Wednesday, July 26, 2023

When a young David Bowie played a venue opposite the derelict Leicester Belgrave Road station

One of my favourite Twitter threads is one from The Chisit on gigs at unlikely venues in and around Leicester.

It reveals, for instance, that Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon both played Ye Old White Swan, a vanished pub that used to occupy a corner of the Market Place.

But it is the thought of David Bowie playing an obscure venue in Leicester as early as 1966 that really intrigues me, though not just for musical reasons.

The venue was The Latin Quarter in Belgrave Road and The Bowie Bible says Dave Bowie and the Buzz played there on Friday 12 August 1966. 

A few weeks ago I went to photograph it, and you can see my photo above.

Bowie played with The Buzz in 1966 and 1967. His first band, The Lower Third, had split with him because of a dispute with the management over pay. During their time together, The Buzz played on Bowie's fourth single You're Holding Me Down, which is a record that has not found its way on to YouTube.

The opening of The Latin Quarter was announced in a feature that took up the best part of a page of the Leicester Daily Mercury on Friday 27 May 1966, which announced:

New Teenage Night Spot

Opening Tomorrow

The Latest in Coffee Clubs and Restaurants 

A special all night live music session opens the Latin Quarter on Saturday night with local groups playing from 8 pm through till 6 am Entrance is in Belgrave Road by the lights junction with Abbey Park Road The tunnel of wicker hurdles through which grow ferns and down the stairs under the baleful watch of Pagan masks 

Not only is this to be a restaurant by day but will provide the ultimate in the city as a dusk-’til-dawn coffee club complete with most up-to-date Rock-ola Grand Prix Juke Box with stereophonic sound Meals will be served on occasional tables and diners on Design Centre chairs of a brilliant 'flame' colour.

The feature also promised:

Continuous Music by Local Groups

Every evening at eight ... that is the motto of the Latin Quarter for your entertainment entertainment that we know you will like all the best in the local groups provided by PS Promotions.

And to be fair to PS Promotions, among the bands announced for the venue's first week are The Farinas, who were soon to become Family, Leicester best band of the era.

The Latin Quarter was clearly meant to be a big deal - the feature has notices from its suppliers wishing well. I was intrigued to see that all the internal design work was by Derrick Knightley Associates of Leicester, because Derrick Knightley was an Independent member of Harborough District Council when I was a councillor.

All of which makes it rather sad that I can find no reference to The Latin Quarter after 1966. Among the non-Leicester bands who did play it that year were Bluesology, whose young keyboard player was Reg Dwight. He was to make a stage name from those of two other musicians who were members of the band: Elton Dean and Long John Baldry.

What interested me as much as The Latin Quarter is what was on the other side of Belgrave Road.
It doesn't look much today, but in 1966 this store and car park were the site of Leicester Belgrave Road station, the Great Northern Railway's old terminus in the city.

It had closed to passengers - by then it was mainly used for holiday trains to the Lincolnshire coast - in 1962, but the last railway buildings on the site were not demolished until 1985. The photo before shows the station many decades before that

So I like to think that David Bowie popped out for a fag and discovered the old station as a haunt of pigeons with its masonry stained green by leaking gutters and plants forcing their way from every crack and cranny they could find.

If I had a time machine, I might well set it for the evening of 12 August 1966.

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