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

"Steve Brett and the Mavericks was the first Wolverhampton group I remember. I only saw them on stage a couple of times but it was their appearances on For Teenagers Only I remember. It seemed a big deal then to have a local group getting on the TV."

Steve Brett and the Mavericks. Here we see the original line-up. (Steve Brett)

"Dane Tempest and the Atoms were very good in the early days. Roger Bromley was and still is a damn good guitarist. They played at our Youth Club on Goldthorn Park a number of times. In fact, I think they might have been members. They used to play a lot of rockers like Chuck Berry and Little Richard. That was right up my street as it still is."

"Barbara Gale sang with the Atoms I think. She was probably the first female singer I can remember from round here. She had a good voice. I don’t think she stayed with the group when they changed their style and became the Soul Seekers.”

"I loved the sound of Dane Tempest and the Atoms. It was raw and rocking. It was just the sort of sound that you could imagine some of the young American rockabilly artists making when they first started out. People like Johnny Burnette, I mean."

"The Black Diamonds were not as rocking as some of the other groups which were around at the time. They had a softer sound but Pete Spooner could belt it out when he needed to. I could never understand why the fellers in the group never changed their name. Most of the other groups seemed to change their name at that time."

"The Black Diamonds played at the Scala quite often and Pete Spooner used to let rip and put everything into some of the group s numbers. I think actually that he quite fancied himself, but all the singers with the groups did."

"I know many local people will not have heard of my favourite of the early groups around Wolverhampton, it was Johnny Carr and the Cadillacs. He came from Bilston and I think his real name was Johnny Shane or something like that. The group weren’t too brilliant musicians but I thought the sound they made was great."

"Some of the smaller groups were quite good you know. I liked Johnny Dark and the Silhouettes.

They used to play Low Hill Youth Club quite often and the Blue Triangle in Masefield Road.

They were quite rough venues but the music seemed to bring lots of us together, except when a fight would start over a girl dancing with the wrong bloke."

Black Diamonds. One of the main venues in the early days was at the Scala in Worcester Street. Here we see Pete Spooner, Les Parker, Malcolm Bradford. Keith Lansley and Eddie Cheetham. Notice the wearing of cap (perhaps in homage to Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps). (Les Parker)
"Other groups around at that time I think were Roger and the Dodgers, the Cross fires, the Jackpots and the Redcaps. The Jackpots seemed to keep going through to the 60s because I saw them at the Caves in Wren’s Nest in about 1968 or so and the first time I'd seen them was in about 1960."

The way in which local teenagers began to support and follow their own favourites among the local groups created a certain element of competition between those groups. It is not surprising therefore that contests were organised involving the groups. Some of the competitions were nation-wide, while others were strictly local. As mentioned above, the Tremors won a national competition organised by the Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar magazine. It was the local contests which were best remembered however, especially the Big Beat Contest which was organised by the Wolverhampton Chronicle and the Express and Star. It was held in conjunction with the Gaumont cinema and its manager, Joe Alexander, who had introduced the Saturday Teenage Matinee in April 1960. The idea was for a 'suitable' film to be shown, supported by jive exhibitions, beat contests and other features which it was felt would prove attractive to a teenage audience.

The winners of the first three of the Big Beat Contests were:

Danny Cannon and the Ramrods
Steve Brett and the Mavericks
Dane Tempest and the Atoms
Some of the people who participated in those contests have recalled some of the main incidents.

Len Beddow was the lead guitarist with Danny Cannon and the Ramrods. He remembers the final and Danny's antics:

"We had beaten the Black Diamonds in the semi-final and we were against Steve Brett and the Mavericks in the final. I think most everybody thought that the Mavericks would win easily but Danny pulled out all of the stops in the final when he sang the old Gene Vincent number Say Moma. He got down on one knee and the girls went mad. It was the clincher for us."

"My dad actually entered the group for the contest and it put the fear of God into all of us. None of us felt that we were good enough to enter a contest. Anyway, we worked like stink on six numbers and they became our contest repertoire. Say Moma was like our piece de resistance and it worked"

"We took loads of fans with us to the Gaumont and I think they made a bit of a difference because it was like performing at Bilston Town Hall, not the Gaumont in Wolverhampton."

Ramrod fans. All groups had their own fans but the fans of the Ramrods were amongst the most loyal. Here they are seen preparing to support their favourites in the final of the Big Beat Contest at the Gaumont in 1961. (Pete Walton)
"Part of the prize was a recording test at Decca. It proved to be a let down because Ken Hooper, the rhythm guitarist, didn't come. He was also the song writer of the group. We did not do ourselves justice at the audition and so we did not get the recording contract which we craved"

Dan Robinson (Danny Cannon) remembers when the group won the contest and one very disappointing part of the prize:

"We received the prize from Bill Maynard who was in pantomime at the time. It was probably early 1961 when we won the contest. Part of the prize was a TV audition. We thought that it would be the start of something really big but when we got to the audition, the other groups were there as well."

Les Parker remembers competing against the Ramrods when he was with the Tremors. It was his first gig with his new group:

"It was my first gig with the group. I had taken over on rhythm guitar because the original player had left the group. Clive Mountford was on drums, Mick Blythe on lead and Andy Maclachlan was in the group as well. The lead singer at the time was Alan Baker. We were against the Ramrods and for all of our careful playing we were no match for the raw energy of Danny Cannon and the rest of the group. Their rendition of Say Moma was incredible."

Steve Davies (Steve Brett) has the rare distinction of being both a losing and winning finalist in the Big Beat Contest. He is able to remember both occasions:

"I remember the Saturday when Danny Cannon and the Ramrods beat us. It was as if the whole of Bilston had turned up. There were girls with banners and they kept chanting for the Ramrods. It would have been difficult for the judges not to have given them the verdict. They would have had a riot on their hands."

"When we won the following year that was January 1962, the group we were due to meet in the final, the J-Men, did not turn up. We won by default but I am certain we would have won anyway.”

"Even when we came second we still got the TV audition. I thought it was only supposed to be the winners but it didn't turn out like that."

Brian Huntbatch's brother, Gary (known as Gary James), was the drummer with the Mavericks and Brian remembers the 1962 final which the group won:

"When they won the final, the other group did not turn up but I am absolutely certain that they would have won anyway. I remember they all went out and bought new suits for the final. Steve wore a slate grey suit while the group wore blue. They looked immaculate."

Steve Brett & the Mavericks. They may not have won the first of the Big Beat finals but they won the second in 1962. (Brian Huntbatch)

"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."

Rex Newbury 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:

"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 the contest."

Roger Bromley 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."

"We entered 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."

"The final 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 some others."

"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."

Graham Gomery (Dane Tempest) also remembers the Big Beat Contest:

"We'd been 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."

"We got 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."

"I'm not 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 Shadows."

Roger Stafford who became the drummer with the Atoms and with the Soul Seekers describes how the winning of the contest affected his attitudes about the group:

"I answered 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.

Such 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!

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