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Mothers Club In Erdington, Birmingham
My first band at Mothers
Mothers Club in Erdington, Birmingham, an early psychedelic music venue, opened on the 9th of August 1968 with a performance by Duke Sunny, and closed on the 3rd of January 1971, with a blockbusting three-band show by Quintessence, Stonehouse and Happy. The following is a personal record of that club, and that era.
John Peel: "People are amazed to hear that for a few years the best club in Britain was in Erdington."
Roy Harper: "Oh blimey - that was the first club outside London that meant anything at all and that's why there's been this long association with Birmingham. I played there about six times between 1968 and 1970. I have always enjoyed playing here." Brum Beat Magazine 1995
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I don't know now who suggested we go to Mothers. There was a gang of us, just sixteen years old, and all into this "new" music. Alan Greensall and Robert Russell and Kevin Nurrish and Colin Walker and me: all sporting our brand-new centre-partings as our hair crept unceremoniously over our ears, with little bum-fluff moustaches staining our upper lips. This must have been 1969. The year previously we'd come back from our Summer holidays to find psychedelic graffiti slapped around the walls of our school, in swirling, colourful letters. All you need is love. Turn on, tune in, drop out. Make Love not War. They were heady days, in more ways than one. Hippies never referred to themselves as hippies at all. They called themselves "Heads".
So, anyway, whoever first suggested it, we all trouped off to Mothers, the Mecca for psychedelic music in Birmingham at the time and the only place to see the new bands. The thing is, none of us knew what to expect. We were discussing it beforehand, wondering what to wear. I mean, in those days people still went out fox-trotting on a Friday evening. They dressed up in suits and ties to make a night of it. So, of course, that's what we thought we should do too. We put on our best suits. Mine was a four-buttoned Mod-suit made for me by my grandfather. And Robert Russell's, as I remember, was a two-tone suit of shiny grey. I had on a pair of brogues.
As soon as we got to the queue we knew we'd made a mistake. No one else had suits on at all. They were in battered jeans with triangular, flowery-vents to make them flared, with ragged patches all over them, which hung about the heels sucking up the dirt. And some of them were wearing old stripy blazers or duffel coats two sizes too small. And bangles and beads and badges. And they all had hair. Cascades of hair. Puff-ball frizzes of hair, like mini nuclear explosions on their heads, and beards and sideburns and moustaches to make our feeble attempts look like a joke. It was like we'd walked into a foreign country. Hair country.
It was after that night that I started to dress down, and my Mum became embarrassed at the strange incomprehensible monster I was turning into. She just couldn't understand why I ripped my jeans on purpose, and put patches all over them, when she was quite happy to buy me a new pair. Ah Mothers: they never do understand, do they? So there were two kinds of Mother now: the cool, clubby sort; and then the other sort, the one at home who continued to remind you that you were still only a boy really.
The queue shuffled grumblingly down the alley into a side-entrance, and then we were shepherded into a gloomy room. It was five bob to get in. That's five shillings to you, or 25p. It was five bob for the lesser bands, and twelve and six (55p) for the top-notch superstars. Pink Floyd recorded parts of their live album, Ummagumma there, and Traffic had their world debut there. Led Zeppelin played there, as did many of the top bands of the period.
I remember posters on the walls and the tang of beer. The walls were painted black. There was a set of creaking wooden stairs with posters all the way up. Posters on the ceiling. The bar was as the back, behind a partition. We bought our pints (although we were far too young and certainly didn't look old enough) and went to sit at the front. There were rickety chairs lined up. Dancing was scorned, unless it was Idiot Dancing, that crazed head-shaking twitch that made the performer look like he was just developing Parkinson's disease. Then the band came on. I forget who they were, except they played harmony guitars. They glanced out at the audience and said, "hey look, the straights are here." We were looking over our shoulders wondering who they were talking about. It took a second before we realised it was us. We took compensation from the fact that they called us straights rather than schoolboys. At least it implied we stood for something.
Books by Mick Farren
Too cool to talk
Actually, on relfection, and after much consideration, I think I do remember the band. They were called the Blossom Toes, and I've put one of their tracks on the top of the page. I even went out and bought their album. They are one of the forgotten bands of the 60s now, which is a pity, because they were good. I know that Robert Russell and Alan Greensall, budding guitarists both, spent the evening straining forward to watch the guitarists' fingers leap about the fret-board like Chinese money-lenders with an abacus. And afterwards we had curry and chips from a takeaway (that was the height of exotica at the time) and then walked home. It took hours. We lived virtually on the other side of Birmingham, in Sheldon. When I got home my parents were still awake. My Dad shouted at me. He said, "what time do you call this?" I said, "I dunno, what time do you call it then?" He said, "don't be so cheeky." It was the beginning of youthful rebellion for me. Mum couldn't sleep, he told me. I guess he was irritated that me being awake was keeping Mum awake, which was keeping him awake.
After that we started going to Mothers on a regular basis, almost every Friday night, and sometimes on a Wednesday too, if I remember. We saw a string of bands. Black Sabbath were virtually the resident band there. Black Sabbath were from just down the road, in Aston. There was the Edgar Broughton Band with their homage to Captain Beefheart.
I remember Blodwyn Pig, who were some sort of off-shoot from Jethro Tull. And the Soft Machine, who were so intellectual that they took their name from a William Burroughs novel, and who appeared at the proms one year. I liked Soft Machine. John Peel was DJ-ing one night. He was already balding, though his hair dangled limply over his shoulders. He was wearing stripy fingerless gloves. He played the whole of one side of Anthem Of The Sun by the Grateful Dead, and never spoke a word. Psychedelic DJs were far too cool to speak, though it made you wonder exactly what they were being paid for.
We saw the Battered Ornaments, who were Pete Brown's band, and the Deviants. The Deviants had once been Mick Farren's band, when they were called The Social Deviants. Mick Farren had an underlying political message. He later went on to write for the NME, and to found the free festival movement with his Phun City benefit festival for the Oz defendants, and has since become a freelance writer of some renown.
In those days several of the bands used to ritually destroy their equipment as the finale of the set. It was a radical statement against the perversity of materialism. The Who did it first, then Jimi Hendrix. The Deviants were so radical that they destroyed their drum kit at the beginning of the set, and had to play rest of the night without. Far-out, man. Cool. This was probably intentional as they were not a particularly good band.
And that's all I remember of Mothers. A cultural eddy in the current of time, some passing moments from the late sixties and early seventies. Will it ever be the same again? Will anything ever be the same?
After I'd finished writing this I was telling a friend about the club. We were talking about our first hangover. I told him about Mothers and how one night I'd woken up with cramp after drinking beer for the first time.
"Mothers Club?" he asked, puzzled. "Why would you want to go to a Mothers Club?" He was confused. He had visions of groups of Mothers sitting round discussing knitting patterns and child care arrangements.
"No, Mothers as in Mother f***ers," I told him, faintly embarrassed. The spell was broken. I could never hear the name ‘Mothers' again without thinking of the knitting.