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Book Review A worthy walk down a distinguished musical memory lane

A bout of nostalgia warms Tony Burke’s heart and soul

Were You There - Popular Music At Manchester’s Free Trade Hall 1951 – 1996
By Richard Lysons
Empire Publications £20


Manchester’s Free Trade Hall was built on the site of the 1819 Peterloo massacre as a public hall celebrating the repeal of the Corn Laws. It took three years to construct between 1853 and 1856 and in 1858 it became the home of the Halle Orchestra.

Bought by the Manchester Corporation in 1920, and bombed in 1940 it was rebuilt as a concert hall in 1950 and 1951, eventually hosting countless jazz, folk, blues and rock concerts including a number of legendary gigs — not least the famous 1966 Bob Dylan “Judas” concert.

Richard Lysons’s book covers all popular music gigs from 1951 including a unique Billie Holiday one in 1954, Big Bill Broonzy and Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1957, in 1958 Muddy Waters and Otis Spann, with Chris Barber and Miles Davis in 1960.

In 1962 the first US Folk Blues Festival — Willie Dixon, T Bone Walker, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim — appeared, the only UK gig on a European tour which saw future British rock stars Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones; Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Paul Jones of Manfred Mann’s hitch hike or drive from the Thames delta to see their heroes.

Daily Worker — the precursor of the Morning Star — concerts with the Ian Campbell Folk Group headlining were held in 1963 and a concert by folk artists in 1965.

Bob Dylan’s appearance in Manchester 1965 is documented in DA Pennbaker’s film Don’t Look Back and  Dylan returned in 1966 for what was effectively the FTH’s first real rock gig.

He opened with an acoustic set – then to booing and slow handclapping brought on The Hawks (later the The Band) culminating with a disgruntled folkie shouting “Judas.” To which Dylan riposted “I don’t believe you — you’re a liar” and then telling Robbie Robertson on lead guitar to play “fucking loud.”

By the late ’60s and early ’70s my regular sojourns to the FTH included great shows by Ten Years After, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, John Mayall, Rory Gallagher, Deep Purple, The Byrds, Fairport Convention, Captain Beefheart and Van Morrison, but not, alas, a midnight gig by Frank Zappa!

The 1980s and early 1990s saw plenty of gigs by Manchester and alternative UK bands along with concerts by visiting US artists.

Sadly, the FTH gradually fell into decline as other Manchester venues attracted the punters — and bands — although shows by Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker were worth the journey.

In 1996 the venue was closed and eventually redeveloped as a plush Radisson Edwardian Hotel.

Each section of the book carries details of dates, the show line-ups and comment plus information on gigs at other Manchester venues. It is illustrated with a reproduction of the 1951 commemorative brochure, tickets, posters, and Brian Smith’s iconic photos of visiting US blues artists.

A riveting read and research into a legendary music venue.

Were You There? is available from price £20 (inc p&p)

Published by Empire Publications


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