Wednesday, July 1, 2020

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 Belgrade Theatre), it had associations with Philip 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 Philip 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 expulsion 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 History Centre 
For research - you can find further and more extensive material in Coventry Archives, Herbert Museum  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 1961 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 Umbrella Club – a 10 year celebration January 1966

The Umbrella Club – a 10 year celebration January 1966

by Pete Clemons

This is a great find by Pete Clemons - taken from an article in The Coventry Standard

January 1966. It's a good sketch of the Umbrella in those days when the Umbrella pioneered an early folk club in the city leading a brilliant folk scene in the 60's. Music was dominated by Classical recitals and Jazz and poetry was always big.

In October 1969, when I first went the Coventry arts Umbrella club, Jo Petter, the Drama organiser, created a game changing mini festival for the Umbrella called the Transcendental Cauldron, a three day all night festival that emulated the kind of events happening at places like Drury Lane Arts Lab where Bowie started out. It was my introduction to the Coventry music scene but had alternative films, art exhibitions etc. The programme can be seen in the flyer posted here and included last fair deal, Asgard and Dando Shaft.

It was followed a month later by the Music Marathon and after which Al Docker and I put on regular Friday band nights for a year and half featuring the cream of local or regional bands. There was a shift away from jazz at this stage but this article is a good representation of the Umbrella in 1966 and shows it be a place where people could get involved and organise their own events, as both I and Al Docker did in 1970 / 72.

The next stage of the Umbrella had Neol Davies, Kevin Harrison, Indian Summer, Asgard playing there.

The Umbrella Club – a 10 year celebration January 1966 

Where in Coventry could a theatre, coffee bar, exhibition room, studio, photographic dark room and music room all be found under one roof – or rather, under one umbrella?. The answer is, at the Umbrella club, Coventry's Art Centre located in a small terraced house in Queen Victoria Road.

Behind its modest exterior something lies that lovers of the arts find valuable. They discover companionship and enjoyment in appreciating with others the many cultural topics which the club embraces. Some have already discovered their worth, while others renew it.

Here is a unique club. It is a meeting place where all classes and all races can enjoy one another's company and share common leisure interests.

It has been said by the ill informed that it is a club of misfits. These surely are to be found in all walks of society but no more so at the Umbrella Club.

A member will say that it is up to the individual to cultivate friendships and to show enthusiasm for a form of art that he would like to appreciate – whether it is classical music, jazz, art, drama or any other.

It was ten years ago last month that Harry Secombe unfurled a large black umbrella and proclaimed 'The Umbrella, long may it reign' at the clubs official opening.

In a small Victorian house in Little Park Street the club steadily grew and began to make an impact in the city. The turning point came in 1961, only six years after its formation, when the headquarters became due for demolition.

After much fruitless searching, a terraced house at Queen Victoria Road was made available by the council. But it was in a shocking condition. Members worked day and night to prepare it for the opening.

Since that day, the Umbrella Club has flourished and despite many financial set backs has achieved, and is still achieving, it aims.......

(a) To provide a friendly meeting place for those people interested in the arts

(b) To arrange exhibitions, recitals and general discussions

And most important of all, for the club to be a source of encouragement and enjoyment of the arts.

All this has come to fruition within a span of ten years but only due to endless hard work and enthusiasm of its members. Without enthusiasm this club could, like an umbrella, have folded. But it kept going without financial support, apart from a small grant from the arts council.

The club is unlike any other in Coventry. It is neither a youth club nor a community centre. It is also not a club devoted to professional people. It is an arts centre for everyone, irrespective of their profession, their colour or their creed.

There are no restrictions, but instead, complete freedom of choice for each member to choose how his time will be spent there. The beauty of such freedom is the ability one gains to 'discover' oneself.

Talents, hitherto hidden deep, will rise to the surface as shyness or nervousness disappear in friendly conversation or over a game of bridge. You may find that you cup of tea is in the drama line, perhaps acting, or even helping to produce. On the other hand, there is a film group, which not only shows films regularly but has begun to make them.

Debates and discussions take place on a variety of topics including religion, politics, poetry, theatre, television, travel. The range is almost limitless.

Exhibitions are an accepted part of club life. Many members are keen artists who submit pictures for local exhibitions (the last one was a members display at the Herbert Art Gallery). Nancy Upshall and John Budgett, to name but two, are well known Coventry artists who have exhibited at the club.

And what of music? The works of the great composers are regularly played and discussed. Operas, Continental, Flamenco, or music from far away lands is enjoyed and appreciated by many.

If you are a jazz enthusiast there is plenty of enjoyment for you. On Wednesday's this circle gather round to listen to records. Occasionally the Umbrella Club Jazz Band gives a performance.

The visual arts group provides members with some very interesting subjects for discussion. Recently an exhibition boards was given. The cosy music room often holds the motoring enthusiasts or those who want to play their favourite recordings.

As leader of the club, Terry Watson, who is a teacher at King Henry VIII School, said 'Those who come here seem to 'find' themselves and something for which they were perhaps looking'.

He went on 'This club is for everyone who would like to enjoy the arts. We are all amateurs and believe that what would kill it most of all would be the existence of professionalism. We want to keep the atmosphere the way it is even if we one day have another and better building. The building is not really the important thing, it is the people who matter'