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Miscellaneous - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 6 / 9 / 2014

Miscellaneous - Interview


Pennyblackmusic writer Nicky Crewe talks to John Clarkson about some of her musical memories of Manchester between the 1960s and 1980s, which include touring with Captain Beefheart, sharing a house with Martin Hannett, knowing Tony Wilson and working at the Hacienda on its opening night

While she now lives in Bakewell, Nicky Crewe still maintains strong links with her home city of Manchester. Nicky, who has also lived in Sheffield and Morocco, and spent time as a teenager in the Far East, regularly makes the thirty mile trip North West into Manchester for gigs. She also recently spent a year living during the week in Manchester, leaving her second son and the youngest of her three grown-up children to look after the family home, while worked as a National Archive trainee at a library there. “We have been in Bakewell and the Peak District for over twenty years,” says Nicky, who runs two blogs, 'The Historic Gig Guide' http://historicgigguide.blogspot.co.uk/ and more recently 'The Nico Ditch' http://thenicoditch.blogspot.co.uk/, and who has since the beginning of the year been writing for Pennyblackmusic. “It is as long as I have lived anywhere, but I still see myself as very much being from Manchester.” Nicky has written about a lot of her musical history and experiences in Manchester on her blogs. It is a fascinating story which saw her witness several of the great package tours of the 1960s, before she met legendary Manchester and Liverpool club owner and promoter Roger Eagle (The Twisted Wheel/Eric’s) at his then club, the Magic Village. She would then go to become one of the backing singers in Drive In Rock, the ten-piece band that Eagle managed, and also through her association with him go on tour with Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band at the time of ‘Clear Spot’, their 1972 album. Nicky was also a flatmate in the early 1970s of Joy Division producer Martin Hannett. She also knew Tony Wilson from when she was a teenager, and worked for him at both the original Factory Records club and also at the infamous Haçienda where she was one of its staff on its opening night. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Nicky about some of her musical memories. 1.Beginnings PB: You went to a Catholic boarding school as a child. How old were you when you started there? NC: My parents went abroad to work in the Far East when I was thirteen, which in those days was very unusual. There were a couple of people I knew whose parents were in the army, but otherwise we didn’t know anybody like that in Eccles where I was brought up. Attending boarding school changed my whole teenage experience. I had gone to Catholic schools from the age of four, but the nuns in the state school in Manchester which I went to were far more worldly-wise and easier to deal with. The boarding school was another world really, and it was like stepping back in time. PB: It was pretty savage, was it? NC: Yes. When I listen to the stories which are coming out now about Catholic schools and orphanages, I am not surprised by them as the nuns who taught us were often very cruel. The nuns who weren’t like that were few and far between. In fact I can only think of two that weren’t like that, and one of them had a nervous breakdown and the other left the order. PB: In coming from this repressive background, how easy was it for you to hear music? It must have been fairly difficult if there were all these constrictions on you. NC: It wasn’t repressive at home. My dad was really into his music, and was a fan of 1960’s jazz and folk. He introduced me to Bob Dylan, Dave Brubreck, Joan Baez, the Clancy Brothers and a lot of Scottish folk acts. From the age of about seven onwards, he had me listening to all of them. I also had a radio, which I used to listen to a lot. I remember hearing all the early Beatles hits in 1963 and 1964 on it, and would listen to Radio Luxembourg on it. Before I went to boarding school, I used to go a youth club in which somebody from the Twisted Wheel would play records on a Friday night. We would also have “discos” and record sessions in my day school, which was a Catholic girls’ grammar school, in which people would bring in records that they were listening to at home and again at the Twisted Wheel. I also saw some of the package tours of that time. I went to see the Kinks when I was ten in 1964. That was at the cinema in Eccles, the Eccles Broadway, and I also saw the Small Faces, the Beach Boys and the Walker Brothers on other package tours after that. There was already a very accessible world of music there that my school friends and I were able to dip into, even at that young age, and then I was whisked away from all of that to boarding school where there was very little of that. Music became very much an escape. Radio 1 had just started when I went to boarding school, and I would listen to that at night and also Radio Luxembourg still. I remember listening to John Peel at school, although I couldn’t put a year on that. His shows always seemed unpredictable. You weren’t supposed to listen to music very much, but when you did you never knew what you were going to hear. PB: Did you listen to music a lot when you were on holiday and in the Far East? NC: Yes. There were other British families in the place where my parents stayed. They lived in Sarawek, which was part of Malaysia but on the Island of Borneo. It was very remote in those days, and used to take us three days to fly there with an overnight stay in either Copenhagen or Singapore or both. There were about twenty other teenagers though, and at least half of them were boys who were at public schools. We were allowed to watch ‘Top of the Pops’ by the nuns, and like a lot of my friends my tastes were until then fairly poppy. These boys were into rock music –Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and the classic things – and that was where I first got into them, out in the Far East (Laughs). We had access to record players there which we didn’t have at school. I had a portable record player from Singapore which was run on batteries and on mains, which was just like nothing anyone had seen in this country. I would spend hours listening to that. 2. Roger Eagle/Drive In Rock PB: You first met Roger Eagle at his club, the Magic Village. When did you first discover the Magic Village? NC: During the school holidays when I wasn’t in the Far East, I would go and stay with a friend from school. We discovered the Magic Village when we were about fifteen or sixteen (Laughs). It was unlicensed and a cellar/coffee bar with an amazing jukebox, and bands like the Third Ear Band and Bowie played there. I didn’t see Bowie, but this was when he was first on the scene. Roger was a big blues fan, and a lot of blues acts also used to play there. PB: He was described by one critic as having “a life of poorly managed finances, escapes and squalid living conditions.” Do you think he was ever interested in commercial success? NC: I think that he just wanted to be able to survive to do what he wanted to do and I honestly think looking back, especially as I was a bit of a hippy then as well, that commercial success wasn’t what people were striving after. It was the freedom to do what you wanted to do and what you were interested in. You felt outside the money-making machine. You could really see that beginning to happen with music and celebrities in the early 1980s. I have just read Barney Hoskyns’ book ‘Hotel California’ which is about that, and it describes it exactly. There was this real shift from people playing and making music and booking bands and accepting that you weren’t going to make a career of it or making money as their parents had expected them to, and then in the early 1980s and 1990s that was when the business of making lots of money came in and things shifted. I never saw Roger living in really squalid living conditions. I am aware of them from Bill Sykes’ recent biography about him. He lived in somebody’s garden shed at one point. He had lived at the house in which several of us from Drive In Rock lived in Wilbraham Road in Manchester. He had lived in the cellar there at one point. Later he used to come and stay with me in Longsight, where I used to live in the late 1970s with my then boyfriend Jan. Roger would come through once a week as he was working in Liverpool but running a club night in Manchester. When he came to stay with us, he slept in the back bedroom in a sleeping bag. He was quite happy to rough it and didn’t expect material success. PB: How did you become involved with Drive In Rock? NC: (Laughs) It was a rock and roll revival band. The 1950s was an era of music that Roger was particularly into. I moved into the house in Wilbraham Road, and they basically said, “You have moved into Anne’s room. You can have her place in the band.” I became a Rockette. There were three of us in this ten-piece band, which included the lead singer. We were the backing singers. The boys focused on their music and the girls had day jobs. We did the college circuit. We made a bit of money and supported some good people. That was all Roger’s doing. All three of us girls eventually left to go off and do other things, and they didn’t replace us and became Leroy and the Kools. The most exciting thing about the Drive In Rock time was our connection with Captain Beefheart. PB: How did that come about? NC: Roger was friends with Beefheart and always tried to see him when he came over. When he and the Magic Band were playing in Liverpool, we all went over to see them and then were introduced and tagged along after that. We didn’t play any dates with them or anything like that. We were invited to go on their coach to wherever they were going with them. It was not what you would imagine. When I tell people that now they say, “Oh, you must have been groupies.” We weren’t. We were music fans, who they just welcomed onto their tour bus. I made friends with the tour manager, Bill Shumow, who was a lovely man, and we knocked about a lot together. It was before I went to university, and so I was free to be able to do that on that particular tour. PB: Captain Beefheart is seen to be one of the great eccentrics of rock. Was that your impression of him? NC: I don’t know if I would have known what eccentric was at that time because everything was so weird. I was working at Eighth Day, which was this amazing hippy shop. For that first group of people who were doing all these alternative things and finding alternative ways of living and working, doing these things seemed pretty normal. They were peculiar times, but there was no real sense that there was anything that unusual about them. 3. Martin Hannett PB: Martin Hannett also lived at one point at the flat in Wilbraham Road. Your friendship went sour a decade later in the early 1980s because of a drugs-related incident. Was he interested in sound and production even as a young man in the early 1970s? NC: He was a bass player and he played the bass a lot in the house. It was possibly because I wasn’t geeky enough about sound, but it came as surprise to me later when he became such a well thought of producer and that he had this ability with sound. We knew about monitors, we knew about microphones and cables, and that aspect of sound. We weren’t ignorant about that because Drive in Rock was a touring band, but the actual effects of sound, the physics of sound, I wasn’t aware enough of where his talents lay in that respect. With hindsight, I would have probably taken a bit more notice (Laughs). PB: How did you find him? He is often seen now as being obsessive. Did you find him obsessive in any way? NC: He was delightful. People talk about him having rows and thriving on argument, but that isn’t a side of him that I saw ever. He had a lack of self-confidence about him. He knew that he was an outsider, but at that stage, like so many people I knew during that era in the early 1970s, I don’t think he had found a niche or an outlet yet for his talents. I saw a very shy man actually, and I recognised also a similar shyness in myself. It was something that I could relate to. At that stage he didn’t know where he quite fitted in. 4. Tony Wilson/Factory Records PB: You first met Tony Wilson when you were fifteen. How did you first get to know him? NC: It was through someone from my original day school. I used to go and stay with her as well during the holidays, and he was a friend of her brother. Tony always had this confidence and magnetism right from the start. I think that is what made him stand out. He went to Cambridge University, after like me attending a Catholic grammar school. A lot of people in his situation would have felt like they were a boy from the North. I went to Exeter and up North I was considered posh because I had been to boarding school, but down there I was considered all clogs and shawls. I found that really difficult and left after a term. Tony was in no way out of his depth or his comfort zone though. He just had that tremendous self-confidence. He was offered a job in London with ‘World in Action’, but he chose not to take it that and to come back to Manchester and Granada. Whatever way it was interpreted later, I think that he genuinely felt that he owed it to Manchester. He also wanted to put Manchester on the map, and there was an element of him as well that wanted to be a big fish in a small sea rather than a small fish in a big sea, which is what would have happened to him if he had gone to London. PB: People have very different opinions on Tony Wilson. He seems to divide people. Some people continue to adore him, but other people see him now as arrogant and an opportunist. NC: Up until the time I stopped seeing him, which was around the time I left the Haçienda, although I subsequently met his wife and son at a playgroup, I never disliked him. I could see why he got up people’s noses. I possibly was more used to him because of the boarding school boys that I knew. He could be very arrogant and pompous, but I never found him like that in my own dealings with him. Again, like Roger Eagle, there was this real risk-taking element to him. Factory had as many failings as there were successes in the acts it took on. I think that he was someone who often shunned success and deliberately sabotaged it. I think that there was an element of slumming it with him as well because he was perceived as being so posh. I think that he quite liked mixing with people like the Happy Mondays that weren’t like that because it gave him that edge. PB: You did the door at the first Factory club at the Russell Club and also at the Haçienda. How did you end up doing that? NC: After I dropped out of Exeter, I lived at Wilbraham Road for a while and then I went off to Leeds University. I got married at the end of my first year when I was twenty to my first husband, and we bought a little house in Todmorden, which in those days was on the hippy trail to Hebden Bridge. After I finished university when I was 22, 23, I went back to work at Eighth Day, which is where I had worked after dropping out of Exeter. It still exists and is a co-operative health food shop, but was also in those days a clothes and record shop. Then my husband and I split up, and he went down to London to do a course and I moved back to Manchester, and I met Jan, who was the Dutch roadie for Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias. I knew the Albertos anyway because they all had day jobs at Eighth Day. Jan was also doing roadie work for Vini Reilly and Bruce Mitchell from the Durutti Column, who Tony was managing and had also signed to Factory Records, and so I met him again then. When Jan was doing roadie work, I was often asked if I could do the door, so from that I went on to do the door at the Russell Club and I also used to work for Alan Wise, who was another promoter. Jan and I eventually split up and I went off to Morocco for a year and taught English. Then I came back, and by then Martin Hannett had fallen out with Factory and the Haçienda was about to open. The weird thing is that I can’t remember Ian Curtis’s suicide. Jan and I were very much part of that scene at that time. He died in May 1980, and I didn’t go off to Morocco until September of that year. It didn’t have much impact on us though. Some of my other friends had died of drugs overdoses and accidents, and maybe it was just that. He wasn’t a particular friend and nobody knew how important he was going to be in musical history at that time. When I came back, I worked in the Haçienda for a few months. 5. The Haçienda PB: You were on the door the night that the Haçienda opened. Tony Wilson famously described it afterwards by saying that “the first night was busy; it was just the next five years.” Is that the way that you remember it? NC: Yes, it is. It started with such great high hopes, but some nights it was absolutely dead. I worked two nights a week. I didn’t drive and Graham, my second husband, used to come and pick me up at about two ‘o’ clock. One night he had a collapsed lung and ended up in hospital and it was a bit of a wake-up call for us both. It made me learn to drive, and at that point I thought, “I have got a day job which I love.” I was involved in a big local history project in Manchester and I thought, “I don’t need to be doing this,” and so I stopped working there. It was very quiet though. Every Saturday there would be a band on. There was a hairdressing salon there, and it was supposed to be like an arts centre more than a venue in many ways. There was a restaurant, but the restaurant was never much more than a burger bar, and it didn’t seem to be living up to its promise. It wasn’t good for live bands. The acoustics were terrible, and over the stage there was this duct thing which didn’t give the bands lots of head room either. I would go back for occasional gigs after I left. I remember seeing Burning Spear in there one night, but by the time I left the whole drugs thing hadn’t kicked in. I was well away by the time that all happened. I lost track of what was going on. When the kids were little, I was watching M People one day on ‘Top of the Pops’ and I thought, “Oh my God, that is Mike Pickering.” I used to work with him at the Haçienda. He was the in-house DJ. Occasionally I would say to people that I had worked at the Haçienda, and they would look absolutely shocked. I hadn’t caught up with its reputation at that point (Laughs). 6. Now PB: You have got your own blogs and have been putting your memories on there. NC: I ran 'The Historic Gig Guide' for maybe three years and have been doing 'The Nico Ditch' since the start of the year. I think my advantage was I was very shy. I was very quiet. I never knew how I fitted into things, but I would watch, I would observe and I think that is why I have got the recall I have because I was always very much in the present if that makes sense. I was never completely comfortable. I also think that it was very significant that I had the freedom, when I was not at boarding school, to go to the Magic Village with its heightened experience. It wasn’t a drug induced type of awareness. It was simply “What is going on here? Let’s try and see where I fit in with this awareness.” PB: Thank you.

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