Goblin Ready Meals And Ambrosia Creamed Rice. Continued

Some managers had their own origins in the local group scene, having been former members of earlier groups. One such example was Dixie Dean who had been one of the area's foremost rock 'n' roll artists of the late fifties, leading his own Dixie Dean's Combo. He became manager of Jason Cord and the First Chapter. He is, unfortunately, no longer with us. Another former member of one of the first beat groups in the area who became a manager was George Maddocks. He was the drummer with the Strollers and became manager of the Staffords. Later, he was to become manager of the Club Lafayette, one of the area's foremost venues of the late 60s and early 70s. Another former member of the Strollers was Tony Perry and he also was to become directly involved with the management of Trapeze, the area's first 'supergroup'. Both men were partners in PMA, a company which promoted many of the main venues in the area, and later joined the Astra Agency which handled affairs for most of the main local groups.

George Maddocks remembers that his involvement with the Staffords started as a result of a newspaper advertisement:

“I read an ad in the local paper which described how a local group was seeking a manager. I went along to listen to them and was reasonably impressed. I took them on."

"The first thing needed was a change of image and so we bought new wine-coloured suits and slim ties. I suppose this was in about 1965. I gave them the name but I can’t remember why I chose the Staffords. I then began to promote a regular Saturday gig at Sedgley Parish Hall because that’s where the Staffords came from. Tony Perry and I started to promote more gigs at other venues for other groups."

Hugh Stirling was the lead singer with the Staffords and he describes the advantage of having an established manager:

"We started as an amateur outfit from Dormston Youth Club, playing very small venues in the immediate area. When George became our regular manager, our access to other and bigger venues also increased. He had the experience of working with a fairly successful group like the Strollers and he had links with Astra which at that time was the main booking agency in the area. There was a very definite advantage in having someone whose involvement was in the organisation rather than as a member of the group."

Staffords. An early photograph of the group. They were managed by George Maddocks, the former drummer with the Strollers and they had one of the best lead singers of all the local groups in Hugh Stirling (centre right). (Hugh Stirling)

Without any doubt the most colourful and celebrated of all the local people involved in group management in the 60's was Roger Allen.

During the research for this book, no-one was mentioned as often as he was, or was perceived from so many diverse perspectives!

He could with some justification be described as 'Wolverhampton's Brian Epstein'.

In his own words:

"I always saw myself as something of a Brian Epstein in that I felt that once one of my groups had broken through then it would lead to others getting their moments of glory. In other words, once the Beatles had become so successful, other Mersey groups like Gerry, the Fourmost, Billy J. Kramer etc. also had success, despite being very limited in talent. Success breeds success. The biggest problem was that the area lacked a group who wrote most of their own material and therefore lacked that originality. The nearest was Slade, but by the time they had made it big, they were no longer with me or really based around here."

In January 1966 Midland Beat gave the front page over to Roger Allen and two of his groups, Finders Keepers and the Montanas. The headline used was THE MAN BEHIND THEM. The story included the following paragraphs:

’Something shared by two of Wolverhampton’s top groups, Finders Keepers and the Montanas, is the enthusiasm of their manager, Roger Allen, who spends as much time as possible with the groups he represents.

Roger doesn’t send his groups off to Germany and then sit back in Staffordshire hoping everything goes off well for them. He makes a point of visiting the venues they are booked into to check on the conditions for himself.

Mr. Allen went with Finders Keepers to Cologne and accompanied the Montanas to Duisburg and Frankfurt. And he was with another of his promising groups, Sheila Deni and the Black Diamonds, in Wuppertal.

Apart from sending his own groups to Germany, Roger negotiates appearances for others over there, but any groups paying a visit arranged by his agency have the satisfaction of knowing that he has first-hand knowledge of the venues concerned.'

Quite a glowing testimonial!

He began his agency from the front room of his house at 30 Merridale Street West, was one third of PMA (Perry Maddocks Allen), moved his agency to larger premises in Tettenhall High Street, joined with Astra, opened the Oasis Night Club and later worked with the Nita Anderson Agency.

He had some management involvement with the majority of the town's best groups in the 60s, starting with the Strollers, then the Black Diamonds, the Montanas, Californians, Finders Keepers, Ambrose Slade etc. Perhaps, he personified the period better than most anyone. Once again as he says:

Roger Allen. One of the most influential men in the local group scene. He was responsible for the management and promotion of most of the more successful groups in the town. Here is seen with the Montanas arranging yet another deal. He is centre left.

"None of the local groups stood any chance of really making it big without involvement from the London agencies and without recording contracts. That was why I spent so much time down in London. I was probably there for about two years, living down there every week day and coming back to Wolverhampton at weekends."

"However long you peddled your wares in London you were always having to cope with influential individuals who could make or break you and your product. The very best example was a man named Maurice King who was incredibly powerful in the business and had quite an effect on the degree of success enjoyed by many of our local groups."

"Getting recording contracts and better bookings was very much a case of getting to the top man and hustling. It was no use just sitting in waiting rooms for hours, if not days, on end. You had to force your way in and push the product. That was how I got a contract for the Montanas with Pye, and for the Californians and Finders Keepers later with other labels. It was also how you got your group included on important national package tours. By the time the 'N Betweens or Ambrose Slade, as they became known, got to Jack Baverstock and Fontana I was probably known all over London."

While Roger Allen is possibly the best remembered of the local individuals involved in the 60s music scene, one organisation which is also synonymous with the period is the Astra Agency. Once again, virtually every one of the significant local groups had links with Astra.

The Agency had its beginnings in the front room of a house in Hilston Avenue in Penn, belonging to Len Rowe. He and a local band leader named Stan Fielding and his son Peter Fielding, started the agency in early 1963. Within a few years Astra was recognised as one of the most important entertainment agencies in the Midlands. It had started with the intention of finding regular work for the growing number of local beat groups which emerged after the success of the Beatles. In its earliest days it had responsibility for groups like the Strollers (with Roy Grant), Roger and the Dodgers (Rinky Dinks), Johnny Washington and the Congressmen and the Midbeats and venues like the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton where it organised the very successful Rhythm Rendezvous on Monday evenings. As Midland Beat stated in December 1963:

'The Astra Agency sets a fine example to other such organisations. They refuse to take work on more groups than they can find work for. This is their main policy since they will not exploit a group. They have been responsible for the Monday evening sessions at the Civic Hall in partnership with the Council. On the first night 900 teenagers turned up, now a regular 600 attend.'

Astra Agency. Very few promotions within the town did not involve Astra Agency and its three leading members, Stan and Pete Fielding and Len Rowe.
In February 1964 the Agency had moved to offices in Waterloo Road to cope with the increasing amount of work. By August 1964 the agency was advertising itself as having booking responsibility for the:
Black Diamonds
Dale Gibson and the Detours
Vince Knight and the Sonnets
Memphis Cut-Outs
Steve Brett and the Mavericks
In other words, there were very few of the more successful local groups (notable exceptions were Tommy Burton, Herbie's People, Giorgio and Marco's Men) who were not linked to the agency in some form, and so it continued throughout the decade with the Agency becoming bigger with the involvement, at various times, of other individuals like George Maddocks, Tony Perry, Roger Allen, Dougie Eades, Maurice Jones and Alan Clayton and with the opening of new offices on the top floor of the Criterion (now Wolverhampton University Higher Education Shop) on the comer of Princes Square in 1967 and later at the Club Lafayette in Thornley Street.
Dale Gibson & the Detours. Another winner of the Big Beat Contest at the Gaumont in Wolverhampton. He was quite an exciting performer.

When Tony Perry and George Maddocks joined with Astra from PMA in about 1967 it meant that the vast majority of the main music venues in the local area were then controlled by the agency. This coupled with the number of local groups on their books and their links with agencies in other areas like Stoke, gave Astra a very strong hold over the local music scene.

Astra also indulged in some 'interesting' experiments in live entertainment during the mid-60s. It was Astra which introduced the Cinediscodollyteque at the end of 1966 which could legitimately claim to be the first local attempt at 'disco'. The music columnist for the Express & Star was John Ogden and he reported on the introduction of the CDDT in Wall Heath. The idea was to have girls dancing in cages and Astra had successfully conscripted a number of local girls for the first experiment. It was intended to have a mixture of discotheque environment with psychedelic music. Two weeks later the same columnist reported on a performance by the Move at Walsall Town Hall which involved psychedelic music.

It was in 1968 that Astra started making plans for its most ambitious venture, the development of the former Percy Thomas Hall or Blue Flame into the Club Lafayette (as christened by Stan Fielding). It was intended to make the new club into one of the foremost live music venues in the area and to provide its customers with a wide variety of acclaimed popular music performers and different styles. It proved most successful and gained a deserved national reputation. It remained open until 1982.

The Lafayette also provided an ultimate local showcase for those of our groups who managed to survive the turbulent years of the decade and to gain some well deserved national prestige via their high standard of stage and recorded performance.

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