Nag 2
Nag 2
Nag 1

Music at the Nag's Head

One didn’t have to travel to London to watch top rate professional bands plying their trade. The Nag's Head public house was a much-attended venue during the 60’s and 70’s for watching many of the, what was known then as, progressive bands of that era. The pub was run by the very large framed man by the name of Bob Knight, Bob, and his associate ‘Jork’ were a Godsend to Northamptonshire’s young fraternity attracting many up and coming bands from the city to play at this small pub in the village of Wollaston. The actual room used for the music was a simple function room, in the past it was probably hired for wedding receptions or meetings but after a makeover of boarding up the windows and painting the walls in a matt black paint the venue was renamed ‘The Motown Club’ although the name didn’t stick and was referred to, always, as ‘The Nag’s’. Bob was something of an entrepreneur and when it became obvious, with drink-driving laws being introduced, that his clientele would benefit from transport to and from the venue he actually bought a double decker bus to deliver his would be punters to Wollaston .The bus only lasted a short while before the venue needed little publicity to attract audiences from around the county. It’s worth mentioning here that ‘The Nag’s’ wasn’t the only music venue to promote quality live bands in the area, in those heady days of the late 60’s and early 70’s it was possible to see equally talented musicians from London at ‘The George’ in Wilby on Sunday nights, ‘The Tin Hat’ in Kettering on Saturday night or ‘The Flamingo’ and The Plough in Northampton mid-week.   I believe Bob Knight was the pioneer in setting this trend, as late teenagers we were spoilt rotten in the music stakes.  Later came venues like ‘The Rock’ in Wellingborough which hosted names such as ‘Genesis’, Slade, Mott the Hoople’ and a ton of other talent but that’s another story. I should add that these venues were specifically hosting ‘progressive’ bands but more commercial acts such as Geno Washington’s Ram Jam Band, Love Affair, Tremeloes and a hundred more acts could be witnessed at places like The North Park Club or The Works in Kettering and touring package tours were booked at The Granada cinema, The Rolling Stones being one of the acts. I attended one of these tours and, unbelievably saw IN ONE EVENING, Marmalade, Traffic, The Tremeloes, The Herd (featuring Peter Frampton) and The Who!
Many of the bands that frequented The Nags contained members that would become household names in the music business, the venue was yet another stepping stone in their long careers to stardom and whilst not becoming household names, unless one followed progressive music, they are still regarded today as icons of the music industry. One such name is Paul Carrack, Paul appeared at the Nags as a young keyboard player with a band called Warm Dust, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame appeared as guitarist in the band called Brewers Droop. It is believed, although I never saw them at the venue, that The Who appeared at The Nags along with, but much later, U2. Rod Stewart & The Faces were one of the other famous bands that I did actually attend the gig, they played for free and I recall Rod Stewart buying trays of pints of beer for the audience and handed out copies of the newly released album ‘Long Player’. U2 apparently weren’t well received at The Nags and the audience had to be ‘drummed up’ and tempted to enter the venue by U2’s singer ‘Bono’ begging people in the car park to “come in and see us” , a far cry from the success of their Live Aid Wembley Stadium appearance. One of the best bands I ever witnessed playing at The Nags was ‘Free’, I saw them twice in Wollaston, the first time they were brought along by none other than Alexis Korner, one of the men responsible for supplying Charlie Watts as drummer for The Rolling Stones and having a chequered career as a blues player and this was prior to them holding the name Free. For those that aren’t familiar to Free’s history and fame in music industry the single ‘Alright Now’ should point them out. Other names that appeared at The Nags that went on to bigger things were people like Carl Palmer, Palmer was, and is, a phenomenal drummer, he appeared at the Nags as drummer with a band called Atomic Rooster and had made fame as drummer with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and played drums on the, well known, single ‘Fire’, he became more famous as the drummer with Emerson, Lake and Palmer that went on to world fame. I recall Carl Palmer have a heated argument with Bob Knight in the car park when the band arrived an hour late, apparently their van had a break down causing them to be late for the gig. Bob Knight had a short fuse and being a rather fearsome character with a no-nonsense attitude usually won any argument or disagreement but it seems Carl Palmer was equally fiery and the rage from both of them yelling at each other prior to roadies unloading their equipment had to be seen to be believed, Palmer brought his pet boxer dog to the gig and the dog appeared to be taking sides with it’s owner, the end result finished in harmony, I think Bob walked away preferring to keep his counsel and probably damage to his trousers from such sharp teeth, the band played and all was well.
The Nag’s venue was a place where it was possible to stand at the bar and have the futures famous musicians ordering a pint standing next to you, they were all approachable, one such occasion that I can claim to be part of was when I sat in the bar downstairs and the members of Free walked in prior to playing, I sat at the table with Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirk sitting to my left and Andy Fraser and Paul Kossoff to my right. In these pre internet, pre PC days one communicated via the Royal mail with hand written letters. I had received a letter from one of my cousins that resided in Kent, another cousin had accompanied me to the Nags that night and was standing around the table, some punters were getting Free’s first album ‘Ton of Sobs’ signed by the band, I leaned forward and offered my cousin’s letter for him to read, Paul Kossoff snatched the envelope out of my hand and duly signed it , I hadn’t intended to get his autograph, it was more by default but I still have that signature today some 50 years later, sadly Paul Kossoff died in 1976. Other bands that appeared at The Nags may only be familiar to people who were aware of the progressive music scene at the time but these bands were all part of a rich tapestry that signified progress in music of the future, to witness them arriving from the capital in their beat up Ford transits was something amazing to see and The Nags had them all, the list from memory is as follows…………

Free, Brewer’s Droop, Brinsley Schwarz, Paladin, Alexis Korner, If, Wishbone Ash, Uriah Heep, The Faces, Stray, Rare Bird, Blodwyn Pig, Bronco, Killing Floor, Writing On The Wall, White Trash, Cochise, T2, U2, Ground Hogs, UFO, Burning Red Ivanhoe, Atomic Rooster, Thin Lizzy, Edison Lighthouse, Black Cat Bones, Formerly Fat Harry, Sam Apple Pie, Little Free Rock, Skid Row, Medicine Head, Supertramp, Audience, Ace Kefford Band, Blossom Toes, Black Widow……the list goes on and on.

Another famous face and voice that frequented The Nag’s head was BBC disc Jockey John Peel, John arrived almost every Friday night to enjoy the atmosphere, far from being inundated by the Nags Head fraternity he became just another famous face at the venue, he appeared to enjoy just being part of the audience and most people would give him a nod or a “Alright John?” comment as they passed, he appeared to like this immunity from stardom. Sadly John Peel died in 2004 but his contribution to pushing new music to the general public continued long after those Nags head days.

Nag poster 5
To arrive on a Friday night by bus was almost magical, the car park full of people wearing Afghan coats, suede fringed jackets, Cuban heeled snakeskin boots, flared trousers, in fact everything that Kensington Market could offer at that time. People arrived throughout the night, starting at around 5pm until around 9pm. First stop was the bar, the pub did a roaring trade in selling drinks, it was always pretty rammed with so-called ‘hippies’, This was the era of ‘peace and love’ and I honestly can’t recall a single fight taking place at the Nags and should trouble ever begin to raise it’s ugly head Bob was more than capable of snuffing it out in an instant.  In the summer months punters sat outside in the courtyard talking music, work and relationships until around 8.45 when a rush for the staircase/fire escape transpired prior to whichever band was about to start playing. On entering the room at the top of these stairs, one would pay the entrance fee and get your hand stamped for readmission, The room was dark with only the stage being lit, the familiar Marshall amplification stacks filled the tiny stage, these band were loud, it was a time of Jimi Hendrix and the like and we loved it. Smoking was commonplace everywhere back then, the room had a pall of smoke rising to the low ceiling, patchouli oil filled the nostrils, it was the go-to perfume for any would-be hippy. Beer spilt on the timber floor and while the idea that this mixture of nausea provoking odours somehow must have smelt awful I never noticed it. Dancing at the Nags was never a serious past time, the reasons being that A, there wasn’t the room and B, because during this period in time progressive music was to be heard and not danced to. If one wished to dance then the North Park Club Kettering would supply bands that produced sounds for such a wishes or in my case I would play James Brown on my ‘record player’ at home. By the time the band’s first set was over these smells had the added odour of sweat, so many people congregating in such a small space had this obvious out come. By the time the bands second set was over people were ‘well oiled’ although attempting to get served from the bar situated in the room could take forever, it was tiny, it was a far more realistic enterprise to leave the room and go downstairs to the public bar which was usually almost empty while the bands played, I always found it strange that once the loud music began upstairs the older generation would sit in the bar chatting like a normal village pub with the drums and guitars thumping distantly through the ceiling, old men with dogs at their feet and walking sticks leaning against the wall, dressed in overcoats usually, passed the time of day with Bob as though it was a Sunday lunch time, mind you once the music stopped after the final encore the older generation were long gone before the hoards of music lovers vacated the room upstairs and the bar was once again the familiar noisy Nags. The generations appeared to have a non-verbal agreement not to annoy one another, it worked perfectly. The last of the evening was spent arranging meeting new found friends of the opposite sex, looking for rides home or a small army of punters making their way in either direction, thumbs out, trying to hitch lifts to their specific home towns, this could take an hour or so before the car park and courtyard was clear of the crowds and the roadies loaded the last pieces of the bands equipment back onto the van before heading back to London or continuing further north for the next day’s gig in another town. Midweek The Nag’s Head was just another local pub until the following Friday when the scenario would start all over again.
No one will ever know just how many marriages Bob Knight was responsible for, so many couples that met at ‘The Nags’ ended up marrying, I don’t think Bob would have given it much thought but it is a fact that the venue introduced so many people to each other. Bob was killed in a traffic accident on the A45 in 2010 and his death was mourned by so many and more than just his family and friends, Bob not only was responsible for The Nag’s Head, he spent his whole life willingly starting venues and bringing all types of music to the masses. RIP Bob, you did the local community such service without even realising it though your love of modern music.

I still tell stories about the venue to my kids and Grandchildren, they will never experience those times and it’s such a sad thought, music is now in the hands of massive companies and chances to see such huge names in what was a local pub is virtually unthinkable these days, back then it was possible to watch Bob Marley and The Wailers in a pub in Northampton, unbelievable in this day and age but ‘we’ were there and we thought it would last forever. Today you can pay up to £100 for a ticket to see, on a video screen from 100 yards back, the likes of Carl Palmer or other famous musicians and singers, we were so blessed to have stood no more than 3 feet away from them at the Nags.

Recently the old pub was renamed The Wollaston Inn and I find it inconceivable that any brewing company would not wish to keep it’s original title in respect for what the pub’s history involves, a simple green plaque recording it’s past seems such an underwhelming record of what took place there during those Halcyon days. Even now I can’t drive past The Nag’s Head without thousands of memories flooding into my mind in the seconds it takes to pass the old pub in a car. I have occasionally driven into the that old courtyard and tried to visualise how we were back then, I’ve even walked around the place but not dared to enter because I know my memories will, in the 50+ years since have been erased physically, friends have died that I once frequented and associated the pub with so when I got invited to meet there one night it was with trepidation that I accepted to go.

I walked into the bar where I had sat with Free some 50 years earlier to find it painted in an unfamiliar ‘hint of green’ and the bar to be found no longer painted white and built in solid wood with ordinary lights illuminating the room, instead it had back lighting more in keeping with a high class restaurant or coffee shop, it’s at times like these I mourn my youth, no more old men and their dogs and  trying to ignore the thunder emitting from above, they are now no more and the thought crossed my mind that I  have taken their place as some sort of dinosaur within the pub. The bar felt so much larger than I remembered, the lack of humanity in the room has expanded the walls psychologically and once again I have to accept that those full heads of flowing hair and the endless stamina I once shared in that room have become a memory, today we are balding old people, claiming our pensions and writing down our next hospital appointment on a calendar behind the kitchen door. I so wanted to have a sneak peek at the hallowed room where the music flowed so long ago but avoided doing so. Now in my later years I still play the drums, another aspect of what The Nags’ instilled in me after watching so many gifted and talented musicians. The band informed me that one of the rehearsals was booked to take place in ‘that room’ I climbed the stairs and entered, no more darkness, no more black paint, the room was airy and bright..but…the stage was the original although now covered in carpet. At the end of the evening I felt I had to convince myself that it really was ‘the stage’ that so many great bands had graced  in my past, I pulled back the carpet and the scratches and scrapes left by countless drum kits and amplifiers were still there, like a scar on your face that improves your looks to the opposite sex. I left the room to go home a happier man but I have since been informed that a new stage has now been installed so yet another part of the venues history has been erased along with the fire escape stair case which was replaced, although it looks much the same as the old one. For those of the younger generation I sympathise that you don’t have anything to compare to those great days, I only wish you had but I thank God I was born in that era of such huge advances in music, some of which still stand today, we were there and brought up on David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley James Brown, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Eric Clapton,  and a thousand others who have made their mark in history musically and The Nag’s Head in Wollaston with Bob Knight played a major part in bringing so much of that music to that sleepy old village for us to hear and witness. Prior to an afternoons nap or going to bed I often go back there in my mind and while Wollaston had no real place in my heart until I attended The Nag’s Head, the village has become synonymous with happy memories for me.

Mick Austin