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|Founded||Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, 1969|
Friars Aylesbury is a music club that runs in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England. It has 90,000 members and is believed to be amongst the largest music clubs in Europe. It opened in 1969 but closed down twice, once in 1970 for a period of nine months and again in 1984 for a period of twenty five years. Friars Aylesbury reopened in June 2009 to tie in with its fortieth anniversary.
Friars Aylesbury ran as a music club in the market town of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire between 1969 and 1984 in three distinct phases denoted by the venue in the town. Over these fifteen years, there were various trials and tribulations which saw Friars teeter on the edge more than once but it pulled through and presented the best artists of its day and is acknowledged as being heavily responsible for the subsequent success of such artists as David Bowie, Genesis, Wishbone Ash, Mott the Hoople, Cockney Rebel, Sailor, Stackridge, Stiff Little Fingers and more. Fans and artists loved the club, not least because of the atmosphere and the fact they were treated well by people who were genuine music enthusiasts.
Phase One – New Friarage Hall, Aylesbury
New Friarage Hall, Walton Street Aylesbury – 2 June 1969 – 6 August 1970 (capacity approx 400)
The club was started after local school teacher Robin Pike suggested to David Stopps, a budding music manager whom he had previously bumped into when he was managing local band Smokey Rice and they appeared at the school dance that Pike was heavily involved with, that Aylesbury needed a music club based on Pike’s seeing of groups elsewhere notably the Mothers club in Birmingham. Stopps was initially reluctant feeling it may work better in nearby High Wycombe which had a bigger population. Persuaded otherwise, Pike had sounded out premises in Aylesbury, namely the ex-Servicemen’s club in Walton Street, Aylesbury, known also as the New Friarage Hall. A committee was formed which aside from Pike and Stopps, featured also John Fowler (initially as he had made a financial investment) and local youngsters Adrian Roach, Jerry Slater and Terry Harms. Roach and Slater were pupils of Pike and ran their own enterprise running the Bog Hog Folk Club at the now defunct Derby Arms pub in Aylesbury. Collectively they promoted the early gigs and sold underground magazines that at that time could only be purchased in London. The first gig on Monday 2 June 1969 with blues guitarist Mike Cooper and progressive rock group Mandrake Paddle Steamer drew a crowd large enough to suggest that this might be a viable proposition. The next week, The Pretty Things played and then such bands as Free, King Crimson, Edgar Broughton, Genesis and Hawkwind played there. During this time, Stopps was standing out as the promoter and public face at Friars and the only one able to do the job full-time. Gigs were starting to be put on at other venues in Dunstable (including a very successful Pink Floyd gig in 1969), Bedford, and Watford. This Phase ended prematurely when the committee overseeing the ex-Servicemen’s club refused to allow Friars to continue running there after August 1970 due to complaints about the noise from local residents.
Phase Two – Borough Assembly Hall, Aylesbury
Borough Assembly Hall, Market Square Aylesbury 17th April 1971 – 30th August 1975 (capacity approx 800)
Having already tried the Borough Assembly Hall for a couple of bigger gigs in 1969 (Fat Mattress and The Third Ear Band were the gigs concerned and the Friars team cheekily referred to the Borough Assembly Hall at that time as the ‘Friars Auditorium’), the decision was taken to restart Friars at this venue in Aylesbury’s Market Square despite misgivings of the venue’s acoustics and it’s poor reputation from when it had been previously called The Grosvenor (although as The Grosvenor, acts such as Jimi Hendrix played). Stopps subsequently said that if the first gig hadn’t have been a success, he would have closed Friars and taken up a career in advertising. As it was, that first gig on 17 April 1971 was a complete sellout featuring The Groundhogs and local act John Otway. Having successfully presented David Bowie twice in 1971 and early 1972, the third appearance on 15 July 1972 is seen by many as the greatest ever Friars Aylesbury concert when Bowie unveiled his Ziggy Stardust persona on the Aylesbury audience and many members of the press, including US journalists, who had been flown in especially for the occasion. 1972 saw performances too by Genesis, Lou Reed and Roxy Music as their reputations were taking off. Friars in this time presented two open air festivals in Rabans Lane in Aylesbury in 1973 and 1974. The years up to the end of Phase Two saw memorable performances from Mott the Hoople, the breakthrough of Cockney Rebel (who played four times in 1974 including a hastily arranged gig after scenes of pandemonium at one sold out gig), Sailor and Dr Feelgood and many more. Phase Two came to an end in August 1975 when the hall closed in favour of the new purpose built Civic Centre and Friars relocated there.
Phase Three – Vale Hall (renamed Maxwell Hall from 1977), Aylesbury
Vale/Maxwell Hall, Civic Centre, Aylesbury – 13 September 1975 – 22 December 1984 and 1 June 2009 – 4 June 2010 (capacity approx 1250, decreased to 1100 by 2009).
The new Civic hall was originally called the Vale Hall in keeping with local historical name themed rooms in the building. It was officially renamed the Maxwell Hall in 1977 in honour of late Councillor Reg Maxwell. The move to a new 1250 capacity venue offered Friars opportunities it had only dreamed of in terms of artist stature and physical presentations and this helped cement Friars reputation in the music industry.
Within a few weeks of moving to the Vale Hall, Tangerine Dream and their huge production played Friars, other bands like Sailor, Stackridge and Dr Feelgood made the step up and the concerts got bigger and bigger. Camel’s stage show which they couldn’t fit in before now fitted.
A major coup for Friars and a lot of press attention was the first live appearance anywhere in five years of Iggy Pop in 1977. His band featured David Bowie on keyboards returning to Friars. Peter Gabriel made his long-awaited return to Friars in 1979 featuring Phil Collins as special guest.
Another free festival followed in 1978, this time with local act, now a celebrity and hitmaker, John Otway headlining in the Market Square to 20,000 people and this was subsequently filmed for ATV’s Stardust Man documentary (this documentary was originally going to be about Friars but the producers decided to pick up Otway’s story). In 1978 the biggest production ever seen at Friars arrived in the shape of Steve Hackett’s first solo tour. This was superseded in 1979 by Gary Numan’s huge production and trumped in 1980 by Genesis coming back to one of their favourite early venues.
The Police having played on the up in 1979 came back as world superstars in 1982. Like the Genesis gig in 1980, the stage had to be specially extended in terms of width and depth to cater for the lighting rig. The Clash played four times, the final time in 1982 at Stoke Mandeville Stadium sports hall. This venue was never used again despite its size due to the logistical problems of presenting a gig in a venue not designed for that purpose.
Genesis and The Police, world superstars by the time they came to Friars in 1980 and 1982, ensured demand for tickets for far outstripped supply. On both occasions, Aylesbury Cattle Market had hundreds of people queuing overnight and press and television attention.
Friars championed local music and bands and aside from John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett, bands like Marillion, Orthi, Disco Students, Warren Harry, Kajagoogoo and Howard Jones were strongly supported and encouraged.
Although the quality of gigs in 1983 and 1984 was generally high, it was proving difficult in the advent of the video age to attract decent working bands as fewer were touring. This resulted in some big gaps in the Friars schedules. In 1984 there were some weaker concerts culminating in Friars 15th Birthday Party with the Scottish band Fiction Factory being attended by not much more than 100 people.
David Stopps, due to the phenomenal rise of Howard Jones who he was managing, was devoting less of his time to Friars, but the reasons it shut were not down to Jones’ success, but more to the harsh financial reality that Friars had started to lose a lot of money. Whilst no-one knew it then, the last gig turned out to be Marillion’s sold out homecoming in December 1984.
Stopps issued a press statement in spring 1985 stating that Friars was going to be closed down because of increasing running costs, and because bands were trading on favours and coming back to Friars at lower fees because they loved the place. The last straw was a 'well known band' pulling out of a gig at Friars to earn more elsewhere. The band was never officially named but strongly thought to be King, who were about to go very big.
Rebirth of Friars Aylesbury 2009
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Friars, an anniversary concert was organised by Stopps and his team for 1 June 2009 almost exactly 40 years to the day since the first concert and nearly 25 years after the last.. This featured bands from the early era, Pretty Things, Edgar Broughton Band and The Groundhogs. This was considered by as a resounding success. Another concert was held on 23 October 2009  with Friars legends Stiff Little Fingers, Penetration and The Disco Students selling out well in advance for SLF’s return after 27 years. The final anniversary concert, billed as the probably last Christmas party took place on 27 November and featured memorable performances from Kid Creole and the Coconuts and China Crisis.
The day the Pretty Things tickets went on sale for the first Friars gig in 25 years, a large crowd gathered at the Civic Centre box office along with journalists and BBC News. BBC News also came back on the day of the Kid Creole gig to report on the proceedings.
In April 2008, the official Friars website www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk launched with the aim of documenting every gig at Aylesbury and the other towns. Many fans have supplied their memories and artists too.
Friars continued its rebirth into 2010 and with the Civic Centre shutting in June 2010, it presented one last opportunity to bow out of the venue. This it did in style as Friars secured the services of Paul Weller who played Friars for the first time since 1980 and was supported by John Otway. Tickets went on sale for this gig on 15 May 2010 with a queue stretching through the Market Square. This and the subsequent online demand ensured this became the most in demand Friars gig ever.
Also in 2010 saw the unveiling of a permanent art installation created by Year 10 pupils at Cottesloe School, Wing, Bucks. This celebrated the artists who had played Friars and also the distinctive imagery of the posters and flyers. This was unveiled in September 2010 by Friars promoter David Stopps and was covered by amongst others, BBC TV news.
Phase Four – Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury
Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury – 8th October 2010 onwards - (capacity approx 1750)
Much delight amongst Friars members when it was announced that there would be a Friars Phase Four in its biggest venue yet. This started on 8 October 2010 in what was, aside from Friars first gig there, also the first proper paying event at the new theatre. The concert was headlined by Buzzcocks, with Eddie and the Hot Rods and 999 and was deemed a huge success. Further concerts are planned for 2011.
Quotes about Friars Aylesbury
"It just became this very special gig that was up the M1. There were hundreds of ‘em but some that stuck out. Friars was one of ‘em. Great little club". - Ian Hunter.
"Friars was the gig of gigs" - Steve Harley.
"The Friars was a lovely intimate venue and I wish that we had played there more often" - Andy McCluskey (OMD)
"(Friars) was a great audience" - Tom Robinson
"I remember we used to really like playing at the Friars mainly because of the audience, which was always very supportive of us" - Andy Fraser (Free)
Many fans have commented to the Friars Aylesbury website about how iconic the imagery associated with Friars became. The original posters and handouts were done by David Stopps and Robin Pike along with a guy called Ben Bennett from Aylesbury Arts Lab.. From 1971 to 1975 and occasionally after, journalist and Zig-Zag editor Kris Needs (an original Friars member from June 1969) designed memorable rabbit laden news-sheet/flyers. The flyers and posters for the gigs from 1975 onwards (including 2009) were designed by Budget Stopps and featured her distinctive mouse sign off. It’s interesting to note that every single poster was made by hand with paint and a homemade silk screen. However, with modern technology, creating a silk screen in the traditional manner proved near impossible and impressive skills from designer Steve Cripps ensured a digital stencil could be made and the posters were made by an external company for the first time but looking exactly as they did 30 years earlier. Needs’ distinctive flyers made a brief re-appearance in 1976 on a few flyer/news-sheets, again in 1980 (Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel) and again on all 2009/2010 news-sheets.
Friars Heroes Awards / Friars Hall of Fame
Inspired by the Friars Aylesbury Cup awarded for many years by David Stopps to artists who had made sensational breakthroughs in different ways. Recipients of this award included Sailor, Cockney Rebel, John Otway, Genesis and Toyah.
The Friars Aylesbury website, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Friars and with the agreement of Stopps, has been awarding special engraved Friars Heroes Awards through 2009 and again in 2010 to those artists whose performances are etched in the Friars fabric.
Awards have been made thus far to Sailor, The Jam, Stiff Little Fingers, Marillion/Fish, John Otway, Wild Willy Barrett, Howard Jones, The Pretty Things, The Groundhogs, David Stopps, Edgar Broughton Band, Mott The Hoople, Ian Hunter, Mike Cooper, Mandrake Paddle Steamer, Jonathan Kelly, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Stackridge, Steve Hackett, Penetration, Simon Cheetham/Disco Students, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, China Crisis, Paul Weller, Robin Pike and Kris Needs . Some more will be given out in due course as not all intended awards could be presented by the end of 2010. No further awards will be issued after the last batch.
- Frame, Pete (1999). Pete Frame's rockin' around Britain: rock'n'roll landmarks of the UK and Ireland. Music Sales Group. pp. 11–12. ISBN 978-0-7119-6973-5.
- Bucks Herald article 2009 Apr 08
- Schinder, Scott; Andy Schwartz (2008). Icons of Rock. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 489. ISBN 978-0-313-33847-2.
- Bucks Herald article 2009 Jul 21