Ian Lee’s account of his childhood ‘apprenticeship’ in music, in 1950s Tibshelf, and his journey through the 1960s as a member of Chesterfield band, The Blueberries ..
This post developed a ‘bug’ and it has been a struggle to finally re-post it, but the photographs and pics of Ian’s paintings have not yet been added, but should be restored within good time (DMcP) ..
I am indebted to the friend of a friend for directions that would eventually lead to the crossroads. We were round his house one evening when he pressed on me a slim volume with a yellow and green dust jacket. It was called The Country Blues by Samuel B. Charters and was published here in England in 1961.
Little did I appreciate the influence that this book already had and would have. I was familiar with many names and sounds of musicians who had migrated from the South to Chicago and had been recorded by the Chess Brothers in the 1950’s. Charters book, in contrast, concentrated mainly on blues singers who, in the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, scratched a precarious, itinerant living drifting from plantation picnic to levee camp, roadhouse honky tonk to dance hall, riding boxcars or flagging rides. The romance of a road movie perhaps ? Forget it. This activity took place in Klan country and these fellows were black. A charge of ‘vagrancy’ could be levelled at individuals walking home from the store. Talking back was ‘disorderly conduct’. No trial, no hearing, just the prospect of wearing stripes on a chain gang or becoming, ‘strange fruit’. It was all there in the lyrics, the roads, rails, women, liquor, violence and injustice all expressed using an imagery which often contained wit and humour as well as emotion.
At the time I must admitI found it a bit difficult to get into. There were no pictures and having skimmed through chapters devoted to Blind Willie, Big Bill. Lightnin’ and Leroy I at last found something familiar and homed in one discussing the early career of Muddy Waters. Muddy apparently left Mississippi in 1943, but as a young, tough, field hand singing and playing on Saturday nights, it stated that the biggest influence on him was the recordings made by a fellow Mississippian. His name was Robert Johnson. I was intrigued initially by the sheer ordinariness of his name. I think there was a Robert Johnson in my school. In fact when I considered it, my schooldays were spent amongst several kids with names that could have been those of blues singers; Willie Stone, Ruby Hollins even John Hurt. But of course, we were white and they would have been the names of slave owners. I backed up a few pages and there was a whole, albeit brief, chapter about Johnson. It was frustratingly sketchy. The second paragraph admitted, “Almost nothing is known about his life.” He seems to have been a young man, perhaps even in his teens, who was poisoned to death at the hands of an unknown female days after recording the last of his twenty-nine recorded performances.
From this time on, his name seemed to crop up regularly in conversations, interviews and articles. The efforts made by blues research specialists over the years, not least Charters himself, have yielded few further details. As a number of musicians who were his contemporaries were being unearthed and interviewed, their anecdotes only fuelled Johnson’s mythic status. Son House, Charlie Patton and Willie Brown told of the time they had advised Robert to stick with blowing the harmonica because, frankly, his guitar playing stank. Within six months however, when their respective paths crossed again, his playing was so good he left them open-mouthed. Robert’s preoccupation with the Devil was obvious from many of his lyrics and rumours of a deal done, probably at the crossroads, another of his songs, in which a soul was exchanged for ‘the gift’ began to colour his story. The crossroads and his shadow may be glimpsed in mine.
“ Uumh, standing at the crossroad, I tried to flag a ride. Standing at the crossroad, I tried to flag a ride.
Didn’t nobody seem to know me, everybody pass me by. ” Crossroad Blues 1936
Revived by Elmore James 1954 ‘Homesick5 James 1962 Cream 1968.
Learning the Game
On the bandstand of the deserted Victoria Ballroom, Neil had set up his Telefunken Tape recorder. It was band practise, Sunday afternoon. New tunes would be arranged and knocked into our shape. The first song we ever tried to write was to be taped as well as some new covers we had worked on. It was an achey, existential lament entitled,
’’(Before) The Moments Gone”. I had the words scribbled out on a page ripped from an old exercise book and its dance-friendly tempo had been arrived out in previous dry runs. It sounded okay and we all felt happy to add it to our fast changing repertoire. It was to be published in 1966. The loping riff came from Chicago blues but lyrically and in delivery. I’d like to think that nods in the direction of Don Covay might be detected. Covay hailed from South Carolina and was a prolific songwriter and consummate stylist of ‘down home soul’. The verses documented how when you’re enjoying yourself, time seems to fly by. So, while it lasts, you should make the most of it. The hook stated,
“It’s all over before it’s begun,
And Brother, you can’t stop the setting sun. ”
The middle eight asserted,
“Security just breeds illusions.
You gotta draw your own conclusions.
Don’t be influenced by convention.
Make the moment your intention. ”
It was to be the opening track for the Blueberries great unrecorded debut album, “Pi”. That’s Pi, from the Greek, denoting the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi, geddit, Blueberry ? Okay, so that never happened, but the song did end up on an L.P. by ‘Shape of the Rain’ who sadly evaporated in the Summer of Love. About this time Mac, my co-writer, and I went our separate ways. He got hitched and one of his Wedding snaps made the pages of the Daily Mirror. Hey, the groom wore white as well ! Anyway, he became an entrepreneur. Later, I too got married after going to College and getting a Bachelor’s Degree.
These random meanderings, recalling individuals and events personally encountered during the 1960’s, may go someway to explain how I, in common with countless others stepped into rock and roll shoes. Many of our number are quite unable to hang them up, if only in the lives we lead in our heads.
The Sixties have repeatedly been picked over, edited and explained and have been lost in a permanent wave of nostalgia. Coming from the passive fandom of Fifties rock ‘n’roll, we craved some action. We were a huge market and gradually became aware that we could become part of the culture. To shake up the world. Who knew, some would even get to own it ? Getting a take on this period is like watching a looped version of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ with its cast that included the soon-to-become very,very famous, plus Horst Bucholz and that other bloke. Brad whatshisname.
Cards on the table. This is not a saga of teenage angst and alienation, nor is it or does it dwell on the results of abuses be they of a sexual or chemical origin. Now this might prove to be commercial suicide but no matter. Nor are there any motor vehicles being driven into swimming pools or even Television sets being thrown through hotel
windows. Simply, its about a motley agglomeration of young men and women who heard and recognised as special, something in the grooves of certain records made in the U.S. that had begun to filter through to us on this side of the Atlantic. This was how we responded.
Autumn, 1960, my first close- up experience of a live group. Don’t think we ever used the term, band, as it brought to mind the music my Dad liked. Brass and Military. Or the music provided at the Tea Dance. It was only one step down from orchestra. You see, “group” was the word ! Booker T. and The M.G.s.( Memphis Group) and a bit later, the Spencer Davis Group and later still, “Groupies”. What would you get from Band?
Bandies ? Oh, never mind. Let’s not go there.
I’d already been to stage shows with my Mum. Billy Fury at an end of the Pier in Great Yarmouth where we were holidaying and later on spotting him with an armful of fishing requisites, leaving a tackle shop in the town. Hey, rock ‘n’ roll ! The same holiday provided the opportunity to witness the delights of. Wee Willie Harris, “Cuddley” Dudley and Vince Eager. A package tour from the Larry Parnes Organisation. Pames was a big- time Manager who sold pop in bulk. He represented whole battalions of singers and the names he gave them were often the best bit. The show was very short, maybe forty minutes. My Mum and Aunt, along with others in the audience, felt we had been shortchanged. Slow hand-clapping broke out as the safety curtain descended. I supposed most present were used to a bill that included a comedian, a troupe of dancing girls or at the very least, a plate spinning act, a magician or dogs acting out a football match. As we all shuffled out into the foyer, my Aunt tried to start a chant,
“I demand to see the Manager! I demand to see the Manager!”
No others took it up. Perhaps the word “demand” made it a little too difficult and longwinded. Whatever the reason, it did not have crowd appeal. What’s more, her lone voice, was stilled as a man in a dinner jacket leaned over and politely intoned,
“I’m the Manager madam, what can I do for you?”
A hugely embarrassed and slightly deflated Aunt Daisy outlined our grievance. A few minutes later she came away with complimentary tickets for the venues other shows being performed during our stay.
I have never wholly subscribed to the idea that the music was exclusively youth orientated. Which generation you belonged to has never struck me as the dividing line between those who get it and those who don’t. As the years go by, much of the music I discovered at this time has been more sustaining, not less. I did not die before I got old and neither did the music.
I’m not sure if it was Billy Fury’s penchant for the turned up shirt collar or more probably Elvis that inspired us, but here we were, Tony, Fred and me, all turned up and trudging along the road leading to Newton Village Hall, about three miles from our homes. Tony was a couple of years my senior, confident, easy with the opposite sex and sporting a mousy blonde quiff. Fred, too, was older, a curly headed extrovert and possessor of an infectious giggle. To Fred, cool was a concept only embraced by others.
Admission to the dance was one shilling and from several hundred yards distance that unmistakable echo sound of a live drum kit drew us in. We quickened our steps a little but slowed as we came into view of the tail end of a queue filing into the hall. Guess who joined them first ?
“The Newtones” were on the stage. Their line-up, a singer, three guitars and drums, and repertoire, was modelled on Cliff and The Shadows. The musicians opened with a couple of instrumentals. The three guitarists shuffled forward and back in a rough approximation of unison and at moments of climatic tension they turned swiftly at right angles and kicked one leg out, somewhat limply. After this, Mick, the singer, would bound on from the wings. His look, peroxide white hair, owed more to Shane Fenton, The Fentones frontman, who were based in nearby Mansfield. Shane hung on in there, making the Top Twenty in ’62 and then stepping back into the national limelight in the 70’s as a bizarre parody of himself and other rock boys, all black leather with matching pompadour and the new name of Alvin Stardust.
As the group went through their paces, sporadic dancing ensued. Couples wreathed in clouds of “California Poppy” and wearing ankle socks and flared skirts or brightly coloured tops with ski-slacks, moved to the beat, sometimes provocatively. It has to be said, very few boys were involved in this ritual. The girls were, in the main, familiar to us from either school or youth club and we acknowledged them with a nod from time to time. “Hello Jenny, hello Jill.” The jive was the order of the day, and to me at least, looked bewilderingly complex. These evening sessions at Newton were my first real introduction to dancing as a social activity and I quickly identified a trend. Attractive, potential partners, more often than not, were partnered by a girlfriend who, in every other respect, might well be perfect, but, in purely physical terms, left much to be desired. Your best friend would be no help! How could you break up these couples? At this time I had little or no solution. Tony took a spin, taking on two girls. So that’s how it’s done. How flash is that? We didn’t do much dancing. Instead, we’d approach the stage and watch the group from close quarters or hang around the perimeter sipping pop.
“The Newtones” were okay. But it was the physical feel of the noise that thrilled. How they must have tired of us as the weeks went by. During breaks in their sets, when Freddie Cannon’s “Tallahassie Lassie” or Michael Cox’s “Angela Jones” issued from the record player and, the little hatch at the back became besieged by thirsty punters, we would seek out the musicians and ask if they would play songs we had a sneaking suspicion would be unknown to them. What complete berks we were. Smart Alec, musical fascists. We couldn’t have felt more superior wearing jackboots. We couldn’t, as yet, put our fingers on it but, a musical taste had taken root that The Newtones and their ilk failed to satisfy.
I was becoming aware we were fast approaching the last chance saloon as Mick thanked us for being here and hoped to see us all next time. Same time, same place. Tony knew what this meant. The last Waltz! Waltz, is a bit of a misnomer but we’ll let that pass, more importantly, for me at least, it meant a jive-free zone. He was ready alright and gave his quiff a reassuring stroke before striding off in the direction of the chosen one.
By now, the dance floor was very sparsely populated but a few more boys were represented than before. Fred was nowhere to be seen but right here was Jenny. A tentative, shall we? And we were holding hands, then slowly moving together, mouthing the lyric,
“Many a tear has to fall but it’s all in the game. ”
Mick was in full cry, emoting like a cantor and then, all too soon, the song’s final chord hung heavy and drifted towards the exit and with it went Jenny. Looking back before disappearing she said,
“Thanks, see you next time, O.K?”
Out on the street, I catch sight of her boarding the Mansfield bus. I turn in the direction of my bus stop and am quickly caught by Tony, Wilf, Maureen , Jean and John.
“Anyone seen Fred?”
The question went unanswered as we turned the corner and there he was, perched on top of the bus shelter. Sitting inside was a rather large girl we knew as Ruby with what looked like her souvenirs, Fred’s tie and one of his shoes. As Fred scrambled down to join us, she gave him a sharp thwack with his loafer. We didn’t ask. Wilf, a Buddy Holly obsessive, he had the specs and everything, was already into the second verse of “Rave On.” Tony turned to me and asked how things went and, on hearing, “see you next time,” insisted that I must learn to dance or I’d end up having to spend most the evening in conversation. We both shuddered.
Saturday morning, Tony and I go swimming at Sutton Baths. Sutton-in-Ashfield is a small market town situated on the approaches to Mansfield. Admission was gained through a foyer with a ticket booth like a small cinema. Here you were handed a locker key attached to a plastic disc by way of an elastic band. This allowed you to wear it on your wrist. The pool was basic, a rectangle of water reeking of chlorine, three feet deep at one end and six at the other and hovering over this, a diving board. From this, kids jumped, dived, looked or just fell in, usually with an accompanying descending, whoa! The narrow walkway around the perimeter was patrolled by a paunchy middle aged man dressed in a white Tee-shirt, flannels and deck shoes. Sporadically he would blow a whistle and remonstrate with someone in the water whose behaviour was deemed too boisterous. We’d splash around for an hour or so. We were not the best swimmers in the world. I could never get the hang of breathing, but boy could I hold my breath. I guess Tony improved somewhat because he later joined the Merchant Navy. Saturday mornings were popular and one rarely had more than about six foot of clear water in which to perfect the crawl, breast or dog paddle.
One of us would then say, “You fit?” and we’d climb out of the pool, find our lockers, dry off and put our clothes on. This usually meant dropping, at the very least, one sock onto the flooded floor. Before leaving the changing room, we would check our look in the tiny mirror screwed to the wall. Red rimmed eyes, not attractive, but nicely sculpted damp hair.
All done, off we squelched through the market to the Happy Snack Cafe, a couple minutes away. Once inside, we would order a couple of coffees made with warm milk. In the corner, already singing, was the real reason I enjoyed these Saturday mornings. We
sauntered over, for here was a magnificent Rock-Ola Jukebox stacked with twenty records. What an imposing piece of furniture it was. Musical notes were screened onto the front window. An ornate grille lit up in four colours and the side pilasters glowed red and yellow. Behind the changing mechanism was a quilted gold cloth picked out with jewelled mirrors. After counting up our spare change and deciding on a selection, one of us would ‘drop the coin right into the slot’ and we would then peer through the little window. Immediately, the chrome edged stack kicked out the appropriate record tray and the turntable rose majestically to receive the disc. Finally the tone arm would swing into play. This mechanical ballet was mesmeric and the sound, the sound was out of this world. My choice was always. Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”. It was a marriage made in heaven. Little did we know that boxes like this were living on borrowed time. The scramble of big time show types to have one in their lounges would push up their values so high they would be auctioned at Sothebys.
Pop historians, of a certain age, almost always categorise this period as the doldrums and although I concede that a Golden Age had gone cold mainly as a result of conscription, incarceration, religious conversion and death, it should be pointed out that statistics thrown up by the Hit Parade were not the place to look. Here on the borders of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, new shoots were beginning to show. We were the first teen generation to grow up through rock. It was not force-fed but had to be tracked down and properly assimilated. When “Jailhouse Rock” came out. Cliff Richard was well into his teens, we however, were eleven or twelve. An important gap! Cliff was already formed and unable to really adjust. He was always destined for ‘showbusiness’ and to become an all round entertainer as the alternative was still to be determined.
Mum made me a parcel of sandwiches so that I could leave school on the dot of hometime, and catch the early screening of, “Don’t Knock the Rock”, the second Bill Haley film, at The Odeon in Alfreton, To my horror, on offering my money and asking for a ticket at the kiosk, it was refused with a curt,
“It’s an ‘A’ son. You need an adult to accompany you.”
What to do? I hung around outside the cinema and watched a few individuals pay their money. I didn’t like the look of most of them. I eventually got up enough courage to approach a young couple. I explained my plight, as to why I needed them to buy my ticket, and ensured them that, once inside, I wouldn’t sit with them. They giggled, ‘agreed and I gave them the money. The film wasn’t that good, feeble plot and only fleeting footage of Little Richard and The Moonglows although, I imagined, it was a good deal better than that evening’s T.V. and the sandwiches had become a bit dry.
We had lived through Skiffle. Many got guitars as Christmas presents. I got as far as the second chord and that essential third proved problematic. Not so ‘Chick’ who always had to leave our games of football early for his piano lessons. He took to it frustrating easily and what’s more, his sister, Jessie, quickly mastered the intro’ to “That’ll be the day”. Jessie had another string to her bow and it was she who was responsible for the design and knitting of the sweater my Mother always referred to as my ‘La-la’ jumper. Chick and I, both had these blue sweaters with bars of musical notation, treble cleff, crotchets and quavers embroidered on white and black lines across the chest. 1 wore it when I plucked that ungainly tea-chest-bass in a turn at a Youth Club Concert. I was told I sang okay. Oh yeah, bring a little water Sylvie!
Skiffle produced dire music, but as it came down from American Roots Music, Jug Bands, minstrel blues and field hollers, it did introduce us to exotic composers like, Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) and Gus Cannon. The big thing was its do-it-yourself appeal and the creation of a guitar/group consciousness. The essential flaw was its lack of muscle, being in the main, acoustic. However, with the introduction of Hire Purchase in 1960, electric guitars, 30 watt amplifiers and a basic drum kit were no longer unattainable. Session player, Bert Weedon authored, “Play in a Day” and got a series on T.V. Some were off and running. Others, me included, were just running seemingly up to our ankles in sand.
With foundations laid in skiffle music, The Shadows stepped forward initially decked
out with the same Fender guitars and line-up we had seen Buddy Holly and The Crickets employ as we sat glued to the T.V. for their appearance on ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium7. Hank Marvin became the catalyst for the new electric period and hence. The Newtones. Church Halls the length and breadth reverberated in sympathy. Tremelo arms glowed hot from overuse. Obscurantists turned away, finding, The Ventures, The Fireballs, The Fendermen and Santo and Johnny. Okay so I couldn’t play a guitar but I was a whizz on tennis racquet, cricket bat and T-square.
Meanwhile back on the dancefloor. Little did we appreciate that rhythm and blues group, Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, (who we later discovered, had infamously contributed “Work with me Annie” to Rock and Roll’s list of risque, banned from the radio, records), had addressed and come up with a neat solution to my dance dilemma. In 1959, Hank had invented a new dance step and the music to go with it. It was one in a long line of “shake it baby” workouts that were a staple of R. & B. It was put on the ‘B’ side of “Teardrops on your letter”, released and Flank made only loose change.
One year later, Chubby Checker was in a studio making a note for note copy of that ‘B’ side. This time the record company had worked out its marketing strategy with fine precision. Unlike Hank’s original, it was to be aimed at white teenagers, by way of Dick Clark’s highly influential T.V. Show. Very soon everybody, I do mean everybody, was doing the Twist. A world-wide fad. Even Muddy Waters recorded a song with the word Twist tacked on to it.
Although this helped jive phobics like me, in that you didn’t need to anticipate your partner’s moves anymore and touching your partner or partners never came into it. In fact who needed a partner? After a minute or two’s instruction, the Twist allowed, even encouraged, a degree of personal interpretation. Sometimes, very personal. The Twist was significant only in that it was the start of the sort of free-form dancing that from this point on would become the norm for teenagers. I could handle this. In fact I discovered I was a bit of a mover. But from an aesthetic and spectating point of view, 1 missed seeing girls spinning around like dervishes, affording flashes of stocking tops and underwear. It swept away the tradition, 1 admit of only a few years standing, of “The Jive Competition”. When the travelling Fair came to our village or any of the surrounding villages, the best time was the night of the Jive Competition. Jimmy was the smallest member in our class at school. He later enjoyed some success as a jockey, but at this time in his life, his biggest lift was being recognised as the younger brother of Danny Scott.
A Fair was always a heady mix of sensations. Rock ‘n’ roll out of doors, the aroma of hot dogs and candy floss and the acrid smfell of axle grease whenever the young men manning the rides approached. This, incidentally, appeared to have some magical aphrodisiac properties judging by their popularity with the girls.
When time came for the dodgems to be reined in and parked around the edge of their track, we all swarmed onto the railings to get the best view, Danny and his girlfriend blew away all comers, time and again. There were a couple of dancers, presumably professionals, who appeared in the Bill Haley films demonstrating Rock and Roll moves,
but this home-grown couple had them all and more. The slide through, legs astride, the over the top, the splits, they never missed a beat. They also carried their own music and rarely have I heard Eddie Cochran’s, “C’mon Everybody” sound better than on the Dodgem’s, bass-heavy, P.A. system.
My growing appetite for things American and rock and roll in particular was still hard to satisfy. A treasured item of ephemera picked up on a visit to Mum’s family home in London was a book titled, “Rock and Roll Yearbook” It contained page after page of photographs of purveyors of the genre, but little in the way of text. The cwell known’ had more than a single page each, so there was several images of Haley, Presley, Domino, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers and The Platters. Subsequent pages however were my first introduction to, a mischievous looking. Chuck Berry. Bo Diddley, wearing one of them Texas string ties, the kind that has a cord threaded through some kind of medallion, or something similar, situated near the throat. Little Walter, caressing a harmonica and zoot-suited black groups with names like, The Penguins and the appropriately attired, Turbans. What sounds did these people make?
You may hear something on Tony Hall’s show on Luxenburg 208, but laying hands on it was another story. Here in the sticks, a Record Shop, that is a shop specialising entirely in selling records, was thin on the ground. Who knows, perhaps it was still seen as. a commercially chancey venture. Records were often to be found tucked away in shops dealing in white goods or more appropriately, radios, tape machines and gramophones or establishments hung with musical instruments and sheet music, still seen as the best spinoff from a tune’s exposure.
My home was in Tibshelf, a small ex-mining village of about two thousand souls. It was situated equidistant from Chesterfield and Mansfield. Dotted along the one main street were five pubs, a cinema, three schools, a church and church hall, a chapel, a Doctor’s, a Dentist’s, a Chemist’s, a railway station, a couple of garages with pumps, an abattoir, a chippy and half a dozen shops selling a range of stuff from sweets to ironmongery. One of these shops was “Eleanor Timmins”. Miss Timmins was a frail, kindly woman who maintained a couple of cardboard boxes full of 78’s in amongst other varied stock which included, toys, books, knitting requirements, greeting cards and novelty ornaments. These boxes once contained my copies of “Be Bop a Lula” and “I’m not a Juvenile Delinquent”. For a few years, singles were available in two formats, 78 and 45 r.p.m. Forty-fives were smaller and advertised, at the time, as unbreakable. I would have preferred the Gene Vincent disc in this format, as I had recently been presented with a record player with the capability of three speeds, but the six shillings was burning a hole in my pocket as I fingered its purple label before finally succumbing.
My Dansette was very smart. It’s box was finished in a grey-flecked vinyl fabric. Bisecting the lid were six pin stripes, three yellow alternating with three of blue. The pick-up contained a stylus and was as streamlined as a ladies thumb. Many machines of the period were supplied with an auto-changer, a contraption that facilitated up to eight records being stacked on the spindle and automatically played one disc after another. I feared for the longevity of my records. I think I’d read somewhere that this practise wasn’t recommended and I’d insisted on a single play machine. How prescient was that?
Bernard (Chick) played his records on his parents console model gramophone. It accommodated only 78’s. I rarely entrusted my discs to this monster as it had a pick-up which housed a needle like the point of a dart and was fashioned like a bear’s claw. We
did however have many enjoyable sessions. It played quite loud and for the sake of adults in other parts of the house, a cushion would be strategically stuffed into the space in front of the speaker.
One recently acquired and prized 45 which obviously avoided Chick’s equipment was Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’ b/w ‘Wee Wee Hours’. It was on the London label and although in pretty good nick, it had previously seen service on a juke box. Its triangular centre was missing and I had to get a plastic insert. Were they known as spiders? It came into my possession by way of me relinquishing a Freddy Bell and the Bell Boys record in a swap. Throughout the tune, Berry’s guitar sprays out a machine gun burst of notes over a chuggin’ piano and booming bass. There was urgency but also a suppleness and I played it to death. Apparently Chuck had been persuaded into changing the original lyric. Substituting ‘country boy’ for ‘coloured boy’. As hideous as this compromise might seem now, this was the 50’s and this change did allow ‘Johnny’ to symbolise the likes of Elvis and the multitude of others intent on chasing a dream of, ‘Maybe someday your name’ll be in lights’. Alright, go Johnny!
A photograph of my paternal Grandfather has him, starched collared and stiff with a luxuriant walrus moustache, at the controls of the Methodist Chapel’s pipe organ. This talent for keyboards was inherited by my Dad who for years kept a harmonium in the spare bedroom. From here he would pump out hymn tunes and bits from The Hallelujah Chorus. Regrettably this tradition foundered with me. I did mess around on this old harmonium. I enjoyed working the pedals and pulling out the stops that created the sound of a Shackleton bomber, but alas I couldn’t produce recognisable music.
It must have been around this time that I borrowed a couple of long-playing records from Gary, the older brother of a school friend. I think I just wanted to utilise my record player’s ability to cope with thirty-three and a third revolutions per minute. The sleeve notes of one in particular referred to the artist as ‘genius’ and used the terms, ‘blues’ and ‘soul’ to describe the contents. I recognised his face, dark glasses and name as I remembered him looking very cool and studious on a page in my Rock and Roll Yearbook. So his music was still part of the rock and roll canon! Indeed, two of the most familiar tracks, ‘I got a woman’ and ‘What’d I say’ quickly became standard fair on the group scene and almost always the treatment was over-fast. The sunglasses and neatly trimmed hair put me in mind of a jazzman, a music that held little attraction for me. Oh, and Ray Charles was blind! Of course, that would account for the shades.
On closer listening, I was able to make tentative connections with Dad’s repertoire of sacred music, and the sounds the harmonium made, although it must be said. Dad could never be accused of swinging. I read that Ray Charles mixed church elements with secular music, but who knew what that was about. His voice got me straight away. It had a grain to it, and the way he used it, sometimes mournful, often exuberant, but always in control, was, to me, a revelation. I’d sing along and although the sounds I made weren’t remotely like Ray’s, I was perhaps inadvertently picking up something in the way of phrasing. The backing musicians, now this was a band! There was some jazz here but not that noodling about that turned me off. What is more, the girl backing singers, The
Raelets, did considerably more than the regulation, ‘yeah-yeahs’ that had become a cliche for backing singers of the period. This was different, and I would grow to appreciate that here was a window onto a culture as alien and fascinating as the dark side of the moon. Over in Sheffield a young Joe Cocker also had this music on permanent play. Yes indeed
Many of the artists responsible for the records that grabbed our attention had, with the exception of Elvis, visited our shores playing selected City Halls and Granada cinemas. I had’no means to consider long journeys on public transport to see any of the first generation of rockers. I do remember studying the photographs in the Guardian Journal of Haley and the Comets arrival at Nottingham’s Midland Station. Crowds lining the platform welcoming the unlikely hero and going wild at the sight of that kiss curl.
Tony, Gordon and myself did manage to catch a package show at Mansfield Granada. Johnny Burnette, Gary U.S.Bonds and Gene McDaniels were touring the country together. I can’t pretend we were avid fans of any of the headliners but we were keen to get a first hand whiff Of Americana.
Phew, the Granada was indeed a palace for the people! A marble foyer, a grand, sweeping staircase leading up to a landing furnished with red velvet sofas. Burnette was a glamorous Elvis wannabe, great hair but a tad short and stocky. Good voice though and he had notched up a string of impressive pop hits. It would be a few years on, about the time of his untimely death, that I got to hear his earlier efforts with the Rock & Roll Trio. Together with his brother, Dorsey and guitarist Paul Burlisson, he had produced an enduring set of crisp rockabilly sides in which a spluttering, urgent and spikey guitar sound was central. Mick Green’s playing with Johnny Kidd’s Pirates was to be a reprise.
In Mansfield, a group with the name of the Flee-Rekkers backed Burnette on his hits. For the rest of the show, the Flee’s did a proficient job in supporting McDaniels on his ‘lOOlbs of Clay’ and U.S.Bonds, who closed the show. Flis records were studio creations of an exciting party, crowd noises, whoops and hollers and exhortations to one Daddy Gee. On stage he manfully tried to engender a similar atmosphere and we all enjoyed the call and response introduction to, ‘New Orleans’. He was certainly the rawest thing on the show, managing to display some element of the red meat that many were saying, in error, had passed its sell by date. Strangely, after a short run of chart successes, he disappeared completely only to resurface many years later alongside the Blues Brothers.
I said a hey,hey, hey yeah.
Friday nights in Chesterfield, or more precisely a Youth Club up Newbold Road, was the focus for a disparate group of individuals who batted about names like ‘Berry’,‘Diddley’ and Hooker like others present, batted about ping-pong balls. These surnames were strictly adhered to, like so many ‘fellows of the Third Remove’. A range of ages and musical enthusiasms were represented and the club’s Dansette was treated not only to chart records but an esoteric mix of jazz, rock and roll, rhythm and blues and country music. Significantly, music whose origins were, almost always, rooted in the Southern States of America. Younger members got to hear ‘Titch’Taylor’s collection of old blues stuff and ‘Mac’David McPhie’s jazz selections. David was a revered individual, he worked in a Record Shop. Incidentally at this time, Jazz, as a musical category, had a very catholic remit embracing everything from Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus, through Blind Lemon Jefferson and Robert Johnson to Nat King Cole and English bands like Chris Barber’s and Alexis Komer’s.
A book much thumbed and shared around in the club was ‘The Country Blues ’ by Samuel B. Charters. The flyleaf instructs, ‘Pass this to a friend’. It was produced for sale to members of The Jazz Book Club for six shillings. The brief appendix admits that few of th6 recordings discussed in the text were available on English labels and suggested import shops would be the best source. Luckily, twelve miles away in Sheffield, ‘Violet May’s’ was to be found going someway in satisfying this demand. Discussion at the club often referred to Violet’s ever-changing stock.
After transferring to Chesterfield’s College of Art and Technology, as friends John and Fred had a couple of years earlier, I was alerted to Violet’s whereabouts and would nip over to Sheffield on Wednesday afternoons. My timetable bore the legend, ‘Games and Leisure’. Many at the College were from the Sheffield area and were all staunch supporters of local boys, ‘Dave Berry and the Cruisers’ or as they would intone, “Berr- eh”. The Cruisers’ set was apparently, almost entirely, dependent on material found on Chess Records based in Chicago. It was heavily rumoured that Violet’s was where the mother lode was found.
The shop was quite close to the bus station on a street of back to backs. It was pokey and little attention had been paid to interior decoration apart from posters and publicity material for local venues. Over by the small counter was a signed photograph of “Berr-eh” Behind the counter sat this ancient looking female, the fabled Violet. The space was packed to the gunnels with boxes full of 45’s and L.P.’s. Half a dozen browsers would cause a crush.
One Wednesday afternoon I was excitedly flipping through a box of albums having already pulled out Chuck Berry’s “One Dozen Berrys” and “Berry is on Top”. I noticed the artwork on both sleeves employed strawberries as a visual motif, that was cute, but hey, these sleeves were constructed of stout card. Both had a small triangular piece missing from a comer. They were imports, Chess Productions! I began to muse on that missing corner. Who did this and why? Someone suggested, “Customs” as the who, but the why was lost as the shop, a haven of bluesology, reeled to a sound of something distinctly Caucasion and harmonies, not a little Celtic. This was followed by that
excruciating, ‘needle across the grooves’, sound of rejection and Violet’s anguished screech. The four of us in the shop looked at each other then towards Violet for some kind of explanation. She was studying the label of the offending record held in her hand, “ The bloody Alexander Brothers. I’m sure I ordered Arthur Alexander!”
Dare we laugh? I don’t think so. Violet had a fairly unforgiving countenance at the best of times. Uncharacteristically however, she felt the need to explain the mistake further, adding,
“ Arthur Alexander, you know, ‘Shot of Rhythm and Blues’, ‘You Better Move On’ ? “ We did know and made understanding and commiserating noises. Well a tut with a jerk of the head.
Then back to business, “Are you having those two luv?”
Our paths may have crossed, but as yet contact had not been established with this Youth Club clique. They were, almost certain to be part of the throng that massed at The Victoria Ballroom in Chesterfield when Dave Berry and the Cruisers made their debut in town. The Vic’ was a ‘Top Rank’ venue and although I’d seen ‘Screaming’ Lord Sutch and Little Richard perform there, the more usual diet was Irish showbands and groups whose talents had escaped scouts and rarely troubled the Record Companies.
The Vic’ was on the second floor of a row of business premises that shared, Knifesmithgate as an address. The exterior styling was Mock Tudor. After climbing marble steps and paying at the little window at the top, you entered through glass panelled doors with dainty net curtains. The dance floor stretched out, polished, sprung and bejewelled by under-floor lighting which was dotted over it like lily pads on a pond. Down one side were large bays, into which comfortable sofas had been positioned. Oh yes, the Vic’ had class! You could look down into the street below through the windows but it was more usual for heavy maroon curtains to be drawn across them.
At the far end was a low stage, about two feet high and on it was usually a drum kit which had been set up on a raised deck in the middle towards the back. Flanking this would be guitar amplifiers. At the opposite end to the stage was a balcony with stairs up to it on either end. This was a good spot for viewing the entertainment and checking out the company. Running along the back of the balcony space was a bar from which nonalcoholic beverages were on sale. Below was the artists’ dressing-room and excitement increased as the ‘Group’ emerged and made their way to the stage through, sometimes a crush of dancers. Some musicians left their instruments displayed on stage whilst others precariously picked their way through the throng, carrying theirs. You could plot their progress as guitars swayed this way and that like tall grasses in a field. The huddle down the front would part to allow them to clamber onto the stage.
Frank Miles, The Cruisers lead guitarist, was ready to rock from the moment he left the dressing room door. His orange, red Gretsch was a thing of beauty seen only before on film. Eddie Cochran played a similar model in his appearance in, ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’. The Cruisers mounted the stage in complete darkness. Tiny red lights glowed on the amps. The stage lights only came on during the introduction of their opening number.
It was immediately noted that Berry was conspicuous by his absence. The opening song, a version of Jesse Fuller’s ‘San Francisco Bay Blues, featured the bass player, John Fleet on vocals. Fleet was an entertainment himself, nodding his head like a rhythmically turned in pigeon. It was as if every one of his bass notes ran up his spine like a whiplash. Boy, did they look cool in their matching shiney, silver grey suits ! Next, was Frank’s tour de force, an instrumental, inspired by Chuck Berry’s ‘Guitar Boogie’. It’s difficult to describe how good they sounded and this was only the beginning. The Main Man eventually emerged from behind the amplifiers to the accompaniment of the bass riff from Buster Brown’s ‘Fannie Mae’. Fie moved very slowly even though the tempo being played by the Cruisers prompted otherwise and occasionally he adopted a freeze frame pose. He had a crop of black hair and wore a black leather jacket with the collar turned up. This he hid behind, rarely showing the whole of his face. He was using a hand microphone and with his free arm traced a strange, slow moving, hand ballet around his head. This was picked out by a single spotlight.
There followed whole chunks of Chicago Rhythm and Blues; Berry, Diddley, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker and a song that had been one of my favourites for years,. Buddy Flolly’s, Bo Diddley inspired, ‘Not Fade Away’. The Cruisers did the,’bop,bop, a-bop-bop’ answers to the verses. If Wilf had have been here, he would have readily joined in too. All this was driven along by Frank’s stop chords and guitar slashes.
This was some stage act. While the group really rocked. Berry, this sly, spidery, frontman, sold the stuff. There was no way of taking your eyes off him. Both sexes transfixed. The act, worked out and honed on the cramped stages of Workingmen’s Clubs and Pubs in and around Sheffield, deserved and was ready for a wider audience. Grundy, alias Berry, no prizes for guessing who the stage name paid homage to, was an electric welder but not for much longer as this outfit would be in a London recording studio very soon and causing a National stir soon after. Before then, whilst playing a local Workingmen’s Club, he very nearly caused a riot when inadvisably calling out an invalid ‘bingo’ as a joke. The upshot being that those present who were not ‘affiliated’ were barred from playing a card in future. Bingo was no joking matter !
Rumour has it, that the reason the Cruisers were sadly, to appear on only a solitary ’Dave Berry’ record, was the fact that, at their debut session at Decca, it took them eight hours to nail down the tracks. Let’s face it, the Decca technicians had little or no experience at recording this sort of music and I can imagine John and Frank’s frustration at not achieving the sounds they made playing ‘live’ or on the records in their collections. They would want to push those needles into the red zone. I could take or leave Berry’s voice, but admit it was distinctive, an invaluable trait as the powers that be led him towards more ballad-based material. They also brought in session musicians like Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page. This was a shame really as Britain was about to be gripped by a fascination with the blues and the Cruisers would have been a hot property. But hey, what did they know?
So the Cruisers were to be used only for the touring shows around the Cinemas and had to adapt to playing along with other vocalists. After backing Dusty Springfield, her complaint was that they were a little too rough, ready and loud. One could see how this combination might be ill matched. When Dusty went solo after leaving the family firm, the Springfields, she did show an appreciation of Pop/ R.& B, but not for her the shouter style of an Etta James, (now she would have given the Cruisers a run for their money.) Dusty closely followed examples laid down by successful American Girl Groups such as Shirley Owens with the Shirelles and the feel, timing and tone she possessed always gave her efforts a righteous sound even if on record she had to rise above fairly limp undistinguished British orchestral backing.
Sadly the original Cruisers soon fell apart, John and Frank both cbming home to join Joe Cocker’s Big Blues and more of that later. Anyway, I sat on the bus home that night thinking how do I get some of that?
Well, it was goodbye to steam trains but, in Wales their language had to cope with the introduction of hovercrafts. This was real space age stuff but they tackled it in the same lilting way as they had with bric-a-brac. We got the big Deltic diesels. Our next door neighbour was a porter at our local railway station and it was she who was chiefly responsible for Tibshelf winning, ‘best kept station’, when it meant something. Beds of flowers picked out the name, buckets stencilled with L.N.E.R. used as hanging baskets. What a picture! What’s more, she and her brother had loved Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and would play one of his records when I went round there. Anyway this line gave us easy access to Nottingham one way and Manchester the other.
Running along parallel tracks with my increasing fascination with certain strands of popular music was a growing devotion to form. I cannot put my finger anywhere near it but I do know however, that it coloured my thoughts and began to influence my choices. I wanted an identity beyond that of a schoolboy, but not that of a workingman.
It was not articulated, but I sensed that John, of all my friends, felt much the same, and he was an early mentor. We would use any spare money in our attempts to look sharper, act smarter and have more fun than our elders. It began with the hair, quiffs, no way and no Brylcreme. We brushed it forward or fashioned a spot-parting. We requested the Barber leave a little more length at the back and sides.
We both did a lot of drawing and a way of looking at things developed. We used the word ‘stylish’ a good deal. We also knew instinctively that the readily available, the commonplace, was best avoided. We played football together and our favourites were usually the schemers, inside forwards, the goal makers. They were skilful and played the game with a certain grace and flash. Some were Hungarian others were Brazilian or Argentinian. We knew we had to have Adidas boots, it was the low cut, soft leather and of course, the three stripes. Although this may seem like the confessions of a couple of designer fetishists, that misses the point.
We were provincial lads surrounded by ‘Biker and ‘Ted’ culture and although this was an older youth cult, young men still trooped to Montague Burton’s clutching a list of modifications for their ‘made to measure’, (‘full Monty’s’), three piece suits. They would specify long jackets in the Edwardian style. The staff at Burton’s complied with all but the most bizarre wishes and some very elaborate collars, cuffs and waistcoats resulted. For us though, this was not a direction we would care to take. The modem world had taken hold and we were beginning to tap into this, bigger, better, faster culture.
My first suit, bought without undue parental intervention, was an off-the-peg, two piece. •The peg belonged to a shop in Walthamstowe E. 17. It was Italian in styling and constructed in a light-weight, lovett-coloured1 material. The jacket was short and boxy, had three-button-fastening and did up quite high. The young man in the shop suggested I team it with a pink shirt, but at the time, I was not quite ready for that. I preferred a sky- blue, tab-collar and a shiney, navy blue. Slim Jim tie. The tab-collar shirt had a thin strip of fabric joining the two ends of the collar, in this case rounded, by way of a small button or popper. When threaded over this strip, the knot of your tie was forced outwards
producing a waterfall shape when seen in profile. Some preferred the no-tie look. Not long after this, I acquired a chocolate brown suede jacket, which I wore until both sides of the hide were smooth. I was unaware that a breaking-in period was necessary with this garment. When wearing it over a light coloured shirt, very soon little specks of suede transferred themselves to the shirt like ants on a jam sandwich. A black woollen polo neck sweater proved itself a better option.
My Dad had some problems getting his head round certain items in my wardrobe. It started when I got my first pair of Levi’s. Blue jeans, to his way of thinking, were ‘overalls’ and a proper pair of trousers should be worn underneath them. No Dad no! What’s more, he had not spent all his working life in white-collar jobs for his son to go out looking like a labourer. Casual clothing was an anathema to him. He tried hard to make that soft-collar polo shirt, that Mum had bought him for the holidays, accommodate one of his collection of ties. It must be said to hilarious effect. His off-duty clothing would always involve a stiff collar, a tie and his only concession, a cardigan. He did however, in the main, approve of my booted and suited look. The boots of colirse had elasticated sides and became known as Chelsea boots.
As I said earlier, some of my new circle of friends at College were bussed in from . – Gleadless, on the outskirts of Sheffield. They were regulars of The Black Cat, a Club which was held in St. Aiden’s Church Hall and they had got tickets for a Dance featuring a group from Liverpool with a record out. Word in the music press was, ‘catch ‘em while you can’. The promoters had recognised the demand, and had switched to a bigger venue. The Azena Ballroom at Townend, Gleadless.
I joined Jack, Dick, Dot and Stan on a street about fifty yards from the Azena’s swing doors. Milling around were, quite literally, hundreds of kids with girls being in the majority. They seemed intent on using their collective mass to push on through the one open door. This was so unlike anything any of us had experienced before that we instinctively broke into a trot to get a closer look.
It was mayhem and it took me a little while to recall where I’d heard that noise before. It was on T.V when inadvertently tuning into Girls’Hockey from Wembley. We quickly ascertained that many of their number were without tickets and quite a few were not from hereabouts. The young man by the door was getting increasingly agitated and was only allowing admission to, at a rough guess, one in ten. ‘We’ll never get through that lot’ was the consensus we very quickly reached, but all was not lost. Stan knew the lie of the land. We followed him down an alley running parallel to the Azena’s length. It eventually widened into a car park. We could see’a back door but also, leaning against it, the burly figure of a youth dressed in a St. John’s Ambulance Brigade uniform, smoking a cigarette. , r
“It’s a madhouse in there!”
In deference to his uniform we’d clutched and were ready to flash our tickets. We need not have troubled ourselves.
“Ay up Stan, how have yer bin?”
He flipped away his cigarette, opened the door and led us in.
“I’ll warn you, it’s a bit of a squeeze”.
We found ourselves in a small space in which trestles and table-tops were stored. Suddenly, off to the right, a door opened, flooding, what we now saw as a corridor, with light. Standing in the doorway was a figure dressed in a dark suit with a collar trimmed with velvet. He wore his hair in a modish, brushed forward, helmet style. It was a bit longer than any of ours, except Dot’s, that is.
“Hey la, can I bum a ciggy off yer?”
As St. John offered him a Senior Service, our anxiety at being discovered subsided and Dot blurted out, “You one of the group then?”
He grinned, “Me? No, I’m one of a kind. Thanks. See you later.”
At that he turned and closed the door again.
St. John confirmed that he was, indeed, in the group. He’d seen them arrive earlier.
“Now you better do this one at a time”, he continued, “Or you’ll get grabbed as gatecrashers.”
He eased himself through the door leading into the ballroom and we followed, using his bulk as cover. We had emerged slightly to the right of the stage. The space was quite big but if there lay a dance-floor beneath our feet, there was little chance of dancing here tonight. The place was packed and we could see that towards the back some females had been lifted onto their male dates’shoulders. Rather them than me! Around the perimeter, kids of both sexes were using chairs as vantage points. We had little option other than to settle for where we were. All eyes were fixed on the small stage. The whole room appeared to lurch forward as four figures ran on from the wings as the stage lights were switched on and we were at the hockey match again.
From our narrow angle we could make out three of the figures had guitars and what’s more, the bass player was left handed and his instrument was shaped like a violin. Two microphone stands were positioned one on either side of the stage. ‘Leftie’ took up his position by the one furthest from us and gave us the old, ‘One, two, testing’ whilst the two guitarists did some inconsequential strums. Then a rapid,
and they launched into a furious version of, “Some other guy”. Leading this song, on the mike closest to us, was our ‘one of a kind’ His stance was that of someone riding an imaginary hobby-horse. The other two shared a mike and joined in on the chorus.
The Leftie led on some of the songs, he was particularly effective on a Little Richard number. On others, the two lead voices sang harmonies. Throughout the set, Stan would cup his hand around my ear and shout the name of the song’s original artist. He recognised the work of Barrett Strong, Chan Romero, Richie Barrett and Larry Williams. None of whom, to my knowledge, had graced the B.B.C. playlist, let alone the charts. These were obscurities! I was familiar with.quite a few songs myself, but on others I waited for the cupped hand in vain. Stan just shrugged his shoulders and I could see this disturbed him. The information that the Beatles, limp name we thought, wrote and performed many of their own songs came as a big surprise. It was an unheard of trick for home-grown groups and internationally we could point only to Buddy Holly and the Crickets as one group who had pulled it off with any degree of consistency. The fact that
the Beatles adopted, in their set, an overtly aggressive anti-Hit Parade stance and had sourced it with music upholding the rock and roll faith and was, mainly, from black artists, certainly scored points with us. Their performance was all about energy and the assembled throng had tapped into it from the word go. They had a raw quality but possessed little in the way of presentation. They did have, a hard to describe, glamour and charisma and who would argue with whatever had touched this crush of witnesses.
Jack, Dick and Stan agreed the performance was exhilarating, but for them, Dave Berry and the Cruisers were still pre-eminent. I had to agree that in purely musical terms, the Cruisers did hold sway, particularly evident on songs they both shared like ‘Roll over Beethoven’. Dot thought ‘one of a kind’ was lovely!
■ . . ! Their single, “ Love Me Do “ enjoyed a couple of weeks in the lower reaches of the Top
Twenty but by the time Dave Berry and the Cruisers had managed to equal this
achievement, the Beatles had raised the stakes and were beginning to change our world.
I always kept coming back to the sound and a hard to describe,4 feel’. It wasn’t too difficult to understand the attractiveness of Elvis’s knowing poses or the roustabout wildness of Jerry Lee or even the backwoods innocence of Don and Phil Everly and Buddy, but as we began to unearth roots in Rhythm and Blues and in the Delta, it became increasingly obvious that we were connecting with a whole roster of underdogs, outcasts and antiheroes. We had some sense that the music grew out of a slave or chain gang experience but were largely innocent of the details of contemporary racial politics. Who knew that B.B. King could play a hotel ballroom but would be refused a room in that hotel? What was going on at Atlantic Records when a photograph of green onions was seen as preferable to an image of the multi-racial, Booker T. and The MG’s? Perhaps some folks felt discomforted when black people produced music that omitted the words, ‘doo-dah, doo-dah’.
What became really interesting was that whenever the sound of a guitar was heard playing a blues progression and called out over the landscape like a lonesome train whistle, you could be sure of finding fellow travellers.
I wandered into an amusement arcade one time, somewhere on the coast, and ignoring the banks of slot machines made my way over to a juke box I had spotted standing alone in a comer. It was a big hundred-selection affair. Scanning the lists, I was surprised and thrilled to discover Howlin’ Wolf s, ‘Down in the Bottom’. That’ll do me! Even before Wolf s unmistakable vocal drowned out the mechanical noises, the squeaks and bloops and occasional payouts, two boys rushed over and excitedly enquired if I was responsible for this choice. I nodded and we all agreed hpw brilliant it was. We left a gap in our exchanges for the stinging slide guitar breaks. One of the boys wore a seersucker jacket and the other carried a blue suede jacket over his shoulder. Both had on white jeans and wore what looked like bowling shoes, their accents marked them out as London boys. We soon got to swapping, ’Have you heards?’ They recommended I get down to the London clubs they frequented, The Crawdaddy and Marquee. I countered with The Esquire in
Sheffield and The Dungeon in Nottingham. At the time, I admit, I’d been to neither but knew that both venues had hosted blues artists from reviews I’d read in the local press.
So it went, fast friends in a matter of minutes and we spent much of the holiday in each other’s company.
It further transpired that Gary, the blue suede jacket, played around with a harmonica and said I should get one.
“It’s a doddle, once you can bend the notes.”
He warned me off trying a chromatic, the ones with the button on the end. Something to do with semitones or some-such. I wouldn’t need it.
“ It will only cost you half a nicker!”
Back in Chesterfield, for me there were fresh places to experience, the 19th century, muck and brass image of the town was modified slightly by The Wimpey Bar and The Friary Grill. Hey,Cafe Society, the banquette years and the sounds of spluttering Espresso machines. For a while. The Friary became the hang out for some of Chesterfield F.C.’s young professionals. They were in demand as cTown’ were enjoying a Cup run and had drawn the glamorous, Blackburn Rovers at home. Rovers boasted internationals, Ronnie Clayton and the famous alliterative trio, Dougan, Dobing and Douglas. I managed to get a ticket. ‘Towns’ stalwart centre half, Dave Blakey lived in our street, and I witnessed lowly Chesterfield play out an honourable nil-nil draw only to be beaten in the replay.
But hey, what’s this? Scooters; Vespas and Lambrettas, covered in spotlamps, mirrors and aerials with foxtails, parked up outside The Wimpey Bar. The place is awash with kids decked out in parkas and wearing ‘hush puppies’ and speaking with a twang that suggested the sound of Bow Bells. Overnight, Chesterfield had been transformed into a Mod town. Well part of it. The explanation being that the Accountant General’s Department had relocated from London to a purpose built, high rise, complete with a Henry Moore sculpture reclining by a concrete pond in its courtyard, here in Chesterfield. Many families had taken the opportunity to relocate themselves too.
“Hello Celia. Hi Suzanne. Nice to meet you Paul.” I fitted right in.
By now I had acted upon Gary’s suggestion and had acquired the first of many Hohner Marine Band harmonicas I was destined to own. It was about four inches long, had a wooden body and hidden underneath chromed metal plates were twenty reeds. These were thin metal strips fixed over slots. Stamped into one of the plates was a letter indicating the instrument’s tuning. This one was in the key of C. There were ten holes into which you could blow or suck. It came complete with a little blue cardboard box. Inside was a note from Herr Hohner suggesting that musical satisfaction would be maintained if three rules were strictly adhered to: (1) Handle with care (2) Always keep it clean. (3) Keep it in this special box. On the lid was a picture of, guess what, a uniformed Marine Band. A subsequent model carried the image of a mounted wrangler looking out over a landscape containing cacti, lowing cattle, a covered wagon and purple mountains. Yee haw!
If I were to ask you to name the biggest selling musical instrument in the world, I have no doubt you might answer, the recorder, and you would be in error You would almost certainly have cast you mind back to your schooldays. The humble recorder was responsible for many a shrivelled love of music making. I recall the humiliating scene of being caught out miming in my school’s recorder group. Enough of that though. No, it’s the harmonica! And what’s more, if you had been brought up in the land of Rene Magritte, to wit, Belgium, as a child, you would have had to take take harmonica l’essons, by law!
Back when a show often had the word ‘variety’ preceding it. I recall a group, I think they were called. The Morton Fraser Harmonica Gang. They could play tunes alright but their act was largely dependent on the instrument’s comedy potential and the fact that one of the gang was a very short person. I was attracted to the ‘mouth organ’ as my Uncle Les called his instrument by its plaintive sound and the fact that he got by without any musical knowledge at all. His party piece was called, ‘In a shady nook by a babbling brook’ and was executed with bags of hand vibrato.
I got my harmonica, and I preferred this name even though I was aware many in the music biz were referring to the instrument as a ‘ mouth harp’, from ‘Hudson’s of Chesterfield’. Their tiny shop was one of several set into the perimeter of a Victorian, neo gothic, edifice known as the Market Hall.
Entering from the street, Keith, a youngish, fresh-faced, son of the owner, would inevitably look up from one of the numerous musical instrument catalogues he may be perusing and welcome you with a practised, “Hello, how can I help?” A few guitars were hung on the wall and smaller items Were stacked on shelves or displayed in the glass- fronted cabinet, which doubled as a counter. Space was indeed at a premium and if only browsing when the shop had serious customers, shuffling sideways was the only means of making any headway towards the door that led to Hudson’s other interest, the record stall. This occupied the endmost section of the rectangular island inside the Hall. It had three bays and David McPhie (Mac) held court here.
Mac was a few years older than I was, hugely hip, but didn’t look it. He had swept back
hair and sported a suede tie and a mustard coloured cardigan not unlike that worn by my Dad. I suppose the look at the time was called College Boy. He was polite, quietly spoken and possessed a business-like manner not least when doing business.
It quickly became apparent that his musical tastes and knowledge was vast but at the core was the Blues. It was here that I was introduced to the music of Prince Buster and Mac was the first person, I heard, who suggested and pointed out the links between New Orleans R. & B. and the Blue Beat records he ordered in for Chesterfield’s Jamaican community.
I’d obviously made the right noises during our exchanges and began to appreciate that I had acquired a status beyond that of a mere customer and was being introduced to Mac’s wide circle who habitually congregated at various times around the stall. When business was slack, Mac would find some treat with which to feed the turntable.
Andrew became an addition to Hudson’s work force and joined Mac in record’sales soon after finding that accountancy was not for him. He initially struck me as a sensitive and serious individual but very quickly he revealed a ready wit and, what’s more, it transpired that he played guitar and was in the group that Mac was trying to assemble. Their working title was’ The R. & B. Four’ and already recruited was, a singer, a piano player, Andrew on guitar and Mac on drums. After a few run-outs in some pub’s lounge bar, they had decided they needed a bass player. Did I fancy it? Did I fancy it? I didn’t need them to remind me that there were only four strings to cope with and just how hard could it be? Of course I fancied it, so much so I could taste it. Then reality kicked in. I’d seen John Fleet and 1 knew that what was required involved a good deal more than a one-time tea chest player could manage. I was obviously flattered by the invitation and after regretfully declining, I consoled myself with the thought that I would be on good terms with ‘members of a group’. But the regret I felt at never ever asking my Dad to impart even the rudiments of music was a feeling quite hard to shake.
I got the hang of note bending and blue notes surprisingly quickly and eventually managed to figure out the required blowing and sucking involved in dealing with a 12 bar blues. Incidentally this term, ‘blue note’, apparently referred to the diminished fifth and to this day I’ve no idea what that means other than someone told me it was, the building block chord of the blues. Anyway, I began to search out records by exponents of the art, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and more particularly, Billy Boy Arnold. Great stage names one and all. I already owned a copy of Billy Boy’s, ‘I wish you would’, with its jungle tom-toms and admirable use of dynamics. It was one of the tracks on an LP I had recently bought. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that other pieces I studied, all on Bo Diddley records, were in fact his work too, being for a time, a Diddley session man. • .. r
This was terrific, even if my acoustic playing bore only a passing resemblance to the attack achieved by the miked-up and heavily amplified sounds coming from my record player. Although these blues masters held my attention it was a record by the Texan, Bruce Channel that was all over the radio at the time. ‘Hey Baby’ was embellished by a
lovely little harmonica figure. It sounded simple, but I soon discovered it needed discipline to achieve the required accuracy. I was becoming more confident now. I could maybe, begin playing somewhere other than in the confines of my bedroom.
One of the best places, with unique acoustics, was in the College’s stairwells. I would often be drawn here to take advantage of the echo afforded by the marble steps. Like some latter-day Pied Piper, the sounds drew others. Boys primarily who, up until then, were only nodding acquaintances. I’d had my share of encounters with the opposite sex for a few years now, but I had never met a girl who really shared an understanding and enthusiasm for this ‘music thing’. This was to change as I got to know Barbara.
We were being educated at the same establishment, albeit on different courses. I would often linger close to the classroom when I heard the girl students typing along to the strains of, ‘Foot Tapper’ by The Shadows, hoping to catch a glimpse. We took our breaks in the same refectory but she gave absolutely no indication of having noticed me other than that I was one of Jack’s acolytes. Everyone noticed Jack and although he wasn’t the best looking bloke in the place, he had charisma and confidence to burn.
Maureen, affectionately known as ‘Titch’ and Christine were a couple of girls who had been long-time mates. We went to school together and we all travelled into College on the same bus in the morning. I’d noticed they were often to be seen chatting to Barbara and her friend Ann during coffee breaks. What was I waiting for? I’ll tell you, the downside of using go-betweens was that in the event of rejection, that intelligence would be known to more than you’d care to share it with. Then would come the commiserating. Give me a break. I considered it best not to rush in but to keep this card safe in my pocket until the right opportunity presented itself.
I’d seen both Andy and Simon before, notably alighting from a Hulley’s coach at the Bus Station. Although we were by now a few years into the new decade and both the blue liveried Midland General and the green Corporation Bus Companies had updated their fleets with new vehicles, Hulley’s still operated these beautiful red Art Deco styled, one- man-operated coaches out into the Peak District. At least one of their drivers was known to share out his daily supply of boiled sweets amongst his passengers.
Andy, who had a great hair cut, razored all over, about an inch and a half long, wore spectacles and had a very Left Bank look about him. He ambled into the stairwell carrying an acoustic guitar. Simon, quite slight in stature, wore a crew-neck sweater without a shirt. It turned out he had parents who kept a Pub’ and was an aspirant drummer with his own kit. Judging frotn the evidence of our impromptu jamming and the way he clapped and slapped his knees, he could keep time! We began socialising and after arranging to meet in the King’s Head for a couple of Barley wines prior to going to a College dance, we entered the refectory to be greeted by the sight of‘The Roadrunners’. A cartoon reference? More likely, by way of the Bo Diddley tune, beep beep! This was confirmed by the fact that the musicians all sported tartan jackets, identical to the one Diddley wore on the cover of his ‘Go Bo Diddley’ album and subsequent publicity photographs.
The R.& B. Four had evolved into a five piece and with it, a name change. Their set was similar to that used by Dave Berry, but the inclusion of a piano player gave them a sound with more authenticity. Mullins, that preference for surnames again, had taped a contact mike to the innards of the old College upright and was the visual focus with his sense of humour and cap worn at a jaunty angle like one of Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps. We enthusiastically gathered around Andrew and Mac at the end of the set, offering our congratulations. The poaching of Jim, the bass player, from a local dance band made for a really solid rhythm section and Graham, who they all called ‘Dev’, was an impressive frontman. Mmm, they say, what you don’t have, you don’t miss. I’ll let you know. Simon said he just had to book them for his parent’s pub.
Still fired by enthusiasm days later, Simon suggested we hold a party over at his place, ‘The Highwayman.’ Hey, we could provide the music! The great thing about the 12 bar blues is that once mastered, jamming with other similarly schooled individuals, was a piece of cake.
We threw ourselves into the organisation. Drinks? Simon reminded us he lived in a pub. Say no more. Eats? His Mum would lay on a similar spread to the ones she put on for the darts team. Enough said. Girls? They both knew ‘Titch’ and Chris and suggested we could leave the invites to them. I thought they might need a little direction. Transport would be a problem as ‘The Highwayman’ was in Eastmore, several miles from Chesterfield. At this time the odd parent might run a car but for most of us public transport limited our spheres of activity. An opportunity to ride with Hulley’s! “Of course, everyone will have to stay over”, concluded Simon.
Sure enough, we provided the music. We worked up about four actual songs and filled in with extended blues jams. Regulars from the Public Bar wandered through into the Lounge from time to time clutching their tankards tightly just to see at first hand what was making that noise. They knew Simon and flashed him approving smiles and the occasional up-turned thumb. I tasted the delights of amplification for the first time using the Highwayman’s public address system, an exhilarating feeling hearing both my voice and the harmonica coming through speakers.
We played on well after closing time and it was my first experience of a lock-in. Simon’s Mum had done us proud and ‘Titch’ and Chris had done their stuff. When the record player gave us a break, I was able to get to know the girl in the blue dress with the hair tied at the back with a blue bow. ‘See, your name’s’, (slight hesitation, questioning look,) ‘Barbara?’ We became a couple. Pictures, often twice a week. Chesterfield at this time giving us the option of three Cinemas, meals at the Chinese and Sunday nights at The Vic’. This became routine. What’s more, we had mutual likes in the Drifters and the Miracles. She was dead impressed I owned a copy of their record, ‘Shop Around’. I was ‘impressed that her record collection was entirely American.
The trio, however, still had legs. Born of the euphoria of performance, came the idea that we could enter the up-coming Group Competition. “Yeah, go on, go on. It is for charity.
after all.” This is a deadly entreaty often causing the sanest to act in a very bizarre way. This competition was a contest for local groups which was being staged at the Civic Theatre and was one of several fund-raisers being organised for Chesterfield College’s Rag Week. There would be a parade through the streets of sponsored floats, students in outrageous costumes would be shaking buckets at passers-by for their loose change and selling a magazine crammed with filthy jokes was a tradition. This led up to the ‘Rag Ball’, due to be held at The Vic’. The winning group would be invited to play a ‘set’ at this prestigious function.
Although we conceded it would be inconceivable that we could win, we did however enjoy the delicious thought of playing our meagre four-song repertoire over and over to a stunned Mayor, College Principal arid other assorted dancers.
As part of the contest, we discovered that, each participating group would be required to perform a maximum of three songs. We decided to go for it, we were in surplus!
First we needed some basic equipment. Andy managed to borrow and fit a pick-up on his guitar and once Mac got wind of our plans, he came forward offering the loan of an amplifier, a microphone, stand and speaker. Furthermore, Mac and Jim would be on hand to help with setting up the gear. Just how many of our rivals would have a road crew?
We were now in a state of readiness and all we needed was a name to complete the entry form. I didn’t know how other groups did it but, we were in the library leafing through ’Blues fell this morning’, a book by Paul Oliver. We came across a piece about, a certain, Roosevelt Sykes, a singer, pianist and bandleader from the 1940’s of whom none of us had previously heard. His band was called, ‘The Honeydrippers.’ There was no discussion. We just looked at each other and knew that ‘The Honeydrippers’ would spread a little sweetness again.
Backstage at ‘The Civic’ the scene was one of uncertain frenzy. We were one of six groups competing, the members of which were milling around struggling with instruments and sundry bits of electrical equipment much of it, it must be admitted, looked as if it had been put together by Heath Robinson. There were those wanting to know where to put theirs whilst trying to avoid the unattended boxes and cases of others.
I did spot a couple of Vox amps whose covers had been partially removed revealing that distinctive country cottage window grill.
Someone from the Rag Committee, apparently in charge of organisation, managed to calm the situation somewhat when he announced the running order and added that the drummer of the first group on had agreed that his kit could be used throughout, all except for the snare drum. This seemed very magnanimous of him and was seen by all as fair enough. I’m not sure what the collective noun for drummers is but all of that persuasion formed an orderly scrum around him and there was much nodding of appreciation and, I guessed, checking out his gear. Simon seemed impressed saying, ‘It’s a Premier kit!’ The organiser continued with the information that the curtains would open at the start of a performance and would close at its conclusion. All movement of equipment to take place behind the curtain.
We were to be third on. We reasoned not a bad draw. At least we didn’t have too long to wait in the wings. Although the camaraderie was infectious, nerves were starting to bring with them the realisation that public humiliation was a possibility. After all we weren’t a proper group and we made sure that those who were interested knew it. We comforted ourselves that novelty was on our side. There did seem to be genuine interest in the fact that we were a three piece and were featuring a harmonica! This would be a first in Chesterfield.
I found myself constantly baishing my hand against the pocket of my grey velvet jacket, which, incidentally, was the business! I was like some nervous best man making sure I’d still got the wedding ring, only 1 was checking that the Marine Band was still where I’d put it.
Mac and Jim had wired up a Linear amplifier to a speaker, showed us where to plug in and switch on, set the volume levels and wished us luck. They made their way into the auditorium where my parents had already taken their seats. The front row was populated, in the main, by our supporters and most of whom were resplendent in ‘Honeydripper’ tee-shirts which had been organised by Barbara and ‘Titch’.
Andy began to tund his guitar to the harmonica. This was the only time I would let it out of my grasp. I kept a close eye on the borrowed microphone now fitted on the stand. Although we were only playing three songs, Andy had taped the titles to the top-side of his guitar. Simon held his sticks like they were a badge of office.
As we waited for our turn we were able to consider the actors who had trod these boards in their days in Rep. In the foyer we had recognised photographs of Diana Rigg now Emma Peel in ‘The Avengers’ and Wilfred Bramble, that ‘dirty old man’ in ‘Steptoe’.
Then in no time it was showtime. Simon settled himself behind the red glitter-finish drum kit and did a few perfunctory kicks with the bass pedal .As instructed, Andy and I plugged in and turned on and I positioned the mike stand centre stage. I removed my harmonica from its box, giving it a toot or two to establish that the low notes were to the left. Then I gave a thumbs-up to I’m not sure who in the wings.
The blue velvet drapes parted, and we were introduced by the M.C. with the phrase,
“Let’s hear it for The Honey Drips.” Oh well, never mind. Sorry Roosevelt.
The next eight minutes were a blur, marked at the outset by an unforgivable balls-up by yours truly. We opened with “I wish you would”, a song which would later be chosen as the ‘most blueswailing’ Yardbirds’ debut single. Simon started it off on the bass drum, then Andy joined in with the guitar figure that carried the tune. Simon added tom-toms and then I should have come in, playing in unison with the guitar. Well I did, but panic, no sound came out of my speaker! It took me a few seconds, but it seemed a ldt longer, for me to deduce that there was a switch on the microphone that I needed to activate. I’ll have words to say to that road crew! Simon and Andy just kept going as we exchanged anxious looks. Did anyone else notice? Then I’m in and blowing, eyes, tight shut, ‘Crying and pleading wont do no good. Come back baby, I wish you would. ’ The quiet passage, bet there’s a proper musical term for this, that preceded my first climactic harmonica solo, was negotiated with surprising togetherness and both Andy and I felt able to move around to the sound we were making. Our sound was rough-edged but undeniably exciting. For many in the audience, it would be a new experience. Chicago-style Rhythm and Blues in the shadow of the Crooked Spire. This medieval spire which has become the town’s defining visual image carries with it a local legend that suggests its twisted structure is down to the Devil when incense wafting up from the church below caused him to sneeze. I trust he appreciated us dipping into his songbook. All too soon, for us anyway, it was over. The applause we received at the end of each of our selections, albeit supplemented by our own rent-a-fans, was loud and enthusiastic and we came off the stage high on adrenaline to be greeted to back-slapping in the wings. They say you never forget the first time and I haven’t.
I’ve no idea how or what the other groups performed but, in no time at all we were all called onto the stage to hear the result. The winners were the group who had gone on before us and I remember I had warmed to them, particularly Carlo, their singer, who had enquired where I had got my jacket from. It seemed no surprise to the more attentive. The consensus was that this was the right result. But for me, the biggest kick and I recognised the irony, was in being mentioned in despatches as, ’the most impressive instrumentalist of the evening’. It just goes to show that when offered a diet of apples and pears, the ripe banana proves irresistibly attractive. – •• *’
We ended the evening in the lounge bar of The King’s Head, where we all wound down and put ‘The Honeydrippers’ to bed. The end of the College year was fast approaching. Simon was going off to study elsewhere. Andy had plans to live in France and I was about to take up a position in a Surveyor’s Drawing Office and would be out with a
theodolite checking for signs of subsidence caused by underground workings. The last act of the night was down to Mac who, just before leaving, suggested I come along to ‘band practise’, Wednesday night, and be sure to bring along the harmonica.
“ Oh, by the way, did I tell you, we are now called ‘The Blueberries’?”
Sitting in with The Blueberries, in what Mac and the rest, called his ‘front room’ and Estate Agents would refer to as the parlour, was for me an exciting prospect. I suppose I was a bit apprehensive but the confidence of youth often disguises and sometimes outweighs ability. After all, I did know the majority of the group already and their vibes were positive.
Mac picked me up in a van at the Bus Station and after a short journey, out of town, we arrived in Walton Road. Mrs McPhie immediately welcomed me with the offer of a plate of egg and chips. “I’m making some for David, it’s no problem.” As the others began arriving, Mac and I were cleaning our plates with pieces of bread. Jim made sdme comment to Graham, the singer, who they called Dev, his surname being Davis, about being sure to switch the mike on before grinning in my direction. “Okay, okay. Thanks for bringing that up Jim.” As they attended to their equipment, gentle banter ensued. I was introduced to Jim’s enormous bass cabinet and several size-ist jokes followed. Neil set about removing the front panel of the piano and with Gaffa tape inserted a contact mike. He had dispensed with his jacket, had rolled up his shirt sleeves and was sitting astride the piano stool in a sleeveless grey sweater picking out notes which Andrew and Jim were attempting to duplicate on their respective instruments. Andrew got there first and began adjusting the rest of his strings accordingly. Jim, occasionally referred to as James, remained hunched over the bass guitar and when he eventually declared himself satisfied, played a walking bass run before initiating the procedure all over again. Jim’s fastidiousness with regard to being ‘in tune’ was to be evident throughout the evening and the years to come. He was a big, well muscled, but gentle individual and he had a laugh that was easy to provoke. By day he was employed in the building trade and I would quickly appreciate that he was in possession of a body of knowledge that none of us would acquire. In fact, few would believe it existed at all. He could tell you which Rawlplug you would need to use if you were ever required to fix a caribou to a Ryvita and armed with this expertise he would head a construction company and self-build his dream house in British Columbia.
As the ‘audition’ ran its course, it transpired, from various comments, that it was a done deal. I was a shoo-in. Apparently Mac had already paved the way and had prepped them as to how I was to be accommodated and the role that I would play. After a warm-up, with Dev taking vocal duties, we tried out a Jimmy Reed tune, the record of which was already on the turntable of Mac’s record player. Dev did the honours and as we listened to the disc, Andrew rehearsed the intro’ and Jim practised the bass part. This involved a slide up the frets to high notes. The key we would play in was determined by my harmonica. Neil quickly had it identified. The initial run through was a fairly disjointed affair but gradually, as we loosened up, the pieces began to fit and Dev joined in with maracas. Neil and Andrew worked out when they would concentrate on chords and when
each would be expected to throw in the occasional flourish. Ready to go again, two verses, harmonica solo, third verse, guitar solo, finish. What surprised and impressed me no end was the way the rehearsal was conducted. There was no apparent leader, everyone chipped in, although Neil would often call out chords and as a taskmaster he was particularly hard on his own contributions. Jamming with others in the past had been a fairly haphazard and often chaotic experience. Here, I revelled in the focussed way we were able to gradually take ownership of a song and, when polished, add it to the repertoire.
When you recount the past it is often perceived by many that you make out things were better than they really were. Who will deny the moment of pleasure felt at seeing the disappearance of those little blue waxed twists of salt as the new improved ‘ready salted’ crisps were introduced. Or when skirts worn with stiff net petticoats fell by the wayside and girls looked even more stunning in either minis, mid calf length skirts or even navy blue nylon mac’s and clumpy Hush Puppies. Come on, we were running free, buying new clothes, hearing previously unheard sounds, sitting in Coffee bars talking nonsense, wasting time and staying up way beyond bedtime.
You could open up the Melody Maker or New Musical Express, scan the Club listings and go see a group, stop off at the Chippy on the way home and still have change in your pocket from a pound note. It was a seriously elegant time. Easy living. The scene was better than it had ever been and conceivably ever would be again. Thoughts of a ‘real’ working life were banished unless they were articulated as part of a song lyric.
It re-programmed us and meant that it would be unlikely that we would ever turn into either our Mothers or Fathers. As a period of History, it did seem like, ‘this is it, its good, could it get any better?’
Okay so I was now a Blueberry. An earlier flyer we had, stated ‘Blueberry’ as our collective surname. Cute or what? I’m not sure. I had been inducted into the Blueberry Brotherhood and quickly sensed the swimming was in more serious waters.
Initially, my role was second vocalist with a featured spot, plus harmonica bits as and when appropriate and tambourine and maraca shaking.I picked up some tips from Dev. He was adept a stage patter and projection and was quite a dominating character. In fact it might be fair to say, that to Dev, the Blueberries were Dev and the Devotees. I discovered it was too late to have a ‘Diddley’ jacket as, slightly ahead of contemporary trends, it had been agreed that the uniforms be ditched in favour of street clothes. However Neal, never destined to be a style icon, would, from time to time, don his tartan and it suited his quirky stage persona. I felt I might be able to provide some input regarding a suitable look. Let’s start with the hair shall we? Luckily, Keith Hudson’s wife was a hairdresser and so we all trouped off round to their house for re-styling sessions and games of snooker. Mac showed the beauty of having and utilising contacts.
I joined the Musicians’ Union and received my membership card. I was truly thrilled to get money after a gig. You can have this much fun and people will pay you? Their were however certain expenses. I learned I had become partly responsible for a means of transport. We owned a van. A black and green Bedford Dormobile. Therefore, some of our money inevitably went towards its upkeep and thirst for fuel. I believe some families favoured vehicles of this type using them as holiday homes or as we now know them, L. V’s (Leisure Vehicles). To this end, some models had a roof that could be hoisted like one half of an accordion. Presumably this was to allow campers to stand upright and so facilitate that vital early morning stretch after a night spent in cramped conditions. Others had awnings which when clipped onto this side, allowed for lay-by picnics to be enjoyed even in inclement weather. Our van had no such modifications other than a padded bench fitted behind the driver’s and passenger’s seats. The rest of the space was where our gear was stowed. Ownership of this vehicle meant that we were able to take up bookings from farther afield and did away with turning up to gigs in cars. Oh yes, these boys had cars. Neal and Mac were our designated drivers and they owned a Jag and Austin Healey respectively. Many of our bookings took us north of Sheffield. In deepest Yorkshire, if we had cause to pull over and ask for directions, the instructions we received often meant we had to take account of ‘blue leets’, ‘yella leets’ or ‘traffic leets’ If the van played up, our eyes turned to Neal. Neal was a technical whizz. I sometimes got the impression that mischievous mechanical malfunctions just gave up the ghost and said ‘fair cop’ at the mere sight of him rolling back his shirt sleeves. Although there were times, it must be admitted, when the ghost stubbornly stayed in the machine and both Neal and Jim’s technical abilities, would be given a run for their money.Using our Dormobile for overnight accommodation was ranked low down on our list of priorities but, needs must when the devil etc. We had been booked to play a date in Bournemouth, often referred to at the time as, ‘God’s Waiting Room’, being a popular retirement destination. We’d already checked with Mac to make sure it wasn’t a Darby and Joan Club.
We decided to travel down late on Friday night after we’d all clocked off from work, got home and changed. It was our intention to breakfast at the Seaside, have a
paddle and kip the day away on the beach. Along for the trip was Barbara and a girl Neal was seeing at the time. We stopped off at the Watford Gap Services on the Ml, which incidentally seemed to have been strategically placed to support the contemporary music scene, for a late feed and to take on fuel. Mac, a vegetarian who seemed to exist on chocolate bars, pushed the boat out ordering, egg, beans and chips. We weren’t going to make much of a financial killing on this trip, but hey, it was a day at the seaside! We knew as we proceeded south we would have to leave the occasionally illuminated comfort of the Motorway and begin going cross-country, heading for Winchester by way of Oxford. Roads became increasingly deserted and the monotony was relieved only by the odd Country Bobby, in his car, pulling us over to check us out. After all, we were on the move after Midnight! This was routine and we were well used to it. Our two drivers changed over at intervals and sometimes this was achieved without us making a stop. The miles were taking their toll however.
While most of us were lightly dozing in the back. As much as one could in a vehicle with an engine that was a passenger in the front. It would appear Neal took a wrong turn and on seeing what he thought to be a lane to drive into to correct the mistake, we found ourselves on a private drive at the end of which was an imposing Victorian Gothic pile. Back-lit by the moon it looked like the spooky. House of Usher, courtesy of Hammer.. •’ Horror. The next manoeuvre, in reverse, put our rear end into a ditch and after engaging forward gears a few times this was where we remained. After some discussion, some quite heated, it was decided we should wait for some daylight to assess the situation and attempt to extricate ourselves. We should settle down and try to get some shuteye. Snuggling up to the girls in the back with little or no room for movement was uo problem other than parts of your body rapidly went to sleep before you did.
I guess we had been immobile for about forty-five minutes when a startled Jim alerted us all to the fact that we were surrounded. We rapidly wiped away condensation from the nearest window to discover a herd of New Forest ponies taking an interest in our predicament. They came closer and began nuzzling the van. They got even bolder using tongues! They licked every available piece of glass leaving it coated with a bubbly secretion. Our response was to stamp our feet and bang on the windows and this did, after a time, seem to deter their salivations. That, or they just lost interest, for they began to slope off into the darkness, leaving us relieved and our van a slimy cocoon.
At the first sign of day breaking, we all piled out and, after allowing sensation to return to our numbed limbs, we examined our stricken vehicle. Finding nothing but a slight scratch on the door inflicted by a hawthorn bush. All was well and luckily, we did not need to empty out the van’s contents as we were able to rock and heave it back onto the drive and make off before Vincent Price came down the drive from the house to investigate. It wasn’t long before we saw the sea. • »’
A sociologist would view Mac’s running of the group as that of a benign dictator. He preferred leading by consensus. Apart from drumming, steady as a rock and nothing flash, he was manager, promoter, publicist, spokesman, selector of material, driver and social organiser. In effect he did everything no one else could be bothered with or, not to
put too finer point on it, capable of.
Settling in was easy, we all got on really well from the start. I’m not sure I’d heard the term, bonded, but bond we did and when we were not playing a gig we often went out en masse and that would include Barbara and Andrew’s girlfriend, Jean to check on some group or visiting American touring act or Club. There was a bonus, as we would often get ushered into the venue without having to dip into our pockets. We were on the Guest List. Mac would, more often than not, busy himself networking while the rest of us would have a time. Access all areas.
We were all there at the Dungeon, Nottingham to see the legendary Texan blues guitarist, T-Bone Walker who was responsible for, ‘Stormy Monday’. The backing group was John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. They put on a terrific show and Walkers’ sophisticated singlestring soloing supplemented by his, never seen before, showmanship, particularly his playing guitar behind his head, was memorable.
Our next outing was to pay homage at Sheffield City Hall to Chuck Berry, our original inspiration, and Carl Perkins. We stopped off for a pre-show drink in a near-by pub. Mac had arranged to meet up with Joe Cocker, who we had seen perform several times and * had enjoyed a few jars with. Joe wa^a sensational singer in the style of Ray Charles. He possessed a voice gritty enough to comfortably exfoliate an iguana and his group, Big Blues were top dogs locally. We were all going to the show together and naturally, Mac had picked up the tickets. The Snug was standing room only and on closer examination we recognised many as group members and associated aficionados. The mood was one of excited anticipation and there followed lots of nodding and glad-handing as we inched our way up to the bar. As luck would have it, there was Joe’s chunky frame perched on a stool and cradling a pint of heavy. On seeing us, he stroked his frayed and wispy hair and said quietly, and with some relief, in that sandpaper voice,
“I thought you weren’t going to make it. You’ve just got time for a quick one.”
He turned to the barman, ordered a pint for himself and relayed our preferences.
We all piled into the Hall and gave Berry a rapturous reception particularly during the Duck Walk but, to be totally candid, it was a disappointment musically. He shuffled and substituted the ‘wrong’ intro’s and solos in his well loved songs and although he had every right so to do, it grated somewhat. We forgot that we listened to his records far more assiduously than he did. I recall Dave Edmunds, top guitarist with Love Sculpture, saying that that he felt much the same after guesting with Carl Perkins whose solos he had studied and could play note for note. It had been a let down as Perkins played alternatives. Although we ail enjoyed the show being in the same space with Berry and Perkins, it was The Animals and their song, ‘House of the Rising Sun’ that most of us were talking about afterwards.
However it didn’t prevent us from turning up to see Berry on his second visit during which he indulged in much joshing with the backing musicians. The Dimensions, about their, then largely unknown, singer and harmonica player, Rod (The Mod) Stewart. Rod was relegated to tambourine duties. I knew how he must have felt.
Shock, horror, we were reduced to a five piece again. ‘Dev’, without warning, suddenly decided to jack it all in. Rumour had it that he found it increasingly difficult to square his position at the Bank with being in a ‘group’. Anyway, I don’t know about any of the others but, I never set eyes on him again. Things were moving too fast to dwell on the past, but, hey, we were never that disreputable! I suppose the nearest we got to it was the liberation of a statue after we had played a black-tie, Birthday Party. A large tent had been erected in the grounds of this Country House not far from Chesterfield. A dancefloor had been laid and there was a bar, food and everything. The liquid refreshments flowed into the early hours. It was often a stern test to remain civil as the Hooray Henrys and Henriettas enjoyed themselves regardless of how or what we played.
After we had performed perhaps three or four quite long sets, a few inappropriate requests had to be fielded. The best being from a young lady who asked if we played any ‘blues’. Was she being superior and ironic? I don’t think so. Before I was able to manufacture a suitable response, she collapsed and Rupert and Hugo dragged her away.
Our van was parked in the drive and close by was a five foot high statue of a nubile ^’ female emptying out the contents of an Etruscan style vessel positioned on a small plinth. This was not your reconstituted stone or concrete gnome alternative but the real thing, an antique. It took three of us to move it but we managed to slide her into the van and then load the rest of our stuff in, barely able to suppress giggles. Needless to say, Mac was totally unaware that we were harbouring a stowaway and although it was a bit mean to keep him in the dark, we thought it would be a delicious surprise when next he investigated the van’s contents.
Wrong! When he discovered her around lunch-time on the following day, he immediately called Jim in some agitation and the two of them reunited her with the empty plinth. After all, he had arranged to return to pick up our cheque and luckily the Birthday Girl’s Father was oblivious to his temporary loss and said the whole event was, “Capital”.
Our first booking without Dev was at the Esquire Club in Sheffield. It was located around the corner from the Bus station. The public transported punter, and this was still the majority, took advantage of this location and as their bus slowed to negotiate the corner it was considered very cool to jump from the moving bus. After all it saved minutes of walking. Friday and Saturday nights on the corner were reminiscent of the Normandy landing and many years would have to pass before that ripped-jean look really caught on in a big way and bloody knees never did.
The Esquire was the first venue in the North ofEngland to feature blues artists. It had begun life as a Jazz Club and this was where the initial influx were promoted and found an appreciative audience. From the club’s coffee bar on the second floor, you could look down onto a stage that had seen the likes of, from the U.S., Screaming Jay Hawkins, Champion Jack Dupree and Sonny Boy Williamson II, not to mention. The Cruisers and Joe Cocker. Very soon Terry, the owner, would be playing host to, The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Small Faces et al.
So no pressure then!
“Are you nervous?” I want to ask the crowd. ‘”Don’t be nervous. We’ll get through this.” It felt good. It felt really good. The tension eased, transmuted into adrenaline by, well just doing it. Being on a stage in front of a couple of hundred or so, one hand holding onto the mike stand and the other gripping the microphone white knuckle tight and together with your mates you’re filling the space with a sound, full-on yet relaxed, a combination of ease and power, lurch and balance is such an exhilarating buzz. It starts in your shoes and ends up somewhere in outer space. Much like, I don’t need to tell you.
The crowd at The Esquire, with a fair sprinkling of Mods, were into what we were about. There were small groups who danced bufthe majority, mainly boys, seemed intent on giving us their full attention and a close study. They probably knew the majority of our set back to front. A case of preaching to the converted and that often meant, the harder to impress. Thankfully, we went down really well and got re-booked. The tag-line that the Esquire used in the Sheffield Star advert stated,‘A great authentic Blues Group’
Other gigs were to prove even more challenging. Selston, a slag-heap town in the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire coalfield was the scene of a Youth Club Dance. It began ,■ well enough, but as we worked our way through, ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ and ‘I’m a Hog for you’, an ugly bunch of yobs barrelled into the Hall and turned uglier. I think they’d got wind of the beach-fighting which was supposed to accompany Mods and Rockers in close proximity. They certainly didn’t like the look of us and the feeling was entirely mutual.
They had missed our first, set, loading themselves with Mansfield Bitter. They had also missed the entertaining election of a ‘Miss Selston’, where a bevy of lumpy hopefuls strutted their stuff across the stage to the strains of, ‘A pretty girl is like a melody’. I’m quite certain this traditional accompaniment to Beauty Contests never got the barrellhouse treatment Neil provided with only tentative support from the rest of the group. The Youth Club Leader had requested we provide suitable background music for this parade and Neil nodded enthusiastically. I had to make myself scarce as I found it increasingly difficult to maintain any sort of straight face. In the unlikely event of any of the young ladies having had previous catwalk experience, walking around to the tempo chosen by Neil while maintaining any sort of sex appeal would have defeated all but the likes of Jean Shrimpton.
When the judges had reached their decision, the Youth Leader turned to Mac and asked him for a ‘drum roll’, presumably to build up tension in that tried and tested, show business, kind of way. Mac’s face was a mask of tension and concentration. Amongst his many attributes and abilities, none of us had seen or heard him perform this trick before. Why should he? How many drum rolls could be heard on your average John Lee Hooker or Jimmy Reed record? And as far as I know, he never indulged in any kind of academic drumming. Poor old Mac, as the cymbal crashed at the conclusion of this manoeuvre, Buster Keaton would have been hard pushed to remain stone faced.
We were performing on a stage about five feet above the dance-floor but the instrument that had been provided for Neil to play was a large black Concert Grand, positioned, if there had been one, at one end of the Orchestra Pit. His antics and virtuosity was a source of great interest to both dancers and non-dancers alike and he appeared to enjoy the banter and attention as he performed down amongst them. Even the yobs seemed to appreciate his skill and one of them produced a full bottle of beer which he slammed down onto the piano. Neil, with great aplomb, got up from his stool, picked up the bottle and drank to the young man’s health. They gave him thumbs-up signs and enthusiastically shook his hand, before arranging themselves along the edge of the stage where they performed gestures of a less generous and more aggressive nature as they gazed up at us. These could only be interpreted as, Tm havin’ you mate!’ The two who had selected me for this treatment were indeed frightening specimens. Both wore T-shirts that looked undersized to me, but this may have been an optical illusion. Neither had any sign of a waist, but their upper arms, heavily tattooed, reminded me of Popeye’s after a can of spinach. I don’t mind admitting, I was quaking in my Ravels.
We reached our last number and I was going into my version of, ‘Thanks for cornin’ and you’ve been great ‘ecetera, when a rather well built young man rushed up from behind me, whisked away the mike stand and planted it into the grimacing visage of one of the yobs who had managed to get one leg onto the stage and was attempting to haul the rest of himself up. The speed and dexterity with which this was executed left me stunned for a moment as did the sight of other similarly endowed young men, who we discovered later were Rugby Club members, who poured onto the stage from the wings before leaping off to display their rucking skills. It was all over in a matter of minutes. Job done. Raiders repelled! It appeared it was a regular occurrence whenever a ‘live’ group were booked, ‘Don’t take it personally.’ The Rugby Club were primed and ready and although they ejected the ‘trouble’ from the ITall with cold efficiency, we fully expected to have to run the gauntlet outside. ‘They’d target the van’s windows for sure.’ With the help of the available muscle, we quickly loaded up, reinforcing the side windows with flattened out cardboard boxes wedged by solid bits of equipment and gingerly left the car park before joining the main road. Five sets of eyes peeled for signs of hostiles. ‘Of course we could always get Neil to walk in front like an outrider on a Wagon Train! ’ Selston was deserted. The yobs had obviously had their fun and were away licking their wounds. Our homeward journey was thankfully uneventful. Phew, that was a close one.
Even closer was an incident that occurred at Buxton’s Pavillion. The Blueberries had been booked to open for Manfred Mann. They were a big draw, having made the Top Ten with their single, ‘5-4-3-2-1’, an original, simplistic, countdown introduction to the group featuring a bluesy harmonica. It had been chosen as the signature tune for the highly influential, Friday night T.V. show, ‘Ready Steady Go’. ’The weekend starts here!’
We’d gone down well with the large crowd, quite a few of who, had made the trip from Chesterfield in support. John was there with his girlfriend, Jill. We had decided to go out front, socialise, have a drink or two, maybe bop around a bit but mainly to check on, ‘The Manfreds’.
Paul Jones, the singer, played harmonica, so I was keen to make notes. He was into the second verse of their arrangement of Bob Dylan’s anti-war song, ‘With God on our side’, when without warning, up scrambled an interloper, stage right, who made straight for the unsuspecting, Jones, who I guessed, had eyes closed. With a round arm smash he managed to land a blow on the singer, resulting in a split lip. What is it with these people? It must be a vision thing. We’d seen similar wild-eyed expressions before and that squaddie-gone-AWOL haircut. Two bouncer types rushed to Jones’aid and wrestled the miscreant to the floor and proceeded to drag him off to great applause. By this time the group had stopped playing and trouped off, following Jones into the wings.
Within minutes however, Jones and the rest of the group had regained their equilibrium and reassembled on stage and Jones launched into a brilliant off-the-cuff rap in the sermonising style of a Joe Tex record. In conversation, Paul Jones’ speech betrays his Oxbridge education but here he adopted his best cod, ‘po’ boy’, testifying accent and assailed the congregation thus,
“I was here, singing a song about PEACE and understanding, when a MAN with VIOLENCE in his HEART tried to prevent me in this endeavour. But let me tell YOU. That MAN was a FOOL and a LOSER! Oh yes, A FOOL and A LOSER who FAILED to recognise the POWER OF TRUTH. Truth cannot be SILENCED, Brothers and Sisters! Truth LIGHTS UP the World! We y/ho speak the Truth have God’s on our side.”
Then, seamlessly, back into the song.
Now that is star quality! Their set was very good, but for me this was the abiding memory.
Then again, there was Woburn Town Hall. A local group called The Sett, ( a rural connotation I think, although they had missed a trick as there was no hint of white streaks in their hair), were playing a very respectable set, when a group of horny handed sons of the soil, with the inevitable heightened liquid content, set about rearranging the venue’s fixtures and fittings. Nothing aggressive or violent, strangely enough, but there did appear to be a practised method in their bizarre behaviour. With arms and hands that were reminiscent of crude, Soviet style machinery, they began picking up school benches that had been stacked at the back of the hall. You know the sort of thing. Those implements of torture much loved by P.E. teachers when introducing the delights of something called, ‘circuit training’. Step up, and down. Step up etc. These they transported through the bemused dancers and on reaching the stage began to carefully place them, side by side and one on top of another, until they had constructed a Berlin type division.
The Sett played on, but by now they were somewhat obscured from view. That is, until lead singer, Trev, clambered up on top of the structure. This drew great acclaim. Unfortunately his subsequent energetic performance undermined the benches’ stability and, with some inevitability, it was a case of all fall down.
We helped Trev into the ambulance and it was with some trepidation that we prepared to enter the fray. We were well received but it was obvious what lasting memory the subdued gathering would take away with them.
A pattern was beginning to emerge though. I don’t think I need to dwell on the advantages of being a front man, but there was this disturbing downside.
Student Unions, Danceballs, Pubs, Workingmen’s Clubs, Youth, Folk and Jazz Clubs all provided live music on a regular basis. However, a new, and initially viewed as a benign, opportunity was opening up for extroverts with a box of records. I first came across the word on a day trip to Boulogne-sur-Mer with Tony and Gordon. We thought we had stumbled across a French record shop when we saw the word ‘Discotheque’ drawn out in neon tubing above a small archway which led down some steps. We were disappointed to find the place shut and didn’t give it much further thought.
Few could envisage that this phenomena would threaten the very existence of live music at the grass roots as bookers found this alternative preferable and initially more economic than dealing with the vagaries of the group scene. Old Chubby Checker bounced back with a record called, ‘At the Discotheque’ (pronounced, ‘discotay’ hey, hey, hey.). Later, a whole sub-genre of music would emerge taking over the name.
Back home the shortened version of the word was just beginning to surface. Mick and Pat were two lads who grabbed this business opportunity and began to ply their trade at The Wheatsheaf on Monday evenings. They had built a turntable deck, an amplifier and speakers and whilst Mick appropriately manned the mike, Pat could be found rummaging through their record box for the next disc and requests.
They became quite accomplished, Mick knew how to keep dancers on the floor and his patter created a good atmosphere. Although I liked Mick and Pat and we did have a few laughs, I thought that paying money to hear somebody’s records was a bizarre form of entertainment particularly if you already had a partner. You might only hear, a couple of records all evening that you might want to own let alone dance to. That old musical snobbery again. Mick outlined his philosophy to me as,
“ Your average punter needs to hear tracks that they are familiar with to get them up and anything different has to be introduced very carefully. Nothing lasts as long as a record playing with no one dancing to it.”
Evidence of their ingenuity and acumen was further provided by discovering that their only means of transport were two push-bikes. Loading up was a work of art in itself. Pat had two panniers, one either side his rear wheel. These accommodated the two speakers. Balanced and secured on top of the two cabinets and across the wheel was the turntable. Mick’s load seemed lighter and less precarious. The record box was fixed over his rear wheel by a metal bracket and the sundry wiring and microphone was stuffed into a wicker basket slung from the handlebars.
The Wheatsheaf was situated about two miles outside Tibshelf at the bottom of a, not steep but, long and steady incline. The boys were able to freewheel to their venue but at the end of the evening’s proceedings as we all trouped out to wait for the last bus home, Mick and Pat were a blur, packing up and loading their gear. A place for everything and everything in its place! The final act involved linking a rope from under Mick’s saddle to Pat’s handlebars. As the last of our number boarded the double-decker, the boys wheeled their bikes onto the road, positioning them behind the bus. Mick was closest to the doorway and he would slip a rope, already tied to his handlebars, around the vertical pole
on the platform and deftly secure the free end. As this comical, and not a little dangerous, caravan moved off, those on the bus and in the know were barely able to contain themselves although mindful not to give the game away. Innocent conductors were known to ask if The Wheatsheaf had been giving it away tonight. They were in the dark on two counts because at this time, the disco, held in the pub’s function room, operated only a soft drinks bar.
The climax was reached as our convoy slowed for The White Hart bus stop at the top of the hill. Tibshelf s bus stops were known by the name of the nearest public house therefore, The White Hart, The Neddy (King Edward), The Crown and The Royal Oak Mick had by now slipped his leash and heard the cheer. They stood astride their bikes as the bus proceeded on its route. This modus operandi was to continue, I believe, without incident, until their enterprise saw them invest in a van.
We were getting into our stride now. I felt fortunate to be part of a fully working set up and was able to hit the ground bopping.
Although we were the only group in our immediate locality playing blues-based material, it became evident we were part a groundswell in the country. A growing audience of like-minded souls were flocking to Pubs, Dancehalls and the new breed of Clubs popping up all over the place in a variety of unlikely premises like abandoned warehouses, deserted factories and cellars.
In spite of vast areas of overlap, this scene was inhabited by enthusiasts who were adopting different approaches and shifts in emphasis. In common was, the basic umbrella style, R.& B.
Initially, we were comfortable with our position, amongst others, in a sub-group that could best be described as, ‘The Bluesologists’. Now something with an ‘ology’ invariably attracts academics. This was no exception. It was largely an Art College based undercurrent that over the years had gathered momentum and had developed through Traditional Jazz and Skiffle. After all, it was Chris Barber, a trombonist and big noise in British jazz, who was responsible for Champion Jack Dupree, Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry and the ‘King of Chicago Blues’, Muddy Waters’ first trip to England. Barber’s banjo player became, Lonnie Donegan (‘Mr. Skiffle’). The founder members of Blues Incorporated, Alexis Komer and harmonica player, Cyril Davies had sat in with the Barber band and they were to become increasingly influential after landing a Thursday night residency at the Marquee Club. It was here that the nucleus of the Rolling Stones first met and played together.
Of course, the music had supporters who came kitted out, at various times, in Fifties beatnikery, the odd goatee. Duffle coats with hoods and toggles and the whiff of Leftist politics swathed in sloppy sweaters and stripey. College scarves. This faction encompassed individuals with a preoccupation with ethnic authenticity and purism that was achingly middle-class and for some, commercialism was a dirty word.
In conversation with John Mayall whose group, the Bluesbreakers, were a seminal outfit, I enquired as to why he had given away a song of his to Georgie Fame who had enjoyed commercial success with it in the Hit Parade. His simple, terse response was, ‘It’s a pop song!’
No such, anti-commercial, qualms deterred the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds or Manfred Mann from emerging from this pack to make inroads into the Charts. Others appeared to share Mayall’s distaste. Amongst them were, bandleader/guitarist Alexis Korner, vocalist Long John Baldry and ace guitarist, Eric Clapton who dramatically left the chartbound Yardbirds to join the Bluesbreakers.
When seeing the Stones, ‘no compromise approach’, working, it must be said that, for some, the distaste was to prove a passing phase. As the hair grew others pointed their shaggy heads in the same direction, producing what might be best described as Stones
Lite. Step forward the Downliners Sect, the Pretty Things and the Fairies. This latter ensemble were the first to bring the Took’ to The Vic’.
But throw into this mix a dash of Mod ethic with its emphasis on a look that drew on influences from both the Continent and the Caribbean and a desire for an alternative soundtrack to their lives and you’ve got some kind of cult movement growing. The concept of ‘The Face’, a trendsetter, was born and many a ‘Face’ was to be found in groups.
The Blues fraternity threw up many who would become feted as guitar heroes. They worked on and perfected the art of shaping poses. When employing harmonics or those really high and sustained notes, the player would often contort his neck and adopt the expression of someone who has discovered something unpleasant in the fridge. Likewise, when bending a string or using a hammering technique, the eyes would take on an astonished look or eyelids would be blinked in sympathy. Luckily, Andrew was able to knock out his licks without this sort of visual embarrassment. He did however, shuffle about a bit but, in the main, his priority was making appropriate noises at the right time.
All of the above would have been familiar with most songs in our set. A bonus was Neil’s solo piano spot when we could all slink away for a smoke or refreshment. Apart from material found on the Chicago labels. Chess and VeeJay, which were the usual suspects for a group marking out the territory, we weren’t averse to including stuff we considered had the right ‘feel’; Carl Perkins’ rockabilly, reworked version of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘Matchbox Blues’, George Jones’ ‘White Lightnin” or the ubiquitous,
‘Money (that’s what I want)’. Nice piano and tambourine action, but dropped like a hot King Edward after the Beatles, Stones and Bern Elliott and the Fenman had committed their versions to wax, making it just a little too familiar. Strange how things lose their fascination when claimed by every Mother’s son. Elastic-sided boots became Chelsea boots then ‘Beatle’ boots. A popular look for a short time was a brown corduroy collarless jacket with blue jeans, that is, until all collarless jackets became ‘Beatle’ jackets. Oh please.
I came across a record by James Ray with a nice harmonica riff and would have dearly loved the group to consider it for inclusion in our set. Until, that is, Manchester group, Freddie and the Dreamers, whose dubious talents included being able to sing, dance and explore the comic potential of dropping ones trousers, picked it up and transformed the song into a routine and consequent massive seller. Familiarity and contempt come to mind.
In the North-West, groups employed more of a harmony vocal approach and were collectively known by the Press as, ‘The Beat Groups’ or specifically, ‘Merseybeat’. Perched on top of this particular pyramid were the Beatles. They were rapidly becoming mainstream but taking their two L.P.’s, released in ’63, as examples, and who didn’t, the art of the cover version was central. Both these albums are fleshed out with covers of black groups and solo artists’ records. Three songs were culled from the newly formed, black-owned, recording company, Tamla Motown. It may only be that as they became
increasingly remote from their roots in the clubs, R&B ceased to be a major factor in their music. The ability to generate their own material made the Beatles exceptional rather than typical and any breakthrough made by a group at this time was not based on a sudden upsurge of original composing or arranging. Finding an obscure American R&B track to cover often did the trick.
A third strand, which on the face of it, seemed quite close in concept to Merseybeat, but was much less commercially-orientated, and by ’63, ‘Merseybeat’ records were dotting the Charts like a rash, were bands, and yes, they did call themselves ‘bands’, that we referred to as ‘The Flamingo Sound’. A common factor was less reliance on guitars as lead instruments, preferring a jazzy Hammond organ and often extended line-ups which would include brass sections.
Their Mecca, The Flamingo Club, drew its audience from London’s black community but also attracted the Mods and the music policy was one of strict adherence to Modern R&B. There was little opportunity to be Switzerland. Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames were in residence and recorded a live L.P. at the Club starkly entitled, ‘Rhythm & Blues at The Flamingo’. Other regulars were Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, the bizarrely named ‘Hogsnort Rupert’s Good-Good Band and Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band. The sound was smooth and fat with nods towards mellow jazz. Some did seek and enjoy Chart success but, in the main, the excitement they generated remained in the Clubs.
From time to time, Barbara and I would take breaks in London. On one particular jaunt, when shopping for shoes was our priority, (she a pair of Annello and Davide tap shoes, obviously without the metal plates, and for me, loafers from Topper.), we saw a poster for a Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds gig at The Manor House. This was a short trolley bus ride from my Gran’s house in Walthamstow, where we stayed. They were very highly rated and we had just had to check them out. The ‘Club’ was upstairs, above a Pub. Farlowe was a big, barrel-chested bloke, a bit like Joe Cocker. He had a great, rough-edged, blues voice but it was the Thunderbirds’ dynamite, guitar player, Albert Lee who drew most of the gasps from Mod boys down at the front. His playing bore traces of a young James Burton we’d heard on Ricky Nelson and Dale Hawkins records. Terrific fast action picking!
Before leaving town via Victoria Coach Station, we reckoned we could take in a show at The Flamingo in Wardour Street. Inez and Charlie Foxx, a U.S. duo responsible for a Club favourites, ‘Mockingbird’ and ‘Hurt by Love’, were performing there. The advent of the ‘ Allnighter’ meant it was not a difficult logistical problem for touring acts to play several venues in one 12 hour stretch. This was unusual though, it was a Sunday afternoon! Like Ike and Tina Turner, Inez was the main vocalist and focus but together they generated a terrific, feel-good atmosphere. Crowding the bandstand here were a bevy of black teenaged girls and Charlie worked them into a giggling frenzy. A one point during the set he provocatively removed his red satin tie and hurled it in their direction causing a shrieking, but good-natured, melee. Support and backing musicians were Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band who also went down a storm with their re-creation of the sounds from Memphis.
On the tube, after the gig, we sat opposite two of the girls who had of this red souvenir. They spent the whole journey planning how their shared possession of this piece of memorabilia might best be fairly arranged.
For a while, all three approaches coexisted happily together and groups and bands were able to spread their word on the growing healthy club circuit across the Country.
Back home and away from the bright lights, big city. Seated on the arm of an over stuffed easy chair in Mrs McPhie’s front room surrounded by shelves and boxes of records, a drum kit, a piano and a record player, we were planning on making a demo’ disc. Four tracks just like an E.P. (extended play). We’d worked on an Elmore James blues which would feature Andrew playing slide guitar and my harmonica. We selected a couple of less well known Berry and Diddley songs and an arrangement of a Sandford Clark ballad called, ‘Run Boy Run’, the lyrics of which dealt with a youthful murderer on the lam and his inevitable date with the hangman’s noose. Clark was a protege of Producer, Lee Hazelwood, whose name was first spotted on Tony’s collection of Duane Eddy records. It was a bit of a departure for us, as the original had a country feel. Our version had a bluesy, Dylanesque flavouring. No bad thing as we already recognised the frizzy haired, folk-rocker was definately one to watch. (Bob stares out from the cover of his L.P. Bringing It All Back Home surrounded by Album sleeves one of which is Robert Johnson’s King of The Delta Blues Singers)
Tuesday evening, our van pulled up outside a garage in Worksop over the border in Nottinghamshire. This young bloke, he must have been about twenty five or thirty, had converted a garage space using fibre-glass insulation and egg boxes into a recording studio. It had a Perspex window at one end and behind it a control room with a couple a reel to reel tape recorders, a mixing jdesk and a spaghetti of wiring. We set our stuff up on the dubious green fitted carpet following the owner’s instructions. A place for everything, etc. Well, not quite everything. The studio piano had seen better days but the missing keys were not going to phase Neil. Although Neil and Andrew soon detected it was not tuned to concert pitch! So, the harmonica would have to stay in its box then. I got over it! A seemingly bigger problem was one of microphones. We only had the one. The studio owner said he could lay his hands on two more. Three mikes and we were a five piece. ‘No problem,’ the young man assured us, ‘I can plug the guitars straight into the board. ’Luckily, both Andrew’s Epiphone guitar and Jim’s Hofner bass were semiacoustic so they would be able to hear something of what they were doing. They both looked sceptical, but on listening to a play-back, we thought it sounded okay. It was only when we received the white label discs from the pressing company that we began to get picky listening to its Low-Fidelity quality. We heard Jim’s bass sounding a bit spongey, Andrew said his guitar sounded too clean, being distortion free and I thought my vocal was submerged a touch too much. I concede this latter feeling was not all that objective. Still, it sounded like us. Mac began preparing the packaging. On the front we had a moody, high contrast, black and white photograph taken. The reverse carried details about the personnel. This was the first time I heard that Jim could play a saxophone! Mac titled his management, ‘Soul Representation’ and included was the information that we incorporated, ’The Blueberry Barrelhouse Band’. We thought that covered most bases.
Anyway, Mac could begin mailing it to his.contacts in the Business and we awaited developments. We weren’t to be idle though as we had regular gigs and we had entered a competition to be held at Sheffield City Hall with the prize of a trip to London and an audition at EMI.
The City Hall, I believe, opened its doors in the Thirties and had been a music venue ever
since. Its facade, like many similar buildings in Northern cities had a columned grandeur as befitted Municipal pride on a grand scale. The auditorium was an oval with the audience positioned on two sides of the stage. The seating behind the stage was steeply raked and in the middle of this was the performers’ access. This was by way of a small ramp and one emerged like a player striding out onto the pitch at a football stadium.This was a far bigger league event than that experienced at The Civic Theatre. One of the adjudicators present was the famous Disc Jockey and personality, Jimmy Saville, ‘Guys and Gals’.
We played a short set and we figured it was not too shabby. Would we impress Jimmy?
Preceding us was a performance by a local Club owner, Promoter and Disc Jockey who was to become described in the tabloids as, ‘the colourful night club owner, Peter Stringfellow.’ The Stringfellow brothers, Geoff and Peter, had successfully run a Club in a Church Hall calling it The Black Cat and had recently moved on to new premises in the City to be known as, The Mojo. Peter had got together a group of musicians to perform a version of Rufus Thomas’, popular Dance Club classic, ‘Walkin’ the Dog’. His talents for self-promotion and spectacle were given full rein as he filled the stage with canines of every size and description including, the Stringfellows’own enormous white Pyrenean Mountain dog. Some took the song^quite literally. They knew what was expected of them when they were taken for a walk! It was a hilarious and moving performance, I have to say. After the song and the eventual exit from the stage of some of the more stage-struck performers, it was a cue for stagehands to shuffle on stage with buckets of sand, brushes and mops. When we were able to take the stage, a cloud of disinfectant remained and care_: had to be taken avoiding damp patches.
Stringfellow was open and friendly back stage and Mac managed to get us a Mojo booking. This was a bit of a coup as ‘local groups’ did not usually figure on the Mojo lists but Mac reported back that the opinion was we ‘looked right.’
Jimmy also came through for us and together with The Sheffields, a group that included guitarist Roy Ledger who later would become one of Berry’s Cruisers, we were invited to Abbey Road Studios to audition for EMI’s head honcho, Norrie Paramor.
The journey down the Ml was uneventful and when we arrived in London, well more precisely, St. John’s Wood, we spilled out onto the pavement and with growing excitement, climbed some steps before pushing on through plate-glass doors discretely etched with the company logo. A receptionist welcomed us to Abbey Road and as she did so, Frank Ifield, together with a small’ entourage, waved her goodbye and disappeared out into the street.
Andrew turned to Jim.
“Hey, was that Frank Ifield ?”
“Which one ?”
“ Which Frank Ifield ? The Australian, Frank Ifield! The one who enjoyed great commercial success with a distinctive vocal style that incorporates, yodelling ! The one wearing the sheepskin coat!”
“Oh, that Frank Ifield! I didn’t really notice.”
Andrew felt that if it was him, it was a very patriotic statement that he should be seen promoting his country’s famous sheep rearing industry in his personal dress style.
We were shown into one of the studio spaces and very quickly became aware that this was the real deal, not an egg box in sight! The room was cavernous and it was not hard to imagine a full orchestra being comfortably accommodated here. All the walls were wood panelled and electric points with little brass cover-flaps were in evidence set into the carpeted floor. Off to one side was a concert grand with its lid already raised. Neal made straight for it and after settling himself on the padded stool, played a few chords. A disembodied voice issued from the previously unnoticed speaker on the same wall as the window of the control room,
“Welcome Blueberries. Get your gear in. Time is money.”
After Mac had set up his kit, the studio technicians flitted around positioning microphones. One near the bass drum and another overhead on a stand not unlike a large Angle-poise lamp. They completed their task by arranging baffle boards creating what looked like a low walled stockade. We were told this effectively cut down on sound leakage! Either side this, Jim and Andrew were told to plug in their amps and more microphones were arranged. Neal was informed there was no need for his contact mike as even more adjustable mike stands bpvered over the piano.
We were ready for a run through to check positions and levels and the equipment I was to use had a strange, not seen before, modification. A rectangular, metal gauze was fixed about four inches from the microphone. I assumed this was in the interests of hygiene but was informed that this avoided peaks on the dials when a vocalist enunciates explosive sounding words. Popping the P’s and huffing the ‘aiches. Did my eyes dim a little in the face of all this science? Certainly not.
Harold Wilson was leading a Labour Government. Winston Churchill smoked his last cigar and cigarette advertising disappeared from the T.V. screens. The first Habitat shops and catalogues were promoting the use of the chicken brick. It became a must have. Who knew that was indispensable? Amongst this series of highs and lows came E.M.I.’s rejection letter containing the comments,
“Mr. Paramor has listened to the test recordings we made very carefully but, whilst appreciating the appeal of the group as entertainers, does not consider he could help them on record at this stage. This is in no way to be taken as a criticism of their work, merely our commercial view of the present day market. ”
This acted only as a spur and we would use the experience. A chicken brick?
A glance at our stage equipment with the valves glowing beneath the strange, protective, metal cages of those old-fashioned. Linear amps and flex secured by matchsticks leading to home-made loudspeaker boxes was, we recognised, not too pretty a sight. We decided to invest in some brand new gear.
Andrew got himself, a state of the art, guitar amplifier that burst into life at the flick of a switch. No more warming up period needed. It even had channels offering special effects
like, ‘reverb’ on a point scale of one to ten. f visited a factory workshop in Mansfield and came away with a pair of column speakers and an amp’ from the fledgling company, ‘Carlsbro’. This new public address system was completed by the acquisition of a microphone from Shure. Although Neal tried a succession of electric pianos on the market, he still found them wanting. He disliked the sound and their keyboard action. Although it must be said that that the real thing’s action can be impaired when vomit or other substances are allowed to dry between the keys. A kettle of warm water was often found to be an adequate reviver. So Neal chose to rely on instruments provided by the establishments in which we played. I think he was really into the challenge and enjoyed the physicality and mechanical nature of how his sounds were generated and only once was he forced to perform using one of those, ‘dreadful Vox Continental things’.
Mac, never one to let the grass grow and noting the spirit’of enterprise that was sweeping across the country, decided the time was right for Chesterfield to get in on the Club Scene. Together with John Fleet, who had recently returned to the area after an acrimonious split from Berry and having disbanded the ‘original’ Cruisers, and was now between jobs, hired the upstairs room of The Queen’s Park Hotel. Membership cards were printed up, time was spent on the ‘phone and The Smokestack Club was up and running. Thursday evenings saw sessions from. Blues & Roots, Scott William Combo, Jo-Ann and Dave Kelly, who would end up in the Manfred Mann spin-off, The Blues Band, Joe Cocker and The Jaybirds. After The Jaybirds had metamorphosed into Ten Years After and their guitarist, Alvin Lee, had achieved guitar star status, both they and Joe were captured for posterity in the split-screen celebration of hippiedom, Woodstock, the movie.
The room was the size of a largish, knocked through, open plan lounge and occasionally, usually on open-mike nights or for the appearance of solo acts, round tables were arranged in the space evoking the mood of a Cafe-Bar.
Barbara and I arrived, and having exchanged pleasantries with Joe Cocker in the bar and got served with drinks, we knew, that as we climbed the stairs and could make out the strains of Joe’s group’s versions of^either, ‘Ingo’ or ‘Blue Feeling’, both Chuck Berry instrumentals, we would see the owlish, bespectacled, Vernon Nash on electric piano. He would, inevitably, be involved in some bizarre antic on the low bandstand which had been erected opposite the swing doors leading into the room. Did having to interrupt normal kids stuff for classical training, as these keyboard players inevitably had, cause this endearing eccentricity ?
Downstairs in the bar, oiling his larynx, Joe was aware that he had to keep a wary ear on proceedings taking place above his head. When Vern and the band kicked into the introductory, showtime, refrain lifted from, ‘James Brown Live at The Apollo’ L.P., he knew that was his cue to respond by picking up his pint and making for the stairs. Fie would arrive in perfect time to wind up the band with a whipping motion from his hand and go straight into, ‘I Go Crazy’, from the same source. It didn’t take much of a music critic to recognise the Ray Charles’ influence in Joe’s tone and phasing but it was the intensity in the performance that marked him out as something special.
Joe appeared strangely unambitious. He just did his thing and if folks liked it, great! Having said that though, he had jumped through all the usual hoops that, at the time, was reckoned to be de rigeur for, ‘making it’. He’d made a demo, had attracted the attention of Decca’s A.& R. men, namely Dick Rowe, who most famously, had failed to sign, The Fab Four and Mike Leander, who would later get attention for guiding Gary Glitter to success. He had been for a test session and was signed up as a solo artist and summoned to London. An expensive session with a full orchestra, was arranged, and ‘Georgia’ was taped closely following the Ray Charles version. However, the suits felt it was not commercial and Joe was back in the studio coming away having recorded a Beatles cover, the lightweight, ‘I’ll cry instead’. This was given a revved up, rock-a-billy treatment by session guitarists, Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page. At this time, Joe was
working under the name of Vance Arnold with his group. The Avengers, and the one good thing to come out of this experience, was that Decca insisted in using Joe’s real name. So, he had made a perfectly respectable record, but very little of his essential style had made it onto the wax and it failed to take off, resulting in Decca not renewing their interest
At The Smokestack, Joe had his right foot firmly anchored but everything else was moving and contorted. His chubby little hands played an imaginary guitar in time with Dave Hopper’s elegant blues lines then he arches his wrist to glide up to the high notes that Vernon has issuing from the piano and he transforms his whole body into a baton to stop the band. Not only was this an early mani festation of air-guitar but the largely unexplored, air-keyboard playing. Joe’s notion of having a group, involved constant change and many of the area’s most accomplished players not least John Fleet and Frank Miles, served time in Big Blues’ colours.
Like Dave Berry before him, Cocker had a very individual visual presentation. His personal style however, was described by Fleety as, Tike an unmade bed’. Of course, when The unmade bed’, joined, The dragged through a hedge backwards’ in conjunction with a dressing up box, and became a popular look, sometime towards the fag end of the decade, catching a mood from San Francisco, Joe was right there and on the money. This time he was able-to put his personal stamp on another Beatle track completely scorching Ringo’s original. ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’, No.l, 1968.
We had started to steadily allow slippage to occur from our initial position in the Blues camp when we took on board a more modernist approach resulting in Marvin Gaye, Solomon Burke, Joe Tex and Don Covay regularly appearing on the record-player at rehearsals. A case of dropping the ‘downhome’ for a more ‘uptown’ approach. Mac continued to unearth unusual selections like Jerry Lee Lewis’, ‘Ramblin’ Rose’ and Prince Buster’s, ‘Ten Commandments’ and songs by the Hit Pack and Shorty Long found on the Motown’s subsidiary label, Soul. We spent time on the arrangements and they went down well. As we had progressed from gigs in Workingmen’s Clubs and Pubs to Dance Clubs and Colleges we found ourselves in perfect sync’ with the popular ‘dance culture’ enjoyed at places like The Mojo where the ‘Block’ or the ‘Shake’ were in vogue.
We would eventually play our first six numbers strung together without a break to keep dancers on the floor. Andrew and Neil enjoyed the challenge of working out suitable segues.
‘Soul’ as modern R.& B. came to be called, emerged as a fully-fledged music genre around 1963. Much of the terrain had been covered earlier by the likes of Ray Charles and others coming from the jazz world notably, Charles Mingus and ‘Cannonball’
Adderly. They formed part of a move away from what was seen as the over-cerebral tendencies of the avant-garde re-assqrting roots in the blues and the church. Early commercial successes ensured Charles’ legendary status and The Drifters work with lead vocalist, Clyde McPhatter, continued the trend, as did, Sam Cooke’s move from singing Gospel music with The Soul-Stirrers to embellish, often banal, pop material with a quasireligious purity of feeling and James Brown was becoming, ‘The hardest working man in show business, Mr. Please, please, please himself !’
All this groundwork had been digested by the arrangers and musicians making records in Memphis at Stax and in Muscle Shoals at Fame and coincided with the teams of talented writers and performers who were gathered together in Detroit at Motown, which was not for nothing known as, ‘Hitsville, U.S.A.’
The old bluesmen, who got to tour Europe as part of The American Folk Blues Shows established in ’62 by a couple of German fans, were given the opportunity of earning decent money and were accorded a respect and adulation absent at home. Many were able to extend their musical careers and for some it prompted a re-birth. No wonder some never returned home. Incidentally, the London agent for the shows, Giogio Gomelsky, completed a circle, being a one-time manager of both the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds as well as running the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond.
In contrast, the Soul singers were usually a younger, hipper and a commercially aware proposition. These ‘Dapper Dans’ were well used to ‘burning up the house’. The Mojo was usually one of the stops on their, often hectic, itineraries.
When we played north of Sheffield, we would often round off the night by stopping off in Burngreve Road to take advantage of the Stringfellow’s hospitality. One particular Saturday night after playing a successful gig at Wombwell Baths, which incidentally, was
one of many similar Municipal spaces when, at night, conversion from swimming to dancing was achieved by wooden floors being slid over the bath, we called in at The Caribbean Club to catch the New Orleans singer, Irma Thomas’ appearance. She was over in England as a result of the exposure given to her by The Rolling Stones version of her soulful ballad, ‘Time on my side’. Although she had already done her thing before we had arrived, we were surprised and pleased to discover that we knew her ‘Tour Manager’, and that really meant, her driver, Tony. He had, from time to time, arranged bookings for us. We found him worried and depressed but pleased to see friendly faces. The appearance here at the C.C. had resulted in a financial shortfall as the contract had involved monies taken on the door. The dance-floor was only thinly inhabited. Black men shuffling around partnered by white ladies who, in the main, had hair the colour their Mothers wouldn’t recognise as theirs. We, well probably Mac, suggested they came with us over to The Mojo. Stringfellow, we guessed, would be up for it and would offer them a deal. We could tell Mac was a little smitten with Miss Thomas. A hint of pink was invading his cheeks. His bass-drum was ritually decorated by an image of Dusty Springfield. When he thudded, she breathed. We felt that if he could lay his hands on a suitable poster of Irma, a substitution would be forthcoming. Mac took the wheel of the limousine while Tony climbed in the back and explained the plan to Miss Thomas. She was happy and we couldn’t get enough of her ‘Noo Orlins’ accent. We followed on behind.
At about 1.30am. Peter was onstage giving Irma the introduction and build up only he could, whilst explaining to the audience that such a special treat was only possible because of the universal fame and reputation of the, ‘Mojo All-nighters’!
” It was hardly a case of ‘Keep on Running’ for Jhe Spencer Davis Group when they appeared at The Mojo. ”
So ran the strap line in The Sheffield Star and doubtless the journalist responsible prided himself on this introduction, quoting as it did, the group’s current No. I single. We were booked as support and arrived at the Club late in the afternoon. Already sitting around on the stage were Spencer, Pete and ‘Muff. They hailed from ‘Brum’ and we knew their personnel from coverage they had received in the papers and their reputation as a fine bunch of musicians had already preceded them. ‘Muff Winwood’s younger brother, Steve was messing about on the Club’s, Pop Art decorated, piano. He was a major talent on the scene, outstanding on guitar, organ and vocals and to hear him play and sing, in the flesh, was a treat we had all looked forward to. Spencer, the obvious leader, did the honours and we all exchanged nods or handshakes. We congratulated them on their No.l and looked forward to a good night. ‘Muff said they’d break out the Champers after the gig-
Pete, their drummer, and Mac agreed that two kits on the small stage would be a no-no. They tossed a coin, and Pete began unpacking his gear. Although, at the time, Steve was best known as a guitarist, he was particularly interested in Neil’s piano amplification and couldn’t resist giving us all an impromptu and brief burst of‘Georgia on my mind’. Hey, what a voice! He was a diminutive individual, very young looking, but the voice was a mature and rare instrument.
We all set up our gear and fooled around with everyone else’s instruments. We finally did sound checks and crossed the dance floor to hang out in the dressing room. This had obviously been the lounge of the Victorian house to which the club was attached and was quite comfortable. The Brothers Stringfellow provided mugs of tea as Spencer expressed reservations and concerns about having such a smash hit. What might be the affect on their long time supporters? Would they be put off by the commercial success? Like they needed to worry! The song was from Jackie Edwards, a bluesy rocker that was extremely danceable and Steve’s vocal was probably as good as anything previously heard on an English record. The novel use of a fuzz-box had obviously cut through to the mainstream. Oh come on, this was no sell out!
When it was time for us to play our set, about 45 minutes long,’getting to the stage was a tortuous experience. Apparently this was a regular feature of the Stringfellow’s booking strategy. Spot and sign up potential for a modest fee, then, clean up on the night after the National media had done their job. There was no such thing as capacity at the time. Just pack ‘em in. Peter insisted it was crowded, but not over crowded and many non-members were left disappointed outside. Having said that though, the Mojo membership list once boasted some 5000!
Stringfellow was in his element on stage and although it was very hot, everyone was up for a good time. We enjoyed a fantastic reception. Perhaps some mistook us for the main attraction as Andrew and I both wore our loud check shirts not unlike those popular with Spencer and the group. As we came off stage somewhat bedraggled, like drowned rats, it was obvious that every surface in the place, walls, ceiling and speaker boxes had turned the steam coming off the crowd into rivers of sweat. Back in the safety of the dressing ~ room, after wringing out our saturated shirts and pulling on dry T-shirts which we suspected would only remain in this state for a limited time, we wished Spencer and the boys the best of luck as they prepared to run the gauntlet. “It’s a great crowd but there’s rather a lot of them!” The reaction was thunderous but the conditions militated against the best of performances. Kids were now sitting on the stage and had climbed all over the PA speakers. Movement on the stage was very restricted and hence the piece in The Star. Spencer’s guitar succumbed to the conditions and shorted out and he was only able to continue using Andrew’s Epiphone.
After they had made it back to the dressing room and before the Asti Spumanti flowed, time was spent with heads stuck into bowls of cold water for minutes at a time and ‘Muff produced a First Aid tin to deal with an injury Steve had sustained to his hand, lashings of Germoline and an Elastoplast. The air was redolent with a mix of strange aromas.
We teamed up with them again a few months later at Buxton’s Pavilion and they were full of tales from gigs in Holland and Germany and by this time they had scored again in the Top Ten with another Jackie Edwards composition. This time they were on top form with an immaculate set which included both ‘downhome’ and ‘uptown’ material. ‘Dimples’ ( John Lee Hooker, Chicago ) to ‘Every little bit hurts’ ( Brenda Holloway,
Motown ). We all wondered how long Steve undoubted presence would remain in the group. We kne w record company suits were quite ruthless in their treatment of groups, often showing only interest in the singer.
We had a blank week-end on the playing front which allowed for some R. and R. Needless to say, Barbara and I caught a late night Corporation bus over to Sheffield en route to The Mojo. A kind of Busman’s Holiday! We were on the upper deck with five other passengers. Two young lads occupied the front seats and behind them were a couple of women, one older than the other. Mother and daughter? Work mates? Who knows, but their conversation never let up. We sit on the other side of the aisle and a man in a suit reads the evening paper in the seat behind us. I thought nothing much about how we were arranged until we reached Dronfield. I delved into my pocket for a cigarette as the bus was making a left turn and without warning a rigid, horizontal, scaffolding pole entered the front kerbside window pane. As the bus was only making fairly sedate progress, broken glass was thankfully confined to showering the unoccupied seat below it. However, the bus ploughed on and the pole began ripping through both windows and frames, making seemingly, inexorable progress in our direction. By now the two women were shrieking and I admit to being a little stunned, unable to really appreciate what was happening. Barbara read the situation quickly. She, with some violence, pushed me off the seat and made sure we were both on the floor as the pole passed over our seat, I guessed, about head height. The bus came to a halt and along with it, the pole, which now hovered above the prone body of the man who had been sitting directly behind us. We very carefully removed the glass chippings from our clothes and hair and turned to see the man using his paper to do the same. The conductor rushed up the stairs, quite ashen faced, to be greeted by our little troupe similarly lacking in colour, but amazed that we were none the worse for wear, escaping without even a cut or a bruise. One of the ” women soon recovered her colour and railed at him about just what did the driver think he was doing? As we left the bus, we were able to see the scaffolded building on the corner and the driver said the horizontals protruded out into the road and he never saw them. Someone from a nearby house produced some cups of tea while we waited for a relief vehicle. As we resumed our journey and I replayed the experience, I knew that Barbara was responsible for having saved our lives. I’d read somewhere that in some culture or other, Chinese I think, this meant we were bound together for life.
When we arrived at the club, we discovered that one of the hottest Soul brothers was due to go on stage. Wilson Pickett was billed as, ‘The Wicked Pickett’ and together with Steve Cropper the M.G.’s guitarist, he had co-written a song called ‘In the Midnight Hour’ which was the epitome of Southern Soul music with a modern dance beat. Cropper’s distinctive and ubiquitous playing on records coming out of the Stax studios guaranteed him hero status with us and I recall the surprise when the publicity photographs revealed he was, in fact, a white man. The multi racial mix employed at Stax was much more than a manager/artist arrangement and was a refreshing change to the media images of Southern red necks.
Pickett was very slick, electric blue mohair suit and initially, a crisp white shirt. He had the crowd eating out of his hand. Halfway through the set he instigated some audience
participation, calling volunteers on stage to duet with him. We were standing quite close to Peter Stringfellow and he immediately pushed me forward with the encouragement of, ‘Go on, you’re a singer!’ Pickett stretched out a hand and hauled me on stage and as the band vamped he and I traded, ‘Oh yeahs’ and ‘Ows’, him first, then me. Now Pickett had a prodigious range and each phrase was pitched higher than the last. Although I managed to surprise him by matching him on a couple of rounds, I inevitably ran out of notes.
Grins all round as Pickett shook hands with, ‘This boy’s got soul’ and then moved on to out-scream, another willing victim.
A good night then. A near-death experience culminating in Wilson Pickett conferring on me, ‘soul brotherhood’.
Thankfully, no further life-threatening episodes were experienced as The Mojo continued to provide the venue for us as a group to find ourselves in the presence of other American brothers and sisters. Billy Stewart whose version of‘Summertime’ displayed his remarkable and often bizarre vocalise. I must admit, I preferred his, ‘Sittin’ in the Park’ but this lost out to Georgie Fame’s cover. The Vibrations, a vocal group whose sensational gymnastic moves left us all agog. Did one of their number really run up the wall before executing a back-flip? Don Covay, a brilliant singing songwriter who was a personal fave and who often gets overlooked when the Otis/Aretha/Pickett/Sam and Dave appreciation of Soul Music is presented.
We were present when Ike and Tina and The Ikettes brought their ‘chitlin circuit’ review to the club. Ike had noticed me smoking and came up to ask,
“You got a light Mac?”
I swear, I quote his words verbatim. Leaving aside the fact that that I was not ‘Mac’, that old chestnut of a response teetered on my tongue. “No, but I do have a long brown overcoat.” However, one look at Ike’s unforgiving face and the fact that earlier on, Barbara had told me she had caught a glimpse of the ‘chiv’ Ike kept in his boot was all the restraint I needed to bite my tongue and hand over my box of matches. Anna Mae (Tina) was at this time taking her first steps on an escalator that would see the duo’s acrimonious split resulting in her becoming a mega-star. Ike’s important guitar and keyboard contributions to the architecture of rock and roll with the Kings of Rhythm in the 50’s were to be, almost completely, overshadowed by his other unfortunate predilections.
Of the home grown talent I have good memories of the Alan Bown Set and vocalist Jess Roden and Bluesology’s shy pianist Reg who was related to Roy Dwight who broke his leg in the Cup Final playing for my team Nottingham Forest. They went on to win the Cup, Reg went to become Elton John. .. ;
The dodgy, ‘Worksop demo-disc’ found its way to a Philips Records’ Group representative who, in turn, had passed it up the chain to a record producer. These fellahs often cloaked themselves in the mysterious acronym , ‘A.& R.Man’. Maybe I should have known what this stood for! His letter to Mac was signed, ‘Mike Hawker, Mercury Records, Artists and Recording Manager’. Ah, there you go then. It was an invitation to attend a ‘recording test’ at Marble Arch Studios, four in the afternoon, in a fortnight’s time.
Mercury, was a big player in America, and it hadn’t escaped my attention that the likes of The Platters, Freddy Bell, The Big Bopper, Johnny Preston and Bruce Channel had been responsible for the Label’s chart profile over here. As far as a back catalogue of success with British acts was concerned, that was still pretty thin. No matter, we were this close to a record deal. No counting chickens though. It was muted that Hawker was unsure, after playing the demo, that the vocals, which were down in the mix, (didn’t I say, didn’t I say?) would cut it when exposed, out front. Gulp. I was quietly concerned, but need not have bothered as flying colours were in evidence when we showed what we could do in the studio and Hawker came across as an enthusiastic, expensively dressed, silver cropped and sophisticated, hipster. “Call me Mike.”
Further information had filtered through about Mike’s C.V. His name had appeared orr a Dusty Springfield disc, right there, under the title. The guy wrote songs, hit songs! He initiated a search for suitable material with which, how did he put it? ‘To introduce you to the public.’ Mike didn’t see our audition numbers and current repertoire as Flit material and a positive tennis match of suggestions and counters winged their way to and from London. Among them were, Paul Simon’s ‘Sounds of Silence’, a bit too sweet for us but undeniably commercial as was amply demonstrated by The Bachelors who scored with it the following year and, Roscoe Gordon’s ‘Just a little bit’, a bit more like it, but we argued that it was far too well trodden. It never occurred to us that we were being a tad bolshie but, we weren’t about to waste this opportunity on material we would be unable to get behind or when we played the ‘record’ at home, made us cringe. Conspicuously absent was any Hawker originals, but lets face it, if you could get a song to Dusty why would you waste it on unknowns.
Luckily, Mike saw potential and was enthusiastic about a Don Covay recording Mac had found. Covay had been active writing and recording throughout the 50’s. He had even suffered a Hank Ballard/Chubby Checker moment in 1961 when ‘Pony Time’ topped the Charts in the U.S. courtesy of dear old Chubby. His greatest success however, was to be enjoyed further on down the line when Aretha Franklin re-cycled, ‘Chain of Fools’ which he had composed a good ten years earlier and belatedly a grammy was his reward.
‘Please Don’t Let Me Know’ was a B. side for;Don Covay and The Goodtimers and unusually it was not one of his own compositions. It was however, a superbly relaxed performance of a driving uptempo soul/blues. We thought it was just the thing for us to get our molars into. Mac had mailed the original disc to Mike who responded with the news that he would use it in arranging the backing singers’ charts. Gosh, our own Goodtimers and thoughts of The Raelets and The Ikettes sashayed into view.
Mike booked The Breakaways, three young ladies who had, indeed, broken away from The Vernon Girls who had enjoyed Chart action in 1962 after leaving their jobs with the well known Pools company.
We worked up our arrangement in rehearsal. Piano was substituted for guitar and Andrew came up with a strange opening chord which, as it decayed, changed like a re-tune. Neil then came in like Johnny Johnson did when driving along those Chuck Berry songs. Andrew threw in some taut flourishes across this rhythm and Mac and Jim meshed together to create a solid bottom end. Unlike the original, Andrew got a guitar break and we tacked on an ending that owed more than a little to James Brown’s staccato punctuations. We were keen to work out a proper resolution for the song, after all, we would eventually be playing it ‘live’. We hoped it would pass muster with Mike and could avoid the fade out ending. As for the B side. I’ll admit we paid it less attention as we had decided to go with, ‘Coming Home’ from the demo, a straightforward 12 bar with that distinctive Elmore James, Crossroads/Dust my Broom, riff. Still it’s a B side.
We were all excited as we clambered into the van early on a bright Derbyshire morning. Barbara came along to lend her support and any nervousness we may have been feeling was averted by the usual banal chif chat and the fact that Andrew announced he intended to trade in his Epiphone for a Fender to use on the recording. We’d have plenty of time. Our session was booked to start at 7pm. We looked forward to meeting The Breakaways and wondered what their contributions might sound like.
Our largely blameless and dependable Dormobile chose this of all journeys to throw a wobbly. It’s desire for attention caused Neil to make running repairs on the hard shoulder of the Ml. His diagnosis was that we would have to nurse it along and see how it went. Thankfully, it went and when we limped into London, a few fingers were uncrossed. We parked up at Marble Arch mid-afternoon and Andrew was eager to check out the Music shops in Charing Cross Road. We all dashed off to the Tube station. All that is, except for Neil who indicated he would prefer to administer to the van. Good old Neil! At least one of us was giving some thought to the journey home. It didn’t take long for Andrew to find a suitable instrument, do a part exchange deal and become the proud owner of a Fender Stratocaster, unusually lacquered but not painted. Although not a player, I could still appreciate it was indeed an object of desire.
We immediately noticed the difference during the initial warm-ups back at the studio. Andrew’s playing and tone had become much thicker and the time he had spent listening to records on the Stax label was obvicms as the sound took on the qualities of warm chocolate and I recognised a few licks from Cropper’s playing on ‘Walking The Dog’. It is a rare thing to be in the presence of an individual experiencing true inspiration and rarer still to recognise it in real time when you are focussing on getting your own thing down. But, Andrew had raised the bar and we all tried to respond to it. I have never tired of listening to the guitar lines he came up with on this our first session at Marble Arch.
There had been a minor disappointment though when we first arrived at the studio. Only
one Breakaway was present and we learned that she was to have only a watching brief.
We had been introduced and surprise, surprise, it turned out her surname was Hawker, in fact Mrs Hawker, Mike’s wife. Well, why not keep it in the family? She explained that her two colleagues were unable to make it and what’s more, one, who incidentally was married to Joe Brown, the well known Cockney singer and guitar player was, in fact, heavy with child and had been feeling a little fragile.
“No need to worry”, said Mike, “we’ll dub them on later. Let’s have some tea. You know, hit records are made with sweet tea and crumbly biscuits.”
The Philips Studio complex at Marble Arch was slightly smaller than that found at Abbey Road but the atmosphere was much more welcoming and intimate. No doubt this impression was coloured by the fact that any apprehension and pressure felt when trying to clear an audition hurdle was behind us and we were here armed with a degree of legitimacy. We figured that everyone we came into contact with from the man positioning microphones, his colleague sitting at the mixing desk to Mike’s assistant with her clipboard, would be contributing something to our efforts.
Afler a ‘take’, we awaited Mike’s voice coming over the intercom either, “Go again” or “Come through and have a listen.” The early ‘takes’ were often halted mid-song with a, “Hold it, hold it!” and an engineeryvould enter and adjust a microphone or two before disappearing again. These were usually the ones concentrated around Mac’s kit or the black Chapell Grand that Neil was hunched over.
We spent most of the time on ‘Please Don’t Let Me Know’ and after a break for the burgers that Barbara had slipped out for, Mike suggested we have a crack at trying to lay down our own backing vocals. Now, I’m not sure if he foresaw this as the inevitable period of light relief that it turned out to be or it was a vain hope of discovering a previously dormant vocal group. Anyway, I was joined, around the microphone by Andrew and Neil, the only ones who could be prevailed upon to, at least, give it a shot. Neither had ever previously made any pretence or desire to vocally carry a tune. Headphones were produced, the track rolled and before long we were re-enacting a scene from Stan Freberg’s ‘Banana Boat Song.’ “Day-oh. Man, that’s too loud. Move further back. Still too loud man!” I’m afraid we demonstrated all the vocal subtlety of a terrace chant. Luckily our embarrassment was lessened by the fact that Mrs. Hawker had, some time earlier, made her excuses and left. Something about, Mike’s supper. Needless to say, Mike did not stumble across another set of Moonglows or Beach Boys.
It was a little after 11pm. when we packed our gear into the van, said our goodbyes and headed for the Motorway. Neil and M&c took turns in easing us Northwards. The van responded to the gentle touch and, with only the occasional cough and splutter, we eventually reached home turf about 6am. It was another bright and sunny July morning and it perfectly matched our collective optimism. We were dropped off in turn and headed for our beds and sleep but not, I guessed, before re-playing the events of the day.
Weeks later, incidentally on the seven hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, we all put pen to paper on a contract and received our copy of the terms
on Philips Records stationary. It stated that we had agreed to perform under the professional name of, ‘THE BLUEBERRIES’ for Philips Records Limited, ‘hereinafter referred to as, “the Company” and the agreed royalty payable would be set at 5%.’ Mike followed this up with a letter informing us that The Breakaways had indeed done their stuff and been added and congratulated us on the professional way we had worked in the studio.
Shopping for clothes in London was always something Barbara and I enjoyed and once again we were off to rummage in shops offering their wares by employing a new marketing style, the boutique. Old style would involve an assistant descending on you the moment you crossed the establishment’s threshold with a rehearsed, ‘How can I help Sir/Madam ?’ New style involved no such evidence of hard sell. In fact, once you had found a desired garment, tried it for size and decided you wanted to make the purchase, the hunt would begin for someone associated with the establishment who would relieve you of your money. A boutique was usually inhabited by young men or women who were wearing clothes not unlike those found on the racks and would be wandering about, either feeling that sleeve, stroking that collar or even reclining on a sofa leafing through a magazine. It was not unknown for Barbara to be asked for her assistance by confused potential customers who were attempting to make a purchase and thought she looked the part. One foolproof way of avoiding^similar embarrassment was to keep a watchful eye out for anyone making a successful purchase and then never letting the identified sales assistant out of your sight. I suppose just walking out of the shop with a garment might have helped with this identification but the risk of being subsequently introduced to a policeman was a deterrent that worked for most of us.
I browsed in ‘Lord John’ and ‘Take Six’ in Carnaby Street and would accompany Barbara to Kensington to visit ‘Bus Stop’ and ‘Biba’. When ‘Biba’ started their Mail Order Catalogue, intriguing little packages with their Art Deco logo would begin arriving at Barbara’s home in Inkersall. In Chesterfield, ‘Hurdy Gurdy’ opened its doors and naturally Barbara became well known to the proprietor, a young Mr. Hargreaves who when he ‘phoned with details about new stock, announced himself as, ‘Hargreaves,
Hurdy Gurdy.’ As for stuff I might wear, ‘Graham Wright’ offered a bespoke option in his intimate little shop before his son moved out to open the more specifically youth orientated and ready-to-wear, ‘In Style.’ Over in Nottingham, always worth a visit, was ‘Paraphernalia’ and ‘Birdcage’ and at ‘Jeffs’ occasionally imported 501 ’s with button flies could be found.
At this time, I was the only member of the group who did not possess a driving licence. I did however, own a terrific pair of Italian made, white loafers that had ‘Auto Shoes’ stamped on the soles. The design incorporated a ready made, sloping ‘down at heel.’ Peter Stringfellow, I know, coveted these shoes and said he would look out for a similar pair when he was in London after he landed a Friday job, off-camera on, ‘Ready Steady Go.’ We briefly caught sight of him on the screen shepherding dancers around the cameras when we tuned in to the show’s James Brown Special. Fie would inevitably appear at The Mojo the following night, kitted out in newly purchased clobber. Don’t think he ever found the shoes.
A feeling of optimism seemed to permeate everything in our lives. The possibilities were endless. Popular culture at the time was an ever changing feast and if unfortunate enough not to have been a young person during these years, it is inevitable that its unique excitement will be quite hard to fathom. Movement and changes of direction were not a shock but were to be wholly expected; every month, every week, every day. Every time you walked into a record shop, opened a magazine or book or turned on the T. V. Even between finding your trousers and zipping them up.
Having said that, when Mike contacted us after balancing our recorded titles and transferring them to acetate, with the news that he had decided to hold them back for future use as B sides, it was a bit of a let down. Back to square one and the need for ‘a stronger, even more commercial’ topside was indicated. This was a process that was to take about three months. Mike further informed us that The market seems to have changed drastically’. We weren’t sure what changes Mike was referring to and it only made us wonder what did he think he’d signed when he’d signed us.
We persevered with trawling the corners of the R.& B. canon, but not before visiting a young man with ‘songs’. We sat in his Sheffield flat while he plugged in his Grundig tape-recorder and played us a succession of tunes with moon/June lyrics. A couple even contained the obligatory yeah-yeafts in the chorus. We said we’d get back to him but this was not what we were looking for. It still never crossed our minds that we should make the creative leap and have a go ourselves. Andrew Oldham, the Stones manager, had to force Jagger and Richards into composing and we figured what was good enough for the Animals, Spencer Davis and others would be good enough for us.
During this time we appeared alongside such disparate outfits as the Moody Blues (Denny Laine, the lead singer, was very good and their set contained a nice mix of blues and soul and a great cover of Bessie Banks, ‘Go No’), Heinz (peroxide hair, ex-Tomado, gone solo), the Honeycombs (girl drummer and chart single) St. Louis Union (Merseybeat) and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (great guitar and a bona fide classic single, ‘Shakin’ All Over’.’)
As luck would have it, Mike chose to get us in to cover an old Ike and Tina Turner song, ‘It’s Gonna Work Out Fine’. Okay, so we had to adjust the lyric a touch but we were alt relieved that it was a song we liked and we were happy enough with the choice. Mike admitted to being a bit disappointed that Andrew was not yet using one of them fuzz boxes. ‘Satisfaction’, now there’s a thought.
Once again, we were teamed with the Breakaways and this time they were at full strength in the studio, keeping pretty much to the lines taken by the Ikettes on the original record. Our version was taken at a faster tempo and had what Mike referred to as a ‘rave up’ ending and a fade. The ‘ladies’ were really into it and were a joy to work with. I was quite pleased with my vocal track and thought it an improvement on our first session. It was decided that the two Breakaways-backed songs would hang together well and we looked forward to receiving some advance promo’ copies.
We had always attracted and encouraged guest sit-ins at our gigs particularly when we played in the informal setting of The Smokestack. Morgan would often bring along his white Strat. and would trade licks with Andrew before going off to pursue a career in Medicine and Scott William, after disbanding his own Combo, travelled with us for a while before leaving to try life on the Continent. We recognised that a second guitar filled out our sound and found a young fellah named Jeff who fitted the bill and was bedded in by the time of this second session. He possessed what can be best described as a deeply winning slopppiness but the fact that he doubled on bass allowed Jim to demonstrate his abilities on the saxophone. He’d been itching for the chance. With a brother, Richard, at University in London, we were able to prevail upon him when we travelled South and needed a stop-over. Richard’s furniture and floor always seemed to be occupied by student friends in need of a place to crash and comfort never came into it.
Chesterfield still slumbered and apart from The Smokestack and special events at The Vic’ and the even rarer package show calling in at the ABC Cinema, the music scene was happening somewhere else.
After a’ reccy’ of the Odeon Cinema’s ballroom and having come away and done a few sums, Mac plunged further into the role of Promoter. This time, Barbara and I partnered him in the venture. John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers were booked for the opening night at, “The Grand Black Daffodil.” I’m not sure about the origins of the name, but one reason must have been,.the obvious and cheap-to-print club logo.
A week prior to our inaugural opening, as chance would have it, we discovered the Bluesbreakers were due to be performing over in Mansfield. We reasoned it would be a good business idea to be there, not least, to check out our investment and to introduce ourselves to the principles.
Since guitarist Eric Clapton had decamped from the very fashionable Yardbirds, his profile as a top ‘face’ had risen considerably and many column inches in the music press had been filled concerning his dedication to playing blues in preference to appearing on Top of the Pops.
At this time, a closeness existed between groups and the Mod audience. It was a two-way experience and was undoubtedly a result of the real physical proximity that existed. After all, they were all there, except for the Beatles, in the local ‘Beat’ clubs. Therefore the ‘starry’ mentality was all but absent. The common feeling was, we were all in it together, either in the audience dancing or up on the bandstand. This would inevitably change and Clapton would be swept along by it when he made his next career move.
At the Co-operative Hall, Mansfield, Eric gave the impression of being somewhat tired and emotional. Wearing a black suit and grey spats and sporting impressive pork chop sideburns, he was to spend most of the evening sitting on stage half-hidden by a large piano which occupied about a third of the stage area. I just bet that when the group arrived at the venue and asked the caretaker about the possibility of moving this instrument which was superfluous to their requirements, there was a sharp intake of
breath and a reply which included the words, ‘more than my jobsworth’.
Still, they lived up to their advance publicity, and gave a performance that befitted ‘the’ premier blues group in England. Clapton’s playing was often described by the more flowery music journalists as capable of making time standstill but, whether or not our watches had stopped, his playing was quite special. Hughie Flint, the drummer and John McVie on bass came across as quite serious individuals who took their cues from John Mayall whose manner was friendly but businesslike, not unlike that of a schoolmaster.
He was.obviously in charge, it was his group! When we left with a, ‘See you in Chesterfield next week’, their polite response was,
“Qkay, looking forward to it”, delivered like an echo.
Thankfully, by the time they arrived at the Odeon, in the guise of the Grand Black DafT, Clapton had regained a full measure of composure. He even remembered seeing us before and apologised for his previous demeanour on account of him being a trifle disorientated. Hughie suggested, “disorientated as a newt”, and they both grinned. Mayall set up his Hammond organ, with its large white lettering spelling out his name on the back, to the right of the small bandstand. After hauling his amp. on stage and plugging in and tuning his red Gibson Les Paul, Clapton began sifting through the discs that lay around the / turntable that we had set up just off-j-stage. He became quite animated when he came across an imported copy of the Mar-Keys album, “The Great Memphis Sound” and asked to hear it. Incidentally the Mar-keys were the MG’s with an added brass section.
“Hey John, listen, this is the guitarist that’s on everything!” Both Clapton and Mayall listened intently to Steve Cropper. The fact that they rated his playing so highly, came as – a bit of a surprise as the overall sound was far closer to the Hit Parade than these two dedicated blues devotees had publicly stated that they wanted to venture. Furthermore,
Eric showed enthusiasm for the discs we had from the Motown label which had been released here by a variety of companies from Fontana, Oriole, Stateside and London American. The Tamla Motown label was first to appear in Britain under E.M.I.’s wing in 1965.
With the sky blue Stax label spinning on the turntable and the sounds from Memphis, Tennessee booming out of my column speakers which we had strung up above the bandstand, Barbara was all set to open the doors and admit the paying public. A healthy number began filing in but not before being rubber-stamped on the back of their hands. Mac and I took turns in trying to inject some kind of‘club’ atmosphere into the place which, in retrospect, was a ballroom that was a little too grandly appointed. It was, after all, more used to afternoon teas with waitresses in uniforms of black dresses and white aprons or a Works’ dinner-dance presided over by A1 Needham’s Band. The interior was decorated in that ‘red’ one often found in stately homes. There were mirrors placed above the dado and the perimeter of the highly polished dancing area was deeply carpeted, red again. The curtains at the windows, which when drawn back, would afford views of the Spire, were letting in a little too much early evening sunshine. We had requested that the local constabulary supply an officer to wander in, purely as a show of security, although present were a number of friends who could be relied on to be ready to offer support (physical) if needed. Neither Mac nor I relished being cast in the role of bouncers.
After a short walk down the hill to the Station Hotel for a swift pre-gig libation, the Bluesbreakers arrived on the bandstand at precisely the pre-ordained time. Phew.
Mac announced them as, “The sound of Chicago. John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers featuring Eric ‘Slowhand’ Clapton.”
The crowd drew1 close to the stage. Dancing was less of a priority with a group like this. One responded to the intimacy that exists when buzzing in your ears confirms that you’re within spitting distance of a cranked up speaker cabinet. Bass frequencies take a grip, seriously, it’s about feeling the noise.
The first set was superb. Everyone was on top of their game but as Clapton was about to embark on one of his featured instrumental tour-de-forces, ‘Steppin’ Out’, his Marshall amp. produced worrying electrical bleeps before falling silent. Whilst the two Johns hurriedly investigated the problem, Eric, who up to that point had not demonstrated much desire to be verbally extrovert, stepped up to the mike and launched into a hilarious and ironic diatribe pointing out the distinctive and unrivalled qualities of, ‘Marshall amplifiers’. The two Johns came up empty, shook their heads and the last rites were read. “Can I ? ” Clapton was now pointing with his jack plug in the direction of my amp^ which we had been using to DJ.
I nodded, “Be my guest.”
He flipped all switches to maximum and for the rest of the set took no prisoners, playing some of the most thrilling sounds that this piece of equipment would ever be called upon to reproduce.
Stringfellow had made it over from Sheffield at our invitation and being on the guest list was part payment for the nights he had played the genial host. He enjoyed himself and was quite complimentary about our little enterprise.
Unknown to him was Barbara’s growing realisation, as she was totting up the take on the door, that it was becoming increasingly likely that we had failed to reach our break-even attendance. A too generous guest list? Perhaps. However, any anxiety felt was immediately banished when Mayall was made aware of our predicament and his reaction was, “No problem, give us what you can.” Still, it was a sobering and embarrassing introduction to this other side of the ‘biz’. The upside was that we had been at the centre of a terrific show and everyone seemed to appreciate the ambience we had tried to engender. People left feeling they had experienced something special and the feel-good factor obviously transmitted itself to the group who had felt able to throw off their public images of dour, serious minded, introverts. Clapton opened up further, significantly out of the others’ earshot, with a comment that we had caught them at the ‘right time’ as change was in the air. It appeared he had beefr ‘jamming’ with a couple of other musicians with a view to the future.
A month or so later the New Musical Express and others were falling over themselves with excitement at the thought of Clapton joining forces with Jack Bruce from Manfred Mann and Ginger Baker from Graham Bond’s Organisation to form ‘Cream’ and a new
descriptor, ‘Supergroup’, was applied. Cream played quite a few gigs on our patch and Barbara and I got to see them several times, reacquainting ourselves with Clapton. We were never sure what that stuffed bear, they occasionally shared the stage with, was all about though. When they arrived in the U.S., their status as ‘heavy metal gods’ was conferred and confirmed. Timing was everything. They were immediately championed by the new medium of communication, FM radio. Regulations had been introduced that challenged radio stations to vary their FM/AM programming. As AM was Top Forty, groups like Cream, whose most characteristic performances were to be found on albums, were seen as a Godsend.
On their return to these shores, they topped the bill at the Windsor Jazz Festival. This was an early rehearsal for that dubious experience of sitting in a muddy field listening to music and when darkness falls, showing your appreciation by holding aloft your cigarette lighter and then attempting to locate your tent or means of transport. I attended this event with Ian, a guitar player with a group from Matlock, Derbyshire, called Memphis Blue. Our sleeping arrangements were his Mini van. Early in the afternoon we were rather taken by the appearance of Fleetwood Mac, a group made up almost entirely of individuals who had, at one time or another, been employed by John Mayall. The ‘Mac’ part in the name, was contributed by bass player, John. On lead guitar was Peter Green who had stepped into Clapton’s shoes and was now fronting this outfit. Their set was very well received. Ian really liked the Elmore James section provided by the second guitarist, Jeremy Spencer. Apparently Memphis Blue had added ‘Shake your Moneymaker’ to their repertoire.
When Cream eventually took the stage, we both noticed that the American experience – had involved changes, not least, visually. Clapton, always a natty trendsetter, was attired in what looked like a Mexican table-cloth. It was draped around his shoulders and required frequent adjustments. We later discovered it was to be referred to as a poncho. All three members of the group sported perms like periwigs. They appeared to be persevering with equipment supplied by the Marshall Company but now the proportions had taken on an American scale, being that of reasonably sized wardrobes. That buzzing sensation in your ears could be experienced from a greater distance from its source than before. They played fast, loud and long and no technical malfunction were evident. Clapton was even contributing vocally but Ginger Baker’s drum feature was still part of the set. I suppose it did give Bruce and Clapton the opportunity of a refreshment break.
The ‘Grand Black DafF episode was to be a short-lived affair. We did have a few more good nights but we knocked it on the head as soon as we got the nod that our recordings were to see the light just after Christmas.
“It’s Gonna Work Out Fine ” is the title of the first record to be released by Chesterfield’s own group, “The Blueberries”. If this optimistic title proves true we may find that Chesterfield will gain a foothold on the Pop Music map ”
The article went on to promise a memorable occasion on two counts when, on the record’s release day, we would be supporting the Hollies at The Vic’. Their two main vocalists had voices which when meshed together produced harmonies which were unmatched on this side of the Atlantic. Although not prodigious writers their choices of material was always sure-footed and interesting. This was to be the hit making Manchester outfit’s last ballroom appearance before going into the ‘more intimate field of cabaret’.
We found out pretty quickly that our recording company would be offering little or nothing in the way of promotion. Save for providing us with the address and suggesting a link up with the Harold Davidson Agency, there would only be the regulation company ads. in the music papers. No record pluggers would be out there pestering DJs or offering inducements to give their product a push. They were seemingly happy enough that Horst Jankowski was doing good business with, ‘A Walk in the Black Forest’. I recall an old Gospel saying, c Throw your money against the wall, if it sticks it’s yours. If it falls, it’s the Lords.’ With some modification, it would seem. Mercury Records had taken this on board. We had to be satisfied that after the prevarication in the past, we would have a record out!
We attended a Record industry function in a Birmingham hotel and met groups of record shop owners and workers. Upcoming records were given an airing over the PA. enabling those present, under the influence of the odd vol-au-vent, cubes of tired cheese and pineapple and a glass of wine or two, to mark their cards and plan for future orders. To my ears, the most obvious chart tip was the McCoys, ’Hang On Sloopy’ which Stones Manager, Andrew Oldham, had picked up in the U.S. and intended to use in launching Immediate Records. We circulated, and found people with enthusiastic product knowledge.
We put ourselves about locally and The Derby Telegraph, The Derbyshire Times and The Sheffield Star all ran features and photographs. We got a full-page cover picture in the Star’s weekend teen supplement, ‘Top Stars Special’. We were depicted near the top of an incline with the Crooked Spire looming out of the January mist in the background.
Neil and Andrew are wrapped up in winter coats but still look frozen to the bone and Jim carries his saxophone. Mac, Jeff and I brave the biting wind in jackets. I sensibly sport a white polo neck sweater which a few weeks later would complete the outfit of some misbegotten toe-rag who stole it from the dressing room at the Matlock Bath Pavillion.
Some of the articles were the source of quiet chuckles as we read that our drummer/ leader had adopted the sobriquet, Dave Mack (Rock ‘n’ roll enough for you ?) and what I did whilst singing was interpreted as a ‘dance routine’.
We took advantage of bookings arranged for us in the South by the London agency and played Wimbledon Palais and an afternoon date at the Marquee Club in Wardour Street. This was alongside The Boz People and one Davy Jones and his group The Lower Third. Jones would, much later, change into ‘David Bowie7. The event was sponsored by Radio London, one of a hugely popular clutch of pirate radio stations, which would briefly show the B.B.C. the way forward. These stations, often operating offshore from ships, recognised that young people were a profitable demographic. The Government hounded them out of existence on the grounds that they contravened licensing regulations. These events were compered by the Station’s own Celebrity DJ.’s (many of who would be signed up by the Beeb when Radio One was launched) and were advertised as featuring, ‘top popsters as special guests’.
In the club we found ourselves in a dressing room with walls decorated by the signatures of previous occupants. Everyone of note appeared to be there. Some more decipherable than others. Townsend, Moon etc under the legend, ‘The Who, Maximum R & B’. the Spencer Davis and Manfred Mann groups, the Animals, the Moody Blues, Alex Harvey, Graham Bond and Clapton (twice, under both, the Yardbirds and the Bluesbreakers). The Melody Maker described the Marquee as, ‘ the pop corner of the world ’ and added, ‘It is the melting pot of today’s hip music where trends are born and stars emerge. There is nowhere else like it in the world. ’
While chatting to Boz People’s singer, Boz, I couldn’t help but notice the metropolitan dope scene manifest itself as Boz’s bass player rolled out and smoked a huge joint before going on stage in euphoric mood. However, jumping around on stage and forgetting that the ceiling at The Marquee was dangerously low meant he ended their appearance in a heap on the floor, knocked out cold.
After pencilling in our contribution on a patch on the wall, we were called on stage for a brief interview and the hilarious and not a little humiliating spectacle of miming to both sides of our record. We were received with a fair degree of enthusiasm by an audience, made up mainly, of young Japanese and Germans. What a strange and bizarre ritual it was, but if we got some radio play, it seemed worth it.
Another foray South, Brighton I think, provided us with the dubious pleasure of meeting the disembodied voice usually heard on the end of Mac’s telephone. Colin had made his own way from London and was at the club when we arrived. Thankfully for the rest of us he immediately latched onto Mac who, while setting up his gear, had to endure a constant stream of dialogue that demonstrated a near perfect recital from the Book of B-S. He carried a limp and apologised for not being much help setting up. He continued with a verbal restlessness we were to realise was his special hallmark. He’d been on the road with so and so and it was him that had given them the idea of, and so on and so on and so on. The rest of us kept our counsel, carefully avoiding eye contact.
At the end of the first set, I overheard him suggesting to Mac that he should play heavier. Now as a vocalist that’s the last piece of advice you want to hear being passed to a
drummer. It’s all well and good in the instrumental passages but it rarely stops there. Kenny Slade, a phenomenal percussionist who had been with Dave Berry, Joe Cocker, Paul Jones and had stints in pick-up bands behind the likes of Del Shannon and Bobby Hebb and had a constitution that befits a drinking buddy of fellow drummer, Keith Moon, sat in with us one night. The drive he imparted was, I’ll admit, intoxicating, but the fills and rolls which incidentally he could execute with one hand, began to distract me somewhat (Oo er. I’ve come over, all ‘Dusty’!) Having said that though, sitting in a pub listening to Kenny talk about music and stop mid-sentence to listen and point out something on an accompanying record was an enduring education.
At the end of the evening which Colin announced as, ‘Tine job, but seriously you guys should think about writing your own stuff!” We discovered that Mac had agreed to give him a lift home. No problem we thought. London is not out of our way, but as we wended our way through the darkened villages of Suffolk and then Norfolk and approached the outskirts of Norwich, we just figured that any resistance that Mac had initially felt, had been relentlessly worn away. Colin was some salesman !
I had contacted my old pal John who was now employed as a Graphic Artist and he designed a terrific flyer for us. It was in the form of a black shirt-front with a white button-down collar and white kipper tie. The tie’s design was embellished by orange letters that spelled out our group name. The record’s title and reference number was picked out in black. It caught perfectly a design style that built on the Pop Art paintings of Peter Blake, here in England, and American artists Ed Ruscha and Robert Indiana in the way that lettering was incorporated in their work. The result was a poster-style that would become known universally as, ‘psychedelic’. We indulged in a spot of illegal fly posting.
Release date and reviews in the music papers, while not exactly fulsome, were nothing to be ashamed of. Publishers, Cinephonic Music Ltd. of Denmark Street bought ads. in the Trade papers which announced, ‘A great new group! The Blueberries ’ and Celebrity reviewer, Penny Valentine in her column in Disc Weekly suggested, ‘The Blueberries do a pretty fair imitation of Paid Jones on ‘Its Gonna Work Out Fine. ’ Reading that, made us smile. Norman Jopling and Peter Jones in The Record Mirror, whilst correctly acknowledging the Small Faces’ ‘Sha-La-La La-Lee’, as a Top Fifty Tip, detected, ‘A fine bluesy lead voice – really getting a grip on the well-known lyrics. Choral bits behind. Good production – but sadly, The Blueberries may faiV The smiles turned more rueful.
Working at Hudsons, Mac regularly read Record Retailer and Music Industry News and we were pleased to see our record was amongst a number, which included the Mamas and Papas – ‘California Dreamin’, the Exciters – ‘Little Bit Of Soap’ and the Miracles – ‘Going to a Go-Go’, listed as being introduced on Radio Luxenburg’s manufacturer sponsored programmes. Hearing the disc played on the radio would have been a buzz but unfortunately we all seemed to have missed it.
Friends and relations and some people we never had nor would meet were minded to add the disc to their collections. In the case of some of the relatives, this would be the only time they would cross the threshold of a record shop. In fact some did not even possess the means to play the thing. Alas, their combined forces were not enough to trouble the Hit Parade statisticians. Although Mac’s colleagues and contacts in record retailing, particularly those in shops that were outlets polled by the Press in compiling their charts, did achieve a limited impact. We luxuriated in the modest placement in The Liverpool Echo’s Top Forty! Had this regional result been transferred to the ‘nationals’ this may well have been enough to boost sales and with it the promise of upward movement. This, we were well aware, had been known to happen! However, no payola was involved and our chart position was a one-week wonder.
To be thought of as a ‘recording group’ did provide us with a spring in our steps and subsequent performances reflected it. We were on a bill in Worksop with an impressive David Essex. We got on well. He was quite chatty and was complimentary about our set and expressed surprise that we were still semi-pro. He had tried his luck with two releases at Decca and was now optimistic about a new deal with Fontana. With his cockney swagger combined with an easy charm and presence it was hard to fathom why it was taking so long for him to break through. It was no surprise when, years later, he eventually made it and made it big !
We took on board Colin’s advice and Mac and I were deputed to develop some words and music. We had noted how riffs and bass lines on records we owned had been appropriated and recycled by our contemporaries. Even The Beatles were at it, lifting the riff from Sanford Clark’s ‘Go On Home’ for ‘It Won’t Be Long’ yeah. Then there was the Small Faces’ ‘What You Gonna Do About It?’ This was a re-working of Solomon Burke’s ‘Everybody Needs Somebody’. Although we didn’t try anything that blatant, it should be noted that the practice was still very much in evidence when Marc Bolan and T.Rex came up with Howlin’ Wolfs ‘You’ll Be Mine’ calling it ‘Jeepster’.
Working from an existing lyric, by counting the number of syllables on a line and noting rhymes and the interesting use of internal rhymes and something called a bridge and a hook, was our chosen modus operandi. Therefore, coming up with alternative words for an existing song was the first step. The tune was then discarded or, at the very least, modified and Mac would search for likely intro’s and riffs among his extensive record collection and a new melody could be developed. So, ‘Baby face, you got the cutest little Baby face ’ becomes, ‘Cloudy skies, Vm lying looking up at Cloudy skies ’ and ‘There’s not another who can take your place, Baby face ’ becomes, !My hopes have faded like my old Levis, Cloudy skies. ’ See ? Anyway it works for me! It would need musicians like Andrew and Neal to fit it all together and make it work in rehearsals.
I press the button labelled FFWD until the age of digital technology is reached. With something called a ‘sampler’ anyone can now lift snatches from discs and remix them into their own compositions. This is often without any kind of acknowledgement. Now, to use a fogey phrase, ‘in my day’, musicians and want-to-bees, painstakingly learnt their parts on their own instruments. In doing so, inaccuracies and plain old hamfistedness
could lead to new riffs and beats being arrived at. There is an artistic and moral argument to be had but I’m not taking sides. Other than to say, Clyde Stubblefield, not a famous name you’ve got to admit, will be the most sampled drummer in the world. Stubblefield worked with James Brown.
We were still enjoying regular bookings, now mainly, on the University and Teacher Training College circuit. Here we found an audience comprising of prospective captains of industry and those charged with moulding young minds, and who enjoyed the accompaniment of‘live5 music for their revelries. This usually meant focusing on getting off with each other or indulging in drinking games. An appreciative gathering then.
Sadly, it was beginning to sink in that an era was drawing to a close. It was becoming increasingly obvious that more and more venues and the promoters who ran them were showing a serious interest in investing in decent sound systems. It was a difficult argument to counter. Certainly ‘Soul Music’ was better served by these discotheque speakers blasting out Stax and Tamla Motown records than most of the home grown purveyors. It had to be faced, the road was getting considerably narrower!
The records made by the Chicago bluesmen were almost always ‘documentary’ recordings. They were put together ‘live’ by, usually, a small group of musicians. One of their number, who we found out later, was more often as not, bass player/ composer Willie Dixon, took charge and that was it ! We had been drawn to these sounds and the instrumentation that produced them. We felt moved to make our, sometimes rough, approximations. ‘Soul’, on the other hand however, was becoming an increasingly ‘studio’ music. Stax and Motown, were now in top gear, and were producing a different kind of ball game! We had all done our bit, however limited, in drawing attention to the original artists and the music was deservedly enjoying its commercial highpoint. Pickett, Redding, Sam and Dave, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes, the Four Tops, and the Temptations all had broken into the Pop Charts where they rubbed shoulders with the likes of, Petula Clarke, Ken Dodd, the Seekers, Val Doonican and Cliff, the main representatives of the acceptable face of middle-of-the-road Pop.
Conventional wisdom has it that the heart of the Sixties lies somewhere between ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and the Woodstock Festival. Oh no! Not even in your wildest hippie dreams. It was our perception that everything was slowing down and the best was probably all in the past.
What had been the driving force and inspiration for the most vibrant sounds of the Sixties and was now looking less likely to provide a springboard for a scene that was becoming increasingly fragmented was the fascination with black idioms. While the original artists were extending a tradition in which they were raised, we were drawing on an alien tradition in order to contradict and modify the one we were familiar with. Okay, so the assimilation was, all too often, shallow and crude. Toughness preferred to sentimentality, freedom rather than repression, an honest technical roughness over sanitised smoothness and spontaneity against cold calculation. For well over a decade the rich regional nature of the best American music coming out of Memphis, Chicago, New Orleans, Nashville or Detroit had provided the hottest and hippest sounds around. Quite how these centres would respond to the impact of the sustained onslaught of the ‘Made in Britain’ brand, much admittedly calling to mind the words, coal and Newcastle, would determine the shape of the next decade.
Think for a moment what had already had been achieved. Phil Spector had weighed in with an impressive and idiosyncratic body of work reaching high points with stunning records by the blue-eyed Soul of the Righteous Brothers and Ike and Tina Turner. The Beatles had just released, ‘Rubber Soul’, arguably their most satisfying album and the Beach Boys, having sniffed the breeze, left Brian Wilson at home to fiddle about in the studio and fiddle he did. Taking cues from Spector, he twiddled every available enrichment button manufacturing a string of remarkable sun-block-sporting symphonies. In contrast, here in England, first the Kinks, then the Who unleashed their sparse, staccato power chords culminating in the squeals of feedback of, ‘My Generation’. It was the aural equivalent of the pictures hanging in the Tate Gallery where Pop Art painters, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Peter Blake were showing hard edged, brightly coloured, depictions of targets, flags, chevrons and badges. Fellow painter, Richard Hamilton defined Pop Art as, designed for a mass audience, transient, expendable, mass produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous and big business. Who knew it could only get bigger?
So a genuine and recognisable British product had been cobbled together. The most influential lead singers of the period namely. Van Morrison from the incomparably surly Belfast group,Them, Steve Winwood, Rod Stewart from Steam Packet and Cocker were all poised to create distinctive and interesting developments which would grow out of their past musical preferences. Others would go to the pick and mix counter to find inspiration.
Significantly around this time, a freshly minted musical classification was coined. The sleeker, stripped down and snappier coverall description, ‘Rock Music ’, surfaced. Losing the ‘roll’ seemed to mark losing from the music that give and go quality in which song and dance was interwoven. ‘Rock’ even became a music to be sat down to and appreciated. For some of it, sitting cross-legged was de rigeur. Well, some of the time.
So what were the options ? It was decision time. There is a crossroads up ahead. Obviously, one had to take on board developing one’s own stuff. Dylan’s unpredictably was now centre stage and the torrent of dazzling images and ideas spilling out of his head was attracting a good deal of deconstruction. Coming out of the Folk Scene to recording and performing with the Hawks, a group of full-tilt rockers, had been seen as a seismic shift. When L. A. group, the Byrds took a 12 string guitar to Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’it was confirmation, ‘FoIkRock’\
So there was a literary focus. A focus on song-poems. This was boosted by the underground vibe in San Francisco which involved loud improvisational rock groups. Kaftans, crude light shows, psychedelic concert posters and copious amounts of, the still legal, acid (L.S.D.) and marijuana. In short, the Love Generation. The result was a retreat into private experience and opened the way for a succession of, with only a few exceptions, dreary singer/songwriters. As the spirit transferred itself from Haight Ashbury to Ladbrooke Grove and groups like Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and even Flamingo stalwart, Zoot Money who hitched himself to Dantalian’s Chariot, took up the
beads and bells, the idea of ‘Progressive Rock ’ was launched. It has to be said, our home grown Hippies generally lacked the tanned bodies of their Californian counterparts. The spirit of the underground was one of free expression and although many were willing, that grey pallor and the strange aroma which is released when an Afghan coat gets soaking wet, made one wonder. If it’s free expression, why choose that one. Anyway, it was undeniably the counterculture and the Marketing men were not slow to recognise it. They made sure stores re-jigged their counters.
Now some folks only started to get it because they thought the music began to exhibit literary merit. They began exploring and explaining the dark complexities of the Beatles’ ‘Help’ or ‘Norwegian Wood’ whilst generally overlooking Smokey Robinson’s expert use of the traditional poetic device of antithesis with,
“I don’t like you, but I love you.” (‘You’ve Really Got A Hold on Me’) or “I got sunshine on a cloudy day.
When it’s cold outside, I got the month of May.” (‘My Girl’)
The slowdown was further exemplified by a desire by some to leave the urban environment and head off into the country. Rumours were, some would fill the recording studio with straw bales in an attempt to create a more rural ambience. In the U.S. this meant long hairs sporting ten-gallon hats and the Byrds were once more where the action was, adding pedal steel guitar and fiddle to their line up. One of the better exponents of ‘Country Rock \ formed by ex Byrd, Gram Parsons, was the Flying Burrito Brothers who, as if to add fuel to the confusion, devoted a good deal of their time playing ‘soul’ covers.
To return for the last time to Cream as exemplars. It must be levelled that their ‘loudness’ and extended instrumental solos were elements that others would home in on and use as a blueprint. They together with the Who, (the loudest act ever to grace the stage at the Vic’ which as a climax, they left as a scene of devastationn, overturned amps, drums and cymbals all awry and a shattered Rickenbacker guitar) and, the arrival in London of Jimi Hendrix and you’ve got a roadmap for a generation of ‘Heavy Rock’ that was to follow. It became a genre much loved by neighbours from Hell. Hendrix, a real life American black man, was a prodigious guitar technician with a taste for unusual acts of showmanship.
Not the playing guitar behind his head, we had seen that before. Squirting lighter fluid on a Stratocaster and then setting it alight would be something newly formed groups might just balk at. ‘Let’s just get bigger amps and turn up the volume, man.’ ‘Sorry, what’d you say ?’
Individuals choosing this as a way forward, it must be admitted, were able to enjoy an enviable musical longevity. Quite modestly talented outfits were able to shift shed loads of albums. America welcomed them with open ears. The roadmap, whilst not referring specifically to the M6 seemed to find a particular resonance in the West Midlands.
Black musicians’ interaction with the successful developments in ‘rock’ regrettably started to bear fruit. Cover versions, going back the other way, started to appear. Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding both visited Jagger and Richards’ ‘Satisfaction’ and Otis went on to record ‘Day Tripper’. Motown flipped through the Dylan songbook and went on to
flirt with psychedelia in the shape of the Temptations. I’m sure there are some who saw it as a welcome progression. Tina Turner’s advisers would see this as increasing her demographic and she became a diva ‘rock’ star
Back in the world. President Johnson sent American planes to bomb North Vietnam. Malcolm X was assassinated in New York. Martin Luther King marched into Selma, Alabama, at the head of 25,000 electoral reform protesters with 3,000 Federal troopers and the T.V. cameras of the world’s media riding shotgun. In Los Angeles, the Watts District was the scene of three days of racial uprising and the city authorities turned to James Brown for help as they attempted to quell the storm. Sam Cooke’s song, ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, was re-worked by Otis Redding and when Aretha Franklin spelled out Otis’ own word, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, the black communities adopted it as a new National Anthem. Popular culture was moving on from its age of innocence.
Two of the most recent and significant additions to my record collection had been James Brown’s ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’ and ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’. Little did I realise at the time, what a lasting impact Brown’s repetitive, one chord funk, with its emphasis on the bass and drums, was to have, long term, on popular music.
Well, sadly I have to admit that none of the aforementioned options really appealed very much. I didn’t really see Jim or Neil in Kaftans but please don’t anybody mention the cowboy hats. This,inevitably, robs my text of tales of conquering America, undreamed of excesses, months spent in a studio exploring the potential of both the developing technology and our own imaginations in an attempt to deliver a concept album, driving down to Graceland, crazy after show parties, joining religious cults, violent arguments over royalty cheques and musical differences and the eventual and ineviable acrimonious splitting up. No, we simply short-circuited all the above and split up. Stalled at the crossroads, so to speak.
It was argued that to reach the next level would mean packing in our jobs and moving to London. We would have to find a flat where we could concentrate on our hobby, fulltime. Opinions varied. Did we have what it took ? Who can tell? Some had more to lose than others. Jim was all for taking a chance and was ready to begin tuning his bass-guitar. (He would subsequently find a gig on a cruise liner where he met his wife, Gina. Jeff went on to a group called King Mob Echo. I’m not sure if that led to wedlock) The mood of dissolution that had descended on us after high hopes, particularly in our dealings with ‘the company’, was hard to shake off. A case of once bitten. It would need a giant leap of faith that collectively we weren’t prepared to take. Our confidence had been gnawed at. We even toyed with the idea of re-branding. Changing the name to ‘Spring Collection’, thinking it tapped into a more fashion orientated sensibility, but our hearts were not really in it. The end came without drama and there were no fall-outs. So, with a record deal on the books for a second single, we simply ran our outstanding bookings down and walked away.
Andrew’s girlfriend, Jean, remembers our last gig at Sheffield University and loyally
suggests it was the best we ever sounded. I have a vague and pleasant memory of an unrehearsed version of Percy Sledge’s ‘When a Man loves a Women’ which was to serve as our last, last waltz.
Postscript # 1
Andrew, Jean, Barbara and myself arrive at the Grandby Hall in Leicester. Andrew had borrowed his Dad’s car. We’d spent the afternoon looking round the shops and Barbara had bought a very fetching trouser suit that called to mind the Duke of Windsor. We were here to see Memphis’ finest, the Stax Revue and after queuing for a while, we entered the cavernous hall and immediately saw the bandstand which had been built out into the audience space like a catwalk. My main priority by this time however, was to find a toilet. We had killed some pre-show time in a nearby Pub. Having succeeded in my quest and enjoying relief, I happened to glance down at the shoes of the person who had just come in and was standing alongside me, as you do. I was surprised to discover he was wearing beautifully tooled cowboy boots, and taking care not to be too obvious about it, I checked him out and was sure he looked familiar. All done, I left the toilet before him and joined Barbara who was waiting back in the hall. When the cowboy boots finally emerged, the individual looked around as if trying to get his bearings and we were able to see he was a lean man in a dark suit with quite gaunt looking features and slicked back hair.
“ See, it is him! You got a pen and something to write on ? ”
We both approached him and asked for his autograph. This was the first time I’d done anything like this since being an avid collector of footballers’ signatures when Dad took me to matches at Nottingham Forest.
“ How are you liking Britain then ? ” I ventured.
“ Great, really great, ” he drawled, “ This is all new to me, being recognised. I’m just a studio guy.”
His manner and delivery reminded me of that exaggerated politeness we’d seen in those early interviews Elvis gave. Barbara was taken by the way he addressed her as ‘ma’am’. I looked down at the flattened out cigarette packet we had proffered as he signed, “Steve Cropper”.
“ Now you enjoy the show.”
When we joined Jean and Andrew, he all but turned green. We did enjoy the show. The MG’s were on first, they were then joined by horn players becoming, the Markeys who, subsequently, provided support for vocalists, Eddie Floyd, Sam and Dave and a majestic Otis Redding.
Postscript # 2
Barbara switches on the T. V. in her parents’ home as Andrew and Jean arrive. We all watch the Beatles perform, “All you need is Love” on the small black and white screen and as the song ends with that eerie, deja vu line, ‘she loves you yeah, yeah, yeah’ and the image fades, we are all ready to go. Tonight, the act John Peel has been banging on about on his radio show. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, are appearing at the Boat Club on the banks of the Trent in Nottingham. When we arrive at the club a group called the Taste are playing. We discover it’s Rory Gallagher’s group and he is playing some very flash blues guitar.
After a break we have our first hand taste of the underground sounds from San Francisco. Beefheart’s vocals are an exaggerated imitation of Howlin’ Wolf and the lyrics are
distinctly surreal. He wears a top hat and blows some sort of horn and occasionally a harmonica. The Magic Band, all dressed in strange garb, back him with a rhythm just this side of falling apart and the two guitarists play across each other using discords. The bassist is turned up so loud that his runs take a hold on my intestines.
This was blues, but not as we knew it. It was, however, quite hypnotic. We left the club a bit numbed and not a little bemused but aware that another future was beginning.
Postscript # 3
I have sat through enough ‘rites of passage’ movies to know the form. C V’s are provided for the main participants. I do not intend to follow this trend as many here you will have tracked through the years. Of those closest, it is with much sadness, in updating the Blueberry file, that I have to report, we have been recently reduced to a quartet. Both Jim and Neil are no longer with us after finally losing battles courageously fought against long term illnesses. They lived rich and full lives and both leave behind loving families. Amongst Neil’s effects was a tape recording made on his Telefunken machine. Six songs which are a record of how we sounded rehearsing at the Vic’ late in 1966. Listening to it for the first time at Andrew’s house was a strange and disconcerting experience. Memory is mysterious, almost indefinable. It is part paranormal, part spiritual, an unconscious zone. It links us to something we perhaps no longer remember having lived. Amongst the key images, sounds and emotions we all carry around like so much luggage, are those memories that we cherish. It took a few plays for us to recognise those people as us. As we did though, we enjoyed the riffs, smiled at the solos and we were right there.
As we slip into the 21st Century we are, surprisingly, right here too! Needless to say, we have been digitally re-mastered and repackaged in the form of a C D. Yep, somewhere on this silver disc lies data which originated all those years ago. The label and cover art carries the image of a svelte, ‘dolly bird’ who resembles Ready Steady Go’s Cathy McGowan but with better legs. It luxuriates in the wonderful title of ‘English Freakbeat’ and is Volume 2 of a series released in the U.S. with the promotional promise of,
“The most raving, rocking sounds of British 60’s rock, pop, modbeat, artpop and rhythm and blues.”
Here we jostle alongside the likes of the Animals, the Sheffields, the Dakotas (Billy J. Kramer’s backing group), Mickey Finn whose Blue Men is purported to include Jimmy Page and the Syndicats with a curiosity produced by the sad and tortured, Joe Meek who didn’t get out alive. Steve Howe, who was in the group, did however, going on to Tomorrow and Yes.
Modesty prevents me from suggesting how we stand up. If you are at all interested, contact AIP Records, Burbank, California.
Postscript # 4
The Usual Suspects – the following are the songs with their original sources which made up the set lists of the R&B4, R&B5, Roadrunners, Honeydrippers and The Blueberries.
Carol, Sweet Little Rock and Roller, Let it Rock, Bye bye Johnny, Little Queenie,
Roll over Beethoven, Sweet Little Sixteen, Johnny B. Goode, Talkin’ bout you. Guitar Boogie. (Chuck Berry).
I’m a Man, Before you accuse me, Roadrunner, Pretty Thing. (Bo Diddley).
Hoochie Coochie Man, I feel so good. (Muddy Waters).
Dimples. (John Lee Hooker) Shame shame shame, Ain’t got you. Baby what you want me to do? Let’s get together. (Jimmy Reed). I wish you would. (Billy Boy Arnold).
My Babe. (Little Walter). Coming Home, Look on Yonder wall. (Elmore James). Rock Me Baby. (B.B.King).Smokestack Lightning. (Howlin’ Wolf). Fannie Mae. (Buster Brown). Custard Pie. (Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry). Just a little bit. (Roscoe Gordon). Hi Heel Sneakers. (Tommy Tucker). Money. (Barrett Strong). Walkin’ the Dog. (Rufus Thomas).
Ramblin’ Rose. (Jerry Lee Lewis). White Lightnin’. (George Jones). Matchbox. (Carl Perkins). Run boy run. (Sanford Clark). Ten Commandments. (Prince Buster). I’m a Hog for You. (Coasters). Bad Penny Blues. (Humphrey Lyttleton Band).
I’ll be Doggone, Can I get a Witness? (Marvin Gaye). Down in the Valley, Everybody needs Somebody. (Solomon Burke). Oh Baby. (Barbara Lynn).
Ooh Poo Pah Doo. (Jessie Hill) Ride your Pony. (Lee Dorsey). Midnight Hour. (Wilson Pickett). Never say No. (Hit Pack). Louie Louie. (Kingsmen). It’s Gonna Work Out Fine. (Ike & Tina Turner). Out to get you. (Shorty Long). Please don’t let me know, Sookie sookie. Everything is gonna be everything, Iron out the rough spots. You must do something. (Don Covay). The love you save. (Joe Tex). Plus a couple of Blueberry originals.
It has to be admitted that there were pockets throughout the length and breadth who could and did load their Garrard record decks with a similar collection. Many of these songs formed the bedrock and kick started the more creative, those with a penchant for words and an understanding of chord shapes, to develop stuff of their own. The likes of the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who, Steve Winwood and Van Morrison assimilated the research material and collectively produced records that opened the door to world class recognition.
Sadly, the down side of their success was the body blow it dealt to most of the artists represented on the above list. Their influence would be seriously marginalised and commercially many would be blown away as the world and his girlfriend clamoured for British Rock Music.