Wish You Were Here? Possibly not!
It was the night that Pink Floyd played Gorleston ... but did it leave the audience ‘Comfortably Numb’? David Clayton talks to the band that stepped in to help when things went wrong
It’s quite something when you rescue the night for one of the most famous groups in the world, albeit 51 years ago ...
That’s what happened to The Alex Wilson Set back in July 1967. Being a popular group in East Anglia, they’d been booked by promoter Howard Platt as the support band for a Wednesday night at Gorleston’s Floral Hall.
The evening was different in the sense that TV cameras were there recording footage for a new, colour BBC Two programme called ‘The Impresarios’. However, they weren’t pointing at the local band, they were there for a relatively new group. It was different and avantgarde, had a record in the charts and it was at the cutting edge of psychedelia. In the ‘Flower Power’ summer of 1967, Pink Floyd was soon to go global.
Howard Platt promoted bands at several venues around the area and the trick was to book a band just at the right time to maximise any chart success. Howard had a reputation for securing the top bands at the Floral Hall and got it right with Pink Floyd because the place was packed. ‘See Emily Play’ was the group’s second single and it was firmly in the Top 10.
Whether it was because Gorleston was difficult to get to via the 1960s’ road network or chart success made bands rethink the booking they’d accepted, Howard had had problems with the bands not turning up on time or sometimes at all. For that reason, he’d gone to meet the Pink Floyd members, who he knew were flying in to Manchester airport, to escort them across the country to the east coast. That way he could make sure they got to the gig. That all went wrong because the band changed its plans at the last minute and flew into London instead.
They eventually made it to the Floral Hall, where 800 people were curious to see this much talked about, psychedelic band. However, there was one problem, the band’s impressively large PA system didn’t work. There was only one thing for it, they had to borrow the local band’s sound system.
The Alex Wilson Set’s drummer, Jim Jewel, remembers the moment well:
“They’d arrived late and had already brought in a massive lighting system, but they couldn’t get a peep out of their PA. Roger Waters asked me if they could use ours.”
The local band was happy to help, but to be honest its own PA wasn’t up to much. According to Jim, it was only half built in the sense they’d made the cabinets but could only afford to install half the speakers. Good enough for its
set, but Pink Floyd’s repertoire was something else . . . it was loud and then some!
“I stood at the back to watch them,” says Jim. “Their instruments and amplifiers were so powerful, not only couldn’t we hear them sing, we couldn’t even hear announcements between songs.”
The local band had done a set to start the evening and, as it was playing familiar hits of the day, it had gone down well. The Floyd’s material was more obscure. The band was probably doing stuff from the debut album ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’.
Kingsley Harris’s splendid website, www. musicfromtheeastzone.co.uk has an account of the gig which picks up on the dramatic swirling lighting effects but alludes to the fact the band was very loud. There’s a sense that the local audience looked on, trying to make sense of this psychedelic happening. The Alex Wilson Set’s manager, Tony Baker, now retired and living near Norwich, summed it up: “It was a bit bizarre for Gorleston” and “The music was nothing spectacular”.
There were reports of Floyd being booed off stage and the local band going on to rescue the evening.
Jim Jewel says that’s not true. He can’t recall any booing and nor can he recall people leaving. When Pink Floyd finished, the Alex Wilson Set went back on to finish the evening, which was normal, and it’s likely the recognisable cover versions went down well to close the night.
Jim laughs as he tells me:
“We were probably responsible for providing Pink Floyd with the worst PA they ever played through!”
To date, the BBC footage of Pink Floyd at Gorleston’s Floral Hall – now The Ocean Room – has never been found. It was never used in The Impresarios series, probably because of the poor sound. But there’s just the tantalising possibility it could be lying on a shelf somewhere.
It was a bit bizarre for Gorleston
An advert for The Pink Floyd gig at The Floral Hall – were you there?
The Alex Wilson Sect drew some publicity of their own in the Eastern Evening News.
The Alex Wilson Set around the time that they supported Pink Floyd at Gorleston. They were a Beccles-based band and this is from a practice night at a hall in Beccles. Left to right: Brian Wilson, Derek Driver, Dave Smith-Howell and Jim Jewell. Photo: Courtesy of the band’s manager Tony Baker.
This moody photo of the Alex Wilson Set shows the band as a five-piece. Photo: Courtesy of Jim Jewel.