The California Ballroom 1972

The California Ballroom, Bedfordshire, 24th June 1972

Dunstable Gazette: 23rd June 1972

Admission £1.
The DJ for the night was Paul Gray who never actually got to spin a record. Bruce Benson finished his marathon and introduced Slade. Slade went off, Paul came on, all the fuses blew.

The California Ballroom started out as a lido, an outdoor swimming pool. Edwin Green bought it in the late 1950's and added the Pool Ballroom that officially opened in 1960. For 20 years The California became the hottest night spot around with a reputation for Northern Soul. The venue hosted live shows too, Soul, of course, but also Rock, and a list of artists appearing at The Cali reads like a 'Who's Who of Rock and Roll', many of which said that the California was their favourite venue. Whether they loved it or hated it, they usually remember it.

The ever popular resident Groover, DJ Bruce Benson, began one of his most outlandish stunts when he kicked off his Disc Jockey Marathon. It began at 8pm on Monday 19th June and ran for 5 days and 3 hours, finishing at 11pm on Saturday 24th June when he would introduce Slade live on stage. He completed the task but to this day, rumours still abound about the veracity of the whole process.

The California had a quoted capacity of 3000. The night of the Slade gig it is believed there were actually about 3,500 in the Ballroom and probably another 500 in the bars and the car park. Forget the figures in the newspapers, this is first hand accounts from the staff in the venue.

Near hysteria at Slade concert
Scenes of  young girls fainting and near hysteria swept through the California Ballroom on Saturday night as one of the largest crowds ever packed in to see top pop group Slade.

Over 1300 people jammed the dance floor. Exit doors were burst open as the crowd fought for air. Girls were hoisted high on boyfriend's shoulders clear of the crush. Resident disc jockey at the Cali - weekend haunt of hundreds of Luton teenagers - Bruce Benson said: "It was Beatlemania all over again". He made repeated requests during the evening for people to move away from the massive amplifiers in case they toppled under pressure. 

The disc jockey said afterwards: "I saw several girls faint. I certainly cannot remember a bigger crowd". The crowd started a continuous "we want Slade" chant over an hour before the group - who's latest release 'Take me bak ome' is currently number two in the charts - appeared on stage. 

Slade's lead guitarist Dave Hill said afterwards: "The audience reaction was tremendous but I felt really sorry for the kids. They were packed in like sardines."

Luton News: June 29th. 1972

"The night Slade were on in 1972 the place was packed to capacity. It was getting really hot as Bruce Benson was winding up his DJ marathon. The Ballroom could be hot at the best of times but that night there was no air at all. I was offstage by the side entrance door with my back against the door and my feet on the pillar trying to keep the groupies out. I lost count of the number of pregnant wives Noddy Holder supposedly had! When Slade first appeared out of the dressing room, my first thought was how small they were and my second was how terrified they looked when they saw the heaving mass squashed up against the stage. 
They went on and the whole place went berserk. About 10 minutes into the act, bouncers were hauling fainting punters over the stage and depositing them on the floor in the artiste's lounge. I went to see if I could do anything and there were bodies everywhere. One lad who was wearing one of the multi-coloured suede jackets so popular at the time, had steam coming off him. 
I didn't see much of Slade on stage.... I spent the evening pouring water down kid's throats." 

"The night of the Slade gig the place was packed to the rafters. The band had so much equipment there wasn't much room left on the stage. When they finished their set I went back on to finish the night off, switched on the decks and blew all the fuses. Slade hadn't turned their kit off and there was also water everywhere? 
We couldn't play any music so I used Slade's mike to tell the crowd to go home. In a funny way it was a good thing it happened. There were so many fans in that night that it took more than half an hour to clear the hall."
Paul Gray: Ballroom DJ


My thanks to Chris 'The Historian' Selby for his relentless research. It is said, in certain circles, that Walsall Archives have a seat reserved specifically for him and that Wolverhampton archives consult him when searching the Express & Star. In this instance, I have cruelly plagiarised the excellent California Ballroom site run by Jaybee. 

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