Diamond is forever! Recalling the halcyon days of Sutton's iconic music venue
If you grew up in the 1970s, 80s or 90s, going to a concert at your favourite music venue became a rite of passage. It was part of the transition from teenage years to adulthood.
In the big cities, that venue might have been Nottingham’s Rock City, the Assembly Rooms in Derby, Leicester’s De Montfort Hall or The Charlotte, Sheffield’s The Limit or The Casbah.
But places like Sutton weren’t left out. Just ask Jeff Beastall, born and bred in the Ashfield town, and harvester of magical memories from The Diamond club (or Golden Diamond as it used to be known) on Stoney Street, close to where he lived as a youngster.
Memories of tumultuous nights at the Diamond in the 60s and 70s that he has now committed to print in a publication he hopes will become part of Sutton’s recorded history.
Of course, the Diamond survives to this day. Still a popular music venue, hosting a regular stream of tribute bands, extolling the virtues of superstars such as Robbie Williams, the Beatles, Guns And Roses, Billy Joel, Elvis, Tom Jones and UB40.
Under the expert leadership of Gary and June Melvin, it boasts a restaurant and even bed-and-breakfast accommodation.
However, Jeff’s account is not one of the present. It is of the days when his favourite place shone bright like a Diamond in a very different world of pits and gritty industries such as manufacturing and textiles that fostered community spirit and family togetherness, glued together by social clubs and pubs.
Musical days when streaming and downloads were a million miles away and when ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ was a mere twinkle in Simon Cowell’s eye.
Says Jeff: “There is nothing finer than a live rock music performance. And at the Diamond existed an opportunity to enjoy the unbeatable sound and feel of a live band close up, at a price within the range of the average worker.
"Famous names, cutting-edge for the day, some still carrying influence in musical circles even now, played the Diamond."
Jeff, now 66, recalls with equal affection “the packed houses, the stale sweat running down the walls, the floors awash with spilt ale and cigarette nubs”.
And the night when one-time Diamond owner and president, Ray Pearce, refused to let rock band Nazareth on stage because they were half an hour late arriving – from Scotland!
The origins of the club remain hazy, Jeff admits. It might be an urban myth but the story goes that the building, constructed around 1880, was once the home of Benny Walton, who owned a nearby stocking factory. He then gave it to his employees for recreation and socialising, and it was used much in the same way as miners used their welfares.
As the influence of so-called ‘beat music’ grew in the 60s, with the coming of the Beatles, the Golden Diamond evolved and was soon calling itself ‘the premier beat club of the Midlands’.
Through the 60s, Jeff wasn’t old enough to get in and see any live acts. But dad Henry was a regular and even one-time committee-member, so he grabbed the autographs of many of the star acts.
His autograph-book reveals wonderful names such as Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Roger and the Rattlesnakes, Herman’s Hermits, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich and Lulu and the Luvvers. Yes, the same Lulu, now 72, who went on to become a superstar and even won the Eurovision Song Contest for Britain in 1969 with ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’.
Jeff finally managed to sneak in to the club on New Year’s Eve 1972, even though he was still slightly under-age. And then, as a fully signed-up member, it fast became his personal mecca for at least a decade.
"The Diamond played an important part in my life, and I still hold it dear to my heart, even today,” he says.
"It still looks the same – small from the outside, just like you’re going into somebody’s house. But once in, the Tardis-like club, with a capacity of 300, opens out to be something far larger.
"The club’s mission statement, tag-line and motto was ‘Good sounds, good beer, good atmosphere’, and that is still basically the case.”
Never has the Diamond lived up to its motto more than in the 70s, according to Jeff. Gracing the stage were big names such as Supertramp, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and Budgie, one of the earliest pioneers of heavy metal.
And then there were Manfred Mann’s Earthband, drummer Cozy Powell and an early version of Judas Priest. The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver went on to write the chart-topping hit ‘Sailing’ for Rod Stewart. While the band Ace starred at the Diamond the night after they had appeared on ‘Top Of The Pops’.
Remember, the hit, ‘Living Next Door To Alice’? It was made famous by Smokie, who trod the Diamond boards in 1974. And 60s’ heartthrob Billy Fury also topped the bill one night in a bid to revive his career.
Jeff’s personal favourites were Dr Feelgood who, he says, “stripped away all the peripherals and cut everything back to the bone with hard rhythm and blues, played loud with an underlying touch of imminent violence.”
As time moved on, the Diamond’s profile changed. The gig-guide cards, published by the club every week, show that discos became as regular as live bands.
No doubt Jeff’s lifestyle and habits also changed as he grew older. But as he now winds up a career in engineering, working at places such as Welbeck Colliery and West Nottinghamshire College, memories of the Diamond remain indelibly printed on his mind.
"At one time, there was talk of extending it,” he recalls. “But it never came to fruition, To change it into something else wouldn’t be the same.
"It will be trapped in this perpetual time-warp for a long time to come. And that’s not a bad thing.”