Joan Watson had managed to negotiate some studio time through a contact that she had in a large recording and song publishing concern. Armed with John Carroll’s song, and a little known Ray Davies number, we assembled in a Central London recording studio to do our stuff. Unfortunately, our efforts did little to ignite the spark needed to create a hit record. Several backing tracks were attempted over three or four hours, the best being overdubbed with some shaky vocals. Joan’s contact was not too impressed, and there was a general feeling that we had blown our chance! We cheered up, however, when it was suggested that we returned in a week or two’s time, when we would all be more inspired. Putting the recording on the back burner, we spent a couple more days rehearsing our act in readiness for our next gigs. We didn’t have long to wait; Joan had secured us three days in Glasgow as part of a huge music extravaganza. The Kelvin Hall was one of Scotland’s landmark concert halls, also famous for staging high profile boxing matches. On the 24th, 25th and 27th of march we were to share the bill with several big acts, including Unit 4+2, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch, Screaming Lord Sutch, and, surprise, surprise, The Mack Sound. Face to face with Solly, of course, the insults flew, but Dave Sutch intervened as peace-maker, and we soon ended up as pals once more.
The Pirates’ spot came before Screaming Lord Sutch, and as we nervously tuned up behind the curtains, Mick and I were extremely aware that this was our first big show without Johnny Kidd. I can honestly say that never before or since have I felt such stage fright! Suddenly, the curtains opened and we were facing a huge audience. The first song passed by, just a blur, but by the second number I began to realise what a powerful sound we were producing, and my confidence rose. By the third song I became aware of girls screaming, and I knew that we had cracked it! At the end of our set, which included a rousing drum solo from John Kerrison, the crowd were shouting for more, and it was a pretty satisfied crew of Pirates who made their way back to the dressing room, with a queue of female autograph hunters providing the icing on the cake!
Screaming Lord Sutch was about to go on stage with his new outfit, no longer called the Savages, but renamed The Holy Roman Empire, with Dave dubbing himself Screaming Lord Caesar Sutch! I had recently witnessed this new act at Johnny Kidd’s tribute night, held shortly after his death. The players were a couple of veteran Savages in the form of drummer Carlo Little and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, together with a U.S. saxophone player called Joel, and two other new boys, Tony Dangerfield on bass and Matthew Fisher on piano. The trademark leopard skin loin cloths usually worn by the band were now replaced by Roman soldier’s garb, with Sutch himself resplendent in a Centurion’s outfit, complete with breastplate!
As the Pirates relaxed in our dressing room, Dave Sutch came in to ask a favour. He thought it would be a splendid spectacle for the audience to witness a sword fight between him and myself, in Pirate dress. I swiftly pointed out that it made little sense historically to have a Roman Centurion fighting an 18th century pirate, but Dave was so enthusiastic about the idea that I soon found myself agreeing to do it. My cue was to enter stage left, and attack ‘Caesar’ just as he ignited the tin of petrol-soaked newspaper which was the highlight of his version of the Jerry Lee Lewis classic, ‘Great Balls of Fire’. Sutch had provided me with a very piratical sabre which I brandished with gusto, right on cue. Of course, I was not quite prepared for what followed, when Sutch came close to decapitating me with the largest two –handed sword I had ever seen! The audience roared their approval as the fire blazed, whilst Sutch chased me around the stage, accompanied by a blistering Ritchie Blackmore solo. Finally I was forced to leg it for the safety of the dressing room before a demented Sutch could accidentally cause me serious harm!
At the end of a great evening, we all had a few drinks with Solly, plus a couple of other members of Freddy Mack’s band including Ged Peck, who had continued to impress me with his amazing speed and precise technique. As we said our farewells and made for the exit, Solly and I bumped into a couple of familiar figures in the form of two Glasgow lads who had also been working in Jersey in 1965. They had come to the show and were surprised to see us, and we reminisced for 15 minutes before leaving.
Tired but happy, I piloted the creaky old Austin van away from the Kelvin Hall. Mick and I were also rather hungry, so we asked the first pedestrian we saw, where we could eat. The man directed us to the clock tower in Sauchiehall Street, where we would find a pie stall. As we pulled up, it was obvious that John Kerrison and John Carroll were fast asleep, so Mick Stewart and I made our way through the crowd of rather dubious looking characters until we reached the stall. “Give us two pies with chips please guvnor” said Mick in his best West London accent. At that, the crowd fell silent in a manner reminiscent of the scene in a dozen cowboy movies where the bad guy enters the saloon. Suddenly a huge bearded man resplendent in a kilt, lurched forward, uttering the memorable phrase, “Yer f…ing English bastards!”. Sensing the ugly atmosphere I whispered in Mick’s ear, as loudly as I dared, “Run like hell!”. As we reached the van, which unhappily bore the legend Matador Car Hire, Hanwell, London, England, the two Johns awoke from their slumber to the sound of the rear windows shattering under a bombardment of various missiles! Somehow my shaking hand managed to get the key into the ignition, and we roared off at high speed, thankful that only the van was damaged.
On reaching our hotel, we discovered that it was next door to a hospital. A quick word with sympathetic night staff found us a parking space near the ambulances, safely out of sight of any marauding vandals who might take exception to the writing on the side. The following two shows at the Kelvin Hall passed successfully without incident. The pie stall attack had taken us completely by surprise. For years there had been rumours of Scotland being a no-go area for English bands, with several reports of experiences such as ours. I had always felt immune from that sort of thing, owing to the fact that Johnny Kidd and the Pirates had always been welcomed and respected everywhere, due in no small measure to their tough image, but, of course, the drunks at the pie stall had no idea of our identity. However, they were only a tiny minority, and we generally found the Scots to be warm and friendly folk. Our three shows had been well received, and we were pretty pleased with ourselves as we headed south for home.
Back in Hanwell, Matador Car Hire were not very happy at the loss of several windows, and we had to part with a few pounds to make good the damage. Following our return from Glasgow we were given the news that our services as recording artists were no longer required! Our one and only attempt had been a dismal failure and we didn’t even bother to request a copy tape! Joan’s contact did offer a publishing contract to John Carroll in recognition of the commercial prospects for his song, but this did not include the Pirates as an act, and we realised that we had blown our chance! The euphoria following the gigs in Cornwall and Glasgow soon evaporated when we discovered that Joan had been unable to secure any work for the near future apart from one gig in London at the Uppercut Club, and very quickly the Pirates began to disintegrate.
On Monday May 1st 1967, the four of us met to discuss any possible future we might have together. It was generally agreed that the group had limited appeal without Johnny Kidd, and our lack of a record deal also led to agreement that we had little option but to call it a day. Sadly, we all shook hands and said our goodbyes. The name Pirates had been at the top for almost a decade in one form or another, but now it was consigned to history! Without a doubt it was the end of an era, but a new one was about to begin…
|Chapter 12 ←||→ Chapter 14|