Jimi Hendrix Bought Our Cooker. Continued

When Trapeze came into existence in 1969 one of their first ports of call was the London club scene, playing at Rasputin's and at the Bag O'Nails. Like the future Slade, it was in the London clubs that they were first seen by the people who were going to prove so influential to their future development, John Lodge and Justin Hayward.

The club scene was not restricted to London, it had been developing throughout the decade all over the country, especially in the other major centres of population.

Trapeze. Wolverhampton's original 'super-group' with Glenn Hughes, Mel Galley, Terry Rowley, Johnny Jones and Dave Holland. While they began their life as a five-piece they would ultimately become a pretty successful trio. (Mel Brookes)
The nature of the clubs, their management and clientele often determined the nature of the groups who played at those clubs and the style of music played by the groups and the amount of variety included in their acts etc.

While for many groups the round of clubs may have seemed like a depressing treadmill, it was fairly lucrative and the financial rewards probably kept many groups together longer than might have been expected. This was not just true for some of the area's groups but for other more famous combinations like the Searchers and the Hollies.

Amongst the more famous clubs in the West Midlands was Le Metro in Livery Street in Birmingham which most of the area's groups played at some point or other. More locally, the Lafayette became the major venue with some of the most famous performers of the late 60's and early 70's appearing there. It became rather like a headquarters for those local groups who worked under the Astra banner. For some of those groups the club scene hastened their movement from beat or pop group to cabaret performers since they started to play clubs which insisted on cabaret performances.

The Montanas had always included elements of comedy in their stage act, so the movement over to cabaret was probably simpler for them. Bill Hayward remembers the early days of the group:

"The tapes we used were designed to add an element of variety to the act and give us a certain advantage over the other local groups. Terry and I used to put the tapes together at home. In fact, we did a lot of our rehearsing in his house at 300 Penn Road, one of the coldest houses in the world or so it seemed"

"Cabaret venues loved the comic sketches, as did most of our fans. It became our trademark, especially sketches like Batman and Round The Horne. Such sketches definitely took a great deal more rehearsing than the ordinary sung numbers, but it was worth it."

"The one drawback however was that the Montanas became a copycat band, even the sketches were based on others' work. That maybe accounts for our failure to get the hit that we should have got. It’s interesting that our best record was Let’s Get A Little Sentimental and that was recorded by the Montanas II with Sludge Lees, not Johnny Jones on vocals and with George Davies, not Terry Rowley."

Montanas. The Monts who specialised in a very original and funny mime act as well as being a really excellent group. (Trevor Westwood)

Johnny Jones sees the group as something of a Jekyll and Hyde, in terms of their stage performances:

"We could be described as the town s schizophrenic band in that we would often be playing two completely different sets within one evening. We might do a pop gig early in the evening and a variety or cabaret gig later. We appeared with such variety acts as Vera Lynn, Jack Douglas and Dora Bryan, especially on Sunday evenings. It took something special to be able to cope with both extremes. The Montanas could do that."

"The first time we did one of the mimes was in Bilston and it involved simply putting a microphone by an old record player and speeding up the track. The first track we used was I Go Ape by Neil Sedaka. It might seem a bit dated nowadays but it was really popular then, especially when we started to use the Goons and Kenneth Horne tapes."

Another member of the Montanas was Jake Elcock and he tells us that the decision to get involved in cabaret was a group decision:

"We all agreed that cabaret was the logical next step for the group. We had been messing around with the tapes and so on and as we got more work in the cabaret clubs in the North East and Yorkshire, it seemed wise to develop into a cabaret act. We did that and became quite successful at it. If you were not willing to extend into outright comedy then you would not get the work. It s like the old saying 'He who pays the piper, calls the tune '."

Finders Keepers was one of the area's most successful cabaret club groups, as they still are. As Roy 'Dripper' Kent describes:

"We were never going to be as good as the Montanas at that sort of thing. They were the best at that style of performance. However, we had to make changes as we started to play different venues, especially in the North East. We found that the more variety in the act, the better the punters liked it. In fact, the dafter, the better."

"Alan and I found we had this tendency towards comedy so we pursued it, especially when we discovered just how much money could be made on the cabaret circuits. That was particularly true of the Northern circuits in the 60s."

"The first time we went up North, the opportunity came out of the blue. Roger Allen phoned us up the one day when we were rehearsing at the Jazz Club in Dudley and explained that he had had a call from a club in Newcastle which needed an urgent replacement for their cabaret star of the week, Yana. We went straight up."

"The first night we did a lot of Barron Knights' type stuff which obviously included a lot of comedy and mimicking. It went down really well. The next night we did straightforward pop stuff and it flopped. The manager demanded that we continued with the comedy stuff which we did and it went well again, so we kept at it. "

Finders Keepers. An intense looking Finders Keepers, not at all the image that they portrayed on the cabaret stage.

"When I was with Light Fantastic we went up to the Northern clubs again and of course the horror act was about as music hall or variety as you could get.

The one other difference was that Richie Brown, the lead guitarist had classical ability and we would all leave him to play his classical bit. It also went down really well."

Alan Clee confirms much of what Dripper says about the cabaret times for the group in the 60s:

"We could do any amount of straight pop but if we were going to make it with those cabaret audiences in the North we had to be funny. We found that sketches like Hilda Baker and Cynthia went down particularly well. Dripper’s height made him ideal for Hilda and my height made me ideal for Cynthia. We have kept that routine through the years."

Whatever the changes which occurred to the groups in terms of personnel, style of music, range and type of venue and so on, as the decade came to its end other factors began to have significant effects. In the early days audiences expected the groups to re-create the sounds of the chart hits because of the desire to dance. Groups were judged by their 'nearness' to the original and heavily 'penalised' if they failed to reach the required standard. Most group instrumentalists and singers got somewhat bored by this slavish copying and sought artistic independence as an ultimate goal, although it could prove financially prohibitive.

It was the groups who achieved such independence, especially those who wrote a significant proportion of their own material or chose to introduce material which was relatively unknown by their audiences, who often proved the most successful and longest standing. Others sought 'originality' via stage performances which differed greatly from their competitors or by the introduction of new instrumentation or other 'gimmicks'. However, the number of 'jobbing' groups who could genuinely expect to 'stay afloat' decreased with the advent of possibly their greatest threat, the DJ (Disc Jockey).

In the years immediately prior to the emergence of the group phenomenon it had been quite normal for 'acceptable' records to be played at the local Youth Club dances by the club leader or another well-meaning adult. It was not usual for records to be played at venues once the groups became an established feature of the scene, although there were some isolated examples. Tony Perry started playing a limited number of records when he began to promote:

"I remember when I first started to promote the Staffordshire Volunteer after I took it over from Les Price, I used to take an old Dansette record player with me and play the Top Ten records of the week. I would play them in reverse order, using the group’s speakers. It used to be during the interval so the groups did not mind. It was quite revolutionary for the time."

Dan Robinson also remembers early DJ attempts by local promoters to 'enliven' proceedings:

"When we first played venues like Willenhall or Bloxwich Baths, the promoter was Doug Payton and he would play the main rock records of the time. It was an early attempt at being what became known as a disc jockey. None of us minded because it added to the atmosphere and helped us in the long run with the audience. It was not an attempt to take our place."

When Tommy Burton first played in Brierley Hill he remembers that records were also played:

"In early 1958 we started to play at Brierley Hill Town Hall for Tommy Farnell. It was called a Record Hop which basically meant the group would play three numbers and then three records were played. It was not intended to replace the group or compete with the group, it augmented things."

Danny Cannon & the Ramrods. 'At home' in Hickman Park in Bilston during a Carnival show. (Pete Walton)

Tommy Burton. Tommy in typical rocking style. There can never be anyone to match him! (Tommy Burton)

It was not until the increased popularity and improved reception of Radio Luxembourg in this country or the advent of the pirate radio stations off British shores that disc jockeys first became significant media personalities. The early 60s saw Luxembourg disc jockeys like Jimmy Saville and Keith Fordyce being listened to intently by British teenagers, when the reception actually allowed, as remembered by one of those teenagers:

"Every Wednesday night at ten I would try to pick up 208 for the Teen and Twenty Disc Club with Jimmy Saville. It was always the first station to play the latest American releases. There was nothing better than to go to school on the Thursday and be able to announce that you had heard the latest record by Del Shannon or Elvis."

Radio Caroline and the other pirate stations 'opened up' the whole record market for most teenagers since they offered opportunities to hear many records which were just not being played on the BBC. In fact, Caroline probably 'created' a fair proportion of the hits of the mid-60s, especially for some of the smaller record labels.

As with Radio Luxembourg, the pirate stations had their own 'star' DJs like Tony Blackburn, John Peel, Stuart Henry, Kenny Everitt etc. It was such men who became the nucleus of BBC Radio One's team of disc jockeys when it began broadcasting in 1967. One result of the success enjoyed by radio disc jockeys was an increase in the number of locally based DJs who started to appear at many of the regular live music venues in the area. Perhaps the best example of this relatively new phenomenon was Barmy Barry. He was apparently introduced to the town by Roger Allen:

"I brought Barmy Barry down to the Cleveland Arms one night when the group failed to turn up. He was a real showman and went down so well that I decided that we must use him regularly. That first night he arrived with his hair four different colours and with odd socks on. He entertained the audience for two hours and continued to do so for years after. It was quite against my natural instinct since I much preferred live music but he was something else."

The success of Barmy Barry was such that within a relatively short time he was appearing at a wide range of local venues alongside many of the more popular groups. He was recognised as 'special' and many punters were as much fans of Barmy Barry as of the groups.

Many customers regarded an evening which included one or two of the top groups and Barmy Barry as better than an evening with just a group. Other local DJs like Andy Archer, Evo Evans, Oscar Michael, Spangles Muldoon, Farmer Carl, Sheiky, Mr. Max emerged, as another of those early DJs, the General, describes:

"While I was in the orphanage I would listen to Sam Costa and Jack Jackson on BBC radio and Jimmy Saville on Luxembourg with the Teen and Twenty Disc Club and I decided that I would love to do that."

Barmy Barry. The most outrageous DJ of his generation but one hell of a showman. (Mel Brookes)
"I became a resident DJ at the Ship and Rainbow on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It was a great venue. I got to play with nearly all the local groups and at all the main venues and loved every minute of it. Loads of young DJs contacted me and said they were willing to DJ at the Ship and other venues for nothing just to get near to some of the groups of the time."

Andy Archer. A resident DJ at the Lafayette. Maybe not the showman that Barmy Barry was but an excellent ‘jockey’. (Mel Brookes)

One definite advantage of hiring a disc jockey, as far as the managers or owners of the venues were concerned, was that they could guarantee that the latest records were played, rather than 'copied' by one or other of the groups.

Punters themselves were keen to hear and dance to the latest records, as much as hearing any of the groups attempting to replicate the sounds, and often failing. In the same way that the groups were competing for the attention and support of the punters, so did the disc jockeys.

The more individualistic the DJs became, the better they were liked by many of the punters. That accounts for the success of someone like Barmy Barry. He became the model to which many young DJs aspired.

Keith Evans ultimately became Evo, the DJ, after he left the Californians. As he describes it himself:

"I'd had a few disagreements within the group and a few disappointments so I decided to leave the group scene. I joined Roger Allen for a spell, working with the agency and then compering at his club, the Oasis. It was while I was there that George Maddocks asked me if I would like to fill in at the Lafayette for the resident DJ while he was on holiday. I went for two weeks and stayed for five years."

"It was at the time when more and more clubs and other venues were hiring DJs and organising discos rather than taking on groups. It made sounder financial sense as far as the management was concerned. The younger punters were also keener on the sounds being found on record than the sounds being made by many of the groups. Remember this was at the time when the disco period was first beginning.”

The vast majority of group members saw the advent of the discotheque (disco in the 70's) and the professional disc jockey as the main reason for the final eclipse of the group scene. It became increasingly obvious that the generation who had provided the original fan-base for the beat/pop groups was being replaced by a new and younger generation who regarded many of the remaining groups as 'old-hat' and alien to themselves and their tastes in music.

It obviously did not take too long for the changing tastes of the clientele to determine the policies of the management of the various local venues. As one surveys the entertainment pages of local newspapers during the latter months of the decade and into the next decade there is a steady decline in the number of references to local groups performing in the area and a corresponding increase in the number of discos and disc jockeys.

Some of the groups did manage to continue into the 70s and worked steadily throughout much of the period, but they were those who had successfully changed their format and style to match the changing patterns of taste and moves towards 'glam rock'. The most obvious example being Slade who became for many the 'ultimate 70s group'. There were those who were able to meet the increasing demands of the rock scene for greater amplification and increasingly large lighting units like Trapeze who were to find great success in the United States or those who were able to continue to produce the all-round variety requested by the cabaret circuit like the Montanas.

For the majority of bands however, the end of the 60s saw a general decline into virtual oblivion. So many of the members seemed to pass from being 'local heroes' to being 'faces in the crowd', their moments of glory gone. But for so many of the generation who grew up in this area during the 1960s they have remained part of our psyche and will never be totally forgotten.

It is still possible to meet other fifty-something's and discuss the relative instrumental and vocal merits of so many of those groups who epitomised a period of time in our local history.

Glenn Hughes. He moved from Finders Keepers to Trapeze to Deep Purple and onwards. Still belting out to this day. A magnificent voice! (Anna Terrana)

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