"In one of
the finals there was some problem with the guitars being
toned down. There was some talk of sabotage but I do not
think it was anything of the sort. It must have been the
previous year when they came second to the Ramrods."
who wrote the Beat Bar column for the
Wolverhampton Chronicle in 1962, reported that Joe
Alexander, the manager of the Gaumont said the following
about the non-appearance of the J-Men:
rang me up on Friday night - the day before - and told
me they didn't think they'd be able to make it. They
phoned again on the following morning, and said one of
their men was working. I think they were worried about
was the lead guitarist with Dane Tempest and the
Atoms, later with both the Soul Seekers and
Cross Cut Saw. He tells us a little about the Big
Beat Contest as he remembers it:
"It was done
on a Saturday morning on the stage of the Gaumont cinema
on Snow Hill. It was regarded as quite a big thing
amongst the up and coming local groups. Previous winners
had been the Ramrods and the Mavericks."
but I don't think we seriously expected to win. The
early rounds involved one group against another group.
The decision was made in those rounds by audience
reaction, I think."
was judged by a panel which I think included the manager
of the cinema, whose name was Joe Alexander, the popular
music correspondent of the local paper, Dick Wilson, and
"We won but I
cannot remember which group we beat in the final.
Anyway, we got a TV audition as part of the prize. It
did not really work out too well, but at least by
winning the contest we gained more local recognition and
got to play more venues. The incredible thing is that so
many groups were in existence at the time and so many
entered such competitions."
(Dane Tempest) also remembers the Big Beat Contest:
playing together for a little while and decided to enter
the contest. We were playing mainly Rock 'n' Roll,
especially Chuck Berry stuff, and some of the popular
hits of the day. It was in 1962."
through to the final and I remember being really scared
about it. We were judged on our standard of performance.
The judges included Mr. Billau who ran the Band Box on
Snow Hill, Joe Alexander who managed the Gaumont and
Dick Wilson from the Express & Star."
"We had to
play about half a dozen numbers and then we were judged.
It may have had something to do with the amount of
audience participation but it was not based on the
audience clapping. Anyway, we won."
totally sure but I think I wore a white tuxedo for the
final and the rest of the group wore purple jackets. It
was the typical uniform of the day for groups and their
lead singer. It just shows how much it was the man at
the front and the group behind, just like Cliff and the
who became the drummer with the Atoms and with
Soul Seekers describes how the winning of the
contest affected his attitudes about the group:
an advert in the Express & Star for a group drummer. I
rang up and asked which group it was. When I was told it
was the Atoms, I thought there’s no way they are going
to want me. They had just won the Big Beat Contest at
the Gaumont and you knew whichever group won that, then
they were a class act. I did not regard myself as good
enough to join them. Still, they accepted me and I
became their new drummer."
While there were
numerous contests involving groups, the real 'bread and
butter' work was going on in the local dance halls and
public houses, like the Regent, Scala, Dorchester, St.
Paul's Hall, Bilston Town Hall, Staffordshire Volunteer,
Fighting Cocks and in the large number of youth clubs
which existed in the town. The venues were being made
increasingly available to the local groups as local
promoters began to realise that the teenagers of the
early 60s were an audience which wanted entertainment
and therefore had to be 'captured and nurtured'.
The demands from
teenagers for 'live' popular music was increasing as
were the demands for local groups to produce ‘carbon’
copies of 'that week's' chart hits. Such demands began
to put strains on those groups. In the vast majority of
cases the 'kids' wanted the ballads and the soft rock
numbers which American 'high-school' artists like Bobby
Vee, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Darin, Rick Nelson, Neil Sedaka
or the new "Hollywood' Elvis, and even Britain's
former rockers Billy Fury and Cliff Richard were
producing and making into chart hits.
requirements were difficult for group members who had
been raised on the rocking sounds of Chuck Berry, Little
Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and pre-US Army Elvis. Many of
them still craved the excitement of Roll Over
Beethoven, Long Tall Sally or Breathless
rather than mundane and trite sounds of Happy
Birthday Sweet Sixteen, Take Good Care Of My Baby
or When The Girl In
Your Arms Is The Girl In Your Heart
etc. It was however very much a case of 'he who pays
the piper calls the tune'.
Britain was also
witnessing a Trad Jazz revival with Acker Bilk, Kenny
Ball, Terry Lightfoot and Chris Barber enjoying a
general popularity which most of them could never have
expected. At the beginning of 1962 Acker Bilk topped the
charts with Stranger On The Shore and Kenny Ball
was just four places below him with Midnight In
Moscow. The very nature of traditional jazz
obviously made it beyond the reaches of any of the local
groups, except the 'ambidextrous' Tommy Burton who was
at heart a jazz man and whose Combo had the wherewithal
to cope with most eventualities.
It was also in
1962 that Chubby Checker and The Twist arrived in
this country and topped the charts, as it had in the
United States. Throughout the summer of that year the
dance halls were 'awash' with twisting youngsters (and
their parents) who once again made demands on 'the
group' to provide them with a rendition of Let’s
Twist Again or another of Chubby Checker's dance
records like Pony Time or Hucklebuck.
It was no wonder
that guitarists, drummers and lead singers alike began
to think seriously about their futures. They seemed to
be being pushed further and further away from their
musical roots. For many young hopefuls the completion of
the apprenticeship and life in industry seemed to be the
next logical step or even a visit to Railway Street and
the town's Labour Exchange. It needed something really
monumental to happen to re-establish their faith.
Thankfully, on the banks of the Mersey and in the back
streets of Hamburg, something indeed was happening!