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The Mad Pad

"You should call it 'The Haven'"
"Yeah, right… that's just the kind of 'nice' name we were tying to avoid.
What's the point of opening a club for street kids and giving it a name to suit the churches!"

"The Mad Pad" opened for just two weeks in the summer of 1965 and stayed in a collective memory that's almost as significant in the Christian music world as Woodstock is in mainstream pop culture. It was a milestone, a crossroads, where young Christians who happened also to be rock musicians, asserted themselves and stopped trying to pander to traditional views.

The Mad Pad was lethal. It had been a pet-store and the shop was in a mess when the team took it over. The worst thing about it was the wiring; Don checked a couple of the power points to see if they were live; they were. But he happened to touch the tester onto the bare wall - and that was live too! Getting that shop ready for the opening would need more than a broom and a duster. The place needed a thorough electrical check, a rigorous clean up and several buckets of paint. And they had two weekends to do it before the opening.

The driving force behind The Mad Pad was the first Christian rock band, The Pilgrims, who had been playing in venues all over England and gained quite a reputation. But they wanted to make more of an impact on the kids in their own town. Bromley is a busy suburb of London but, in the 1960's, it still called itself "Bromley, Kent" and regarded itself as a country town. For all that, it was a busy place with a large population of teenagers. The Pilgrims were used to playing in nightclubs and discos in Central London and decided to reproduce that scene in their own hometown. A few nights after the club opened, Ian (one of The Pilgrims) was talking to a local churchgoer who stopped him in the street outside; "You're doing a good job young lad, but you ought to call it 'The Haven' or something that sounds more appropriate to a Christian mission". He'd missed the point. The Pilgrims didn't want to sound 'right' to the churchgoers; they wanted to sound right to the kids.

But the task for the next two weeks was not to make it sound right, but to make the place safe and hygienic. They wouldn't make many friends if they electrocuted half the visitors and poisoned the other half. So the team went into action. The team consisted of the band members, their wives and girlfriends and a big crowd of supporters from a local inter-denominational group called "Youth Evangelism". By the time The Mad Pad opened it showed no signs of its former dilapidation and looked every bit the nightclub it was supposed to have become.

The Mad Pad was a showcase for the best in Christian rock music in southern England. The Pilgrims were there, of course, but so were The Envoys, The Crusaders and several other bands and performers. There was no preaching; just solid music, with two bands playing each evening. The club used two floors, with the crowds generally milling around and chatting on the ground floor and the groups playing upstairs. It was popular, with a hundred kids coming in each night; and the summer heat ensured that they got through coke and crisps by the crate load. It made an impact on the locality and on many individual lives. And it showed what can happen when the church goes out to meet people on their own terms.

For The Pilgrims, "The Mad Pad" was a turning point. After just a few weeks of practising with the band it was Tony Goodman's debut and the completion of their switch from pop rock to a raw blues style. It was the point when the group turned their back on church based evangelism and concentrated on secular venues such as nightclubs, discos and youth clubs. It was also the period when John Hubbard first showed signs of the illness that would later prove to be cancer and would kill him within a year. Everything changed after The Mad Pad.

After two weeks, The Mad Pad closed down. It was a one-off. An original. A temporary venture that did what it was meant to then faded into memory. But what a memory!

It's a good thing they didn't call it "The Haven"

© Derrick Phillips 2005