It was once Burton’s number one nightspot but the legend of the 76 Club has only grown with the passing of the years.
The affection people still feel for the club is evidenced by the fact a reunion to mark the 50th anniversary of its opening, to be held at Burton Town Hall later this month, sold out all 750 tickets with minimal publicity.
Mail reporter TIM FLETCHER spoke to some of those involved in recreating the atmosphere of the town’s most fabled venue.
THE dank, unprepossessing alleyway off Burton’s High Street appears utterly unexceptional, but this shadowy passage was the path of dreams for generations of Burtonians.
Sandwiched between what is now Alpine Taxis’ base and Tony’s Delights fast food takeaway, it once led punters to the cramped, but atmospheric confines of the 76 Club.
Here, during the 1960s and 70s, such future music legends as Gerry And The Pacemakers, Dire Straits and the Sex Pistols once strutted their stuff in front of a sweatily enthusiastic crowd.
Jason Hunt was a DJ at the club in the 1970s and is one of the organisers of the reunion event at the Town Hall on Saturday, November 26, to mark the 50th anniversary of its opening. The memories are still vivid.
“You used to walk down the alleyway by what was the Jolly Fryer chippy and you’d come to the booth where a lady called Joyce would take your money,” he recalls.
“Tom Broster, the manager, would be there and the doorman, a guy called Dave Roberts, who was known by everyone as ‘The Penguin’. He had black hair completely slicked back and a tiny moustache and wore a dinner jacket and a little dickie bow.
“There was a little bar as you went in and then you went through to the main room where there was a little stage, another bar and DJ booth.
“It was cramped, dark, sweaty and smoky with a low ceiling and the toilets were disgusting, but the atmosphere was just amazing and there was usually far too many people in there for what it was designed to hold.”
The squat, single-storey building, now used as a furniture warehouse, was built by Gordon Band as an addition to his Mocambo Coffee Bar, and was originally known as The Cambo Club Burton’s ‘top rendez-vous’ for teenagers, playing ‘jive, rock and skiffle’.
It reopened on December 1, 1961 as the 76 Club, and soon established itself as a venue for up and coming bands, although Mr Band reputedly turned down a little-known Liverpool combo called The Beatles as he’d ‘never heard of them’.
The club’s heyday arguably came in the 70s, when a 15-year-old Trina Barnes, another of the organisers for the reunion event, first found her way past the bouncers.
“It was very basic and would never get passed now but it just had a brilliant atmosphere,” she says.
“I saw bands like Thin Lizzy there — I can still see them now. If you talk to people today about the 76 Club, everyone smiles.”
The club continued into the 1980s, including reincarnations as the Libra Club and Jav’s Club, but never recaptured the glory of its earlier days.
The 50th anniversary reunion came about after several former 76 Club regulars, including late, lamented Burton music legend Pete Youngman, independently came up with the idea, with Pete overseeing a smaller reunion event at the Wetmore Whistle, in Wetmore Road, before his death in June.
The venue had already been booked, originally for one of the regular Soul In Burton events run by Jason Hunt with fellow DJ Mark Johnson, and after a flurry of Facebook communication, a committee was formed including Pete Youngman, Jason and Trina with fellow former 76 club regulars Keith Large, Phil Hutchinson, Roger Bird and John Evans.
Keith Large says: “Three different groups of people originally had the idea for a reunion. I was planning one with Bonny Ellis and Graham Loasby, then there was Pete Youngman and we heard that Jason had already booked the Town Hall the week before the anniversary.
“We sold all 750 tickets very quickly and if we’d properly advertised it we would have needed a 1,500 or 2,000 capacity venue.”
The reunion event will feature music from 70s rockers and 76 Club favourites Sassafras, making their first appearance in Burton since 1976, and Roy G Hemmings, former lead singer of The Drifters.
Meanwhile Burton band Jet Morgan have reformed for the occasion, young singer-songwriter Olivia Bonner-Evans will appear and folk singer and former 76 club regular Dave Bull is jetting in from Australia to play in the Lingen Room, where the Old Cottage Brewery will be running a mini beer festival.
In the Dove Room, the heady days of the 76 Club’s Sunday soul nights, which drew fans from across the country, will be recreated with DJ sets from Jason Hunt, Kev Orton, Glen Leedham, Dave and Mark Johnson and ‘Spiv’.
To recognise the club’s history, the event will be officially opened by its founder, Gordon Band, while Ian Roberts, son of ‘the Penguin’ will greet attendees dressed in the style of his late father, whose original bow tie will be auctioned to raise money for the charity A Breath For Life.
Proceeds from the event will be split between St Giles Hospice, The Prostate Cancer Charity and The Pete Youngman Foundation, an offshoot of the Burtonbased Star Foundation, which helps young musicians.
The event is being billed as a memorial to Mr Youngman, who was responsible for bringing to the club many of its most famous names.
Jason says: “Pete was a big part of the 76 Club’s history and was part of our committee. When he died, it was a big shock and we felt it would be a fitting tribute to call the event a memorial to him.”
Since its demise, many Burton nightclubs have come and gone but none has attracted the high calibre of acts or earned anything like the affection still held for the 76 Club.
“It was just a really friendly place to go, where you felt part of something important,” says Keith Large. “I remember it being very crowded but people enjoyed the club so much that you went regardless of who was playing, knowing you would have a good time, and if the band was good it was a bonus.
“It’s part of a bygone era now and there will never be another 76 Club.”