Kingston Polytechnic Oral Histories

The audio clips featured at this listening station come from a selection of interviews conducted for AMP Kingston. Topics covered include Kingston’s thriving live music scene in the 1970s and 1980s – including popular local bands such as Cardaics and The Sound – the history of Kingston Polytechnic as a gig venue specifically, and the cultural role played by the School of Art in the area.  

You can listen to the rest of the oral history interviews conducted as part of AMP here.

Peter Tagg and Derek Tagg are brothers who moved to the area as young children. Drummer Peter was a founding member of Cardiacs (then Cardiac Arrest), an enormously influential band who have been cited as an influence by Blur and Radiohead, and retain a huge cult following today. Today Peter plays alongside his brother Derek (guitar) as part of The Trudy, founded in 1979. 

They spoke to AMP Kingston about their early memories of Kingston’s music scene, the genius of Cardiacs frontman Tim Smith, how Cardiac Arrest came into existence and played their first gig at The Kaleidoscope drug rehabilitation centre, and their experiences as part of The Trudy. 

Sue Smallwood is a bass guitarist with a long history in Kingston’s musical culture. Her first memories of going to see live music was at Kingston Polytechnic, and she also recalls frequenting other pub venues such as The Dolphin, The Three Fishes and The Swan. 

At the age of 13 Sue first picked up a bass guitar, and she spoke to AMP Kingston about becoming a founding member of The Trudy in 1979 and some of the gigs she remembers playing around town. A graphic designer by trade, Sue also spoke about the importance of artwork to the band, who often invoked an eccentric sense of humour in their unique range of posters. 

Sue Smallwood

Donna Frankcom-Ball is a lifelong Kingston resident with a deep passion for the local area’s music scene. Over her youth she clocked up an impressive volume of gigs attended locally, whether at the The Grove, Surbiton Assembly Rooms, The Swan, The Three Fishes, The Dolphin, or Jesters. 

Furthermore she still retains a soft spot for so many of the bands that came from the vibrant local scene. Aside from the more well known Cardiacs, she speaks fondly of other Kingston acts, including Granny’s New Intentionz, Here and Now, The Trudy, Private Patience, Liquid Hedgehog, and Greasy Hogwash. 

She spoke to AMP Kingston about the memories of this scene, and how she set up a popular Facebook group – ‘1980’s Kingston crowd’ – for her and her contemporaries to share stories and photographs. 

Pat Pritchard and Tony Banks are two lifelong Kingston residents with memories of its rich tapestry of venues. 

As a teenager, Pat was a regular at folk nights at Kingston Poly and eventually started attending bigger concerts in Penrhyn Road’s main hall. On May 6 1972 she was there for David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust Tour, just three months after he had first launched his Ziggy persona at The Toby Jug pub in nearby Tolworth. She spoke to AMP Kingston about that night and how such gigs being the ‘norm’ in town sparked a lifelong passion for music. 

Tony recalls gigs at The Coronation Hall (local swimming baths where the pools were boarded over to create a venue), The Three Tuns, and the Grey Horse. He also spoke to us about seeing New Order on 12 March 1983 at Tolworth Recreation Centre (‘Tolworth Rec’), another gig organised by the Kingston Polytechnic Students’ Union. 

Stephen Budd is today a music executive who works with a wide range of performers and producers, from Tony Visconti to helping Damon Albarn run his Africa Express project. However he can trace his early passion for music to sneaking out the back window of his parents’ house to see a 1971 gig at Kingston Polytechnic when he was just 12 years of age.

Desperate to see the psychedelic LA band Spirit, he was then utterly inspired – not just by the set but also his own personal encounter with frontman Randy California. He spoke to AMP Kingston about that night, the wild musical ride that followed, and his own reflections on the town’s live music scene and present day challenges for venues.

Keith McMahon is born and bred in Kingston and in 1977 came to the Polytechnic to enrol on its Production Engineering course, where he would study for six years. Keith’s interest in lighting saw him sign up to the Technical Services group, a student society for technicians. 

Through this group he found himself as a lighting technician for Students’ Union gigs across the Poly’s campuses, whether Penrhyn Road, Knights Park, Canbury Park, or Gypsy Hill (today’s Kingston Hill). He spoke to AMP Kingston about the enjoyment he and his fellow techies took from their work, the way the gigging culture worked at the Poly, and the most famous act he provided lights for: U2 as part of their Boy tour in 1980. 

Julian Hickman is a tour manager who in recent years has worked with M.I.A., Damon Albarn, Snow Patrol, Rick Astley, and Alison Goldfrapp; but his earliest involvement in organising gigs was through his role as Kingston Polytechnic Students’ Union Social Secretary from 1981 to 1984. During his time Julian organised concerts such as The Smiths, New Order, Curtis Mayfield, Kurtis Blow, The Pogues and The Marine Girls. 

As well as reminiscing on the gigs themselves, he spoke to AMP Kingston about how SUs at the time were able to attract such star quality, reminisced about the nights themselves, and spoke about how these early experiences propelled him on a career in live music. 

Fran Lloyd is a Professor of Art History at Kingston University who established the Kingston School of Art Archive and co-authored Kingston School of Art: 140 years, 1875-2015 with Dr Robert Knifton. 

Tapping into her extensive expertise of the history of Kingston University, the Polytechnic and the School of Art, she spoke to AMP Kingston about why these overlapping stories are of such importance to the town and the borough. She also spoke about the significance of Stanley Picker, a key benefactor to the School of Art as well as the owner of the local Gala Cosmetics factory that produced makeup for Mary Quant. 

AMP Kingston:
Art, Music, Pop Fashion

The AMP Kingston Heritage Trail explores and celebrates Kingston’s rich music heritage from the 1960’s to the present day at key sites across the town.

Find out more and explore the map of venues.