Tuesday, 12 June 2012

A Blue Plaque For The Cock Pub

The Cock Pub

A Rich Musical History

Let me take you back through the mists of time to a pub in St Alban's during the very early 1960's. This hallowed place acted as a springboard to musical achievement , no not The Blacksmiths Arms , ( The Zombies first met outside it and rehearsed behind it) but the place that helped launch the career of no less than three artists.

During 1960-1 The Cock pub became a local haunt for the young crowd of Folkies and Beatniks , they were tolerated by the landlord being relegated to a small out building at the back of the pub, out of the way of the 'normal' customers for being too boisterous. Many larger than life characters with names like Bounce, Big Bom and Little Bom, Pops Kerr, Haggis and Chunky Logan.

One of the first on the scene was Mac MacLeod who had taken up the guitar after being caught up by the Skiffle craze of the mid 50's and as such was a direct contemporary of Bob Dylan . MacLeod soon found himself studying Folk and Blues and he began to frequent The Cock and would share songs and techniques with his friends there. MacLeod studied much of the work of Ramblin Jack Elliot, Jesse Fuller and Big Bill Broonzy passing on his knowledge to the young Donovan , Dylan also studied these artists and explains why early on in Donovan's and Dylan's career they shared a similar sound. During the summer months MacLeod would travel to Torquay where he was to busk with a young John Renbourn. Over the years MacLeod had a successful career in music in Scandinavia as a solo artist and a series of bands including The Other Side (with Boz Scaggs), Exploding Mushroom, Hurdy Gurdy ( which was immortalized in Donovan's song 'Hurdy Gurdy Man'), Soft Cloud with another Cock regular Mick Softley and Amber with yet another patron Julian McAllister, in recent years has become a cult figure amongst Folk and Blues aficionados.

One of MacLeod's school friends , a young lady called Maddy Prior also became a regular to The Cock. Prior became friends with the young Donovan and another cult favourite Mick Softley. Prior had joined the St Albans singers with MacLeod after informal practise at The Cock they went on to play gigs at The Robin Hood and Peahen pubs. Later on Prior and MacLeod formed a two piece 'Mac 'n' Maddy' which was a popular duo until MacLeod upped sticks and went to Scandinavia. Prior went on be a driver for Rev Gary Davis and then teamed up with Tim Hart for two recordings before joining Steeleye Span. Over her career Prior has recorded over a dozen solo albums, over twenty albums with Steeleye Span, worked with June Tabor , The Carnival Band , Martin Carthy and many other artists of note. Ralph McTell wrote 'Maddy Dances' in her honour and in 2001 she was awarded the MBE for services to Folk music.

Around 1962-3 a young Mod started to come to The Cock, he was drawn to the Folk and Blues sound like a moth to a flame, his name was Donovan. Donovan would hitch lifts to St Albans on the the back of Mick Sharman's scooter from his home at Bishops Rise in Hatfield. Other friends of his there included Julian McAllister and Ron Gale. Donovan soon became a regular and began his transformation from Mod to full blown Folkie. It was in The Cock that he first started his serious study of the guitar , Folk and Blues and held his first live venue performance. Donovan went on to fame and fortune in 1965 with his first hit 'Catch The Wind'. Donovan passed on some of his knowledge gained from Mac MacLeod in The Cock including teaching John Lennon finger picking styles in India in 1968 which resulted in 'Julia' and 'Dear Prudence' , styles that also inspired Paul McCartney 'Blackbird' and 'Mother Natures Son'. Donovan has an impressive career in music and amongst his awards he has garnered an Ivor Novello in 1965 , Dr of Letters at the University Of Hertfordshire 2003 and has recently been inducted to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Donovan often mentions his first ever gig at The Cock pub and has a special place in his heart for it.

Mick Softley ran his own Folk club at Hemel's Spinning Wheel, he started to visit The Cock (once convincing Maddy Prior to perform on a make shift stage at The Spinning Wheel). After the closure of his club Softley was a regular at The Cock and was also an influence on the other players there including MacLeod , Dirty Hugh and the young Donovan. Donovan went on to record two of Softley's songs and helped him get a record deal. Softley is one of the early hero's to many a young Folkie.

It really is about time The Cock got it's own Blue Plaque don't you think?

© Andrew Morris