In the beginning there was Robin Pike.
Robin was head of the Chemistry department at Aylesbury Grammar School. In 1968 I was managing Princes Risborough band Smokey Rice who Robin had booked for the Grammar School/High School dance. Early in 1969 he approached me to see if I would be interested in starting an underground music club in Aylesbury. I remember saying that it might work in High Wycombe, but Aylesbury? The long and the short of it is that Friars Aylesbury opened on 2nd June 1969 with underground band Mandrake Paddle Steamer and blues guitarist/singer Mike Cooper. The rest as they say is history. From 1969 to the present day we have managed to evolve through four Aylesbury venues. Friars Aylesbury now has a membership of over 93,000 making it the largest music club in Europe.
During the 45 years that Friars has been running some amazing bands have played this sleepy Market Town in the Home Counties. Probably the high point was that magic summer of 1972 when Friars presented David Bowie, Lou Reed and Roxy Music three gigs in a row. Legendary American bands including The Velvet Underground, the MC5, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Tom Petty, Iggy Pop and Mink De Ville all played Friars Aylesbury. In the 1976-77 period Friars went through a transformation as punk and ska took over from the post-hippie bands. The Clash, The Jam, The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, Ian Dury, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Madness and The Specials became the new order.
In 1984 Friars closed and remained dark for 25 years. In 2007 Friars fan Mike O’Connor approached me to see if I would be OK about him creating a Friars website. The result has been astonishing with the website (www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk) becoming a world music resource. Friars returned in June 2009 and has never looked back….until now.
For 20 years I have been hoping to present a proper Friars exhibition at the County Museum in Church Street and now, thanks to the county council, at last it’s happening. An hour before the exhibition opened I received a text from David Bowie that said: ‘Memories are everything apparently and I have only great ones of the fabulous Friars. Have a wonderful night. db’ It doesn’t get any better than that.
Some may remember that back in the 1972-73 period I had my own weekly column in the Bucks Advertiser which came to a sudden end when the NUJ complained that I wasn’t a member. This is the first such column I have written since then and it’s great to be back. By the way, Smokey Rice’s legendary singer Smokey Bill Stallwood is still out there performing with the Bluestormers. I shall be going to see them at the Bird in Hand in Princes Risborough on 3rd May. See you there.