The Marquee Club - A tribute site dedicated to the history of the legendary Marquee club at London's 90 Wardour street.

Interview - Joe Beard of The purple Gang

Joe Beard
Picture courtesy of Joe Beard

The Purple Gang was one of the most original folk and blues British acts in the late 60's and a popular underground act in London's scene, which used to perform dressed in gangster suits. They played at the top clubs of the London psychedelic underground scene, such as the UFO and the Roundhouse, and they also performed three gigs at The Marquee Club, supporting artists such as Long John Baldry, Cat Stevens and Bakerloo Line. Founder member, guitarist and songwriter Chris "Joe" Beard, has kindly shared his memories of the Marquee days to

-What is the first image that springs to your mind when you hear the words Marquee Club?

Alexis Koerner pioneering album. Cyril Davies, Long John Baldry, John Mayall going down there from my village.

-Do you remember the very first time you ever visited the club?

With folk blues label Transatlantic boss Nat Joseph who had just signed us. It was to "blood" us in front of Marquee's critical audience. If they liked you... you HAD to be good. A wet nervous Monday night in winter 1966/67. Small dressing room on left as soon as you entered. Small stage but just right size.

-As a member of the audience at the Marquee, is there any gig that you remember especially?

Pink Floyd early light show meeting them in dressing room with our new manager Joe Boyd, who was producing Floyd`s first single. Smell of oil wheel. Pilo lights of amps in the dark prior to "Astronomy Dominé" Syd wailing.

-None of the three Purple Gang's gigs at the Marquee were officially billed because your record label, Trasnsatlantic records, contracted the band's shows for no money. Is that right?

Yes, right. It was audition time. But we were with Les Perrin/ Eric Easton first so Marquee management must have thought "Hey these jugband art students must have something to offer?!" Nat knew we could write pop and would soak up the Underground Scene in a flash (strobe?).

-Your first gig at The Marquee Club was with the Purple Gang some time in early 1967, supporting Long John Baldry. How do you remember that night and your encounter with Baldry?

Knew John previously due to me booking him and Cyril Davies All Stars and Velvettes at our school hop 2 years before. John made us welcome he seemed to like me a lot. He knew some of our repertoire. I told him how I was a butcher boy delivering meat to Mrs. Mayall's house and about the tree house with the mains and keyboards in it! It was great to know such a legend. We all had copies of the pioneering LP Alexis and Cyril and John had made at the Marquee. Wish I had it now.

-Your last performance at the Marquee was supporting Long John Baldry, Meg Aikman and Steve Adams (Cat Stevens). What do you remember about that night?

We were off form. I had broken a string and the whole band was spooked. Also Steve/Cat Stevens was nervous... so much so I had to tune his Black Box Gibson as he was all over the place shaking etc. He went on to audition for someone and did "I Love My Dog". In the meantime in to the dressing room comes Meg Aikman the legendary London street singer, brought in by John and Alexis. She plonks herself next to me and realises I am in great disress/pissed off. She gives me a pep talk then whispers in my ear that she's not from London but Chesire like us. So the great London sreet singer says to me "We're all in a game sweeheart... just keep playing the game and gives me a wink and a hug. Off comes Steve and he's signed up to single "I Love My Dog". So we all go over to The Intrepid Fox... to wind down. Job done.

-The Purple Gang was one of the most unique bands in London's 60's scene. You used to fusion pop music with folk and blues and you were also one of the most important jugbands in the UK. How do you remember the music scene being in those days?

Variety. Old trends still cool... new ones coming in. Epicentre had moved down from Liverpool back to "The Smoke". Folk Blues revival in full swing and new psychedelic music and light shows starting. We were spoiled for choice. You had your blues faves from art scool days.. Dylan had gone electric... so could a jugband... Lovin' Spoonful had pioneered alongside Dylan... and an Alternative Underground scene was going to be inevitable as BBC controlled everything... as did Decca, EMI, Pye, and a few others... we had Transatlantic luckily... but they were short of money to compete. Songwriting was the important ingrediant... but crap conracts were issued. I got ours overturned only about 8 years ago. We own "our" music now.

-During that time it seems that the band used to live in a transit van parked somewhere in London. I have heard that David Bowie also used to live at the time in a van parked by Wardour street close to the Marquee.(1) Do you remember if it was something common for the bands at the time?

Was that him then... in our bloody space? We lived in the van... Jack Sraws Castle, Cheyne Walk, Ally Pally, World's End, Old Church St.Regents Park... anywhere... we liked to bathe at Fulham Baths and our favourite spot was ouside "Fanny By Gaslight" Chelsea. We had good taste.

-You were also regulars at psychedelic clubs like the Roundhouse, and specially the UFO, which was co-run by your manager Joe Boyd. How different was the atmosphere in these clubs from the Marquee club?

Well it was freak out time for the beautiful people then. Marquee was for musos but UFO and later Roundhouse was for "Heads"Freaks" and those wishing to go beyond the ordinary music scene into more of a fantasy scene. Both scenes were valid and collected firm followers.

-The Ship pub in Wardour Street was another hot spot of the music scene in the 60's. Did you use to go there during those days?

Yes we went there and also The Intrepid Fox where the bar manager called us the Shroud Makers instead of The Purple Gang... Why? Because our washboard player ALWAYS had thimbles in his loose change.

-What did you think when you heard about the demolishing of the original building at 90 Wardour street in the 90's?

Outraged. The Cavern was saved albeit next door. The Marquee was our UK music heritage it belongs in our hearts and memories. You obviously are attempting to raise this issue. Well done.

-Have you ever visited Wardour street again?

No. Ghosts.

-Have you ever told your children about your gigs at the Marquee club?

Yes. But dance is more important, we listened more... we liked lyrics... where are they now?

-If you had to define the effect that The Marquee Club had in your life or in your musical career, how would you put it into words?

It was a Mecca... as was The Cavern. I am privelaged to have made noises on both stages. I was very nervous at each venue but it was worth it. Some great nights must have gone down at The Marquee... some genius music. How the hell did we get away with it? They Didn't boo!

(1) Ken Pitt, Record Mirror, 1972

Interview by K. Barroso, November 2005.
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More info on The Purple Gang at the band's official web site