Mick Ilka

Mick in his recording studio
Photo courtesy of Pauline Harden
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Mick Ilka

1954-1993

 

Mick Ilka was the son of Lorna and John Ilka.

Lorna is the daughter of Edwin Green who built the California Ballroom with his son Dennis and John Ilka. Mick was 23 in 1977 when the Cali finally left the hands of his family.

He was officially titled Promotions Manager but turned his hand to most things that required doing around the building. This could mean anything from restraining fighting punters to placating stroppy stars.

I well remember one evening back in the early seventies having to send him out to pick up Sweet as their van had broken down on the M1. No limos or luxury coaches for the stars in those days. They had an old Ford Transit.

In an interview with the Dunstable Gazette Mick said:

"Occasionally you might get the odd star who was a right so-and-so, the sort who wants everyone to think he is a superstar like someone on a different planet put on this world to make life as awkward as possible for everyone else. They are usually the ones who come quick and go quick. The most important things they wanted out of me were televisions in the dressing room, booze and toilet paper. We had so many fights because they could not agree what to watch on telly we put in two colour televisions.

They usually left getting changed until the last minute. They didn't like sitting around in their stage gear, it made them nervous. They always moaned about the heat. But when they came off they always said it was a grand gig. They were right there with the people. KC of the Sunshine Band said it was the best audience response he had got anywhere in his life"

When the California was bought by businessman Bill Seymour, Mick stayed on to organise the disco and other entertainment in Didoz Nite Club. Together with Mick Rutter, they slowly built the business back up and Mick was soon booking acts for the Ballroom again. During 1979, under the guise of Ilka Promotions he was also booking acts for the Queensway Hall. After the closure of the California in 1979, he started up his own recording studio based in Luton.

He died suddenly from a brain haemorrhage at the age of 38 on January 8, 1993 and is buried in Dunstable Cemetery.

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Listen to the Louie Martin tribute to Mick
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Article in Custom Car 1977

Look Colin, I really think we ought to run some sort of feature on this amazing car that I saw up in Dunstable the other day. Belongs to a guy called Micky Illka. That's spelt I, double-L, K, A, got it? His old man owns  a dance hall, one of the fun places of my misspent youth, no less. Place is called the California, just outside Dunstable. It used to be a big venue in the mods and rockers era - you know, guys would bomb down on their Li150s from all over the home counties, cop a load of the latest raves from the metropolis and then go on somewhere else for a spot of ultra violence and a bit of the other.

Mick's Lincoln

Mick's pride and joy
The pink Lincoln
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Place'd make a triffic location for a photo session actually. It's very Norman Rockwell; looks like it's been uprooted from Southern California circa American Graffiti and deposited in the depths of Bedfordshire more or less intact. It's a bit more than a dance hall though, more what the Americans would call an entertainment complex. You know the sort of thing. It's got a monstro dance floor, nightclub, restaurant, Olympic-size swimming pool - even, would you believe, the biggest American Pool hall outside of the States. It's the sort of Las Vegas-style joint that you could boogie your life away in without ever leaving.

Anywayup, Soul is where it's at with Dunstable's junior jet-set these days and that's where Micky comes in. He's the guy in charge of booking acts for the California and giving the kids what they want. In his time he's signed everybody from Stevie Wonder to Manhattan Transfer, and he's built up a rich fund of anecdotes about showbiz, most of which alas would be unpublishable unless we wanted a barrage of lawsuits.

Oh yes, about the car. It's a 1957 Lincoln Premiere hardtop. Got something of a history too - started out life as the property of an ultra-rich Arab Sheikh in Kuwait. It even had the original Arab plates on when Micky bought it, although between Kuwait and Bedfordshire it had spent some time in the hands of an international military vehicle dealer name of L W Vass. It's actually Micky's second Lincoln, the first being an ex-Lord Rothschild '56 Premiere. Other class cars that've passed through Micky's hands include a mint Allard and a Jeep which apparently went some. (note from webmaster - it frightened the hell out of me)

Naturally as befits the personal transportation of an oil sheikh, the car has the odd extra here and there to make desert life a shade more bearable. For instance, there's a sheet of metallic foil between the roof and the headlining, to stop the equatorial sun from getting the better of favoured concubines. Then there's the beefed up air conditioning system which can change the interior from sub-tropical to artic in a matter of minutes. None of these rotary refrigerator pumps mind you, Micky's car has, would you believe, a four-cylinder horizontally opposed pump that displaces 150cc all on it's own. Bigger than a lot of motor bikes that is. Incidentally, must tell you that in German, that little assembly's called a hochedruhepumpe. Not going to say how I come to be in possession of that sort of knowledge but it helps to be super intelligent and multilingual besides being able to read labels.

The engine is, mais naturellement, a V8, displacing some 368 cubes according to the lettering in the king (or sheikh) sized desert air filter. It's been totally rebuilt by Micky complete with transmission and back axle, and runs just fine - although cold weather starts need a bit of priming, which is done by tipping about half a pint of petrol down the carburetor. A couple of muffled bangs and the engine throbs into life (s'okay Col. not being smutty or anything), whatever the weather. Just in case the present engine ever goes wrong, there's a couple of unused short blocks lying around in the garage, so the Lincoln should go rolling on for quite some time to come.

When Micky first got the car, it was what a secondhand car salesperson might charitably call a wreck. As he stripped it down, a grim picture emerged. All the sills and three door skins were irretrievably rotted, and about half a ton of sand was floating around the chassis. Luckily as a number of differences of opinion with the law had left him without a licence for some time, Micky had lots of spare evenings to work on the decomposing remains. Three and a half 6x4 sheets of 18 gauge steel later, the body looked as good as new, with a skin that would be the envy of any acne-cure manufacturer. The invariable half million coats of hand-rubbed paint led to an inevitably superior finish. Micky isn't sure what the exact colour is, but say's, it's titty pink made especially for suckers. Don't know what he means I'm sure.

'57 Lincoln Premieres are renowned for the vast acreage of chrome liberally distributed around their periphery, but Detroit chrome plating isn't noted for it's resilience in foreign climes. In fact Micky's car had more rust than chrome when he first bought it. The massive back bumper assembly was the worst victim because of its close proximity to the exhaust pipes. There wasn't anything wrong that 600 of rechroming couldn't cure mind you, and as it happens, that's just the sort of bill that faced Micky in order to make the shiny bits shine again. Certainly was worth it though, although he had to search high and low to find a place with a tank big enough to take that troublesome rear bumper.

The interior is virtually stock, and extremely well-preserved. A bit of retrimming around the front bench seat was the only work needed to keep it looking that way. Even the modern stereo system was hidden in the glove compartment to keep the car looking just like it did in 1957.

It all adds up to a Cinderella-like transformation scene, and Micky has the pictures to prove what a mess the car was in originally. With those kind of skills, an ace follow-up should be no problem. What's it going to be? He's not sure, but somewhere in a yard full of American goodies that he discovered, and understandably isn't telling anyone else about, there's a pre-war V12 Lincoln Zephyr just waiting for some loving care and attention. Could be... That's it then Col. Shall we do a feature then? I can see it already. We could do a nice colour page with a big overall view of the Premiere, say three-quarter front. Then, this'll look really trick Col, we have three little pix at the top. Something like a front view at the left, a back view in the middle and a tasty detail of a headlamp at the right. What a winner eh? How about it? (You're fired. CG). DH