Football can be an expensive business. And for the majority of clubs, money is always tight. This is the story of how Lewes FC met the challenge of paying for its first ever set of floodlights, some fifty years ago, during the swinging sixties, thanks to Pink Floyd…
In the mid/late 1960’s, Lewes FC were hitting a rich vein of form on the pitch, but that success meant that, to go any further, it had to install floodlights for the first time. There was understandable concern about how on earth the funds could be raised. Attendances at that time rarely went over one hundred, the money simply was not there.
Step forward committee member and committed supporter Norman Ashdown.
Norman was working in the local Tax Office at the time and came up with a rather unexpected solution to raising the necessary money. He was a regular on the Brighton music scene of the sixties and this is what gave him the idea to bring rock music to Lewes. Norman was going to become a music promoter – in his spare time.
His son Mick recalls “Dad became a bit of a local pop impresario during the mid to late sixties in order to raise money for Lewes FC and in particular the floodlights. He’d supported the club from when he was a boy and was still going last season.” Norman had always been active in the community. In fact, his work on the town’s Twinning Committee led to him meeting his wife who was from Blois (Lewes’ twinned town in France).
So it was that Norman began to create what was a golden period of rock and pop gigs in Lewes. He did pretty much all the organising including booking the Town Hall, getting the bands to play, organising security (often using local wrestlers), liaising with the Elephant & Castle pub to provide bar facilities and organising the striking posters that went up all over town.
One of Norman’s early coups was to bring the Paul Butterfield Blues Band to Lewes on November 19th 1966. The legendary US blues band played only three gigs in Europe that year and Lewes Town Hall was one of them.
In 1967, Norman managed to book The Move who, at that point, were one of the biggest bands in the UK thanks to their No. 2 hit ‘Flowers In The Rain”. The band was paid £250 for the gig on Friday 13th October and around seven hundred people attended.
But to music fans today, surely the gig of greatest note was the 1968 appearance by the then up and coming psychedelic rockers Pink Floyd.
Norman had seen them perform when they played the month before at the Dome in Brighton, topping the first half of a multi-band gig that was headlined by Jimi Hendrix. Unfortunately, Hendrix’s management wanted £700 to play Lewes, which was too much for Norman. So, he went for Pink Floyd instead.
The band had released their first album “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” the previous summer, and in January 1968 were still recording their follow-up “A Saucerful of Secrets” at EMI Abbey Road. In fact, they had a recording session just the day before the Lewes gig. However, things were not good with the band at that time. Increasingly erratic behaviour by singer and songwriter Syd Barrett was causing significant problems and by the time of the Lewes gig things were coming to a head. By January 1968 Dave Gilmour had joined the band at the invitation of drummer Nick Mason to cover Barrett’s live guitar parts. On the way to a gig at Southampton University on January 26th, the story goes that the band decided not to pick Barrett up. And that was that.
And so, the gig at Lewes Town Hall on January 19th was one of only FOUR gigs that the temporarily 5-piece Pink Floyd played: Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Richard Wright, Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour. Hastings Pier the following night was their last.
Norman’s son Mark was seventeen in 1968. “Because my dad was the Promoter” he explains, “I remember being allowed backstage in the dressing rooms. I got to sit next to Rick Wright on his keyboards but all I could manage to play was chopsticks. They were a really nice bunch of guys”.
To around five hundred people, the band played two 45-minute sets including tracks from “Piper at the Gates of Dawn”. The set included “Set the controls for the heart of the sun”, “Flaming” and “Interstellar Overdrive”. And when the band started “Careful with that axe Eugene” everyone was asked to sit down on the floor and watch the light show. “It was amazing.” remembers Mark “Almost like meditation.”
At twelve shillings and sixpence (around £15 in today’s money) plus bar takings the gig returned another tidy profit to the football club. But to get towards his target figure, Norman organized around a dozen or so gigs including The Zombies, The Swinging Blue Jeans, Chris Barber, the Nashville Teens and Alan Price. Eventually, thanks to Norman’s gigs, eight floodlights were installed at the Pan in 1973, the same eight towers that stand there today.
Norman Ashdown was just an ordinary Lewes FC supporter, if there is such a thing. The club needed funds to build floodlights so Norman simply decided to do whatever it took. And by the end of the sixties, he had brought some of the biggest pop and rock bands around to the unlikely rock epicentre of Lewes.
So, if you’ve ever visited the Dripping Pan, Lewes FC’s beautiful gem of a ground, for an evening match, maybe raise a glass to Norman. Because, without the actions of one very determined supporter, you might otherwise have been sitting on the dark side of the Pan…