GREG LAMBERT talks to co-author BARRY LUCAS about his amazing new book 'When Rock Went To College: Legends Live at Lancaster University 1969-1985'
It was 1970 - the height of the Vietnam War - and The Who was playing a gig at Lancaster University.
After the concert finished the megastar rock band went back to their digs at the Royal Kings Arms hotel in Lancaster city centre.
They got the night porter to fix them up some trays of sandwiches, teas and coffees, then took them out on trolleys to the city's Market Square where a group of American students were holding an all-night peace vigil.
Then Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend fed the anti-war protesters and chatted away to them for hours.
This is a true story. Barely believable, but true nonetheless.
And it’s typical of what can be found in a new book about the amazing history of Lancaster University as host to some of the biggest names in rock music.
‘When Rock Went to College: Legends Live at Lancaster University 1969-1985’ is the unlikely tale of how the likes of U2, AC/DC, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Tina Turner clamoured to play on a small stage in a small hall at a small university in a small northern city.
The man responsible for bringing these acts to Lancaster is also the co-author.
Barry Lucas from Morecambe was Britain’s first full-time, professional university campus impresario.
As Lancaster University entertainments manager he booked everyone from The Cure to Gilbert O’Sullivan to appear in the Great Hall.
Thousands of students and residents who travelled onto campus to watch the gigs have fond memories of those heady days. One of them was Paul Tomlinson, who has helped Barry write the book.
“Paul lived locally and as a 13, 14 year old he started going to the gigs,” said Barry.
“We didn’t check ages in those days! Then he worked away, came back to this area and wanted to do a photographic history of the concerts. The book grew from there.
“It’s 450 pages, full colour, with 120 photographs that hardly anyone has seen before. They are shots of bands and artists on the Great Hall stage. There also about 40-50 posters of concerts, most of them are by Lancaster artist John Angus, backstage passes, programmes and about 200,000 words.”
The book is also an invaluable rock almanac for music fans, an A-Z of every act who played the Great Hall during that era, with information on band members, set listings, even their other UK tour dates at the time.
“That’s all down to Paul, he found information about 700 bands, including support acts I didn’t even remember having on,” said Barry.
“I just tell the stories.”
And what stories they are.
Like the night Pink Floyd’s drummer smashed his stick in half on a big gong at the back of the Great Hall stage during a gig by the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ legends.
Quick-thinking Barry grabbed the stick, sellotaped it up, and it now has pride of place as a souvenir in his home.
Then there was the time he booked an unknown reggae act from Jamaica in 1973.
“I got a phone call saying they had this amazing band and would I take a date,” said Barry.
“I said yeah. Then he said it’s reggae, and I said no, people don’t buy concert tickets to see reggae. Eventually I said OK, but I’ll have to put a disco on first. I’m so glad I did. The act was Bob Marley and the Wailers.
“The disco finished at midnight and about 400 people left the Great Hall. This left about 5-600 people waiting for Bob Marley come on. But then he didn’t appear.
“I sent a steward to find him and he disappeared into a dressing room full of mysterious blue smoke and never appeared again! Then I sent a second, and a third steward to get him.
“They all eventually came out with Bob Marley, grinning like idiots.”
Other surreal stories include how Cliff Richard’s 1972 show was disrupted by gay rights protesters and how Barry stumbled across Paul McCartney playing football on campus after his band Wings turned up unexpectedly to perform during Rag Week that same year.
Some of Barry’s best stories are of the ones who got away.
He lost out on George Michael and Wham in 1983 after he was convinced to book soul crooner Paul Young instead, refused to bring in The Sex Pistols because he was worried about crowd violence, and had to turn down The Rolling Stones because the date clashed with exams.
But he did book Chuck Berry, Blondie, Elvis Costello and The Attractions (three times), The Pretenders, Deep Purple and a young support band called Queen, whose fledgling stage show totally overshadowed the top-of-the-bill Mott the Hoople when they performed at the Great Hall in 1973 for the first of two appearances by Freddie Mercury and friends.
But out of the hundreds of gigs he made happen and all the rock legends he met, Barry’s choice of favourite might surprise you.
“Johnny Winter with Rick Derringer was amazing. They had duelling guitars like in Deliverance. There were people stood on the balcony rails in the Great Hall, dancing. This was before health and safety!”
With a foreword by ex-Radio 1 DJ Andy Kershaw, the arrival of ‘When Rock Went to College’ has been eagerly anticipated by rock fans for months.
So much so, that on Friday, October 27, once again a big crowd will descend on the Great Hall like the old days. Only this time, it’s for the book launch.
The event runs from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets.
‘When Rock Went to College' is available now from Carnegie Publishing in Lancaster (www.carnegiepublishing.co.uk) and signed copies are available at the launch. It will also be available from book shops.
OTHER STARS WHO PLAYED LANCASTER UNI
Billy Connolly - 1979
Black Sabbath - 1970
Boomtown Rats - 1977, 78, 82&85
Buzzcocks - 1978
The Clash - 1980
Dire Straits - 1980
Genesis - 1973
Hot Chocolate - 1975,1978
Human League - 1981
Iron Maiden - 1981
The Jam - 1977, 1979
The Kinks - 1971, 1974 & 1976
Lynyrd Skynyrd - 1977
The Ramones - 1980
Roxy Music - 1972
Slade - 1981, 1983
The Smiths - 1984
Status Quo - 1973, 1975
T Rex - 1971