.jpg

1965: The Byrds topped the UK Official Singles Chart with Mr. Tambourine Man, their first and only no. 1 single in the UK. Written by Bob Dylan, the tune was the title track of their studio debut that appeared in June that year. Three months earlier, Dylan had initially released the song as part of his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home. The Byrd’s cover is a beautiful example of Roger McGuinn’s signature jingle-jangle Rickenbacker, a guitar sound I never get tired of.

1967: British national daily The Times ran a full-page advertisement declaring “the law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice.” According to The Beatles Bible, it was “signed by 64 of the most prominent members of British society, which called for the legalisation of marijuana.” The signatories included all four members of The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein.

Times Marijuana Advertisement July 1967

1972: Get It On by T. Rex is at no. 1 on the UK Official Singles Chart, the first of four successive weeks. The British glam rockers recorded the tune for their second studio album Electric Warrior that came out in September 1971. Like all tracks on the album, Get It On was written by guitarist and lead vocalist Marc Bolan. It became the second no. 1 for T. Rex in the UK after Hot Love, a standalone single from February 1971. Retitled Bang A Gong (Get It On) in the U.S., the song peaked at no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking the band’s most successful chart performance here.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Music, This Day In Rock, The Independent, UK Official Singles Charts, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: January 1st

What could possibly happen on a January 1st when it’s safe to assume many folks are recovering from celebrating the New Year? Well, it turns out quite a bit!

1956: Carl Perkins released Blue Suede Shoes as a single on Sun Records. Written by him, it is considered to be one of the first rockabilly tunes. The song spent 16 weeks on the Best Selling Singles chart from music industry publication Cash Box, a competitor to Billboard at the time, peaking at no. 2. The song was also covered by many other artists, including Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Elvis Presley.

1959: Johnny Cash performed one of his first prison shows at San Quentin prison in San Rafael, Calif. Among the audience members was future country artist Merle Haggard who was serving a sentence for burglary. According to Songfacts, the performance captivated the then 19-year-old who later credited Cash for his “outlaw sound.” About 10 years later, the two men ended up performing together on the TV series The Johnny Cash Show. In February 1969, Cash recorded a live album at that prison, Johnny Cash At San Quentin. Here’s a clip of I Walk The Line, one of the tunes Cash likely also performed during the 1959 gig.

1962: Decca Records Head of A&R (singles) Dick Rowe became the record company executive who rejected The Beatles after A&R representative Mike Smith recorded a session with them at Decca’s studios in West Hampstead, London. At the time, the band’s line-up consisted of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best. While manager Brian Epstein and The Beatles were confident Decca would sign them, instead they went with Brian Poole and The Tremeloes, a local band. According to the Beatles Bible, Rowe thought it would be easier to work with them than a band from Liverpool. The official reason given to Epstein: “Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr. Epstein.” While it is safe to assume Rowe bitterly regretted his decision, he did sign up The Rolling Stones, ironically following Harrison’s recommendation.

The Beatles with Pete Best

1964: The television music program Top of the Pops (TOTP) debuted on the BBC. The inaugural of the show that aired weekly until July 2006 featured The Rolling Stones (I Wanna Be Your Man), Dusty Springfield (I Only Want To Be With You), The Dave Clark Five (Glad All Over), The Hollies (Stay), The Swinging Blues Jeans (Hippy Hippy Shake) and The Beatles (I Want To Hold Your Hand). Thanks to its large viewing audience, TOTP became a significant part of British pop culture, according to Wikipedia.

The Dave Clark Five on TOTP

1966: The Sound Of Silence (originally called The Sounds Of Silence) by Simon & Garfunkel reached no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by Paul Simon, the duo initially recorded it in March 1964 for their studio debut Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. But the record bombed and they broke up. After the song had received growing radio play during the spring of 1965, producer Tom Wilson decided to remix the track and release it in September that year. Simon & Garfunkel were only informed about this after the fact. The song’s chart success led them to reunite and record their second album, Sounds Of Silence. On that record, the tune appeared as The Sound Of Silence.

1972: Carole King’s third studio album Music, which had been released in December 1971, reached no. 1 on the Billboard 200. The follow-up to King’s iconic 1971 record Tapestry from maintained that position for three consecutive weeks. In fact, both albums were simultaneously in the top 10 for many weeks. Here is a clip of Sweet Seasons, which was co-written by King and Toni Stern and also released separately as a single.

Sources: This Day In Music.com, Songfacts Music History Calendar, The Beatles Bible, Wikipedia, YouTube