The City of Nottingham has had an inauspicious history in the field of popular music over the decades. Certainly for a conurbation of it’s size, it has consistently punched way below it’s weight. With respect to the many fine pubbands I’ve seen over the years in the area, the musical output of the city has seen little success. Apart from in terms of selling units, nominally the likes of the poppy Paper Lace in particular plus one-hit wonders KWS, it’s difficult to detect any great additions to rock and pop’s back catalogue. Nottingham’s rock heritage remains of a lowly order to this day, that is apart from one shining light, the great Ten Years After.
The classic Ten Years After line-up came together in 1966 before disbanding in 1974 after scaling the heights. Lead guitarist, Alvin Lee from the Nottinghamshire suburb of Wollaton originated the band with bassist, Leo Lyons from Mansfield a few miles north in Nottinghamshire. The tight, four-piece blues-rock combo was completed by drummer, Ric Lee and keyboard player, Chick Churchill.
TYA as they were abbreviated to achieved one top twenty hit single, Love Like a Man but that market was never what the band were about. Like many of the bands of that era album sales were the main consideration. This the band attained with huge success. At their peak, Ten Years After were reportedly the second largest selling band in the United States after The Rolling Stones.
Ten Year After will forever be remembered for their show-stopping performance at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Years later, many sound judges still claim that theirs was the performance that topped any other during the star-studded event. From a bill that included such giants at Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Santana.
The band had played in St. Louis the night before, this being amidst a big US tour. They had left after that gig at around 5am and flew by plane and helicopter into Woodstock. What awaited them was seven or eight hours idling around in the back of a truck whilst the storm abated. In the meantime Alvin wandered around the crowd joining the fans unnoticed. Incredibly the members of the band went on stage with no food after Pete Townshend of The who warned them that all the food and drink had been spiked with LSD.
On Sunday, August 17, 1969 were billed to hit the Woodstock stage at 8pm between Country Joe and The Fish and The Band. Just prior, a huge rainstorm broke out with sparks rising off the stage flooring making it impossible for any band to play for some time. TYA eventually took the plunge claiming afterwards that they had decided that the prospect of being electrocuted by their instruments would at least provide good publicity! Whilst mid-song, the band actually had to stop playing and re-tune as the atmospherics of the storm has caused their instruments to go wildly out of tune.
At the culmination of the short set, Alvin Lee adressed the 300,000-strong crowd and introduced what became an anthemic piece for the band, I’m Going Home. The song does not necessarily typify the band as they might have wished but rather is a showcase for Alvin’s rapid velocity lead guitar work. I still believe to this day I have never heard a rock guitarist who could play quicker, that includes Hendrix. Take a listen. the band trooped triumhantly off the stage, Alvin with a large water melon on his shoulder!
The day that Nottingham rocked the world – Ten Years After at Woodstock.
“Give peace a chance
Get up and dance”
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