The Life and Times of a Concert Secretary

Following the post on how rubbish Elvis was and how the Elvis who played Harehills Working Mens club was sooooo much better, in my fathers opinion of course although be fair, he did see both of them live and so was able to judge properly, following on from that I had a Facebook message from an old schoolchum Chris Kirkbride, or Sam as we knew him.

Sam, because he looked like the Milky Bar Kid, its got nothing to do with this, but yes, thats why “Sam”.

Anyway Sam, I feel more comfortable calling him Sam, its a grammar school boy thing, you give each other names because if you don’t then you have to call each other by their surname, its in the rules, anyway, Sam was reminded of the time when a band he was playing in auditioned at Harehills Working Mens club in front of a whole bunch of Working Mens Club concert secretary’s and ultimately they were refused any bookings because one of their guitarists was wearing trainers.

And that my friends is the power that was wielded by the concert secretary of your average run of the mill Working Mens Club – Sam Kirkbride’s band were denied the opportunity to earn a half decent living from playing the clubs, not because they weren’t good enough but simply because one of them was wearing trainers.

I had to admit to Sam that yes, its a distinct possibility that my father, in his guise of concert secretary of Meanwood Con Club may have been one of those who voted them off the stage – the sins of your father and all that.

Your average concert secretary was just an ordinary bloke, he probably worked in a factory or was a retired factory worker, he would be totally immersed in the Club and Institute Union ethic and folklore, that is a club owned by its members, operating a not-for-profit community service, selling beers purchased on bulk CIU terms from brewers who were falling over themselves to get a WMC contract, they bought the beer cheap and sold it cheap and thats what attracted the members.

Most clubs worth their salt would have a concert room and most would have a “turn” on every Saturday and Sunday night, the culture being that through the week the club was for menfolk to gather, moan about their wives, drink beer and play snooker in the bar and then begrudgingly treat their wives to a night out in the concert room and a “turn” followed by a bit of a disco dance afterwards – and then a whole hour spent saying goodnight to everyone in the hallway as they tried to find their way home.

My dad was immersed in the culture, I never knew him not to go out to a club on a Saturday or Sunday night with my mother and all of their mates, his old pal Brian (Brian, the one who shared an apartment with my dad later on in life in Benidorm, Brian who died on a flight back to the UK but no-one noticed, that Brian), compiled and distributed the “Club Book” every month, the Club Book being the bible of every CIU club in the district giving details of what turns they had booked for each weekend that month, it was more precious than a bible to my dad who consulted it every single weekend to sort out where they were going and who they were going to watch.

Your average concert secretary may have just been an ordinary bloke in real life but inside his club he was God, the word of law, he booked the turns every week, the good turns were booked up to a year in advance but if there was a gap in the diary then your concert secretary would be ringing around one of several agents to see who was free,

“Durango and his talking labrador is free on the 18th”
“Na, we had him last bank holiday, the dog died a death”
“That was in the act”
“Have you got any jugglers on the 18th ?”
“Ive got a comedy guitar duo, they can juggle a bit for an extra ten quid”

And so it went, and when it had gone it was your concert secretary’s job to get out his big coloured sheets of paper and his big wide felt tip pens and write a poster to put in the entrance hall so that everyone knew who was on next week and the language used was a special concert secretary’s language that they’d invented between themselves and the agents.

“Knockout Comedian”
“Guitar Vocal Duo”
“Superb illusionist and sword swallower”
“Talking dog”
“Comedy showband”
“Absolute f’kin rubbish but he’s cheap”

It was often my job to draw those posters when my dad couldn’t be arsed and occasionally I’d get the dates wrong and when I did all sorts of hell and shit would descend upon my head from all directions, you’d think that I’d got the date of someones wedding wrong and they’d turned up a week too late rather than turning up a week too late to find that they’d missed Maureen Cleghorn, Alpine Songstress and Fire Eater, “KNOCKOUT ACT, DO NOT MISS”  its not as if they only went for the one occasion, most of the members spent more time in the club than they did their own houses.

But the worst of times to be a concert secretary was when the Knockout Comedy Duo that you’d booked twelve months ago and advertised for the last two months rang you at 7pm to say they wouldn’t be coming, they’d double booked, or one of them was dead, or similar, that was a really bad time to be a concert secretary for it was then that you were at the mercy of the agents and you’d have to ring around them to see which one of them had a turn that didn’t have a booking that night and could be ready and at your club within the next ten minutes – I actually witnessed this phenomenon one saturday night at Harehills Working Mens Club when a top-rated comedian called Joe Belcher (he’d even been in films, proper cinema films and everything) cancelled with short notice after dental problems and the concert secretary actually made this announcement …

“I’m very sorry to tell you ladies and gentlemen but Joe Belcher won’t be coming tonight as he’s had all his teeth out, but don’t worry I’ve been able to book a replacement at very short notice, and here he is…”

Remember, we were there to watch a top-rated comedian, if your top rated comedian cancels then its not unrealistic to expect your concert secretary to book another comedian in replacement, maybe he won’t be as good, but you’d expect another comedian wouldn’t you ?

The last minute replacement walked on stage to generous applause, white trousers, red blazer, carrying a stool and a suitcase, he put the stool down, sat on it, opened his suitcase, people started laughing, the “turn” kept a straight Harold Lloyd stylee face, he took a saw out of the suitcase and a violin bow, more people started laughing.

Clamping the handle between his legs and grasping the top of the saw he drew the violin bow across it, it wailed, and by bending the saw he got a tune of sorts out of it, Danny Boy was the tune, he played the first verse, everyone was laughing now, the “turn” never cracked a smile, so far he hadn’t said anything, just sat and played the first verse of Danny Boy, this was hilarious, wait until he started telling jokes.

Then he played the second verse of Danny Boy and slowly the penny started to drop – this wasn’t a comedy act, this was a bloke who played the saw as his act, his whole act was playing the saw, thats all he did, professionally.

I’ve never seen a room empty so fast, which is a pity for we stayed until he’d finished with Danny Boy and not waiting for any applause (he didn’t get any anyway), he took a hosepipe out of his suitcase, stuck a trumpet mouthpiece in one end and played God Save The Queen while swinging the hosepipe around his head, lets say this again – he did this as a profession.

The concert secretary was nowhere to be seen that night, he’d gone home after realising that his replacement comedian was a bloke who played music on things he found in his garden shed and thought that it would entertain people.

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