THE EARLY DAYS -1955 TO 1969
For some of the Coventry musicians viewing this blog, their memories of the Coventry Arts Umbrella (better known as the Umbrella Club) stem from it's location at the bottom of Queen Victoria Rd. in the late 60's / early 70's before the building was condemned and, after moving around for a while, settled at the Charterhouse off the London Rd.
The Arts Umbrella played an important role in the development of the Coventry music scene (and indeed in the development of the rest of the arts in Coventry) being the nearest thing Coventry had to a full blown Arts Centre or even an Arts Lab (popular in London and Birmingham.
The Coventry Arts Umbrella was founded in 1955 and it's early base was at 97 Little Park Street (Opposite Kirby House) which I think puts it on the grounds in front of what are now the Education Offices. (Next to the Bird in Hand and the other side of The George Inn). The above picture shows the frontage and there are various picture of the inside of the original Umbrella in the Coventry Archives. Some of the pictures show quite a tasteful interior and very early ones show pictures of the Goons who opened the Umbrella - a young Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers. Musically Jazz and Classical music were the early focus with the Umbrella developing the earliest traditional folk club in Coventry in the
mid 60's which ran until 1969 when it was replaced by various regular Folk and poetry events. The Umbrella Magazine was an early project featuring Phillip Larkin's essay on his Poem I Remember I Remember called Not the Place's Fault. (Umbrella Magazine Vol 1 No3 Summer 1959). An essay he wasn't keen to have re-published. According to the biography p 50 / 501 Larkin said "I have rather a mental block about "Not the Place's Fault". In construction it is written as a kind of commentary on the original poem, but this does not come through and in consequence it seems rather rambling. In addition, I think I said just a little more about myself than I really want known. These are reasons why I should prefer it to remain in obscurity" he told Blake Morrison. Later he told Montheith "in some curious way that (essay) exposes more of me than I want exposed, although heaven knows there is nothing scandalous in it." His biographer goes on to say "He was a candidly emotional and autobiographical writer who always disguised his self-revelations or passed them off as general truths. He was notorious for insisting that our mums and dads fuck up up, yet virtually denied the existence of his own childhood. If he had opened Required Writing with Not the Place's Fault it would have raised false expectations about the essays which followed. Whether addressing himself or others, these cleverly play concealment against confession. They show the readers round the rooms of his mind without opening any secret compartments."
In terms of lectures E.M. Forster was well known speaker. Here are extracts that give a picture of the early days of the Umbrella Club......
Who Initiated the Umbrella?
"Coventry Arts Umbrella Club opened on Oct 10th 1955 at 97, Little Park St. (pictured above). Members of Coventry City Architects Department and members of the Midland Theatre Co were largely responsible for initiating the Umbrella club."
Aims of the Coventry Arts Umbrella Club -
To provide a congenial meeting place for those interested in artistic and cultural activities and in the pursuance of...thus it promotes lectures, discussions, exhibitions, recitals and similar. The name 'Umbrella' is intended to suggest the wide range of activities covered by the club.
Outline of the functions and Structure of Coventry Arts Umbrella Ltd.
"The Association is established to promote, maintain, improve and advance education and assist in the promotion, maintenance, improvement therein. Shall be of charitable nature and in particular, so far as such objectives may be charitable, to raise the artistic taste of Coventry and to promote, encourage and increase the appreciation and understanding of the arts generally and Dramatic Art, Musical Art, Literary Arts and Visual Arts in particular.
The advisory committee in the early days consisted of The Right Rev - the Lord Bishop of Coventry. Alderman Mrs Pearl Hyde. Mr A.G. Ling FRIBA Coventry City Architect. Lord Leigh. Sir Stanley Harley (Coventry Gauge and Tool Ltd. Mr P.S. Randell (Courtalds)
The club initially had 200 members comprising of students, secretaries, engineers, technologists, Clerks,nurses, Civil Servants, architects, journalists, artists, shop assistants, housewives.
97, Little Park St. Comprised a Lounge (used for lectures and recitals) A Foyer - Exhibition room, music room, cloak room, office and kitchen. The building was demolished to allow for redevelopment.
The first Chair of the Umbrella was Anthony John - later of the BBC - later Dr A,. (H) Marshall and Terry Watson was Vice Chair at this stage later to be Chair.
Reply to Criticism
"We can offer a reply to the criticism which tends to be levelled at an expanding industrial town like Coventry - that it's heartless and that there is nothing to do and that it is a 'Cultural desert' . Our reply, based on observation and the deep satisfaction which many intelligent young people have found in using the club and how newcomers to Coventry have said how they have not felt at home in the city until they began to use Umbrella club."
COMPULSORY PURCHASE ORDER
On 3rd April 1961 the Coventry Arts Umbrella received a Compulsory Purchase Order with notice to quit their premises at 97, Little Park St. by the 30th June 196 after 5 years of residence at that address. The Umbrella claimed, in response, that the Umbrella had established a "unique position as a cultural and social centre, especially for young people who are over youth club age and for whom we provide a service of a kind not to be found elsewhere in the city. It's cultural magazine is subscribed to by the Library of Congress USA and New York Public Library etc."
The Umbrella was rehoused at 18, Queen Victoria Rd. until once again in 1972 they had to move after a 10 year residency this time.
In terms of programme the Umbrella while at Little Park St. organised a series of Cultural Weeks each year as follows -
American Week - 1957
Russian Week - 1958
Norwegian Week -1959
In May 1958 they hosted a production of Webster's White Devil in St. Mary's Hall.
Some of the distinguished speakers included -
EM Forster, Sir Stuart Wilson, Prof. Marvin Felheim, Prof. Nevil Coghill, Aaron Copland, Richard Arnell, Brian Priestman, Sir Eugene Goossens.
The Umbrella magazine is covered in another post on here with some new additions.
The early programme on the move to Queen Victoria Rd. included (up to 1968) Jazz, music , Bridge, art and design and Drama. jazz was particularly strong at the umbrella.
Folk at the Umbrella. The Umbrella pioneered the earliest form of folk club in Coventry - leading to the creation of other folk clubs in the city from 1965 as outlined in some of Pete Willow's folk history articles on here.
Folk had been a part of the Umbrella programme since about 1963. Examples -
April 1963 saw a "recital of folksong presented by Barry Skinner"
1965 - Folk Records session
Jan 1966 saw "a group of folksingers led by Barry Skinner performing in the club on Monday evenings for Jan to July 1966
In Jan 1967
Although live folk music seems to have been happening at the Umbrella since 1963, a 1967 programme claimed -
"Folk Tues 26th Jan 8.30pm. At last live folk music in the club. Now your chance to hear again those wonderful old songs you learnt on your Granny's knee - arranged by Roy Mitchell."
But a look through earlier programmes shows that 1967 wasn't the first time for folk by a long chalk!
In 1968 - June 1967 - the programme advertised "Folk - Roy Mitchell Group.
In Oct 1969 when I joined the Umbrella - there was a well established traditional folk club on a Saturday night at the Umbrella. no alcohol involved at the Umbrella - the coffee bar provided hot dogs and and coffee or tea only.
More Posts on the Umbrella if you check the Hobo Index under Umbrella. Some of the posts are currently being added in to though.