Fabulously Flamboyant Fridays: A Postcard From 1976

Greetings pop pickers and welcome to another edition of Fabulously Flamboyant Fridays – our occasional Campari and soda drenched probe into the rainbow and glitter world of artistes who are quite simply fabulous, darling.

This week, dear reader, I’m hoping you’ll allow a small indulgence on my part; because although this weeks artistes may indeed be fabulous, they might not necessarily be flamboyantly fabulous. This weeks missive was prompted by a recent article by the splendid DJM entitled “Teh 1970s & All That”. In the (unread) comments accompanying this article, mention was made of the long, hot summer of 1976. I, in turn, noted my abiding but probably deeply misguided memory of 1976 was being stoned out of my gourd at what seemed like an endless stream of sun-soaked music festivals. When I actually did a little research, I began to realize this wasn’t actually too far from the truth, and what was undeniably true was that ’76 was one of the best years for what has always been my favourite hobby – watching live music.

So tonight, dear reader, I’m afraid we need to temporarily set aside the strictures of the Trades Description Act, because the music I enjoyed in 1976 was neither louche nor fey, neither limp of wrist nor light of loafer, and in short does not meet the usual puddle-jumping criteria for a fabulously flamboyant Friday. My musical tastes back then were hirsute of chest, smelly of denim, lavishly stained with engine oil and Newcastle Broon Ale, and quite probably garnished with generous helpings of Hai Karate and Brut. It was 1976, the skies were blue, the land was scorched and the music was loud.

’76 got off to a great start for your humble scribe. I was living in Essex back then, in the small town of South Benfleet, very near the exotic and mysterious Island of Canvey (the mystery being why any bugger would go there?). As this was within easy striking distance of our nation’s capital, I was able to attend a great many gigs “in the smoke”. In January of that year I took full advantage and scuttled off to the London Olympia to see Bad Company – and what a way to start the year. Bad Co were on tremendous form. Sadly, I never got to see Free, but this was the next best thing for me and I lapped it up. Nazareth and Be Bop Deluxe were the support acts, with Be Bop Deluxe very nearly stealing the show. All-in-all, a great start to the year.

By 1976, my parents had settled in Cardiff (I guess someone had to). This this would prove to be a tremendous bonus, because in ’76 South Wales hosted some absolutely corking gigs – and crashing at my parents was always a cheap and cheerful option. At various times during 1976 I saw 10cc, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Thin Lizzy at the Capitol Theatre in Cardiff. Rod the Mod was a big disappointment. His tremendous days with The Faces were long gone and his stage routine was now mid-Atlantic schmaltz. In complete contrast, Elton John and Thin Lizzy were both at the height of their powers and delivered fantastic shows. And as for 10cc – that original line-up has to be one of the most musically talented bands I’ve ever seen. Sadly, that line-up didn’t last long, but I got to see them in both ’75 and ’76 and thoroughly enjoyed both shows. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a similar amount of musical talent per square foot of stage, with the possible exception of the original line-up of Squeeze.

However, I digress. My main musical reasons for visiting South Wales in ’76 (my non-musical ones being The Old Arcade, Caroline Street, Smileys and The Moon) were two trips to football grounds in June (Cardiff and Swansea) and two trips to Cardiff Castle in July and September. June saw The Who play at the Vetch Field in Swansea and a week or so later Bob Marley played at Ninian Park football ground in Cardiff. The Who were simply astonishing – and seriously bloody loud! Trust me, I still have the tinnitus. I believe they were in the Guinness book of records back then as the loudest band in the world. Having been pummelled by their PA system back in ’76, I find this very easy to believe.

I’ve seen The Who several times over the years, but that gig at Swansea was the only time I ever got to see the band with the late, great, Keith Moon behind the kit. They were utterly superb and I’m very glad I got to see Moony in full flight at least once. The support acts that stood out that day were The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (who were indeed sensational) and Little Feat.

As for Bob Marley at Ninian Park Football Ground? Well, that was a disaster. Not because of Bob – his set, from what little I can remember, was tremendous. This was back in my smoking days, and if there were any gigs back then at which being stoned was a compulsory condition of entry, a Bob Marley gig (along with a Hawkwind gig) would have been top of the list. I know a number of worthy supporting artists were there, but due to my extremely relaxed condition, I honestly have no recollection of any of them. The gig was deemed to be a disaster because the promoters were looking to sell upwards of thirty thousand tickets and I believe they sold less than four thousand. If memory serves, the headliners pulled out and Bob was persuaded to step up. Once again, just like Mr Moon, this would prove to be the only time I would get to see the legend that was Bob Marley, so I’m very pleased I did.

Over the two shows I attended at Cardiff Castle, I had the pleasure of watching Queen, Hawkwind and Status Quo. This was pretty much musical nirvana for me as back then I was a hopeless devotee of all three, and all three were at the peak of their powers at this time – particularly Hawkwind.

I should probably explain for the uninitiated: back in the ’70s, there was a certain esprit de corps to be found at a Hawkwind gig and a certain etiquette would be observed. For example, one would ‘skin up’, take a few leisurely ‘tokes’, pass it to your mate, who would do the same and pass it back. After a second ‘pull’, one would give one’s ‘spliff’ its freedom by passing it to a random stranger, who would, in due course, pass it to another random stranger, and so on. You would never see your spliff again, but this really didn’t matter because everyone else was doing the same thing. On a good night, a seemingly endless series of Jamaican Woodbines would, to your delight and delectation, appear in front of your eyes, as if by magic; and if you were watching Hawkwind at an indoor gig, you didn’t even need to smoke – the air would be so thick with ‘herb’, you’d get stoned whether you wanted to or not! The only thing more stoned than the audience at a Hawkwind concert was Hawkwind; and the only thing more stoned than Hawkwind was their audience. Anyway, Queen, Hawkwind and Quo were all top notch. Of the many and various support acts at these two one-day festivals, I remember being hugely impressed by Budgie, The Strawbs and Sonja Christina’s bum. We also got to meet Whispering Bob Harris, who was both charming and patient with the drunken louts who cornered him for handshakes, hugs and autographs. One disappointment, though – Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow flounced and refused to perform. The reason? The stage couldn’t accommodate their rainbow. How very ‘Friday’ of them.

In between the two Cardiff Castle gigs, we all made our way to the Knebworth Festival to see The Rolling Stones. Oh, my word – what a whopper! The crowd was estimated at around 200,000! Due to technical issues, the Stones came on very late, but I remember their set being pretty bloody good. Due to their late arrival, many beverages had been consumed and I was in what the Speaker of the House would undoubtedly describe as a tired and emotional condition. Truth be told, I was as tired and emotional as a newt, and I’m not sure how much I remember of that performance is real, and how much is screen memory from the many video clips of the event I’ve watched over the years. One thing is certain – I bloody enjoyed myself. Highlight of the day? That’s easy – Lynyrd Skynyrd. They were absolutely magnificent.

And so on to the Reading Festival held over the August bank holiday weekend and the end of our long hot summer of ’76. The line-up was right up my alley and I was really looking forward to both Rory Gallagher and AC/DC. Happily, they didn’t disappoint. I’d never see either act before and they were both splendid. But the surprise highlight of the weekend for me was Gong. Up to that point I’d always considered them a bunch of mildly amusing but slightly loopy pot-heads with delusions of competence. But oh, my word – they were magnificent and I remain a fan to this day. Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno delivered a great set and the prog-rockers were out in force with tremendous sets from Camel, Van der Graff Generator and The Enid. The Enid came close to stealing the show and went down a storm. Ted Nugent delivered a fine set, as did Black Oak Arkansas. We were also treated to a wonderful tub-thumping performance by the one-and-only (Puffin favourite and all-round diamond geezer) Mr. Phil Collins. His jazz rock outfit, Brand X, delivered a storming set and went down a treat.

Sadly, the Reading Festival marked the end of the long, hot, summer of ’76. The drought came to an end on Saturday afternoon during a damn fine set by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. At first, just a few drops of rain – a genuine novelty after the long hot months of drought – but it soon turned into an absolute downpour for which no bugger was prepared. However, despite the rain, it was a great festival; and, to this very day, I have absolutely no recollection of leaving the festival or travelling back to Essex. Not a clue.

And that was my ’76. Biggest regret? Easy – Sparks toured in ’76 and I failed to see any of their gigs. Best performance of the year? That’s a tough one. In any other year, seeing The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bad Company, AC/DC, Rory Gallagher or Bob Marley… Well, any of those would have been the highlight of the year. But, to my surprise, I enjoyed Lynyrd Skynyrd’s performance more than any of the above. The band were on blistering form that day, and it was a privilege to be there. However, even Skynyrd could not deliver my favourite performance of that wonderful year. So we’ll wrap things up with the band that could.

This was not only the oddest band I saw in ’76, but they also delivered what turned out to be my favourite gig of the year and – to be honest – one of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve ever seen. I sometimes ponder which gig I would revisit if I could time travel, and it’s usually this one. The band were Split Enz, the venue..? I’m not sure. Possibly the London Astoria or the Shepherd’s Bush Empire – I honestly can’t remember. But they were, in equal measure, bizarre, sublime and utterly unique – the perfect band for ’76.

Anyway, that’s yer lot for this week’s episode of Fabulously Flamboyant Fridays. TTFN Puffins – Not ‘arf!

Featured Image: SΓ©rgio Valle Duarte Wikidata has entry Sergio Valle Duarte (Q16269994) with data related to this item., CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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