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Friars website introductions

 

Mike O'Connor

Founder and Webmaster of Friars website
 

Now is the time to forget the whimpering child and become the webmaster

I grew up in Aylesbury and got into music very early, heavily influenced by music my older cousin was playing. There weren’t many 10 year olds taking Cockney Rebel albums in to school on the last day of term only to find that teacher always played little Gilly’s Bay City Rollers album because nobody else had heard any of Cockney Rebel’s music – it was too grown up for every one else. Whereas George McCrae was just fine. Such is life and this pretty much summed up what Friars stood for – grown up music for a discerning audience. Mind you I took my revenge years later when I forced my classmates to listen to Swell Maps.

I’d become conscious of Friars in the mid 70s seeing articles and reviews in the Bucks Herald or Bucks Advertiser and became conscious also of the distinctive imagery. The hand drawn flyers/news-sheets and the billboard posters were distinctive and never boring and you would see them all around town and they stood out.. They were always going to catch your eye even if in my case, many of the acts I hadn’t actually heard of because they were for bigger boys and girls. In a perverse way, I looked forward to seeing the next poster for the next gig – would it be on black or white paper and what colour would the paint be? Odd I know, but as I said, imagery can be key in a young person’s mind and my fascination for wandering what colour it would be was vindicated by discovering recently that there was a secret code to these posters. Don’t ask me, but David Stopps and Pete Frame are the only men who know. Add to this I would cycle to the Civic Centre on a Sunday morning after the gig the night before to get the latest news-sheet that would have been issued and handed out for the first time the night before (now you would be forgiven for thinking this is going into Alan Partidge mentalist territory). I even had a great collection of them. Bizarrely, doing this website, I’ve had to rely on others to supply me some of these news-sheets having foolishly parted with many of these over 20 years ago, keeping largely only the ones I had seen the concerts associated with them. I’d even read old reviews in the old Bucks Heralds in the library yonks ago (whilst researching stuff for college in all likelihood). Why I didn’t embrace the internet and what it offered a long time ago, remains a mystery.

I regret in some ways, not being older. Sounds odd I know, but then I would have seen Sailor, Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, Genesis, Cockney Rebel, Stackridge and others in their prime who went on to become ‘Friars heroes’

Friars closed effectively in 1984 but when the announcement came in early 1985 that the club had closed, I and many others were shocked. I had called home, when I was away at college to be told the news and I was gobsmacked but perhaps not totally surprised. Whilst the tail end of 1984 had seen five sell out concerts, there had been bigger and bigger gaps through the preceding two years that maybe suggested that it was getting harder and harder to attract the bands that were breaking through, so many of whom had gone on to greater success and remain in the public eye today. The local paper front page headline on Friars’ closure was simply “The Day The Music Died” Enough said.

Given that Friars had a very enviable relationship in the industry, it is hard to fathom why this did ultimately happen. You must bear in mind that for every ‘big’ sold out gig there was a breaking band that would sell out next time. Friars was brave in that you could have the likes of Genesis or Gillan or SLF playing one week and the next week would feature a gig with local artistes or lesser known bands. Friars was no less enthusiastic about the breaking new or local act than the established ‘stars’ You didn’t see this at the next big venues such as Oxford New Theatre and you were lucky to see anything at all elsewhere.

Still, when you see the amount of Friars related memories of gigs on dedicated fansites etc, you know that the memory remains and it is largely of fondness. The place was well run and the man who was the public face of it all, David Stopps, really did care about what people thought and his attitude ensured that all genres of artiste played Friars successfully and dared to put on acts that other local councils wouldn’t go near with a barge pole. This isn’t rhetoric, it’s a fact. The Clash played Aylesbury several times successfully when other councils were banning them (from Dunstable to Hemel to Wycombe to Middlesbrough). The same is true of Sham 69. Bands with undeserved reputations. How many other promoters or venues would encourage people at gigs to swap steel toed boots for plimsolls? Or offer cotton wool to help alleviate the effects of the loud music? This summed up Friars philosophy of peaceful co-existence and enjoying the music. And caring. You will see that this theme pervades through many artistes memories as you look through the site.

A former local boy, Richard Burt, has set up as part of his website, a few pages dedicated to Aylesbury Friars and it is indeed excellent and till now the only website (I am aware of) that comprehensively lists just about all the gigs. It is Richard who has provided the forum facility for this website. What drove me on to do this website wasn’t any sense of competition (a huge thanks to Richard for his help and support) but to try to look at things in a different and perhaps more detailed and complete way and also the fact that I always loved Friars. It seemed fitting to try to research a bit more about the artistes who played and the punters who paid to see them especially as I was one of those punters and I had seem some incredible and very enjoyable gigs over the years….and a couple of very bad ones too (not mentioning any names, but they were both in 1980 and ska related). But that wasn’t down to Stopps’ organisation skills, just the bands concerned were awful.

But I was grateful to see on my doorstep The Jam, Genesis, The Teardrop Explodes, Toyah, The Pretenders, Eurythmics, The Kinks, The Clash, The Piranhas and so many more great acts, many of whom are still performing and making records in 2007. Also to see Marillion develop and put Aylesbury back on the map.

I met with David Stopps in the summer of 2007 who gave me his support for this website and that validated even attempting to get this project off the ground. I had explained what I intended to do and how I was going to do it. I quickly realised the amount of work in front of me. A labour of love, you see the site now hopefully a fitting memory to a fine club. It’s not live with a big bang all completed product – it will be updated further over time as more memories etc come in.

I decided that memories had to be captured from the early days of Friars in particular, and it was always going to be a big ask to go back that far. Many artistes, when I contacted them, happily offered to help in any way they could even if they couldn’t be too specific about playing at Friars – the delight to be contacted by members of Mandrake Paddle Steamer, Principal Edwards, Quintessence, Blossom Toes, Jody Grind, Chameleon, Free etc indicated that this could be something much more than just a hobby and also helped ensure the website would be more comprehensive than I had envisaged.. Maybe if this had been left for a while, some of these memories wouldn’t have been gained because people not unreasonably wouldn’t remember. The delight of receiving feedback from these artistes was just as great from receiving feedback from artistes who played at Friars Phase 2 and 3 whose memories are a little ‘fresher’ maybe and in some cases are still very much in the public eye today.

What I also quickly discovered is that for many artistes, playing Friars was a major event or achievement – they wanted to play on reputation alone and has stuck in the memory and these people have kindly shared those memories of those gigs. Read the comments from some of the artistes.

So the fans have memories too – 87,000 Friars Club members, without whom there would have been no club (and a club membership bettered by few organisations) and none of the gigs that in many cases have gone into legend and folklore.

As part of my research I found music by many of the bands that played Phase 1 and Phase 2 as I had to find out for my own curiosity what was going on then. Some of it was interesting, some of it I couldn’t get my head round, but then I guess you had to be there ! As far as I can, I have put some YouTube video links in so you can hear this music for yourself.

Let’s not forget also that Friars played a major role in the development and recognition of amongst others Genesis and David Bowie. Queen played Friars too in 1974 and they didn’t fare too badly ! I will work out who is officially the most successful artiste to have played Friars one day. I don't know the answer, but the likes of Les Payne (over several bands), Otway and Barrett, Stackridge, Jack The Lad, Fruupp will be up there. As for acts that played all three phases of Friars, Willy Barrett, Hawkwind. Les Payne and Genesis spring to mind - there may be others.

Enjoy this website and feel free to email me with your contributions be you a fan or a musician who played there – be it what Friars meant to you or memories of a particular gig.

There are many people without whom I would never have got going with this website, they know who they are – thank you.

Send this to your friends and link to your sites just to show people how great this place was out in the sticks in the Home Counties.

Mike O’Connor  April 2008

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