A nod at our neighbours (3) - The Bridge House, Canning Town

Friday, 1 July 2016


Regular readers will know that we have featured a number of spectacular music venues in Forest Gate (The Upper Cut and Lotus Club, both on Woodgrange Road and the Earlham Grove Music Academy) on this blog on a number of occasions.  This post strays a little further afield, to the sadly departed Bridge House pub/venue in Canning Town, whose heyday was a decade or so after Woodgrange Road's at their prime.

The large east end boozer this blog features is long gone - having mainly been replaced by the expanded Canning Town fly-over and associated road works. It sat on the banks of Bow Creek and was the first pub a traveller came across, leaving Tower Hamlets and entering Newham on the A13.

The pub had a long history as a drinking spot for local gas works' employees and ship builders from nearby sites, before Terry Murphy took it over in 1975.
This post is heavily dependent on Murphy's  book The Bridge House, Canning Town: memories of a legendary rock & roll hang out  (see footnote for details). Terry put together his story of the venue with the help of Newham author and resident, Brian Belton.

Terry Murphy, Bridge House
 landlord, impresario and book author
This blog is grateful for their work and presents Murphy's contemporary recollections of names that featured at the Bridge House. Not all of which, perhaps, have stood the test of time!

Like the Walker brothers at the Upper Cut and the Johnson brothers at Woodgrange Road's Lotus club, Terry Murphy came from a boxing tradition - indeed, he, himself was the first British boxer to fight "live" on Independent Television, when it started in 1955.  The "being able to look after yourself" that boxing gave these venue promoters did much to ensure there was little or no trouble in them from large crowds of alcohol fuelled young men and women who frequented them.

Murphy's family has become a fusion of boxing and show biz traditions - his son, Glen, was later to have a starring role in the London's Burning, television drama series. Other members of the family have played key roles in pop music, music promotion and record production.

The cavernous Bridge House was an ideal location. Its hall was licensed for just under 1,000 people, although at its peak as a venue in the late 1970's, almost double the number squeezed in. The pub became an important rehearsal venue. 

The logo that signified the Bridge
 House record label, based on
 representation of the pub
Murphy recalls: "One afternoon we had Manfred Mann's Earth Band on stage, Paul Young's Q Tips on the first floor and Remus Dawn Boulevard in the cellar."

Under Murphy's watchful eye, the venue promoted gigs and gave many well-known names in pop and rock their first, or an early chance. The pub launched its own moderately successful record label (Bridge House Records) and its memory survives through this web site.

Laurie O'Leary, former manager of the west end's legendary Speakeasy Club had this to say about the Bridge House:

U2, Dire Straits, Iron Maiden, Squeeze, Q-Tips, Tom Robinson, A Flock of Seagulls, Rory Gallagher, Remus Dawn Boulevard, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Huey Lewis, Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Chas n Dave and a host of others all have a history of appearances, both playing and watching their mates in this biggest and best of all London pubs.
Terry Murphy was always on the look-out for talent and wasn't afraid to experiment: "We moved through Heavy Rock, Funk, American West Coast music, to Blues, Punk, New Wave and Psychedelic", he reflects.

Below are some of his recollections of the life and times of many who featured at the Bridge House:

Iron Maiden: a good band. A really well behaved crowd too. Very heavy metal.  "I'll book them again". In fact, they went on to appear over 40 times at the Bridge House.

Iron Maiden at the Bridge House
U2: "A nice band, worked really hard. No chance of making it, not different enough. I might be wrong though (!), have to wait and see.  Yes, I would give them another gig". They made their debut at the venue in 1979, with a total audience of 18.

U2 played to an audience of 18 at
 the Bridge House in 1979:
 "no chance of making it"


Meanwhile, a small pub in
Limerick claims the first siting!

Murphy gave the north London pub band Dire Straits a gig and says their influence "changed the Bridge House from a Heavy Metal joint to a Blues-type pub".

Annie Lennox: was in a band called The Tourists before she became half of The Eurythmics, which had its first gig at the Bridge.

The Damned: "Played a few gigs for us (in 1977) - always quite good".

Alison Moyet: "We helped Alison, she sued us" (over a record release).

Steve Marriott: After The Small Faces and Humble Pie, he put together Blind Drunk and they played at the Bridge.  One night the police came to arrest him (on a fraud charge - which was later dropped).  They were persuaded to let him do the gig first, or risk a riot from the 800 or so who had turned up for it.

The Troggs: "Only attracted small, small audiences ... were loss makers".

Lindisfarne: - fought on stage - not a great success.

Nashville Teens: Really disastrous night.

Chas and Dave: "They played many times for us and were sensational". They recorded a live album at the Bridge.

Joe Brown: he had wired the pub as an electrician in the 1950's and returned in the 1970's to do a few gigs. His daughter, Sam, also played, accompanying Jools Holland, whose first band Squeeze, also played the Bridge a few times.

Billy Bragg: Terry Murphy says he gave Billy an early break - but the favour wasn't returned.

Tom Robinson Band: Murphy gave the band an early gig at the Bridge House, but was wary of the reception they may have received in the east end, with their explicitly gay messages, in the 1970's. He needn't have worried, Robinson recalls, in the book:
We had a storming show, and by the end of Glad to be Gay most people had gone: 'hey, brave stance, fair play to 'em' and applause-wise, the song was one of the high spots of the night.
Tom Robinson Band: "Bridge House
 one of the warmest, most responsive
 audiences" ever played to.
Ironically, I remember that night taught me exactly the same point the song was supposed to be making; don't pre-judge people or make ignorant assumptions about what you think they are going to be like. The Bridge House actually had one of the warmest, most responsive audiences TRB ever played to.

Blues scene and heard


Terry Murphy became close friends with Rory Gallagher - sharing an Irish heritage - and had him playing to crowds at the Bridge a time or two, to ecstatic audiences.

The inimitable Rory Gallagher on
 one of his flying visits to see his
 friend, Terry Murphy, at The Bridge House
Nine Below Zero: Still one of Britain's top jobbing blues bands - stared life at the Bridge, almost as an offshoot from Rory Gallagher's band, and were originally called the Stan Smith's Blues band.

Ex-Manfred Mann front man, Paul Jones, would come along and blow his harp, and gradually put together what was to became the Blues Band at the venue. They became regulars at the Bridge House, and recorded a live album there.
Alexis Korner, Paul Jones
 and Gary Fletcher, jamming
 with the Blues Band
 at the Bridge House
They, in turn, attracted others to the venue, including the legendary Alexis Korner and band member Dave Kelly's sister, and blues chanteuse, Jo-Anne Kelly.

Forest Gate connection


Let Terry Murphy tell the story:

"John Bassett was another regular at the Bridge. He played guitar, wrote songs and managed bands. He also had his own music studio in Sebert Road, Forest Gate. We used his studio a lot. Depeche Mode did their first recordings at John's studio and Steve from Some Bizarre recorded there, as well.
A very youthful Depeche Mode, with
 Terry Murphy, about the time they recorded
 their first tracks - in Sebert Road!
Chas Thompson produced some great demos for Wasted Youth (a Bridge House favourite band, which included a young Murphy) at John's place. In fact, we used some of them as masters and released them. Chris captured their sound quite beautifully.
Site of John Bassett's studio, and
 launch pad of Depeche Mode, today
Footnote 1 When the Bridge House was CPO'd ready for the A 13 widening scheme in the late 1990's, it was clear that it would remain empty for a couple of years, before demolition and the roadworks begun. Newham Council arranged for it to be used as a hostel for homeless families during this period. The facility was operated by the Renewal Programme, under the management of Alan Partridge. The entertainment connection, however, did not prevail, as this was not the ex-presenter of Radio Norfolk.

Footnote 2 This site is grateful to the source of most of the content photographs, above, which we freely accept are copyright of Geoffrey Young and others mentioned, although not specified by individual photo, in the  Terence Murphy's book: The Bridge House, Canning Town: memories of a legendary rock & roll hangout, published 2007 by Pennant Publishing. This post offers only a glimpse of the wealth of stories and recollections contained within the highly recommended book, available at Newham Bookshop and other outlets.

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