Monday, March 30, 2015

Music Monday: Live at the Montague Arms

When the Montague Arms  (289 Queens Road SE15) closed in late 2011, many people feared it was gone for good.  Stan and Bet, who had been working there for many years, had passed away, and the famous contents of the pub had been put up for sale  Today though the pub is going strong having been 'resteamed, rebooted, repunked' as it says outside -  it remains a good music venue with a different but equally idiosyncratic style.

Meanwhile the memories of its previous incarnation live on, not least in a series of remarkable albums put out in the 1970s. Thanks to my friend David W. who has found copies of them in various SE London charity shops.

Live at the Montague (1971)

A sleevenote on the back of this first album by Peter Latham, BBC presenter, says 'New Cross may not be within the sound of Bow Bells, but you can certainly find more than a touch of Cockney in its pubs. The Montague Arms, featured on this record, is not only in New Cross, its also vibrantly alive... the 'Mont' has the secret of making you forget the drab day's grind, the dismal weather and the disastrous news'.

The sleevenotes also instoduce the two musicians who were in effect the house band at the pub.  Peter Hoyle, the Mony's landlord and drummer, is described as looking 'like a wilder edition of Peter Ustinov and plays the drum like a demon'. Peter London on organ and piano and vocals is said to be 'blind and works with music in Braille', his musical career including recording with his wife Marilyn as 'Man and Wife' (including the single Who Shot the Piper Man?), and being Musical DIrector for the BBC TV series STRAMASH featuring Lulu

On this and the next three albums the two Petes are also joined by comedian/compere/singer Jimmy Jones.

Live at the Montague Arms - Volume Two (1972)

More great cover versions, with Peter London now adding a moog to his keyboards. Songs include The Beatles 'A Day in the Life' and Gilbert O'Sullivan's Alone Again Naturally.

The crowd photo on the back is great, very evocative of early 1970s pub life:

Live at the Montague Arms - Volume Three (1972)

I haven't got the sleeve of Volume Three, only the vinyl (anyone help me?).  Another diverse offering - Eleanor Rigby rubs up against Elgar's Nimrod and Jimmy Jones' comedy routines. Note that the recording engineers are listed as John Hassell Recordings. The Barnes-based Hassell assisted many people to self-release records and is now justly celebrated for his role in pressing dub-plates for the UK reggae scene.

Live at the Montague Arms - Volume Four (1973)

The semi-psychedelic cover art stands out on this one.

Recording engineer this time is Bob Auger, who worked as sound engineer with The Kinks, The Animals and many more.

The two Petes pretty much invented the look for the guys from Abba didn't they?:

Once again the crowd picture is a 70s fashion classic:

This album also has a gatefold sleeve, with the inside promoting the King and Queen, Kimmeridge Road, SE9 - described as the 'The Biggest Live Strip Comedy Scene in London' (the Montague Arms also featured strippers at this time). I think this pub/disco in Mottingham was run by the same people.

Live at the New Montague Arms (1977)

Note the address is given on the back as Queens Road, Peckham on the back - the confusion about whether the pub is in Peckham or in New Cross continues to this day. I guess as it's on the border it can be said to be either.

The picture in the top left of the cover shows, I believe, Bromley's Christopher Greener (1973-2015) - at the time Britain's tallest man - standing next to the pub's Stan Pownall.

The duo continued to perform in the Montague Arms, as the Two Petes, into the 21st century. I saw them many times on Sunday lunchtimes - who can forget their version of Wonderwall!

Are there any more albums?!

Here again is their version of MacArthur Park/Popcorn, which I put together with some pictures of the pub (see also their version of America):

Peter London

Before his Montague Arms days Peter London released the single 'Bless You' on Pye records in 1965, produced by the legendary Joe Meek

Who shot the Piper man? by Man and Wife (Peter London and  his wife) was released on CBS in 1970

Update (2 April 2015): Jimmy Jones's account

In his autobiography, 'Now this is a very true story' (2011), the comedian Jimmy Jones mentions working with Peter Hoyle (pub owner) and his brother-in-law Stan (the bar manager) to get the Montague Arms going as a venue, and describes how the records came about:

'We would have strippers on Monday and Wednesday nights, and Sunday nights we'd put on drag acts... Peter Hoyle noticed that there were more and more punters coming in just for my comedy routines. And he had a very bright idea. 'Wouldn't it be nice', he siad, 'if we had something to sell all these lorry drivers who are spreading the word about you'... No stand-up comedian had ever released a vinyl long-player of adult material before. So we recorded 'Live at the Montague Arms' relased on the Montague Arms label. It was very popular, we sold thousands of copies of them in the pub. Bill Wyman certainly bought a copy. We finished recording five stand-up LPs from the Montague Arms. '

Jones mentions that all of the Rolling Stones with the exception of Mick Jagger came down to see him at the Mont, as did other other comedians including Mike Reid, Roy 'Chubby' Brown and one Cameron Davidson from Blackheath - soon to launch a successful career not uninfluenced by Jones' 'adult' comedy routines as Jim Davidson (he also performed at the Montague Arms).

By Jones' account he fell out with Hoyle after he started getting success and offered gigs elsewhere. A dispute about royalties from the records led to a court case, with Jones claiming that 'No one was buying those records to listen to the drums and keyboards'. As is often the way it became 'a very nasty and expensive court case which - to be honest with you - neither of us won'.

Jones also says that when Hoyle 'opened a second pub, the King & Queen at Mottingham' he [Jones] opened it for him with my dear friend Dave Lee Travis, the DJ, and an act who became very close mates of mine, a dwarf cabaret act known as the Mini Tones - Kenny Baker and Jack Purvis who went on to be in Star Wars as R2D2 and a Jawa'.

Update (8 April 2015)

Just came across this article from The Independent (29 June 2008): The Entertainers: 'The Two Petes' are the house band at The Montague Arms. Peter Hoyle says: ''I've been the proprietor for 40 years. My brother-in-law and sister run it now. It's changed a lot over the years. In 1978 we refurbished and now there are moose heads on the walls, a zebra head, skeletons, a penny farthing". Peter London is quoted: 'We go for stuff people know: the Stones, Beatles, some Ray Charles. We've also dabbled with Oasis, a bit of Ronan Keating. You’ve got to give people what they want. One song that has always gone down well is "Whiter Shade of Pale"... You can't buy atmosphere. In modern pubs, you don't feel welcome. Customers here know they're going to get called "love" when they come in. It's just like home.'

The Two Petes in 2008


Dansk said...

A lot of these tracks have been online for a while - you can download them here:

David Jennings said...

This may be old news to you, but some readers might be interested to hear that the Montague Arms was the venue for a jam featuring Nick Cave, Shane McGowan and Mark E Smith in 1989 - according to The Guardian. It was recorded, but never released.