Many later-to-be-famous names appeared at The Place in Hanley during the 1960s including David Bowie. He graced the stage on September 16th 1966 with his backing band The Buzz. That year the unknown Bowie played many gigs up and down the country including pubs, clubs and old-style ballrooms. How much he was paid that night may have been similar to an appearance a couple of months earlier at the Lion Hotel in Warrington for which he received the princely sum of £30.
It would be six years until Bowie returned to Hanley, this time as a rising star during his Ziggy Stardust persona with his distinctive bright-red feather-cut. Dressed in a blue lurex jacket and denim trousers tucked into blue boxing boots he, along with his band The Spiders from Mars, played the Top Rank Suite, now the Gala Bingo opposite the Town Hall on September 7th. This was the last date of a busy 1972 British tour before continuing on in America.
Those bitten by the Bowie bug fortunately only had an eight-month wait for the return of their hero. Now a superstar, he and The Spiders stormed the stage of Victoria Hall on May 29th 1973. This was as part of an extensive British tour on a scale never before undertaken by a performer. The high-powered glam rock that Bowie had pumped out at the Top Rank the previous year was still as vibrant although the show now included elaborate costume changes, including a red kabuki leotard and a white Japanese kimono. Towards the end of the show Bowie’s proclamation of “We love you Hanley” was greeted with appropriate applause. That was to be his last appearance in the city although five years later he performed on three consecutive nights at Stafford’s Bingley Hall.
Alongside The Place, The Steam Machine was also a venue for live bands. Although these were mainly northern soul acts in 1970 Black Sabbath, fronted by rock’s original Wildman Ozzy Osbourne played there. Still unknown, the pioneers of heavy metal who had just released their first single pounded out their doom-laden riffs. Originally from the Birmingham district of Aston, the band returned three times. They played Victoria Hall in 1972 and 1978, interspersed with an appearance at Trentham Gardens in 1974. Ozzy even chose to live in the Eccleshall area – during the 1970s at Ranton before relocating to Bishop’s Offley in the early 1980s.
One heavy metal hero born locally was Ian Fraser Kilmister, better known as Lemmy, the iconic leader of Motorhead. He entered into the world on Christmas Eve 1945. It may have been for this reason that Lemmy decided to headline the ‘Heavy Metal Holocaust’ one-day festival at the Port Vale football ground in 1981. Also on the bill supporting Motorhead was Ozzy Osbourne who had recently been sacked from Black Sabbath and was beginning what would be a far more successful solo career. Introducing Ozzy at the event Lemmy remarked “He’s a good friend of mine who likes a drink and tells a good joke.” Ozzy’s last appearance at Hanley was as a surprise walk-on during the set of Iron Maiden’s support band Waysted in September 1984.
Led Zeppelin, stablemates of Black Sabbath, were once booked to appear at The Place. However the gig never happened but they did, as a favour to the owners of The Place, play Trentham Gardens on January 15th 1973. During an extended version of one of their most popular songs ‘Whole Lotta Love’ lead singer Robert Plant acknowledged “The place was where it all started.” Others who appeared at Trentham Gardens during the 1970s included Rod Stewart and The Faces and The Who. Going from one extreme to the other perhaps a few readers will remember Marillion playing at The Wagon and Horses in Meir during the early 1980s.
Sadly during the 1990s spiralling costs have changed the way in which most musicians prefer to perform. It appears to be no longer financially viable to play large-scale tours preferring instead to play at one-off festivals such as the local V-Festival. However, I’m sure that there are many who remember with great fondness the times when bands were able to play the provincial towns and cities of Britain including Stoke on Trent.