Live acoustic music 1st Monday of the month Light Dragoon Etton Beverley HU17 7PQ

History of the Pea

The Origins of The Processed Pea

By the end of the 1960s the country as a whole felt confident and adventurous. Musically it was an incredibly exciting time, each Beatles album was like nothing ever heard before, the feel good factor was sky high, and performers such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez  were making a name for themselves commercially. It was artists like these who were offering an alternative to chart single ‘pop’ music and the L.P orientated ‘underground’ sounds such as Cream and Jimi Hendrix. By 1969 there was a noticeable change in style of many best selling LPs with artists such Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and Jethro Tull regularly hitting the number album one spot. Another overlooked group of singers that were regularly at the top of the charts were The Seekers, who must have introduced thousands of people to harmony singing and folk styles despite being regarded as a little un-trendy at the time.

The Processed Pea's Folk Roots

The Processed Pea's Folk Roots

Traditional English Folk song has always had a place in the influence in modern music, but by its very nature has always kept itself pretty much to itself. As skiffle in the fifties gave budding musicians the opportunity to get up and have a go, so too the accessibility of this now ‘trendy’ folk music in the sixties inspired countless ‘wannabees’. Folk Clubs sprang up everywhere, being both fashionable, and also accessible for an audience or aspiring musician. It was the folk clubs in London which the likes of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon found themselves playing in at the start of their careers, that would inspire many of their own compositions. Several well known artists have acknowledged the debt they owe to such clubs and to the English musicians that they associated with at the time.

The City of Hull was also prospering in a trade capacity at this time, and one of its thriving companies was Thomas Robinson & Co Ltd, Wholesale Provision Merchants. Four of its employees not only worked together, but shared the same liking for music. This included not only the Beatles and the Stones, but most importantly, the contemporary folk styles of the time such as Arlo Guthrie and Dylan.

A popular folk club in the area at the time was the Folk Union One, based in Hull and founded by the Watersons, – one of this country’s most influential harmony singing groups. Sadly the club is no longer operational, but throughout its existence it had roots firmly in the traditional styles of folk music, particularly after Mike, Lal and Norma Waterson left the area and passed on the running of the club to others. In many clubs traditional ‘folkies’ frowned upon the wave of guitar playing singers and some would not allow contemporary material to be performed!

So with little in the way of alternatives, the four contemporary music loving employees of Thomas Robinsons, – Stuart Bell,  Barry Hayward, Malcolm Russell and Mike Tasker, decided to launch their own ‘club’ simply to be able to hear the music they liked!  They approached Wm.Youngers Breweries and explained their plans, and were delighted to be told that the Brewery supported the venture and invited them to choose one of their pubs that would be suitable. Many venues were considered and the beer was well tested at each hostelry under inspection. Eventually, The Light Dragoon in Etton, was discovered, and everyone agreed it was ideal with its low beamed ceilings and country feel. So, a venue had been found, but as yet a name for the club had not.

 

Why the name Processed Pea?

One of the questions Stuart Bell has been asked more than any other is ‘Why is it called The Processed Pea?’ – to which he often gives completely inaccurate and differing answers according to his mood at the time. Hence, not many people know the correct answer to the mystery. The truth however can now be revealed……

The four founders were still working for Robinsons during the day, and at this particular time were extremely busy ‘selling out’ some huge consignments of Foster Clark tinned peas, bought in at a ridiculously low price due to the factory’s imminent closure. So the team found themselves snowed under for days on end moving massive quantities of peas to prospective buyers, – with little else on their minds. It was Stuart who suggested what for him was the obvious and logical name for the club they were forming – The Processed Pea!

The first meeting was held on Tuesday 2nd September 1969, and to celebrate, pie & peas (what else) were included in the admission price of 2/-. This sumptuous meal went down so well that the practise continued at each meeting for some time afterwards. It was decided to hold meetings on a Tuesday night – traditionally one of the quieter nights of the pub week

The managers of the pub at that time were Colin & Dawn Hill, but after six months Robin & Angela Hill (no relation to the previous managers) took over. Many recall the brewery’s clever way of amending the name above the door, – by converting a letter or two here and there – and hey presto- new managers without the need for a new plaque. Robin and Angela continued to be there until  very recently – always supportive and sympathetic to our needs.

So, the original committee set the ball rolling for a venture that was not really intended to last into the next millenium. In fact it was not really foreseen that it would be a success at all!  There are no photographs of the first night. nor even a record of the main guest who was booked to appear! Things were very informal indeed for those first get-togethers……….

2. The Early Years.

The format of a night at The ‘Pea’ has never altered. The events have aways taken place in the lounge of The Light Dragoon with the stage at the bar end of the room. Until the addition of a restaurant in the mid eighties which extended the room, the stage area was actually against the far wall. These days a screen showing a photographic blow-up of the outside view of the Light Dragoon is used to block off the restaurant entrance so allowing the stage to be put in the same place as always, and providing a ‘back-stage ‘area for musicians in the restaurant room which has a culinary night off on Pea nights!

The original ‘stage’ was in fact boarding resting on a number of beer crates which had to be individually passed through a window at the back. The Lounge is an unusual shape with its alcove, low beams and ceiling and has been subtly altered many times over the years but remains broadly unchanged to this day. From the very start there has been a time structure for an evening that seems to work comfortably for all concerned.  It generally takes around an hour to prepare the room, set up the sound system and sound check the guest artist. Sound-checking involves a rehearsal with the equipment enabling a good quality mix to be found that the musician is happy with.  This can take anything from a few minutes to around an hour. Amateur musicians (known as floor singers) are not usually sound-checked before their performance – they rely on the sound engineer to ‘twiddle the knobs’ as they perform on stage.

We aim for the right degree of  informality and professionalism that gives the audience the illusion that we know what we are doing.

This system of allowing singers ‘off the floor’ is almost unique to folk clubs and we value its importance for a variety of reasons which will be explained later.

By the time the main artist takes to the stage the audience is warmed up and ready to enjoy whatever is in store that evening. After the first set from the main guest – which lasts around forty minutes, there is an interval during which raffle tickets are sold (another anomaly in folk clubs!) and there is chance for a good natter which is not possible or polite when artistes are performing.

During the early years there were times when some audience members regarded the music as ‘background’ and secondary to their own conversations! Often this was because the room could get quite full and a ‘wall’ of  people would form across the central area of the room preventing those at the back from seeing clearly – hence they found themselves talking instead. Eventually offenders would be politely asked to leave. Today we try to ensure everyone can see and hear, which is why the number of attendees are limited.

After the interval, the main act finishes the evening with a final set. The whole evening is held together by an MC – who introduces the acts and keeps everything flowing smoothly. Stuart Bell who invariably takes this role, rounds off the evening with a few words of thanks from the stage, and then somehow manages to re-appear within moments at the opposite end of the room to personally wish everyone a good night as they leave the building. Hopefully they will be feeling better than when they went in.

The original committee in fact did not last very long and during 1970 Stuart Bell found himself on his own – the other three opting out of the limelight. For the next two years he was helped on and off by Pip Riley, Rod and Denise Parkinson and Martin and Colin Hastie, with back up from his wife at the time – Robina. By late 1972 Stuart had been joined by Robina’s brother- in-law – Ken Williams, and Dave Robinson. Dave had valuable experience of running venues around the country including The ‘Centre Folk Club’ in Hull and ‘Two Plus One’ in Liverpool. When Ken’s sister Gwen joined the team shortly after, they became established as the committee that would run the club into the late 1970’s. Many people assumed Gwen and Ken who as siblings shared the same surname, and a similar back scratching technique, were in fact married to each other!

In those ‘glory days’ The Processed Pea’ was immensly popular as a place to meet by many people who may not have normally considered attending a folk club, but found the atmosphere and music enjoyable and entertaining.

The guests that appeared over those early years were rarely ‘big’ names but were invariably excellent entertainers and often very well known on the folk club circuit. Some however went on to become household names including Richard Digance and Jasper Carrott. Jasper played at the Pea several times for a fee that today seems hardly worth getting out of bed for. On his last appearance at Etton during 1973 he was paid £15 – an average asking price at the time. Stuart has a copy of a record cover which Jasper signed and then added “See you on the way down!”. We are still waiting for him to come down….

Actually Stuart and Dave Robinson arranged a double booking for Jasper a short time later, by promoting a public concert at Hull Truck Theatre – then known as Spring Street Theatre, after which he was whisked away for a private performance at the Officers Mess at RAF Leconfield near Beverley. Jasper recalls the evening in his autobiography -especially his ‘going down a storm’ at Spring St, (which those of us there will testify) and then receiving a very lukewarm reception from the Officers. Perhaps they were not ready for his style of humour which at the time was not only groundbreaking but extremely funny.

You win some – you lose some.

It is interesting to note the typical fees for artists at that time. A feature in the locally produced Folkus Magazine, dated December 1974 carried the following controversial comment on the subject of the ‘astronomical’ fees being charged by some musicians;

“If clubs refused to pay the ridiculous fees that some artists are asking, eventually the pro’s (who currently outnumber the clubs per week) will diminish, and money will no longer be the key problem. There are scores of good artists around who wouldn’t dream of charging anything like £20 for a night. ”

An interesting viewpoint from it’s editor Mike Soar,- who as a musician also played a part in the history of The Processsed Pea. It is worth remembering that an average door price at the time however would only be around 50p so a crowd of 50 would generate £25.

Today there is in fact a vast range of fees for professional musicians varying from around £150 to over £1000 depending on the artiste, availability etc. I think Mike’s point was that there are many amateur performers who can turn in an excellent performance for much lower fees. We agree, but there is also something very special about experiencing a top name at work, for which there is a price to pay – they do not have nine to five jobs to fall back on like most amateur performers.

There is also the old saying  to consider – ‘If you pay peanuts you only get monkeys’ !

Mike Soar was one of a large number of amateur musicians who frequented the Pea as floor singers – some of which were asked to became ‘resident’. This accolade involved being booked to start off each half of the evening for which the grand sum of £5 was paid. It was usually done on a rota basis with local musicians such as Bill Foster, Sam Ellis, Paul Walton and Tony Gratwick sharing the honour in those formative years.

Through the Seventies.

Through the seventies the club met every Tuesday evening and developed into one of the regions most respected music venues. Its guests were drawn from a variety of backgrounds including traditional folk, contemporary folk and those not really sure. There were also some using comedy as a part of their act, although the club was still essentially a music venue. Jokes of dubious quality  began to be replaced by stage ‘patter’ –  a reflection of what what was also happening nationally with the likes of Billy Connolly. A regular guest at the Pea was Mike Elliott, who noticably reduced the number of songs he sang during a performance on each visit, as his anectdotes and hilarious stories slowly took over. Perhaps as a token gesture to the environment, he eventually would be including only a couple of sing-a-long songs throughout the whole evening.

Whenever appropriate, local acts would also be included into the programming as main guests, some of which were semi-pro, but most were mainly amateur performers perfectly capable of entertaining for an evening. Many floor singers would be offered a full night’s booking if the audience and organisers thought it suitable.

During those years there were also lots of innovative ideas for advertising and merchandising. The Processed Pea record label was launched to promote up and coming musicians, Tee-shirts were printed with various designs, and Processed Pea Car Stickers were on every car in the car park.

Some hand-out cards showing forthcoming guests issued during the seventies. There is a notable variation in styles included in this random selection, including visits by The Battlefield Band, Crooked Oak (who are from Newcastle the card notes for some reason), an early visit from Phil Beer (now with Show of Hands) and is that Abba? No it’s Alba who were formely the JSD Band so they must have been pretty good all the same! There are lots of local names like Mike Soar and The Pair alongside national acts such as Johnny Silvo and Mike Absolem.

‘The Lonely Celery Heart Club’.

In the early days the organisers of the Pea also set up a ‘sister’ club at The Anlaby Park Hotel,  near Hull,- Another strange name on the vegetable theme, – no doubt adapted from The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album – still in the charts at the time!

The LCH operated on a Wednesday night which meant ‘double bookings’ could be offered to artists using Etton on a Tuesday  ( held weekly in those days) and Anlaby on a Wednesday. This venture was a great success – its most notable guest perhaps being  DON PARTRIDGE who at the time topped the singles chart with his one man band style ‘Rosie’. It became obvious  however that running two clubs a week was extremely hard work and the Celery Heart closed after a year.

Reviews printed in local papers at the time show that much traditional material was being performed by artists, alongside many contemporary songs. It has to be remembered that many songs that we regard as established standards today were then still ‘hot off the press’. At the time the club started, Streets of London hadn’t been written yet! Songs written by John Denver and Paul Simon were being performed alongside folk standards such as The Black Velvet Band and The Wild Rover without anyone being concerned about what sort of material was most appropriate. Essentially if the audience liked it then it was OK. People then as now had a varied interpretation of what folk music actually was in terms of definition. During the seventies there was a fair degree of television exposure being given to folk music styles with The Spinners and Steeleye Span having regular series. Jake Thackray was the resident songwriter on Bernard Braden’s weekly TV shows, and although few would class Jake’s music as ‘authentic’  folk, he was in fact usually to be seen performing ‘topical songs about actual events inspired by real people’.

There are many who might describe folk music as exactly that!

It is likely that many of the people who came along to The Processed Pea at that time were not regular attenders of other folk clubs. The Processed Pea tried very hard to be available to anyone including those ‘outside’ the folk circle, and many attenders first became aquainted with folk music at Etton.

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