The Brian Jones Living Museum and Exhibition - 'Club 66 at The Venue'

The museum is no longer available, please see the footnote below. 

Since the concept for a museum was first discussed in July 2007, as a tribute to Brian Jones, just three short months later things had moved forward at an incredible pace. As many will know and can read on this website, the Wheatsheaf public house on the Old Bath Road, Leckhampton was a regular attraction for Brian in 1958, not for the booze (I dare say he did sneak the odd pint or two though!) but far more importantly the music.

The WheatsheafCheltenham’s burgeoning music scene attracted many of the local avante garde characters who were more into trad jazz than the American deep south Delta Blues, the seemingly obsessive inspiration for a teenage Brian Jones. One can imagine the fascination Brian had for all things music and his aspirations for the future. Trumpeter John Keen recalls Brian’s tremendous organisational skills, especially for one so young; Dick Hattrell, Brian’s good friend and mentor recalls his almost compulsive desire to listen to and learn the music of his heroes from ‘across the pond’, the likes of Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Robert Johnson. Names that wouldn’t have tripped lightly off the tongues of admirers of Humphrey Lyttleton, Chris Barber, Ken Colyer, Acker Bilk and Lonnie Donegan, the hip people of 50’s Britain.

Traditional jazz bands were developing into skiffle groups but by all accounts Brian wanted to take that next leap into the unknown, developing his passion for the Blues. When Pat Andrews met Brian on that first date in the Aztec coffee bar, in early 1960 she remembers how she had great difficulty in steering the conversation away from music: “Brian was just so fanatical about Cheltenham’s music scene and so upbeat about his plans for the future, little did we both realise during those early chats just what he’d achieve.”

So what better way to honour Brian’s memory and achievements than a permanent exhibition for 60’s Rolling Stones fans to visit in his home town of Cheltenham and, as Pat Andrews comments: “It’s like a dream come true and something I’ve been hoping we might achieve for many years now. We did try, unsuccessfully, in the early 90’s to turn a basement café into a meeting place for fans, but it was nothing on the scale that this project is developing into. We’ve had some incredible support over the past few months, not least Maurice (Dominey), the landlord of the Wheatsheaf who’s made the whole thing possible. He’s been incredibly generous to us and every true fan of Brian owes him a big thankyou.”

Well, just what is a living museum?

The Club 66The large brick built building alongside the Wheatsheaf pub has been used for wedding parties, theme nights, weekly gigs, concerts and dances for almost 50 years now. It’s well known amongst the locals as 'The Venue' and now visitors to Cheltenham searching out Brian Jones' heritage will have ‘Club 66 at the Venue’ to add to their places to visit.

One has the usual image of a staid museum, places of interest for visitors to wander around and take in the exhibits. The Brian Jones Museum now has exhibits associated with the early Stones period but, as well as regular opening times, the gigs and parties will continue with music of all sorts adding to the atmosphere and enjoyment of people who know little or nothing about one of Cheltenham’s misunderstood son's. A museum with music and socialising alongside the displays and exhibits can only be described as a ‘living museum’.

We envisage future publicity and awareness of this facility will only increase the understanding of Brian Jones, the founder of arguably the greatest band of all time. That’s our aim, and with continued support it can only succeed.

Brian's Vox Teardrop GuitarThere has been a huge amount of effort behind the scenes to gather exhibits and prepare the Venue for the inauguration of The Brian Jones Living Museum and Exhibition, 'Club 66 at the Venue'. Renowned photographer Gered Mankowitz has generously loaned us one of his impressive Lenticular Prints. Pat Townshend has worked on an almost full time basis, from his home in Norwich, with Hutchins Guitars based near Brighton to produce an exact replica of Brian’s VOX Teardrop. The limited edition guitar is now in production and number 001 of 250 has arrived for exhibition in the museum.

But the centrepiece of the Museum has to be Brian’s very first electric guitar. The Harmony Stratotone, bought for him in 1959 by Dick Hattrell evokes memories for those who saw Brian honing his skills. “He was a perfectionist in everything he did” says Dick: “He could make his acoustic sing but what he really wanted was an electric guitar. You’ve got to remember in those days we never had a lot of money, the average weekly wage was probably £5 but Brian never seemed to have regular work. He was always broke and living hand to mouth”.

Pat Andrews takes up the story: “When I first dated Brian I quickly saw behind the façade, the loneliness of the long distance runner springs to mind and Brian certainly had his vision for the future, but nowhere near the means at that time to achieve his vision. His loneliness was made worse by the lack of support, either moral or financial from his parents. In fact they were awful to him. I remember meeting Brian from work and walking back to his house. It was freezing cold, it was the 22nd December and despite the awful weather we were looking forward to Christmas. As we walked up the garden path the house was in darkness and, when we saw a suitcase on the porch, Brian was furious as he realised that his parents had locked the house up and left him homeless for Christmas. Without a word to Brian they’d left to go back to Wales for Christmas and the New Year. He was devastated and if it weren’t for my sister and her husband I don’t know what he would have done, they took Brian in and gave him a home for almost nine months – he had nobody else”.

Brian's harmony guitarReturning to the Harmony Guitar, Dick Hattrell explains: “I was 6 years older than Brian and I’d recently completed my two years National Service; in those days it was compulsory for young men over the age of 18 to serve in the Army and then spend the following three 3 years in the Reserve, the only good thing about it though was that we were being paid for our reserve time. I’d managed to save some money and when it became obvious to me that Brian needed help to further his career I offered to buy him a guitar, and he almost snapped my arm off at the offer! He chose the Harmony because it was the guitar Muddy Waters played, and he wanted to be like Muddy. I handed over £30 of my hard earned money to the shop owner – and Brian was now in business”.

Pat Andrews remembers going with Brian to a garage near their home in Cheltenham where a mechanic cut him a short length of steel pipe to fit over his index finger, “He was so proud of this little chunk of metal and I honestly couldn’t think of what all the fuss was about” she says: “But I do remember him saying, as we left the garage – this is going to change the sound of music forever – and as we all know he was the first, outside of America, to create the unique slide sound he could hear on many of the blues records in his collection”. Dick chips in: “In an incredibly short time Brian mastered the slide guitar, he was the first and everybody who heard him play at that time were mesmerised by his talents, incidentally not only on guitar bit also the harmonica, piano and saxophone”.

Both Pat and Dick remember the early days in London and Alexis Korner’s influence on Brian. “Alexis was such a good friend to us at the time” says Dick: “And Brian would hang on to his every word. I remember when Brian first met Mick at Alexis’ club, he was in such awe of his energy and powerful voice that he said to me – Dick we’ve got to have him in the band – He called Alexis over and we talked about these couple of guys from Dartford and I’ll never forget Alexis telling Brian – yea Mick’ll be good for you but don’t bother with that Keith, he’s got three chords and that’s it – this was the first time I’d ever known Brian going against Alexis’ advice, – but I’ve got to have Keith if I want Mick he said, they come as a pair”. Pat, who was also there at the time said: “It really was a pivotal period in the formation of the band and if Brian had taken the advice of Alexis how things might have been so different. Brian tried so hard to get the band together in those following weeks but time was against him and, running so short of money it really was out of desperation that he was forced to finally go against Alexis’ advice, and bring Keith into the band to get Mick”.

Brian's harmony guitarPat continued: “My overriding memory of that period was of Brian sitting on the tatty sofa teaching Keith, who almost always sat cross legged at Brian’s feet, copying and learning his trade. The master and the pupil, sitting for hours on end until their fingers sometimes bled from the constant and intense strumming and fretwork. The Harmony guitar brings it all back for me; that was the guitar on which Brian taught Keith Richards to play. They were so tight back then though, it’s sad that things went so wrong and Keith’s attitude towards Brian changed. The recent newspaper and magazine interviews with Keith, I think, are appalling. Keith Richards, as well as the rest of them would have been nothing without Brian".

a routemaster busI was the Rolling Stones first manager long before Andrew Loog Oldham" says Richard Hattrell: “I made decisions with Brian, and both Mick and Keith looked upon me, even though I was just a few years older, as their Manager. I guess for a teenager, a man of 26 or so must have seemed something quite ancient. Many times the fledgling band needed kicking up the backside. It was hard work getting them on to a bus with all their equipment, and to their gigs on time. Yes a bus! We didn’t have any transport in those days. Sometimes we never had any money for the bus fare and it was quite a complicated, and dangerous operation to get them all to jump off the bus together as it slowed down to avoid paying the fare. One time we jumped off of a bus as it drove round Trafalgar Square, arms and legs and instruments going everywhere”.

Pat laughingly shouts across; “Thank God for the old Routemaster cos you could jump off the back without paying”.

Not only the Routemaster” says Dick: “Thank God for Ian Stewart, when he came onboard he brought his pre-war Rover car, a decision that made life so much easier. Unfortunately, in 1962 I developed peritonitis and had to go into hospital. My recovery was long and arduous and my surgeon’s advice was that to continue living, I had to change my lifestyle. Both Brian and Keith would phone me every day and say – we want you back man but regrettably I eventually had to say no, and then as they say, the rest is history”.

"Yes” says Pat “Georgio Gomelsky came to the fore and with Brian managing his own band the two of them started to put on more gigs at Richmond’s Crawdaddy Club which is when history really did start for the Rolling Stones".

Pat Andrews and Dick Hattrell were reunited with Brian’s Harmony guitar on Sunday the 16th October. It was quite an emotional occasion at a place synonymous with the Rolling Stones early days, Eel Pie Island in Twickenham, West London.

Owner of the Harmony Stratotone, Robert Wilson had flown in from his home on the outskirts of Venice, Italy with his precious cargo. Robert’s family have owned the guitar since 1964 and he described the instruments history since leaving Brian’s ownership: “From the early 1960s, Eric Easton, the Rolling Stones accountant was a frequent visitor to my parents home in Ealing, about half a mile from Alexis Korners’ Ealing Club. My father was a dentist and Eric was one of his dental patients. Both he and his wife Mary soon became firm family friends. Eric was extremely kind to myself and my three brothers and, in what I still think was a truly thoughtful gesture, procured numerous musical instruments for us, ranging from a drum kit of dubious quality to a guitar whose previous owner was, he assured us, Brian Jones. The guitar has remained in my family ever since and was played regularly by myself and my brothers”.

Talking with Pat Townshend, himself an accomplished musician and instrument manufacturer with his company Staccato, Robert continued: “Today, the instrument is certainly not playable, the fretboard shows signs of wear, the knobs are missing and the machine heads have been changed. Parts of the internal electrics are missing and a hole had been drilled in the back of the neck by Brian, near the body, presumably in an attempt to attach a shoulder strap. I’ve made no attempt to restore the guitar, but with your expertise Pat perhaps period pieces can be found to replace the damaged and changed items?” Pat agreed that he could easily return the guitar to its original condition and was confident that it would be playable. He also added: “Wouldn’t it be neat if I performed the two songs I’ve written as a tribute to Brian, playing His first guitar, at the inauguration of His museum on the 26th October. It would certainly close the circle, the guitar returning, and being played at the venue where it all started”.

The songs Pat recorded under the BJFC Record Label are due for release in music stores, in the UK, on the 26th October. However, the CD will be available through the Brian Jones Fan Club and stocked in the Brian Jones Museum, Club 66 at The Venue from the 26th.

Brian’s Harmony Stratotone is significantly important in the Pat Townshend Staccato drums and guitar story, for it was this very guitar that Pat heard Brian playing back in 1963 on Eel Pie Island. That night he was completely smitten by the sound and performance of Brian and the Rolling Stones. As a young impressionable teenager he walked back over the infamous bridge with an insatiable desire and commitment to play the electric guitar. The encounter with Brian Jones’ guitar performance that night was life changing for Pat; it lead to a career playing in bands culminating in him inventing the unique Staccato drums in collaboration with Keith Moon (The Who) and played by such luminaries as Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix Experience) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin).

Brian playing his harmony guitarAs a natural progression, Staccato guitars soon came onto the scene and in partnership with Bill Wyman, Chris and Mick Jagger and their father Joe, Pat soon became recognised as a major force in guitar design and manufacture. His guitar was most famously used by Gene Simmons of Kiss on their only UK hit single ‘Crazy Crazy Night’ and he notes Bill, with his Staccato short scale bass, and Mick with a six string Staccato as leading the legend of this unique brand.

harmonyIt’s unclear as to whether Brian actually played the Harmony on any of the Stones hits. He certainly had it in Olympic Studios for the ‘Come On’ sessions, this according to Bill Wyman’s tome ‘Rolling With The Stones’.

Brian may have contributed towards the guitar work on the ’B’ side ‘I Want To be Loved’ and of course the harmonica on the ‘A’ side is stereotypically Brian. The Stones first recording session in Curly Clayton’s studio was followed by the IBC recordings in London’s West End and Pat Townshend, listening to those early recordings is convinced that the lead guitar work is all Brian on the Harmony, but one can never be certain. It certainly fits the period between Brian’s first guitar, the Harmony and the Gretsch, also bought by Dick Hattrell and used by Brian on the Stones top ten hit ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’. It’s without doubt however that the Harmony Stratotone is an exclusive piece of popular music history and was the instrument that, as the teenage Brian Jones said back in Cheltenham: “Would change the sound of music.”  How prophetic he was…....…

Finally, one of the things remembered, quite vividly, by Robert Wilson was that when Eric Easton brought Brian’s Harmony Stratotone over to their house it arrived in a fairly old and tattered case coloured a muddy shade of brown and far too large for the guitar itself. Robert recalls: “Unfortunately the case has been mislaid over the years but I well remember an old black and white photograph of Brian leaving a studio with this huge guitar case in hand. This photo was published in a cheap paperback biography of the band sometime in the sixties”.

When Pat Andrews heard this she let out a huge gasp: “I remember that case” she said: “Oh my gosh yes, from the very beginning that case carried everything including his soap, razors, clothes, even his underpants and socks. That case contained Brian’s world and on a few occasions I remember that every possession Brian owned in the world was in that case, with his precious Stratotone!".

FOOTNOTE:

Unfortunately in November 2010 the Museum was forced to close.

Due to the lack of support and finance it became impossible to continue this venture. The fan club tried to make the museum a permanent tribute to Brian Jones in his home town, but it was not to be……