In the second half of 1968, four elements came together and changed the face of live music in the northeast for at least the next four years. This amalgamation would bring enjoyment to thousands upon thousands of music fans and make the northeast a serious contender for the country’s best live music events outside of London. The elements were; a fairly non-descript hotel ballroom based in a seafront establishment at Whitburn, Sunderland called the Bay Hotel; the need for new local venues to host well-known national bands and, thirdly, the emergence of a new ‘underground’ music scene. However, the main ingredient in transforming the northeast music scene was a young man named Geoff Docherty whose ambition, vision and love of rock music made him one of the most celebrated promoters to come out of the area.
Although we had a number of mutual friends and I played regularly at a lot of venues that Geoff Docherty used for his promotions between 1969 and 1972, I didn’t know him back in the sixties. From 1969 onwards I was aware of the appearance of many top bands in Sunderland and Newcastle but until 2002 I had no idea that same person promoted most of these gigs nor did I know the name of that individual. Of course, Geoff Docherty wasn’t the only northeast promoter but I think it’s fair to say that his promotions set the standard in terms of the type of music featured and the quality of the live bands he booked.
I knew the Bay Hotel quite well having played there in a couple of bands during 1967. It was a fairly large venue in a nice location near the sea at South Bents, Whitburn but at the time I didn’t really regard it as a particularly prestigious gig.
Towards the back end of 1968 Geoff Docherty along with many others sensed that a change was about to happen as far as the music played in clubs, colleges dance halls and other live venues was concerned. Since about 1966 the majority of local bands, including my own, had been covering mostly soul, Tamla Motown and Stax classics – predominantly music for dancers. A new progressive music was starting to raise its head and Geoff, who worked at the Bay Hotel as a doorman had a vision of bringing that music to the young people of the northeast.
At the time I used to read Melody Maker from cover to cover so I was aware of the current music trends and what was happening in London and the rest of the country. On a personal level, it was three things in 1968 that triggered my realisation of an impending radical change in live music. A new ‘intelligent’ type of music was on the horizon – music by fresh new bands or by established bands that had undergone a significant metamorphosis. The first of these three things was the release of two bargain sampler albums by Columbia Records – ‘The Rock Machine Turns You On’ and ‘Rock Machine I Love You’. The two albums contained music from artists and bands new to me with songs that were a lot different to other music I’d been listening to. These albums introduced me to acts such as Spirit, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Electric Flag, Laura Nyro, Taj Mahal, Big Brother & The Holding Company and many others. This was the type of music John Peel had been plugging on his radio show “Top Gear” over the past year.
Secondly, I was knocked out when I heard Jethro Tull’s ‘Love Story’ and ‘ A Song For Jeffrey’. Wow – a flute being played as a rock instrument – this was certainly different and exciting.
The third thing was the direction being taken by the band – Family. I’d played on the same bill as Family four times since 1966; twice at the Argus Butterfly (Peterlee Folk & Jazz Club) and twice at college dances in Newcastle. Having shared a dressing room with Family several times I was on speaking terms with a couple of the band members so I was particularly interested in the band’s development. In fact it was Family’s sax player, Jim King who taught me to how play two saxophones simultaneously (a la Roland Kirk). For any sax players reading this, Jim’s method involved clamping down the left hand (top) keys on one instrument with elastic bands and fingering that sax with the right hand while simultaneously fingering the left hand (upper) keys of the other sax with the left hand. With practice, you can get some nice sounds. You also have to have a big mouth to accommodate two saxophone mouthpieces! Anyway, over those two years Family had morphed from a rhythm and blues type outfit, through a psychedelic phase in the summer of 1967 and by late 1968 had become what the Melody Maker described as a ‘progressive’ band. Melody Maker used the terms ‘progressive’, ‘heavy/progressive’ or ‘underground’ to describe the ‘new’ tide of music.
Geoff eloquently described the changing music scene in 1968 in his book ‘A Promoter’s Tale’: –
“Radical changes were taking place and [John] Peel was fearlessly championing them. It’s difficult to describe what it was like at the time, but it all was incredibly exciting. Matching this new music was a maze of ‘underground’ clubs which sprung up all around Britain in support of it. These were to become important breeding grounds for new groups, and without them, many major names of today might never have developed ………… There was an air of expectancy and excitement as the whole movement gathered pace, and I desparately wanted the Bay to be part of it.”
There is no doubt that the few years from the mid sixties onwards were great times for music fans to experience live bands. In particular to see and hear some of the top national and international acts that were busy making their name during that period. In the mid sixties top bands had heavy touring schedules, sometimes playing seven days a week in clubs, dance halls and colleges so it was relatively easy to catch good bands on a weekly basis at your local venues. It was mainly established chart acts like the Beatles and Stones that played at large venues such as theatres and city halls. Their gigs would often feature five or six acts on the same show.
So in 1965, say, you could see some of the most popular bands in the country performing in small to medium sized clubs to just a few hundred people. I’m talking about bands such as The Who, the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band, the Alan Bown Set, Jimmy James & The Vagabonds plus hundreds more. In comparison to today’s top acts, bands back then could afford to charge relatively low and realistic fees for their performances. Travelling costs were low; all the equipment and band members could fit into one van. Band members often carried and set up their own PA and amplifiers so extra personnel such as sound engineers and road managers were not needed.
As the decade wore on, bands started using bigger and more expensive stage amplifiers. Bigger vans and roadies became essential and consequently bands upped their performance fees. Small to medium sized venues found it harder to book the top bands on a regular basis, in particular in the provinces. Those bands were finding that it wasn’t worthwhile financially to travel outside of the London area. By 1968 it was becoming increasingly difficult to catch a well known national or international band in the northeast, at least at affordable prices.
Then in 1969 things got a lot better for north east music fans when Geoff Docherty became a promoter.
After a spell in the Royal Navy and a series of unfulfilling jobs, Geoff Docherty found temporary part-time work 1968 as a doorman at the Bay Hotel, Whitburn, Sunderland. The Bay Hotel had been one of Sunderland’s established dance venues for a number of years. Saturday night dinner dances featuring the music of Ray Chester & his band were a regular feature. Friday nights catered for a younger audience with music being provided by live rock or pop bands.
Geoff’s ability to effectively deal with troublemakers quickly earned him a full-time job at the Bay. As well as dealing with security, Geoff also began to have a hand in booking bands. In 1968, the management policy was a £50 limit on what could be spent, which restricted the Friday night’s entertainment to one or perhaps two local bands.
Geoff Docherty’s desperation for the Bay Hotel to be part of the changing tide in the music scene led him to taking his first steps to fulfil his ambition. He persuaded the manager of the Bay Hotel to hire out the ballroom on the basis that he (Geoff) would take the risk of losing money should the venture not be successful. After a few initial teething problems with the brewery, Geoff Docherty started running his own nights at the Bay. At first, Geoff and a couple of associates booked the best of the north east local bands; bands like the Junco Partners, Sect, Gas Board and This Years Girl. They then began to bring in relatively unknown bands from further afield such as Manchester and Leeds.
By the end of 1968, Geoff was ready to start booking top tier bands at the Bay. By this time, his two associates had backed out leaving Geoff as the sole promoter. The first nationally known band that he booked on 6th January 1969 was Family. This was a good choice; Family had already built up a solid reputation in the northeast by playing at colleges and universities as well as smaller venues such as the Argus Butterfly (Peterlee Folk & Jazz Club), the Cellar at South Shields and the Club a’Gogo. Their album, “Music In A Dolls House” had been released six months earlier and had reached number 35 in the albums chart. The inaugural night was a great success and earned Geoff a lot of kudos in the Sunderland area. Before the euphoria had worn off, Geoff was already planning his next coupe at the Bay – the appearance of Pink Floyd on 17th February 1969.
But before the Floyd gig, Geoff had a bit of a setback. A week after Family’s performance at the Bay, an emerging young band called Free was booked to appear. Geoff had made the booking on the recommendation of his guitarist friend, Mick Grabham who had seen the band and thought they were something special. Unfortunately the Free gig on 13th January was a bit of a flop because at that stage not many people had heard of them. However, in spite of the disappointing turnout, Geoff recognized Free’s potential and rebooked them. Over the next couple of years Free became revered in Sunderland, long before they took off nationally, and were idolized whenever they appeared in the area.
As predicted, the Pink Floyd gig was a great success and another feather in Geoff Docherty’s cap. Over the next few months, between February 1969 and July 1969, he booked top class bands at the Bay Hotel on a weekly basis. Some of the bands that appeared were: Black Sabbath, Spooky Tooth, Country Joe & The Fish and Three Dog Night (from USA), The Who, Chicken Shack, Jethro Tull, The Nice and, of course, Geoff’s favourites – Free.
Not every gig was a resounding success as far as door takings was concerned, but Geoff was achieving his goal of bringing good live music to Sunderland at a price the average music fan could afford.
In July 1969, Geoff Docherty switched his operation to the Locarno on Newcastle Road, Sunderland. The Locarno Ballroom was a large venue with a capacity of around 3,000. It was similar to the Mayfair Ballroom in Newcastle and was run by the Mecca Organisation. Geoff named his promotions at the Locarno after Bill Graham’s two famous venues in the States; the Fillmore East and Fillmore West. On certain nights of the week Sunderland’s Locarno became “Fillmore North”.
The first band to appear at the Fillmore North was The Who on 28th July 1969. On 22nd August 1969 Geoff’s first big band at the Bay – Family appeared at Fillmore North. This time Family performed to over 2,000 people instead of the few hundred who had seen them at the Bay Hotel in January of that year.
Geoff’s biggest gig by far up that point happened on 12th September 1969. He’d booked Free plus support from a relatively new band – Mott The Hoople. Since their initial poorly attended gig for Geoff at the Bay on 13th January, Free had been building up a huge following in Sunderland. Strangely, their popularity was still not strong in the rest of the UK at that point in time. The Fillmore North was filled to capacity with hundreds more unable to gain entry. The big Free crowd pleaser at the time (before the release of ‘All Right Now’) was a song called ‘The Hunter’. The entire audience erupted into a frenzy when the band played this song towards the end of their set.
Following this gig, Geoff Docherty promoted every Free appearance bar one in the Sunderland and Newcastle areas until the band finally split in 1972, including two further sell-outs at Fillmore North on 21st November 1969 and 6th February 1970.
According to Geoff in his book “A Promoter’s Tale – Rock At The Sharp End”, his worst ever gig at the Fillmore North (Locarno) was when Ginger Baker’s Airforce appeared on 26th March 1970. The band, which featured a host of well known and respected musicians, had been bigged up by their agent, Roger Forrester. Geoff was confident that the appearance of Airforce in Sunderland would be a real coupe in spite of the fact that a sell-out would be required for him to break even. In the event, Airforce’s performance was a shambles with some of the musicians barely able to play due to the effects of pre-show drug taking. Geoff also met one of the rudest musicians he had ever encountered – none other than Ginger Baker himself.
Geoff Docherty started using the Locarno for his promotions in July 1970. From the outset he was never comfortable with the doormen-cum-bouncers provided by the Mecca Organisation. As far as he was concerned their attitude was completely at odds with the way he had conducted himself when he had been the doorman at the Bay Hotel. Matters came to a head at the Locarno on 8th May 1970 when Geoff was promoting Steve Winwood’s Traffic. After a confrontation with the door staff regarding their unreasonable behaviour, Geoff told the management he wasn’t prepared to tolerate Mecca’s employees at any of his future promotions and that as an alternative he would provide his own security.
Mecca refused to back down so between 15th May 1970 and 26th June Geoff Docherty reverted back to his first venue, the Bay Hotel. He also promoted some gigs at the Barnes Hotel, Sunderland and the Top Rank Suite – ‘The Rink’ – in Park Lane Sunderland.
In 1970, as well as the Locarno (Fillmore North), Geoff started to promote gigs at Newcastle’s Mayfair Ballroom. Top named bands had been a regular feature at the Mayfair since the mid sixties, mainly arranged by a promoter called Fraser Suffield. Fraser Suffield continued to promote his gigs on different nights to Geoff.
Geoff Docherty’s first Mayfair gig was on 3rd April 1970 featuring Rory Gallagher’s Taste plus Black Sabbath. By June of 1970 most of Geoff’s promotions were being held at the Mayfair and were pulling in big crowds, in particular for some of the top bands – Deep Purple (31st July), Derek & The Dominoes (7th August), Tyranasaurus Rex (28th August) and The Who (4th December). Geoff also booked the popular Jethro Tull at Newcastle City Hall on 27th September 1970.
Over the next few years, Geoff Docherty continued with his promotions using the best bands around, including the legendary Led Zeppelin. The gigs took place at the Mayfair, Sunderland’s Top Rank Suite, Newcastle City Hall plus several back at the Locarno in Sunderland. Band’s fees had steadily risen since Geoff’s first big promotion in January 1969 but he was still able to set his admission prices at reasonable rates for music fans.
As well as promoting gigs, Geoff Docherty also turned his hand to managing bands. None of his acts turned out to be as famous as two other northeast bands from the sixties and seventies, whose success he hoped to emulate – The Animals and Lindisfarne. The nearest he came to becoming a highly successful band manager was with the South Shields band, Beckett. Beckett was once tipped to become as big as Queen. Although a hit record never came, Beckett had a big following and was very popular on the festival circuit. They also appeared on BBC2’s ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’.
Geoff has written two books about his exploits as a promoter and manager and both are well worth reading if you can get hold of copies.
Here’s a list of gigs promoted by Geoff Docherty between 1969 and 1972: –
|Mon||20/01/1969||Harmony Grass||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||27/01/1969||Keef Hartley||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||03/02/1969||Pretty Things||Bay Hotel|
|Fri||07/02/1969||The Web||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||10/02/1969||Dr K’s Blues Band||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||17/02/1969||Pink Floyd||Bay Hotel|
|Fri||21/02/1969||Ferris Wheel||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||24/02/1969||Aynsley Dunbar||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||28/02/1969||Writing On The Wall||Bay Hotel|
|Sat||01/03/1969||Episode Six||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||03/03/1969||John Peel & Black Sabbath||Bay Hotel|
|Sat||08/03/1969||McKenna Mendelson Mainline||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||10/03/1969||John Peel & Spirit Of St Morgan||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||17/03/1969||Spooky Tooth||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||24/03/1969||Country Joe & The Fish||Bay Hotel|
|Fri||28/03/1969||Cliff Bennet & The Rebel Rousers||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||31/03/1969||Idle Race||Bay Hotel|
|Thu||03/04/1969||Bakerloo Blues Line||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||07/04/1969||Bakerloo Blues Line||Bay Hotel|
|Fri||11/04/1969||Plastic Penny||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||14/04/1969||Terry Reid’s Fantasia||Bay Hotel|
|Sat||19/04/1969||Hard Meat||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||21/04/1969||John Peel & Liverpool Scene||Bay Hotel|
|Sat||26/04/1969||Eyes Of Blue||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||28/04/1969||The Who||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||05/05/1969||Keef Hartley||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||12/05/1969||Chicken Shack||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||26/05/1969||Savoy Brown & This Year’s Girl||Bay Hotel|
|Fri||06/06/1969||Spirit Of John Morgan||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||09/06/1969||Three Dog Night||Bay Hotel|
|Fri||13/06/1969||Jethro Tull||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||16/06/1969||The Nice||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||23/06/1969||Aynsley Dunbar||Bay Hotel|
|Fri||27/06/1969||T Rex & Free||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||07/07/1969||Chicken Shack||Bay Hotel|
|Fri||11/07/1969||Writing On The Wall||Bay Hotel|
|Fri||18/07/1969||Marsha Hunt & White Trash||Bay Hotel|
|Fri||25/07/1969||Third Ear Band||Bay Hotel|
|Wed||13/08/1969||Bonzo Dog Band & King Crimson||Locarno|
|Fri||22/08/1969||Family & Grail||Locarno|
|Fri||29/08/1969||Liverpool Scene & Junco Partners||Locarno|
|Fri||12/09/1969||Free & Mott The Hoople||Locarno|
|Fri||19/09/1969||Atomic Rooster & Poet||Locarno|
|Fri||26/09/1969||Chicken Shack & Pricipal Edwards||Locarno|
|Fri||03/10/1969||Renaissance & Blossom Toes||Locarno|
|Fri||10/10/1969||Fat Mattress & Big Fingers||Locarno|
|Mon||13/10/1969||Pete Brown’s Piblokto||Locarno|
|Fri||17/10/1969||Family & Man||Locarno|
|Mon||20/10/1969||Writing On The Wall||Locarno|
|Fri||24/10/1969||Pink Floyd & John Peel||Locarno|
|Fri||31/10/1969||Savoy Brown & Barclay James Harvest||Locarno|
|Mon||03/11/1969||Principal Edwards Magic Theatre||Locarno|
|Fri||07/11/1969||Edgar Broughton & Zoot Money||Locarno|
|Fri||14/11/1969||Christine Perfect Band||Locarno|
|Fri||21/11/1969||Free & Quintessence||Locarno|
|Fri||28/11/1969||Tyrannosaurus Rex & John Peel||Locarno|
|Mon||01/01/1970||Edgar Broughton & Principal Edwards||Locarno|
|Fri||09/01/1970||Manfred Mann & Principal Edwards||Locarno|
|Mon||12/01/1970||Jo-Anne Kelly with John Dummer’s Blues Band||Locarno|
|Mon||19/01/1970||Stone The Crows||Locarno|
|Fri||30/01/1970||Ten Years After & Junco Partners||Locarno|
|Fri||06/02/1970||Free & Griffin||Locarno|
|Mon||09/02/1970||Jan Dukes De Grey||Locarno|
|Fri||13/02/1970||Blodwyn Pig & John Peel||Locarno|
|Fri||20/02/1970||Colosseum & Bronco||Locarno|
|Fri||27/02/1970||Chicken Shack & Colosseum||Locarno|
|Fri||06/03/1970||Edgar Broughton & Juice||Locarno|
|Mon||09/03/1970||Third Ear Band & Genesis||Locarno|
|Fri||13/03/1970||David Bowie & Principal Edwards||Locarno|
|Fri||20/03/1970||Blodwyn Pig & Writing On The Wall||Locarno|
|Thu||26/03/1970||Ginger Baker’s Airforce||Locarno|
|Fri||03/04/1970||Taste & Black Sabbath||Locarno|
|Fri||10/04/1970||Edgar Broughton & Juice||Locarno|
|Fri||17/04/1970||Groundhogs & Grisby And Dyke||Locarno|
|Fri||24/04/1970||Roy Harper & Humble Pie||Locarno|
|Fri||01/05/1970||Keef Hartley & Black Widow||Locarno|
|Thu||07/05/1970||Colosseum & Man||Mayfair|
|Fri||08/05/1970||Traffic & If||Locarno|
|Wed||13/05/1970||Ten Years After||City Hall|
|Fri||15/05/1970||Procol Harum||Bay Hotel|
|Fri||22/05/1970||Radha Krishna Temple||Barnes Hotel|
|Fri||29/05/1970||Tyrannosaurus Rex & Man||Bay Hotel|
|Fri||12/06/1970||Edgar Broughton & Quintessence||Mayfair|
|Fri||19/06/1970||Savoy Brown & Yellow||Bay Hotel|
|Mon||05/06/1970||Principal Edwards Magic Theatre||Bay Hotel|
|Fri||26/06/1970||Free & Kevin Ayres||Top Rank Suite|
|Fri||26/06/1970||Rare Bird & Hard Meat||Mayfair|
|Fri||10/07/1970||Chicken Shack & Matthews Southern Comfort||Mayfair|
|Thu||23/07/1970||Atomic Rooster & Van Der Graaf Generator||Mayfair|
|Fri||31/07/1970||Deep Purple & Daddy Long Legs||Mayfair|
|Fri||07/08/1970||Derek & The Dominoes||Mayfair|
|Fri||21/08/1970||Quintessence & Mott The Hoople||Mayfair|
|Fri||28/08/1970||Tyrannosaurus Rex & Principal Edwards||Mayfair|
|Sun||27/09/1970||Jethro Tull||City Hall|
|Fri||16/10/1970||Free & Deep Purple||Top Rank Suite|
|Thu||22/10/1970||Keef Harley & Strawbs||Mayfair|
|Thu||19/11/1970||Chicken Shack & Yellow||Mayfair|
|Fri||01/01/1971||Groundhogs & Quintessence||Mayfair|
|Fri||15/01/1971||Chicken Shack & Third Ear Band||Mayfair|
|Mon||18/01/1971||Black Sabbath & Curved Air||City Hall|
|Sun||14/02/1971||Free & Amazing Blondell||Empire Theatre|
|Thu||18/02/1971||Tyrannosaurus Rex & If||Mayfair|
|Fri||05/03/1971||Fairport Convention & Stud||Top Rank Suite|
|Fri||26/03/1971||Mott The Hoople & John Peel||Mayfair|
|Fri||02/04/1971||Quintessence & Stray||Top Rank Suite|
|Thu||08/04/1971||Skid Row & Hardin & York||Mayfair|
|Thu||15/04/1971||Groundhogs & Chicken Shack||City Hall|
|Fri||30/04/1971||Quintessence & Stone The Crows||Mayfair|
|Fri||07/05/1971||The Who||Top Rank Suite|
|Fri||14/05/1971||Buddy Miles Express & Kevin Ayres||Mayfair|
|Fri||21/05/1971||Stud & Hardin And Yorke||Mayfair|
|Fri||28/05/1971||Rod Stewart And The Faces||Mayfair|
|Fri||18/06/1971||Curved Air & Mick Abrahams Band||Mayfair|
|Thu||24/06/1971||Deep Purple & Quiver||Mecca Bullring|
|Fri||25/06/1971||Deep Purple & Quiver||Mayfair|
|Fri||09/07/1971||Groundhogs & Head Hands And Feet||Mayfair|
|Fri||30/07/1971||Rory Gallagher & The James Gang||Mayfair|
|Fri||06/08/1971||Curved Air & Medicine Head||Mayfair|
|Fri||13/08/1971||Mott The Hoople & Gin House||Mayfair|
|Fri||27/08/1971||Rod Stewart And The Faces||Mayfair|
|Fri||10/09/1971||Cat Stevens||City Hall|
|Thu||16/09/1971||Ten Years After & Supertramp||City Hall|
|Sat||16/10/1971||Yes & Jonathan Swift||City Hall|
|Thu||21/10/1971||Steeleye Span||City Hall|
|Thu||11/11/1971||Led Zeppelin||City Hall|
|Wed||01/12/1971||Groundhogs & Egg||City Hall|
|Fri||07/01/1972||Rory Gallagher & Nazareth||Mayfair|
|Fri||21/01/1972||Procol Harum & Amazing Blondell||City Hall|
|Tue||01/02/1972||Free & Junkyard Angel||City Hall|
|Sat||05/02/1972||Black Sabbath & Wild Turkey||City Hall|
|Sun||13/02/1972||Free & Vinegar Joe||Top Rank Suite|
|Sun||20/02/1972||Argent & Beggars Opera||Top Rank Suite|
|Mon||21/02/1972||Jethro Tull & Tir Na Nog||Top Rank Suite|
|Sun||05/03/1972||Rod Stewart And The Faces||Top Rank Suite|
|Tue||07/03/1972||Jethro Tull & Tir Na Nog||City Hall|
|Fri||12/05/1972||Head Hands And Feet & Vinegar Joe||Mayfair|
|Thu||08/06/1972||Lindisfarne & Capability Brown||Top Rank Suite|
|Thu||22/06/1972||Family & Audience||Mayfair|
|Fri||07/07/1972||Stray & Third Ear Band||Mayfair|
|Fri||15/09/1972||Free & Smith Perkins And Smith||Mayfair|
|Mon||25/09/1972||UFO & Beckett||City Hall|
|Wed||11/10/1972||Free & Beckett||Locarno|
|Fri||20/10/1972||Free & Beckett||Mayfair|
|Thu||26/10/1972||Steeleye Span||City Hall|
|Fri||27/10/1972||Beggars Opera||Top Rank Suite|
|Fri||10/11/1972||Fairport Convention||Top Rank Suite|
|Sat||11/11/1972||Roxy Music & East Of Eden||City Hall|