Nothing Quite Beats Pipe Music! 1983
I was 20 years of age in ’83 and l was working for a private catering company in Guildford Civic Hall [England/Surrey] and l was one of the youngest assistant catering/banquet managers in that company – in so far as not old, beat up and decrepid like some of the other catering managers working for that company.
Now our duties within the Civic Hall were to provide the obvious catering facilities in so far as we ran two daily bars open to the public, and a small restaurant of sorts, more of a cafe. The latter was our day to day business, however where we really made a significant input was on the function side of the business. We catered to very large banquets and buffets for upwards of 1000 pending the layout for the event itself – a buffet might be standing only and therefore we could cater easily to a 1000 people. A dinner dance with maybe 70 tables would be suitable for perhaps 400 people or 120 tables and 600 covers if there was no actual dance floor prepared and it meant we had to move tables to arrange it for the night. In addition to those then we held and hosted the bigger galas and banquets for city officials or celebrities.
Another side to the business we catered to was in support to the events that the Civic Hall adminstrations held themselves and here we would run and manage up to six bars that could cater to maybe 1200 patrons fancy name for visitors or if you want – punters.
The events the Hall offered for outside sales were tickets to concerts that were showing and there were during my times there between 83 and 85 a fairly high number of performances from singers and groups. If honest l probaby saw more music and gigs in those two years than any other time frame in my life.
I saw groups on tour who were not new to the scene equally as much as l saw performances from new singers and of course the sometimes unheard of supporting bands and solo singers.. The likes of TFF as an example aka Tears For Fears and l was astonished that girls really did throw their panties on stage?! What on earth possessed them, l always thought it was a myth until one girl at the bar wearing a skirt went through the motions of taking them off and then ran to the stage and threw them at the lead singer who just smiled and winked, took them off his head and threw them behind him. Such was the fervour of the followers known as groupies!
But l saw the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen, Eric Clapton, Hawkwind, Dire Straits, Marillion, The Sisters of Mercy, The Cult, Toyah, Gary Numan, Genesis, Human League, Paul Young, The Teardrop Explodes, Howard Jones, Spandau Ballet and the list just went on and on. The most memorable performance and where this tale is centred on was the time that OMD aka Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark performed in the Hall.
Right with me so far yes?
Okay, now for my sins l am a smoker, l know l shouldn’t smoke but l do, it’s detrimenatl to my health and more so me, because my lungs are terribly scarred, if l don’t die earlier than l should then l should feel very lucky indeed. These days l only smoke roll ups, but back then l used to smoke .. a pipe! Yes l know, if you think that is strange, then stranger still, l actually started smoking the pipe when l was 16 when most youngsters are just starting to either smoke rollies ot customs. At 20, l was coming out of the pipe and moving onto cigars – yeah, l think my smoking history was running backwards!
However, on the night in question when the band was to show it was an absolute sell out, we were not just packed, we were jam packed, they were in there stacked like sardines. I had been working that day from 4am, the previous night l had been managing a banquet for the Mayor of Guildford which numbered 500. The lunch time trade was busier than normal as we had the roadies in long before the group was to go live in the evening and they were boosting sales there, but l also had a small lunch for 120 in one of our smaller rooms. So l was rushed off my feet to say the very least!
I hadn’t eaten anything for breakfast, and l hadn’t eaten properly the night before, l couldn’t grab anything for lunch as l was working. We were a floor manager short so l was really stretched very thinly. After the small luncheon had finished l had a conference in from 4pm to 6pm for 150 people and they had ordered sandwiches.
By the time 6pm had arrived l was literally running on fumes. No rest for the wicked as they say, l had to quickly shower and freshen up and then organise the staff to start stocking the 6 bars ready for the concert where the doors were to open at 8.00pm. But when the doors opened we were ready for the onslaught!! l had what l classed as my battle hardened staff manning the two busiest bars, and new staff in the quieter bars with training staff whilst the regular staff were running the two over surplus bars.
The bars were open for the majority of the concert which was to start at about 8.15 and run till around 10.45, with the bars calling last orders at 10.15pm. [well technically that was the usual routine] However, not wishing to blow my own trumpet, but l was a very efficient manager [which is why l was the youngest of the time holding that position] and by around 9.30pm, l was able to set some tasks to the juinor managers and go and enjoy the show.
These were the days when you could smoke in auditoriums and at concerts and so with my trusty Meerchaum pipe and a freshly packed bowl l went into the throng of people and started listening, and it wasn’t long before l was clapping along with the beats. I happened to like OMD a lot, so l was really getting into it, swinging, clapping and puffing merrily. Then this song came on, which l loved!
The crowds were heaving and l was around the off centre position of the hall, a little way back from exact centre. So enthusiastic was l, so enraptured by the music that l didn’t check my pipe, nor was l aware of the enormous plumes of white smoke l was making. You see, not having eaten at all, l was inducing myself into a sort of high. I was taken in by the crowds, the passion for the band, the heat of the night itself and the fantastic music that the reality is that l was as high as a flipping kite!
Suddenly out of nowhere, l heard the scream “FIRE!!!”, and before l knew it l was trampled on by ooh l don’t know let me think, well how about a quarter of the entire audience of the front part of the hall! Literally trampled! I had to be picked up by the Halls bouncers when they had evacuated the building and ushering the audience out and were looking for the mysterious fire off centre floor! Someone had spotted huge ‘plumes’ of white smoke!!
Oh good lord!!
I am sure you can imagine how l felt when l was questioned by the Hall’s management, the administrators, the firemen and the police when they realised that the so called mysterious fire, was actually the bloody catering manager and a silly pipe!
After that l was instructed to 1] eat when l worked and 2] never bring that bloody pipe back into the auditorium – EVER AGAIN! I, from that point on, had to smoke outside the building!
Prior to that however, the shortened OMD concert was absolutely brilliant!