I just stumbled on your site. WOW, The Cali. That brought back so many memories, as the place was a legend. I used to live at the bottom of the road and my house faced up the hill towards The Cali. I used to go even before I was old enough. Once due to a family emergency my mother came up to find me and announced over the PA system that I had to come home. Imagine an under age kid being fetched from a night club by his mom. I nearly died.
I also snuck into the house on the grounds when it was empty. I think it must have been for a caretaker but it was empty and so I got in with my brother and 2 girls. Security came and found us hiding in 2 walk in wardrobes. 4 kids trying to get laid, they took us to the manager and told us off. I loved that place it seemed so cool. We would practice dancing in teams of 2 or 3. We were very coordinated, disco was in. I would go to Didos and watch the sweat pour down the walls. I roller skated around the hall and did it at roller disco's too. What was that all about!
My brother worked at the skate park but I just hung around because I wasn't any good. Finally they tore it down and everybody took souvenirs. They took more than a building away, everybody was sad like they had lost a friend.
You say in 'footnote' that Pink Floyd had beer poured on them from the balcony of the Vista Bar. I remember their first show at the Cali when they were the support band to, I think, Lee Dorsey backed by Chicken Shack when they performed on the lower small stage.
Hurricane Henry and the Shriekers - 1964.01.10
'Hurricane Henry' is none other than Ian Hunter, later a founding member of Mott The Hoople. In March 1964, Ian Hunter switched to bass and Freddie Fingers Lee took over as band leader. So you'll notice that later, the billing has changed:
1964.07.31 1964.10.31 Freddie Fingers Lee and the Shriekers
I will ask Ian if he has any memories of the California Ballroom.
I have looked at your site and I have enjoyed all the memories that the Cali brings back to me. It is understandable that you cannot put every performer on you site but I feel that the one performer or performance that stood out in the 60's was by (Little) Stevie Wonder. I watched this fanastic performance from the balcony in the main bar and I was blown away by the genius and versatility of the man/boy. That evening was just one of the many fantastic nights of entertainment that was the Cali. So please put Stevie in this the history of the Cali.
PS The cali was a dive, but I came to realise that like everything in life it is the people that make the difference and that what made the Cali the King.
Regards from an old Dunstablian from Berkshire
A great website which I found by accident. I worked at the California Ballroom as a pot boy from around August 1962 to sometime in late 1963. I later played in a band at the Cali during March 1965.
As I was under 18 I couldn't work behind the bar and so I became a pot boy collecting glasses and empty bottles either in one of the two bars or in the ballroom. These had to be cleared regulary so they were not used in the many fights that occurred. I remember Mrs Green did the day to day running of the ballroom. She checked all the bars and checked all the optics etc.prior to opening time.
Because I had access to the dressing rooms I met most of the bands and collected a few autographs. I have Jet Harris's autograph and believe he played the cali on or around the 4 Dec. 1962 although he is not listed on your site. I remember going into his dressing room to collect empty glasses and Mrs Green was nose to nose with him and refusing to pay him because he was so drunk and nearly fell off the stage. So I made a quick exit.
Also a band called Nero and the Gladiators played the Cali around the 3 Dec.1962 but are not listed on your site.
As I was only 17 I used to catch the bus home to Luton and on many occasions missed it due to working late clearing up the bars and dance hall and finished up walking 7 miles home to Leagrave. On occasions one of the bouncers called 'Shaker' used to drop me off at the M1 by the hospital as he lived in Northampton, or I had to 'thumb'a lift whilst walking home, in the winter it was no fun.
Many fond memories. Roger Thompson.I think I remember that long walk home to Leagrave as well Roger. It depended on how much you'd had to drink and what the company was like as to how long it seemed to take. Nero and Jet Harris played the Cali on Dec 7th 1962 according to the ads in the paper. Check the gig list for 1962.
Memories - Plenty of them. I and three other mates were regular "punters" to visit the Cali in the late 60's /early 70's . The many bands we saw were in their "embryo" stage, many went on to become world famous. It gives me a buzz to say I saw them first and to see what they achieved later. Also it was good to see bands like Zoot Money, Blue Flames, Herbie Goines, but perhaps the best of all was Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band!!! The Cali was where I also learned to drink beer (albeit the dreaded Watney's Red Barrel!!) plus also how to pull a girl. (Lost my virginity on Dunstable Downs after a night at the Cali) Many other thoughts - could write much more, BUT will say thanks to the Cali management for my misspent youth!!!
Wow this site brings back many memories. I worked at the Cali for three years at various jobs just to get me thru college. It was at the height of the Cali at its very best. The money I was making became unimportant - the groups I met and signed autographs I still have today, full of artists that played at the Cali from Freddie and the Dreamers to Chubby Checker to the Bonzo Dogg Doo Dah Band. So many to type. The job became a need to be there. Can you imagine being paid to see some of the greatest artists of that time? Great times.
David L George
What a find! I lived at the bottom of the hill, opposite the Windsock from 1976-82. I worked as a junior marshall during the roller skating, skateboarded for the Cali skate team for awhile, got drunk there and even laid there. I got caught in the old bungalow with a girl, in the walk-in closet and dragged in front of the manager. First night club ever for me was Didoz - under age, and my brother got called out over the loudspeaker by our mother - his most embarrassing moment ever! I grew up there! I showed the bands around town when they had time (remember Players Association - tour guided them around). Saw my first bands there and was at the last night ever - NYE 1979. A sad night. I live in California now - in LA. From The Cali to Cali!!! What a turn up. Thanks
I remember the photographer who was always there. I have several pictures. I loved the band Johnny Milton and the Condors and bought all their records. I have photos of them and of myself and a friend taken in the lobby. I also have P J Proby and the Rolling Stones.
I got the Stones autograph with Brian Jones and once I got Mick Jagger crossing the ballroom and got his autograph. He spelled his name wrong.......... I was one of the kids who was interviewed about if or not the Beatles should come to the Cali. I have several other autographs from those days. I remember some of the bands who did not make it big but were very good too, like The Poets. Thanks for the memories.
Edwina Green tells me that the ballroom was painted with left over paint from the Vauxhall Car plant. Now you know why it looked so familiar!
Reproduced by kind permission of
Bedfordshire County Life Magazine
The same went for the Rolling Stones, who would play the nearby California Ballroom (the Cali) four times, along with a whole swathe of black groups, as the Motown stable became popular in Britain through into the ‘70s. (It is said the Beatles would’ve played there too if the owners had stumped up another £100.)
from an article by Barry Hodge Issue 5 1999
The full article can be read by clicking on the picture
NB. The Beatles were double booked to play at the California and in Luton on the same night. Cedric Green tells me in an email that he has copies of the contract and correspondence between Brian Epstein and Edwin Green. The fact that the Beatles didn't play the Cali had nothing to do with the money although there was an argument about it subsequently when Edwin tried to re-book them. It was considerably more than £100 though.
I only went to the Cali once, my friend Kathy was a dancer there (known as
Jackie) and she took me along one night. Bruce was on the decks wearing some
huge spangly kimono thing, looking for all the world like Madame Butterfly.
Great night. One thing that struck me was the swimming pool out the back! This
would have been late 60s I guess, latest about 1971. I do remember listening to
Bruce on the radio as well. I was gutted when the Cali was taken down. As
someone said earlier, it was the beginning of the Death of Dunstable.
It was nice to see the picture of Mick's old '57 Lincoln premiere, we did a
couple of Kings Road cruises in it and it always got a lot of attention. You
can't actually see it in the picture but he had THE CALIFORNIA KID inscribed in
gold leaf on the drivers door. I was actually standing next to the photographer
when he took that picture. I worked at the Cali in the summer of '76, I remember
that there were only a few bands playing there that year. I remember three of
them but I couldn't give you an exact date. They were WAR, THE OHIO PLAYERS, and
JOHNNY GUITAR WATSON.
That year we turned the Devils Den into Didoz, I remember taking half the dance floor up from the Den and laying it in the Vista bar. I also used to run the pool hall in the ballroom on weekday evenings with 20 full size American pool tables. Another one of Mick's stateside brainwaves. Every Friday we had to get a forklift and stack them in one corner and put a curtain round them so we could open the ballroom for that weekend.
I also remember Paul Gray used to have an old telephone in his car and a tape recording of a phone ringing, he would pull up next to someone play the tape and pass the phone to them and say "it's for you". (yep never a dull moment with old Paul around)
I could go on and on I have so many good memories of the Cali and the people
I met there I wouldn't know where to begin, or end for that matter. Keep up the
good work, best regards
The Manager at the time (1967) was called Dennis and he was about 5 foot
nothing which was probably lucky for him when Jimi Hendrix played. At the end of
a session, Dennis would come onto the back of the stage ready to announce the
next act. At the end of the Hendrix session, Jimi threw his guitar at the wall
behind missing Dennis' head by about an inch. From memory, Hendrix charged £800
for that gig which was a hell of a lot of money in those days.
In the peak days you could book The Who for £400, Manfred Mann for £375, Tom
Jones for £350 and the incomparable Graham Bond Organisation, with Eric Clapton
and Ginger Baker, for £125. Kathy Kirby cost £250, Gerry and the Pacemakers £470
and Pink Floyd once played for £75.
Paul Whiting 1977 - Reproduced by kind permission of Dunstable Gazette
When researching for his book That Beating Rhythm, Paddy Grady interviewed the owner of another venue who stated that the Rolling Stones had played at the California for £25.
Mick Ilka's diary from 1978 states that the Jam were paid £1000.
I first visited the California Ballroom in 1962 with Eden Kane. The owner, Mr
Green, also managed a wonderful band called The Rhet Stoller Group. Rhet was an
incredible guitarist and Eden quickly booked them as his backing band. The
line-up of the band was; Rhet Stoller (lead guitar), Roger Rettig (rythmn
guitar), Brian Gregg (ex Pirates on bass guitar) and Bernie Martin was the
drummer. Mr Green had a beautiful daughter who, I believe, was called Edwina,
and she acted as Roadie and drove the van for the band on a few gigs, the first
being a Sunday concert at the Princess Theatre, Torquay.
I wonder whether you knew that there was at one time a short film made about
the Cali (very short!). I was a devotee of the Cali in its roller-skating heyday
- around 1979 - and at this time Anglia News covered the Roller Disco nights
(where coach loads of skaters used to come down to the Cali from all over the
country, apparently) for their 'About Anglia' programme, featuring
then-presenter Lyndall Hobbs. She was shown inside the ballroom, conducting
interviews and attempting to skate alongside others who were considerably more
proficient! The film apparently stayed in existence for a good while as I saw it
at the local cinemas a couple of times alongside the main features - once after
the Cali had been demolished!
I don't know if there's any way in which it might be retrieved, or if anyone else remembers it, but you never know!
Subway Sect - Track on the album 20 Odd Years, the story of
We Oppose All Rock 'n' Roll/Sister Ray (recorded live at California Ballroom, Dunstable).
The Prefects - May 30th California Ballroom, Dunstable. The Subway's set ended with the Subways, Slits and Prefects jamming the Velvet's 'Sister Ray' together. This session made its way onto an obscure pre-release Slits record.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since Andy Cannon and the Riotiers emerged from the earlier concept of Rod Rave and the Riotiers. Although he sometimes sat in with another group, The Mastersounds, who backed professionals Joe Brown, The Allisons, Billy Fury and Screamin' Lord Sutch, it was never his intention to turn professional. He had a taste of the bigger venues such as London's Clay Pigeon, the Railway Hotel, Camden and Ealing Town Halls and the famed California Ballroom, Dunstable all familiar to nationally successful groups such as The Who and Rolling Stones, as they worked several years to become overnight sensations.
Later that evening, to mark the end of the three-year training, a graduation dance was arranged at the California Ballroom, Dunstable. The band that was secured to entertain us on that memorable night was a little known local band which formed in late 1959 in Bedford. It was very evident that they would go on to greater things. Their name? - 'The Barron Knights'. On 7th January 1963, the 94th left RAF Halton.
Royal Air Force Halton Aircraft Apprentices
Paddy Grady (Northern Soul Radio)
excerpt from Kim Fowley History on www.ifrance.com
Permission to reproduce sought but contact not working
(Martin) Tales from the new City
Thanks for this site, and all
of your hard research. This is very nostalgic for me. Although I lived in Wheathampstead, the Cali was my regular haunt. The best gigs that I remember
were: - Jimi Hendrix (only one third full, because soul bands were in favour),
my scooter had a puncture en route, but we left it and hitched, Hendrix said
to Noel Redding "Give me an 'A'", and as he tuned-up and threw away a
few riffs you could hear the collective sucking in of breathe in
anticipation of what was to come! I noticed that the guitar he half threw at
Dennis, and half threw at the Marshall stack was a specially battered Strat.
Mind you, Dennis had asked for it, by asking the band to turn down! Other
stand outs: Fleetwood Mac, Traffic, Stevie Wonder, The Herd, The Move,
Blodwyn Pig, Alan Price Set, Long John Baldry (with Julie Driscoll & Rod
Stewart + Reg Dwight), Geno Washington, Jimmy James, The Bee Gees (I
remember thinking how tall Barry was as I stood next to him at the side bar,
Tony Rivers & the Castaways (great Beach Boys cover band), Aynsley Dunbar
Retaliation (who had an excellent guitarist), Bonzo Dog Doodah Band and
I especially like your 'by year' gig list - very fond memories. My own musical career was short-lived, but the Cali helped fuel my ambitions. Congratulations to you.
I remember one night in '72 or '73 there was a private function taking place in the ballroom. There were dinner tables laid out all beautifully dressed and although I can't recall exactly what it was for, I do know that it was an important do as Micky Ilka was running around like a headless chicken making sure everything was perfect. Paul Gray had been asked to provide the music afterwards and I was helping so we were both sat behind the decks waiting for our cue. We were intrigued to notice that a new sound deck had been installed during the previous week, all knobs and sliders and stuff, it looked a bit like the cockpit inside a jumbo jet. Micky said not to worry, he'd train Paul in it's use the following week, but for now it was all set up to go and not to touch anything.
All the guests arrived and there were a few introductions and then they sat down and started their meal. About halfway through, we were getting a bit bored so Paul decided to cue up the first records ready for the off. As soon as he touched the decks, the whole place was plunged into darkness for about 20 seconds before all the strobes sprang into action. I can vividly remember seeing a strobed out version of Micky attempting to fight his way through the appearing and disappearing tables and diners to get to the stage. Paul, furiously pressing buttons, had by now got the UVs on, promptly followed by a wildly gyrating mirror ball. I'm afraid to say I was no help whatsoever as I was on the floor howling with laughter. Webmaster
The night Slade were on in 1972 the place was packed to capacity. It was getting really hot as Bruce Benson was winding up his DJ marathon. The Ballroom could be hot at the best of times but that night there was no air at all. I was offstage by the side entrance door with my back against the door and my feet on the pillar trying to keep the groupies out. I lost count of the number of pregnant wives Noddy Holder supposedly had! When Slade first appeared out of the dressing room, my first thought was how small they were and my second was how terrified they looked when they saw the heaving mass squashed up against the stage.
They went on and the whole place went berserk. About 10 minutes into the act, bouncers were hauling fainting punters over the stage and depositing them on the floor in the artiste's lounge. I went to see if I could do anything and there were bodies everywhere. One lad who was wearing one of the multi-coloured suede jackets so popular at the time, had steam coming off him.
I didn't see much of Slade on stage.... I spent the evening pouring water down kid's throats. Webmaster
Behind the stage there was a large room full of sofas that had direct access, via a flight of stairs, to the dressing rooms and the back of the Hillside bar. It was usually full of roadies doing various things to bits of equipment but on the night Gary Glitter was there, the Jocks, their wives and girlfriends were in. Gary suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs and said hello. One by one, he asked all the ladies for their name and sang them a song. Ray J Day's wife, Jane, got a rendition of the Stones song "My Sweet Lady Jane". This went fine until it got to me. He couldn't think of any songs with my name in, so instead he took me up to the dressing room and introduced me to his Mum. Webmaster
Then there was the memorable night that Hot Chocolate were on. I'd been at the front of the stage for some reason, probably getting a request from one of the crowd for Paul Gray. There was so much equipment on the stage it was really difficult to get back behind the decks, so I was squeezing past a large stack of speakers, trying desperately not to touch them in case they fell over, and I lost my balance. I fell backwards down the stairs to the dressing room and hit my head on a brick pillar, knocking myself out cold.
When I came to, I was lying on the floor and I thought I was hallucinating as all I could see were pint beer mugs floating above my face. Apparently the band had decided that the best thing to do was all rush off and grab a glass of water. As soon as I started to move they all shoved their glasses at me in the hope that it would make me better.
They insisted on taking me home at the end of the evening, so my mother opened the front door at 2am to find Hot Chocolate on the doorstep! Webmaster
Paul Gray had an old Anglia Van called Boris. It was grey with a black roof and had it's name emblazoned across the front. I remember that van like it was yesterday. It had the nasty habit of popping the linkage if you stamped down on the accelerator too hard and you were left there like a pillock revving like crazy and going nowhere. One night the police stopped us on the way back from a gig. They pulled us up right outside Luton Boy's Club and unloaded the entire van. Once they had seen that we only had decks, stacks, lights, projectors and hundreds of records, they drove off and left us with all the equipment in the middle of the road. Ha, ha. Nice sense of humour those guys. Webmaster
In 1978 I was working in London and had got totally fed up with all the commuting. My personal circumstances changed so I bought a flat in Ealing and moved away. My mother still lived in Luton so I came back for regular visits but always came off the M1 at the A505 and cut down the side of the hospital.
In the early eighties my step-grandfather died so on the day of the funeral, which was a weekday, I left London at 8am to drive up and collect mother to take her to the Crematorium in Ruislip. The traffic was bad all the way up and finally ground to a complete standstill just before the Hemel Hempstead exit.
Time was moving on so I squeezed over and came off the motorway intending to go round the back via Ashridge. Some bright spark had turned all the signposts in the forest round the wrong way so I spent about 20 minutes trying to get on the right road. Several guesses and a bit of panic about the time and I finally came out of the trees and recognised Studham down below me.
Why I decided to go straight on over the Downs rather than cut through to Markyate I will never know but as I came over the hill........ NO CALI!
I was fortunate that there was no one behind me as I just stood on the brakes and stared. Somebody pulled up behind me and beeped (if that was you, sorry) so I pulled away. I went straight round the roundabout and drove back up the Whipsnade Road. I parked the car in Pipers Croft outside Paul Gray's old house and walked up onto the Downs to see if there was anything left. Nothing. Not so much as an old kerb stone. It was as if it had never been there. I sat down on the grass and cried. Webmaster
You can click on it to enlarge it if you absolutely have to. This was taken after I had managed to grow out the embarrassing "Destiny Angel" point I had cut into my fringe at the instigation of a certain DJ who will remain nameless!