The New European: Staging post on road to stardom

For a few years at the height of the Sixties, the epicentre of cool was to be found between junctions 16 and 17 of the M1. Sophia Deboick reports on an unsung cultural landmark.

If you wanted to be among the hip young things in 1967, your best bet wasn’t London hotspots like the Marquee, the Bag O’Nails, or the UFO, but was to be found 80 miles north of the capital, between junctions 16 and 17 of the M1.

Watford Gap Services, known as the Blue Boar, was Britain’s first motorway service station and a key stop-off point for gigging bands hacking it up and down the motorway between London and the North as the beat boom exploded.

As unlikely as it seems, those services at Watford Gap took on such mythical proportions that ‘when Hendrix first came to London’ – as Ronnie Wood later recalled – ‘he thought the Blue Boar was a club and wanted to know who was playing there that night.’ In the early hours of the morning, the Blue Boar was a just as much a culturally significant space as the trendy London venues and a rare place where strange creatures with long hair and eastern-inspired fashions could be spotted in the wild.

Those who genuinely remember the 1960s describe the Blue Boar at that key time vividly. It was a place where ‘the counterculture met the straight culture’, confirmed influential folk rocker Roy Harper, and ‘crushed velvet trousers outnumbered truckers’ overalls’ at the service station’s cafeteria, according to Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. Chris White of The Zombies, who played hundreds of UK gigs in the years following the success of their 1964 classic single She’s Not There, said ‘Lines of musicians would queue up for their hot food before climbing back into ailing vans full of guitars. It was the feeding trough of the mid-60s Beat Boom’…

The New European, 23 August 2018, pp. 34-35.

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