The 50's saw the emergence of the teenager as a consumer with real spending power. The decade witnessed a fashion revolution and the arrival of one of the most influential phrases of the second half of the twentieth century - Rock 'n' Roll. For the majority of British teenagers that phrase meant a host of American recording artists, especially Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochrane, Fats Domino and Little Richard and a few pale imitations from this side of the Atlantic like Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard or the more authentic Billy Fury. To hear the latest releases by the American artists before your local contemporaries became an objective in itself for many teenagers, especially males of the species, and to actually possess a copy of the record (even without the means of playing that record) was tantamount to possession of the Holy Grail!

It was the desire to listen to the music that led to the dramatic increase in coffee bars, not for the consumption of the espresso or cappuccino coffee served from the Gaggia machines, but because every successful coffee bar had to possess the requisite Wurlitzer, Rock-Ola or Bel Ami jukebox with its blinking illuminations, whirring innards and the latest selection of hit records. For sixpence or a shilling teenagers could have single or triple plays and spend an evening surrounded by the sounds of favourites like Whole Lotta Woman, Breathless, Claudette, Wear My Ring Around Your Neck etc. Every town centre saw a proliferation of coffee bars, many of which attempted to mimic the atmosphere of London's most successful bars like the 2I's, Heaven & Hell or Freight Train. It was also a time when record shops began to spring up from which teenagers could purchase their own 78 rpm. and later 45 rpm. copies of jukebox favourites.

When the skiffle craze initiated by Lonnie Donegan hit Britain, it was the coffee bars and the church youth clubs of the country which became the bases from which hundreds of skiffle groups emerged. Every town had its own selection of skifflers with their range of home-made instruments who provided the music for many of the youth club and parish hall dances which were held and gave some teenagers their first opportunity to bop and to meet members of the opposite sex. Such dances also provided many of the future generation of successful rock musicians with their first public performances and the taste for popular acclaim. While the musical ability of most skiffle groups left a great deal to be desired, the do-it-yourself nature of skiffle meant that young people were getting their first real chance to take some control over their own entertainment. The advent of regular televised pop music programmes like Six-Five Special and Oh Boy! also meant that performances by some of the American rock idols could be seen for the first time and have important consequences for the budding rock musicians in this country. The televised appearance of Buddy Holly from the London Palladium probably led to more electric guitars being purchased in this country than any other single event. It was such occurrences which also brought an end to skiffle groups and their general graduation to the rock or beat groups which were to dominate the popular music scene during much of the next decade. This process was accelerated when the conveyor belt of American rockers dried up to be replaced by the clean-cut high school 'pretty boys' , usually from an Italian background, or the emergence of dance crazes, especially the Twist, as described by Chubby Checker.

It was into that popular music vacuum that British beat groups moved during the early 60's. In most cases the groups attempted to keep the beacons of rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues alive, playing the music of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, often to audiences of 'one man and his dog'. Such experiences destroyed the fervour of many young musicians but increased the desire and resolve of others and led many of them to seek further musical (and other) education on the backstreets of Hamburg. As we all know, the principal graduates of this school were John, Paul, George and Ringo but they were merely four out of hundreds who all went through the same learning process.

The incredible national and international success of the Beatles and other British beat groups, especially in the United States, had wider results for the country in general. Britain became the world capital for popular music, fashion and art in general. A new confidence and boldness, especially amongst the younger generation, was evident everywhere with previously unknown locations like the Cavern in Mathew Street in Liverpool, King's Road in Chelsea and Carnaby Street in the West End becoming the focal points in this popular 'swinging' revolution. No longer did taste percolate down from the upper class, the reverse became the case. The teenagers who had lived through the rock 'n' roll revolution of the 50's and were now in their twenties, along with the new breed of teenagers, became the leaders of this movement. The demand was for change and a break away from the austerity of the previous generation.

The culmination of the whole process was the development of the hippy movement in 1967, although the movement had its antecedents in America. In Britain it was to encompass all features of life, especially music, with the development of the 'psychedelic' form and its surrealism and links to an 'alternative' radical lifestyle. However, the alternative did not become the norm and the decade was to end with the assimilation of most of the 'revolutionary' leaders into a new Establishment and the break-up of the Beatles.

Musical and social chronicles of the period 1956-1970 in Britain are innumerable with the emphasis inevitably placed on the significance of cities like London, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and to a lesser extent, Birmingham, since it was from those cities that the most successful, innovative and influential of Britain 's popular artists came. The importance of groups like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, Small Faces, Hollies, Yardbirds, Animals, Spencer Davis, Move etc. cannot and should never be underrated. However, the developments which have been outlined above had influences and results for many young people who were away from the centre of things. Other major centres of population had their own music scenes and 'local heroes' which for their teenagers and twenty something's were extremely significant and left indelible impressions. The town of Wolverhampton and its immediate surrounding area was one such example. This book is a small attempt to capture the feel and atmosphere of the period and to acknowledge the importance of certain artists and places to a generation of Wulfrunians and to provide a reminder of a very special time for so many of us.

When Bill Haley and the Comets first produced a recorded version of Rock Around The Clock it had possibly the most significant effect of any record of the twentieth century. It became the beacon call for the first rock generation. The sound of Rudy Pompilli's saxophone spawned so many imitators and led to the formation of so many local versions of the Comets all over this country. In Wolverhampton the outstanding example was the great Tommy Burton who brought together his first Combo, known at the time as the Beatniks or Ravemen, and began performing at local rock venues like the former cinema, the Scala, or the Dorchester in Temple Street. Other local rock 'n' roll performers who attempted to capture something of the Haley sound at that time included Dixie Dean and his Combo.

The amazing Success which Lonnie Donegan achieved with his skiffle sound led to similar groups being formed all over the country with their assorted arrays of guitars, washboards and tea chest basses. In Wolverhampton, the Gamblers and the original Black Diamonds were just two examples of local skiffle groups. It was as part of such groups that some of the town's foremost popular musicians, like Les Parker, Roger Clark, Steve Brett and Clive Mountford had their beginnings. It was in coffee bars like the Milano in Darlington Street that those groups played to the town's youngsters, although there was a relatively thriving jazz scene which had its base at the Queen's Public House (now Edward's) in North Street.

Perhaps the most influential musician or sound, as far as many of the budding young rock stars of the late 50's were concerned, was Buddy Holly. It was no accident that the Beatles chose their name, a corruption of beetle, as a mark of respect to his backing group, the Crickets. Similarly, Bilston's own Danny Cannon and the Ramrods regarded Buddy Holly as something of an idol and attempted to mimic his very individual sound. Other local groups, like Dane Tempest and the Atoms, especially their lead guitarist Roger Bromley, used Chuck Berry as an inspiration. Steve Brett modelled himself on Elvis. It is interesting that in all those cases it was American artists, rather than British, who were providing the yardstick by which the groups were measuring themselves.

As more local groups began to emerge so did the support of their fans increase and become more partisan. Competitions were held at a wide variety of venues, although the most important of the local contests was held at the Gaumont on Saturday mornings, watched by enthusiastic fans who turned up with banners and screamed their approval for their own particular favourites. Success in such competitions meant that more work would become available for the winning groups, although the number of live venues showed a marked increase in the early years of the 60's anyway. Places like the Regent, Staffordshire Volunteer, Coven Memorial Hall, Brewood Jubilee Hall, Bilston Town Hall, Willenhall Baths, Three Men In A Boat, all began to use local groups for their dances.

When the Beatles first played in the town in March 1963, supporting the American performers, Chris Montez and Tommy Roe, those of us who were there and listened to the trio (John Lennon was ill), realised that we were witnessing a 'special' event. They were the first British group to truly capture what we considered the 'authentic' American rock sound and that was not lost on local groups either. Many of the groups changed their repertoire and sought to capture the raw, raunchy guitar sound and harmonies which epitomised the Beatles and the better Mersey groups. Later it was the R'n'B sound of the Rolling Stones and Yardbirds which influenced the local scene. New harmony groups like the Montanas, Finders Keepers and Californians or the R'n'B groups like the 'N Betweens and Soul Seekers emerged on to the local scene and began to play at the new crop of venues, especially the Cleveland Arms on Willenhall Road, the Ship and Rainbow on Dudley Road or the Plaza in Old Hill. Each of the groups had their individual personalities and styles and included outstanding lead singers or instrumentalists like Dripper Kent, Johnny O'Hara, Graham Gomery, Jimmy Lea, John Howells, Johnny Jones, Bill Hayward, Noddy Holder and countless others.

Brian Epstein was one of the most influential figures in the early rise of the Beatles, as was Andrew Oldham with the Rolling Stones. In each case they showed the importance of successful management and presentation. Such men 'created' images and determined styles for a generation. Locally, the Astra Agency with Len Rowe, Stan and Peter Fielding or individuals like Roger Allen were to become our own equivalents of such people. Few of the more successful Wolverhampton groups were able to operate effectively or gain the coveted recording contracts, without their involvement in some form.

Musical trends change and the 60's was one of the most changeable with the pop idols of the first few years giving way to the beat groups, psychedelia, super groups and 'underground' later in the decade. Once again, the local scene was to reflect similar patterns with changes in musical style, performance and personnel, even name changes by established groups, the emergence of new 'super' groups and new venues. Amongst the new group names were Light Fantastic, Ambrose Slade and Trapeze and the new venues included the Catacombs in Temple Street and the Lafayette in Thornley Street.

Few Wulfrunians who lived through the decade could honestly say that they did not hear one or other of the groups mentioned above or countless others not mentioned, or spend an evening at one or other of the vast number of venues which were available for live music during those years. Through the pages of this book I have attempted to capture the memories of many of the group musicians and of their fans and to bring back that special scene which existed around the town during what I would call Wolverhampton's greatest musical years.

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