Kirk Levington Country Club , Yarm

Sunday 15th January 1967


On Sunday 15th January the Jimi Hendrix Experience played their first gig in the North East of England at Kirklevington Country Club. Two weeks later they would play their second north east gig at the New Cellar Club in South Shields. The "Kirk" had a capacity of 350 but was not full. Their fee for the evening was £75 to be paid in cash. The support band was a Middlesbrough rock group called Rivers Invitation.

Hendrix was not well known at this time but the first single Hey Joe was in the charts having been released one month previously.

Jim Moore (roadie with Rivers Invitation) said "We'd never even heard of the bloke, but as soon as Hendrix walked in, I could see he was something different. I chatted with him in the dressing room, and he didn't have any attitude or anything."

Tom Reay (junior) son of the clubs former owners Tom and Iris Reay , said "It was exciting. The night Hendrix came I can remember loads of double decker buses coming from Stockton and Middlesbrough packed with people."

John McCoy who booked the band remembered "When Jimi Hendrix came people had only vaguely heard of him. I think he had a single out which had just got into the charts but it wasn't a packed house. The first number he did was Wild Thing by The Trogs and he received a lot of boos, but by the second number the audience was electrified. In the end he played so loud all the glasses on the cocktail bar shattered.
Later on , we were sitting around in the back and we got into playing games. Jimi arm-wrestled my bouncers, big strapping physical culture blokes, and he beat about six of them.
Then they started a game called Walking The Bottles. This involved putting two rows of beer bottles at 90 degrees to the wall, then getting down and doing press ups. As you went towards the wall, you had to balance on one arm and remove a bottle alternately from each row. The guy who got nearest the wall was the strongest. Jimi won that as well.
One of my bouncers was a bit disgruntled and he said "So the nigger wins this one too." Without a second thought, Chas Chandler turned around and decked the guy, laid him out and sent him flying right over the banister."

Chris Bailey ...  "I remember Jimi and the doorstaff playing ‘roll the bottle’ across the dance-floor during a ‘lock in’ session after his gig. Jimi was teamed up with ‘Big Lenny’ (a butcher during the day). The idea was to roll a bottle with your nose, from the corner bar to the stage. Now as Lenny had quite a big head and Jimi a flat nose, it was Lenny who won, with a cry of “White man wins!”. Strange, how neither Jimi (who laughed loudly), or anyone else, took any offence at that ‘jokey’ comment in a happier and certainly more relaxed pre-’PC’ age"

The Jimi Hendrix Experience photographed in January 1967 in London.



The Venue

The Kirklevington Country club started out as a petrol station and cafe built in the late 1930s. Several years and several extensions later it became the Kirklevington Country Club known locally as "The Kirk". Owners Tom and Iris Reay built the club up from it's road house beginnings into a music venue with regular dance bands including their own band. By the 1960s the dance band era was coming to an end. Local singer John McCoy was appearing on Tuesday nights with his own band the Crawdaddies. John suggested to Tom that he hired the place for another night and put on other bands. Tom accepted and the Kirk's Sunday night spot went on to feature many top acts of the day. Acts such as the Cream , Elton John, Georgie Fame, Pink Floyd, Procol Harem , Geno Washington , Spencer Davis Group and The Animals all appeared there.

When John McCoy proved what a success he could make of the Kirk he wanted to buy it. Still in his early twenties he had made the Kirk what it was but he couldn't get a mortgage to buy it. Banks didn't lend out so easily in those days and he was young. Tom Reay gave him a private mortgage to buy it and he went on to make it extremely successful.

The Kirk photographed in the 1980s


The interior decor of the Kirk.

Even after the Reays had left the club they still had connections. The family bought the Cross Keys pub in Yarm and ran that.
Tom Reay (junior) said "Rod Stewart was playing at the Kirk and came down to Yarm to get something to eat at one of the restaurants but they wouldn't let them in because they were wearing jeans. We had to do him a toastie and then put him in a taxi back to the Kirk."

Tom junior (who was born at the Kirk) grew up seeing some of the greats of the British music scene on his doorstep. He remembers .....

"People used to come from all over the country to go to the Kirk. They would start queuing on a Sunday afternoon to get in."

"At the time we lived in a little cottage at the back of the club. My bedroom was on the other side of the wall from the stage. I was just yards away. It was like thunder."

"I can remember the night Georgie Fame appeared and I played the mouth organ while he was playing the piano. At the time he was having an affair with Lady Londonderry and she turned up to the club but the place was full, she wasn't recognised and she was refused entry. She told the guy on the door who she was but people would say anything to get in and there was a huge queue. He told her he didn't care if she was the Queen of Sheba she still wasn't getting in!"

During the 1960s, before widespread car ownership The Kirklevington Country Club proved incredibly popular, even though its North Yorkshire location was quite remote from local towns. Weekend nights at the "Kirk" were extremely popular and many clubgoers would catch the early evening country-bus service there, and then be found hitch-hiking home along the roadsides in the early hours.

By the early 1970s John McCoy had given over part of the building to his brothers Peter, Tom & Eugene McCoy to open a restaurant. They then went onto establish McCoys at The Tontine, now a U.K. and internationally acclaimed gourmet dining venue, some 5-miles down the A19, near Osmotherley, North Yorkshire. (See also Baltic Arts Centre Restaurant, Newcastle upon Tyne).

In the late 1970s John McCoy became personal manager of Middlesbrough born singer/songwriter Chris Rea. By the early 1980s after extensive touring, he handed over management to Jim Beach (manager of Queen).

John McCoy sold the club in the mid 1990s. The new owners massively expanded the Club, which meant that it lost much of its previous 'intimate' attraction. The business eventually failed, and the building was sold then finally demolished in 2003. The area where the Kirk once stood is now occupied by a group of houses.



The Support Band

The Real McCoy were a local band who were signed to Fontana Records and released one single in 1967 entitled "Show Me How You Milk A Cow". The owner of the Kirk, John McCoy, was one of the band members.

Left to right ..... Tony Ayres, Ottie McLoughlin, John McCoy, Alan Fearnley, Ken Thwaites, Ray Dales and Terry Sidgwick.


Further Reading

For more information and photos of The Kirk click here