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The man who reviewed Chuck Berry’s concert at West Runton reveals his memories of the show

PUBLISHED: 11:37 20 March 2017 | UPDATED: 13:07 20 March 2017

Chuck Berry in concert. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Chuck Berry in concert. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

A man who reviewed Chuck Berry’s concert at West Runton Pavilion has revealed his memories of the show after rock ‘n’ roll’s founding guitar hero died at the age of 90.

The blue plaque at the Village Inn, West Runton, dedicated to West Runton Pavillion, which acknowledges how Chuck Berry and other big stars played there. Picture: ARCHANT.The blue plaque at the Village Inn, West Runton, dedicated to West Runton Pavillion, which acknowledges how Chuck Berry and other big stars played there. Picture: ARCHANT.

Chuck Berry, known for such classics as Johnny B Goode, has performed at West Runton, between Sheringham and Cromer, on May 31, 1980.

Chris Wise, 57, who lives in Norwich, reviewed the concert.

Remembering the show today he said: “It was very special to see in the flesh the man who inspired The Beatles and The Rolling Stones but what stood out was there weren’t many people there.

“I saw many great bands at the pavilion, which could hold about 1,000 people, but there were only about 200 people there.

West Runton Pavilion in 1980, the year Chuck Berry played there.West Runton Pavilion in 1980, the year Chuck Berry played there.

“Tickets were £6.50 which was quite a bit more than most concerts back then and that may have put some people off.

“I think also he was a bit niche and perhaps didn’t appeal to kids at the time, despite being one of the most important figures in rock and roll history.

“Chuck seemed to enjoy playing at West Runton.

“He played a lot longer than he was scheduled to and he said something like, ‘I like it here, I want to play more.’

“He would often play with local session musicians, who hadn’t rehearsed with him, so sometimes his performances were known to be a bit ramshackle, but I remember the standard being good.”

In his review, Mr Wise concluded: “For just about the first time in my life I felt privileged to be at a concert.

“The reason was simply that Berry was in good voice, in good humour, played 100 minutes despite only being booked for an hour and even allowed youngsters on stage to dance with him near the end.”

Eddie Clitheroe, who worked as a stage manager at the venue, said Berry was one of the least demanding stars he ever worked with.

In an interview with the EDP in 2005, he said: “Chuck Berry was a good chap. He arrived at four in the afternoon and had his daughter with him.

“He came in the hall setting his equipment up, said, ‘Where’s my dressing room?’ and we said, ‘It’s not ready until six o’clock’.

“He said, ‘Have you got any wine?’ I said ‘Yes, what do you want?’ He had two litre bottles of Hirondelle, and I said, ‘Do you want some glasses?’ He said, ‘No, just pull the corks out’, which we did, and then he said, ‘How far is the ocean?’

“I said it was about 300 yards down Water Lane and pointed him north. He went and sat on the beach with his daughter, throwing stones in the water.

“I had a friend of mine down there fishing at three in the afternoon, and he couldn’t believe it. Chuck Berry came over and asked if he had caught anything. He thought he was dreaming - he was a Chuck Berry fan but he didn’t know he was playing that night!”

The pavilion in West Runton, between Cromer and Sheringham, was a popular music venue on the north Norfolk coast and hosted many big names in its heyday.

Many bands liked to use the venue for practise as the acoustics were so good and the remote location enabled them to escape media attention.

The pavilion was demolished in 1986, but the EDP and Norwich School of Art and Design helped to ensure a blue plaque was placed on the wall of the Village Inn to commemorate it and celebrate how big stars including Berry, T-Rex, The Sex Pistols, Black Sabbath and The Clash performed there.

Memories of Berry’s concert are recalled on the shop Holt Vinyl Vault’s Facebook page, where it states: “I’m not sure West Runton would count as a career highlight for Chuck, but like Lemmy, he gave his all to his showtime on the North Norfolk Riviera, playing a longer set than his promoter had suggested was even conceivable.”

Meanwhile, Neil Irons, a former security guard, from Dereham, who worked for many stars recalls working for Berry at Wembley Arena in 1994.

He said: “He was in the top three nicest stars I ever worked with.

“He treated all of us like he’d known us for years. He put his trilby hat on me and an arm across my shoulders and we had a great chat about how much he liked the UK and the people here.

“He was in his 70s at the time and he had the place rocking.

“Once he finished he stood with me whilst Little Richard was on stage who was unreal.

“Chuck had a great smile and always chuckling and he couldn’t be more thankful to us for the work we did for him.”

Former BBC Radio 2 producer Alan Thompson, who lives in North Walsham, said: “The sad news about the passing of Chuck Berry has left a mark in the music industry and countless musicians have paid tribute to him.

“I saw him perform at Brentwood in 1991 but I also wrote the original radio series of Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll in the 1980s and when Keith Skues and I put together Crazy Man Crazy for the BBC Easter Counties Network we outlined the differences between him and Bo Diddley both from the Chess label in the US.

“I also recall what his own top ten comprised in 1964 for the NME when he had a hit with No Particularly Place to Go. It might surprise you as all the records he chose were his own. He added that he hoped it didn’t appear to be swollen headed but the records he made had to be his favourites.

“When Keith and I later produced the two parter Norfolk Rock a number of local artists were interviewed including Mike Lorenz who I believe still lives in Norwich. He said that if you performed at an American airbase some of the service personnel would give them some records which they then incorporated the songs into their live acts.

“He was truly a pioneer of Rock’n’Roll who wrote songs for teenagers about teenagers. As John Lennon once said: ‘If you want another name for Rock’n’Roll call it Chuck Berry.’ The like of him we will probably never witness again. I am grateful I saw him perform all those years ago.”

Emergency responders were summoned to Berry’s home by his caretaker about 12.40pm on Saturday found him unresponsive, police in Missouri’s St Charles County said.

Attempts to revive Berry failed, and he was pronounced dead shortly before 1.30pm, police said.

A police spokeswoman, Val Joyner, told The Associated Press she had no additional details about the death of Berry, calling him “really a legend”.

Berry’s core repertoire was some three dozen songs, his influence incalculable, from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to virtually any group from garage band to arena act that called itself rock ‘n’ roll.

While Elvis Presley gave rock its libidinous, hip-shaking image, Berry was the auteur, setting the template for a new sound and way of life.

Well before the rise of Bob Dylan, Berry wedded social commentary to the beat and rush of popular music.

“He was singing good lyrics, and intelligent lyrics, in the 50s when people were singing, ‘Oh, baby, I love you so,”’ John Lennon once observed.

Berry, in his late 20s before his first major hit, crafted lyrics that spoke to the teenagers of the day and remained fresh decades later.

Roll Over Beethoven was an anthem to rock’s history-making power, while Rock And Roll Music was a guidebook for all bands that followed (“It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it”).

Johnny B Goode, the tale of a guitar-playing country boy whose mother tells him he will be a star, was Berry’s signature song.

The song was inspired in part by Johnnie Johnson, the boogie-woogie piano master who collaborated on many Berry hits, but the story could have easily been Berry’s or Presley’s.

Johnny B Goode could have only been a guitarist.

The guitar was rock ‘n’ roll’s signature instrument and Berry’s sound, a melting pot of country flash and rhythm ‘n blues drive, turned on a generation of musicians.

They included the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, who acknowledged he had “lifted every lick” from his hero; The Beatles’ George Harrison; Bruce Springsteen; and the Who’s Pete Townshend.

Do you have any pictures or memories of Chuck Berry performing in Norfolk? E mail adam.lazzari@archant.co.uk

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