Welcome to Bournemouth Beat Boom

Back in 1965, the American country singer Roger Miller sang “England swings like a pendulum do”, but it was a misnomer. In truth, it was only London that “Swung”. All things cool in music, fashion, art, film and photography were concentrated in a couple of square miles of the capital and the cultural upheaval enjoyed by an elite few failed to extend to the provinces and that included the sleepy south coast resort town of Bournemouth.

Originally desolate heath land used for grazing cattle by scattered smallholders and a haunt for smugglers, Bournemouth was officially founded in 1810 by Lewis Tregonwell and named after the River Bourne, which is now a feature of the lower pleasure gardens. As the town grew, it was promoted as a convalescent destination for the well-to-do recovering from tuberculosis and pulmonary conditions due to the scented pine trees planted by the founding fathers and the invigorating sea air. With the arrival of the railway in the 1870s’, the town became a popular destination for visitors from the Midlands and London and eventually outgrew its elderly neighbours of Poole and Christchurch. By the 1930s, it had developed into a thriving seaside resort boasting an array of theatres, cinemas, cafes, restaurants, boarding houses and hotels.

After the Second World War, the population expanded to well over one hundred thousand and a rapid growth in tourism cultivated a booming entertainment industry. In those pre-discothèque days, venues would hire a live group or orchestra for dancing, which in turn provided a wealth of work for local musicians. The prevailing tastes of the day included big band music, swing, modern and trad jazz and middle of the road pop, but out in the suburbs there was a grassroots movement of youngsters playing a crude form of music called skiffle. As the decade progressed, the same kids traded in their acoustic guitars for electric models as Bill Hayley, Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry spread the gospel of rock ‘n’ roll. By the early sixties it was all change yet again as Britain, on the back of the hysteria whipped up by The Beatles, took up the baton and ran with a new phenomenon labeled ‘Beat Music’. The main hubs of Liverpool (Merseybeat), Birmingham (Brumbeat), Manchester and London birthed thousands of groups such as chart toppers Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers, The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, Freddie and the Dreamers and the Dave Clark Five. Not to be outdone, Bournemouth and the surrounding area produced a bewildering profusion of groups of its own, but not one of them went on to compete with the big boys.

However, that is not the end of the story. Over the next decade, a steady trickle of expectant musicians full of determination and ambition travelled approximately one hundred miles northeast to London where hopefully fame, fortune and a recording contract awaited. Even if they bagged a deal, it didn’t automatically guarantee success, as unscrupulous managers, dodgy promoters, greedy record labels, crooked club owners, gangsters and shysters conspired to systematically rip them off. Most were naïve in their rush to get a deal and signed any worthless piece of paper shoved under their noses regardless of the small print. After recording costs, packaging, distribution, promotion, touring expenses and living allowances had been deducted the debts piled up, even if they were lucky enough to score a hit record. With royalty rates pegged at around one penny (or less) in the pound for every single sold, by the time it was shared between each member of the band, it didn’t add up to a hill of beans.

Yet, despite the obstacles, the persistent braved the vagaries and pitfalls of the music business and followed their own yellow brick road. Some got no further than first base releasing a single or two, a few more carved out long-lasting careers, and a select handful scaled the dizzy heights to international stardom. Although the road to success was prone to unexpected potholes, glamorous, it was not. Traversing pre-motorway Britain in a clapped out van in the middle of winter without a heater, grabbing a couple of hours kip in the back on top of the equipment while living on a diet of indigestible greasy food, flat beer and fags was a hard life. But what was the alternative, a dreary nine-to-five existence in an office pushing a pen, or a mind-numbingly boring job in a factory? No, these intrepid musicians chased a dream, a few realised it, the rest just enjoyed the ride. This website is dedicated to them.

I do not run this blog for gain or profit but, if for any reason the photographs or content displayed on this site breaches copyright rules, please contact me and I will remove the applicable content / photographs immediately. Conversely, if you have any information to add or photographs of interest, please get in touch.

Thanks for looking, John Cherry

Additional sites that might be of interest:

Al Kirtley was part of the Bournemouth music scene from the outset. For a humorous look at the fifties and sixties from the skiffle days through to his time playing with Zoot Money and Michael and Peter Giles, plus a lot more, click here: alkirtley.co.uk

A site dedicated to Misty Studios, a modest recording facility that was set-up in 1975 by Mark Eden in his garage in Parkstone. Five years later he upgraded from 4 track to 8 track and moved the studio to Norwich Road in the Triangle where he recorded virtually every up and coming band in Bournemouth: mistystudio.online

For the story of the Bournemouth music scene of the eighties from someone who was there, look no further: gavinunderhill.co.uk

Nick Churchill is a freelance writer and local author who writes for the Bournemouth Echo, the Dorset Echo and has written short stories, plays and books including one on The Beatles called Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: The Beatles & Bournemouth. To catch up on his latest news and interviews click here: nickchurchill.org.uk

Prolific writer, film reviewer, theatre critic and school friend of John Wetton and Richard Palmer James, Poole based Peter Viney always has something new to say, follow him here: peterviney.wordpress.com

For all things Southampton music related this is the site for you: davidstjohn.co.uk Also take a look at David’s entertaining book, Southern Roots Part 1, available from Amazon. Southern Roots Part 2 is underway and should be ready to purchase soon.

For all things Portsmouth music related click on this link: michaelcooper.org.uk Mick Cooper and Dave Allen have compiled two books on the Portsmouth music scene, Pompey Pop Mix 1950’s & 1960’s and More Pompey Pop Mix 1970’s & 1980’s, full of rare and evocative photographs. They are both available to buy from their website.