Tamworth Rock Festival : A History
I finally finished writing the history of Tamworth bands on Saturday August 8th 2009, four years after starting it. On this date, the Tamworth Rock Festival had been replaced by the 'Midlands Music Festival' featuring well known local artistes Blue, The Automatic, Right Said Fred, Lemar, CHiCO, Andy Abraham, JLS, After Hours, Eoghan Quigg, Laura White, Austin Drage, Twenty Twenty, Jamie Jay, Liz McClaron, Double Time Heroes, Rachel Hilton, Everyone Looks Famous, Gone Till Monday and The Sugababes. The event was still held in the Castle Pleasure Grounds but instead of being free and paid for by the bands themselves cost your average punter 34 of our Great British Pounds.
To see what the Tamworth Rock Festival used to be like - read on...
In early 1979, Dave Armour, the then Manager of Tamworth Arts Centre said to Vince Watts and Edward ian Armchair over a cup of coffee in the coffee bar that he was thinking of holding an open-air rock festival in the Castle Grounds. Their ears pricked up. Dave went on to ask the two young punks which band they thought he should try and book to headline the event - The Clash they shouted in unison. Well, he didn't book The Clash, but true to his word Dave single-handedly organised the very first open-air rock festival in Tamworth. But that wasn't the real beginning of the story.
Castle Pleasure Grounds
Tamworth Castle Grounds has always been the focal point of youthful fun, from the open-air skating rink of 1961 where you could enjoy a Rock and Roll Dance on July 6th to the Lido, the new swimming baths, to the tennis courts and ten-pin bowling alley.
The first mention of an open-air music festival happened as long ago as 1964. Vince Baker (local promoter of the day) had made an application for the use of the Grounds on July 11th betweeen 8.00am and 9.00pm for a Beat Music Festival on behalf of Tamworth Cricket and Hockey Club. The Council said it would be allowed under the condition that it was approved by the police, the Council is fully indemnified against damage and expense, there is a ban on the sale of intoxicants and a fee of £150 is paid. But sadly in the Tamworth Herald of June 12th iit was reported that "Big Beat Festival is Off" because leading beat groups of the day were unavailable. Vince Baker told the Herald he hoped to stage the event the following May - sadly he didn't.
Through the Sixties and early Seventies, the only live music to be heard in the Castle Grounds was brass bands on the occasional Sunday - the Shirley Silver Band in June '64 and the Cradley XLK Band in July '66. It wasn't until 1978 when it was reported that Dave Armour wanted to encourage rock bands to take part in the July and August weekend bandstand performances as well as the traditional brass and military-type groups.
Dave Armour Encourages
Dave told the Herald: “If there are any rock bands who would be interested in performing in the open air I would be pleased to hear from them. We would be prepared to help out with facilities and expenses. We’d like to open things up a bit with music to appeal to young people as well as older age groups, and it would be very nice to see local bands coming forward.”
And, these first 'live' outdoor performances by local rock bands duly took place. Flash Harry played on August 6th, Ice on August 13th and Brewster on August 20th 1978.
First Rock Festival
The following year, 1979, saw Dave Armour again fighting the cause of local rock bands and as an integral part of Tamworth's first Arts Festival, local rock and country and western bands took place in an Open Air concert in the Castle Grounds. The event was headlined by Tabitha recoprding artists Ice with performances by the Ramblin' Band, Flash Harry, Brewster and Asylum.
Dave Armour gave a word of advice, suggesting "...fans bring something to sit on in case the grass is still damp and they could bring some 'light refreshments' aswell." On April 27th it was reported in Scene Around that "MORE than 300 people converged on Tamworth’s Castle pleasure grounds on Easter Monday to watch the town’s first open-air rock festival." and headliners Ice "...who play melodic rock, performed a selection of tracks from their debut album release “Saga of the Ice King" and received an enthusiastic reception from the crowd." And so ended the first Tamworth Rock Festival. Sadly Dave Armour left the Arts Centre the following year and the enthusiasm that was such a big part of the character that was Dave Armour left with him.
However, thankfully Tamworth had another character waiting in the wings with an infectious enthusiasm for the local bands and local music scene. More later.
Things went quiet for the next few years until the Summer of 1983 when one of the top local bands of the time - Hardware - organised an August Bank Holiday Rock Festival along with Gary Holt the then Manager of the Arts Centre. Gary Norris of Hardware had of course been a member of Brewster, one of the bands playing in the first Festival of '79 and said at the time: "We decided it would be nice to get a few bands together and we just hope there will be a lot of people there."
Hardware headlined the show and Those Attractive Magnets, The Royal Family, Omen 2 and Sitting Pretty provided support (The Time Bandits were last minute additions and there were hopes that The Classified Ads might appear. The gig began at 2pm and was completely free.
Herald reports the following week estimated some 700 people had attended, the police later complimented the crowd on their good behaviour and it had been an afternoon of great variety from local bands and the musicians themselves were delighted at the smooth running of the festival.
Sam's Baby is Born
The Classified Ads didn't play in 1983, but the young vocalist of the band had just secured himself a position as reporter at the Tamworth Herald and a few weeks after taking up his new post, had taken over the Musicbox column - that young man - one Sam Holliday.
Here "from the horses mouth" are Sam's memories of the next Festival, the first 'real' Festival, the Festival of 1984:
"In 1984 I tried to give the scene an annual focal point by setting up the Tamworth Rock Festival. The idea, which had been tried a couple of times before with limited success, was turned into something much bigger and better and at the inaugural meeting at the Tavern in the Town I was proposed as the first chairman of the all-new Festival committee by a loud, bearded chap called ‘Blaze Bayley’. Such was his fame at the time that the following week in the Herald I called his band ‘Wolftone’. That first two-day Festival – headlined by my old faves Sitting Pretty and The Dream Factory – was a massive success and it formed (I think) the basis of everything we call this ‘scene’. It was the first time that bands of widely differing musical directions had come together with a single unified aim and I think it killed any of the usual rivalries to be found in music scenes. They still existed of course under the surface but for several days a year (in the organising and playing of the festival) groups of all shapes and sounds came together in a touching show of solidarity. It gave Tamworth a definable local music community and the success of the Rock Festival remains my proudest achievement as Editor of this column."
Sam Holliday - 11/01/91
A total of 16 bands played in 1984, the first two-day event which was videoed by Herald photographer Johnny Walker with Sam acting as roving reporter. Wolfsbane played the first day with The Dream Factory headlining. The Bank Holiday Monday saw among others The Magnets, Breaking Point and The Classified Ads playing with Sitting Pretty headlining. In Sam's Herald review of the following week, he excitedly reported: "TAMWORTH’S music lovers turned out in their thousands over the Bank Holiday weekend to enjoy the biggest and best ever local pop festival the area has ever seen. Organisers, spectators and the musicians themselves hailed the event as a glorious success with everyone treated to a feast of music covering all shades of modern sound. What made the event such a unique success was that the idea, organisation and all the funding had come from the musicians who were determined to make the event a free one. The bands had clubbed together to provide a powerful public address system and also did all the moving, lifting and litter clearing to ensure the event ran as smoothly as possible." and he concluded his full-page review: "What is clear is that everyone involved in the event now want a similar two-day bonanza of music every year."
Indoor Party Nights
1985 saw a bigger and better event with 18 bands playing the outoddor event and for the first time the two open-air days were preceeded by two 'party' nights at Tamworth Arts Centre. These nights were designed to allow those bands who just missed out on the main event to play a part. The Friday night saw Freight Train, Blackout, Select Elect and Sitting Pretty perform. The Saturday night line-up was the Total Anarchy Blues Band, Witzend, The Trout Brothers and Breaking Point.
What people tend to forget is that it wasn't a foregone conclusion that the event would always take place each year, it needed approval from the Brough Council. To this end, Borough Recreation and Community Officer, Mr. Geoff Stevenson had said “It proved quite successful last year. The musicians taking part put a heck of a lot of their own money into it.”
In a feature in the main body of the Herald Sam Holliday said each of the musicians taking part in the festival had this year paid £5 to cover the running costs and “There is so much enthusiasm from everyone involved. The musicians will actually be out of pocket paying for this show,” he followed, with: “It says a lot for the spirit of the youngsters that they are willing to give up their services and money in order to provide the show of the year.” said Sam.
Singing in the Rain
Another 18 bands played the 1986 Festival. Arts Centre party nights once again kicked-off the event. Sunday outside saw the Rock Festival debut of Catch 23 and Monday welcomed the might of Dance Stance and Wolfsbane. Each day started at 11.30am with a disco with DJs: Phil Ball, Buttercup, Bue, Debbie Witty and Mighty Midge. 1986 saw the first official Rock Fesival t-shirts with a punked-up Sir Robert Peel emblazoned on the front. However, on the Bank Holiday Monday natural forces threatened to ruin the whole event. As Sam put it in his review: "TAMWORH’S third annual Bank Holiday Rock Festival was dramatically saved on Monday afternoon – thanks to an impromptu trip to the men’s toilets!! For with rain threatening to turn the festival into a joyless wash-out an emergency meeting was held by the concert organisers in the main toilet block in the Castle Grounds. There, the organisers decided the ‘show must go on’, so the whole festival was moved lock, stock and amplifier to the Rathole. Within two hours, the festival was rocking again and until12 o’clock on Monday night, music filled the Rathole and gave the whole four day event a triumphant conclusion."What could have turned out to be a damp squib ended up being one of the most enjoyable Festival conclusions yet.
Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry
An amazing 27 bands took place in the 1987 Festival, with Sam describing it as the 'best festival line-up ever' again starting off with two sweaty party nights at the Arts Centre. Friday night in Sam's opinion saw the returning Parade steal the show but others felt the Pakistani Brothers were the highlight. Saturday saw the 'fresh and distinctive' Conspiracy stand out from the crowd. Atherstone’s Catch 23 took the day on day one of the outdoor event. Posters, stickers and the official Festival t-shirts with Maggie Thatcher announcing 'I'm Coming!' could be seen everywhere.
The big debate at the end of day two of the Festival was who had stolen the show – Wolfsbane or Fetch Eddie The Baby’s Gone Blue. Both were superb, but in the end Sam Holliday's gold medal had to go to Wolfsbane. As he said: "When Blaze Bayley appeared at the start of the set on the top of the stage roof looking out on the world you knew you were in the presence of a star. His on-stage charisma, the band’s extreme musical power and the general overwhelming Wolfsbane appeal, made the group take the festival by storm and I for one will remember their set for a long time."
1988 saw some changes to the now traditional Rock Festival. For the first time the event was moved to a Saturday and Sunday in July and this year saw the release of the Tamworth Rock Festival Album. The cassette featured 18 of the areas top bands for a mere £2.50. The offical t-shirts and programme and badges were adorned with Tamworth's biggest DJ - Buttercup.
This year was of course the year that saw Wolfsbane finally hit the big-time witrh their record deal and in festival terms, few people could deny that Wolfsbane stole the festival. As Sam described: "Every year the boys produce a killer set in the Castle Grounds and this years ranks according to the band themselves as their best ever in front of a massive partisan crowd they turned in a magnificent set, full of energy, power and startling charisma. Bayley as usual hogged the limelight but Messrs. Danger, Hateley and Edwards were so clearly enjoying the festivities that they looked as though they could have played all day. Wolfsbane I take my hat off to you – everytime I think you’ve reached an unsurpassable peak you climb above it. What a band."
1988 also saw the Festival debut of The DHSS who produced the goods in a dramatic and exciting way with a set that was full of originality and power and proved that John Reeman wass a closet would-be axe hero.
The Festival of 1989 saw three pre-festival gigs taking place at the Arts Centre the week before the main event and another on the eve. The biggest pop and rock event the Town had ever seen, 21 bands played the outdoor event and a further 16 playing the festival warm-up shows. The Saturday did see some problems arise, technical problems and a little drunken behaviour and complaints about the noise and on-stage swearing which led to a number of phone calls to the police.
But as Sam concluded: "Verdict is indeed an apt way to end this piece because according to a lot of people the rock festival is already guilty. Guilty of too much noise, guilty of too late noise, guilty of onstage swearing and guilty of drunken behaviour. The only thing I will plead guilty to however is of providing a cracking concert for the Tamworth area and a cracking weekend for us all. The police received thirty or so complaints but on the other side of the coin we received far more bouquets from people who see the festival as the best thing that happens in Tamworth all year round. When a financial crisis threatened, people put their hands in their pockets to cough up donations in a self-less and inspiring way. Everyone from the Tavern Motorcycle Club to young Wolfsbane t-shirted school children, dug deep to support the event and prove that they want it on again. Following the level and number of complaints it looks as though we may really struggle to hold the festival in the future so its up to you, all those not so silent Tamworth music watchers to help us now. It's through your support and belief that we will be able to keep the festival going and lets face it, without the event summer may not be quite so much fun again."
Wolfsbane headlined the first day in their usual iniminitable style and Spiral Eye concluded day two with a stunning performance, as Sam described: "The quality of the songs – not to say their immaculate delivery – was mindblowing and the Spirallers not only lived up to their headline slot but proved it to be an under-statement. I loved every second and for me they completed the weekend in the best possible way."
That Spirit Goes...
And so, to the Rock Festival of 1990. The last one that I will recall here in the History of Tamworth Bands 1960 to 1990, and what a fitting Festival to end on. The Festival of 1990 will not be remembered for the 1,200 or so people who attended, for the performances of the bands or the blazing sun and concluding thunderstorm or for Lee Revelle and Mark Hynds' programme notes. It will be remembered for far sadder things.
On May 20th 1990, the usual Rock Festival meeting took place where the line-up for that year's event was announced. In a meeting that Sam described as 'tortuous' the original 20-band line-up suggested by the Committee was thrown out and a new 24-band line-up installed as a result of complaints from certain local band members. As a small, seemingly insignificant footnote to that week's main Musicbox feature on the Festival, under the headline: Festival chairman – and deputy – quits, Sam opened his heart:
"As a final (minor?) point after Sunday night’s Tamworth Rock Festival meeting I have decided to quit my position as Chairman of the Tamworth Rock Festival writes Sam Holliday.
The meeting left me so depressed that I realised I no longer felt as if this was ‘my’ festival anymore and so as of today I no longer wish to be known as the main organiser of the Tamworth Rock Festival. I feel, without blowing my own trumpet too much, that I have been mainly responsible for the successful running of the festival since I started the two day event in 1984 but I now feel that all the reasons I originally had for getting involved have disappeared. My vision was of an event where all the band’s unselfishly gave up their time and effort to produce a happy atmosphere of cooperation and a cracking concert. The cracking concert may still emerge but as I witnessed dozens of people arguing and abusing one another on Sunday I realised that the happy atmosphere had gone (possibly) for ever. The dreaded ROCK EGO ethic has taken over from the communal spirit that characterised the first few rock festivals and I went home on Sunday night to face a night without any sleep whatsoever as I worried about every aspect of the event and realised that I simply don’t need all this crap anymore. I feel I have done more than enough for this rock festival and deserve more respect than I was shown on Sunday night from people who put there own bands welfare before the festival as a whole.
I will continue to do everything to promote the festival within the paper and I will stay on the committee – but after seven happy years I am now handing over the top position to someone who can control this monster better than I can and I hope it is someone I trust to have the same ideals – Den, Rikk, Bayley or Mike, for example – and I hope that if the festival goes on for 100 years there is never a meeting as bad as Sunday’s again."
For Sam Holliday to say about HIS Tamworth Rock Festival "I simply don't need all this crap anymore," says it all, along with the greatest understatement of them all, when he said: "I deserve more respect than I was shown on Sunday."
Many a letter to Musicbox followed supporting Sam, there were highly successful Indoor Rock Festival fundraising gigs and the proposed 24-band line-up ended up as 20 after-all with Rhythm Damage pulling out, the Herb Garden and the First Conspiracy splitting up and The Yogots unable to make it. A steering committee was formed to run the 1990 event which received a £400 boost with £200 each being awarded to the event by Tamworth Borough Council and from the Tamworth Arts Advisory Council. Four bands played the Friday party night and a further 20 on the main two days with Spiral Eye headlining Saturday and Wolfsbane the Sunday. Fresh from the Cumbria Metal Fest they played all their old faves from their Live Fast, Die Fast album before being cut-short when the heavens opened. As Sam concluded: "The Tamworth Rock Festival remains a jewel in the Town’s entertainment crown. Long may it stay that way."
On Sunday September 2nd 1990 the Tamworth Rock Festival Committee held it's AGM and covened to prepare for Festival '91 - and saw sense prevail. Votes cast saw the proposed new Festival organising committee of Mike Turner, Ian Gibbons and John Garforth trounced by the people's choice of Rikk Quay, Sean Atkins and Alan Webster with additional committee members Mike Fleming, Edward ian Armchair, Blaze Bayley, Denis Byfield, John Reeman and Councillor Dick Hudson being appointed. To conclude, Sam Holliday was made Life President.
So, that's it.
Yes, as you can see below, the Tamworth Rock Festival continued without Sam Holliday as Chairman. Local bands continued to play for their fans, the stage got bigger, the sideshows more entertaining, acoustic stages, radio stations and out of town bands all became a part of the ongoing story of the Tamworth Rock Festival over the years to come.
And so, the Tamworth Rock Festival, a wonderful event that began as a tiny seed in the consciousness of Dave Armour, was then picked up and nurtured like his own baby and cherished as it grew and grew and grew by Sam Holliday but then sadly turned into a spoilt teenage brat. However, what a wonderful history it has, what a wonderful set of memories for anyone and everyone involved.
And...yes...Sam Holliday is STILL Life President!
Edward ian Armchair
Friday July 5th - Tamworth Arts Centre
Catch 23, Shed, Fat Moggy,
Saturday July 6th - Tamworth Castle Pleasure Grounds
Psychic Outlaws, The Shakespeare Monkeys, Litany of Fear, Chemikill, Eight Ball Joe, Vindaloo Breakfast, Scream Dream, Wolfsbane
Sunday July 7th - Tamworth Castle Pleasure Grounds
Fly On The Wall, Breaking Point, Quest, Empire Falls, Rhythm Damage, The New Puritans, Shock Culture, Spiral Eye
Friday July 16th - Tamworth Arts Centre - £2 starts at 7.45pm
Souperboy, Superflake, Harloew Thrombey, Rock Candy Slam
Saturday July 17th - Tamworth Castle Pleasure Grounds
Disco, Axial, Fallacy, Pondweed, Suzi Suicide, The March, Slabcake, Chemikill, Eight Ball Joe, Food For Giants.
Sunday July 18th - Tamworth Castle Pleasure Grounds
Disco, All Before Them, Mal Exist, Public Affection, Kingdom of Summer, Shed the Megaband, Marmyte Sandwich, Empire Falls, Rhythm Damage
Friday July 23rd – Rockwells
Present From Margate, Superflake, Scud,
Saturday July 24th - Tamworth Castle Pleasure Grounds
Meltdown, Mal Exist, Axial, Tokin’ Gesture, Kingdom of Summer, Slugbubble, Dirty Minds, Crazy Beat Demons
Sunday July 25th - Tamworth Castle Pleasure Grounds
Touchin’ Cloth, Fallacy, Frantic, Vital Noise Factor, Litany of Fear, Mr. Fix-It
Souperboy, Eight Ball Joe
Friday July 22nd – Rockwells
3 Tonne Suction, Surph, Experiment IV, Crest
Saturday July 23rd - Tamworth Castle Pleasure Grounds
Breach of the Peace, Smothered, Touchin’ Cloth, Mal Exist, Tokin’ Gesture, Strawberry Blonde, Black Leather Techno Elvis, Mr. Fix-It, Crazy Beat Demons, Litany
Sunday July 24th - Tamworth Castle Pleasure Grounds
Stone Garden, The Pastimes of Krsna, Axial, Truthful Lies, Chemikill, Slugbubble, Eight Ball Joe, Baby Mammal, Souperboy, Lovecraft
Saturday July 22nd - Tamworth Castle Pleasure Grounds
Jordan, Slugs From Uranus, Baby Mammal, Litany, Touchin’ Cloth, Be A Monster, Mr. Fix-It, I-Shen Sound, Legs Up
Sunday July 23rd - Tamworth Castle Pleasure Grounds
Greenwich Light Vessel Automatic, Those Attractive Magnets, Eight Ball Joe, Morphic Ocean, The Go Boom, Chemikill, Stretch, Crazy Beat Demons, Strawberry Blonde, Progression
Palace FM Radio Roadshow, Acoustic & Comedy Stage
Paul Chadwick, Aaron James, Ma Murphys Boys, Mark Brindley, Martin Kelly, Pearley White, Jason Ball & Co, Kings of Spain, Mike Fleming.
Saturday July 27th - Tamworth Castle Pleasure Grounds
Fools Gold, Space Kitten, Mothseed, Black Eyed Suzie, Crazy Beat Demons, Slugs from Uranus, Leisure, Homelands, Unit 213, Morphic Ocean.
Sunday July 28th - Tamworth Castle Pleasure Grounds
Suck, Those Attractive Magnets, Punishment, The Brothers Groove, Super Balloon Man, Passion Star, Touchin' Cloth, The Shining Ones, Skooby, Emperor Sky.
Saturday - Jo Bolding, Dr. Seamus, Nikki Watts, Aaron James, Dreamcatcher, Martin Kelly & Jeni McAuley, All Night Thing, Eamon & Phil Galbraith.
Sunday - Martin Kelly & Jeni McAuley, Chuck Micallef, Robin Taylor, Christine Wilson, Jason Ball, Mark Brindley, Charlie Harrison, Dave Smith & Martin johnson.
If anyone has a copy of the Festival Programme for the years: 1979, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1992, please get in touch, I would love to be able to copy it and add it to the archives - firstname.lastname@example.org