The Civic Hall. Guildford was an arts and entertainment venue on London Road, Guildford that opened in October 1962 and closed in January 2004, and has since been knocked down and replaced by G-Live.
The very first concert, on 11 Oct ’62 was classical, featuring pianist Gary Graffman. The years that followed were a veritable who’s who of the music industry. 15 Dec ’63 saw The Rolling Stones take the stage, thanks to the Ricky Tick Club promoters. Also, on the bill that night were The Yardbirds, who’d recently recruited Eric Clapton. On 19 Feb ’65, Graham Andrews remembers the Moody Blues manager calling him to say their drummer was ill, but he played the show the next day, avoiding a last-minute cancellation. The “classic” Fairport Convention line-up of Denny, Thompson, Hutchings, Matthews, Nicol and Lamble played an Arts Lab benefit concert at the Civic in late ’68, with Bradford, their German Shepherd, on stage with them. The Guildford Student Rag Ball was held at the Civic on 28 Nov ’69, with headliners Deep Purple supported by Bridget St. John, Horse and Quintessence.
Bass player Steve Currie may have played his debut gig with T-Rex there in Nov ’70, but we are reliably informed that Tony Visconti stood in on bass in Feb that same year. Rumour has it that Free’s “All Right Now” was written in a dressing room backstage, although so was a venue in the Midlands… On 14 March 1971 Mike Westbrook performed “Copan / Backing Track”, a seven-and-a-half-hour composition based on overlapping time cycles, inspired by the Mayan Calendar as part of Guildford University’s Free Fest. Seven musicians improvised over a pre-recorded backing track on which they had also played with a programmed light show by Cyberdescence which paralleled the musical cycles. Mott The Hoople were regular Civic performers, their 3rd appearance being on 13 August ’72. Bowie attended that gig with Lou Reed and Tony Defries. According to Niall Brannigan, Hoople came out for the 2nd encore, and “All the Young Dudes” was at No.3 in the charts, and Ian Hunter said, “Well, I s’pose we better do the single then?” The audience roared. “But we need help with the backing vocals….”. Out of the wing walks Bowie, all Ziggy hair and white, three-piece suit; draped his arm around Mick Ralphs and they sang into the same mic. King Crimson recorded “Live in Guildford” [DGM CLUB24] at the venue on 13 Nov ’72. On the 27 May ’73 the Ziggy Stardust tour hit the Civic Hall. In ’75 10cc’s gig was notable for the venues lax approach to fire and safety regulations for the over capacity 1400 attendees. Gong also appeared at the Civic in ’75, recording the almost two hour performance live for later broadcast on radio which has subsequently been released a couple of times. Then in ’76 Tony Stewart reported in the 1st May issue of NME that a PFM fan injured their hand in a blaze at the Civic Hall.
On the 1 May ’77, The Clash kicked off the White Riot tour, supported by Subway Sect and London (apparently The Jam were supposed to support but backed out).
’77 was also the year that The Stranglers got banned from the Civic Hall due to a “near riot” by fans – According to Steve Baker, Hugh Cornwell said “we spent 2 hours moving all the chairs off the dance floor and someone has put them back, please be good boys and girls and put the chairs neatly against the walls please”. Two minutes later there was a pile of 400 broken chairs in the middle of the dance floor. Not really a riot, just people wanting to dance to the music. On 7 Dec ’78, local lad, Eric Clapton along with Elton John (piano), George Harrison (guitar), and Muddy Waters (guitar / vocals) were in the stage’s spotlights.
Further ‘trouble’ with fans lead to the threat of a total ban on punk band concerts in ’79 by then manager Stephen Gleason. Thankfully that didn’t occur and Joy Division took to the stage.
The next year, however, saw The Stranglers return with a heavy police presence and steel top capped boots, belts and anything dangerous looking confiscated at the door. Mod group The Selector proved it wasn’t just punks that could cause trouble that same year.
The early ’80s saw top names continuing to book The Civic; including Genesis, The Pretenders, Iron Maiden, The Undertones and The Jam. Teardrop Explodes, at the height of their popularity with their debut album released the previous year and 2 hit singles in 1981, appeared in Guildford as part of their UK tour. Their set included tracks from that album and their second, due to be released a few months later – including Passionate Friend, which would be their next hit single. The show was broadcast mono on FM radio.
Toyah’s gig in 1981 was memorable for the ejection of two “skinheads” who where caught “enjoying private pastimes in the very public atmosphere” during her show. On 13th November that same year Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band included the Guildford venue on their UK tour.
The Jam were originally scheduled to close their short ‘farewell’ UK tour on home turf at the Guildford Civic Hall on 9 December ’82, which came after Weller announced that The Jam would disband in late October. However, the last gig – due to ticket demand – was at a hastily book additional date in Brighton. Clapton returned with Jimmy Page in 1983 and there were performances by Hawkwind, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Mark Knopfler. Pete Cole saw his first gig by The Alarm on 22 May ’85.
In 1988 the manager was Martin Dodd. During Dodd’s tenure, Du Kane promoted events featuring Guru Josh, Adamski and Seal, The Shamen, The Beloved, Cookie Crew, Stereo MCs, Carl Cox, Richie Rich and D Mob at the Bliss, Rak, and Shazzam events. Dodd left after two years, moving to Portsmouth’s Guildhall, just before the venue really started to decline. Despite gigs by Gary Brooker, Terrorvision, Prodigy (25 Oct ’94), Super Furry Animals (29 Oct ’99); many of the big bands of the ’90s stopped booking the aging Civic. The early 2000s did see Jools Holland, Bob Geldof, and The Hollies, but it wasn’t enough. On Sunday, January 4, 2004, Eric Clapton, Kenney Jones, Paul Jones, and Gary Brooker played the last gig.
In July / August 2009 the Civic Hall was demolished to make room for G-Live, which opened in 2011.