Book Review: Chesterfield Music

I have quite a lot of connections to the town of Chesterfield, my wife was born in the town and I went to the old Saltergate and the new ProAct Stadium to watch football on a number of occasions, including to watch my now adopted home club, Daventry Town in the first round of the FA Cup in 2013.

But that is not the end of the connections, a friend and former teaching colleague of mine Ian Lee was forever telling me stories and anecdotes about his time as an Art School college student in the Derbyshire town, when he was lead singer and harmonica player, of some note, in a local `Chicago Style Blues` band called The Blueberries. And he is now co-author alongside former Blueberries drummer David McPhie, of a book about the Chesterfield music scene in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The Blueberries released one single, in January 1966, “Please Don’t Let Me Know”/”It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.” Both tracks are closer to soul-rock than much of the R&B-based British rock of the time, especially with the introduction of female backup singers.

During this time Chesterfield was a great place for catching up with local, national and international live rock, pop, soul and beat acts performing at an eclectic mix of venues, pubs, clubs, cinemas and ballrooms around the town. Co- author David McPhie, one time music shop owner in the town was also a former manager of Woodstock legend Joe Cocker, helping to launch the global career of the Sheffield born singer by assisting him secure his first recording contract with EMI.

In the introduction to the book, David writes: “In the 80s, 90s and the first decade of this century I never gave a second thought to writing a book about what happened in the 50s, 60s or 70s, believing that the ‘popular culture’ of time was sufficiently well documented in a national and international sense, and what took place locally was merely a parochial footnote in this narrative.

“A few conversations with friends however, some encountered for the first time since the late 60s or early 70s, encouraged me to think again, making me realise that the musical and entertainment ‘landscapes’ of towns such as Chesterfield constituted a valid historical contributor to this bigger picture.”

“ I should really have written this book in the 1980s, when things were still relatively fresh in my mind, and in the minds of potential contributors. The book took around four years to put together and involved David 78, speaking to a lot of old friends. “I met a lot of people who I had not seen since for about 50 or 60 years, so it was a case of re-meeting them and re-jogging their memories because it was a long time ago ”.

“ However, the real moment of truth, to proceed with the book was the realisation that Ian Lee (long time friend and vocalist in The Blueberries, of which I was the drummer and latterly manager) had been working on a lengthy article documenting his rights of passage through his childhood years and teenage years in the small mining town of Tibshelf, culminating in the story of The Blueberries”

 “Stalled at the Crossroads” written by Ian recounts much of The Blueberries and his own musical historical development. This is not just a Chesterfield outlook though, his writing records and illuminates what was happening all over the country. Young people were listening to the music of the likes of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly and were being inspired to create their own music or try and replicate the songs they were listening to!

The chapter also includes some superb colour photographs of Ian`s own Blues inspired art work depicting RnB legends such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and John Lee Hooker.

I found the book to be a captivating collection of first hand memories and recollections of the musicians and bands that had performed in Chesterfield. The list is endless, looking like a Who’s Who of the history of Rock n Roll. Bill Haley & The Comets, Rolling Stones, Eddie Cochran, Kinks, Roy Orbison, Gene Vincent and the Yardbirds to name but a few. There is a wonderful poster in the book for a gig at The ABC Cinema, which has The Walker Brothers, Cat Stevens, Jimi Hendrix and most surprisingly Engelbert Humperdinck all on the same bill. For many bands it was the first time they had played outside of the capital. Chesterfield was one of very few northern towns to be included on the tour programme of many bands. Many Sheffield punters travelled the short thirteen or so miles to listen to the bands, helping to boost numbers.

Ian’s recollection of a dance inside the Azena Ballroom, Sheffield featuring a group from Liverpool with a record out is brilliantly described. Word in the music press was ` catch em while you can`. Getting in by the back door to by-pass the melee of punters out front, predominantly girls, Ian recalls `standing in a doorway was a figure dressed in a dark suit with a collar trimmed with velvet. He wore his hair in a modish, brushed forward, helmet style. “Hey la, can I bum a ciggy off yer? “You one of the group then? “ Me, No, I`m one of a kind, see you later”

Needless to say, they had just approached and spoken to rock royalty! But I was pleased to read that Dave Berry & The Cruisers were still the main men in their world!

His description of The Blueberries afternoon performance at The Marquee on Wardour Street was also absorbing. Sharing a stage for the afternoon with the likes of Davy Jones, later to morph into one David Bowie and casually reading the famous names written on the dressing room walls such as The Animals, Moody Blues, Clapton, and Townshend, paints a clear picture for the reader to imagine, what it must have been like to be there. The book is full of contributions from ‘those who were there’, Roger Buck on the early years of the Chesterfield Folk Club, The Vics Top Rank Days by Eileen Marriott and Girls Talk by Barbara Lee. A diverse collection of memoirs, recollections and reminiscences, all worthy of perusal!

Although not ever living in Chesterfield, I found the book to be a great piece of local musical and social history and anyone having an interest in popular music will find it of  interest, significant and relevant. Chesterfield looks and sounds like it was a very cool place in which to have lived during the formative years of rock n roll, and the live music scene in the town I am told still thrives today.

The book includes many retro photos and fascinating pieces of memorabilia, posters, business cards and press clippings, which helps illustrate the times. There are also two CDs featuring eleven tracks from highly rated local band Shape of the Rain “Live in Manchester” 1973/74” and the second CD features tracks by The Blueberries, the towns premier RnB band at the time.

The book is priced £14.99 and can be bought from Tallbird Records in Chesterfield and High Peak Bookstore & Café in Buxton. I think it was also being sold at The Proact Stadium!

Disclaimer: I was asked to review the book by a member of the band and claim no copyright to any of the material taken from the book or the music insert from YouTube.