Chapter 5 : Going Pro

The death of Tony ‘Rupert’ Ross stunned everyone who knew him. It did not seem possible that one of the brightest stars of the pro music scene was no longer with us. Life, of course, had to go on. It continued to be open house at Tony’s home. Pat Marshall, one of the Flintstones’ saxophonists moved into the spare room and became a long-term lodger, whilst I visited regularly. Tony’s parents lost none of their enthusiasm for the music scene, and proudly watched the rise of John Carter and Ken Lewis who, together with Perry Ford were now making waves as the Ivy League. Shortly afterwards, Jimmy Justice and his band returned from their tour and the pink Fender bass was returned to Ken and Jean Ross.


Initially they intended to hang it on the wall, but after some discussion decided that it had to be used. When they offered it to me, I was shocked, and then flattered, but of course I gratefully accepted and became the second owner of this wonderful instrument. After a chat with Jim Marshall, he showed his usual generosity by buying back the bass guitar that I had purchased from him several months before, thus helping a little towards the Ross’s family outlay resulting from their sad loss.


I was still clinging on to the job at the bakery, whilst furiously working flat out during every spare moment honing the stage act of ‘Some Other Guys’. On several nights a week we would rehearse at the Hayes Church Hall, polishing up our set list. My old school friend from Bishopshalt Grammar, Tony Tacon, had also knocked a group together known as the Javelins. I had taught Tony his first chords (from the Buddy Holly songbook of course) and helped out once or twice when they needed a guitarist. Tommy had been on the receiving end of an amazing stroke of good fortune by discovering an old Fender Stratocaster hiding at the back of a junk shop. The proprietor, knowing nothing about guitars, was open to offers, and handed it over for 30 quid!! Obviously Tony was happy with that result. He had blossomed into a useful rhythm guitarist, and the Javelins, with their new singer known as Jess Gillan, performed very passable covers of the hits of the day. Their regular gig at a local youth club was only yards from the church hall, and we frequently had to turn up the volume at our rehearsals to avoid being drowned out!


At the same time, we had acquired a manager through a friend of a friend, who claimed to know everybody in showbiz. He would frequently drop names such as Dick Rowe (of Decca records) or Brian Epstein, which initially impressed us no end. We felt that having a manager gave us extra kudos, but it soon became obvious that all these associates existed only in his imagination.


The early 1960’s was a period when the music scene was exploding with new bands and new venues absolutely mushrooming. Lots of these groups were actually packing up work and turning professional, as in those days, if you had a decent sound that pleased the crowds, it was not necessary to have hit records. A good outfit could gain a reputation and work most nights of the week on that alone!


Of course, as the beat business expanded, so the ‘Arthur Daley’s’ of showbiz gathered like vultures to swoop down in unsuspecting gullible musicians who, eager to just get on with the music, happily handed the business side of things over to these dodgy managers and equally dodgy agents. The modus operandi of many of these people was so simple that it defied belief! What they did was to charge the venues the highest price possible for their acts, whilst paying the groups half or less of that figure. To compound this outrage, they also extracted 10% commission from the artists’ cut, which did not leave much cash to be shared between 4 or 5 skint musicians! To be fair, there were many straight and trustworthy agents out there, but I am sure there is not a single musician who hasn’t been ripped off in the way I have described. The Delta 5 once travelled from Wembley to Sevenoaks in the Kent for the princely sum of 8 pounds. The normal practice for promoters was to post a cheque to the agent, thus ensuring that the group never discovered their true fee, but for some strange reason the Sevenoaks promoter handed the cheque to us. Imagine our surprise at seeing the figure of 25 pounds written on it!


When ‘Some Other Guys’ realised that their manager was not totally truthful, it was decided that revenge was needed. So we set him up by getting a pal with a flash car to pose as a top U.S. music mogul (using the dodgy agent’s name), complete with big cigar and personal assistant. The poor guy went for it like a hungry pigeon, turning up in his best suit and tie. The crowning moment came when the ‘American’ impostor presented our dodgy agent’s business card as his own, and arranged to have him telephone details of all the bands that he could muster, with the promise of U.S. tours. Our manager really thought that he had hit the jackpot, and we all held our sides trying not to laugh as we hid just within earshot. Of course one can only speculate as to what happened when he called the real agent! The very thought of it was reward enough for the times that we had been conned. The funniest part was that he never suspected us, even warning us that there was an American impersonator about, and to be very careful!!


Meanwhile ‘Some Other Guys’ continued to rehearse and play more gigs. The audience response was growing each time, which did wonders for our confidence. Steve Cameron quit one night after a row and was quickly replaced by an equally talented Hayes pianist called Dave Bone. Alan Hill had by now begun to show promise as a songwriter, presenting us with a soulful ditty titled “Sweet Talking Man”. Armed with the new song, we booked some time at a recording studio in Rickmansworth, owned by the famous disc jockey Jack Jackson. Produced and engineered by Jack’s sons John and Malcolm, the group recorded the new title, together with a cover of Benny Spelman’s “Fortune Teller” on a two-track machine in about three hours flat! We felt the result was not half bad, and several acetate copies were cut for our manager to hawk around.


At the same time, Alan Hill had entered us for a talent show being run by the London Evening News, with the promise of cash and a record deal for the winner. Turning up to do our spot with a dozen other groups, nerves got the better of us and our performance was pretty dismal. As we slunk out dejectedly, knowing that we had blown it, I was compelled to hang back as the next act did their stuff, as they had a singer who really stood out from the others, with a powerful range that defied belief! His name, I discovered, was Ashley Holt.


By now I was beginning to feel that my ability on the bass was approaching a more respectable level than I had showed on lead guitar, and thought it was time to get myself accepted by the local musical fraternity. I began spending as much time as possible hanging out in the right places, musicians’ haunts such as the Spiral Steps Café and the bowling alley, both in Southall, The Rendezvous Café and Ted’s Café in Hanwell Broadway, and of course, the main place to be seen, Jim Marshall’s shop. I would hang around and watch players trying out guitars, some of them big names such as Big Jim Sullivan, Judd Proctor or Mick Green.


One day, I dropped in with my Mum to pick up some strings, and as Jim came to serve us I became aware of some other people there, posing by the counter like gunslingers in a Wild West Saloon. It was Screaming Lord Sutch with three of his Savages – Rick Brown, Ritchie Blackmore and Carlo Little. Jim introduced us to Dave Sutch, who was probably the first pop singer to sport waist-length hair. During our conversation my Mum jokingly asked if his hair didn’t sap his strength, whereupon Sutch replied that she hadn’t read her Bible, for it was Samson’s hair that gave him his strength! Mum was suitably chastened!


The highlight of the week was Saturday afternoon at Marshall’s shop, when my old tutor Bert Kirby would check out the condition of the guitar stock. Bert was pretty adept at knocking out a jazz tune, and he would be joined in a jam session by such luminaries as Rod Freeman on guitar, Ken Rankine on bass and Johnny ‘Mitch’ Mitchell on drums. Saturdays at Jim’s was like a musicians’ social club, and I would drink in the atmosphere, rubbing shoulders with various members of local bands such as Cliff Bennett’s Rebel Rousers and the High Numbers, shortly to become the Who.


By late 1964, new groups were appearing overnight to become the next big thing, and Some Other Guys certainly felt that all was going according to plan and that the big break would not be long in coming. For me though, everything was about to change. One evening I received a telephone call from Jim Marshall’s son, Terry. He asked if I was interested in a professional gig. Naturally I was all ears and asked who with? His reply nearly knocked me over. The gig was with Buddy Britten and The Regents, one of my favourite outfits!


Within two hours I was knocking on Roger Pinah’s front door. Roger was the Regents’ drummer, who I vaguely knew as the bloke who used to sit in (and speed up) with the Delta 5. Surely, I thought, he can’t be up for the gig? The following evening saw me proved wrong, as I witnessed the Regents’ show at the Grosvenor Ballroom in the centre of Aylesbury. Roger Pinah had blossomed into one of the most visual and exciting drummers that I had ever seen, with Buddy Britten playing raw guitar behind his rocking vocals, Tony Richards pumping the electric piano, and about-to-leave bassist John Lawson providing the bottom end. The atmosphere in the ballroom was electric as the Regents played a scorching set to an enthusiastic crowd.


After the show I met Buddy, for some time one of my musical heroes. Tall, charming and well-spoken, he made me welcome and showed me the set-list, mostly songs which I knew. Finally it was time to depart, having arranged to meet on Monday at his agent’s office in central London. Bidding the group farewell, I left Aylesbury for home, feeling like a dog with two tails. Finally, the dream of life on the road as a pro musician looked about to become a reality!

Chapter 4   Chapter 6