The worlds most famous venue that you’ve [probably] never heard of
A long long time ago in a period so colourfully outrageous it is almost mythical there was a furniture shop in Erdington, Birmingham. This was an ordinary furniture shop, sure, however it served a perfect landmark for young adults to meet for an evening, for above it sat a goldmine, a legendary music venue names “Mothers”.
“Mothers” was voted the best live music venue in the world in 1969, but why was a ball room above a shop in Erdington of all places given such a title? Well, the unassuming venue proudly showcased acts such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Who, T-Rex, Fleetwood Mac and Elton John (to name a few) in the three short years it was around. Pink Floyd even recorded tracks for their album ‘Ummagumma’ in the venue itself. Canned Heat played there and referenced the club in their sleeve notes of the 1969 compilation album ‘Canned Heat Cook Book’ (seriously, go check for yourself). Not bad for a Birmingham ball room!
“People are amazed to hear that for a few years the best club in Britain was in Erdington [Birmingham]” - John Peel.
“Mothers 2” is an event organised by David Gordon in order to recreate and honour the legend “Mothers” created and raise money for the charity Worldwide Cancer Research. On the 10th May 2019, for one night only, “Mothers 2” will showcase Birminghams newest talent in live music supporting some big names such as Soft Machine, Edgar Broughton and The Groundhogs. There will also be merchandise available from the 60s/70s “Mothers” events including original posters showcasing the legendary line ups.
I met up with David Gordon, the ‘Mothers 2’ events organiser, and asked him about the events that used to take place in the 60’s/70s, its breathtaking history, details of the ‘Mothers 2’ events in 2019 and the music scene in Birmingham.
When did ‘MOTHERS’ first open?
The Club first opened in 1963 as ‘The Carlton Ballroom’ by John Singer, Phil Myatt, John Spud Taylor & Gary Surman on a 8 year lease. ‘The Carlton Ballroom’ had the well known pop and chart acts of the time and also was responsible for creating the ‘BRUMBEAT’ scene which created and showcased bands like The Move, Spencer Davis Group, The Moody Blues, The Applejacks, The Uglys, Mike Sheridan & The Nightriders and The Way of Life (which included John Bonham on drums).
And how did it become known as ‘MOTHERS’?
The Carlton Ballroom was highly popular and helped raise the profile of Birminghams emerging music scene. However, in April 1968 a decision was made by the four owners to change the name of the club and a new direction was needed to revamp things. The music scene had changed in Birmingham and The Carlton Ballroom needed to incorporate the new underground scene. The name ‘Mothers’ was born after Phil Myatt had seen a film starring Ronald Reagan as a nightclub owner and Paul Newman as a Police Detective. Phil noticed in the background in one of the scenes the nightclubs name was Mothers. Roughly around April / May 1968 the Carlton changed the name to MOTHERS.
Tell us some artists that have played at MOTHERS.
Mothers went on to become the leading music venue in the world. In 1969 & 1970 American Billboard magazine named MOTHERS The Worlds No 1 music venue. Sadly it closed on 3 January 1971. In its 3 years as ‘Mothers’ 500 bands had played there, such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, The Who, Cream, Fleetwood Mac, The Faces, Free, Deep Purple, Muddy Waters, Rory Gallagher, Elton John, Derek & The Dominoes, Marc Bolan, Joe Cocker plus many more. Also John Peel did DJ sets at the club. Even more amazingly some of the tracks on the album ‘Ummagumma’ by Pink Floyd were recorded at Mothers!
Do you have any legendary stories from the original ‘Mothers’?
Yes, there are many legendary stories about 'Mothers’. First one is when The Who played at Mothers and joint owner John Spud Taylor was having a drinking contest with Keith Moon before the gig and before they opened the doors they were both so drunk that they ended up having piggy back races up and down the club, naked, alongside Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend!
Another one is when Arthur Brown played and because of the high stage and low ceiling he was told not to do his usual trick of setting fire to his head dress during the song ‘Fire’. He told the audience he wouldn't be doing this at the start of his set., but Ozzy Osbourne was in the audience and crept round the back of the stage and set fire to his head dress as a joke, but the ceiling caught on fire too! Luckily buckets of water were quickly fetched from the toilets to put it out... but Arthur Brown ended up soaking wet.
How important is the ‘Mothers’ legacy?
It's important to Birminghams musical history as it's often referred to as the place that gave birth to heavy metal, with Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin playing early gigs there. It's the first music venue in Birmingham that had a worldwide reputation as being the best place to see live bands, with many American bands playing there too. The audiences were not only from all over the country but from overseas as well. It's important to keep its history passed on to younger generations
So what are you planning on doing in the next year? Who's involved? And what's the genre like of all the acts involved?
We are going to get current Birmingham bands and musicians to play alongside bands and musicians who played at the original Mothers. We will display 300 items of photos, posters and memorabilia from the original club. People can learn the history of ‘Mothers’ and how important it was to Birmingham’s music scene. The genre of acts will be from the current Psych, Blues and Rock scene playing alongside The Groundhogs, Stan Webbs Chicken Shack and Soft Machine.
Are there any underground acts that you'd recommend from Birmingham?
Yeah, all the current bands involved I think have something special about them. There’s The Mothers Earth Experiment, As Mamas, Tom C Walker, The Hungry Ghosts, The Cosmics, The Surrenders, Brainfood, Rob Oulton and You Dirty Blue.
Are you looking to make ‘Mothers 2’ a yearly event or are you doing it as a one off?
At the moment it's just a one off event, but if it goes well it could turn in to an annual event. I previously did 2 Mothers Reunion events in 2015 & 2016, in which we had over 800 people attend.
“Mothers 2” showcases on the 10th May at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall at 6pm. Make sure you grab a ticket to celebrate this fantastic rock legacy, it’s colourful past and meet the midlands rock’n’roll future. Plus have a look at the memorabilia from the original events while supporting the fantastic charity Worldwide Cancer Research.
By Caitlin Setterfield