With over 93,000 members, the Friars Aylesbury is the largest and probably one of the most historic music clubs in the UK. It is probably one of the biggest music clubs in Europe.
The famous club first opened its doors in 1969, and although it was closed twice during its long history (in 1984 it closed its doors for 25 years) it is still active … with a thriving membership.
Over the years , the Friars has become famous for launching the careers of several iconic groups. It all started when local music manager David Stopp was persuaded by school teacher Robin Pike to set up a Music Club in the ex-servicemen’s hall in Walton Street – a place known as known as the New Friarage. A committee was quickly co-opted, to work on the project, and this enterprising assembly quickly came up with a number of ideas that would make The Friars the success it was to become.
Within a week of opening, the New Friarage Hall (capacity 400) hosted an edgy blues night with London rock group ‘The Pretty Things‘. And after that winning show, ‘Free’, ‘King Crimson’, ‘Edgar Broughton’, ‘Genesis’ and ‘Hawkwind’ were all persuaded to play at the new venue. The Friars soon began to earn notoriety around music circles as a thriving and well managed place. Peter Gabriel admitted that it was probably at the Aylesbury Friars that his career began, saying: “That’s where people first got to know us [Genesis.]”
But, perhaps inevitably, complaints were received about noise from local residents. The Friars Music Club was pushed out of the Friarage Hall in August 1970.
In 1971 the decision was made to restart the Friars at the larger Borough Assembly Hall – a place with a capacity of about 800. The first show at the ‘new‘ Friars featured Tony McPhee’s ‘Groundhogs’ and local “Really Free” act John Otway. Otway has remained a loyal and stalwart friend of the club ever since that day.
David Bowie played at the venue in 1971 – with London folk-rock band ‘America‘. He also performed in early 1972. But it was his appearance July 15, 1972 that is still considered by many to be the greatest ever Friars Aylesbury concert. Because it was on that date, and at this very special location, that Bowie chose to reveal his new ‘Ziggy Stardust’ act to the world.
1972 also saw performances by ‘Genesis’, ‘Lou Reed’ ‘Roxy Music’ and The MC5. Later, in 1974, ‘Mott the Hoople’. Steve Harley & ‘Cockney Rebel’ and also ‘Queen’ all played the Friars stage. Other memorable acts included ‘Dr Feelgood’ and ‘Sailor.’
In August 1975 the Borough Assembly Hall was closed and a new purpose built Civic Centre was opened – called Vale Hall ( later re-named Maxwell Hall. ) Subsequently, the Friars moved to this new 1250 capacity venue.
Within a few weeks of moving to Vale Hall, the powerful German electronic music group ‘Tangerine Dream ‘ played at the club. Iggy Pop played there in 1977. And so did the ‘Ramones‘ and ‘Talking Heads‘ (on the same ticket.) Plus, Steve Hackett, Gary Numan and Genesis all played at Vale Hall in the early Seventies. ‘The Police‘ played one of their first gigs at The Friars in 1979 – but returned as world dominating superstars – to play again – in 1982. English punk rock band ‘The Clash’ played the club four times. Marillion’s sold out homecoming gig in December 1984 was to be the last show at Vale Hall. A press release revealed that the club was having to close due to “increased operating costs.” This was when the Friars went dark for 25 years.
But, in June 2009, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Friars , an anniversary concert was organized by Stopps and his team. The show featured bands that had experienced their early beginnings at the club: Bands like ‘Pretty Things’, ‘Edgar Broughton Band’ and ‘The Groundhogs.’ ‘Stiff Little Fingers’, ‘Penetration’, ‘King Creole’ and ‘China Crisis’ all played at this most recent incarnation.
In October 2010, the Friars moved to the Waterside Theatre (capacity about 1750. ) The first show at the theatre boasted ‘Buzzcocks‘ and ‘Eddie and the Hot Rods.‘
Now, the Friars is hosting a major exhibition of rare posters, photos and pop memorabilia – collected over 40 years – and brought together from their extensive archives. Friars members and artists have been specially filmed talking about their memories of the club – and this film will also be exhibited in a specially created section at the exhibition.
The exhibition will be open to the public from 1st March to 5th July.
Open on the following Mondays: 7,14,21 April and 26 May 10am – 5pm
Buckinghamshire County Museum, Church Street, Aylesbury HP20 2QP