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Friars Interviews

Robin Pike
friars founding father friars people

friars appearances All of them.

Robin Pike, Friars Aylesbury June 2009  Picture: Mike O'Connor

Many people will not be aware that Friars was created by a collective of enthusiastic music fans headed not just by David Stopps, but Robin Pike, whose idea it was to start Friars in the first place.

Robin's role was very important, but publicly in the distance because of not wanting to bring any publicity to the school he worked for.  The school would not have been either welcoming or understanding of a rock club.

On June 1st 2009, Robin introduced this collective on stage, 40 years on from that magnificent first gig.

Robin has written three great articles for this website (under Friars People) outlining his thoughts on all three phases of Friars. He kindly agreed to talk to us to expand a little further on some of those thoughts and helps piece together what the music scene was like in and around 1969.

Robin lives in retirement in Hertfordshire and our thanks for his time.

Your role in Friars is incredibly significant....it was your idea! What happened...didn't you first meet David (Stopps) at the Grammar School when you put on Smokey Rice who he managed?

When I moved to Aylesbury, I instituted what became known as the Christmas Sixth Form Dance (at the Grammar School). We'd booked the Smokey Rice Blues Band to play because the drummer was in my chemistry Set at the time. David came along on the night and said at the door that he was their manager.

That was the first time you'd met? (Christmas 1968)

Yes.

What was the germ of having a rock gig in Aylesbury from that initial meeting?

I have a very long standing interest in live entertainment especially the theatre (holds up latest edition of The Stage), but my interest in rock music had been kindled when I was living in Exeter. I first saw The Animals at Exeter University around 1965 and they were absolutely amazing. They were wild. People think wild came with punk, but they were wild. I also saw The Rolling Stones in Exeter around 1965 as well and they were wild. The audiences almost rioted. So I got very intrigued by rock music and I had been to several NME poll winners concerts at Wembley. These were televised live and they were voted for by the readers of the NME and the winners, almost without exception, played live. The first poll winners concert that I went to was headlined by the Beatles, with the Rolling Stones and The Who next on the bill. I got very interested. I moved to Aylesbury in 1966, relatively close to London and at a time when there was an explosion in music and the arts generally. Looking back, I was in a very privileged position being around from 1967 to 1969 when rock music burgeoned and was lucky to see just about every conceivable band often in very small venues.

The likes of the Marquee or the 100 Club?

Not so much the 100 Club, occasionally The Marquee. They were in those days more middle of the road. I was more a patron of a club in Brixton called The Ram Jam Club. Brixton in those days was a sharp and violent area but I saw some amazing acts in the club like Otis Redding and the Ike and Tina Turner Review. It was an upstairs venue. I went also to music clubs in Soho like The Flamingo. So I was seeing a lot of amazing music. I went to the Savile Theatre which Brian Epstein owned, on Sundays and he brought over some amazing acts. The very first Sunday night was The Four Tops who were playing in the UK for the first time.   They were a Tamla Motown act and they had a tremendous impact. I used to go almost every Sunday. Then I started to run coach trips to the Savile Theatre (from Aylesbury) and saw the likes of Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and very many acts. It was such an exciting time and also the free concerts in Hyde Park. It (Friars) all came together eventually as Adrian Roach and Jerry Slater were in my tutor group at the Grammar School and Adrian particularly was very interested in the music. I used to take him to all sorts of gigs. Adrian and Jerry were going to start a club in Aylesbury with Terry Harms whom they knew. Somebody else suggested a small venue for a club which was the ex-Services club (Friarage Hall) in Walton Street. I had a look around it and thought it was ideal. I got in touch with David Stopps who lived in Princes Risborough at the time (and I lived in Monks Risborough) and I went to see him with a proposition that we started a rock club in Aylesbury at the ex-Services club. So we started as a business partnership, David had 50%, I had 25% and John Fowler had 25% of the partnership and I brought into the project Jerry, Adrian and Terry and merged their folk club ideas with our rock club ideas.

Weren't they putting gigs on at the Derby Arms?

Yes, upstairs at the Derby Arms. It is very difficult to convey the energy and stimulus of the time. But it carried over to this concrete plan (for Friars). People were more flexible in their outlook at the time, hippie maybe. We wanted to do something different: something underground, with some written word...and we did it! Adrian and Jerry had great spirit for 16 years olds. Adrian especially. In our tutor group we put together a magazine and Adrian interviewed people after tracking them down, like the Incredible String Band....

There weren't too many forward thinking teachers like you back then!

No! Looking back, it was an outrageous thing to have done. I had to preserve anonymity. The early picture on the website hasn't got me in it. I didn't do the Press as it would have attracted very adverse publicity. Phase One of Friars was the best of times.

When you mentioned this idea to David, he was reserved about it, thinking it might work better in High Wycombe rather than Aylesbury?

Yes, that's right. He didn't think there would be a big enough audience which was understandable as Aylesbury in 1969 as it was a lot smaller than it is in 2009. Also, the history of (rock) promotion in Aylesbury was dodgy to say the least. Bands wouldn't appear and money would go missing and there wasn't the tradition of very well organized rock music. Having said that, Jimi Hendrix did play in Aylesbury before we started. So Friars was a combination of circumstances and people.

Looking back to June 2nd 1969, what are your memories. Your first thought must have been was anyone going to turn up? You got about 200 in the end didn't you?

It wasn't 200, it was around 145, just enough to make it viable to continue. There are a lot of problems starting any enterprise. I went to see the Chief Superintendent of Police whose son was in my tutor group. I asked him if he thought there would be any objections to us starting a rock club. He was very pleasant and helpful. He warned me we could lose a lot of money! We had initially the Police on our side although we lost them in the end for different reasons. When you are naive about things you don't see the difficulties...

Enthusiasm taking over?

Yes, especially Adrian and Jerry who were young and full of enthusiasm and it carried us into the project. It was very simple in organization. A table, a till like you would have bought from somewhere like WH Smith's, membership cards which Kris Needs designed and I had done the wording for. I took the membership wording from Mothers Club in Erdington, Birmingham which I used to go to. John Peel played records there on Friday nights. The membership cards were printed in Haddenham, the posters were printed by a company in Windsor. It's difficult to convey the alternative scene....it was like starting with a blank canvas. We sold The International Times, Oz, psychedelic posters and some records. I used to get these in London. And also we sold Rolling Stone magazine which I got from their office in London. We were selling what you would call merchandise these days.

And all this was stuff you'd find in no shop in Aylesbury!

No you wouldn’t. But we did take just enough on that first night to carry on.

Which was just as well! In my role of doing the website, Phase One is before my time and some band names I recognise and some who might have been big or important at the time perhaps...with interesting names like Principal Edwards Magic Theatre springs to mind

They were very freaky people. It was a sort of fusion of music and dance. They were not at all good (laughs). Their name was good and exudes a certain status! They were a band who had a manager who made them do stretches before the gig on the floor of the ex-Services club!

We had a light show, that was the Gollies. Also a DJ Andy Dunkley who played rare American imports. He played the most amazing music and in many ways he was the night. I had seen him work at all dayers at the Roundhouse and I had suggested him to David. He wasn't paid very much but he gave the night an identity. If the band hadn't been that good, he would save it by playing The Grateful Dead or whoever through a huge PA and not your home record player.

Yes, he was playing some great stuff and I know he had a huge influence on Kris Needs.

He had connections with Robert Fripp which is how come we got to get King Crimson in 1969 when they were a huge band. The whole thing with the bands, the Gollies, the merchandise and the DJ, the whole concept was really powerful and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. You know, bands might not turn up...

I've read the (horror) stories...in your Roxette columns for example....

But I preferred small venues. My very best experiences in music have been in small, hot, often seedy clubs. But these were a seedbed for good music. There was a huge circuit of these venues where you could go to a club every night of the week. So we were coming into that circuit.

Phase One was personally your golden era, mainly because of the small venue...Friars became an event because of all the factors you've mentioned. It was the original intention of the club where people loved music....?

Yes, but the factors did not include drugs. Friars was very anti drugs. I'm sure the drugs squad was around the gigs. Aylesbury was a very drugs orientated town then. The Dark Lantern (a pub in Aylesbury's Silver Street) was famously raided. The anti drugs thing was a strength of the Club even if some of the music was drugs orientated.

I see where you're coming from, but when the club got closed in 1970 what were the circumstances behind the Friarage Hall people saying you can't come here any more. Was this police influence?

Yes, in the driveway next to the hall was a Sea Cadets hut. They used to meet on Mondays with their whistles and the like, which was no problem. But there was also a row of houses which turned out to be police houses. The police families had children and it was claimed that the music from Friars...., (and yes it was loud) kept the children awake. There may have been some element of truth in this but often we could see children looking out of their windows in interest at what was going on.

So the Chief Superintendent was getting complaints from his own officers in the houses and this was probably a major influence. David went away to stay in France in the summer of 1970 and Pete Frame and I were left in charge. Pete was the nominal person in charge because of my situation with school, and he received a letter saying that we could not continue. There were two gigs left subsequently. Writing on The Wall played and their singer wore a nappy on stage and got electrocuted and we thought he was dead! The last gig was Argent. David was out of contact and Pete issued a statement saying that was it. So we stopped. That was really Phase One.

During Phase one, you'd put a couple of gigs on at the Borough Assembly Hall. Presumably just to test the waters? Those were the Third Ear Band and Fat Mattress gigs.

I'd seen Fat Mattress supporting Jimi Hendrix at the Albert Hall and they were very good that night. At the BAH they were not so good!

Yes it was testing the waters...but we had already by then put a some gigs on in Dunstable. It was a lovely hall (Queensway/Dunstable Civic) and almost space age in design. We put on several gigs most notably Pink Floyd and this is one of my proudest moments that I negotiated the deal for them to play Dunstable. Most deals with agents etc are done over the phone and just called 'the deal'.  It was not as complicated as today and did not carry a percentage clause.  I used to go to London on Thursdays when I was on a course at the Tavistock Institute in Belsize Lane. One day I went to Hill House, the original HQ of NEMS Enterprises, Brian Epstein's company. By arrangement I went to meet a guy called Peter Bowyer who booked Pink Floyd. He wanted £500. I said £450 and we got them for £475. Between the negotiation and the gig, it was a massive sell out and generated enough money for David to continue Friars. Prior to that we had lost quite a lot of money putting on Jon Hiseman's Coliseum (in Dunstable) because another promoter put on Family the same week in Dunstable and they were a much larger draw. That (Coliseum) gig was the last gig I had a financial involvement in, but I kept my contribution up by negotiating that Floyd gig. I also ran trips for Friars people without cars to get to the gigs in Dunstable from Aylesbury.

So that was the bridge really into Phase Two.

I know we've concentrated on Phase One, but moving briefly to Phase Two and that lifesaving Groundhogs gig and from what you've written on this website about Phase Two, it was a completely different kettle of fish...it wasn't seemingly the greatest venue and also organisational difficulties....

I hated the place, hated it. It wasn't like the club of Phase One. It attracted people from Aylesbury that weren't always into the music. That said, there were some great bands....Bowie and Lou Reed stand out.

It's interesting in a modern context on 2009 to believe that the summer of 72 had Bowie, Lou Reed and Roxy Music in successive gigs!

I think this has been a real bonus discussing the Phase One stuff because there is detail there that people will not have heard before and helps perhaps to clear up some misconceptions about why that era ended.

Yes, and there's also the caretaker's wife who I have written about on the website. She was not an enthusiast! (laughs). The Police houses were the major influence and they wrote to the ex-Services club suggesting we leave!

At the time in the press, there was confusion and in some circles, at least an implicit reference to drugs..

These were never substantiated and I know that they weren't true.

I'd like to say that in this period my musical tastes were very broad church. I used to love Stax and black music. I went to a lot of clubs and also the California Ballroom in Dunstable. I've always disliked people saying that Friars had only one taste of music.

I know what you mean...I'd be personally as happy seeing Abba as I would Motorhead. But Friars did get some quirky bands of their time...

We also got East of Eden and Mott the Hoople. We got a lot of contrasting music...

Did you think it could have been more diverse?

Maybe. I remember talking to people about Third Ear Band for example who played all the festivals and they polarized opinion, you either loved them or hated them. Lol Coxhill as well, with his free jazz.

Lol's still going.....he plays with Mike Cooper!

Lol was not popular with his free jazz! He also busked in London and you'd hear his saxophone across the South Bank of the Thames!

One last question....The June 1st anniversary gig. It was weird for me, seeing this huge (and wonderful) wave of nostalgia and I didn't see much of the gig myself, as I was everywhere...what was it like for you doing Friars again after 25 years?

It was very hard work.

Yes!

It needed a lot of promotion and as you know a lot is done before the night. It was not an easy gig to sell, the people you needed to target were not all in Aylesbury. They had to be drawn in from a long way away. Either you were at Friars first time round or you were fans of the bands. Joe (Stopps) and I had a lot to do. On the night it was very emotional. There were a lot of very emotional things. There were some people there I hadn't seen for 30 years.

It was the same for me. I met people I hadn't seen since school which was brilliant and got introduced to people I had only ever heard of such as Pete Frame who I met for the first time and then he introduced me to Tony from Starry Eyed and Laughing.

They played the Grammar School dance as well. As did Mott The Hoople and Genesis, but that story is for another day! You went to a few didn't you!

Yes, I remember the Mari Wilson gig where I was part of the support act - I had never been so terrified! And seeing the Larks long after I had left!

There was a strong connection between the Grammar School and Friars which is why I made sure Adrian, Jerry and Terry came on stage with me

I hope to talk to those at some point. Robin, thanks for your time, I am so grateful that we have got so much information about Phase One

Yes, it may not be there in the future....

Looking forward to the 50th anniversary at the Waterside Theatre!

This interview and its content are © 2009 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.

 
 
 

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