From Lathkill Dale to Woodstock – ‘With a Little Help From His Friends’


From two articles in ‘My Kind of Town’  issue 16; one by David McPhie,  and one by John Firminger and Martin Lilleker ..


Joe Cocker


I was saving this contribution,”From Lathkill Dale to Woodstock – With a Little Help From His Friends”, along with John Firminger’s “Farewell Joe, Up Where He Belongs” for (chronological) inclusion later in the sequence of my story, but as we have recently heard the sad news  of Joe’s untimely passing I have updated this for publication in ‘My Kind of Town’ ; and here are the two articles as they appear in Issue No. 16.             DMcP.

From Lathkill Dale to Woodstock – with a little help from his friends

Every successful performer can look back at turning points in their careers… and David McPhie recalls one such moment for Joe Cocker when a room above a street corner barbershop in Chesterfield was converted into a makeshift recording studio

I first came across Joe Cocker – but then known as Vance Arnold (and The Avengers) – in 1960/61, when he appeared at the Lathkill Dale Hotel at Over Haddon, near Bakewell.

On the first occasion, he was still playing drums and singing at the same time, but he soon quit the drum-stool to become the full time front man.

In the small, front bar of the hotel, in the corner of the room and playing at floor level – no stage provided – the packed crowd were treated to a feast of raw, intense rhythm ‘n’ blues from a very
instrumentally “tight” band that was a match for most outfits of that nature in the country.

What really set them apart from the majority of bands playing a very similar blues / soul orientated repertoire was the manically animated singer with the gravelly vocal chords, a male equivalent of Janis Joplin, to all intents and purposes. Arms flailing, eyes closed, frequently with pint of beer in hand, his renditions of blues classics from such as Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters had the stamp of authenticity that marked him out as a worthy British “inheritor of the tradition”. His interpretations of the Ray Charles “back catalogue”, particularly ‘Georgia’, ‘I Believe To My Soul’ and ‘What’d I Say’, demonstrated the intensity of feeling – the “soul” – that emanated from every pore of his sweat-soaked body.

My own band, Chesterfield’s ‘Blueberries’, was in its infancy as a rhythm ‘n’ blues outfit too, and our paths were to cross regularly over the next five years or so, playing fairly frequently at the same venues around Sheffield, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire – pubs, clubs, The Esquire, Mojo, Sheffield University, etc.

I was also involved in other aspects of the music business in the area, being resident DJ at Chesterfield Top Rank, opening the Smokestack Club at Queen’s Park Hotel in Chesterfield (with John Fleet of Dave Berry’s Cruisers), Velvet Underground Club at the recently-closed Chesterfield Top Rank (booking bands of the calibre of Jethro Tull, Family, King Crimson, Free, Fairport Convention, etc), working at Hudsons Record Shop, and subsequently opening my own “Some Kinda Mushroom” in Chesterfield (and more briefly in Sheffield) , and managing other bands, including Shape of the Rain.

Meanwhile, Joe had acquired a recording contract with Decca, and ‘I’ll Cry Instead’ (a Beatles “cover”) was released in July, 1964.
An unimaginative production, it did nothing to showcase his unique style of vocal delivery, and his contract was terminated later that same year, which was quite a blow to his often fragile confidence.

For the next two to three years, his local popularity and reputation ensured packed venues wherever he appeared, his voice and the band improving month on month, but not being significantly reflected in the fees he received, nor being rewarded with a new recording contract.

By this time, The Blueberries, without ever achieving the musical finesse or “authenticity” of Joe’s band, were progressing and playing reasonably well-paid gigs in, frequently, the south of the country. In January, 1966, our “cover” of Ike and Tina Turners’ ‘It’s Gonna Work Out Fine’ (b/w Don Covay’s ‘Please Don’t Let Me Know’) was released on the Mercury label.
Armed with the extra confidence, and increasing “contacts” from my other music business activities, I became determined to do what I could to also progress Joe’s career and to gain him the national recognition that I was convinced his talent deserved.

When, by 1966/67, the Blueberries broke up (as so many bands do) in the wake of an unsuccessful first record release, I found I had the opportunity to devote more time to this task.

I always had faith in his talent, as did so many of his audience and contemporaries, but not all of them were convinced of his commercial potential. Of this, I had no doubt, as there was no-one else out there remotely like him, vocally or visually, and I actually predicted, over a year before his No 1 hit record, in my record review column in ‘Top Stars Special’, that not only would Joe become a massively popular recording artist in Britain, but he would be even more popular in America.

I wasn’t able to become his official manager as he had a long-term contract with the Martin Yale Agency from Manchester (who had taken over from Terry Thornton of The Esquire Club, who had been a mentor and supporter of Joe’s in the early days) but I did fulfill, over the next twelve months or so, a role very much akin to a personal advisor/morale and confidence booster.

My monetary reward was the 10% that I earned from the gigs I began to get for him, as his roster of bookings had begun to dwindle in the wake of the unsuccessful record release, and, in particular, he was not getting the better-paid University gigs that had been the expected bonus of the aftermath of becoming a recording artist. In fact he was, as late as 1968, still playing pubs, miners welfares and workingmen’s clubs for as little as £12 to £20 on occasion, just to keep the band on the road.

The Barrow Hill Hotel, near Staveley, was a case in point, where Tom Rowland genuinely wasn’t able to pay a fortune in such a small, cramped venue, but the “regulars” were so enthusiastic and loyal that this was worth perpetuating, despite the relative absence of monetary reward.

Otherwise, this imbalance of small as opposed to larger venues was not helpful at this stage of his career, and so my mission was to increase the fees he was charging and get him exposure in the
more prestigious venues that his talent deserved. I was also, at every opportunity, adding him to the “bill” of many of the promotions I put on at my own clubs and the occasional “outside promotions” I was asked to provide for, such as art colleges and private functions or parties.

I also had access to an enormous source of recorded music as a result of having my own record shop. The two of us very much sharing a similar taste in the music we listened to, were able to find him quite a few songs to add to his stage repertoire. One that comes to mind, and which we both liked, but weren’t absolutely convinced would be popular with his followers, was ‘Darling Be Home Soon’, from The Lovin’ Spoonful, but it turned out to be a wise choice and a regular song in his set.

Conversely, I also tried to persuade Joe to drop some of the, admittedly very popular, Motown (Four Tops) songs, as I wasn’t convinced they were good for his long-term career trajectory.

I also tried to convince him to write his own songs, which would assist considerably in obtaining a recording contract, and he did indeed write a few with Chris Stainton, including ‘Marjorine’, but he never persevered with this, becoming instead one of rock music’s greatest interpreters of other artists’ songs.

All this aside however, I’m convinced that the biggest influence I was to bring to bear on his career were the regular boosts that I was able to administer to his, by then, flagging confidence, and as a result to the overall morale of the band.

This came to a head one night after a gig, I think at Barrow Hill,  when he became very depressed, being faced with sparse future bookings, even from his Management / Agency, and no prospect of anything recording-wise on the horizon. He told me that if things didn’t improve radically in the next few weeks, he was going to disband the group and return to his former employment as a gas fitter.

I seem to remember that we left the pub very late that night, possibly moving on to an after-hours session at another pub in Sheffield, but by the time we went our separate ways I had persuaded / bullied / cajoled him into a deal (with the devil?) I told him that I would, one way or another, get him a new recording contract, and the first step would be to make a demo recording to hawk around the major labels in London. It was decided that the demo could be done by Joe and Chris alone, and so we arranged a day at our rented upstairs flat (above the hairdressers) on the corner of Chatsworth Road and School Board Lane in Chesterfield.

It was recorded on one of those old, chunky, reel-to-reel taperecorders (a Ferrograph, I think), on Scotch tape, with a rudimentary mixer and a couple of microphones. In addition to vocals, Joe played drums with my own set being on hand, and Chris played everything else: guitar, bass, electric keyboard.

The songs included the recently Cocker/Stainton-penned ‘Marjorine’ and, I think, two or three others. This is where my memory becomes unreliable, as I seem to remember the two of them working on their arrangement of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, but I may be wrong, and that may have come later.

My copy of this recording was later ‘irretrievably degraded’ and rendered unplayable by being stored in the damp cellar of the next house we moved to. What would that recording be worth now, I wonder?

Armed with the precious cargo, myself and first wife Geraldine set off for London, prime target being Tony Hall, an influential radio disc jockey and MD of Tony Hall Enterprises, an artist development company, who had been instrumental in successfully promoting Otis Redding’s early career (and the Stax label artists) in this country.

It was after 6pm when we arrived in central London, the plan being to knock on a few doors the following day. However, somewhat recklessly, I decided we would make more of an impact by “doorstepping” him at his flat, in a relatively affluent area of the capital. To my surprise he didn’t throw us out, but invited us in, listened to our offering, and was so blown away by what he heard that he invited us to stay the night and gave us breakfast the following morning.

Before we left, he made it clear that he wasn’t expecting us to necessarily forego the chance of ‘pitching’ to the record companies and labels that we had also targeted for the days ahead. However, I had already done my research on him, and his reputation in the business for honesty and integrity (rare indeed), and decided there and then to go with my instinct and judgement – a decision that I believe was justified given the outcome.

From there on, things happened quickly.
Denny Cordell was chosen as the record producer and Regal-Zonophone the record label. ‘Marjorine’ was the first single to be released, in May 1968, and reached No 48 in the charts, to be followed in October the same year by the groundbreaking ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’, and we all know what happened from then on! Within a year, on the back of his recording success, Joe was the surprise “toast” of Woodstock with his electrifying vocal and visual performance that preceded the “Woodstock Thunderstorm”.

Strangely enough, I very nearly had an even more tangible connection with Woodstock ‘69, as I could have been there as the manager of Ten Years After. Bass guitarist Leo Lyons asked me to be their manager, either at the end of their Jaybirds incarnation, or the beginning of the Ten Years After years, as they played regularly for me at the Smokestack and then the Velvet Underground. I declined because I knew they were going to be successful and would be travelling far and wide on their musical journey and I had recently started a family, and had substantial roots in Chesterfield.

Another positive outcome of this initial contact with Tony Hall was the access it gave us re Shape of the Rain, and indeed their album, ‘Riley, Riley, Wood and Waggett’ was released on RCA’s NEON label in 1971.

Perhaps the biggest downside to this story is the ones who were left behind, the musicians who made up Joe’s early bands. There were some great guitarists including Dave Hopper, Phil Crookes, bassist Dave Green, drummer Dave Memmott, keyboard man Vernon Nash, and many more. I wasn’t at all happy about that aspect of it at the time, but unfortunately that’s how these things usually work, particularly when it’s the vocalist / front man that the record company want.

Hopefully, the body blow of the rejection was a door to other opportunities, and I sincerely hope that this was the case for all concerned.

RIP Joe, you have left a big hole in the music universe.


Copyright 2015 David McPhie All Rights Reserved




Through his various international successes and achievements, Joe Cocker contributed greatly to Sheffield’s musical status.

John Firminger pays a personal tribute to the city-born singer and performer who died on December 22nd, 2014, aged 70.

Whilst there are scores of Sheffield musicians who claim to have played with Joe Cocker down the years, unfortunately I wasn’t one of them.

However, back in the mid-60s I did get to know Crookes-born John Robert Cocker as a fellow musician on the local scene. He had picked up the nickname ‘Joe’ through his younger escapades with pals playing cowboys and Indians.
His first musical spark came from Lonnie Donegan and skiffle music. With great envy, he watched his elder brother, Vic, participate in a national skiffle contest at the Empire Theatre in 1958, with his group, The Headlanders.

Joe first became a musician when he was the drummer/vocalist in a
young teenage combo, The Cavaliers. Their repertoire would include rock ‘n’ roll numbers from the likes of Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran.

Moving with the times, Joe formed a beat group but needed a name for his first booking at the Minerva Tavern, Charles Street. Originally claiming it was the ‘Sheffield Star’ that gave him the name Vance Arnold, Joe later admitted he’d come up with the moniker himself. Taking the name Vance from one of the characters in the Elvis film Love Me Tender, and Arnold from country singer Eddy Arnold, the band was named Vance Arnold and The Avengers. Performing similar material to other Sheffield combos, Joe would include Cliff Richard numbers, complete with leg-kicks. However, Joe recalled one instance when the lead guitarist was forced to duck as a flying bottle was launched by a disapproving member of the audience. Despite this, the band held down a weekly Friday night at the city centre pub.

However, it was the sound of rhythm and blues, as performed by people like Dave Berry, that impressed Joe. He was influenced by this and in particular the records of Ray Charles which would determine his developing singing style.

Having heard about Joe and his band, I first saw him perform at the Frecheville Community Centre ‘R&B Club’ and was bowled over. Joe had certainly captured some of Ray Charles’ soulful singing style, whilst his lead guitarist Phil Crookes complimented the band’s sound with some well-executed Scotty Moore-style playing.

Biographer J.P. Bean’s first memory of Joe goes back to 1965: “The first time I saw Joe was at St Oswald’s Church Hall on Abbeydale Road. He was with his Big Blues and my main memory is of him teetering on the edge of the stage as he sang, with a crate of beer
beside him.”

With Bob Everson on bass, Dave Memmott on drums and Phil Crookes, the band soon became a popular outfit on the local scene and made a big impression when they appeared at the City Hall on Peter Stringfellow’s ‘Four Cities R&B Show’, headlined by The Rolling Stones.

Vance’s performance received great praise from both the press and fellow performers, including Dave Berry. Commenting in ‘Top Stars’ in September ‘63 Dave said: “I think Vance and the Avengers are the greatest group in Sheffield today.”

After a change in both the band’s line-up and name, the outfit reflected their musical commitment by becoming Joe Cocker’s Big Blues. With Dave Hopper (guitar), Dave Green (bass), Dave Memmott (drums) and Vernon Nash (piano), the unit became a regular attraction at the city rock venue, The Esquire Club, where a short version of the band’s set was recorded as a demo.

Following in Dave Berry’s footsteps, Joe secured a recording deal with Decca Records. One of the songs he’d intended to record was Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Georgia On My Mind’. Joe had taken Ray Charles’ compelling version and turned it into a show-stopper of his own. Unfortunately, his choice was rejected in favour of the Lennon & McCartney song ‘I’ll Cry Instead’.

With members of the recording trio The Ivy League providing backing vocals and Big Jim Sullivan offering some solid guitar
work, Joe’s recording was a quite credible and almost rockabillylike

Released in September 1964, Joe himself wasn’t too fond of his recording debut and a for a one-off appearance on ITV’s variety
show, Stars & Garters, he and the band chose to perform Jimmy
Reed’s ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’ instead.

On the strength of the single, Joe and the band were added to a
nationwide US tour with headliners Manfred Mann, The
Merseybeats and US star Little Eva. Sadly, due to a conflict
between the promoters and the venues, the tour was abandoned
after just one date.

A tour of France was set up in 1965 by the band’s then manager and proprietor of the Esquire Club, Terry Thornton. Arriving in France, Joe, along with band members Dave Green (bass), Dave Hopper (guitar), Dave Memmott (drums) and Vernon Nash (piano) discovered that part of the deal was that they should have a girl singer in the line-up. This had been a particular requirement as they
would be performing in front of audiences of red-blooded American servicemen.

The problem was resolved when Sheffield singer, blonde-haired Marie Woodhouse, was sent to join the band under her stage name,
Billie Rae. Playing to the American GIs, Joe and Co went down exceedingly well, especially with the black servicemen, whilst Marie
received a number of proposals of marriage!

After returning to England, by 1966 Joe had become somewhat disillusioned with the music business. His first record had made no
impact and bookings with his band had dropped off. To earn some
money, he reluctantly took a job working days and nights at WH
Smith’s distribution warehouse down at the Midland Station and
took a break from performing for a year.

Saturday lunchtimes would find Joe in the city centre pub, The
Stone House, downing a few pints and sharing stories with other musical figures like Dave Hawley, Barry Marshall, Gerry Scanlan (Bitter Suite), Stu Mosley (The Reflections), Pete Jackson (Hillbilly Cats), Gaspin’ Gus (Sun Sound) and yours truly.

After getting back into playing again with a few gigs with assorted musicians, Joe announced that he was looking for a more stable lineup of musicians. It was at The Stone House during one Saturday session that I informed Joe that ex-Cruiser Frank Miles was most interested in joining him. I recall how Joe seemed taken back and honoured to have someone of Frank’s reputation and prowess wanting working with him.
Another ex-Cruiser, bassplayer John Fleet, had also joined Joe, along with Dave Memmott and Vernon Nash from Joe’s previous band.

After a few gigs, John Fleet’s expectations of Joe didn’t quite match Joe’s and the two parted company. A new bass-player was found in ex-Cadillac Chris Stainton who shared a similar musical outlook as Joe and Co.

The combo was named The Grease Band. “We wanted a name that would upset people,” Joe told ‘Top Stars Special’. They soon became a top attraction on the local scene. Venues like The Arbourthorne Hotel, The Birley Hotel, The Penny Farthing and The Barrow Hill Hotel, near Staveley, would see Joe and the band packing the place out.

Mixing some superb music with Joe’s wry humour, audiences
would hang onto his every word. Typifying this, I recall one night at
The Birley Hotel when a couple of plain-clothes policemen came in to look for under-age drinkers while trying to look inconspicuous.
Spotting them, Joe announced from the stage “The Feds are in” as
the audience broke down with laughter and the two coppers made
a quick and discreet exit!

The band were one of the combos selected for the EP ‘Rag Goes
Mad At The Mojo’. This was a live recording made at Pete
Stringfellow’s club on which Joe and The Grease Band are featured
performing the gospel-tinged ‘Saved’ (with some re-written lyrics
illustrating more of Joe’s humour) and the slow, soulful ‘I’ve Been

Joe’s association with Frank Miles and Chris Stainton would prove
fortuitous as the three musicians would get together occasionally to
record demos of their songs. One of these was ‘I’m Free’, on which Joe provided the vocals to Frank’s lyrics and accompaniment.

Another number that Frank, Chris and co-songwriter Tom Rattigan had put together was a sci-fi instrumental piece provisionally titled ‘March Of The Mysterons’. With added lyrics supplied by Joe, the number became ‘Marjorine’ and the song that would subsequently re-launch his recording career. Campaigner for good music, Chesterfield DJ Dave McPhie, took a demo of the song to London and DJ/A&R man Tony Hall.

The song and Joe’s soulful vocal style immediately impressed EMI record producer Denny Cordell, who after seeing Joe in action, was in no doubt at all about his new ‘find’ and signed him up. ‘Marjorine’
was re-recorded in London with Joe accompanied by session musicians like guitarist Jimmy Page and drummer Clem Cattini.

With the release of ‘Marjorine’ Joe and Chris disbanded The Grease Band and moved to London, taking with them young Sheffield keyboard player Tommy Eyre. With glowing reviews in the music press, the record quickly became a hit and set Joe off on a sometimes chequered career.

A return to Sheffield saw Joe, Chris and Tommy, along with ex-members of Tom Jones’ Squire, Mickey Gee and Tommy Reilly, play a storming gig at The Wharncliffe Hotel, Firth Park.

Another change in line-up saw Sheffield power-house drummer Kenny Slade and Irish guitarist Henry McCulloch join the band for
gigs in both the US and UK, sharing the bill with various other top
names on the contemporary rock scene.

Probably Joe’s most memorable home-town gig was on 13th November, 1968, when he and The Grease Band played at The Black Swan just as his recording of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ reached the No 1 position in Britain’s pop charts.

Around 500 people crammed into the concert room which actually had a capacity of 200!

Joe’s interpretation of the Lennon & McCartney classic has undoubtedly become the definitive version of the song and probably
the recording most associated with him. It was always the number
he’d close his shows with.


A performance at the legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969
proved to be pivotal for the Sheffield singer, exposing his talent to
America and the world.

Recalled J.P. Bean: “Woodstock was the pinnacle; that was the
performance that brought him to world attention, via the film. He
was in his absolute prime.”

More hits followed with ‘Delta Lady’, ‘The Letter’ and ‘Cry Me A
River’ as his career saw him connect with the American rock scene.
This led to another important phase as he became part of the
extraordinary musical gathering, Mad Dogs & Englishmen. Needing a band for a US tour taking in 48 cities, Joe requested pianist and arranger Leon Russell to assemble a group of suitable musicians. The results saw Joe fronting an ensemble of exceptional musicians including a choir, a horn section, several drummers along with guitarists, wives, children and pets.

The musical extravaganza produced a hugely successful double album recorded at Fillmore East in New York. Also accompanied by a quite enlightening film, Joe’s participation further raised his profile. However, at times he appeared to be a little out of his depth within the life-style of this hard-living rock conglomerate and by the end of a US tour, the experience had taken its toll somewhat on a shattered-looking Joe.

Seeking a little sanctuary, he returned to his parents’ house back in Tasker Road, Crookes. In an interview there for ITV’s ‘Calendar’, Joe appeared a little dazed and confused as he attempted to regain his faculties and ponder his next move.

Getting back on stage a few months later, although still quite vulnerable, Joe performed gigs with The Chris Stainton Band and the Cock ‘n’ Bull Band. Due to his condition, at times the gigs were
quite erratic as Joe struggled with his demons, primarily drugs and alcohol, and later recalled the period as his ‘dark days’.

Thankfully, he was helped to get back on track when he signed
former Woodstock promoter Michael Lang as his manager and, under his guidance, Joe gradually cleaned his act up. Another very positive move was his marriage to American Pam Baker as the lady certainly helped Joe to regain control over his life and career once again.

joe cocker

Back in his old home town, in 1982 Joe appeared at The Lyceum during its phase as a live music venue, and with his mum Madge in
attendance. On one of his occasional visits to see his parents
during the 1980s, Joe took a trip up to The Pheasant, Lane Top,
and joined Frank White on stage for a song, resulting in a most
memorable night.

A return in 1994 saw Joe perform at Sheffield Arena, a venue that he wasn’t sure that he would warrant appearing at. Dismissing any doubt, his appearance at the venue attracted a packed 12,000 strong audience. 1994 also saw Joe make a triumphant return to Woodstock for the event’s 25th anniversary.

His recording career continued to give us many more classics such as the iconic ‘Up Where We Belong’ (with Jennifer Warnes), ‘Civilised Man’, ‘Unchain My Heart’, ‘Don’t You Love Me No More When The Night Comes’, ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On’, ‘The Simple Things’, etc.

Said J.P. Bean: “Joe’s great tracks – and there are many, not just the well known ones – do not date. They stand up today as well as they ever did. Even in his dark times he made some great albums.”

With a combination of excellent recordings and solid management, Joe’s career soared and he achieved super-stardom world-wide.

Through the years, right from the early days, Joe always had a fine band of musicians including drummers B.J. Wilson (ex-Procol Harum), Steve Holley (ex-Wings), guitarists Albert Lee, Cliff Goodwin and John Miles, and long-time keyboard player Chris Stainton, as well as the period with the enigmatic ‘Band Of Doom’.

Serving as a superb document of Joe’s career is J.P. Bean’s book, ‘Joe Cocker: The Authorised Biography’ (2003), detailing all the various highs and lows, along with the many people associated with Joe.

I last saw Joe when he appeared at Sheffield City Hall in 2002 when his show in the city was one of just two UK gigs. As always, he gave another blinding show on the back of his then current album, ‘Respect Yourself’.

Meeting him after the show, at first he didn’t seem sure of who I was. As he observed, we’d both altered a bit since the 60s. However, he did recognise me and signed a copy of my book ‘Not Like A Proper Job’ as well as complimenting me on it.

Joe’s home-town recognised his success in 1994 by awarding him a Doctorate at the City Hall for his services to music. In 2007, his name was added to the city’s Walk Of Fame with a commemorative paving-stone outside the Town Hall.

Performing in front of Her Majesty The Queen in 2002 was another great achievement for the former gas-fitter (something he seemingly was never allowed to forget) and he duly received an OBE from the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace in 2007 for services to music.

Another great personal achievement was when Joe eventually got to sing with his all-time inspiration, Ray Charles, in 1982. Performing ‘You Are So Beautiful’ together, Joe recalled it was quite a challenge.
He also appeared alongside people like Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney, both of whom held Joe in great esteem.

Whilst Joe’s mum, Madge, proudly watched her son perform on a number of occasions, his dad, Harold, never did. One of the older generation, he never understood Joe’s world but did, of course, become very proud of his son, eventually realising that being a singer could actually be more lucrative than working for the
Gas Board!

A reflection of Joe’s status as a world-class performer came when he was asked if he could perform ‘You Are So Beautiful’ at the wedding of the daughter of a devoted Sheffield fan. Joe was offered £30,000 (considerably lower than his usual fee), plus expenses, and every facility he and his band would need. Unfortunately, the offer was declined as Joe’s manager said simply: “He doesn’t do weddings”

Yet for all his success, Joe remained much the same as he had always been, being very much a modest and down-to-earth person, as noted by those who met him throughout the years.

Although he had been noticeably ill since September 2014, it was indeed a great shock to learn of Joe’s sudden death. This was something that would reverberate throughout the world, especially here in his old home-town.

Having lived in Crawford, Colorado, on the Mad Dog Ranch for the past 20 years, he enjoyed long walks in the nearby mountains with his dogs, fishing, playing snooker and growing tomatoes in his green-house.

However, Joe would, of course, always remain a Sheffielder at heart, appreciated by a city which has lost one of its most revered and best-loved figures.


 SHEFFIELD had a nucleus of musical acts performing at
the same local venues in the early-to-mid 1960s. Someone who remembers Joe and his band particularly well from those days is Dave Berry.

At the time, Dave told ‘Top Stars’ newspaper: “I go out of my way to see them whenever I can. They’re probably one of the most original groups I’ve ever heard. “

His version of ‘Ride on Josephine’ just knocks me out. I’d really like to see this boy get the acclaim he deserves.”
It was at an early stage that Dave recognised that Joe had a special talent, but he says not everyone was convinced.

Dave recalls taking another of the city’s popular performers, Jimmy Crawford, to the Penny Farthing to see Joe perform.

He remembered: “With Joe, many people just didn’t get it and Jimmy was one of them; he just didn’t see it at all.”

Dave and his band, The Cruisers, had a residency at Frecheville Co-op Hall but one night when they were due to perform
elsewhere, Dave remembers booking Joe and his band to deputise
for them.

Dave says that although Joe performed at venues including The
Esquire, The Black Cat, The Blue Moon, The Black Swan and The
Fleur de Lys at Totley, few people would have predicted he would
go on to become such a big international star.

“I remember an all-nighter at The Esquire which featured Joe and
other performers including Dave Hawley. He was on the show but
was just another artist.

“They were a drinking band and Joe would go on stage with a pint
in his hand.”

Added Dave: “I was really knocked for six when I heard of Joe’s

Copyright 2015 ‘My Kind of Town’ All Rights Reserved

‘My Kind of Town’ is a quarterly magazine produced and edited by Mike Firth and John Firminger (and published by Heron Publications Ltd.), and is dedicated to nostalgic reflections of bygone Sheffield. I can thoroughly recommend it as an antidote to the sometimes bland and insubstantial monthly ‘County magazines’ that specialise in little more than society weddings and functions, fox hunt ‘meets’ and copious amounts of advertising.

In contrast, this well produced publication is particularly strong on last century Social History, Sport (particularly Sheffield United and Wednesday, and Yorkshire County Cricket), Music (strong on both the local bands, Joe Cocker, Dave Berry and many lesser known outfits too, and the visiting ‘supergroups’ to the City Hall,  the  iconic Music Clubs (Esquire, Mojo, Leadmill, etc.) and local Transport (Railways, Buses, Trams, etc.).

It can be obtained and subscribed to from  Heron Publications Ltd., 24 Hutcliffe Wood Road, Beauchief, Sheffield, S8 OEX.    Tel. 0114 2357777    Email:



2 thoughts on “From Lathkill Dale to Woodstock – ‘With a Little Help From His Friends’”

  1. Dave McPhie gave me my first job, working Saturdays in Some Kinda Mushroom. I turned up one day, I guess in about 1971, to find we had been joined behind the counter by a scruffy bloke in a brick orange polo neck jumper, black jeans and turned down wellies. Dave introduced me to his old friend Joe Cocker, home on leave after his Mad Dogs tour of the USA. Not one single customer recognised him. In 1994 I was out with some workmates one Friday evening, I forget which pub, but I turned round from the bar to see Joe, suited and booted after receiving his honorary degree, quietly supping a pint. I told him about the above incident and about how Dave had moved on from a career in music to another in books and how he helped me again when my first book came out in 1982. The look on my mates’ faces when I joined them five minutes later. “You know Joe Cocker?” they asked in awe. I crossed my fingers on both hands. “Like that, me and Joe,” I said. “We go way back.”

    1. I think that Joe’s sartorial inelegance was only matched by mine at the time, and he was entirely unassuming and somewhat shy and reticent in certain situations, but entirely forthright when it came to ‘hiring and firing’ his musicians, and there were indeed many who passed through the ranks in his time in Sheffield. Good to know that your memory is holding up Rob, and as you were one of ‘the two Robs’ who operated the ‘light show’ at ‘VU’ I wonder if you can add any names to my list .. coming up shortly in Part Two ..