Chapter 12 : Pirates without Kidd

Immediately after the Christmas break was over, I telephoned Kenny Slade and John Goodison to arrange rehearsals. The news wasn’t good! In two short weeks they had both moved on to other gigs and were no longer interested in the Pirates. I picked up a couple of gigs with an accordion-led trio which, whilst paying well, were definitely not rock ‘n’ roll, so it was a relief when I received a call from Solly offering me a job with the ‘Mack Sound’.


Freddie Mack had invited me on stage a couple of times when I had gone to watch the band, and I was impressed with the solid wall of sound that they produced. Freddy had obviously been influenced by the soul reviews of Ike & Tina Turner and James Brown, with ten musicians, a dancer, four vocalists and Freddy himself at the front as M.C. It was a mighty sound and a very exciting spectacle! Freddy had secured a residency through his boxing connections at the Uppercut Club, a large venue in East London, fronted by ex-champion Billy Walker. Here we were summoned to rehearse most days, which meant a long slow road trip from Hayes and back again. I took great pride in arriving dead on time for the proposed rehearsal hour of 12 midday. Unfortunately the majority of the band never assembled much before 4 or 5 o’clock, by which time I was ready to depart. The other band members who lived nearer and were happy to hang around in limbo, took exception to my regular departure time of 6 p.m., and so after a week and a half I found myself fired! I wasn’t sorry though, because it wasn’t really my type of music.


Freddy and I stayed good friends, and I had enjoyed my short stint with some excellent musicians, including a stunning lead guitarist named Ged Peck. I visited the Uppercut several times socially, and made a special trip to see the Mindbenders who, having split with singer Wayne Fontana, had a number one hit of their own called “Groovy Kind Of Love”. Sadly the Mindbenders had to cancel, and their place was taken by a new highly touted outfit named Pink Floyd. This was probably the first time that the Uppercut audience had witnessed psychedelia, and it only took about 20 minutes before the hall was completely empty! I don’t think anyone present that night would bet on Pink Floyd surviving for long, let alone rising to the dizzy heights that they did!


By now the first month of 1967 had passed by and there was not much work on the horizon. To make a few bob I went to help my uncle Henry who ran a small building and decorating business. A large house in Chiswick needed painting, and so I found myself climbing a ladder from 9 ‘til 5, which paid reasonably well, and was definitely preferable to doing nothing. Following my spell as a decorator, I did a spot of night work for my old Delta 5 chum Rick Eagles, who had invested in a small factory producing lagging for central heating pipes. Rick’s career as a professional bass player had recently come to an end when his band had folded. Called ‘Tony Knight’s Chessmen’, they were a competent jazz-flavoured R & B group, who really should have made it!


I was whilst working for Rick that I received a phone call from Solly. It appeared that he was no longer enjoying playing soul music and suggested that the Pirates should reform. This, of course, was music to my ears and a meeting was arranged with Mick Stewart, where Solly put forward his idea for a manager.


In those far-off days there was a thriving music shop in Ealing’s Bond Street which catered primarily for keyboard players. Run by a lovely middle-aged lady called Joan Watson, the Organ Centre was another musicians’ hang-out where you could just drop by with no obligation to buy anything. She had also invested money in the Mack Sound and knew Solly well. On hearing of his plan to rejoin the Pirates, Joan had immediately offered her services as manager, using the office at the rear of the shop as the centre of operations.


This office also doubled as an employment agency, run by Joan, whilst the front of the shop was usually manned by a ginger-haired young man named Billy Davidson. Bill was one of the most gifted organists around, who played with real panache, the speed of his hands being amazing to witness. He also played great bass pedals on the Hammond organ, which could seriously demoralize the average bass guitarist! The shop was regular hang-out for promising local groups, such as the Foundations, and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, both on the verge of huge success. Kind hearted Joan would help up and coming musicians as much as possible, giving them credit if they were broke, lending them instruments, and even lending her car, if necessary!


It was unanimously agreed that we could trust Joan and so she would be our manager. We also all had misgivings about whether we could carry a show without Johnny Kidd in front. We could all sing okay, but none of us had the kind of voice needed to carry Johnny’s songs. The obvious answer was to get a new front man, and I suggested ex-Searcher Tony Jackson, as his new band the Vibrations were not having much success. The others thought that this was an idea of which Kidd would approve. We had already dismissed an offer to work with a French rock singer, but Tony was different. We had all got on well with him, he had a distinctive voice featured on most of the Searchers’ hits, and he had a great image! I telephoned Tony the next day, suggesting that collaboration could lift both his profile and ours. He agreed at once and we promised to meet as soon as possible. The reality, however, was that it proved so difficult to get Liverpool-based Tony to travel to London for rehearsals that, sadly, we had to abandon the idea. Personally, I think that the prospect of taking over from Johnny Kidd may have proved too daunting for him, and of course the practice of well-known outfits interchanging lead singers was still many years away in the future!


the New Pirates L to R: Carroll, Truth, Simper, Stewart
the New Pirates L to R: Carroll, Truth, Simper, Stewart

It was Rick Eagles who provided the answer to our dilemma, by suggesting his erstwhile colleague in the Chessmen, John Carroll on Hammond organ. He pointed out that John also had a reasonable voice. I telephoned Johnny Carroll with the proposition, and he immediately agreed. The next day saw myself, Mick and Solly joining Johnny at his parents’ West Ealing home, where they allowed us to rehearse in the garage. Johnny proved to be an excellent musician who fitted in perfectly. The new Pirates were now complete and, after a few rehearsals, were ready for the road. Joan, working on our behalf on just a handshake, soon secured us a short tour of the West Country.


Before departing for Cornwall we paid a visit to the Cutty Sark, that famous sailing ship moored in the Thames where, dressed in all our finery we posed for photographs. The ship had been one of Johnny Kidd’s favourite locations, so I felt that this was a good omen for us. It only remained for us to replace Johnny’s ultra-violet light. A trip to a London stage lighting company called Strand Electrics secured a lamp on hire, which would provide the eerie glow that gave the Pirates show such atmosphere. Luckily UV was still little used and therefore unknown and unseen by the general public, so we had an edge on other acts. Finally my mum was good enough to get her sewing machine out and run us up a huge Jolly Roger flag, to be hung behind us on stage.


Aboard the Cutty Sark, 1967
Aboard the Cutty Sark, 1967

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As the start date of our trip drew near, our thoughts turned to transport, so we paid a visit to Johnny Irving’s home in Willesden, hoping that he would offer to be our road manager, but Irvo was adamant that he was finished with the music business, and whilst wishing us well, declined our offer. With time running out it was decided that our only option was to hire a van and drive ourselves!


With only three or four days to go before our first gig, we were hit with a sudden bombshell! Solly had decided to stay with Freddy Mack, lured by the promise of more money and regular employment, and informed us by telephone that he would not be with us after all! At this news, panic set in and a feverish hunt for a replacement began. With no time to advertise, we began to telephone around in a desperate search. Mick Stewart found a likely candidate living in his street, and we wasted several hours rehearsing the set before it became obvious that the chemistry just wasn’t there! Finally, just as it looked as if we were sunk, Mick had a brainwave – what about Frankie Reid’s old drummer, John Kerrison?


Well, as luck would have it, John was looking for a gig, and as soon as he joined us in rehearsal at Southall Community Centre it became clear that he was perfect for the job. He was also a fast learner, and after a couple of intense rehearsals we were ready to hit the road.


On February 23rd 1967, in a hired van, groaning under the weight of our gear, now trebled by the addition of the mighty Hammond organ plus Leslie speaker cabinet, the new four man Pirates set sail and headed west.


After a day-long drive we arrived at Helston, on the southernmost point of England, where we set up at the local naval base, a fitting place for the first Pirates gig without Johnny Kidd. Finally the moment came! The curtains opened to reveal the four of us bathed in the eerie purple glow. A cheer came from the crowd which appeared to be composed of mainly females, and we proceeded to stagger through the show, based mainly on Kidd’s best songs, interspersed with one or two instrumentals plus a couple of songs from John Carroll. We went down well enough, and Mick and I were pretty pleased with the two new members who performed extremely well.


The 24th saw us arrive in Penzance. It wasn’t long before we spied digs bearing the sign ‘The Pirates Hotel’, which if course we just had to stay at! As we entered with our suitcases we were welcomed by the owner’s dog, a small but loud poodle-type who yapped incessantly at us. Unfortunately the excitement caused the animal to defecate in the lobby, and Johnny Kerrison was none too pleased on discovering that he had trod in the result, making a hell of a mess on his shoes! Once we had signed in (as The Pirates, of course) and explained who we were, the landlady, apologising profusely, took Johnny’s shoes away, returning ten minutes later with the shoes in pristine condition.


After a clean-up and a meal, we arrived at the local dance-hall and performed a rousing set to a capacity crowd. Flushed with success, we made our way back to the hotel, only to find that our friendly poodle had evacuated his bowels once more, but this time on Johnny Kerrison’s bed! As the rest of us collapsed laughing, Johnny tore off in a rage, in search of the landlady who, between more apologies, re-made his bed with fresh blankets. To this day Johnny insists that the poodle singled him out for attention!!


The following night saw us perform at the Plaza Ballroom in Newquay, after which we decided to drive straight back to London. We soon discovered the lack of petrol stations between Cornwall and London. Even with a full tank we couldn’t make it, and so it was that we found ourselves at Andover, siphoning petrol from the squad car of an obliging policeman!


After a short rest, and a gig on March 3rd at Welwyn Garden City, our thoughts turned to recording. We recognised that the business was changing, and it was no longer enough to rely on a good stage act. What was needed was a good record to boost our image! Our one and only recording with Johnny Kidd, “Send For That Girl”, had been released in November to great reviews, but sadly his record company had done little to promote it. Neither had they expressed any interest in the Pirates, which amazed me, considering the past history. Arguably Britain’s best rock singer, hugely successful for ten years, Johnny Kidd had sold enormous amounts of singles and E.P.’s, yet he had never had an album release during his lifetime! In today’s profit-driven record business, where the death of an artist is considered a ‘good career move’, an artist of Johnny’s talent and stature would still be a household name, with back catalogues exploited to overkill, and his image adorning merchandising everywhere!


Sadly, although revered by many people he inspired, such as Van Morrison, Johnny has been allowed to quietly disappear. Back in March 1967 we realised that our association with Kidd would not help us much, but luckily Joan had a contact who expressed interest in a Pirates record. Armed with two songs, one a commercial ditty penned by John Carroll, and another by Kinks front man Ray Davies, we headed for the recording studio….

Chapter 11   Chapter 13