The Duke - January 28, 2015

Rock Quest 2008 final. The Locals
Rock Quest 2008 final. The Locals
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I’m not a great one for Facebook groups – there’s a limit to how many pictures of long lost buildings and landmarks I can look at before becoming very angry about why we had to lose them in the first place.

But one group which I’ve made an exception for

– and which has been occupying a lot of my time – is the recently established “When Blackpool Rocked – Bands Gigs Fanzines and Flyers.”

It’s pretty much what it says on the tin (or the screen) – a collection of memories and memorabilia from the days when you couldn’t turn a street corner without bumping into a band member or falling into a live music venue.

Sad how things have changed so much but it’s reassuring to see how many of those memories involve The Gazette’s long running – and seemingly much missed – annual rock competition.

We had about 30 of them, changing the name over the years – someone else had registered Battle of the Bands (though throughout its history The Gazette’s event was better known by that name), the police weren’t keen on Rock Battle (they felt it was likely to encourage violence), Rock & Pop Search was a bit of a mouthful and Bandstand seemed a tad staid so when it came to the end of its long and winding road it was simply Rock Quest.

It didn’t really matter what we called it – the whole idea of the thing was to promote local musical talent, give bands a showcase in front of more than their mates and family members and even pay them for performing.

For example, Rock Battle ’82 attracted 72 entries which had to be whittled down to 36 – a hard to handle six bands per heat for six weeks and each heat in a different venue, most of which are as long gone as the bands themselves!

We even took over the mighty Empress Ballroom one year for the grand final (which unfortunately a hard rock band from Preston won).

In those halcyon days – thanks to the generosity of a variety of sponsors and the venues themselves – the competition gave away a massive £3,500 in prizes along the way (yes, even the losers got enough to cover their travel and drinks). What would that be in today’s money?

I was usually too busy making sure everyone turned up (judges were less reliable and often far drunker than bands), everything ran on time (“no, you drew the third slot, you can’t change it to fifth even though your guitarist’s been banged up for the night”), making clear notes for my critique later that night and keeping off-stage “antics” to a minimum to remember much of what was actually going on.

The new Facebook group has helped fill in some of those memories – such local legends as Male Models, the Really Schmaltzy Cabaret Boys, IN2XS, The Urbane Gorillas, Divert Off Centre, The Tins, Crackousrockanroll and Half Price Drinks (their posters for “Half Price Drinks – Tonight” always guaranteed a full house) have been brought back to a certain limelight.

While I’ve long forgotten some of the several bands who threatened to sort me out, others I can recall quite clearly (you know who you are!) and I still owe a debt of thanks to former Gazette photographer Mike Foster for slowing down a stack of speaker cabinets deliberately pushed over in my direction.

Mostly though they were happy – but frantic – nights and I’m delighted so many people enjoyed them enough to save items such as tickets, cuttings, photographs and even acceptance letters.

No sign yet though of anything from the spin-off “Rock Against Robin Duke” one nighter held at the long lost GPO Club and it’s a shame my Rock Battle T-shirt has shrunk so much since those halcyon days!