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Friars website introductions

 

Robin Pike

Friars founding Father
 

A look at Friars Phase Three

Come to think of it, Phases 2 and 3 were also like chalk and cheese. They epitomised the transition from England in the 70s to England in the 80s. 

The Hall was originally called the Vale Hall and then became the Maxwell Hall after the late Reg Maxwell whose brainchild it was. Promoting there was a new experience altogether.  There was a Box Office with a window for ticket sales as opposed to a desk with a little portable till (W H Smith).  The building seemed vast with a balcony and connected into the Aston Hall which also had a stage and provided increased capacity for the venue.  There was a lift and a projection room. The Backstage area had Dressing Rooms both on the ground and first floors.  I go into detail as the building is soon to be demolished and to give a flavour of the changes that we faced in taking Friars forward. 

Of course, the capacity was much greater than the old Assembly Hall and this allowed bigger, more expensive Bands to be presented. The Gig listings show this.  There were some difficulties however.  For a start there were numerous fire exits which could be used by the many Aylesburians who wanted to get in for nothing.  This meant that each exit had to be manned by Junior Security Staff who had been recruited from the AGS 6th Form and wore special tee shirts.  Although the exits were alarmed, by the time the Senior Security staff got there, the freedom fighters were in!  Moreover, AVDC had decided that glasses could not be taken from the Bar areas into the main Hall or Balcony. This meant positioning more Junior SS on each doorway, two per door.  On top of that, front of stage security was required meaning yet more staff with their Friars tee shirts.  This became especially necessary as were overtaken by Punk.  On Punk nights, the capacity crowd would be vigorously pogoing up against the stage and somehow managing to simultaneously gob towards the Band.  The front stage security guys were often covered in gob by the end of the night.  Add to this, the ‘humpers’ that were required by the Bands at mid-day or mid-afternoon to load in the Band’s gear…………..and out again at the end of the night.  Some of the ‘humpers’ and Security Staff have since gone on to hold very senior positions in the stratospheric heights of the Music Business. And moreover, admission to the venue had to be controlled by Senior Security so that the Box Office could cope and issue membership cards to new members.  For some Shows all patrons were searched so that knives, flails, steel capped boots etc could be confiscated and held within the Box Office.  A lot of staff were needed in the Maxwell Hall! 

And Bands were more demanding.  Their contracts contained Riders that frequently ran to many pages.  Hot meals were often required for the Artistes and Crew, with a separate provision of buffet, fresh fruit and drinks in the Dressing Rooms.  The arrangements were made by David Stopps alongside his multitude of other tasks associated with the promotion of the Concert.  For Gala nights, of which there were many, I provided floral decoration in the Dressing Rooms.  As I recall, I drove up to New Covent Garden Market to arrive no later than 4 am, in order to buy quantities of roses, orchids, lilies, freesias and then to drive home, before going to work. The supreme efforts made to accommodate Artistes paid dividends in that Friars maintained a unique reputation amongst venues.  Moreover, it was interesting to see the effect that flowers have on artistes whose reputation is fearsome (Lydon).  Flowers can evoke early childhood memories through their scent and visual effect. 

And then there was the ‘Guest List’, a phenomenon that I do not recall featuring much in Phases 1 and 2.  In fact on any given night there would be lots of Guest Lists……..the Band’s list, the Agent’s list, the Promoter’s list, the Civic’s list and so on.  Each name would usually be +1 or even +2.  It usually fell to me to deal with the Guest List.  In theory you just crossed off names as people arrived, but in practice it is hard to scan hand written names written on scraps of paper whilst remaining calm and welcoming.  On occasions there were over a hundred guests of varying degrees of importance.  The least important guests were often the rudest and most aggressive.  Often people’s names were not ‘on the list’.  This required me to run and find David Stopps or go back into the Band’s Dressing Room to see if the names were kosher or not.  Usually, not!  Especially those parties of record company staff whom Bands would invariably insist pay to come in.  In fact I spent all night running around after people and I seem to remember making Richard Branson pay one time.  

There were some truly wonderful nights in Phase 3.  The ones that stick in the memory are the Tuesday night when Iggy Pop and David Bowie played.  This was the first time that David Bowie had played live for several years.  We also had an extra special night when Genesis returned.  By then they were really a stadium band.  The queue formed on Friday evening for tickets that went on sale on Sunday morning.  It snaked around the old cattle market and refreshments were served to the queue early on the Sunday morning.  Then there was the mid-week date that The Police played, and they are still a stadium band in 2008.  Sting travelled from the High Court in London where he was fighting a case against his record company.  Overall I particularly remember the number of iconic American artistes who made the trip to Aylesbury …..The Pretenders, Captain Beefheart, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Commander Cody, The Ramones, Tom Petty, Mink Deville, Denis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Toots and the Maytals, Spirit, Clint Eastwood to name but a few.  Friars had become world famous venue and Aylesbury a town with an identity. 

The new Aylesbury Theatre opens in 2010 with a (standing) capacity of 2000.  Promoters please note.  Maybe the Glory Days will return?

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