You couldn’t make it up. In the early 1970s, New Jersey born Kate Pierson, the glamorous, bouffant redhead front woman of band The B-52’s, was a barmaid in working class boozer, The Anson pub and hotel, in Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, UK.
|The Anson, Wallsend, as it looks today. Image by A McCarron via geograph.com|
Wallsend? The former shipbuilding town at the end of Roman Emperor Hadrian’s Wall? Yes, that Wallsend.
She had mentioned this little gem of pop trivia to the music press in the late 70s and early 80s. Smash Hits magazine, on 6th September 1979 revealed: “Kate Pierson, petite keyboard player and vocalist, had also travelled in Europe. She once worked as a barmaid in Wallsend in North East England. "I just wound up there with no money and that was the only job I could get," she recalls. After six months pulling pints in a foreign land, she returned to America and ended up in Athens”.
In a Rolling Stone interview in 1980 the tale appears again. Kate is quoted as saying, "I was a barmaid in Newcastle." Newcastle upon Tyne is the nearest city to lowly Wallsend town.
I knew nothing of these articles however. I was told this story by my co-author, Carl Taylor, as we drove to an event, promoting our book about Newcastle’s historic Riverside music venue, which was being held in Wallsend library. I grew up in Wallsend and my grandfather was a regular in The Anson so I was intrigued. Carl, my senior by several years, used to work in Wallsend in the 1980s. He remembers that a friend, who he is sadly no longer in touch with, told him Kate Pierson, of The B-52’s had worked as a barmaid in The Anson. Even then it sounded far-fetched but he remembers going into the pub back then and discovering that the management kept a photo of Kate behind the bar. They were aware that their former barmaid had gone on to bigger things!
January 2012 and I can’t get this story out of my head. I urge Carl to try to get back in touch with his friend for more info. I go for lunch at The Anson and find that the current management have no idea about any now-famous former staff member. In fact, I get some very strange looks. I tell Carl this and he looks to investigate further, having not managed to hook up with the friend. He finds the Rolling Stone article online and then Kate Pierson’s Facebook. He posts on her wall:
“Hi Kate Did you work in a bar here in Newcastle before the B52's formed? Can you remember which one?”
And just over a week later, we’re into February now, she replies (it appears her ‘n’ key isn’t working):
“The a son hotel a d pub in wallsend on Tyne”.
So, from the horse’s mouth, so to speak! I ring the The Anson pub and tell them. They are amazed. I post this lovely little tale on in the ‘North East Music History’ Facebook group, on my own Facebook timeline and on Twitter. The crowd goes wild. This then leads to me tweeting Kate, @THEKATEPIERSON. Her ‘n’ key is working again, or she’s on a different device:
Me: "What do you remember about The Anson pub in Wallsend? Did you actually live there? Thanks x"
A: "yes! First I lived with “ old Mary” -she was a real character -then had “bedsitter” apt"
Me: "What year was this? I'm from Wallsend and my grandfather drank in The Anson in the 70s!"
A: "it was 1971 or 1972? Was his name Gus? There was a Gus -t"
Me: "No, he was Dick Bowden. I was born in 73 so I just missed you! Thanks for the info - North East Music History!"
Kate Pierson, of the B52’s. Image by aresauburn via Flickr
I didn’t hear back if she remembered my grandfather, so I guess not.
So there you go Wallsend. Some much needed glamour for you. And a lost snippet of pop trivia rediscovered.
The North East Music History Facebook group is at: http://www.facebook.com/groups/northeastmusichistory/