Do you remember gigs at The Lion's Den in Ipswich?

Jimmy Rogers in Ipswich

Jimmy Rogers (centre) on stage in Ipswich - Credit: Mark Ward

What’s the most you’ve paid for a concert ticket? If the really big names float your boat, then I guess we could be talking around the £200 mark, probably more.

That was the amount I effectively paid to see a Chicago blues great in a small venue in Ipswich some 27 years ago! It was in the days myself and Suffolk drummer John Butters put on regular blues nights in a scruffy little place known as The Lion’s Den at the back of the Golden Lion on the Cornhill.

John and I called our venture Smokestack Promotions and for five glorious years we brought so many great musicians, including several from the United States and Canada, to that tiny function room which had paint peeling from the walls inside and out and a sagging stage no higher than a few inches above the floor.

John Butters Ipswich May Day festival

John Butters on stage at the 2018 Ipswich May Day Festival. - Credit: Stephen Foster

As soon as we were shown round the venue we knew it was the right one. We wanted to try to recreate the vibrant Ipswich blues scene of the 1960s when Ron and Nanda Lesley held their now legendary Bluesville gigs in both The Manor Ballroom and The Baths Hall.

Our first gig was on Friday, February 25 and was headlined by British blues great Otis Grand. After conducting the longest soundcheck in living memory he proceeded to take the roof off the place with a blistering set of blues which went down the proverbial storm.

On June 24 we hosted the multi-award winning harmonica player Paul Lamb and his King Snakes. They didn’t have a soundcheck at all having got caught up in the Friday afternoon traffic heading out of London. Some things never change. Paul and the group eventually made it to Ipswich and treated another big crowd to their always entertaining take on the blues.

Paul Lamb harmonica radio suffolk

Harmonica great Paul Lamb at BBC Radio Suffolk in December 2019 - Credit: Stephen Foster

In the summer of ‘94 John and I completely let our hearts rule our heads when we agreed to promote the Chess Records icon Jimmy Rogers. It was an offer we simply couldn’t refuse but it meant increasing ticket prices from our usual fiver to a tenner.

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I can’t recall how much the former Muddy Waters sideman cost us but what I do remember is that he needed paying in cash on the night and ticket sales fell somewhat short of the agreed fee. It meant both of us having to go to the nearest cashpoint machine to top up the takings. Ouch!

In those days £200 to see anyone was steep but I can honestly say Jimmy and his American band were worth every penny of that. To witness a Chicago music great in the intimate surroundings of The Lion’s Den on Friday, July 15 was a dream come true.

The following day I got to do a radio interview with Jimmy but not until he’d first polished off a full English breakfast in the Golden Lion dining room which these days is home to a very good noodles restaurant.

Jimmy Rogers died in 1997. His visit to Ipswich three years earlier had provided everyone there that night with an unforgettable experience which still gets mentioned to me on a regular basis. There were many more gigs at The Lion’s Den and next week I’ll be recalling drugs and rock’n’roll but no sex (as far as I’m aware there was none of that.)

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