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Rebuilding history

The first gig was performed by Madness: lead singer Suggs lived in Hastings in his youth

Hastings Pier has a historical place in the annals of rock music as an important, if quirky, venue. After major setbacks the seaside attraction is looking to regain its position on the gig circuit. Kevin Hilton looks at the background and potential problems of concerts (almost) at sea


seaside town that has lost its pier can seem a sad place, somehow less seasidey. The pier in Hastings on the East Sussex coast of England was destroyed after a devastating fire in 2010, an event that affected the town’s regeneration. A high profile campaign to save and ultimately rebuild the 19th century structure culminated earlier this year with an official opening featuring Madness. The live show by the Nutty Boys, fronted by Suggs (born in Hastings and resident there until he was four), can be seen as a statement of intent by the charity that now operates the pier. During the 1960s and ’70s it hosted some of the biggest names in rock and pop, including The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Geno Washington, 10cc, the Sex Pistols and Squeeze. The aim now is to make the ‘new’ pier not only a major attraction again but pay its way by building on that history. Following the lead of Madness will be Dizzee Rascal, Happy Mondays and The Orb, supported by Formation and local electronica duo Vile Electrodes, and Levellers with Turin Brakes playing on a festival-style weekender bill on 16, 17 and 18 September. These acts will perform in the open air on the same temporary stage brought in for Madness, set up at the end of the pier. In the past, bands performed inside the old ballroom, which local historian Andre Palfrey-Martin, who played the pier as DJ Chris Gentry at the time, describes as having a “horrific” acoustic. “In the ’60s and early ’70s most of the sound systems were made up of the standard amps and loudspeakers,” he says. “Trying to be as loud as possible to be heard over the punters was a priority – 100W went nowhere. Most PAs were simply operated from the stage. Mixing was unheard of in most cases, all the mics when through the PA amp, which would hopefully have enough channels to cope.” The ballroom was not designed for amplified music; it

40-41 Hastings pier PSNLIVE v1SS.indd 1

The opening gig showing the Deck, the only permanent building on the refurbished pier

was built in 1922 to replace the original Victorian music hall that was part of renowned pier engineer Eugenius Birch’s design and construction of 1872. That building burned down in 1917, one of several fires the pier has endured over the years. The 20th century ballroom and much of the other superstructure were destroyed in the 2010 fire; the western Pavilion shelter was the only survivor. The shelter now houses a bar and restaurant; that structure and a central visitor centre and viewing points called The Deck are the sole permanent building on the renovated pier. Much of the decking area has been left open, allowing carousels and concession huts to be moved as necessary. The seaward end of the pier has been similarly vacant to allow a stage and ancillary areas to be

constructed for concerts. “We didn’t consider building a Victorian ballroom again because we’re not Victorians,” explains Pier Charity spokesman Tim Fordham-Moss. The £15 million renovation has produced what FordhamMoss describes as “a fully renewed, 21st century model of a Victorian British seaside icon”. He adds: “To be able to resurrect the pier’s reputation as a live music venue is equally pleasing and to have Madness, Dizzee Rascal, The Levellers and Happy Mondays all play live within five months of opening is a real statement that the pier is back and the music is live.” Suggs screwed the last plank into position on 22 March 2016 as a precursor to the band’s concert on 21 May. It was a fitting debut, Suggs remarks because Madness has

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PSN Live 2016 Digital  
PSN Live 2016 Digital