Jimi Hendrix Bought Our Cooker

Brian Epstein realised that no group could possibly gain national, and certainly never international acclaim, without a recording contract and so he set out to secure a contract for the Beatles with whichever record company he could. He failed with Decca and Dick Rowe, but succeeded with EMI and George Martin. It was not long after the establishment of the Beatles that other Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham (i.e. provincial) groups began to sign with an array of record labels. The charts, throughout the period from 1963 to the end of the decade were awash with British groups of various musical styles from beat to R&B to pop to progressive to whatever. Surely there was a place for Wolverhampton groups to make their own mark on national record sales. It became the aim for each and every group and their individual managers to see their name spinning around a turntable at 45 rpm. and maybe appearing in the charts as 'supplied by the New Musical Express or Melody Maker' etc.

In an attempt to hasten the process many groups bought time in one or other of the smaller recording studios which emerged around the West Midlands at that time. One example was the Domino Studio which was situated at 16 High Street in Albrighton, behind the local TV shop. The owner of the studios was Andy McLachlan, the bass player with the Tremors. The studios opened in late 1963, after two years of planning and preparation by Andy. It was not long before a number of the area's groups, like the Redcaps, Bruisers and Johnny Washington and the Congressmen began to make demo discs there. In May 1964 the studio's facilities were advertised in Midland Beat as the ideal place for groups to make their demo disc for ITV's national contest Ready Steady Win for new groups, although the proprietor said:

"I would like to expand more than this but I guess I shall have to wait a while."

One local group who went to the Domino Studios to make a demo disc was the Vendors who later became the 'N Betweens. They went in early 1964 and recorded four numbers, including one of their own compositions called Don't Leave Me Now. John Howells recalls:

"While the standard of recording is not brilliant, it is possible to pick out quite a complex arrangement which was one of the early group’s hallmarks and which prevented several of the other local groups from copying us."

"I suppose it was quite adventurous of the group to cut a demo disc especially as it included one of our own songs. None of us really expected it to lead to much but it was fun."

Clive Mountford, the drummer with the Tremors, remembers the benefit the group enjoyed by having their own recording studio handy:

"Having Andy McLachlan as the bass player in the group meant that we were able to try out a number of things in the studio and play them back before we ever tried them out on stage."

Tremors. One of the luckiest groups in the area since one of their number, Andy Maclachlan (far right), was the owner of the Domino Studio and therefore the group had readymade recording facilities. The group included John O'Hara, Clive Mountford, Andy Maclachlan and Les Parker. (Les Parker)

"Recording was Andy 's first love. He was keener to make a success of that than playing in the group. He works in New Zealand now for their broadcasting service, I think."

John O'Hara who was one of the leading singers with the Tremors also remembers the effect the owner of Domino Studios had on the group:

"With Andy in the group we always had the opportunity to record numbers in his studio before we went on stage with them. The studio was above his electrical shop, if I remember right."

"I suppose we had an advantage over many of the other groups because we had almost a 'resident' recording studio. It gave me my first experience of recording and so it helped me later when I recorded with the Californians."

The other recording studio which was used by many of the local groups was the Grosvenor Studios owned by Hollick & Taylor. It is still situated in Perry Barr in Birmingham. John Taylor recalls the hectic days of the mid-60s:

"Throughout the years from 1963 to 1966 we had literally hundreds of groups through our doors. They would either have a pressing or a demo done. The difference between a demo and a pressing is that a demo involves a single recording while a pressing involves a number of records. A pressing is a vinyl while a one-off used to be called an acetate. If you are going to make a pressing you make an acetate as a master which goes away to be plated. They make two masters and press them. The least number we would press would be twenty."

"One artist from Wolverhampton who did quite a bit of work here was Steve Brett. I think he made the initial contact, asking for a demo to be made for promotional purposes. I remember thinking that the demo was good enough to take to a recording company. It was EMI I believe. They wanted some recordings doing and they agreed to lease them from us. In that way, once the record was released we would receive royalties, as would Steve. One record he definitely cut here was Sugar Shack."

"Steve was one of the few with genuine potential and therefore you wanted to market him and push him with the record companies. So many of the other artists lacked that professionalism. The Mavericks also had real ability."

"A recording session in those days would probably take about eight hours for four numbers. Nothing like the days or weeks on end that groups use nowadays. Steve’s session probably lasted something like that. The group did not hang about and Steve organised them very well. It was very much a lead singer and a backing group, or that’s the impression I had of Steve and the Mavericks. Noddy Holder was in the group who recorded here."

"There were others who came through the studio who you felt had talent and so it proved. Good examples are the Move, the Fortunes, the Rockin' Berries and the Applejacks. One of my personal favourites was Mike Sheridan and the Cheetahs who recorded Mecca here."

"We did the recording of the first Brum Beat album on Dial at this studio but while the tape was excellent, the pressing was not so good. That album did us some harm in fact."

Pete Bickley was a member of the Mavericks when Steve Brett recorded at Grosvenor studios. The making of a record was a very important event to Pete:

"Steve Brett already had a recording contract when the Memphis Cut-Outs became the Mavericks, so we were well chuffed to be teaming up with someone who was making records. It meant we would get on to the record as well."

Noddy Holder. As a member of the Mavericks Noddy Holder was regarded as a second, supporting voice. It was not long before he felt that the time was right for him to move on and take a more leading role in a group. Ultimately that was to mean as lead singer with Slade. (Steve Brett)

"I loved those sessions at Hollick & Taylor S. It was everything I had dreamed about when I first started playing with the Phantoms and the Cut-Outs. None of the other fellers were recording so it was very special."

"This was at the time when groups like the Montanas and the Californians were not recording. They had not got contracts but we had. It made you feel really special, especially as we played on those records, not session men."

"Some time later I played with the First Chapter on some of Jason Cords records with Les Reed but I never rated those records. I suppose it was because the MOR stuff which Jason sang was not really my cup of tea. It did not compare to the excitement I felt when we made those records at Hollick & Taylor."

Steve Brett and the Mavericks was not the first Wolverhampton group to get a recording contract. That honour went to the Wolves, a group which had previously been known as the Big Beats. They actually sought and received permission from the Wolves Football Club to change their name. Such a publicity manoeuvre was undoubtedly the brainchild of the group's very shrewd manager, Geoff Jacobs, as was the securing of a recording contract from Pye a matter of months after the group's first live gig. It was the rapidity of the recording contract and the group's television appearances which really upset many of the more established local groups.

A member of one of the town's most popular groups from the 60's who asked to remain anonymous, describes the feeling at the time:

"They seemed to come from nowhere and suddenly they were on For Teenagers Only and even Thank Your Lucky Stars after they made their first record. To be honest they were not that good and I'm willing to bet that if you mentioned their name to people who were really in the know around the town in the 60s they would not recall the Wolves as one of the town’s leading pop groups. Still, they did get the recording contract which was the one thing most of us really wanted. Perhaps it’s just jealousy on my part."

Wolves. The town's first recording artists. The group possessed an exceptional manager in Geoff Jacobs who would leave no stone unturned if it meant greater success for his group.

John Eades, who was the lead guitarist with the group, accepted that they were not really that good to begin with:

"It was only when we played alongside some of the better local groups that we realised our own limitations."

A representative from Pye saw the Wolves at the Wulfrun Hall on April 18th 1964 and they were signed up soon afterwards. Their first record called Journey Into Dreams was released in July. They appeared on Thank Your Lucky Stars in the August (once again the first Wolverhampton group to achieve that distinction) and received a large number of airplays on both Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg.

Their second single Now was voted a miss on Juke Box Jury with Lonnie Donegan announcing that it sounded 'like millions of other groups '. They were recognised as the most successful of the local groups in December 1964 when they topped the bill at the Grand Theatre's Midland Groups Galore.

The group's manager, Geoff Jacobs, worked tirelessly for them. He made links with American radio stations and managed to get fairly regular plays of the group's records on some of those stations. He even visited the USA on the group's behalf. He negotiated for them to join Manchester's Kennedy Street Agency which meant that they got to work much further afield than just around the West Midlands. He organised a summer season for the group in Weymouth. The Wolves made four records in all, three for Pye and one for Parlophone. Their most successful record was the Drifters' number Down At The Club.

In June 1966 Geoff Jacobs produced a breakdown of the group's activities during the previous year. They had worked 344 days out of 365, playing 138 clubs, 123 days summer season, 37 pubs, 26 dance halls, I theatre, 6 military bases,4 night clubs, 8 youth clubs and the Lord Mayor's Ball in Birmingham. The group was obviously quite successful.

Several other groups from the local area were to record during the 60s, including the Montanas, Californians, 'N Betweens (Ambrose Slade), Lady Jayne and Royaltee, Ides of March and Finders Keepers, with varying degrees of success.

Jake Elcock describes his first experience of recording as a member of the Strangers:

"The first time I was actually involved in a recording session was with the Strangers when we played on a Brumbeat LP. There had been an earlier LP with virtually the same name. The intention was to produce a sound which was 'distinctively Birmingham' but all we managed to do was to show how we were merely copying the Mersey sound. Brum Beat as such never really existed"

"On that album we played about three numbers including It’s Not Too Late. The other groups on the record included the Mountain Kings with Terry Rowley and Dave Lacey and the Corvettes. It was released by Decca."

Jake was also a member of the Montanas and participated on some of their records:

"If the Montanas had managed to achieve a hit I am certain we could have sustained it and proved quite a successful combination. I feel the reason we never actually got the big hit was the nature of the material. It was just too 'ballady' to be really successful."

"Tony Hatch wrote a number of the group’s songs and he was a writer of ballads which the Montanas recorded well but without that hidden ingredient which is needed to achieve real success."

Johnny Jones was the lead singer of the Montanas and he feels that the group could easily have made it with at least one of their records, if not more:

"While our records would not blow you away, they were very professionally made and performed. If you consider Ciao Baby or You've Got To Be Loved, which were both radio hits, they were both excellent examples of that style of music."

Jake Elcock. A member of three of the area's leading groups at various times. He played with the Strangers, Finders Keepers and the Montanas. (Trevor Westwood)

"You've Got To Be Loved did make the American Hot 100 and if we had had the opportunity to go over and plug it then we might have had a very large hit and the story might have been very different."

Jake Elcock recalls the day when the Montanas 'discovered' that they were in the American charts:

"Like all the groups who had made a record you would read the trade papers hoping to find a reference to the record etc. Anyway, one day one of the lads had a copy of Billboard and was looking at the American Hot 100 and saw You've Got To Be Loved by the Montanas in the charts. Obviously, none of us could believe it. I rang Maurice King our London manager and he was absolutely flabbergasted but he found out that indeed we were in the American charts."

"More s the pity that we didn't have the chance to go over to America and plug it and make it a bigger hit. Still, there weren't too many local groups who made the American charts in the 60s."

Montanas. Relaxing at home! The group with Jake Elcock (centre) and Graham Hollis (extreme right) as members. Notice the move towards hippiness! (Jake Elcock)

Roger Allen, as manager of the Montanas, had some of the responsibility for negotiating record deals. He believes that the group was just a whisker away from record success on more than one occasion:

"The Montanas produced really good records and in the case of Ciao Baby, You've Got To Be Loved and Let s Get A Little Sentimental, they had three numbers which, if there was any justice, deserved to get into the charts. With both Tony Hatch and Tony Hillier working with the lads they had top line production and should have had a hit."

"If there is one criticism which could be levelled at the Montanas and some of the other groups who recorded, it was that they lacked song-writers within the group and therefore they were too dependent on the work of others. Often such writing was not directly suitable for the group. If the group wrote their own stuff, it was quite likely that the writers would get it just right. That was the biggest plus for the Beatles and later for Slade with Jimmy Lea and Noddy Holder writing the stuff."

The vast majority of the records made by the Montanas were released on the Pye label between 1965 and 1969. In most cases observers felt that the group lacked originality on vinyl while their stage act remained fresh and lively and sufficiently distinctive to give them an advantage over many of their contemporaries. John Ogden, the popular music columnist for the Express & Star regarded Ciao Baby as the best chance the group had of chart success because it came nearest to capturing the professionalism and true sound of the group, but even that record was not as good as their stage act:

"The Montanas were a really professional group. Their music was good mainly because of the ability of Terry Rowley and their mime act was second to none. However, that could never really be captured on record. They were more of a cabaret act than a straightforward pop group. Ciao Baby was perhaps their best effort on record, but even that did not make the breakthrough they deserved. Basically their records lacked adventure and that was probably as much a product of Tony Hatch as anything. His writing and production was always safe and often quite timid. The Montanas needed something more powerful and raunchier but I don't think they saw it that way."
Montanas. Another publicity shot for the Montanas. (Trevor Westwood)

The Californians was another local group to see the inside of a recording studio more than once. They actually made eight records between 1967 and 1969. John O'Hara describes the experience of recording as follows:

"Going into a studio was amazing. It was like entering another world. You lost all sense of time and space. You could be in there for hours, even days, and you would have no idea when you came out if it was going to be day or night or what day it was. I loved it."

"Decca No.1 studio was as big as the Civic Hall. It could house orchestras of 40 or 50 players. I've been in there laying a backing track for a record for hours. It all had to be done live because of Musicians' Union requirements. Once you got the nod that that was a take, the musicians would leave and then you would carry on with the engineers for more hours. It was quite exhausting but also exhilarating."

"Despite all the time we took I was never properly satisfied with the records we made. In many cases I felt the records were over-produced by A&R men like John Stewart or Irving Martin."

"Irving Martin used to send me brown envelopes regularly containing demos of numbers which he felt we should consider doing. One I remember him sending was Let’s Go To San Francisco. When I phoned him about it, he told me that the Flowerpot Men who had made the demo were releasing it. They were Carter-Lewis of course. If we had released it and got a hit, who knows what might have happened."

Keith Evans, the drummer with the Californians also recalls the records which the group made:

"Our records were good but never brilliant. The nearest we came to success was with Sunday Will Never Be The Same. It was one of those radio hits, but never sold enough to make the charts. The original by Spanky and Our Gang was a hit in America but it didn't do much in this country either."

"That record had a real buzz about it and we felt that it would make it. It was on radio a lot and it seemed destined for the charts. We were told to keep our diary empty in case we needed to plug it on TV etc. We even went down to Smith’s in town early one morning to check the charts in the NME. We ripped the packaging off the copies only to discover that it was about 38 and not in the Top Thirty. That’s as high as it got."

Californians. Sunday Will Never Be The Same was a reasonably successful record for the group and received a fair amount of coverage in the trade papers.

"One record we made which to be honest I could not understand us doing was Congratulations which Cliff Richard was doing in the Eurovision Song Contest.

We made a version which was actually cut in the middle of the night and rushed out within days. Of course, however good the version, the chance of charting with it against Cliff was slim."

"I did enjoy a set of tracks we did for an album called Anvil Flutes and Capricorn Voices with the Mike Sammes Singers.

The strange thing was that we never met Mike Sammes. It was all organised by Irving Martin. The album proved to be quite popular."

Mick Brookes also felt that recording was a very special thing in the 60s:

“When I first started out in the group scene with the Rocking Rustlers and the Cobras, the one aim was to record. Everyone wanted to be on disc. When the Californians got the recording contract it was as if I had achieved everything. Many of the groups went to the smaller local studios to make demos but we were actually going to the big recording studios and making records just like all the big stars. It was quite awe inspiring."

"When you were down at the studios, it was actually being involved with large orchestras and ace musicians which I enjoyed most. We did not need to play on the records, just sing."

"We made a version of Silence Is Golden with Tony Hatch. I remember the booth for that recording was up in the air so you could not really see him. Anyway, he told us not to bother with the recording since it was not chart material. A little while afterwards, the Tremeloes had a No.1 with it. Such is life!"

Californians. The group are down in the orchard to plug their record of Golden Apples.

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