It's So And So And The What's Its

During the years from 1956 to 1960, Britain was not without its own brand of Rock 'n' Rollers. While they may not have had the same impact on the record-buying public as their American counterparts, they did have varying degrees of influence on the young British hopefuls, including those in the Wolverhampton area, who were planning their own forays into popular music. The real importance of those early British rock artists was that they proved it was possible to 'make it in the business' whatever your social background.

The artists who had the earliest influence were people like Thomas Hicks, alias Tommy Steele, the former Merchant seaman who topped the charts with his Rock With The Caveman and had his 'life story' filmed in 1957; Reginald Smith, alias Marty Wilde, whose backing group included the great Big Jim Sullivan and future members of the Shadows, Brian Bennett and Liquorice Locking; Terry Dene, who gained notoriety by being demobbed from the Army because of mental instability; Terry Nelhams, alias Adam Faith, who was to prove as successful an actor and businessman as rock artist; and others, like Duffy Power, Dickie Pride, Wee Willie Harris, Vince Taylor etc. The influence of such artists was probably increased via the power of television and their appearances on the early British rock 'n' roll programmes, Six-Five Special, Oh Boy!, Boy Meets Girls and Wham, as described by the following recollections:

"When Six-Five Special began very few people had TV. We lived in Bruford Road in Penn fields and we were the first in the street to have a TV. It was only about a 15 inch screen and was black and white of course. I was very lucky because my parents let me watch the programme, so I got to see all of those early stars like Jim Dale, Don Lang, Adam Faith etc. Some of my friends often came round to see the programme on the Saturday evening."

"Wee Willie Harris was quite bizarre. He wore a teddy boy suit and he used to dye his hair a number of different colours. It seemed rather silly to bother to do that since on TV everything was in black and white."

"Don Lang used to sing the signature tune to the Six-Five Special. He was a fat guy who played the trombone and led the Frantic Five. He was hardly a sex symbol."

"Oh Boy and the other ITV pop programmes were the ideas of Jack Good. He was years ahead of his time. They were the first programmes to give us the opportunity to see some of the American stars. I remember watching Freddie Cannon, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochrane on those programmes. It was superb because it was the first time we got to see American artists who were in the charts."

"I think Eddie Cochrane was on one of those Jack Good programmes. It was introduced by Marty Wilde who seemed to be totally in awe of him, as we all were in this country at the time."

"My favourite was Dickie Pride. He was known as the Sheikh of Shake. I think he was one of Larry Parnes' artists. All those fellers had names to suit their mood etc. So he had Dickie Pride, Duffy Power, Marty Wilde and the greatest of them all, Billy Fury. He was the man with the image that many of the early lead singers attempted to capture."

"Of course the real star of so many of those shows was Cliff Richard. He was the first true rocker that this country produced. He would wear all black or all white. He and the Shadows, especially Hank Marvin, probably had more effect on British youngsters wishing to get into pop music than virtually anyone."

"When I was a teenager my very favourite artist was Cliff Richard. It was the same with all my friends at school as well. We used to buy all the magazines like the Valentine just to collect any pictures of the stars, but we were only really keen on Cliff I remember queuing for ages to get tickets to see him at the Gaumont the first time he came."

"My first date with a girl named Ann was to see Cliff Richard at the Gaumont. I remember we caught the 46 bus from Underhill and we had to get off at St. Mary’s Church because I had forgotten the tickets. Anyway, we did get there in time and she thought it was great because he was her very favourite. Mind you, I really rated Cliff in those days because he seemed Britain's only genuine rocker. The Shadows were great as well, especially Hank Marvin. Any British kid who wanted to play guitar really wanted to play like him."

While young Britons who were intent on becoming Rock 'n' Rollers had looked enviously at the American artists who had introduced the music to them and had made a tentative start with the Lonnie Donegan inspired skiffle craze, it was Cliff Richard and the Shadows who made it seem a more realistic possibility.

Cliff, real name Harry Webb, had started with the Dick Teague Skiffle Group and then formed Harry Webb and the Drifters in 1958 as a rock 'n' roll group. He sent a demo of the rock standards Breathless and Lawdy Miss Clawdy to Norrie Paramor and as a result got a recording contract with Columbia along with a new name, Cliff Richard. In October 1958 his first release, which is regarded by many as the best ever British rock 'n' roll record, Move It, almost reached the top of the charts. He became one of the country's major heart throbs. His success was probably enhanced by his regular appearance on the ITV pop show Oh Boy! Within a year his backing group, the Drifters, had changed their name to the Shadows and were to become almost as popular as Cliff.

While Cliff Richard and the Shadows were the most successful of the British groups of the period, in many ways they were typical of their time. Virtually every group which made the charts, and hundreds of others who failed to do so, followed the same routine of having a 'lead singer' and a backing group and taking a name which expressed the arrangement of  'him and them'. Among the most successful were:

Cliff Richard and the Shadows
Marty Wilde and the Wildcats
Tommy Steele and the Steelmen
Billy Fury and the Tornadoes/Blue Flames
Vince Taylor and the Cutters
Johnny Kidd and the Pirates
Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages

Locally, the earliest crop of successful Wolverhampton groups reflected this pattern. So amongst those early groups we had:

Danny Cannon and the Ramrods
Steve Brett and the Mavericks
Dane Tempest and the Atoms
Johnny O'Hara and the Strangers
Johnny Dark and the Silhouettes
Johnny Carr and the Cadillacs
Brad Ford and the Sundowners
Dale Gibson and the Detours
Derry Ryan and the Ravens
Oliver and the Pathfinders etc. etc. etc.

John O'Hara, who sang with the Strangers, Tremors and Californians, remembers those early days and the influence of Cliff and the Shadows:

"When I first left St. Joseph’s School I sang with a little outfit from Bilston with the awful name of Johnny Ford and the Classics. It was typical of the time though to have a lead singer and the backing group with a name something like that."

"That group didn't really last that long but shortly afterwards I answered an advert in the Express & Star for a lead singer with a group. The audition was on a Sunday morning at Willenhall Baths."

"The group I went to audition with included Alan Clee on lead guitar and Jake Elcock on bass. The lead singer was a feller named Geoff Crewe and he was great. Anyway, I did three or four numbers and I felt super because I was singing with a really good backing group. That group was the Strangers."

"Alan Clee was a great fan of Hank Marvin, he even wore glasses like Hank Marvin. The group even used to do the Shadows walk. Most of the numbers we did were Cliff type stuff and a few other popular pieces thrown in. We were often billed then as Johnny O'Hara and the Strangers."

"We used to buy the latest Cliff number as soon as it came out on a Friday and have it all worked out by the next evening so we could include it in the act. We did that because many of those coming to see us were Cliff fans."

Dan Robinson (Danny Cannon) accepts that in those early days for the groups, it was considered almost a requirement that there be a recognised lead singer and a backing group:

"If we look at the earliest photographs of us as a group then we see a typical Cliff and the Shadows-type line-up. You have the lead singer and the backing group. The emphasis was always on the lead singer until the lead guitarist did a solo."

"It was always thought necessary for the lead singer to dress differently from the rest of the group. ({they all wore black, then I wore white and vice versa."

"It was the lead singer who always got most of attention, so you had to work on your individual presentation. You had to make sure that you gave customers what they wanted. Interviews were invariably concentrated on the lead singer."

Danny Cannon & the Ramrods. Dan Robinson alias Danny Cannon stands out from the rest of the group, wearing the gold jacket. It was so often the case that the lead singer had to appear a little larger than life! (Len Beddow)

Len Beddow provides a very interesting analysis of the 'decision' to make Dan Robinson the lead singer:

"It was decided that Danny became the singer because he had bought the microphone, so obviously he had to be the singer. I had bought the guitar so I became the lead guitarist and Alan had bought the drum so he became the drummer. It was as easy as that."

“Danny started to work on his presentation and style. He would watch some of the more popular singers of the time like Gene Vincent, Billy Fury or Cliff and copy some of their moves. It really worked out for us in the final of the Big Beat Contest."

Steve Davies (Steve Brett) remembers when the group was established and needed a name:

"We tried a number of names including the Drifters which must have been one of the most popular names of the time, the Tornadoes and the Mason-Dixon Line, before we settled on the Mavericks. It was named after the TV programme of the time. Anyway, once we had the Mavericks as a name, it was necessary for me to have a new name. I became Steve Brett, again after the part played by James Garner in the TV programme. It was taken for granted in those days that it had to be so and so and the what’s its. So it became Steve Brett and the Mavericks."

Graham Gomery took on a new identity when the Atoms became a group:

"We had been a skiffle group called the Black Cats and had developed out of the local Youth Club around Goldthorn Park. Anyway, we decided to become a pop group so we needed a name. The original notion was Cobalt and the Atoms. That would have been dreadful."

"I was nominated the singer because I had apparently always fancied myself as a singer. As the singer I had some control over the choice of name and it had to have the idea of the singer and the group, like Cliff and the Shadows. I rather liked Dane Tempest."

"The name did not come from the Buccaneers TV programme as most people thought. In the programme Robert Shaw was actually Dan Tempest, not Dane. It was actually chosen because it sounded good and it had the necessary element of Americana. When I think of it now it sounds very dated."

Steve Brett. Steve Brett not only called his group after the TV series but also appeared in the guise of the Mississippi gambler. (Steve Brett)

Dane Tempest & the Atoms. A very early picture of the group. Dane as the lead singer gets to wear white! (Graham Gomery)

Mick Deeming was the drummer with Johnny Dark and the Silhouettes and he remembers how the group's name was created:

"Johnny Dark was the name of a film around at the time and the lead singer of the group, whose name was John Gosnall, quite fancied the name. The Silhouettes was actually prompted by the name of the Shadows. I never really liked any part of the name but I was merely the drummer and had arrived later than the rest of the group who had met at school. So I joined a fait accompli."

"It was very much the order of the day for groups to dream up quite extraordinary names for both the lead singer and the rest of the group. In fact our name was not quite as silly as many of those from the same time period."
Johnny Dark & the Silhouettes. His clothing makes Johnny Dark (John Gosnall) stand out from the rest of the group. (Mick Deeming)

Brian Huntbatch, whose brother Gary was the drummer with Steve Brett and the Mavericks, encapsulates the situation at the time for groups and their names:

Denny Laine & the Diplomats. He may have dressed in the group uniform but the future Moody Blue and Wing (nearest left) was an outstanding personality and performer. (.Jim Simpson)
"Steve Brett and the Mavericks were one of the original Wolverhampton groups but they were typical of the time in terms of their choice of name.

If you looked around the area at that time, and it was not just true of Wolverhampton but everywhere else or so it seemed, there were loads of groups but virtually everyone had a recognised lead singer who was named and the backing group would also have a name. So I remember we had Danny Cannon and the Ramrods, Johnny Dark and the Silhouettes, Brian Gulliver and the Travellers, Denny Laine and the Diplomats and so on."

With the increasing success of Cliff Richard and the Shadows, so the influence of Hank Marvin also increased. More of the young lead guitarists sought to improve their technique and play more like Hank.

Pete Watkins was the lead guitarist with one of the longest lasting of the local groups of the early 60's, the Tradewinds (not Pete Watkins or anyone else and the Tradewinds). He describes some of those early efforts:

"My first guitar had been an Elvis four string plastic effort which was bought for me from Woolworth’s. My first six string guitar was bought from a school friend for 10s. I still had no idea how to tune it until I went to Brewood Grammar School. I took it for granted that all guitars were tuned to an open E."

"While I was at Brewood I started to play along with some older fellers who were willing to allow me to participate, especially on a Wednesday afternoon which was games afternoon."

"So we had me with a very inferior, untuned guitar, Richard Hallchurch, whose parents owned the house we played in, with a piano, banjo and a guitar which was tuned, Mo Foster who played a recorder, two other guitarists and a feller who had a banjo over which stretched paper so that it sounded a bit like a drum. That was the beginning of the group."

"We used to try our hand at a few skiffle numbers like Last Train To San Fernando until we heard Apache by the Shadows and realised just what a guitar could sound like. It was as a result of Apache and the sound of the Shadows that we started to play around with electronics, home made amplifiers and echo chambers. After about twelve months we were better musicians, especially after Richard Hallchurch taught me to tune my guitar. We developed quite a sophisticated sound."

Another member of the Tradewinds was bass player Mo Foster who has become one of the country's leading session players.

Tradewinds. A group which grew out of Brewood Grammar School. It was so often the case that school friendships provided the basis for many of the early groups. A young Pete Watkins is to be found at the back of the photograph. (Pete Watkins)
He has played with some leading artists like Jeff Beck, Gerry Rafferty, Cliff Richard, Phil Collins and Scott Walker. In those early days however he was just another member of the group which was growing out Brewood Grammar School's sports afternoons:

"In those days the few guitar teachers who were about were finding themselves over-stretched and it became quite usual for young musicians to delve into Bert Weedon’s Play In A Day which was published in 1957 and sold something in the region of two million copies. Another influential book was The Easy Guide To Rhythm And Blues Guitar by Shirley Douglas which was designed for the playing of the new electric bass guitar."

Bert Weedon who was Britain's foremost popular guitarist, produced his Play In A Day teaching book and it became tantamount to a bible for many budding musicians, like Mel Brookes and his brother Mick. They lived in Bilston, like so many of the more successful local group members. They played together in the Cobras. Prior to that, Mick Brookes was with the Rockin' Rustlers and later he became a member of the Californians. Mel remembers:

"Mick got a Hobbit woodwork kit for Christmas in 1957. The kit cost less than four quid and it was to make a guitar. Included with the kit was a copy of Bert Weedon’s Play In A Day which I should think almost every British guitarist used at some time or other."

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