When Rock went to college

When Rock Went to College


Legends Live at Lancaster University, 1969–1985

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For 15 years, from 1970 until 1985, Lancaster was one of the great centres for live rock music in the world. The greatest names from every corner of the planet appeared on stage at Lancaster University’s Great Hall, earning both city and institution a permanent place in rock history.

The Who, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Black Sabbath, U2, Dire Straits, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Queen, T. Rex, Blondie, Ramones, Pretenders, AC DC . . . just some of the legends who featured virtually every weekend in little old Lancaster.

These acts were at the height of their fame. Top bands begged their agents to get them a booking at Lancaster University. In all, over 500 bands graced this small stage, in a small hall, in a small city in the North West of England.

Now, a superb book is about to be published, telling the full story of this unbelievable period, giving details of the performers and the shows, and revealing what went on backstage. Written by impresario Barry Lucas, who pulled in the bands that played, and avid rock fan Paul Tomlinson, this huge volume (large page size, over 400 pages in colour throughout) is a highly entertaining read, and is full of over 100 unique photos, posters, flyers, backstage passes, programmes, tickets and reviews, most of which have never been published before.

What happened was truly a phenomenon, a moment in time that will never be repeated. If you were lucky enough to be there, this book will bring happy memories flooding back; and if you weren’t, you will be amazed, and will easily be able to imagine the excitement and anticipation of walking through the Great Hall’s glass doors to be part of these legendary concerts.

When Rock Went to College is for rock music fans the world over, with a very special appeal for anyone associated with Lancaster or its fabled university.

Featuring posters by John Angus and photos by Geoff Campbell.

“Barry and Paul have put together here not just a fascinating account of a rock & roll phenomenon, but a truly important and entertaining cultural and social history.” –Andy Kershaw (journalist, radio and TV presenter)

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  • Authors: Barry Lucas and Paul Tomlinson
  • Dimensions: 270mm x 210mm
  • Pages: Around 400
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Illustrations: Full colour throughout
  • ISBN: 978-1-910837-11-5

1 review for When Rock Went to College

  1. :

    Foreword by Andy Kershaw (journalist, radio and TV presenter)

    “Whatever you do, don’t book Chuck Berry. He’s a bloody nightmare. He turns up with musicians he’s never met before, never mind rehearsed with. He plays the absolute minimum. You have to give him cash in his hand before he’ll go on stage. And then another bundle of cash, at the side of the stage, before he’ll play an encore.”

    Barry Lucas was giving his advice, over the phone, to a fresh young Entertainments Secretary – me – who had just taken over the job of booking all the bands, and running the concerts at Leeds University. The Refectory at Leeds wasn’t just the biggest college venue in the UK but, like Lancaster, a major venue full stop. And I, full of enthusiasm – maybe – had no experience of concert promotion and, at first, little idea of what I was doing. But Leeds University already had a long and proud rock & roll history, and much-admired standards of professionalism, which I was determined to uphold.

    So, it was to Barry, over at Lancaster University, to whom I would often turn for guidance. Barry was already something of a legend, a veteran organiser of the Lancaster gigs. And – to my great envy – he’d managed to get himself appointed in that role, a decade earlier, as a full-time employee of the Students’ Union. Conversely, and absurd though it was, the Ents Sec. job at Leeds was not even a sabbatical post; I was expected to do my Politics degree at the same time. That was impossible. So, after I became Ents Sec. in March 1980, halfway through my second year, the Politics Department never saw me again.

    As venues, Leeds and Lancaster universities had similar capacities – much larger than those of other colleges – so we both had the ability, and the potential ticket sales, to draw the world’s biggest bands of the time. Both Leeds and Lancaster also enjoyed a reputation within the live music business for absolute professionalism in the manner in which we ran our concerts. (Even though, in my case – and to visiting bands and road crews – the boss of the Leeds University gigs appeared to be a child of no more than eleven.)

    Because of those similarities, many regarded Leeds and Lancaster universities as rivals. I, however, did not. Barry and I would often share our opinions and knowledge about realistic fees for bands, then deploy our combined bargaining muscle and intelligence to bring booking agents to their senses.

    There was much else which Leeds and Lancaster shared. You will notice in this book, for example, that the performer who appeared most in the Great Hall at Lancaster during these years was John Martyn. No surprise to me. John was also such a regular with us at Leeds that – as I recall in my autobiography, No Off Switch – there was a period in which I began to suspect the dear old thing was living under the Refectory stage. Now, I know the truth: when John wasn’t with us, he was – reliably – over in Lancaster.

    Barry and I also found ourselves in these dream jobs, at these fabulous venues, in what is now regarded as a golden age for live music – before the era of arena shows, and when even the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Who were still impressed to be playing 2,000 capacity halls.

    One only has to skim through the full history here of performers – each and every gig forensically detailed and remembered in this wonderful book – to recognise that Lancaster University hosted, for fifteen years, a definitive Who’s Who of rock & roll. (Although, unlike Leeds University, Barry came only close to getting the Stones).

    Soon after Barry left the Lancaster job at the end of 1984 and two years after I was obliged to move off into the real world from Leeds, concerts at both great venues became a shadow of their former selves, and would soon fizzle out altogether. There were a number of reasons for this: kids then of college age were not as obsessed with music as we had been; the arrival and domination, from the late 1980s, of digitised and dehumanised Dance music held more appeal for those young people than four or five blokes actually playing music with guitars, drums, bass and keyboards; and the tidy, expanding conspiracy between the legitimised extortionists of the insurance business and the newly flourishing industry of health & safety zealots and killjoys decided that eighteen and nineteen year old kids could not be trusted to run major rock concerts (Oh, yes they could. We did it. And guess what? Nobody died).

    Barry Lucas and his Boswell, Paul Tomlinson, have also sprinkled their book with delicious anecdotes about both the delights and horrors of live concert promotion, its characters, its absurdities and implausibility, which give this history – like that of my own at Leeds – the qualities of a mad dream. And although sometimes nudging into nightmare, it’s a mad dream that was always, always huge fun, the like of which today’s university students will never have the chance to experience, and possibly won’t believe.

    Simply, you couldn’t make it up. And, if you tried to start today what Barry Lucas started at Lancaster and what my predecessors at Leeds started around the same time, the authorities wouldn’t let it happen.

    Barry and Paul have put together here not just a fascinating account of a rock & roll phenomenon, but a truly important and entertaining cultural and social history.

    Now, inspired – and a little shamed by their efforts – I’d better get working on a companion volume about Leeds …

    Oh, and I never did book Chuck Berry. Thanks, Barry.

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