Albert Bonici brought people and communities together through the music and dance network he created in the north of Scotland. People who general didn’t venture beyond their communities, were offered free bus transportation between small towns and villages to come to events throughout the ’60s from Nairn to Aberdeen.
In gathering information on Albert Bonici, I’ve learned that to some promoters in the music business he was someone who made questionable deals as he gained exclusive rights to some of the popular musicians performing in Scotland in the 1950s – ’60s. Of course, there were those would have liked to have gained the trust of managers like Brian Epstein who had a good working relationship with the man. Albert also juggled several small businesses that made it possible to operate without a high tax base though the taxes and debts owed on his Eight Acres Hotel, eventually led to the family selling the second facility they built in the mid-70’s. One promoter called him a “wide boy” [someone making questionable deals] though he remained a respected citizen in the north of Scotland. As Albert grew up in an Italian family, there may have been some stereotyping at play, though anyone who knew him, understood that he was a clever man who “thought outside the box” with his business plans.
Perhaps, his biggest business challenge besides bankruptcy over an early venture with a perfume line, was the Moray Council not renewing his liquor licence for his downtown Elgin business, the Two Red Shoes. Apparently there was a council member who lived in the proximity of the dancehall who complained of teenagers creating a nuisance. The result of not being able to serve drinks in the dancehall’s refreshment area, meant that they couldn’t regulate how much alcohol was consumed to control otherwise tipsy or potentially unruly drinkers. By the late ’60s, the Two Red Shoes was winding down as Bonici booked acts to the Ballerina Ballroom [Nairn] besides Buckie and other areas which may have had something to do with the council’s decision. Of course, touring bands were less apt to perform in a hall that could only hold 500 occupancy.
After a brief venture using the hall as a men’s club “The Flamingo” [hosted by Colin Henderson’s house-band], Albert Bonici had plans drawn up for a hotel which included music venues besides a popular disco run by Vic Fleck and Mr. Bonici’s nephew, John Ruggeri. Some years after the disco opened, a new resident moved into a nearby house from the hotel and began complaining about the noise from the disco. With an ultimatum from the council to turn down the music or close the hotel, AB closed the popular music venue. I couldn’t speculate whether some of the “old school” councilmen had it in for Albert Bonici or we not fans of “beat” or disco music.
Albert A Bonici “A courteous man with a sense of humour” https://scotbeat.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/bonici-obituary-1990/ “I was a jazz man and didn’t listen to pop groups much.” https://scotbeat.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/aa-bonici-bio-notes-jim-wilkie/ Gordon Hardie, who was promoting music in the 1950′s and booking groups at the Beach Ballroom [Aberdeen] said, “I thought that I was the jazz person of north-east Scotland until I met Albert Bonici… his tactics were excellent.” He worked for Albert on many occasions thereafter. “It was a gentleman by the name of Albert Bonici that brought the new wave music scene to the North of Scotland… https://scotbeat.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/bonici-business-sense/ http://www.spanglefish.com/ballerinaballroom/index.asp?pageid=86637 https://scotbeat.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/bonici-business-sense/ Mr Bonici, as he was address by the young folk that benefited from his music promotion business, was well respected in his community though rival music promoters may have questioned his success. He was a highly motivated man who worked with many dedicated people and could be seen working into the night in one of his colourful sweaters. He and business partner and brother-in-law, Ugo Ruggeri, would meet each afternoon for coffee in the family owned Park Café to discuss business. In 1960, after eight years promoting musicians, Albert opened the “Two Red Shoes Ballroom” which served as a local dancehall for residents around Elgin besides functioning for various affairs. Albert spearheaded several businesses and purchased properties between then and 1975, though is best known for bring the Beatles to Scotland for their first tour in 1963, besides building Elgin’s Two Red Shoes and the Eight Acres Hotel… Mr. Bonici was loved and appreciated many that knew and worked with him. Satch McKenzie, a friend who often played chess with Albert [who could multi-task at the same time], described him as a clever and “far thinking person who was way ahead of his time”. Whilst Albert could visualize and create successful businesses, he also survived bankruptcy after taking a gamble. Satch recalls how Albert Bonici spent all his money developing a perfume for an event that the Queen Mother was to attend. “The Queen Mother didn’t go and he [Albert] lost money gained from inheritance” (from his father’s estate). Of course, Mr. Bonici was successful in various ventures including his gamble to pay a large sums of money to the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, for return performances of the group before they came to fame. Albert Bonici brought dance music to NE Scotland through the 1950′s and ’60s introducing many groups who went on to be well loved musicians. He was best known for securing exclusive rights to Beatles performances in Scotland after hosting their first tour as The Beatles, in January of 1963. Albert Bonici [1920-90] was born in Inverness, Scotland to Giuseppi and Angelina Bonici. His sibling were Rossana, Giulia, and Aldolpho. His parents returned to Italy in 1923 and resettled in Elgin, Scotland in 1938 when the war broke out. Aldolpho was killed at 16 during the resistance and the rest of the family established themselves in NE Scotland working in business ventures. Albert’s cousin opened the Park Cafe and Bonici family including Giulia’s husband, Ugo Ruggeri, worked together to grow the restaurant business which included making their own ice cream. Albert, who was an intelligent child who inherited his father’s interest in languages, went off to St. Joseph’s College in Dumfries and got a degree in Engineering. Though initially employed as an electrical engineer for some time, Albert returned to Elgin and helped with the family business which expanded into various avenues. In the early 50′s, Albert enjoyed playing a variety of sports and was a member of the Cricket Club when he booked his first band as a fundraiser for the club. He and his wife Betty also enjoyed dancing to the big bands and eventually organized gigs around NE Scotland. He had a connection with agent Tito Burns of London and brought the Ray Ellington Quartet to NE Scotland in 1952. They played in Aberdeen, Elgin, and Forres which was a hugh success. This helped to establish himself as a promoter, bringing British and American artists to the small towns across NE Scotland and the Highlands. Mr Bonici also developed connections with Hendry “Harry” Robertson, director of popular music television show, “Oh Boy!” [1958-9], and with Jack Fallon of Cana Variety Agency in London. Albert became friends with Robertson when he was a young journalist in Elgin who “helped him to raise money for to stage music shows which he put on in local church halls…” Bonici quote from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjtaR1dC818. Harry later served as composer and conductor for Oh Boy! besides composing and conducting music for other television and film projects]. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Robertson_(musician) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oggZHxLvEDY Albert and Harry reconnected during the period when Robertson [originally from Elgin, Moray] was recovering from TB at a sanatorium [now Elgin Golf Course].” Harry who was married to Lady Ziki Arbuthnot were also friends with Albert’s sister Julie and brother-n-law Ugo Ruggeri when the couple were in London. [Lord Rockingham’s Eleven who hit with Hoots Mon!] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsOqQsUo1pU.. In summer of 1960, Albert opened his dance hall which was connected to the Park Cafe, named The Two Red Shoes, after the British film http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Red_Shoes_(1948_film). To work with the structures already in place, the stage area had a distinctive shape, which years later, Ringo Starr complained of, as the bands were not centered stage, though the dancers had no problem seeing. It was not L shaped as has been said. John Ruggeri, who worked with Albert in 1970. wrote in response to Starr’s comment, “The hall was not L shaped but had a slightly longer wall on one side, you could see the stage in all areas although you may not have been able to see the whole stage if you were standing in the far left hand corner when facing the stage, the “bar” which we called the buffet was upstairs, I think Ringo’s memory is somewhat blurred or mixing the shoes up with another venue they played, as I don’t think anyone was wearing wellies.” Note: It may have been that some came with wellies as there was snow on the ground, but there was a dress code and they were “clean-cut” young people wanting to meet up and dance… Bonici, having already established connections in London and throughout Scotland, had regular bookings each and every week until the Two Red Shoes [dance hall] closed in the early ’70s. He purchased the Ballerina Ballroom, Nairn, Scotland, in 1970 and many great musicians continued to entertain the local youth. Albert Bonici invited guest bands into his office to speak about the virtues of drug-free living. Considering that both Syd Barrett [Pink Floyd], and Brian Epstein [Beatles manager] of whom he had many dealing, it makes sense that Bonici was concerned to the youth of the nation. When Brian passed away from an overdose, he was quoted, “Brian was a charming man. His death came as quite a shock”. Though The Pink Floyd played a memorable concert at the Two Red Shoes, 1967 was a challenging time for Albert Bonici. He was seasoned enough not to let business problems hold him back or the death of a friend. July 1967: Eric Clapton, said that Elgin was the “last time I played with the Yardbirds and it was rough. They just came to fight… not to watch us and they’d boo you off stage. It upsets me very much when you get that kind of audience.” August 1967: The Small Faces didn’t play the Ballerina Ballroom [Naine, Scotland] because of “poor security” but would return on Tuesday. Bonici said that “security would have been adequate” though offered return visits when their was an issue over a performance, cancellations, etc. Ricky Gardiner, of Beggar’s Opera, who remembered an early tour up north, spoke of Albert Bonici as the “treasure of the North”.
Beggars Opera’s first tour of the North of Scotland [summer ’70] “was marked by a request, prior to commencement of the tour, to attend the office of Mr Albert Bonici. We dutifully appeared and to my astonishment he rather forcefully entered upon a speech in which he berated the use of drugs. He informed us that whilst they may provide initial inspiration, their long-term use would lead to breakdown, and a shattering of that which we sought. My surprise was all the more sharpened because Beggars Opera shunned the use of drugs in any case. I acknowledge that this was unusual at the time and spent many a time in dressing rooms observing talented people reduced to a state of uselessness through the use of drugs. I will be forever grateful to Albert Bonici for the courage and determination he showed to us and every other touring band, by his forthright denunciation of the use of drugs.” Ricky Gardiner  Note: The group formed in Glasgow in 1969 and released “Act One” in late 1970. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN3WoKoMgbs In addition to arranging accommodations for entertainers, Bonici offered guest bands food and coffee after gigs in Elgin which was an alternative to going out for drinks. . Week after week, he provided live music for the young people around the north-east Scotland besides an “over 25′s” come dancing night in mid week at the Two Red Shoes. He looked after the acts and those he served on a regular basis and is remembered fondly by many. What Albert Bonici is most noted for was hosting the Beatles on their first tour of Scotland with Ringo Starr 3Jan63. A week after their 5 day tour of the north-east, Albert and colleague/co-promoter, Andi Lothian flew to Liverpool to re-book The Beatles. Two Red Shoes, house band leader, Alex. Sutherland, Andi, and others were impressed with the young group enough to encourage Bonici to visit Brian Epstein’s office at NEMS in Liverpool. He left the office, having gained exclusive rights for subsequent tours of Scotland later in the month. The contract [see Beatles Contract] was unprecedented as no band was making £500 per show at the time which Albert agreed to. “In fact, this tour was to put the north-east on the map as far as popular music was concerned and for the next 20 years or so, many of the small towns in Moray, Nairn, Banff, and Buchan were to enjoy a feast of British and American music.” from “Blue Suede Brogans” . Albert Bonici’s accomplishments and notoriety had more to do with diligence and work than luck that was suggested by one rival promoter. He was family oriented and stopped for a coffee in the Park Café with his brother-n-law Ugo “John” Ruggeri though kept very busy between the Park Café,Two Red Shoes, Norco Records, and various ventures that he took part in. Ugo, who passed away, in ’91 [a year after Albert’s death], had a close relationship both as business partners and good friends. I asked John Ruggeri [Ugo’s son] what prompted Albert to give up on music promotions in 1975 after 23 years of work and he replied:
“It must have been around that time , the reason being that a lot of big names had started booking their own venues realising that there was more money to be made coupled with the fact that if you wanted to book them they were asking crazy money and the venues up here didn’t hold enough people to make it profitable. Also we were in the throws of building the Eight Acres Hotel which took up a lot of his time.”
Kate Reid; The Bonici family “had an ice cream shop and the old man [Giuseppi] had three wheeler ice cream bike. The shop was opposite county buildings. Albert was a very private person. His sisters were happy to work quietly in the background. He was a man of great wisdom and was devoted to Betty. [Albert] was the brains behind many a business. From accounting, freezer shop, modern dancing enterprises, garage, pc holdings, photo copy service, entertainment agency, park cafe also offering outside catering, and Eight Acres Hotel.” Kathleen Duncan; “Albert was a gentle soul with a kind word for everyone… As far as I know Albert owned a perfume factory in Elgin in the premises of Thompsons cod liver oil. This was in the 1940-50′s era and I think he went bankrupt. Undaunted, he opened the park cafe with his sisters husband Ugo Ruggeri and it became PC Holdings. His wife ran the cafe and he started Modern Dancing Enterprises which was entertainment for the adjoining red shoes ballroom. Every night at tea time after a hard days work Albert could be seen sitting in the front of the Park Cafe. They lived in the flat over the Café and were real night birds with the ballroom and all that. And I’ve just remembered Albert always wore a cardigan. Most nights he would have a steak followed by a Knickerbocker [knickerbocker glory was an Italian ice cream in tall glass with fruit popular in the ’60s].” Gillian Ogg: “They always employed family [in Park Café and Two Red Shoes]. My mother-in-law Charlotte worked in Park café and upstairs with Betty. My husband worked at the dances when he was a teenager and I worked at eight acres for years. Most of the family worked there at some time or other. I used to spend a lot of time there when I was little, auntie Rosanna made the best chicken curry ever. Albert was a really funny man I always had fun we him. I remember [Albert] hiding his Mr whippy [ice cream drink] under his carry so auntie Betty didn’t see him, he wasn’t supposed to have any with the diabetes. They used to waitress at dinner dance’s and functions. I just used to get fed… typical Italians feed you. I used to sit on the back stairs that went from the café to the two red shoes and watch everything going on and watched the food coming out the kitchen. Rosanna was always there cooking, and Betty Allan. I liked running round the dance floor before opening time when we got the place to ourselves.” In 1970, Albert brought his nephew, John [Ugo’s son] into the entertainment business when he purchased the Ballerina Ballroom in Nairn, Scotland. As was the practice with earlier venues, he offered bus service to the larger hall and brought in several popular acts through the 1970s. Bonici was driven as he was intelligent and thoughtful. His nephew, John Ruggeri, in response to another promoter’s comment, wrote; “I don’t think he was lucky, I think he saw an opportunity and had the guts to take it.” In my interview with Graham Nairn, it was said how Albert Bonici was able to “think outside the box” in business dealings. To illustrate how Albert Bonici operated, Grame Nairn mentioned that Albert hired top designers to brand a perfume line developed in Elgin. He gave the same consideration for promoting bands. Besides the respect he was given from business associate, he was appreciated by those who benefited from his enterprises and consideration. Though he wasn’t musically inclined, Mr. Bonici tried his hand at various projects including writing lyrics. In his personal effects, it was learned that he was writing an espionage novel before is death in 1990. “It was a cold war thriller in the John le Carre vein set in the 1960s but was never finished”. A family member who read it said that it was well written though unfinished. Former colleague, Marina McLennan; “I worked for Albert for a number of years under the business name of P.C. Holdings. He and Betty were a lovely couple. Albert funded a number of local businesses to start up many of which are very successful and continue to this day. Mind you Albert was no fool.” Nephew, John Ruggeri; “I never actually took over from Albert as a promoter but always worked with him in the ‘LCB Agency’ as it was called, LCB stood for Little Cross Buildings. My parents involvement in the Cafe apart from my Mother’s early days was much later when we moved from London to Elgin in 1960. My Mother lived in Elgin until she got married and then moved to London as my Father had retail business interests there. They spent a lot of holidays in Elgin and decided that the quality of life was far better up here, sold up and moved.” As a promoter, Albert did more than book halls and bands and place ads in the newspapers. He started Norco, the first independent record company and recorded his house bands besides talented local musicians such as Johnny and The Copycats and Windy Miller. He also provided transportation to the music events around NE Scotland. The bands and and the music goers were looked after and the cost of a night of entertainment was kept within one’s budget. “Buses were free Fisherman’s hall Buckie on a Monday, two red shoes on a Thursday to see some top artists, Keith on a Friday, and Huntly on a Saturday night. great nights, great memories”. Besides buses into Elgin and some of the small villages surrounding, Bonici offered transportation from Elgin to Nairn after purchasing the ballerina Ballroom some 20 plus miles away. In business, he was level-headed and got the job done. J Ruggeri wrote, “Albert’s temperament was pretty even, he didn’t lose his temper very often as he always said ‘once you lose your temper, you’ve lost the argument.’” Though rival promoters may have been bothered that he maintained exclusive rights on several musicians touring in Scotland, Albert Bonici was thought of as a kind and charitable man who made a great contribution to his community. Excerpts from Jim Wilke’s Blue Suede Brogans: “Albert Bonici was an intelligent child who inherited his father’s interest in languages. He was educated at St. Joseph’s College in Dumfries and the family would holiday alternately in Scotland and Italy. As luck would have it, the outbreak of the Second World War found Albert and his mother in Scotland, while his father, younger brother, and sister were in Italy, and this precipitated a move to Elgin, where a cousin had a business – the Park Café. ‘I used to pay 2s 6d a week to a Murphy’s pools agent, who filled out the coupon. One week, I won a few hundred pounds which was quite a lot of money – and it made me feel uneasy. I decided to cancel the coupon and a young journalist named Henry Robertson who worked on the Elgin Courant got to hear of this. He was a good musician who had been to university but had develp[ed TB and was writing newspaper articles while he recuperated in Elgin. We became good friends and to help him raise money to stage the music shows which he put on in local church halls, I organised a Valentine’s Day dance. It made a fair bit of money. My wife and I were keen dancers, but we had to travel to the Northern Meeting Rooms in Inverness to see the big bands, because they only did the major centres. The circuit was something like: Monday, Edinburgh Palais; Tuesday, Dundee Palais; Wednesday, Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen; Thursday, NMR Inverness; and Friday and Saterday, Green’s Playhouse in Glasgow. No one wanted to know about Elgin. My brother-in-law [Ugo Ruggeri] had a connection with Tito Burns, the London agent who handled the Ray Ellington Quartet, and Burns said Ellington would come up if three venues could be found. There was still a great demand for dancing at this time so it was not a terrible great risk. The big bands toured once a month so I put the Ellington Quartet in between visits. They did the Beach Ballroom on a Wednesday, the Assembly Rooms Elgin on a Thursday, and Forres on a Friday. It was a big success…’ THE BEATLES Jan 1963 ‘I was a jazz man and didn’t really listen to the pop groups much. On the Monday, I travelled to Aberdeen Station and was picked up by my associate, Gordon Hardie. We went as usual to Chivas Restaurant in Union Street, only this time we were surrounded by waitresses clamouring, “Who are these Beatles?” The group had apparently visited the restaurant earlier in the day and made a great impression. I don’t know if it was their personalities or the smart blue suits and rain coats into which the name “Beatle” was sewn, but they had certainly impressed the girls, and that made an impression on me.’ [ quotes from Albert Bonici] https://scotbeat.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/aa-bonici-bio-notes-jim-wilkie/ Bonici biography: https://bonici.wordpress.com/
This was the beginning of my beat music project in Elgin:
To explore the 1960s beat movement in NE Scotland [contracts, videos, and photos] visit https://scotbeat.wordpress.com