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Summer of '74 Rock Festival

18th May 1974

The Valley, Charlton, London

They say that you never forget your first time and indeed 'they' were right. Sixteen years of age and brought up on a eclectic mix of music from the 60s and 70s - yes I was off to my first gig with the lads from our Secondary Modern! The venue - the other love of my life - The Valley - Charlton Athletic's football ground in 'Sarf-East' London - just an 89 bus trip up the road. The headliners of the Summer of '74 one-day Rock festival - none other than The Who - the date – Saturday 18th May 1974 - just 7 months after the release of 'Quadrophenia' - my number 1 album till my dying day!

The sun shone and despite being among apparently 80,000 others, we managed to get on to the pitch near the centre circle. One abiding memory as we sat down, was the searing pain in the palm of my hand as I discovered a live discarded cigarette butt - another being the freebie plastic '45' of one of the support acts in the middle of the official programme - which, to everyone's amusement - including mine - were being used as Frisbees as we awaited the first band - Montrose.

I'll never forget the moment Sammy Hagar walked on stage with his curly blonde locks - the crowd doing a double-take just to check that Daltrey had not come on earlier than expected. Complemented by Bill Church on bass, Denny Carmassi on drums and of course former Edgar Winter guitarist Ronnie Montrose - what I witnessed next was a defining moment in my 'School of Rock' - pure, unadulterated Rock ‘n' Roll! To be honest - given it was 50 years ago - I cannot remember the set list order - although their June '74 gig in Madison Square Garden, New York, was this: Good Rockin' Tonight, Bad Motor Scooter, Make It Last, How Many More Years, Rock The Nation, Space Station Number 5, Roll Over Beethoven and Rock Candy.

Indeed, in these proceeding Internet years I came across a blog from a Bad Company fan who praised; "I first saw Bad Company supporting The Who at Charlton FC in 1974, but that day belonged to openers Montrose." Enough said. Anyway, to my horror - after their set - I realised that those Frisbees were in fact Montrose EPs! Never did recover that '45' but made up for it by buying there eponymous debut LP 'Montrose' - a classic.

Their second album 'Paper Money' was released later in 1974 with Church being replaced by Alan Fitzgerald. Another classic album - in particular 'I Got The Fire' and their cover of the Stones' 'Connection'. Montrose did return to London in early 1975 as part of the Warner Brothers Music Show including other acts such as Little Feat and the Doobie Brothers - the irony being that I missed it because Charlton were playing at The Valley that night! By the time of their third album 'Warner Brothers Presents - Montrose!' - Hagar had left (whatever happened to him?) and was replaced by Bob James plus Jim Alcivar on keyboards.

Despite the absence of Hagar - this was again a strong album - favourites of mine being 'All I Need' and Alan Price's 'O Lucky Man'. Their fourth and final album of that era was the politically correct 'Jump On It' -which saw Randy Jo Hobbs replace Fitzgerald - an album that included the masterpiece 'Music Man' - if ever the musical 'The Music Man' was updated - this is a must have. And that was that - Ronnie Montrose, Jim Alcivar, Alan Fitzgerald and Denny Carmassi moving on to form another band in the Hard Rock mould in 1979, named Gamma, which featured singer Davey Pattison.

Other than a brief resurrection with 'Mean' in 1987 and their 'Very Best Of' in 2000 (which is a must for those Montrose virgins out there who would like to dip their toe in) - the original Montrose lineup reunited on Sammy Hagar's 'Marching to Mars' (1997) performing 'Leaving the Warmth of the Womb' as well as on stage as an encore at a few Hagar concerts in 2003 and 2005.

As for myself, Montrose has stayed alive thanks to my vinyl/CD collection and one impromptu guitar lesson where I asked my old guitar tutor Dan to play the intro to Space Station Number 5! One 'you couldn't make it up' moment was Christmas office drinks in the 90's when the conversation got around to music, and this American guy turned around and said one of his favourite bands was Montrose! Step forward Rick Menniti our American WRC correspondent. A friend for life!

The other was jumping into a taxi in Glasgow as the cabbie was playing a Humble Pie CD. "Did you ever see them live" I enquired? "Yes I saw them in '74 supporting The Who at Hampden on their UK tour - in fact a friend of mine gigged that day - have you heard of Sammy Hagar?" My sense of disbelief was complete once the guy dropped me off and he showed me mobile photos of him and Sammy at the Cabo Wabo!

As for Ronnie, he performed off and on from 2002 around California with a Sammy endorsed Montrose lineup featuring Keith St. John on lead vocals and a rotating cast of veteran Hard Rock players on bass (such as Dan McNay or Sean McNabb) and drums (Mick Brown of Dokken). Very sadly Ronnie battled prostate cancer from 2008 and eventually took his own life in March 2012.

The irony is not lost on me that after following The Who around for half a century, I only saw Montrose once, although I did see Sammy play with Chickenfoot two months before Ronnie’s death. As for my continuing Who pilgrimage, I was there this March for their awesome Teenage Cancer Trust gig at The Royal Albert Hall. Three weeks later I returned for Joe Bonamassa and bumped into Nicky Horne who reminded me that he not only mc’d that day in 1974 for Capital Radio, but also the return ‘The Who Puts The Boot In’ two years later. That’s another story!

Although, fifty years to the day, wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have a reunion back at The Valley in some shape or form, with that historic bill of Montrose, Maggie Bell, Lindisfarne, Bad Company, Lou Reed, Humble Pie and The Who? Some lineup for a Rock virgin eh? As well as being privileged enough to say that this class of ’74 was indeed my generation. God bless Ronnie.


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