Remembering a Norwich music venue that played host to the stars

Derek JamesThis weekend a blue plaque will be officially unveiled to remember an old cellar in the heart of Norwich. Not any old cellar, the best cellar. Derek James returns to the Orford.Derek James

This weekend a blue plaque will be officially unveiled to remember an old cellar in the heart of Norwich. Not any old cellar, the best cellar. Derek James returns to the Orford.

It was dark, damp, dingy and at times downright dangerous. It was the Orford - the Norwich cellar where stars were born.

Today, at long last, there is a blue plaque on the side of a building on the corner of Timberhill and Red Lion Street remembering the Orford, the heartbeat of the city in the swinging 60s.

London had the Two I's, Liverpool the Cavern and Norwich the Orford, where the likes of Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Cream, The Moody Blues, Fleetwood Mac and many more household names and world famous musicians strutted their stuff.

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Years after the cellar closed, former Continental/News guitarist and Norwich businessman Harvey Platt, brother of Howard who booked most of the acts, bumped into a spikey-haired chap in Hong Kong.

'This is Harvey Platt of Norwich,' said his friend as he introduced him.

'Norwich!' came the reply from Rod Stewart, 'The Orford!'

No more words were necessary. Just a nod and a handshake. The cellar had an atmosphere all of its own. It was unique.

But it was not just a platform for up and coming national acts; many of the Norfolk rock, blues and soul bands cut their teeth in the awesome Orford - our very own big soul men Lucas and Garry Freeman were star acts along with many of the other bands and artists now playing again at the Evening News Golden Years gigs.

The Continentals, which became The News, were regulars, along with Barry Lee & The Planets and members of the original Offbeats. And they could hold their own against the best in the business.

Douro Potter and his son ran the place in the 1960s, which had been a jazz club in the 50s, and a posh silver service hotel in the 1920s. There were bars upstairs and downstairs.

Astute businessman Howard Platt, along with Ken Rix and Tony Sparks booked the acts.

More than 300 people squeezed into the cellar in its heyday and the doorman had a reputation for being one of the hardest men in Norfolk - Levi McCarthy.

No-one messed with him, with Levi.

'It was the kind of place which makes you shudder now,' recalled Andy Field, keyboard player with The Continentals.

'There was just one rickety staircase and once you were downstairs you couldn't move. It was solid. The best place to be was on the stage and that wasn't very big either,' he added.

Even the juke box upstairs was special - playing records brought over from America by the GI's before they were officially released in this country.

Jimi Hendrix charged �39 for appearing at the Orford and said he would always come back to Norwich to play the cellar for �39 because it gave him his first big break.

'It used to get so hot that the labels came off the bottles - that takes a bit of doing,' - Douro Potter who ran the Cellar in the 1960s.

Many of the Norfolk bands who played the Orford in the 1960s have reformed for the Evening News/ Radio Norfolk Golden Years charity gigs at the UEA on Saturday March 20 and 27.

Groups taking part include:

Lucas & The Band, Garry Freeman & the New Contours, The Offbeats, The Hucklebucks, The Treetops, Mervyn & The Starbeats, Stewy McIntosh. Mister Buss, The Witnesses, The Peppermint Men, Throb, High Mileage and Midnight Groove.

Tickets are �12, �20 for both nights, and money raised goes to Norfolk charities. They are on sale at the Evening News, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich. Call 01603 772175 or click

You can also call the organiser former Zodiac Terry Wickham on 01603 864460.