Mick behind the bar at the
Hare and Hounds
Mick owned a garage in Luton that did the usual garage type things, servicing, parts etc. He was a regular at the Cross Keys pub and was happily sitting there one evening when his good friend, Bill Seymour, came in.
Bill was well known in the area as a wheeler dealer and had his finger in many pies but that didn't stop Mick from almost choking on his drink when Bill announced he had just bought the California complex at a knock-down price and wanted Mick to run it.
The California had been closed from the middle of 1977 and Bill wanted it open and making money as soon as possible. For the first two weeks of the reincarnation, the Goldmans, who ran the bars looked after the place along with Mick Ilka who was kept on to organise the music.
When Mick Rutter arrived he began to cast a cold eye over the place and initially pushed the facilities that were already on site. American Pool was advertised to make use of the 20 or so full size tables and these were set up and taken down on a regular basis to enable other events to go in the ballroom. Danny McGarry well remembers having to shift them around.
This didn't bring in sufficient income however so Mick started looking at the latest craze - Skateboarding.
Having built ramps and pipes in the Ballroom, the numbers arrived, and kept on arriving until capacity was reached. Week after week people couldn't get in so it was decided to convert the outdoor pool to a proper Skateboard park. On completion of this there was then the problem of how to keep the ballroom occupied again. Mick had seen a new craze sweeping America and decided to go and take a look.
Hopping on Freddie Laker's Skytrain, he went to the Empire Ballroom in Brooklyn armed with a video camera. He was amazed at what he saw and decided there and then to bring the craze to the UK. Having brokered a deal with 6 of the top skaters he returned with them to Dunstable and set up the California Roller Discos. Opening night was a big affair with Radio One DJ Peter Powell and demonstration skating by the US experts. Anglia TV recorded it for posterity. We're trying to get hold of a copy - Webmaster
Mick with Peter Powell
at the opening of the Roller Disco
The publicity generated a lot of additional work. Venues all around the country were desperate to get in on the act so Mick took his team of expert skaters and toured the country with them, acting as advisor to many venues.
Mick's expertise as a manager kept the California going and the new ideas along with the Bistro in Didoz and the bands in the Ballroom on Saturdays kept the money coming in, but as detailed elsewhere on this site, the determination of a few people to have the place closed along with the gigantic rates being levied meant the end was inevitable.
Mick did his best to fend off the onslaught and proposed a compromise solution of selling off the Southern end of the site for housing whilst keeping the Ballroom as a going concern. He arrived at the Planning Committee meeting to find the decision had already been taken and passed so all that was left for him to do was wind everything up.
The last night was on December 31st 1979 and the place was packed. Mick took New Year's Day off and on the 2nd of January started to supervise the demolition. Every part of the building that could be sold, was sold. The roof tiles from the Pool Bar went on his house, the lights went to Skindles, the plastic glasses were bought as a job lot by Markyate Boys Club, the concrete footings from the Hillside Bar were taken and used as the foundations for Calrose Marina. Reports have come in of people with wrought iron gates that have the word BAR in the middle of them.
Mick with DJ Graham Bonney
and the mirror ball
The ballroom roof structure was taken away to be re-used on another building and the acres of maple flooring that we all leapt about on was stacked up to be reused at a later date. (unfortunately it all warped and was eventually burned).
Mick spent some considerable time travelling around the south of England trying to find a new venture but came up with nothing that was suitable and eventually went into buying and selling land. His company, MRM continued with this until he took over the Hare and Hounds Public House in Ledburn, near Leighton Buzzard, where he remains to this day.
Mick is always delighted to see ex-California people. The Hare and Hounds is close to the site of the Great Train Robbery and is themed along those lines however, he does still have a few bits of California memorabilia.
The food is good, the company great and the atmosphere warm. Pop in and see him next time you're up that way.