The Astra Agency

February 1963
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Roger Allen began his agency from the front room of his house at 30 Merridale Street West, was one third of PMA (Perry Maddocks Allen) then joined with Astra, opened the Oasis Night Club and later worked with the Nita Anderson Agency. He had some management involvement with the majority of the town's best groups in the 60s, including Ambrose Slade.
"None of the local groups stood any chance of really making it big without involvement from the London agencies and without recording contracts. That was why I spent so much time down in London. I was probably there for about two years, living down there every week day and coming back to Wolverhampton at weekends."

"Getting recording contracts and better bookings was very much a case of getting to the top man and hustling. It was no use just sitting in waiting rooms. You had to force your way in and push the product. That was how you got your group included on important national package tours. By the time The 'N Betweens or Ambrose Slade, as they became known, got to Jack Baverstock and Fontana I was probably known all over London."
While Roger Allen is possibly the best remembered of the local individuals involved in the 60s music scene, one organisation which is also synonymous with the period is the Astra Agency. Once again, virtually every one of the significant local groups had links with Astra.
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The Agency had its beginnings in the front room of a house in Hilston Avenue in Penn, belonging to Len Rowe. He and a local band leader named Stan Fielding and his son Peter, started the agency in early 1963. Within a few years Astra was recognised as one of the most important entertainment agencies in the Midlands. It had started with the intention of finding regular work for the growing number of local beat groups which emerged after the success of the Beatles. In its earliest days it had responsibility for groups like the Strollers (with Roy Grant), Roger and the Dodgers (Rinky Dinks), Johnny Washington and the Congressmen and the Midbeats and venues like the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton where it organised the very successful Rhythm Rendezvous on Monday evenings. As Midland Beat stated in December 1963:
'The Astra Agency sets a fine example to other such organisations. They refuse to take work on more groups than they can find work for. This is their main policy since they will not exploit a group. They have been responsible for the Monday evening sessions at the Civic Hall in partnership with the Council. On the first night 900 teenagers turned up, now a regular 600 attend.'
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Astra Agency: Very few promotions within the town did not involve Astra Agency and its three leading members, Stan and Pete Fielding and Len Rowe.

In February 1964 the Agency had moved to offices in Waterloo Road to cope with the increasing amount of work. By August 1964 the agency was advertising itself as having booking responsibility for the:
In other words, there were very few of the more successful local groups who were not linked to the agency in some form, and so it continued throughout the decade with the involvement of individuals like George Maddocks, Tony Perry, Roger Allen, Dougie Eades, Maurice Jones and Alan Clayton and with the opening of new offices on the top floor of the Criterion (now Wolverhampton University Higher Education Shop) on the comer of Princes Square in 1967 and later at the Club Lafayette in Thornley Street.

When Tony Perry and George Maddocks joined with Astra from PMA in about 1967 it meant that the vast majority of the main music venues in the local area were then controlled by the agency. This coupled with the number of local groups on their books and their links with agencies in other areas like Stoke, gave Astra a very strong hold over the local music scene.

Astra also indulged in some 'interesting' experiments in live entertainment during the mid-60s. It was Astra which introduced the Cinediscodollyteque at the end of 1966 which could legitimately claim to be the first local attempt at 'disco'. The music columnist for the Express & Star was John Ogden and he reported on the introduction of the CDDT in Wall Heath. The idea was to have girls dancing in cages and Astra had successfully conscripted a number of local girls for the first experiment. It was intended to have a mixture of discotheque environment with psychedelic music. Two weeks later Ogden reported on a performance by the Move at Walsall Town Hall which involved psychedelic music.

It was in 1968 that Astra started making plans for its most ambitious venture, the development of the former Blue Flame into the Club Lafayette. It was intended to make the new club into one of the foremost live music venues in the area and to provide its customers with a wide variety of acclaimed popular music performers and different styles. It proved most successful and gained a deserved national reputation. It remained open until 1982. The Lafayette also provided an ultimate local showcase for those of our groups who managed to survive the turbulent years of the decade and to gain some well deserved national prestige.

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*Bastardised from the excellent 2002 online book
by Keith Farley. 'N Between Times: an Oral History of the Wolverhampton Group Scene of the 1960s It's certainly worth a read.

2 comments:

monsterpop said...

cant imagine what kind of shady folks were in charge of bands back then.
unless we watch Flame of course;-)

the shady bald manager dude in Flame was also in the Pistols movie"The Great Rock And Roll Swindle"

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