Chapter 8 : Simon Raven and Ryman Office Supplies

Back on the mainland, we began to get ourselves into mode as the Simon Raven Cult, whilst awaiting the return of “Simon”, who had stayed in Jersey for an extra month to tie up a few loose ends. Finally he arrived back, staying at his parents’ home in Kenton near Harrow. We had been calling him by his real name, Geoff, for some time, so there was no confusion with the change of name. The air of anticipation was heightened when we were presented with a new song by music publishers Shapiro Bernstein, titled “I Wonder If She Remembers Me”. This proved to be a commercial sounding rocker with a strong hook, a great first record from the “new” group, we thought. Once again we assembled at Pye Studios with John Schroeder at the helm. This time the result was a much heavier record, with Geoff creating a great fuzz sound from his Stratocaster, achieved by making cuts in a speaker cone which he had turned towards the ceiling with his silver identity bracelet placed inside it!


Buoyed up by the new recording, although a ‘B’ side had not yet been decided, Solly and I eagerly awaited the launch of the new project. Sadly, it never happened. Geoff, obviously clutching at financial straws, had landed us with a residency! Now, having a residency in Jersey was fine, but being stuck in the middle of London’s Soho was no joke. We found ourselves performing nightly from 8 until midnight at the Van Gogh Bar, a seedy watering hole attached to the Latin Quarter in Rupert Street, a nightspot frequented by gangsters and starlets amongst other odd characters. The bar was run by a tough guy called Ted, who kept a large wooden mallet under the counter in case of “trouble”!


At the far end, next to the toilets (of course!), was a small rostrum, which the three of us could just about squeeze onto. Night after night we would entertain a boisterous collection of mobsters, prostitutes, tourists and drunks. Occasionally on match days we would be flooded with football supporters. At these times, you kept your head down and prayed to get out alive!


Even in those days it was difficult to park a vehicle in Soho, so for a while I began parking out of town and using the underground train. Geoff decided to do the same, and the very second that we finished the last song, the pair of us would grab our guitars and run like hell for Piccadilly station, often risking life and limb down the escalators in order to catch the last train. One night a huge puddle of vomit had been deposited at the bottom of the stairs, which I just managed to avoid. Geoff wasn’t so lucky however, and I’ll never forget the look on his face as his Cuban-heeled boots skidded across the platform in a passable imitation of an Olympic ice-skater!! As time went by, Geoff and Solly seemed to become comfortable at the Van Gogh Bar, having settled into the routine and regular money, whilst I still hankered after the excitement of life on the road. Feeling confident that I could find myself a new gig I decided that it was time to move on. I was swiftly replaced by an excellent player called Brad, who played on the ‘B’ side of the new single, a pretty good cover of the old Marty Wilde hit, “Sea of Love”. Any regrets I felt were swiftly dispelled when I received a copy of the record, which bore one single name on the label, that of Simon Raven! The Cult had vanished before it even began! I always felt that Geoff threw away a good opportunity, and sadly the record sank without trace. It was played recently on an alternative rock radio show, and still sounded pretty good.


Geoff continued to play at the Van Gogh for a few years, and I dropped in from time to time for a beer and a blow! I played with him once more, deputising for his regular bassist on July 8th 1967, just before he relocated back to Jersey, where he still performs to this day, although the name has been changed slightly to Simon Raverne. The name of Buddy Britten and The Regents, however has now been lost in the mists of time, but I will always be grateful for the start that he gave me and proud to have been a member of a pioneering rock trio.


Rory Blackwell
Rory Blackwell

Whilst scanning the “Musicians Wanted” ads in the Melody maker, I noticed a small advertisement for a bass player with a rock n’ roll trio. Just up my street, I thought. It turned out that the guys looking for a bassist were two of the most experienced players in the business. On drums was none other than Rory Blackwell, a pioneer of British rock n’ roll, famous for being in the Guinness record book, having set a world record marathon on drums at the famous 2 I’s coffee bar in Soho. His partner, also called Rory, was ace guitarist and vocalist Rory Wilde who, like Blackwell, had been inspiring budding musicians since the 1950’s, when rock first began in Britain. Overawed by their pedigree, to say the least, I began to gig with the Rories around East London, sometimes at a large grizzly old pub in Dagenham, where the crowd was composed mainly of people who you would not like to meet down a dark alley!


In spite of their menacing looks, however, most of them turned out to be friendly, and after a couple of shows I began to relax. My musical confidence took a sideways knock though when it became apparent that I was a bit out of my depth with these hardened old pros and totally unfamiliar with their endless repertoire! Struggling in the deep end to get to grips with the bottomless pit of songs thrown at me, I know that I was gigging on borrowed time. It was not long before Rory B. and Rory W. found an older, more experienced bassist, and I was relieved to call it a day. Playing with these two veterans was good experience, though, and we parted as friends. Several years later I discovered that Rory Blackwell became a holiday camp entertainments manager, and Rory Wilde opened a bar in Spain. I last saw him on the Songs Of Praise TV programme, leading a mass gospel sing along on a Spanish beach. A far cry from rock n’ roll!


After several weeks without a gig, I began to feel that the big adventure was now over, and so it was time to look for a proper job! Throughout the sixties there was never any shortage of work, so it was not long before I found myself a position as a stock control clerk at a company called Rymans in Perivale, Middlesex. Rymans specialised in office equipment supplies, so I spent my day checking orders for everything from office furniture to paper clips. Hardly creative, but it paid the rent! Sitting next to me was another office newcomer, also from Hayes, named Des Keane. Des and I really clicked. He had a devilish sense of humour, and we spent more time playing gags on other staff members than doing any actual work.


One day I fell into conversation with a guy in the warehouse who somehow knew about my musical past. He explained that he had a pal who was a successful record producer called (if I remember correctly) Mikki Dallon. Apparently his latest success was a top ten chart hit for Neil Christian, called “That’s Nice”, and Neil was currently recruiting for his group, The Crusaders, to go on the road and capitalise on his hit. Armed with Neil’s telephone number, I wasted no time in getting touch. He explained that he already had his original drummer, Jimmy Evans, in the frame, together with Ritchie Blackmore on lead guitar. Yes, he said, I would fit the bill nicely, and promised to call me as soon as rehearsals were arranged. Was I excited? I felt like a dog with two tails! However, after several weeks with no call, I realised that I wouldn’t be leaving Rymans yet, after all. In fact, the job was already taken by journeyman bassist Tony Dangerfield, already tried and tested!


Not long after this short-lived bit of excitement I was contacted by Dave ‘Cyrano’ Langston of the Bergeracs, who was attempting to start a new group. For several weeks we held evening rehearsals with me on bass, Cyrano back on lead guitar, Charley Chapman on drums, and a singer named Gabby. Whilst it wasn’t bad, we never really sparkled and so we soon mutually decided to call it a day.


Early in 1966 I received a letter from ex-Renegade Rich Bennett, who was now successfully forging a new life for himself in Toronto, Canada. I showed the letter to Des Keane, together with the photograph of Rich, standing beside a huge American car. Des was impressed, and it wasn’t long before we were both discussing the idea of emigrating ourselves, with Canada being the obvious destination. Before we could get serious however, events took an astonishing turn for me, leading to a stroke of luck that I could never have believed possible!


This was a period when the whole musical scene was changing, not necessarily for the better in my opinion, as Merseybeat, spearheaded by the Beatles, was dominating the business. There is no doubt that they wrote great songs and made great records, but to me the sound had little appeal. Such was their fame though, that whenever I left the house, my mother insisted on cracking the same tiresome old gag, asking “If the Beatles call, shall I say that you’re available?” to which I always replied, just before closing the door, “No! But I am if Johnny Kidd calls!”


Now Johnny Kidd, he was something else altogether! Ever since Cliff Barton had introduced me to Johnny’s music, I had been his number one fan. Indeed, most of the musicians I associated with would have given their eye-teeth to be in his band, the Pirates! There is no doubt that Kidd was a seminal influence on many singers and musicians who graduated from this period, including some of the biggest names. As I will deal with later on in this story, history and the music business did not treat Kidd kindly, and if there were any justice he would still be a household name today, as he was all those years ago! For those unfamiliar with his reputation in those days, I can only say that to join the Pirates back then was an experience that would be matched today by a young heavy rock player joining one of today’s stadium rock acts!


Now, I figured that my chances of playing with Kidd were slimmer than my chance of walking on the moon, so you can imagine my disbelief on arriving home one evening to be told that my ex-Regents and Bergeracs buddy, Ray Soper had telephoned to say that he was gigging with Johnny Kidd! Half disbelieving, and absolutely green with envy, I telephoned Ray immediately for the story. It transpired that he was gigging with a semi-professional group, one of whom was a window cleaner by trade. He also happened to clean Johnny Kidd’s windows, and had struck up a conversation with him. It had been announced in the press recently that Kidd wanted to lose his tough-guy image and appeal to wider audiences, and to this end he had split with the Pirates, ditched his famous eye-patch trademark and buccaneer outfits in favour of smart suits in order to target cabaret venues.


Still having quite a few rock dates to fulfil, and without a band, the window cleaner’s group were offered the chance to back him on these final appearances. Without beating about the bush, I asked Ray how good the group was. “Not very!” was the reply. My brain went straight into overdrive – “Why don’t the old Regents become the new Pirates?” I suggested. Impressed by this stroke of genius, Ray agreed to meet me the following evening, when we would pay Kidd a visit. With Roger “Solly” Truth in tow, we drove to Johnny Kidd’s home on the edge of a smart up-market estate in Harrow, Middlesex.


Feeling extremely nervous, and slightly amazed at the sheer cheek of it all, we strode up the path, past the cannon on the lawn, and rang the bell. The door was swiftly opened, and there stood the great man himself! Obviously he recognised Ray immediately, and peering at Solly and myself, realized that he vaguely knew our faces. “Hi fellas”, said Kidd, “What can I do for you?” “John” I replied, trying to muster a bit of more bravado than I felt, “We are your new band!” Kidd stared at us in amazement. “OK.” He replied, “Then I guess you’d better come on in.” Rather sheepishly we followed him into the lounge and were introduced to his wife, Jean, who went off to the kitchen to make some tea.


Johnny listened patiently as we sold ourselves to him, eventually convincing him that we could deliver the goods. I was dispatched to the local pub to fetch a few beers, and on my return we toasted the new alliance. Soon the conversation turned to the subject of who could play guitar. We suggested approaching old mate Mick Keane of the Ivy League. Johnny seemed happy with that idea, and suggested a rehearsal as soon as possible. With this loose arrangement in place, we took our leave of Johnny Kidd at around midnight. As we shook his hand and said goodbye he uttered the words that I will never forget. “Thanks a lot fellas”, he said, “You’ve saved my life!”

Chapter 7   Chapter 9