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Southsea Past and Present

My Dog Sighs and Manfred Mann. By Emma Beatty

My Dog Sighs installation
Did you manage to go inside My Dog Sighs installation in the derelict ballroom of The Queens Hotel? Upstairs, above the abandoned casino that had been the haunt of trespassing teenagers? Some of whom claimed to have seen the ghost of an old barman still floating about?

It was an amazing event for Southsea – breathing much-needed life into one of our many abandoned buildings and putting Southsea on the map for its wealth of street artists. It was quite an achievement for the artist whose huge eye murals watch out all over the city. He funded the art installation through crowdfunding, even having to re-mortgage his home. The project took a year and a half to complete, and included a series of sculptures of strange little figures that he called the Quiet Little Voices. The beautifully lit show wove in all the familiar strands of his art – the empty drinks cans, huge single staring eyes with the elegant curving eyelashes, and a new strand of smaller pieces dedicated to the 300 pigeons who roost in the building, including a sort of giant wicker nest, delicately woven, as a centre piece.

This latest exhibition was a very rare chance to go into this local building that has sat empty for some 40 years but was once a thriving part of Southsea’s music scene.
The eerie glitter ball and abandoned red velvet bar are still so evocative of a time that must have been so full of life.

Manfred Mann play Kimbells
By strange chance, I happened to chat about that very same building a few weeks ago with Paul Jones – lead singer of Manfred Mann – who remembered playing there in the ‘60s – when it was Kimbells, one of the liveliest music venues in the city.

“As a band, Manfred Mann regularly used to play Kimbells on Osborne Road every Thursday. It was a great venue. They had tea dances and things in the early ‘60s. I always liked that view, coming off Osborne Road, looking across the Common out onto the Solent. That’s changed very little. All the big bands used to play there. It was quite a scene.”
“I’ve got vivid memories of Portsmouth live music back then – especially seeing Roy Young in the ‘50s — the legendary rock and roll singer, pianist and keyboard player — at Portsmouth Guildhall. It was a fluke that we got to see him, we had tickets for Craig Douglas, but he had tonsillitis and had to pull out. Roy took over – our win; he played and sang like a cross between Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.

“I grew up in Portsmouth, and it always gives me a nostalgic feeling going back to play the King’s Theatre there as I remember being dragged in as a child to see shows like Carousel, and Lonnie Donegan.

“I live in Essex now, but went to school in Drayton and then Portsmouth Grammar. You could say I learned to sing at Portsmouth Cathedral where I was a choir boy.

“The city’s changed radically since then, I remember the Guildhall used to look out over beautiful trees and parks. And the mudlarks too, down between the station and the dockyard. When the tide was out, they used to dive for coins. It was extraordinary acrobatics. What a way to earn money.”

Legendary pioneers of British Rhythm & Blues, The Manfreds, are coming to the King’s  Theatre on 17 October as part of a UK tour with Georgie Fame. Founded as Manfred Mann in 1964 with hits such as ‘5-4-3-2-1’, ‘Pretty Flamingo,’ and ‘Mighty Quinn’, they disbanded in the ‘60s and reformed as the Manfreds in 1991 with original singer Paul Jones alongside founding members Mike Hugg and Tom McGuinness.

My Dog Sighs’ Eye
The Manfreds, photo: Judy Totton

Posted in: Art & Culture