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

Interview with Frankie Neilson from The Marquee Studio

Frankie Neilson

Frankie Neilson worked at The Marquee Studio as a Tape Operator from July 1969 until November 1970, under the management of Gerry Collins, Colin Caldwell and Simon G. White. Born on the 12th of June, 1953 in Dagenham, Essex, at the Marquee Studio, Neilson was involved in the recording of numerous works from artists such as Manfred Mann, Ansley Dunbar, Chris Barber, Johnny Dankworth, Van Der Graaf Generator, Groundhogs, Jackie Lomax, and Spencer Davis.

After quitting his job at The Marquee Studio, Frankie Neilson signed to EMI Columbia Records with his own band Midas Mould. He joined to Precision Tapes as New Release Co-Ordinator until 1975, and he later went to work as an Artist & Recording Manager for Dick James Music and Polydor Records, until starting his own independent record company in 1984. A few years later, Neilson moved to Canada to work for BC Telecommunication Company. Today he runs a CD, DVD & Record store called Beatmerchant near Vancouver, Canada.

It's been a pleasure for me to be able to talk with one of the persons who sat behind the desk of the Marquee Studio during the 60's, as well as the perfect time to know more about it's relationship with The Marquee Club and all of the people hanging around.

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

The red and white stripes on the decor around the stage and the smell of beer!

How would you describe the club to a person who had never been there?

It was dark -everything was painted black-, smaller than you expect but intimate, hot and sweaty, holding about 400-500 people, but a great place to see a band. Great sound and you had to be a good band to play there and impress because there was no place to hide.

That means that if a couple wanted to make out they had to do it on sight of everyone else, right?

Right on.

In July 1969, at the age of 16, you got your first job working at The Marquee Studio as a Tape Operator. How did you get the job?

I saw the job advertised in the London Evening Standard paper and applied, and was lucky enough to get an interview with Studio Manager Gerry Collins. And I think I just baffled him with my musical knowledge, I knew what was happening with all the groups and let him know it! So I think it was my enthusiasm and good looks! I got asked back to see Simon White and then I was offered the job!

Did you ever visit The Marquee Club before that?

No, I was only 16 and lived in the East End of London, so it was about an hour's traveling time but my life was about to change!

Can you give me a brief description of what your job was like at The Marquee Studio?

My duties were to set up the studio mics and organise everything for the session, make sure the machine were set up and were ready to roll with tape, The Marquee Studio was 8 track by that time and then log every take and make sure all the info was right from that session. Look after the artists with tea and food, also the producer and engineer. I remember one of the first sessions was with Manfred Mann's Chapter Three and Manfred asked me to go and get him a Salami sandwich, I didn't even know what a Salami was, that's how naive I was at the time.

I think in October 1969, the studio got improved by changing 4 track to a 8 track desk. Do you remember that particular moment?

Sound Techniques Desk
Sound Techniques 8 track mixing desk at The Marquee Studio

I remember only the 8 track machine and I do have a photo of the machine somewhere, but I remember when Dolby B system was introduced because you had to change all the setting on each track after every recording and playback.

I know that the old 4 track desk used to be a Sound Techniques. Do you remember which mark was the new one?

I believe that was a Sound Techniques also.

Apart from the mixing desk, can you do a brief description of the basic equipment in the studio at the moment?

The mixing desk was at the front of the room with the Tannoy speakers, the engineer and producer sitting at the desk, a large window on the left hand side looking into the studio with me and the 8 track in front of the window, so you could see the musicians and see what was going on. And at the back of the control room was a comfortable chair for the musicians to listen to the playback.

I remember they moved the tape machines to a separate room just before I left and you had to communicate with the control room by intercom, which was a total disaster because you couldn't hear what was being said to you because of the music!

So, during your period at The Marquee Studio, Gerry Collins was the manager and Simon G. White was the director, correct me if I'm wrong.

Yes, Gerry Collins was the Studio manager and engineer and Simon was the Director.

What do remember about Gerry and Simon?

Gerry always was chain smoking and Simon was super nice! I think he used to be a racing driver.

I remember they moved the tape machines to a separate room just before I left and you had to communicate with the control room by intercom, which was a total disaster because you couldn't hear what was being said to you because of the music!

Really? I didn't know about this!

Yes, I think he had a bad accident.

You also worked with Colin Caldwell, which was his occupation at the studio?

Colin was bought in as an engineer to free up my admin time for Gerry, then Colin went to Trident Studios for a short time, then came back. I worked with him on the Ansley Dunbar album "Blue Whale".

Did you get to work with engineer Spencer Brooks at the studio?

No, I don't know Spencer

What about Tony Tavener? I think he was also there during the late 60's.

Tony took over from me.

At the time you worked there, where was the studio exactly located?

Yes, right behind the club in Richmond Mews, where the bands uploaded their gear at the back of the club. The door to the studio reception was to the left.

First floor?

Main floor, you didn't go upstairs at that time the expansion came later.

Would you enter the studio from the back door at Richmond Mews or it was connected with the club entrance at Wardour street?

Back door in Richmond Mews. I used to go thru the club to get into Wardour St. Richmond Mews came out into Dean St.

Do you remember ever recording any band playing live at The Marquee during the time you worked at the studio?

No! The Move recorded in the club, which was released as "Something Else" but that was before my time. I used to go and watch the bands in the club after work before going home.

Is there any gig that you remember especially?

Rory Gallagher. I got into the club about 7:30 and in the early days they used to have about 6 rows of chairs in front of the stage and I sat in front of Rory with that great Strat (Stratocaster) guitar and his Vox AC 30 in heaven.

I've heard that John Lennon used to go to the marquee to see him.

Never saw any of The Beatles there but we did have Apple artist Jackie Lomax record in The Marquee Studio for a couple of days, with Klas Vootman on bass and Timi McDonald on drums. George Harrison was to produce the session, but he never showed up. Jackie Lomax was using Eric Clapton's Psychedelic Gibson SG which I was able to play for a few moments.

There's something I always wondered about: due to the proximity, do you remember if the loud sound from club would meddle in the studio?

No, it was never a problem, the studio was well sound proofed.

Would work at the studio during the evenings, while the club was open?

Yes, sometimes, but I can't remember any real late late sessions! We would always end up in The Ship pub or in La Chasse bar, or in the club.

Talking about The Ship and La Chasse, what's your memory about these places?

Both great places! I remember if you walked down St. Anne's Court, I think was the street, the same street as Trident Studios, anyway all the "Ladies of the Night" would be hanging out of the windows of the building inviting you up: "Press the bell for Monique on the 3rd floor!".

The Ship was always full and the stars would be in the La Chasse bar like (Long John) Baldry or Rod Stewart.

Well, I think La Chasse was not exactly a "ladies club" at first.

More like men only!

Some of the artists who recorded at The Marquee Studio during your period were Aynsley Dunbar, Chris Barber and Groundhogs. Anything in particular that you remember about them?

I remember Ansley Dunbar's drum kit and we must have used 10 to 12 mics on it. After the recording he was flying off to LA to join Frank Zappa's band. He lived in Romford Essex and I was from Rainham in Essex so he used to drive me home in his Transit van.

Groundhogs were good, I can't remember the album "Thank Christ For The Bomb".

Which other artists do you specially remember working with at The Marquee Studio?

John Dankworth and Cleo Laine (lovely woman). Reggae artists Desmond Dekker and Millie Small with legendary producer Leslie Kong, Van Der Graaf Generator, New Seekers, Spencer Davis, Manfred Mann, Big Jim Sullivan, Jackie Lomax, The Gun...

Which of them do you remember being more professional at the studio?

Manfred Mann was great, great band. Also he added a horn section on the recordings. John Dankworth was a real experience, very clever with studio techniques.

What about Vand Der Graaf Generator?

There were in the studio with producer Shel Tarmy (The Who/Kinks) trying to produce a single and Charisma label manager Tony Stratton Smith (who was always propping up the bar in The Marquee Club) came in to listen and said they couldn't produce a hit single in a month of Sundays. They were an album band, very progressive. I remember becoming good friends with Nick Potter, the bass player, for a while.

Can you remember Vangelis visiting the studio to record a series of improvisations? I think that was sometime around 1971, he was engineered by Phil Dunne.

No, I was long gone by then. I remember Keith Emerson booked the studio one night because he was going to jam with Jimi Hendrix, but we stayed until 2.00 am but Hendrix was a no show - that was a late night.

It's a real shame!

The Nice was a great band, which I saw a few times at the club. Also Rare Bird, I always caught their act. I really like them, also on Charisma. The best gig was Terry Reid. Fantastic! It's all flooding back now!

Which year, can you tell?

I think it was 1973/74. I had left by then, but he played until 12 o'clock and Jack Barrie was threatening to turn the power off!

That sounds like something John Gee would have actually done, as far as I know.

John Gee was a gentleman.

Well, no question about it, I say so because everybody talks about how strict he used to be about schedules.

Yes he was strict but John (Gee) and Jack (Barrie) gave a lot of people a start at the club and what a story they could tell.

That's right, and they kept the club working like clockwork.

Yes, they were very professional and were very helpful to me in my music business career, putting acts on at the Reading Festival for me and at the club. Jack had a great sense of humor and John, I could listen to his stories for hours. I think those two where The Marquee Club.

What kind of stories?

Just everyone he knew, everyone played at the club in the 60's, but don't get on the wrong side of them, they both had a temper if they didn't like something.

I've heard that Gerry Collins and Jack Barrie opened a night club in London called Shane's in the early 70's. Do you know anything about this?

No, but that doesn't surprise me! Most probably a disco! Yes! I do remember, I think it was on Charing Cross Road.

Did you have any relationship with the owners of the club, Harold and Barbara Pendleton?

No, I knew Harold and Barbara, but they moved in different circles to me.

OK, here goes a weird question. There is a curious urban legend about a ghost haunting The Marquee Studios. Fish, the singer from Marillion, said once: "The booth which was buried in the cellars of The Marquee offices went icy cold and a tangible presence entered the room. Everyone freaked and something happened to the tape which now contained noises other than those recorded. The Marquee Studios are built on top of an old plague pit where hundreds of bodies are supposedly buried"(1). What do you have to say about this?

That's news to me! sounds like too many drugs.

Due to the proximity, do you remember The Marquee Studio having any contact or acquaintance with the people from Trident Studios?

Yes, I remember Roy Thomas Baker dropping by, but that's about it! I think Trident was much more popular a studio than The Marquee.

Well, they had a better desk, as far as I know.

I think it was more top of the line through out.

In November 1970, you quit the job at The Marquee Studio. How come?

I joined a band which got a contract with EMI Columbia records, in fact I met the guitar player at a session at The Marquee, but we only released one 45 and then broke up. We lasted about 10 months and was called Midas Mould (terrible name) and we was no Led Zeppelin.

I believe that at Dick James Music you got to work as a A&R Manager with some reputed artists who had started their careers at The Marquee Club, like Elton John and Johnny Guitar Watson. Is that right?

Yes! I joined DJM the day Elton left to form Rocket Records, but I did work with Johnny Guitar Watson -who I love- and signed an Irish group called Horslips.

Dick James Music was swallowed by Polydor after Dick James' death in 1986, right?

No, I think it was MCA.

In 1989, you quit working in the music business and you moved to Canada to work for BC Telecommunication Company. How come?

I visited my uncle in Canada for a holiday and fell in love with the place.

Is there any particular anecdote from The Marquee Studio or the club that always makes you laugh, apart from the Salami one?

I remember going out for coffee one morning with John Gee, late 69 early 70, in Wardour Street. Sitting in the corner of the coffee shop was David Bowie, who John knew, so we sat down with him and he had just had a number 1 record in England with "Space Oddity". But he wasn't happen because he had been booked on a tour of Mecca Dance Ballrooms and there he was up on stage with just his acoustic guitar and voice and he bombed, because no one could hear him! So depressed he was looking for a new direction to take his music and himself, so I said: "Listen David, why don't you start to wear a dress on stage?". And as they say, the rest is history!

That's a curious story. By the way, that cafe you mention was La Gioconda?

Yes that's it!

I think a lot of pop stars used to hand around the place, right?


Where was it exactly?

It's just down from the Wardour Street location, on the same side as the club.

The one next to the club with round windows?

I think so! It's been a while!

What do you think about the demolishing of the original building at 90 Wardour street in the 90's?

It's a shame! I always go back to Wardour Street and Soho when in the UK. I love London, I worked there for 20 years.

Have you ever sat at the restaurant placed at the same spot where you used to work?


If you had to define the effect that The Marquee Studio had in your life and in your career, how would you put it into words?

I was very lucky to have started, worked there, and enjoyed every minute of it. And it was a good grounding for my future positions at Dick James Music and Polydor Records, and a big thanks for that goes to John (Gee) and Jack (Barrie), who taught me a lot about the business. I always treated the stars that I met as equal human beings, not stars. I loved the club, it was magical, it really was the best place to see a band in London.

(1) Fish, sleeve notes from 'Script For A Jester's Tear' CD re-issue, 1997.

Interview by K. Barroso, September 2007.
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