Entertainment Value. Edward Bottoms (AArchitecture 29)

The Martin Creed pre-album launch performance in the AA Canteen in June this year prompted much heated discussion in the Bar over which famous bands had or had not played at the AA in the past. Subsequent digging in the AA Archives confirmed some but left many questions unanswered – was it a myth that The Who and Led Zeppelin had gigged here? Pink Floyd were confirmed however, their name appearing on flyers for the infamous AA ‘Prohibition’ carnival of December 1966 (a party which saw the AA entrance decked out as a funeral parlour, Al Capone lying in state in the Council Room, the bar as a ‘Speakeasy’, Ching’s Yard as a Wharf, complete with a mudbank and pier – and the top floor as a dope den). Indeed, photographs by Adam Richie recently emerged of a pre record contract Pink Floyd performing in the old lecture hall (now AA Workshop), complete with psychedelic light show. A wonderfully psychedelic poster by Andrew Holmes also confirmed the remarkable line up for the ‘AAmazing’ night in 1967 when students hired out the Roundhouse in Camden – bands including Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Steve Winwood’s ‘Traffic’ and ‘The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’ (Brown’s signature flaming helmet reputedly sparking considerable alarm due to the length of time it took him to reach the stage from the wings…). Certainly, the 1960s British blues explosion was well represented at the AA, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers having played there in 1964 and Chicken Shack a few years later at a gig arranged at the Marque Club on Wardour Street.
In the 1920s and 1930s it was the norm for AA students and staff to write and perform their own music at the annual AA pantomime, occasionally nipping down to a local studio post-performance to cut their own recordings. A whole series of records were produced, including one of the 1923 pantomime, for which we have a beautiful shellac 75rpm disc in the Archives. Recordings also survive from more recent decades and we also have a copy of the industrial noise pioneers and performance artists, ‘Throbbing Gristle’ playing at the 1978 AA Carnival – band members Genesis P. Orridge and Cosey Fanney Tutti playing within a scaffolding structure concealed behind black tarpaulin. Available on the internet is also a bootleg album by the influential early Goth band ‘Bauhaus’, from a private gig at the AA in 1981.

However, amongst the most remarkable sound recordings are a set of tapes held in the British Library’s National Sound Archive from an historic day at the AA in June 1965 when key members of the Beat Generation descended on the Library for a poetry reading. Fresh from the International Poetry Incarnation held a few days earlier at the Royal Albert Hall, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso and Andrei Voznesenskii were invited by students including Jasper Vaughan, and can be heard on tape reciting their own works, Ginsberg performing his ‘Big Beat’, ‘Message II’ and ‘Ignu’…

If any alumni have ephemera, posters, tickets, photographs, sound recordings of any of the AA carnivals, parties or other performances, the AA Archives would be very keen to hear from you…

Late news: Alumni Howard de Mont has just confirmed that the Yardbirds, with Jeff Beck on guitar, also played at the AA in the mid 1960s….