Jackie Badger: saw the Beatles play Finsbury Park

Estimated reading time:9 minutes, 18 seconds

Everyone has a story. Jackie Badger saw the Beatles and the Rolling Stones play live in Finsbury Park! The Astoria Finsbury Park (now UKCG church on Seven Sisters Road, just opposite Fontwell Road) used to be London’s hottest venue – and never more so than when the Fab Four came to play there in December 1963 when she was 14. Here she shares her knowledge of famous Islington venues and the bands she saw. Find out more at her brilliant site Jackie Badger’s retro blog which reveals what it was like to be a music-mad teenager growing up in Islington and her successful quest to become part of that world. Plus Q&A with Nicola Baird

Jackie Badger (now known as Jackie Parsons). (c) Jackie Parsons

Jackie Badger (now known as Jackie Parsons). (c) Jackie Parsons

Q&A with Jackie Badger
Q: Where did you live in Islington?
1956-1963 Canonbury Court, Sebbon Street
1963-1978 Barnes Court, Lofting Road
1980-1985 just off the Archway.

bibaQ: Which shops did you go to for gig clothes?
A lot of my clothes were made by me and my Nan, but if I was shopping in the early ‘60s it would have been Chapel Street Market, I once found a pair of black and white pin-striped Lee Cooper jeans, fabulous, never saw another pair anywhere. There was a great shoe shop on Holloway Road at the Nag’s Head, no idea what it was called though. Later would have gone to Carnaby Street, King’s Road, Biba…

Q: What did you wear to see the Fab Four?
Can remember wearing a black wool dress with white Peter Pan collar – made by my Nan, but what else, I’ve no idea.

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Q: How old were you when you went to see the Beatles – was it easy to get tickets?
I was 14 when I saw The Beatles at the Astoria. Generally you would go to the theatre box office for tickets as soon as they went on sale and if you wanted good seats you would need to get there early. It wasn’t difficult to get tickets then, but it wasn’t long before is seemed like the whole world wanted to be at these gigs and queuing for tickets became a serious affair, involving hours of standing in line. I never queued over night, but some did – clearly you couldn’t buy them on your computer using a credit card!

Q: At the gigs did people drink? Did you need ID?
When we were first going to gigs we were a bit young to buy drinks at the bar and not all places sold alcohol. We were never asked how old we were, although when we were 14 and going to the Manor House Blues Club, we were taken by a friend’s older brother, who made us promise not to embarrass him, by attracting too much attention, or by mentioning the Rolling Stones, who were not held in high esteem at ‘proper’ blues clubs. We had to do as he asked because without him they wouldn’t have let us in.

The following year when we were going out ‘unchaperoned’ we would persuade older girls, or at least the ones who looked older, to buy drinks for us, usually cider.

When I was 17 and going to all nighters, which were regularly raided by the police looking for drugs, I had to carry my birth certificate because I was always getting thrown out because they thought I was underage.

Q: How did you get home?
We usually got home by bus or tube, on the rare occasion we missed the last bus or tube, I would phone my home and if my Dad was there he’d come and pick us up, but he would not be especially happy about that!

Q: What did you do the last time you came to Islington?
The last time I was in Islington I met with two friends and we went to the craft fair at the Business Design Centre or the Royal Agricultural Hall as was.

Q: Where do you like going in Islington now?
Most of the people I knew who lived in Islington are no longer there. If I do go there I love to eat at Ottolenghi’s on Upper Street and look at the shops. Obviously there’s been a lot of changes since I lived there and it’s quite strange to walk down Cross Street and Shillingford Street remembering the sweet shop and the family that sold fruit and veg from a shed, Jack’s, the bakers, the fish and chip shop on the end of Dagmar Terrace, Al’s records where I bought my first singles and albums, and the place that sold the pink and blue paraffin. It was another world.

Jackie Badger at Ally Pally.

Jackie Badger at Ally Pally.

Jackie’s memories of music in Islington…
December 1963, I walked into the foyer of the Astoria Finsbury Park with some friends from Barnsbury Secondary School for Girls and the first thing I saw was a fountain filled with goldfish. After handing out my ticket to be ripped in half, I entered the auditorium, its dramatic interior was just the start of that night’s eye opening spectacle, I’d never seen anything like it before. Above the stage appeared to be village, Spanish or Moorish. I don’t think I ever understood the significance and found it slightly spooky, wondering if someone would appear at one of the windows.

As a young teenager this was my first gig, my parents had paid for me to go, everyone was caught up in the phenomenon. This was The Beatles Christmas Show with Cilla Black, Billy J Kramer… I had little idea of what to expect. The audience mostly of girls similar to myself was quite noisy, but nothing prepared me for the volume when the Fab Four came out on stage. It was much louder than the band and Ringo perched up on an extremely high podium seemed to be struggling to hear what the other three were doing. What a night – fabulous, the start of something special, I would never look back, music would change my life and the lives of many others. Swinging London was ready to go and the Astoria was home to many gigs.

The Manor House Blues Club or Harringay R&B Bluesville as it was sometimes known, was a dusty room above the Manor House Pub just across from Finsbury Park, next to Manor House tube station. A few wooden chairs you could drag over to the stage, otherwise standing only. Nanda and Ron Lesley booked a procession of amazing artists. John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, The Animals, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Them (with Van Morrison), Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with guitarist Eric Clapton, followed by the incredible Peter Green (just listen to The Supernatural) – it was jaw droppingly good. To be able to see someone like John Lee Hooker, born in America’s deep south and that I only knew from hard-searched-for-records, playing in a club a bus ride away, was unbelievable.

beatlesHighlights at the Astoria Finsbury Park (later The Rainbow Theatre)

  • 1963 (24 April) – Beatles pull in a crowd of 2,000
  • 24 Dec 1963- 11 Jan 1964 – the sell out Beatles Christmas Show – 100,000 tickets were sold
  • 1964 – for one night, The Rolling Stones
  • 1 Nov 1964 – Beatles
  • 11 Dec 1965 – Beatles again, playing Help! and Yesterday. Afterwards George Harrison said: “This is one of the most incredible shows we’ve done. Not just because of the audience, but because they’re Londoners. This is the funny thing. It’s always been the other way round – fantastic in the North but just that little bit cool in London. It’s incredible. It seems like the Beatlemania thing is happening all over again.”
  • 1967 – Jimmi Hendrix sets fire to this guitar on stage for the first time
  • 8 Nov 1970 Astoria is renamed The Odeon
  • In 1971 the last band to play there were The Byrds
  • Autumn 1971 it reopens after a £150,000 refit as The Rainbow Theatre
  • Sep 1972 Pete Townsend’s rock opera Tommy opens with The Who, Rod Stewart and Steve Winwood
  • More info at http://www.islington.gov.uk/publicrecords/library/Leisure-and-culture/Information/Guidance/2013-2014/(2013-08-08)-2013-Local-History-Astoria-Rainbow.pdf

Nearly a year and many gigs later I was back in the Astoria, Friday 24th September 1964, 6.40pm to be precise, this time for the Rolling Stones on their British tour, at the bargain price of 12/6. Again the auditorium was rammed with screaming girls (and some boys), all standing on their seats. The sets were not long in those days – ‘She Said Yeah’, ‘Mercy, Mercy’, ‘Cry to Me’. ‘The Last Time’, ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’, ‘I’m Moving On’, ‘Talkin’ Bout You’, ‘We Got A Good Thing Going’ and their latest single ‘Satisfaction’ (only two Rolling Stones originals). At the end of the show I went outside and someone asked me if I wanted a ticket for the second show for free – er yes I do! So straight back in to do it all over again. What a night, I couldn’t speak to ask for my 6d fare on the 19 bus back home.

During its time as The Rainbow, I visited several times – Captain Beefheart, Doctor John, The Faces, Jimi Hendrix film…

Blues Clubs were popping up all over the place, the Hornsey Wood Tavern on Seven Sisters Road, opposite Finsbury Park and now apparently demolished, was one where my friend and I saw Led Zeppelin play on 7 March 1969. The place was rammed, we’d been sent to scope them out by someone who wanted to know if they were worth booking for his blues club in Finchley. We told him we thought they weren’t as good as the Jeff Beck Group, but he should book them anyway because they were clearly pulling a crowd!

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