The Behans years at West Park Pavilion

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Behans West Park


This article by James McLachlan was first published on the BBC Radio Jersey website. It is based on an interview with Behans’ former manager Chris Sparkes

By the late ‘60s West Park Pavilion had moved on from its days as a big band nightclub and become a cabaret venue. The Pav of the ‘50s could count royalty and film stars as regular guests, but the subsequent decade saw the place badly needing needed a new direction.

This new direction arrived in the dynamic form of Joyce and Hughie Behan, who bought the venue in 1971. Re-launched as Behans, it now featured an automated stage, which rose up from the dancefloor, and a world-class sound system.

Manager and DJ Chris Sparkes, who was there from the beginning, believes the Behans were the main reason for the success.

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Looking for a good time

He said: “Jersey was full to the gunnels with holiday makers and seasonal workers with cash on the hip, looking for a good time. So it was the right place at the right time."

"However, it was the Behans who made it what it was. There were so dynamic and astute.”

The Behan era saw some the best live acts in the world coming to play in Jersey.

“We played anyone who was anyone. The bottom line was every week there was always an absolutely superb line-up. "It was more a case of who didn’t play there rather than who did,” Chris explained.

The list of acts that played at Behans reads like a who’s who of musical talent from the ‘70s. Slade, Suzi Quattro and the Drifters are just some of the many that came.

Even rock behemoths Led Zepplin gave an impromptu performance, still the source of interest for many a budding rock historian.

Chris said: “We were very, very lucky to be in a position to afford to bring top acts over.”

“Everything seemed to work so well. There is no better satisfaction than setting a band up, getting the sound and lighting correct and the band starting to play and the audience love it.

That happened almost every night and it was a massive high for us.”

1,000 punters a night

At the height of its powers Behans was crammed with a 1,000 punters on a nightly basis.

Chris describes the sound and lighting as technically superb.

“When an UK artist came over they were amazed at the sound system. It could have been the London Palladium," he said Given the wealth of talent on display at Behans, it is bizarre that one of Chris’ most vivid memories does not involve a live act at all, but rather Queen’s monstrous Bohemian Rhapsody single.

He said: “I remember hearing Queen’s new record on the radio and couldn’t get hold of a copy. I kept saying to the audience ‘wait till you hear this new single’.

“Eventually I got hold of a copy and played it midway through Sunday afternoon.

“I have never seen an audience react to a piece of music. The record stopped and the place was silent. After about a twenty second silence they all started screaming to have it played again.”

The Behans era ended when they decided to sell up in 1980. According to Chris, they had seen the end coming.

He said: “They instinctively knew when was the right time to buy it and when to get out. I don’t know how, they just did.” Chris was contractually obliged to stay on for a year, eventually leaving to join the Opera House. For him the magic had gone.

He said: “I was sad to leave the place when I left it because it had been my life for ten years. I had spread plaster and knocked nails into the place."

The venue still attracted big names in cabaret throughout the ‘80s, but the rock and roll days were gone. Chris said: “Towards the end I really thought the place had become very sad. It was completely dilapidated and basically the bulldozers put the thing out of its misery.”

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