Nothing Ever Happens Arts
On Saturday 2nd July there will be a Nothing Ever Happens Arts 45th anniversary celebration of the music of Widnes and Runcorn at The Studio in Lacey Street.
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The History of Nothing Ever Happens Arts
In the Spring of 1971, my friend, Eric Oultram, persuaded me to organise a concert in Widnes featuring new progressive band Gentle Giant. We were aged eighteen and part of a prominent group of Widnes hippies. I can't remember who was the first to discover the Gentle Giant album but within a short time several people I knew had a copy.
We had already organised a bizarre coach trip to Chester Zoo which even moved somebody to write to the letters column in the Daily Mirror. While returning from The Unicorn pub walking across the fields one night, Eric talked me into putting on a concert at The Queen's Hall in Widnes. I said "With who ?", "Why not try and get Gentle Giant".
What really made a difference was that the hippy group of which I was a member formed a loose 'arts association' to stage the event and I think the fact that so many people were involved in that led to the word going out and a big response from the local youth. We called the group "Nothing Ever Happens Arts" because, we felt, nothing ever happended in the industrial town where we lived and we wanted to do something about that.
The Queen's Hall was the biggest venue in the area with a capacity of 800 and the Beatles had played there in 1963. With it being Widnes, nothing much exciting had occured there since. My dad, Don Little, had organised wrestling bouts and boxing tournaments there for years and when I asked him how I could go about it he just said "Go and see George Claire (the town clerk) and say I sent you". It worked great. The Town Clerk said yes and our concert was on. But, there was no-one to run a bar and I didn't have a clue about such things so, although later on our posters advertised a bar, there wasn't, yet it was okay on the night. There was a constant stream of people back and forth to the two pubs across the road. My Dad put me onto someone for tickets and posters which enabled us to look a bit more professional.
I had checked out The Pink Floyd first but Nems quoted me £800 for
them and I couldn't see that paying for itself. I found Gentle
Giant's agency in the Melody Maker and was surprised how easy it was
to book them, and they only cost £65. The hire of Widnes Queen's
Hall cost about £20. The posters and tickets about £12. But, here's
the thing, I didn't have to pay for them until after the event,
when, comparatively speaking, we were rolling in money due to the
success of an attendance of about 400.
Tickets for the gig cost 50p.
I was fortunate to make contact with a sympathetic journalist on
the local paper called Nick and we got a series of plugs in the The
Widnes Weekly News running up to the gig. One night we organised
three poster crews to go out postering the area as far as
Warrington. Some were rather enthusiastic when they postered over a
road sign warning of an S Bend. So they went back and took down the poster.
On the afternoon of the concert, live wire Paul Lewis organised a
bicycle with a poster strapped to the back to cycle up and down Widnes
High Street to promote the gig. This caused a bit of a stir and
probably attracted quite a few to that night's show.
On the day I can't remember much. At the gig there was so much
rushing about and I was playing so I had to set up my own gear as
well. I can remember myself and Les, the drummer from Alcestis warming up with a
bit of a drum battle before the actual gig started and this brought
a round of applause from the auditorium which was filling up. My
friend Al Yeomans rigged his sound system up on the balcony and as I
write this I can hear the opening songs of Santana's Abraxas chiming
through the Queen's Hall just before we opened the doors and Al, who
is sadly with us no more, shouting out "How does it sound Phil ?".
Alcestis played first, then Oblet, which was essentially my old
band Bells, re-named for this event as I had already left the band.
We ended with an original number by Maurice Banks. A long
complicated (for us) piece about a " Glass House". As it was the
first time we had played it I was amazed it went down so well. Next
on was Schunge, accompanied by Rob Richardson. They went down very
well with their home crowd. Schunge was a local Folk hero who wrote
all his own songs. A few months later he and Rob would leave Widnes
and move to London where Schunge won a Recording contract with Red
Bus Records. The album they recorded, Ballad Of A Simple Love, is
now an 70's relic of quality using the tope session musicians of the
time, like Chris Spedding, and orchestration and arrangements by
Mike Gibbs. Six months after the Gentle Giant gig I would be joining
Schunge and Rob in 'the smoke', sharing a house in Balham.
Gentle Giant were exceptional. Widnes didn't realise it was ready for a band that could switch instantaneously from heavy rock to chamber ensemble and back again. The passages with Violin, Cello and Flute made quite a contrast. They played most of the tracks from the first album and one or two from Acquiring The Taste, which was released a couple of weeks later. The drum solo in Nothing At All was thunderous and brought the house down and I think they finished with Alucard.
The band were all charming and friendly when I went to pay them in the dressing room, I invited them to a party at the house where we all lived but by the time I finally got to the party, after sorting out my own gear, GG had already left - long journey back to Southampton.
Significantly, I remember that the road crews for all the bands
were easy going and friendly. There was not a single problem raised with us in the setting up, even when Egg and Comus shared the stage.
Our gig is featured in this excellent Gentle Giant Tour History page maintained by Jack Skelly at,
It makes a good read if you are interested in the music of the time. We recommend dropping by.
Egg, Schunge and Comus
"Sounds like a breakfast!", somebody said when they saw the posters.
Flushed with success and about seventy pounds in the bank we immediately set about planning the next gig. At a meeting in "the house" various opinions were forwarded as to what band we should book for the next gig. One or two of the panel were seriously into Egg, a three-piece keyboard band that played tunes in outrageous time signatures like 13/8 and J S Bach type fugues. Another wanted Comus, a sort of acoustic-horror band, or at least that's how they struck me.
It was a democratic ensemble and these suggestions were adopted, since others had had their turn in choosing Gentle Giant. Myself, I would have tried to get more popular or mainstream bands. In 1971 you could not have chosen two more 'on the edge' bands than Egg and Comus. To present these to the good working class folk of Widnes on a Saturday night in the Corporation Hall, pride of the Borough, was to say the least, adventurous.
Amazingly, Egg brought the house down. Although I was familiar with their album at the time I don't remember any of their tunes except, I can remember them doing "There's No Business Like Show Business" for an encore and the house lights flashing to end the evening as the crowd erupted. I was surprised that the Widnes music fans had taken the highly technical music on board so completely.
There weren't quite as many people at the second concert, maybe three hundred. But it was still a great night, although it was the last event organised by that particular local group of freedom fighters. The road to London beckoned me and although there was another gig featuring Steamhammer, members of the original Nothing Ever Happens Arts had started to move on leaving behind a healthy amount in the bank. Both bands had cost about Seventy pounds and we still made a profit.
Egg (rearstage) and Comus (forestage) setting up at
the Queen's Hall, Widnes (Photo by Paul Lewis)
Schunge with Phil Little on Bongos (Photo by Paul
†Sadly there were no more Nothing Ever Happens Arts concerts (until now) although someone moved to the town and put on Steamhammer and Hawkwind in 1972.
On Saturday 2nd July 2016 some of the Widnes musicians who played at the first NEHA gig will gather with young musicians from today's scene to celebrate pioneering music. The event takes place at The Studio in Lacey Street, Widnes.