April 7, 2020, by Nicholas Blake

Live on Campus! – the 1970s

This guest blog was written by student placement Jessica Clarke, 2nd year Music. Jess trawled through our holdings of student newspapers, the Entertainments Committee minutes, and Students’ Union ephemera, to research bands and performers who played at the University of Nottingham. 

The 1970s were a different time: almost no one had a computermost music was played from vinyl and the internet was not yet available to the public. It was an exciting time for the music industry, with new bands and genres rapidly appearing. 

Image of article from student newspaper 'The Gongster': "Apology. Social Committee wish to apologise for the fact that Fleetwood Mac played undertime at their concert last night. Part of their fee has been stopped and will be ploughed back into the pool for future events."

From ‘The Gongster’, 5th November 1970, p.5

The decade kicked off to a good start with Fleetwood Mac, one of the biggest bands to play at the University’s Students’ Union. They had only been around for a few years but were well received by the crowd in the Portland Building on Thursday, 5th November, 1970. Unfortunately, they played for less than their allotted time, so the Union Social committee withheld some of their fee! 

Two years later, on a Tuesday afternoon, Paul McCartney strolled into Portland with his new band, Wings, and offered to play a free gig. At lunchtime the next day – 9th February 1972 – they played to six hundred people in The Buttery (the Students’ Union bar) in the band’s first ever live performance. They only had 11 songs to play so they had to start repeating somepretending that they were special requests from students. 

Societies occasionally had live music for their events and often booked artists who were just starting out, some of whom later made it big. In 1972 Shakin’ Stevens played for the Medics Ball as part of a fouract line-up. Since he didn’t achieve much success until the 1980s when his hit single Merry Christmas Everyone came out, he was advertised as just another act, sharing the event headline with “Buffet Supper – Cold Table or Salmon, Turkey, etc”.

Article from student newspaper with headline "Paul brings shock Wings debut to Portland Building', and includes a photograph of Paul McCartney on stage

From ‘The Gongster’, 21st February 1972, p.1

Another group who achieved festive success was Mud, whose song Lonely This Christmas was released two years before their 1976 performance at the Sports Centre. They became one of a few groups who returned to Nottingham when they played at Lenton Hall in 1980.  As that performance was on 28th November we can be fairly sure Lonely This Christmas would have made an appearance. 

In early 1977 Ultravox played in the Ballroom of the Portland Building.  They had been together since 1973 but didn’t achieve mainstream success until the release of their 1980 single Vienna, which spent four consecutive weeks at number two in the UK charts without ever quite making it to number one. 

Two years later, another band who hadn’t made it big yet performed in the Portland Building. Simple Minds were a Scottish rock band who are best known for Don’t You (Forget About Me) which was released in 1985 on the soundtrack of the hit movie “The Breakfast Club”. 

Advert in student paper for the Medics Ball being held in November 1972. It promotes Shakin' Stevens, among other bands, as well as advertising the buffet supper

From ‘The Gongster’, 9 November 1972, p.5

Later on in the 1970s and the early 80s, the use of the Portland Building as a concert venue became controversial due to disputes between the Students Union and the University over who was allowed into the events. Because of this, the Sports Centre was used for larger concerts, where it hosted Siouxsie and the Banshees in January 1979, and The Jam fourteen months later.  

Now, over thirty years later, we don’t have many live bands performing at the Students Union, all their publicity comes from Spotify and YouTube rather than university gigs. In lots of ways the internet has improved our lives and given us access to a wide array of bands, artists and genres, but it will never replace the magic of the live show. 

The material consulted in this article is held by Manuscripts & Special Collections, King’s Meadow Campus, University of Nottingham. Please visit our website for more information and access to our online catalogues.

Posted in Guest blogs