Friars Club founder David Stopps shares his thought of the passing of a musical legend
"He only played Friars Aylesbury once on Saturday 18 June 1977, but to say it was special would be an understatement. As was often the case, Friars presented Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at exactly the moment in their career where they were at the tipping point. Two days before the Friars gig they exploded on to the British scene with their single ‘Anything That’s Rock’n’Roll’ on Top of the Pops.
"Petty and the band came from Florida and were heavily influenced by Dylan, The Byrds, Chuck Berry and American 60’s music. This first UK tour came straight after their support slot on the Nils Lofgren UK tour with Friars being one of only a handful of UK gigs in June where the band were headlining.
"I remember this gig vividly. The support band were Bob Geldof’s Boomtown Rats. I had to tell the Rats that their sound check had to be cut short as the Heartbreakers sound check had over-run and we had to let people in to the main hall. Geldof stood at the back of the group staring at me as if to say “Don’t you tell us what to do”. After the Rats sound check the band produced these huge banners which read ‘Rats eat Heartbreakers for breakfast’ which they fixed to the balcony all around the venue. The Boomtown Rats were ‘competitive’. They stayed up for the Rats set but in the intermission they were told to take them down by the Heartbreakers tour manager.
"The Boomtown Rats went down well that night but when Tom Petty came on the Friars Aylesbury audience went in to overdrive. I remember Tom doing ‘Strangered in the Night’, ‘Breakdown’, ‘American Girl’, ‘Anything that’s Rock’n’Roll’ and Chuck Berry’s ‘Jaguar and Thunderbird’. Afterwards I was with him in the Friars dressing room. He was in euphoric mood after the appreciative and wild reception he had just had from the Friars audience. I remember him saying to me “Wow..they were ravenous”.
"Tom Petty’s last show was at the Hollywood Bowl only a week before he died. I’m reminded of the words ‘Better to burn out than fade away’ and at just 66 so it was with Tom. He somehow personified the spirit of rock’n’roll. Later songs like ‘Learning to Fly’, ‘Running Down a Dream’, ‘I Won’t Back Down’, ‘The Waiting’ and ‘Free Fallin’, will always be with us. If any of those songs come on the radio most people’s reaction is to turn up the volume to as loud as you can get away with.
"He was a true rock’n’roll legend and we still can’t believe he’s gone.
"We’ll miss him."