Friday, December 18, 2015

Coventry Arts Umbrella Club - An Overview

Coventry Arts Umbrella Club - 1st base Little Park Street 1955
Welcome to the new Coventry Arts Umbrella Club archive site, as part of the Hobo (Coventry Music and Arts Magazine) Archive site, documenting the Coventry Music Scene in the 70's (and before and beyond). Coventry is noted for it's contribution to popular music via Two Tone, Pete Waterman, The Sorrows, Frank Ifield, Vince Hill, King, The Primitives, Indian Summer, Dando Shaft and more.

These musicians didn't develop in a vacuum and the were many more who didn't make it. Neither was the Cov Scene just about music. Literature, art and politics feature in it it as well.

This blog is part of a wider documentation of the Coventry music - which is still in re-development from the former Hobo Vox site - Links

An A to Z of Coventry Bands (on Google sites) Which is a comprehensive A to Z of Coventry Bands and Artists from the 50's to present. Still a work in progress and contributions of information welcome. Although not finished, it holds a great deal of information, You Tube and audio links.

The rest of the material is on this suite of Blogspots -

Hobo Coventry Music Archives ( The main blog) 
Hobo magazine archives, Coventry music features, other alternative Coventry mags and much more. (In development). Although this is a main part of the Hobo blogs, it's one that still requires a lot more input. Slowly getting it all put on!

Coventry Arts Umbrella Club  
That's this blog!!

Coventry Music Articles by Pete ClemonsHouses Peter Clemon's Rock of Ages columns and Coventry music articles for the Coventry Telegraph which charts gigs in Coventry (local bands and famous bands) from 1960 onwards. In addition I'm adding, Coventry Hits, Pete Waterman archives to this section and my 1971 diary of Coventry gigs as a resource.

This blog with house copies of Pete Willow's Folks Magazine from c 1978 and articles from it. My archive of material from the Coventry Folk Scene in the 1970s and other relevant articles, You Tube and links.

Coventry Discos, DJ's, Venues, Recording studios, Music Shops, Music Agencies in the 70's
As it says on the tin, articles on the other aspects of the Coventry music scene, including Silk Disco, Sunshine  Music agency, Q Artistes, Pete Chambers and his initiatives and much more.

Lanchester Arts Festival and Gigs in the 1970's 
Now Coventry University. Do you remember all those bands and artists who played the Lanch. This site tracks a lot of them with youtube footage and more.

A comprehensive Who's Who of Coventry Musicians - still a work in progress. More to be added when the A to Z of  Coventry bands and artists has been completed.Meanwhile if you should be on the list of the info is wrong or incomplete and if your friends are not on here and should be - let use know at

IT (International Times) had a section of Arts labs and Centres and in 1969, the Umbrella Club got a mention -

'Umbrella' Coventry's Literary Magazine  1959
Coventry Arts Umbrella (or the Umbrella Club) as we all knew it, played an important role in that development, so much so it deserves it's own focus - this blog.

Opened in Little Park Street, Coventry in 1955 by some of the Goons (who were performing at Coventry's Belgrade Theatre), it had associations with Phillip Larkin, Two Tone and housed Coventry's first folk club.

More of The Umbrella's seminal role in the Coventry music and arts scene will be revealed in these pages, which I shall start uploading very soon. Bookmark and revisit and watch it grow.

Note also, that although the Umbrella is not the force it once was in 50's, 60's and 70's, the club has survived in some form and small group of early members still meet at members houses and recently published a pamphlet of poetry, (Visit their site Here )
and we shall mention their activities on here as well celebrating the work of the Umbrella in its primary years. Actually this link is not working now - will check if that's permanent!

'Umbrella', the clubs respected literary journal from 1959 - 61 gets a mention in Phillip Larkin's biography (albeit a footnote). The journal might be 'obscure' as it says in the Larkin bio, but we bring it back to life on this blog with two pdf versions and Larkin's essay on his poem about Coventry - Not the Place's Fault.

Special mention must be made of Terry Watson, an English teacher at King Henry V111 school, poet, editor of Umbrella magazine and whose unstinting dedication to the Umbrella ensured it's continuation through the decades.

The Umbrella's story begins in 1955 with the opening of the premises in Little Park Street (next post), through the publication of Umbrella Literary magazine, through the move to premises at Queen Victoria road in 1961 - hosting Coventry's first folk club, through to the hippy era with the Transcendental Cauldron - a Underground arts fest in 1969 (which was my first experience of the Umbrella) through their explusion from Queen Victoria Road owing to a redevelopment programme and a new base in the Charterhouse. (Umbrella was on the corner where the white dot is - now British Chamber of Commerce.)

ABOUT UMBRELLA CLUB - Umbrella information sheets from the early 1970's on a pdf file here

Photos and Memories
The material on this site is from my own archives, collected when I was a member and running the Live Music nights etc. If anyone has any photos of the Umbrella they are willing to share with us - either at Little Park Street (from inside) or from Queen Victoria Road (inside or out) or any documents that would be of interest - please let us know at
Also share your share your memories with us in the comments.

Coventry Archives
For research - you can find further and more extensive material in Coventry Archives, Herbert Museum - Here -'PA1939') including copies of Umbrella Magazine, Programmes, press cuttings and features and more.

Birth of the Umbrella Club - Opened by the Goons

Coventry Arts Umbrella Club played an important role in Coventry's music history, for bands, folk, literature and more. Larkin wrote for Umbrella magazine and two Two Tone members played in early bands there.

Coventry Arts Umbrella Club opened in Little Park Street, Coventry  (seen in the photo) in 1955 by The Goons and financed by West Midlands Arts. After demolition it re-opened in Queen Victoria Rd in the early 60's - again with it's premises being demolished and moved to the Charterhouse on London Rd. It's hey days were the 50's / 60's and early 70's but a small group of poets still keep something going, albeit they now meet at someone's house and activities have been scaled right down.

"The Umbrella Club was founded in 1955 largely on the initiative of members of the City Architect's Department in association with members of the Midland Theatre Company, the forerunner of the Belgrade Theatre. The Club opened on 10 Oct 1955 at 97 Little Park Street with the purpose of encouraging the enjoyment of the arts by providing facilities for members to take part in a wide range of activities and to sponsor and promote artistic and related events of various kinds. When 97 Little Park Street was demolished in 1961, it moved to 18 Queen Victoria Road and membership grew, reaching over 400 by 1964. The Club operated at Queen Victoria Road until these premises were also demolished in the early 1970s. For a time activities continued in The Charterhouse but the lack of suitable premises led to declining membership."

According to architect and early member Bill BerrettThe real movers were Terry Watson, Neil Stair (an English teacher who did the White Devil by Webster) Geoffrey Saunders (I can't recall what his work was, but he made a great contribution to the early building decor), Rex Chell and Stanley Sellers, Architects from the City Department. All these did most of the work and negotiation."

Birth of the Umbrella Club
The Coventry Arts Umbrella (known to its members as The Umbrella Club or The Brolly) opened October 10th 1955 at 97, Little Park Street (as seen in the picture above). This I think was in front of what became the Education Offices after the redevelopment of Little Park Street.

It was initiated largely by the Coventry City Architects department and members of the Midland Theatre Company.
The Aims of the Umbrella were to -
"To provide a congenial meeting place for those interested in artistic and cultural activities and in pursuance of this 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 Umbrella Club was opened by The Goons - Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers. Coventry photographer, Richard Sadler explains in The Journal of London Independant - Winter 2002/3, (pdf file with more photos) why, in those formal times, the Umbrella club chose the Goons to not only to open the club in 1955 but join in their party later on c 1959

" The occasion (of the photos) was the the first time our heroes appeared on stage (Coventry Hippodrome I think)  to delight us with their wit and wisdom. It was a flop of course, though not for us, due in the main to having a public who
enjoyed them, till then, only through the radio. The theatre too was controlled at that time, not only by the management, but by the Lord Chamberlain. All theatre performances had to be approved by him and any deviation from the script, at each performance, had to be recorded and forwarded to his office. The anarchic wit and humour of our heroes, to whom the art of the ad lib was essential was fundamental, suffered from this bureaucratic machinery; they had in truth been sent to Coventry."

Sadler goes on to explain -
"We at the Umbrella would have none of that, they would come to our party and celebrate that which we would create together with them, a
future of peace, prosperity and fun...they put up an umbrella, embraced the girls and assumed a pose that would remind us of their personalities, wit and wisdom, that changed, though no one realised it at the time, English humour forever."

An article appears on the Goons in one of the editions of Umbrella.

Bill Berrett offered - "A small anecdote about the opening by the Goons. It was a very informal and crowded do. The Goons mixed in with everybody and had a great time. That is until a young woman asked for an autograph and the Goons swiftly departed! (they did take away 'Spon' from Coventry as in '' I been Sponned'!)"

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."

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.

And, from the Umbrella Website
A potted history of the club -
History of the Club
The seeds of the Umbrella Club were sown when a group of people enthusiastic about the arts were meeting socially in the Geisha Cafe in Hertford Street, Coventry.
Geisha Cafe Right opposite Greens Chemist
Hertford street

The Club opened on 10 October 1955 at 97, Little Park Street, with the purpose of encouraging the enjoyment of the arts by providing facilities for members to take part in a wide range of activities and to sponsor and promote artistic and related events of various kinds.
The official opening took place on 2nd November 1955 and was attended by none other than The Goons, Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan.

The club had a sub-committee for each section of the arts and these ran a full programme of events. Notable speakers included Kenneth Tynan, Maurice Edelman, Graham Whettam.

The Club also published a series of magazines, featuring new writing from new and established writers, eg. E. M. Forster, Susan Hill, Philip Larkin. A particularly memorable event was a production of 'The White Devil' in St. Mary's Hall, in the late 50s.

In 1961, Little Park Street was redeveloped and the Club obtained a three storey house in Queen Victoria Road. Here the Club went from strenght to strength. An outbuilding was converted and extended into a theatre/ cinema and the programme included Jazz on a Summer's Day, The Cranes are Flying, The Seventh Seal. The film group experimented with film making and we have a video copy of Under the Umbrella, a film about the club's activities made in 1965 as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations .

Some events were open to the public, including films, plays,, art exhibitions.

In 1970, the area was due for redevelopment and compulsory purchase left the Club with insufficient resourses for premises. Until 1974, members met at The Charterhouse, a historic building on the London Road which had been left to the city for public use. Meetings were held once a week with the film group sometimes meeting separately on an additional night. Unfortunately it proved difficult to maintain the Club under these conditions and though the club was never closed down, activity became minimal.

In the 1990s, there was a reunion and relaunch at the Koko building in Spon End. After an initial busy programme, activities were toned down to the present level. Times have changed and people have many more opportunities and demands on their time than was the case in the 50s and 60s, however there is still a desire for people interested in the arts to meet together in order to participate in and discuss the various media."

Recent Comment

This received from  Jean Jennings (neĆ© Gough) April 13, 2013 at 7:13 AM
If anyone can confirm (or otherwise) Jean's memory of the Umbrella being open before 1955 - please get in touch

"Thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories of the Umbrella Club. I was a very keen member in the 50's, assisting Terry Watson with the secretarial jobs and publicity. I remember him bringing to the club the first electric typewriter - a scary monster. He was truly an inspired person and brought such enthusiasm to the club.
One problem that I have is with the given date of the inception of the club. I distinctly remember going there in 1953 - and it had been active a while before then. Can anybody confirm this?"

The Founders of the Umbrella

Bill Berrett has identified that -

"The real movers in early Umbrella Club were Terry Watson, Neil Stair (an English teacher who did the White Devil by Webster) Geoffrey Saunders (I can't recall what his work was, but he made a great contribution to the early building decor), Rex Chell and Stanley Sellers, Architects from the City Department. All these did most of the work and negotiation."

I don't have a lot of information about them but I do know, is here. I have already created a post about Terrence Watson (Chair and Vice chair and editor of Umbrella Magazine) and a page for his new poetry book.

Neil was an English teacher who did the White Devil - a play by Webster at St. Mary's Hall, Coventry, for Umbrella Club in the 50's.

White Devil on Youtube.

Geoff Sauders was a founding member of the Umbrella Club, a writer, artist and who wrote for the Umbrella magazine as Geoffrey Demdike.  He was also a founding member of the magaine and wrote an article called Smedley's Hydro, Smedley's Hydropathic Instituition in Matlock, in the magazine here page 17 of the pdf of Umbrella Vol1 1958.

Geoff also designed the cover of this issue of Umbrella - here - 

Geoff Saunders is mentioned here
Peter Eugene Ball
  is a prolific British sculptor, whose work can be found in over 60 churches. Born in 1943, Ball attended Coventry school of Art where he met Geoffrey Saunders, an art history tutor, with whom he made a photographic survey of Romanesque carvings and prehistoric monuments throughout the United Kingdom.

Rex was still a Coventry Archtect in the 1970's and designed the link between the new and old Council house in Coventry, along with other projects.

A Coventry Architect and founding member of the Coventry Arts Umbrella Club.

An obituary December 1933 — 5 April 2013 Honorary Vice-President (2008); Friends of Birmingham Museums &Art Gallery
Stanley was born in Bordesley Green and educated in Birmingham. At 17, he enrolled in the Birmingham School of Architecture, after graduating in 1955, he joined Coventry City Council, moving 4 years
later to join James A Roberts Associates; who were the designers of the Rotunda and had their offices
on the top floor. He stayed with them for 21 years subsequently moving to the ISH Partnership for a further 11 years up to his retirement. Stanley’s list of major architectural projects is large and varied; and includes Mander Centre in Wolverhampton with, at the time, a controversial Barbara Hepworth bronze which won a Civic Trust Award; the Solihull Library and Arts Centre which won a Civic Trust Commendation; The Loft Theatre in Leamington Spa; Wrexham Library and Arts Centre, as well as a whole range of buildings in Solihull and Birmingham City Centre.

He was also a talented and respected potter in his own right, a passionate connoisseur, collector of the visual and applied arts, and an incredibly well informed music lover. In his 20s Stanley was a frequent visitor to St Ives and was a close friend of Barbara Hepworth, as well as socialising with Bernard Leach and many others from within the St Ives ‘School’. He was a member of  the Friends for many years, later serving as Treasurer; he was created Honorary Vice-President in 2008. Stanley continued to support and advised on the Friends events and activities until earlier this year. He was a passionate supporter of the Museum and its work.

Stanley had a supportive 44 year partnership with Richard Butt, a respected Radio3 Producer and long
term Conductor of the Birmingham Bach Choir. Their home in Solihull was a happy and welcoming environment to their many and varied friendships. They were great supporters of CBSO and Birmingham Royal Ballet and Sir Peter and Lady Knight were friends as were Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Imogen Holst. He was extraordinarily knowledgeable and interesting to talk to on a host of subjects, never losing his enthusiasm and interest in the world about him, he will be sadly missed by many. A week before he died he told one of his cousin’s he had had a wonderful life, had met many great, good and famous people and that, ’that’s not bad for a boy from the back streets of Birmingham’.

Stanley has made a very generous and significant bequest to Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery that is both a testament to his commitment to the Museum and also to his extraordinary life, his excellent ‘eye’, his intelligence and incredible knowledge. It is hoped that next year there will be an exhibition based on his bequest. At Stanley’s request his family sold his pottery collection and the proceeds from this sale were split between Solihull Association for the Blind and the Friends of Birmingham Museums. He also included the Friends as one of only two beneficiaries of donations in his memory.
Graham Allen, A Friend as well as a Trustee of Birmingham Museums Trust

Sunday, December 13, 2015


The Coventry Arts Umbrella Club has published a selection of  Terrence Watson's poems under the editorial direction of Bob Wright and this book is now available at all major booksellers (including Amazon). The publisher is Earlsdon-based Takahe Publishing Ltd. Terry was a leading light in the Coventry Umbrella Club that was formally established in 1955 and continues to this day.

You can find out more about Terry and a link to his new book of poetry here

Terry Watson was born Terence Charles Watson in 1920. He was educated at the Stationers' Company School in London studied at Magdalen College Oxford under the tutorial guidance of C S Lewis. His studies were interrupted by service in the RAF in the Second World War and he finally graduated in 1947. He taught for five years at Cottesmore School and came to Coventry in 1955 to take up a post teaching English and Art at King Henry VIII School in Coventry. He became a leading light in the Coventry Umbrella Club that was formally established in 1955 and continues to this day. One of Terry's earliest role at the Umbrella was as editor of the club's well respected literary magazine Umbrella, which boasted work by likes of Phillip Larkin and E.M. Forster. Terry shared his wide ranging skills with the Umbrella,as literary editor,poet,theatre director, painter and exhibition curator and promoter as well as heading up the Umbrella Club organisation.  Above all he was passionate about encouraging artistic creativity in others,especially those who seemed to lack confidence in their own potential. In later years he taught Creative Writing at Tile Hill College and in his 70's became interested in yoga and practised to the degree that he qualified as a teacher of Yoga (Sironami Tejas) in Florida USA.He was proud to be made Freeman of the City of London and a member of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and newspaper Makers.Terry passed away in 2009 at the age of 89. This volume was edited by Bob Wright and includes a range of Terry's poeticalworks including of his war poems written in active service.

Sample poem -


of the sea
fell sheer

So her hair
glittering shines and falls

Waves of her hair
shimmer and fall
away and fall

fall swaying

and shine

and fall

of the sea
fall sheer

So her hair
glittering shines
and falls

Terence Watson 1968