Did you know that one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll played in our city?
As fans and musicians from across the world continue to pay tribute to Chuck Berry who passed away recently at the age of 90, we remember the night he performed a one-off gig here in Peterborough in 1983.
Stewart Francis, was one of the Hereward Radio DJ’s that helped organise the concert in 1983 and remembers it well as he had the honour of introducing Chuck Berry live on stage!
Stewart told us – “It all started when Jed Ford who organised the Peterborough Country and Western Festival approached us at Hereward to see if we’d jointly promote a 60’s rock festival the following week where the headline act would be Chuck Berry.
“The concert was booked for a Saturday but on the Friday there were storm and gale warnings so Jed rang me up. He was always full of crazy ideas and this time asked me to put out an appeal over the airwaves to pull all the lorries off the A1 to form a circle around the marquee.
“It was this big circus big top that was in danger of blowing down so I put out the announcement, and all these lorries turned up! But of course there was nothing going to stop the wind and the Saturday morning we discovered the main tent pole had snapped.
“We then had all these frantic phone calls seeing if we could get it moved, and Jed rang the Wirrina who agreed to put it on.”
With only four hours notice, the one-off gig took place at the Wirrina Stadium on Saturday September 3, 1983 and Andrew Giles, the then manager of the Wirrina who still lives in Peterborough continues the story.
“I got a phone call early Saturday morning asking if we could put it on instead, so within a matter of hours we had it moved, all the equipment, lighting and stage so that Chuck Berry could play inside at the Wirrina!
“We’d had a lot of bands play there over the years so we were used to having concerts, but it was quite something to get everything moved in such a short space of time. We were packed out that evening at the Wirrina with around 1300 people and the concert was recorded by Hereward Radio who later broadcast it over Christmas.”
Prior to Chuck Berry’s headline act, there were other bands on the bill such as Screaming Lord Sutch, Billy David and Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas. Hereward Radio DJ Stewart Francis also compered the evening by introducing the bands.
“It was a miracle we ever got the show together after all the problems with the weather, but Andrew and the Wirrina really saved us. The place was heaving and there were three other bands on the bill before Chuck Berry who was due on at 10pm. At 9.50pm his limo arrived and he jumped out with his band and manager.
“The deal with Chuck Berry was that he always had to be paid in cash. So I’m on stage introducing Billy J Kramer and out of the corner of my eye I can see Jed giving Chuck this briefcase full of cash! I came off stage, Billy J only had time for two numbers and then I was back on stage grabbing the mic and said ‘Here he is, the legend CHUCK BERRY!’ everybody cheered and then he did the most amazing set I’ve ever seen.
“He really was the business and it must rank as one of the most memorable gigs to have taken place in Peterborough. The Wirrina absolutely rocked that night. He did an hour, I walked back on but the by the time I’d got the crowd cheering for an encore, he was back in his limo and gone!”
Incredibly the concert was eventually released on CD in 1995 entitled ‘Live on Stage’ by an American record company. Now out of print, an MP3 download of the album and individual tracks is still available from Amazon UK and makes for interesting listening. The quality isn’t as crystal clear as it would be of a 2017 live recording, but it’s incredible that a recording was ever made and is still available.
The full set list of songs is detailed below and Chuck Berry’s daughter, Ingrid also joined her father on stage and sang on three of the songs (denoted with an asterix below).
The full set list was: Schooldays, Sweet Little Sixteen, Roll Over Beethoven, Every Day I Have The Blues, Memphis Slim, Bio, Maybelline/Mountain Dew, Let It Rock, Carol/Little Queen, Key to the Highway*, Got My Mojo Working*, Reelin’ and Rockin’* and Johnny B Goode.
By ESP’s roving reporter.
Press clipping images from the Evening Telelgraph (now Peterborough Telegraph).