During the next few years, the music got even better, with amazing artists coming to the fore, such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Ricky Nelson, Gene Vincent, Roy Orbison, Eddie Cochran and the wonderful Jerry Lee Lewis. In fact we were spoilt for choice!
By now I had joined a gang of lads who met most evenings on the bridge over Yeading Brook, which was only 200 yards from our house. I was still at school, but most of the ‘Bridge Mob’ were a bit older and had started work. I was soon introduced to the joys of smoking, and the taste of beer, although mostly we drank “Jubbly” orange drink which only cost fourpence!
1960 was the year that it all finally happened. Dad had received a healthy bonus from his firm, so he decided to blow his windfall on a holiday in Jersey (Channel Islands). We spent a glorious fortnight at ‘Parkins Holiday Village’ in Plemont, famous for once employing Peter Sellers as entertainments manager. One of the high points was to be a talent show; one day Dad and I were passing the open door of a chalet, when we paused to listen to the man inside who was practicing his ‘turn’, strumming a guitar and crooning the words to “The Ballad of Jesse James”. Dad, who was feeling benevolent after a lunchtime beer, turned to me and said “when we get home son, I’ll buy you a guitar, and you can go in for talent shows!”
Well, I kept Dad to his word, and the weekend after our return saw us making our way to Southall Broadway. ‘Musicraft’ was a large record store which also sold instruments. Dad signed the hire purchase agreement, handed over the deposit, and out I walked, the proud owner of a Framus semi-acoustic electric guitar, costing the princely sum of 17 guineas!
From then on I saw little of the gang on the bridge, spending every spare minute in my room, practising instrumentals such as Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser”, The Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run”, and of course the sensational Shadow’s hit “Apache”.
Dad insisted that I learnt properly and enrolled me for lessons with a middle-aged gent called Bert Kirby. Bert taught me to read music, but most of the sheet music was written for piano and not in the same keys as the records. I soon discovered that it was quicker to pick up the hit tunes by ear, so I dispensed with Bert, much to Dad’s relief, as the lessons weren’t cheap!
Pretty soon the word spread that I had a guitar! People regularly knocked on our door, just to have a look, and even at school my status was raised, being the only pupil allowed to stay inside at lunch break, as long as I was practising guitar!
One night I had a visit which was to change my life forever. Richard Bennett and Ian Nelhams were two lads that I knew quite well as they lived close by. What I didn’t know was that they had a music ‘group’, and they just happened to be recruiting new members! Richard Bennett played rhythm, but he didn’t own a guitar, so it was agreed that he could borrow mine, whilst I was relegated to playing their homemade bass guitar, known as the “Flatty” due to its lack of contours. Ian, usually known as “Nelly”, or sometimes “Rubbernose”, was a cousin of Terry Nelhams, by now known as pop star Adam Faith, which added (we thought!) a little bit of kudos to our group. Two other members, Lenny and Paul, left the group before I even met them, and I wondered if we would ever rehearse with a full complement. Soon, however, we were joined by a talented guitarist from Wembley called Ken “Jet” Lucas, on account of his black hair. We needed a name, so I came up with “The Renegades”. We were on our way!!
Our HQ was the basement of the Bristol café in Southall which the owner, Jack, used as a youth club cum coffee bar. It had a small stage with a jukebox on one side and an out of tune piano on the other, and it was here as a fifteen year old, that I made my public debut, playing the only two notes that I knew, and lots more that I didn’t know! It sounded pretty awful but the audience, made up mainly of friends, gave us a warm reception.
More gigs followed. Sometimes we hid our equipment in shop doorways whilst one of us hailed the bus. We knew that the conductor would never let us on if he saw the gear first!
One memorable night, when I had been promoted to lead guitarist, Nelly came up with the brilliant idea of placing my speaker at the opposite end of the hall, explaining that I would hear myself better. He carefully ran about 70 feet of cable from my amplifier to the speaker, strategically placed at the end of the hall. All went well for two tunes until someone shut the cable in the door and severed it! That ended that experiment!
Pretty soon, the lack of gigs and permanent members led to the disintegration of the Renegades. Whilst the trio of Bennett, Nelhams and Simper stayed firm friends, we went in different musical directions. I teamed up with Nelly, trying to form a new group, whilst Richard Bennett decided to form one of his own. One day Richard and I went to the funfair in Battersea Park, where we bumped into two of his old school chums, Micky Willshire and Robin Scrimshaw, who both played guitar. Although they seemed a little reluctant, Richard talked them into starting a new group called “The Downbeats”. Little did Micky and Robin know at the time that they were beginning musical careers which would see them both become important musicians who would play on many hit records.
Nelly and I continued to recruit new people, but those who showed promise were swiftly poached into the Downbeats, including singer Dave Kaye and bassist Ken Rankine (brother of Matchbox singer Graham Fenton), by Rich Bennett whose power of persuasion was far greater than ours.
The Downbeats were soon up and running, whilst Nelly and I got nowhere. It was time to call it a day. The Renegades were no more. My enthusiasm had not weakened though, and I threw myself into practising guitar as hard as possible. I had bought a Watkins Westminster 10 watt amplifier from Maccari’s Music Shop in Wembley, so I felt ready for action.
This was my last year at Grammar School, and my studies conflicted with the time spent practising guitar. It was no contest, the guitar won! During this period I had got to know another local youngster who was a few years older. His name was Tony Ross and he was learning to play bass. I didn’t know then that he was destined to become one of the most important bass players in the country and later, known as “Rupert” Ross, to be a huge influence on my life.
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