It was a cold Monday morning when I picked up Roger Pinah, and together we drove to the underground station where we caught the train to Oxford Circus, in the heart of London town. A short walk took us to the office of the Malcolm Rose agency, which managed Buddy Britten’s career. Buddy had been highly touted for several years as Britain’s answer to Buddy Holly, and very good he was too! His chiselled good looks and tall, slim physique were identical to Holly’s, and the addition of a pair of (clear glass) horn-rimmed spectacles completed the image perfectly. He did a pretty good imitation of the voice as well, and had Holly’s guitar style off perfect. Speculation was rife in the business that he was to play the part of Buddy Holly in a film of his life, but nothing happened. Maybe the well-spoken Harrow accent of Britten was too far removed from Holly’s Texan drawl!
Buddy, whose real name I later discovered was Geoffrey Glover-Wright, welcomed me to the office, where he presented me with a stack of his single record releases, which I was instructed to learn for my debut gig at the weekend. These included several songs, which really deserved to be hits, but had not quite made it. One of the best was a great version of the James Ray U.S. hit “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody”. According to legend, Buddy sent a demo copy to a well-known agency in the North, hoping to secure work in that area. Apparently he heard nothing, but it was not long before one of the agency’s acts, Freddy & The Dreamers, rocketed to number one in the charts with the same song, which had left a bitter taste in Buddy’s mouth! Of course, whether his version did inspire Freddie Garrity to record the tune, no one will ever know!
Impressed by Buddy’s easy-going manner, and armed with the pile of records I headed for home, trying to take in the fact that I was now a pro musician! Today it is considered normal for people to leave school or college to pursue a musical career. Back in 1964, being a pro set you apart from the crowd, often leading to you being regarded with suspicion as some kind of freak or oddball! With unemployment being almost non-existent, anyone who did not get up in the morning and go to work was certainly not regarded as normal! I took me some time to acclimatise to the lifestyle of late nights and even later mornings, and some neighbours could not be persuaded that I was not a layabout on the dole!
Following the meeting I got down to some serious practise before having a rehearsal with Buddy and Roger prior to the first gig. Buddy and his wife Janet lived in an apartment in an old country house in Hertfordshire. Called ‘Wormleybury’ near the village of Wormley, it was a splendid old pile which had several areas converted to apartments, some of which were rented by workers in the music industry.
Saturday night arrived, and together with Buddy, Roger and Tony Richards on piano, I made my professional debut at the Whitehall, East Grinstead in Sussex. After forty-plus years, my memory of that first gig is extremely hazy, but I can remember that we went down very well and, as our set finished, I could not resist waving through the rapidly closing curtains to a trio of enthusiastic girls at the front of the stage. “Never ever do that again!” snarled Buddy. Suitably admonished, I didn’t have the nerve to enquire why not!
Apart from that small blip in stage protocol, Buddy was very happy with my performance, and I felt ten feet tall as Roger and I walked from the hall to my old green Bedford Dormobile van for the journey back to London.
Life had now become a hectic round of rehearsals and one-nighters. Tony Richards dropped out as he had a demanding daytime job, and so Buddy gave the task of finding his replacement to Roger, who scoured the music press adverts for likely candidates. Our first port of call was Putney, where we found a really talented pianist called Ray Soper. Ray was really up for it, and proved an asset to the group.
Together, Roger, Ray and I criss-crossed the country in the freezing Dormobile (which had no heater!), whilst Buddy, often with Janet, travelled in style in his large white Mk III Ford Zephyr saloon car, an ideal vehicle for an image-conscious rock singer in 1964. The Dormobile by contrast was rusty with a slipping clutch, and occasionally Ray and Roger would have to disembark and walk a little, to enable me to nurse it up the steeper hills.
As a member of the Regents I was now lucky enough to have become part of an elite collection of bands who all toured the same country-wide circuit of venues, and were generally regarded as good musicians who could pull a crowd and deliver the goods. The biggest and best of this collection of acts was without doubt Johnny Kidd and The Pirates, fronted by arguably the greatest rock singer England has ever produced. They were closely followed in the popularity stakes by Screaming Lord Sutch and The Savages. Other great acts who all followed the same circuit included Nero and The Gladiators, Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers, Joe Brown and The Bruvvers, and Neil Christian and The Crusaders, with a young Jimmy Page on lead guitar.
Before long I found myself playing at my own favourite dance hall and local venue, Southall Community Centre, where I had witnessed so many of my heroes strutting their stuff. Bursting with pride as we rocked through our set, I could see many old school friends and acquaintances in the capacity crowd. Buddy liked to vary the set by including the odd folk ballad, and as we lurched through a shaky rendition of “Jailer Bring Me Water”, a bunch of hairy biker types near the front began to hurl abuse. To my amazement Buddy signalled us to stop playing, then, stepping up to the microphone he uttered the following words – “You fellows have big mouths”. As a hush fell over the crowd, the hecklers moved menacingly forward, as if about to murder us! A second later, Buddy followed up with the punch line, “Why don’t you use them to sing?” As the crowd roared their approval, the troublemakers tried to back away, but two of them found themselves propelled onto the stage by their mates. Looking extremely nervous and embarrassed, the two allowed Buddy to shepherd them towards a spare microphone on a stand, instructing them to sing along with the chorus. On the count of four we resumed the song, with the chastened bikers, by now red-faced, mumbling along as instructed. Suddenly, one of their pals appeared at the front of the stage and without warning flung the entire contents of a 2-gallon fire bucket all over them! For a second, the two stood motionless, soaked from head to foot and festooned with old soggy cigarette butts, before hurling themselves off the stage in hot pursuit of the perpetrator, who wisely had swiftly legged it for the exit and the safety of the night! Buddy decided not to continue with “Jailer Bring Me Water”, and after a few more rocking songs we left the stage to thunderous applause, with most of the audience convinced that Buddy had deliberately set up the hecklers for a soaking.
As 1964 came to a close, we finished the year with a riotous Christmas Eve show at the Dancing Slipper Ballroom, West Bridgeford, near Nottingham. The support band joined us on stage for a Christmas finale, and I shared the microphone with a then unknown Noddy Holder, as we roared through the great Ray Charles hit “What’d I Say”. A splendid ending to a great year!
As 1965 dawned, so the cracks began to appear. I was not getting on so well with Buddy as before, probably because I tended to question his rules and decisions, and it was patently obvious that I was not popular with the entourage with which he surrounded himself. To be fair, I was young, brash and pretty cocky, but when you became a Regent, you were expected to obey without question. I suspect that Buddy was also having management problems, as gigs were not as plentiful as before, meaning a loss of income! Roger and Ray immediately solved this problem by joining a local R&B outfit called ‘Cyrano and The Bergeracs’, who had a pretty full worksheet. With just myself left with Buddy, I began to find myself picking up different drummers for gigs, who were called in to deputise. Where possible I would suggest my old Delta 5 drummer, Paul Tait, so that the rhythm section at least had some rapport.
One of Paul’s first gigs was at Exeter University, where we were the support act for the Who, a West London group who were at last making waves after several name changes. Following our soundcheck, singer Roger Daltrey was heard to remark that I had Rupert’s bass guitar. “Yes” said bassist John Entwhistle, “and he plays it like Rupert as well”. Naturally this was an enormous boost to my ego, although deep down I knew that my ability could never come close to that of Rupert! After the gig we had a long chat with Keith Moon, who it transpired had passed an audition for the Regents, but received an offer from the Who just two days after accepting the job with Buddy.
As my career began to falter, I took other jobs to boost my income, including some gigs with a South African group who also recruited me for a photo shoot advertising shirts, and a one-off gig near Earls Court with a scratch band which featured a bloke on keyboards called John Paul Jones, and a guy singing called Dave Jones, later to take the name of the famous American knife-fighter Jim Bowie! Another memorable event was deputising for a week with local West Drayton group ‘The Birds’, whose bassist had gone down with tonsillitis. Featuring future Rolling Stone Ron Wood on guitar, the Birds were an exciting R&B group who always seemed on the verge of success, but sadly didn’t quite make it. A great bunch of guys though; they really knew how to rock!
By now, feeling a bit in limbo, I decided to place an advertisement for my services in the Melody Maker, at that time the top music publication. The only concrete offer I had was from a Manchester based outfit called The Boomerangs. It turned out that Roger Pinah knew them personally, having spent some time living in Manchester, where his mother had a café. Apparently they were a first-rate and popular group, previously fronted by an Australian singer – hence the name Boomerangs! It was decided that I would travel north for an audition, and if all went well I would move into the home of the drummer until I had found my own place. With a date swiftly arranged, Roger decided that he would come with me for the ride north and look up a few old acquaintances. This sounded alarm bells for Cyrano (real name Dave Langston), who was worried that Roger would not return to London once he was re-united with his old pals! To solve this nagging worry, Cyrano volunteered to drive the pair of us to Manchester, thus being able to keep an eye on his newfound star drummer.
Armed with my trusty Fender bass, I pitched up at Cyrano’s place in Greenford where Roger was already waiting. We departed at the crack of dawn in the Bergeracs’ bandwagon, with bassist Keith Dyett coming along for the ride also. Arriving in Manchester, I met the Boomerangs at their basement rehearsal rooms, where after a few jovial preliminaries we got down to running through a few tunes that we all knew. The band seemed to be genuinely impressed with my efforts, with the exception of the drummer, Bernie Burns, who thought I was crap, and did not care if I heard him say so! For a while there was a bit of a standoff, but the lead guitarist, who went by the wonderful name of Cecil, told Bernie in no uncertain terms that the others wanted me in, so in I was! I felt rather uncomfortable to say the least, as I was going to be living temporarily with Bernie and his wife, but he was gracious enough to accept the majority verdict and, shaking my hand, welcomed me to the group.
It was arranged that I would move to Manchester the following weekend, and I departed, secure in the knowledge that I had landed a job with good financial prospects. The downside of the trip was that I had contracted a dose of food poisoning from a dodgy café on the way up, with the result that I was suddenly stricken with a bout of sickness and vomited directly into Cyrano’s stage boots!
As we neared London, whilst I began to recover from my recent affliction, Cyrano suddenly turned to me with a proposition. “You don’t want to live in Manchester”, he said, “Why don’t you join the Bergeracs?” I reminded him that he already had a bass player in Keith Dyett. However it appeared that Cyrano, who played lead guitar as well as singing, wanted me to take over the guitar role, leaving him free to project himself as vocalist only. Well, it had been some time since I had played guitar, but Cyrano was very persuasive, and before we reached home Keith and Roger were woken up to be told the news. I was now lead guitarist with Cyrano and The Bergeracs.
The following Monday saw me in Keith Dyett’s house, where the Bergeracs rehearsed in the front room. I had explained the situation in a telephone call to Bernie Burns who (probably relieved) wished me well. Now I put Manchester out of my head and got on with the job in hand, which was to learn the guitar parts to about forty songs before the end of the week, when the gigs resumed. Not having a guitar did not present a problem, as I had the use of Cyrano’s equipment. Also, my old school chum Tony Tacon had seen his group The Javelins fold up recently, and so I was offered the use of his Fender Stratocaster, which I gratefully accepted.
Playing with The Bergeracs proved to be an exhilarating experience. Roger and Ray rocked with as much conviction as they had with The Regents; Keith Dyett provided a driving bass, whilst Cyrano proved to be a good singer and mover, now that he didn’t have the restriction of a guitar around his neck! Although rusty on guitar, I began to gain confidence and enjoy my new role, playing the Bergeracs’ lively brand of rock and R&B.
Three or four weeks went by, with each gig being more successful than the last, and the band’s future was looking quite rosy. Suddenly from out of the blue, guitarist Mick Keane, currently enjoying success with the Ivy League, turned up to watch our performance at the Seagull in Southall, a well-known music pub. It appeared that ace drummer Clem Cattini was leaving, and Mick had got wind of Roger Pinah’s reputation. By the end of the evening Mick had offered the job to Roger, now for various reasons known as Solly, who of course accepted. Naturally the Bergeracs were not too pleased, for drummers of Solly’s ability were rare indeed! However, before he even got to rehearse with the Ivy League, our old boss Buddy Britten re-appeared with an offer that neither of us could resist.
|Chapter 5 ←||→ Chapter 7|