When The Who’s Keith Moon was kicked out a cafe in Elgin

The Who in 1965 - the same year they pitched up in Elgin following the release of My Generation. PIC:
The Who in 1965 - the same year they pitched up in Elgin following the release of My Generation. PIC:
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It is where Keith Moon cleared a cafe with a stink bomb, Van Morrison lost his jewellery after being ‘captured’ by screaming fans and The Beatles launched their first UK tour on a freezing January night.

The pleasantly sedate town of Elgin on the Moray coast, known for its ruined cathedral and expensive cashmere shops, may seem like an unlikely place for the rising pop and rock stars of the 1960s to gravitate.

The Park Cafe were young people and bands would mingle. PIC: Scotbeat

The Park Cafe were young people and bands would mingle. PIC: Scotbeat

But the town, thanks to the efforts of local music promoter and cafe owner Albert Bonici, became a magnet for new musical talent trying to push their singles up the charts.

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It was a life’s ambition of Bonici, who was born in Inverness, to work in the music industry with his LCB Agency forged through close contacts in London and an eagle eye on what music fans were buying.

Bonici’s parents owned the Park Cafe in the town with the businessman to later model it on the 2i’s cafe in Soho where the impresario would return to time and time again to strike deals and secure bookings.

The Beatles hit America - just a year after they started their first UK tour in Elgin. PIC: Creative Commons.

The Beatles hit America - just a year after they started their first UK tour in Elgin. PIC: Creative Commons.

Burgers were put on the menu at the Elgin joint, where his parents’ soft ice-cream was considered the best around, a small stage was built, vinyl booths were added - and the kids loved it.

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Bands, including The Beatles, would be fed here during the intervals of their shows at the Two Red Shoes Ballroom, which Bonici opened up next door in 1960.

Elgin man David Dills has spent the past nine years researching the music scene in the north of Scotland and will present an exhibition of his work, published on his Scotbeat blog, in the town this weekend.

The flyer for 1963 gig of the "Love Me Do" boys - aka The Beatles. PIC: Scotbeat.

The flyer for 1963 gig of the "Love Me Do" boys - aka The Beatles. PIC: Scotbeat.

He said the Park Cafe remained a hive of activity amid Bonici’s growing empire.

Mr Dills added: “One woman recalled how Keith Moon came over and sat on her knee. The presence of the boys made for good laughs in the cafe until Keith pulled a stink bomb from his pocket and tossed it.

“He may have been the only musician thrown out of the Park Cafe.”

The Who, who played in May 1965 before the release of My Generation single and album later that year, were “hugely popular” in the town.

Albert Bonici - cafe owner and impresario who brought some of the biggest emerging talent of the 1960s to the north of Scotland. PIC: Scotbeat.

Albert Bonici - cafe owner and impresario who brought some of the biggest emerging talent of the 1960s to the north of Scotland. PIC: Scotbeat.

Mr Dills added: “People say to me, if The Who hadn’t played in Elgin, I wouldn’t be here today as my mum and dad met at that gig.”

The Two Red Shoes Ballroom started out as a jazz venue with its small stage and dog legged dancefloor perhaps less suited to the rock and pop shows given sections of the audience couldn’t see the performers.

Bonici put on free buses from the outlying towns and villages to help fill the venue.

Eric Clapton was unhappy about the state of the crowd at a Yardbirds gig in 1967, with the Moray show to be his last with the band.

Clapton later described the gig as “rough”.

“They just came to fight… not to watch us and they’d boo you off stage. It upsets me very much when you get that kind of audience,” he said.

A disco flyer for the Two Red Shoes Ballroom. PIC: Scotbeat.

A disco flyer for the Two Red Shoes Ballroom. PIC: Scotbeat.

According to an account recorded by Mr Dills, Pink Floyd also appeared at the Two Red Shoes the same year with one heckler declaring “I could sing better in ma wee bath.”

Another account notes how Van Morrison, who performed at the venue with Them in 1965, was effectively “captured” by fans.

“All were mobbed and lost cufflinks, ties and even shoes,” music journalist Chris Ryder wrote.

The Beatles were booked to play in January 1963 with Bonici promoting the band as the “Love Me Do Boys” in light of their single which sat at number 17 in the charts.

The Beatles, who stayed in local guesthouse MacBeans, were paid £42 for their show which was staged on a terrible winter’s night in the north just three days into the New Year.

Some defiant souls braced the blizzard to get to the gig, with reports of a half-empty dancefloor and music fans dancing in snow-caked wellies.

The night was promoted by the Elgin Folk Music Club, who regularly staged events at the venue, with entrance costing the equivalent of 30p.

But those who caught The Beatles in Elgin did so at the cusp of the band’s super stardom.

The Scottish tour was cut short as Brian Epstein called for the band to return to London and less than a week later, The Beatles reached mainstream success with the release of Please Please Me.

Bonici, who also bought the Ballerina Ballroom in Nairn and organised gigs in Aberdeen and Inverness, supported a string of local bands, such as Johnny and the Copycats, Mr Dills added.

He said: “These local musicians were listening to bands like The Who on Radio Luxembourg one week with Bonici arranging for them to support them the next.”

“People loved it and they loved their music. If it wasn’t for Bonici there would have been a lot of young people with nothing going on.

“He was a businessman but he looked after people. He had to juggled his finance and no one made a lot of money. He was really into people just having a good time.

“When you think of the Park Cafe, these young people could of been anywhere, like New York or London. But here they were, in the north of Scotland - and these musicians were being brought to them.”

The Two Red Shoes Ballroom closed in the late 1980s. It became a squash court, a cafe and later a theatre with a new owner currently sought for the venue.

Mr Dills will present his exhibition on Saturday, November 18, at the St Giles shopping centre with local bands due to perform.