50 years of live music at Lancaster

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Photo: Esparta Palma

This may come as a surprise to some, but over the last 50 years Lancaster University has hosted performances from an impressive roster of bands. In fact, Lancaster University used to be one of the big guns on the touring scene, back in the days before huge arenas such as Birmingham NEC surfaced. In more recent years, acts such as Chase and Status (2010), The Noisettes (2011) and Maximo Park (2012) have performed for Lancaster University, on and off campus, but they are small fry compared the leviathans of music who once graced the Great Hall.

In 1970, Barry Lucas and Gaz Taylor, social secretaries for Lonsdale and Bowland colleges, took a huge gamble by pooling their budgets together and somehow managed to book The Who, successfully drawing in a crowd of 1,350 people to the show in the Great Hall! Tickets for this monumental event cost just £1 each, the profits of which allowed Lucas and Taylor to book both Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath. Their initial ludicrous idea therefore paid off and kick-started arguably the greatest era of live music that Lancaster has ever seen.

In 1972, Paul McCartney and his band ‘Wings’ arrived unannounced after touring up and down the country. Lucas pulled out all the stops to promote the band, even marching around campus with a megaphone to drum up a 1200-strong crowd! Following this, Barry Lucas essentially brought Lancaster University to the forefront of the UK touring scene. Between 1970 and 1984, the Great Hall accommodated shows from some of the world’s biggest bands at the time. Bob Marley, Thin Lizzy, Queen, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits and Van Morrison appeared twice whilst other names included Deep Purple, Status Quo, Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band, Genesis, Roxy Music, Free, ACDC, The Jam, Madness, and Ultravox, to name just a few.

Mick Jagger personally requested that The Rolling Stones perform at Lancaster University back in the 1970s. Unfortunately it was for a tour in May, perfect timing for the summer exams, and as you can imagine Professor Reynolds, the Vice-Chancellor at the time, politely declined the offer and the band never got to perform here. Two other bands of note who were booked to perform but ‘died on him’ [Lucas] were The Doors and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, both of whom lost key members of the band before their gig dates. Lancaster University’s campus was left a little quieter after Barry Lucas in 1985.

The Sugarhouse – owned by Lancaster University Students’ Union – gallantly accepted the musical gauntlet, and in the not so distant past brought the likes of The Stone Roses, The Fun Lovin’ Criminals, The Charlatans, Travis and Toploader to the city. However, while the music scene at Lancaster University has seemingly dwindled recently, there are still a number of small live music events across campus keeping the spark alive: events such as the fortnightly Live at the Oak, who bring the very best of up and coming bands from across the UK to County bar; and Pendle and Lonsdale Live, which put on campus-based acts too. Graduation Ball of course plays host to some of the more widely known names, this year bringing Chase and Status and Ms. Dynamite to the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. These acts may not be considered in the same league as the greats that have previously graced the University, but clearly there is still some hope for live music here in Lancaster.