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Pictures at an exhibition: Aylesbury Friars

As an exhibition in Aylesbury celebrates the history of one of the country's most famous venues, we talk to promotor David Stopps about Friars, and about those who played there.

Friars first opened in 1969, at the New Friarage Hall on Walton Street. Since then it's had three other homes — at the Borough Assembly Hall, at the Civic Centre, and most recently at the Waterside Theatre — but the venue's importance remains the same. This history has now been recognised, with an exhibition opening in the town.

Why Aylesbury? As Steve Harley once said, "In Aylesbury the kids are near enough London to be fashionable and influenced by trends but far enough away not to be corrupted by them. Crack Aylesbury and the Greyhound in Croydon and you've cracked England".

Classic Rock spoke to the venue's promotor since the beginning, David Stopps.

Why was the time right for the exhibition?

I have been running Friars Aylesbury since 1969. For the past twenty years it has been suggested many times that there should be an exhibition. After many requests the Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury came back to us last year and said they would like to do it.

You’ve got some extraordinary pieces of memorabilia – from the piece of Bowie’s shirt to Nick Mason’s Wave drumkit - were most of the items already in your/the Friars Club’s possession or did you have to cast the net wide?

We have a vast archive of posters, flyers, newspaper cuttings and other memorabilia of which the most interesting 10% is on display. I had to pull in some favours to get the other physical exhibits. I know Nick Mason and he very kindly agreed to let us have his Wave Ludwig kit which he used on the Floyd's Animals world tour in 1977. I've known Mike Rutherford since 1970 and he kindly let us display his double neck guitar that he used at Friars in 1980. Edgar Broughton agreed to let us exhibit his 1962 stratocaster that he used at Friars in 1969 and Toyah let us exhibit one of her stage costumes from the eighties. We also have the Vox AC30 that The Edge used at Friars with U2 in 1981 and the late Lol Coxhill's saxophones. Everyone was very generous.

You’ve hosted a truly incredible roster of artists over the years. What was your criteria when booking bands? In turn what do you think attracted them to the Friars? Did you get a sense from any particular groups that the Friars was an important stepping stone in their career?

We were always music enthusiasts more than business people. We always tried to be ahead of the game and book bands and artists just before they broke nationally… which we seemed to be quite good at. The thing that set Friars apart from other venues was the amazing atmosphere at Friars gigs. The audience were just the best.

Steve Harley: “In the 70s, Friars was the gig of gigs. We could play 40-date tours of the UK, to all towns and cities, and still carry that air of anticipation throughout the bus, waiting especially for Aylesbury. Dave Stopps was a sensational spotter and promoter; finger on the pulse, hip to his fingertips to all that was happening out of everywhere that boasted new bands. In 1974 Cockney Rebel played Friars four times – in January, in May, in June and again in August. All sold out and all buzzing. Unforgettable.”

Ian Hunter: “In 1969 Mott among a few others brought Friars to its feet in Aylesbury and a cult built up around Dave Stopps, Pete Frame and the lightshow. Bowie thinks he started Friars but Friars was years before his time… the buzz was in the air, it was like the early West Coast scene and the kids were eager, happy and alive with anticipation.”

Could you tell me a few of your memories about the Ramones’ show on May 26 1977? (It must have been an amazing show, with Talking Heads in support, and the punk scene exploding.) What did the Ramones tell you about their experience at Friars?

The Ramones and Talking Heads gig was one of the first punk gigs we did and both immediately became core Friars Aylesbury bands. The Ramones played 22 songs flat out in 50 minutes. I remember the Talking Heads encoring with the Troggs Love is all around. The Ramones came back to Friars twice more on 30 Dec 1977 and again on 23 Jan 1980. Talking Heads returned headlining on 24 Jan 1978 with Dire Straits as support. At one of the later gigs we presented them with the FA Cup which appeared on one of their album covers. In the eighties I met Joey Ramone in Danceteria in New York when Madonna was working there as a cloakroom attendant. I reminded him of the cup and he said "Oh yeah I remember that… I think my father sold it".

And with The Clash – what do you remember about that night? Could you sense in the room that here was an important band? Do you have a memory of talking to Strummer or Simenon that night, and what they were like on the night? Did they tell you the Friars was an important moment for them?

The Clash rose from being a small London band to being very big very quickly. The first time we put them on was on 28 June 1978 and it immediately sold out. Kris Needs was from Aylesbury and was in the Clash's inner circle. That was the connection. They returned in December 1978 and again in January 1980 which was the opening night of the London Calling tour. Their last Friars gig was at Stoke Mandeviile Stadium in July 1982 which was rescheduled after Joe went missing.

The 'Evolution of Friars' exhibition is open until July 5th at Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury.

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