Bluesville. Oh, the memories of those great days of rhythm and blues at the Baths Hall or the Manor Ballroom, Ipswich, on a Monday night. Ron and Nanda Lesley brought to Ipswich the top names in live music for over fifteen years at the Baths Hall and The Manor Ballroom. This London couple who made a generation of Ipswich people interested in live ‘in your face music’ from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. I remember those great nights clearly. The bands who came to town we took a bit for granted at the time, great names like Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, Chicken Shack, Taste, The Herd, The Move, Traffic, The Equals, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Graham Bond Organisation with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, that fantastic pair were back with Eric Clapton at Bluesville as Cream. One of the loudest ever gigs I saw was when The Nice played at the Manor Ballroom in December 1968. It was a Sunday night special gig and the band turned up very late and then Keith Emerson (later of Emerson Lake and Palmer) shook the walls of this small venue as he ‘set about’ the Hammond Organ. All these line ups cost around seven shillings and six pence (37.5p) to see! I missed the biggest name Ron and Nanda brought to town when Led Zeppelin played the Baths Hall in 1971.
Nanda told me a few years ago from her retirement home in Torquay about her time promoting in ipswich with her husband Ron. First she said how thrilled they were to be remembered in Ipswich. Nanda said “Ipswich was our favourite place to run the gigs. The Ipswich kids were wonderful, much nicer than those who came to our other gigs. We also promoted in London, Sheffield, Colchester, and Aylesbury, but Ipswich was our favourite”
We started promoting in Ipswich in 1958 as the Jazz Club. Ron had travelled to Ipswich a few weeks earlier to find a hall. He spoke to Mr Zetter the manager of the Baths Hall who said he did not think there would be much interest in a jazz club in the Baths Hall on a Monday night.”
“The first gig was The Cy Laurie Jazz Band”. As we drove up from London it was pouring with rain and I said to Ron ‘nobody will turn up tonight’ much to our surprise there was a crowd of 400. The most popular band in that era was Kenny Ball. He used to play at our Christmas parties, which were a sell out with 1200 there”. Kenny Ball used to love the fact that the wooden floor over the swimming pools would bounce as everybody danced.
“In 1963 the music taste shifted to rhythm and blues and we started booking the likes of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Steam Packet, Zoot Money and the Big Roll Band, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, and Cream. Zoot Money was a wild man, he would do such crazy things at the gigs like climb up the curtains! One of the most popular bands in Ipswich was Spencer Davis. The Ipswich fans loved that band”
I asked Nanda how it was they managed to book all those big names for Ipswich.
“We just knew what was going to be big and booked them. By the time the gig came along they were often national names. The Steam Packet were regulars at Ipswich, Long John Baldry would be there with Julie Driscoll and the Brian Auger Trinity. At every gig they would all be saying ‘where is Rod, late again’. Rod Stewart always arrived at the last possible moment. ‘How is my hair Nanda? Do I look good’, was always the question”
How come Led Zeppelin came to the Baths Hall when they were world famous?
“Ron was friendly with their agent and he asked if we would like them to play. The agent had a chat with their manager Peter Grant and he said ‘OK let’s do it for the kids of Ipswich’.
"We would often sit down after the show and have a cup of tea with the likes of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. They were great days. We only ever got one complaint about the level of noise coming from the Baths Hall. That was when Status Quo played”.
I asked if they'd ever go to a gig. “No, it’s too loud” Nanda said with a laugh.
Ron and Nanda seemed ‘old’ to the crowd who went to Bluesville. Ron was 39 when he first came to Ipswich and Nanda 32. In the 1960s they were more of their parent’s generation for most who went along. Things came to an end in Ipswich in 1974. Tracey’s nightclub had opened at Greyfriars and the crowd drifted away.
Nanda said they continued to promote shows at the 100 Club in Oxford Street, London. “We had the Rolling Stones there” said Nanda modestly. Her voice was still as bright and cheerful as it was all those years ago when she stood on the door handing out lolly pops and sherbet dabs as we walked in. “We still often reminisce about Ipswich. It was the best. We often think about the good times and the lovely kids”.
Ron and Nanda, survived into their eighties. Ron died in 2007 and Nanda in June 2009.