Goblin Ready Meals And Ambrosia Creamed Rice

As the beat boom continued throughout the years from 1963 to 1966 and more groups appeared on the national scene, often for just two or three months, a number of common features emerged. The majority of the post-Beatle bands had a uniformity of repertoire which invariably included a mixture of rock 'n' roll standards (usually from the Little Richard/Chuck Berry/Jerry Lee Lewis/Carl Perkins catalogues), contemporary chart numbers (especially Beatles/Rolling Stones) and, in some cases, a few self-penned compositions.

Rigorous apprenticeships had been served on the club stages of Hamburg and other German cities or at the US bases throughout Western Europe. The sweat-shop hours, unsanitary living conditions, the demands of many unscrupulous club owners and a number of other unsavoury experiences had turned many of the naive, wide-eyed teenagers who had left on the boats from the Hook of Holland or Dover into 'world-weary' old campaigners when they returned only a matter of weeks later. In most cases however, they also returned as much better performers.

In fact, the group who had regularly played at the local palais, or on the pub and youth club circuits was hardly recognisable, at least in terms of their sound, from the group who came back from their' European adventure'. Once back home, many of the groups sought, if not already acquired, astute management whose raison d'être became the negotiation of a recording contract and the development of a wider audience for the group via the circulation of their records, gigs which took the group further afield in the country and greater media exposure.

Local groups were quick to realise that a visit to the Continent could be a 'make or break' moment, especially when they heard the beneficial effects that such visits had had for so many of the successful chart groups as well as many of the 'also-rans'. One of the first Wolverhampton groups to actually 'test the waters' was Roger and the Dodgers who went to France in December 1963. They went to play at the American forces' base at Nancy. The group included Roger Deeming, Alan Woolridge, Mike Pugh and Keith Evans. Since the group was due to play to a camp full of 'hot-blooded' US servicemen it was thought expedient to include a female singer.

The girl who was chosen was not from the local area, her name was Dinah Clunes and she came from Surrey. The Express & Star reported that they had gone to France after only a day's notice (difficult to believe when they had arranged to use a female vocalist from the South of England). They spent their first night sleeping in the group's van, the next night in the Officers' Quarters and finally they were accommodated about fifteen miles from Nancy. The group celebrated Christmas at the base. While in France the group changed their name to the Rinky Dinks. It would not appear that this early Wulfrunian invasion of Europe had had to suffer many of the 'notorious' privations which accompanied many British beat groups whilst on the Continent.

Keith Evans who played drums for the Rinky Dinks, and later for the Black Diamonds and the Californians, describes one of the 'secrets' of the group's success with the servicemen (not just the inclusion of an attractive female vocalist):

"Roger Deeming was something of a Johnny Cash and the GIs really liked the C&W stuff The group was quite melodic and we went down pretty well with the servicemen, as did the girl singer, of course."

"While we were in France at that time, we didn't suffer too badly and in fact the Americans did their best to look after us really well, especially for the Christmas."

Rinky Dinks. One of the first Wolverhampton groups to 'invade' Europe. They set the trend of taking a female singer along with them. The lady's name was Dinah Clunes. (Mick Deeming)
Later in 1964 the Rinky Dinks were offered another trip to France but turned it down because they were so busy playing around the local area, especially the Merry Boys on Willenhall Road which had become almost a residency for them.

By that time Keith Evans had left the group and become a member of the Black Diamonds. He was to return to Germany with that group the following year.

It was at the end of 1964 that a group of German club owners arranged an audition, through the Astra Agency, for some of the local groups, including the Black Diamonds, the Montanas, the Sonnets and Steve Brett and the Mavericks. All four groups were successful and offered work in various parts of West Germany, as it was then.

When the Black Diamonds visited Germany they followed a similar pattern to the Rinky Dinks, by employing a female vocalist. The girl who was chosen was Sheila Deni, a local girl. Roger Clark, the lead guitarist with the group recalls Sheila joining the group:

"I don't think any of us really felt that we needed a girl singer but it was probably because of her being with us that we actually got the work in Germany. I remember when she came along to supposedly audition for us and it became us auditioning for her."

"When we did that audition for the German club owner I think it was Sheila being with the group which probably persuaded him to take the group on. Mind you, we were definitely a better group with Sheila than without her. We went over in the early part of 1965."

Keith Evans joined the group just before they went over to Germany. He took the place of the original drummer, Keith Lansley, who had been with the group from the early skiffle days.

The new drummer's memories of the group's time in Germany include the following:

"We went over to Germany on a couple of occasions, once as the Black Diamonds and then as the Californians. The first time we played at the Star Club in Carlsruhe which was quite a small and confined club but always full.

We were billed as being from Liverpool, as were so many of the British groups which went over to Germany. Our repertoire then was anything by the popular British groups of the time, especially the Beatles, Searchers, Hollies etc."

Black Diamonds & Sheila Deni. Like so many of the groups who went off to seek their fortune in Germany it was necessary to take along a female vocalist. In the case of the Black Diamonds they took local girl Sheila Deni who proved to be more popular than the group.

"It was during that visit I remember Pete Spooner, who was the lead singer of the Diamonds and the bass guitarist, getting drunk and having a bit of an accident. The club had a system by which the electricity supply would go off if the music was too loud. Anyway, this particular night the electricity went off and Pete fell off the stage. He took the other two lads with him. I was about a metre above them so I was not involved but when the power came back on, all I could see was a heap of microphones, leads and three bodies. Pete just waved for me to play on and I'm afraid I literally wet myself, especially when the others started to kill themselves laughing."

"Roger Allen, who was our manager, came over with us and he quite fancied himself as a bit of a singer. One night he decided to sing that old Chris Andrews' number Yesterday Man and we decided to have a bit of fun Roger’s expense. We took it up a key, then another and so on until Roger s face was scarlet and he was shrieking. Even the Germans in the audience enjoyed that."

The Black Diamonds and Sheila Deni stayed in Germany for three months, somewhat longer than their original contract. When they returned, the Express & Star was full of rave reviews for them, especially their female vocalist. The newspaper reported that she had become something of a 'star' in Germany. She had appeared on German TV, had her photograph plastered all over the place and had secured free meals for the group wherever she appeared because of her popularity. The group played in a number of cities, including Frankfurt, Cologne and Duisburg, as well as Carlsruhe. Apparently her popularity had been greater than the Swinging Blue Jeans and the Beau Brummels who had also been performing in some of the same clubs. She had also recorded with Neil Landon while in Germany. According to Roger Clark:

"She was definitely the star as far as the Germans were concerned, although those weeks in Germany did us the world of good as a group. We returned a much tighter and better group than the one which had left Wolverhampton."

In 1964 one of the town's most successful groups was formed, the Montanas. Within a relatively short time they had been over to Germany to perform. The lead guitarist was Bill Hayward and he recalls some of the more difficult features of the group's stay:

"It was incredible just how much they expected you to do while you were in Germany. We had to play eight 45 minute spots with 15 minutes in between each spot. In other words we were playing about six hours in eight hours throughout the night. You were expected to keep playing if there was just one person in the club."

"We did a number of other things while we were in Germany, including a fashion show where we played the old Shadows' instrumental, Nivram, throughout the evening. I doubt if anyone noticed."

"Like most every one of the British groups who went to Germany we wanted to play in the same places as the Beatles and we did get to play on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg. We also played in Frankfurt, Cologne and Wuppertal. Each of the clubs we played had their own individual characteristics. For instance, the club in Frankfurt was called the K52 and had a line of Mercedes Sports cars outside the club, each driven by a female chauffeure or at least that was what we thought the girls were. They turned out to be a little 'more' than that, offering other services to patrons."

"In Cologne the peace in the club was kept by the absolutely enormous feller called Heinz. I don't recall him having too much bother with the customers."

Montanas. The original line-up with Johnny Jones, Bill Hayward, Terry Rowley and Graham Crewe. They were to prove possibly the town's most popular group. They travelled to Germany and found the German audiences most appreciative of their brand of music and humour. (Jim Simpson)

Johnny Jones was the lead singer of the Montanas and he recalls the group's time in Germany:

"Everyone said that if any group was going to make it, then they had to play in the clubs of Germany. We went out to Germany and played in a number of places and it really did assist the group. After the hours we had to play we became so much tighter and more together. Mind you I have never been so tired as when we were playing in Germany.”

"We worked really long hours, from the early evening through to the early morning. At weekends we had to do three hours in the afternoon as well."

"The music scene in Germany was way behind that in Britain and in many cases you could almost get away with murder. You played everything you knew and more. All the old rock 'n' roll standards, even nursery rhymes. You lengthened solos, threw in additional bits and just went round and round Very few of the punters noticed"

"The first time we went to Germany we came back with nothing, but the next time we took the advice of a feller who had been playing in Germany for some time.

His name was Neil Landon and he had recorded with Sheila Deni while she and the Black Diamonds were in Germany.

He told us to self-cater, so the next time we went over we did just that and returned with some money."

Montanas. The original line-up seen here in a very pensive mood. (Trevor Westwood)

Finders Keepers went out to Germany in the mid-60s, as both Roy 'Dripper' Kent, the lead singer, and lead guitarist Alan Clee remember:

"The first time we went out to Germany it was for about five weeks and we had to work like cart horses. We did the usual stint of 45 minutes on and 15 minutes off throughout the night and matinees at the weekends. It was killing but as so many other groups discovered, it made us a better band and a closer group of blokes."

"While we returned a better group, we learnt very little from our time in Germany because they were so far behind and expected us to play stuff which we had stopped playing some time before we actually went to Germany. While the Beatles had virtually come and gone, the Germans still expected similar stuff from British groups, us included. I had to re-learn some of the old rock numbers."

"We played in Wuppertal, Frankfurt and Cologne. Unfortunately we never made it to Hamburg. That was a great disappointment to all of us. The circuit of clubs we played in Frankfurt and Cologne was called the Storyville and was owned by a feller called John Marshall. The Frankfurt club was the more successful because it was near to the American base so we had loads of Americans coming into the club. They demanded different stuff from us."

Finders Keepers. The original Finders Keepers with Roy Kent, Alan Clee, Ralph Oakley, Jake Elcock and Dave Williams. They have been photographed near the
same block of flats as the Montanas. Also
like the Monts they were to prove a success
in Germany. (Jim Simpson)

"It was while we were playing at Wuppertal that I (Roy) had one of the greatest experiences of my life because Bill Haley and the Comets were playing at the club as well. He was one of my ultimate heroes because it was his stuff I had first played when I first became interested in popular music. We had a great time with those blokes. They actually used our stuff on stage."

"Our stay in Wuppertal was really difficult because of the awful living conditions. It was a pig sty, well actually a converted stable block which was like a pig sty. It had been partitioned off into cubicles with two beds in each and little else. With hindsight it was an experience I suppose. It was only when we went back to Germany some time later that we lived in a hotel."

"That first visit we decided to cater for ourselves. I think one of the other groups, probably the Montanas, advised us to do so. Anyway we bought a load of Goblin ready meals and Ambrosia creamed rice which we carried on the top of the group’s Commer van, covered by tarpaulin."

"We never thought anymore about those tins until we reached the border between Belgium and West Germany and were stopped by the border guards carrying machine guns. Remember this was at the height of the Cold War so those fellers were really vigilant. They demanded to know exactly what we had on top of the van. One of the guards was very persistent and quite threatening. He probably thought we were carrying weapons or something. I could not get him to understand until Alan leant out of the window and said 'Pudding '. It worked and we were allowed through. Alan probably saved what could have turned into a diplomatic incident."

"Living for five weeks on a diet of Goblin ready meals and Ambrosia creamed rice was too much for any person's system. When we returned we had all lost weight and did not want to see another tin of food. I still think of that if I see Goblin or Ambrosia tins."

"We probably did about five trips to Germany over the next two years and the scene did not really change that much, although new groups were coming on the scene with some fantastic equipment. Funk was becoming the in thing and we were no Funk band."

John Howells describes the 'time-warp' which the German music scene seemed to be in when they went out:

"The audition was organised by Astra. I think we were one of several groups being auditioned by German Club managers.

We were asked to play The Walk, a Jimmy McCracken number, and luckily we had just learnt it so we must have sounded pretty good and got the spot. To us, a spell in Germany could only be beneficial to the group."

 N Betweens. John Howells and Don Powell just
 before the group set off for their first adventure in
 Europe. The requisite Commer van is there of course.
 (John Howells)

"At that time we ate, slept and lived the group and the music. Germany was to be part of the learning process. The strange thing was when we got out to the clubs we had to play Chuck Berry and rock stuff which we felt we had grown out of some time before. The Blues or R&B had no real place in the German clubs. It was like playing 1963 in 1965."

"The one mistake we made in Germany was that we did not take the opportunity to learn a load of new stuff while we were there. As a result we probably went a bit stale although we became a much tighter outfit."

"I do remember that everything we played in Germany seemed so fast. We cranked everything up and just let rip. When we got back it took us a little bit of time to slow down again. I remember playing the Civic and the kids who had listened to us before we went out to Germany couldn't believe how fast we were playing. We had to slow down.”

'N Betwcens. The group which went to Germany with Johnny Howells, Mick Marson, Dave Hill, Dave Jones and Don Powell. (Jim Simpson)

Dave Jones went to Germany with the 'N Betweens and confirms the 'time-warp' that the group discovered:

"In Germany it was as if the Germans had discovered the Beatles and therefore expected us to do a lot of Beatles stuff, especially the early stuff. We used to play Love Me Do, Anna, From Me To You and No Reply. I think we made a pretty good job of most of the numbers. We had most of them well sussed.”

"We played mostly in Dortmund to audiences with an average age of about twenty five. Although the long stints on stage were particularly long, they did help us to tighten up as a unit. We did one session for some German OAPs. We had to switch everything off because the amplification was deafening them. We became a group comprising drums and tambourine for that session.”

One of the other Wolverhampton groups to play in Germany was Steve Brett and the Mavericks. He went with two sets of Mavericks in 1963 and in 1965. The group which went on the Continent with Steve in 1965 had been hired by the Astra Agency to replace the original backing group. The new group had originally been called the Memphis Cut-Outs and had its origins in T.P. Riley Secondary School in Bloxwich. One member of this group was Noddy Holder, the future lead singer of Slade. The bass player with the 'new' Mavericks was Pete Bickley and his story confirms many of the statements made by members of other groups:

"Germany was really knackering. We had to play for hours from the evening until the early morning. The club would close at about five in the morning and we would just fall into bed and sleep for a fair proportion of the day. It was even harder at the weekend."

"We played at the Storeyville clubs in Frankfurt and Cologne. Both of those clubs were full of some of the dregs of humanity. There were pimps, prostitutes, gangsters and drug dealers, all carrying on their trade in full view of the group. So, there we were miles from home in a foreign country, aged about 17 or 18 and surrounded by that. It was horrific.”

"The music we played at the clubs was anything and everything. We would repeat the repertoire because the clientele in the club regularly changed. Many of those who stayed for hours were usually too drunk to notice that we were repeating ourselves. The solos played by the group members would invariably lengthen as the evening went by, if only to give each of us a bit of a break."

"We probably played far more instrumentals while in Germany because Steve’s voice would go regularly, after all he was used to doing about ninety minutes in Britain and he was being asked to do something like five or six hours in Germany. He would probably be better after a couple of days and then the whole rigmarole would start again. Noddy used to sing as well of course."

"John Marshall owned both of those clubs and he employed slave drivers as managers. One night I was sitting cross-legged on the stage because I could not stand up, I was just too tired. The little Hitler, who was the manager, came up and shouted 'Schnell! Schnell! Up! Up! Up!' Obviously I had to do as I was told, after all they were the bosses and they could easily get another group in at a moment s notice."

"Despite the arduous conditions, the experience did the group the world of good because we became better and we were able to experiment with things which we would never have tried back in England."

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