With the demolition of Sunderland’s Locarno club, music promoter Geoff Docherty tells Jane O’Neill how he brought some of the world’s biggest bands to Wearside
GEOFF Docherty cut his showbiz teeth handling rock royalty such as Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin and Tyrannosaurus Rex in the ’60s and ’70s.
He carved a niche for himself as a music promoter in the 1960s after buying his way out of the Fleet Air Arm following more than six years’ service.
“Bored to tears” after taking a six-month course and a job at Cole’s Cranes, Geoff looked to the music industry for some light relief from his mundane life.
He went on to become a club doorman before turning to music promotion, with the Bay Hotel, in South Bents, offering him his first step up into the world of showbusiness.
“I wanted it to be the best place in the country for bands to play. I wanted it to have the best singles on the jukebox, the best attitude on the door, the coolest drinks in summer,” he said.
“I also wanted it to have the best bands playing there – and that is what happened. It was tough, it was hard work, but it happened – the best bands did end up playing there.”
Family were the first band Geoff booked to play at the Bay, on January 6, 1969, with tickets costing just six shillings each – to try to encourage as many visitors as possible.
Next up were Free on January 13 – a group which caused a certain amount of confusion at the time.
“A lot of people kept trying to get in for nothing,” recalls Geoff. “When I asked them for the four shilling entrance fee, they kept saying it was free.
“I had to keep showing them the advertising poster with the band’s name on it, trying to explain that it was Free who were playing that night – not that it was free to get in.”
Other memorable bands for Geoff included Tyrannosaurus Rex, who played at the Bay Hotel in June 1969 and at Sunderland’s Locarno ballroom in November of the same year.
“They were No 2 to Pink Floyd in the underground scene at the time, which meant they were absolutely massive and everyone wanted to see them,” recalls Geoff.
“Marc Bolan was like an angel. He had such a sweet voice and was fantastically good looking. He was a nice lad too, with a great attitude and happy to meet all his fans.
“The band attracted a wonderful crowd – people who were looking for just that little bit more in their music. I remember the girls wore kaftans and lit joss sticks when Marc sang.
“The June gig was a great night, one of my all-time top three. It felt just like a festival really, for all that it was in the Bay Hotel, as it has just that kind of atmosphere really.”
Performances by County Joe and The Fish at the Bay on March 24, 1969, and The Who at the Locarno on July 28, 1969, are also included in his top gigs.
There were loads of great nights though, really. I loved watching Deep Purple, as well as a very young Rod Stewart and the Faces at the Mayfair in Newcastle,” he said.
“Not many wanted to see Rod Stewart when they first played there in 1971, before they’d even had a hit single. I took a gamble with that one.
“But they were a fantastic young band, with a hell of a lot of energy. It was by no means a sell out but, afterwards, Rod said ‘I’ll be back, and it will be full next time.’ He was right.”