You'd See His Hand Come Up Over The Piano And Take A Drink. Continued

The Cleveland Arms was definitely the best remembered of all the Wolverhampton 'pub' venues by the various group players and fans I spoke to while researching this book. Perhaps it was the fact that so many of the top groups played there, the regular nightly performances which went on throughout the decade or just the general 'ambience' of the venue. Whatever the reason, the Cleveland Arms has a special place in so many local people's memories.

Tommy Burton Combo. The Combo played most everywhere in the area, including Cleveland Arms. Seen here are the late Phil Harris (with back to camera), Mack Bailey, Tommy Burton, Trevor Worrall and Dave Holmes. (Trevor Worrall)
Sunday lunch-times at the venue was a particularly fond memory for many group members. It was not necessarily actually playing at the Cleveland which was remembered, it was more the camaraderie amongst the various group members who would often meet up on a Sunday morning. Typical of the memories are these from Hugh Stirling, the lead singer with the Staffords:

"If you went down to the Cleveland Arms on a Sunday lunch-time, it was amazing just how many other group members were there. They had all come to see the Montanas because they were the best group in the area and because the Cleveland was definitely their 'home'.”

"It’s great to think back and realise just how well everybody got on with each other. We would swap stories about other venues and crowds we had played for, compare play lists and so on. There was no animosity or petty jealousies between the groups. We all wanted to succeed and if one of the groups had got a contract etc. we would be happy for them. For most of the 60s it was at the Cleveland that we would all meet up. Later it was to be at the Lafayette.”

The Sunday lunch-time sessions began in the first half of the 60s with groups like the Black Diamonds and the Strollers. Roger Clark was a member of the Black Diamonds and he remembers those early days at the Cleveland:

"It was at the time when we were playing without Sheila Deni and we used to do most Sunday mornings at the Cleveland Arms. It was a good venue because you always got a really informed crowd in.”

"It was at a time when the brewery which ran the Cleveland introduced a really strange rule about the number of people who could perform on stage at their pubs. You could only have three people on stage which meant that one of the group could not appear. Pete Abberley used to sit behind the piano in a very restricted space. His amplifier would be up front. You'd see his hand come up over the piano and take a drink. It was quite ludicrous.”

Keith Evans noticed a distinct difference between playing at the Cleveland Arms as a member of the Black Diamonds compared to his time with the Californians:

"In the early days with the Black Diamonds we used to go down really well at the Cleveland because the clientele wanted the sort of music we were playing. When we went there as the Californians it was never so good because they were not that keen on that surfing style. Also, by that time they had become so enamoured of the Montanas that any other group had their work cut out to better or even match the Monts in the eyes of the Cleveland customers.”

When the Strollers played at the Cleveland Arms on a Sunday lunch-time, George Maddocks remembers it as good fun:

"In the early days we played at the Cleveland Arms very regularly. It must have been about 1962 or 1963 because I can remember appearing there with Tanya Day singing with us which was very early on for the group.”

"We went down very well with the crowd at the Cleveland because we played what they wanted to hear which at that time was covers of the chart stuff. If it was a Sunday lunch-time most of the crowd would be male but they still demanded chart numbers.”

"The Cleveland Arms was rated by the local groups as the main Wolverhampton venue, especially after the Montanas established themselves. The Cleveland was their home territory and so all the groups playing there were compared to the Montanas. If they got a return engagement, then they felt that they were recognised as a good group."

Another member of the Strollers was lead guitarist Don Maddocks. He recalls playing those Sundays at the Cleveland and feels that the group probably helped establish the venue:

"I think it would be true to say that the Strollers helped to establish the Cleveland Arms as a major music venue in the area. In fact, I think we really got it started."

"The licensee at the time wanted live music and approached the Strollers, probably through Roger Allen, to start playing there. We became the regulars on the Sunday lunch-times and we were very successful. It was one of those pubs with a large function room and stage which were being under-used so it seemed logical to develop music there. We used to get the door money, the licensee got the drinks money and that worked out really well."

"We stayed at the Cleveland for most of the time we were together as a group. We played there with the Applejacks and with the Montanas when they began to perform. Of course, in time the Montanas became the regulars at the Cleveland."

The Cleveland Arms is best remembered by both the members of other groups and fans as the venue which really established the Montanas as the major force on the local group scene. This opinion is also accepted by members of the group, as shown by Bill Hayward:

"Without any shadow of doubt we developed out of the Cleveland Arms. It was there that we really got started and it was there that we had our main support. The Cleveland Arms allowed us to tryout anything and everything in front of an audience and so it became rather like our sounding board."

"We regarded Sunday lunch-times as dedicated to the Cleveland Arms, so wherever we played on the Saturday evening we would do all we could to get back to the Cleveland. There was always a crowd outside the pub before it opened on a Sunday morning. All of them were there to see us."

"One advantage of the Cleveland was that you could get the stuff in and out through the fire door very quickly. One night we packed up at the Cleveland and went straight off to Germany to play."

Johnny Jones remembers the Cleveland with some mixed feelings:

"The Cleveland Arms became almost synonymous with the Montanas in our early days. It was the place where the group got itself established. We used to tryout many of our routines for the first time at the Cleveland. Some of the audience knew those mimes better than we did. That was especially true on the Sundays when we would get so many regulars who turned up every week. If ever we had an unofficial fan club, it was based at the Cleveland Arms. In fact we started to promote some of our own dates at the Cleveland."

"I felt however that we outgrew the place quite quickly and should perhaps have moved on sooner. Anyway, we carried on playing the Cleveland at least once a fortnight for the last few years of the 60s. I suppose if a count was made we played there more often than anywhere else and were probably the group which played there the most out of all the local groups."

Jake Elcock saw the Cleveland Arms from different standpoints as both a member of Finders Keepers and the Montanas:

"The Cleveland Arms was definitely one of the most important venues for the various groups in the area. When I was with Finders I used to enjoy the place but I never felt as good as when I was playing there with the Montanas.

The Cleveland was very much the headquarters of the Montanas. Whatever we did we would get a fair and honest reaction from the crowd there. If we tried out something new then the audience at the Cleveland probably decided whether it stayed in the act or not."

Strollers. One of the first groups to make the Cleveland Arms such an important venue were the Strollers, seen here as a five-piece with Tony Perry and sax. (Tony Perry)
Many of the nights at the Cleveland Arms were promoted by Roger Allen and he has a number of interesting things to say about the venue:

Montanas. No group could compare to the Montanas when they played the Cleveland Arms. Here seen in more 'natural' surroundings.

"It took some negotiation to get the groups in there but when it happened it worked really well. The venue definitely became the most successful of all the pubs. The elderly couple who ran the place were very pleasantly surprised when the groups started to bring a real profit into the pub. Remember it was always a case of the tenants or the licensees taking a real chance with their livelihood The Cleveland Arms was one example where there was no reason for them to worry."

"It was at the Cleveland Arms that I tried out the Black Diamonds and the Strollers on Sunday lunch-times, but the most successful times at the pub were definitely those involving the Montanas. They became the Cleveland Arms group during a fair part of the 60s."

"I think maybe the Cleveland Arms was the first place in the town where I tried out Barmy Barry from Stoke, as a DJ. From that day onwards of course Barmy Barry became an incredible success in the area."

"When the Montanas got on to the Walker Brothers' tour, it was after John Walker had come to the Cleveland Arms and watched the Montanas. He was obviously impressed with them."

"The audience at the Cleveland was generally a little older than the audiences elsewhere, so they were more appreciative of a cabaret style act rather than an out-and-out rock or pop group. Groups like the Montanas and Finders Keepers were always popular there because they could include comedy in their routines."

The Express & Star music correspondent for much of the later 60s was John Ogden and he describes the Cleveland Arms as follows:

"It was very definitely the most successful of the pop oriented public houses in the town. If a group could provide all-round entertainment like the Montanas or Finders Keepers, they went down really well at the Cleveland Arms. It was always packed out for the groups so it was hardly surprising that local groups relished playing at the Cleveland. I suppose the Three Men In A Boat was the nearest venue to the Cleveland for appearance, audience taste and general atmosphere."

Graham Corns was responsible for the door at the Cleveland Arms on many occasions and he recalls:

"The Montanas and the other groups who played at the Cleveland Arms always played in the Assembly Room. The Monts played at the end of the room while groups like the Strollers and the Black Diamonds played on the left-hand side of the room. It was a pretty big room so it made very little difference where the groups played, although the rule about the number on stage at anyone time did apply. Pete Abberley was always hidden when the Black Diamonds played at the Cleveland"

The Ship & Rainbow (now the Fermenter and Firkin) on Dudley Road always attracted a very different clientele with very different tastes from those who went to the Cleveland Arms or the Three Men In A Boat. This invariably meant that certain groups were far more likely to be successful at the Ship than others. If it is possible to make a generalisation, then 'the more bluesy or soulful the group, the more successful at the Ship'.

Ray Hill was the licensee during the second half of the 1960s at the Ship and so he oversaw the most successful years for the pub as a live music venue. He took over in about 1964, having worked with his father-in-law at the Ship from 1952 until his in-laws left and moved to the Fox & Goose on Penn Road. There was an interim period of about six months before Ray and his wife returned to the pub as licensees. As Ray recalls:

"The Ship had been refurbished to cater for entertainment while my father was the licensee. There was an upstairs ballroom with a cocktail bar adjacent to it. Ansells had approached Astra with a view to them promoting the nights at the Ship, which they did in the early days. There had been some upset between my father-in-law and Astra so when we took over we asked Nita Anderson to promote the nights at the Ship. The brewery was quite happy with the new arrangements, especially after meeting Nita’s husband Andy to discuss it."

"We had first come into contact with Nita and her husband while we were running the Wars tones and she had organised groups to play for us at the weekends. We used to pay them about five pounds for the night and offer them four or five nights which they liked because it gave them a regular set of bookings."

"The Ship had an ideal separate ballroom which became the Dudley Suite. It was approached via a staircase that was in the foyer to the pub. When the pub was refurbished it had an 'up-market' appeal and so it became that bit more popular."

"We had entertainment on five nights with Sundays our R&B nights with the 'N Betweens and Soul Seekers supporting some of the biggest R&B groups around, including Manfred Mann, Spencer Davis and Alexis Korner. Both of those local groups were really popular at the Ship and were what I would call typical Ship and Rainbow groups, while other groups like the Montanas and the Californians, were not."

"Without any doubt the most popular act at the Ship was Raymond Froggatt. I could fill the place any and every night for Froggy, he was that popular. When he performed you would have a queue half way down the Dudley Road. Mind you, the queues were often pretty long for many of the groups we had performing."

"We would open the Dudley Suite at eight but the queues would start forming way before that. We would have a load of punters in the bars downstairs who were waiting to go up to the Suite.

Many of the groups attracted younger fans so we had to have a club membership system and serve soft drinks from a separate bar for the younger members of the audience. That rule had to be extended to Stevie Winwood when he first came to the Ship with the Spencer Davis Group because he was only about sixteen."

Raymond Froggatt. Definitely the most popular performer at the Ship and Rainbow was Froggy. Here seen with at least two of his fans. The late Ray Hill is seen on the left. (Ray Hill)
Spencer Davis Group. Whenever they played a venue in Wolverhampton it was a sell-out. The voice of the young Stevie Winwood (on the right) was exceptional. (Jim Simpson)
"Robert Plant and the Band of Joy played there a few times. I think John Bonham was on drums then. They were a class act, as was Trapeze with Glen Hughes and the Move.

Quite often there was a young black feller who used to come along with some of the groups and he used to impersonate Elvis during the intervals, that turned out to be a young Lenny Henry."

"There was an actual audience limit of 350 but we would often have well in excess of that, nearer 600. That was definitely the case when Froggy appeared, or Spencer Davis, the Idle Race, Move or one of the other more successful groups. One of the best groups to appear at the ship for sheer enthusiasm was the Freddie Mack Showband. They travelled around in a double-decker bus but the night they were due to appear at the Ship the bus broke down. He came and explained and did the show the following week, it was excellent."

"The 'N Betweens would pack them in and so we decided to give them their own night on a Thursday which proved very popular. I know I used to find the original 'N Betweens and Ambrose Slade too noisy for me really, but they were a good group."

"I had to fetch Slade off the stage the one night because they were so noisy. The police must have received a complaint from one of the neighbouring houses that backed on to the Ship. The police came and requested that they come off, which they had to do. It was literally Feel The Noize!"

"Some of the best nights at the Ship involved people like Joe Brown who used to come along with his Brown’s Home Brew. He always wanted eggs and chips. We had Stefan Grapelli who didn't think the dressing room was big enough so he used our bedroom as his changing room. Others who did well there were Labi Sifre and Julie Felix. Such acts used to come for the folk nights we had."

"One of the biggest problems for some of the groups was access because they would normally have to get up to the room via the fire escape at the back. This often proved a problem when they wanted to move large instruments, especially something like a piano."

"Later in the 60s we started cabaret nights with a maximum of 90 customers. We would make the ballroom look like a club with small candlelit tables and even a revolving crystal ball in the centre of the ceiling. There would be the DJ, Earl St. John, a quartet playing dance music and another act which varied from evening to evening. It was quite a successful idea."

"In the last few years we started to promote our own entertainment. The group scene was coming to an end and discos were taking over. It was never really as good as the sound of a live band, but the kids made the decision that it was the sound of the records and the patter of the DJ which they preferred."

As with so many of the local venues, members of the groups who played at the Ship and Rainbow look back at it with nostalgia and fond memories. Roger Bromley of the Soul Seekers is quite typical in his feelings about the Ship:

"It was definitely the type of venue which lent itself more to our style of music than the sound of groups like the Montanas or the Californians. That probably accounts for us being resident there for some time on alternate Sundays. The clientele who came to the R&B evenings were enthusiastic about the music and so we and the 'N Betweens went down really well there."

"One feature of the Ship I particularly liked was its club atmosphere. It was not a typical pub venue. It was not like the Cleveland Arms or the Staffordshire Volunteer. The customers were not the sort of people you would find in those other venues. They wanted bluesy music, not pop."

"Ray Hill was a hell of a nice bloke. He obviously liked the music as well and realised that his customers wanted local groups like us, the 'N Betweens or Ides of March and so he arranged things which best suited them."

"I remember that you had to get into the Ship via the fire escape. Anyway, one Birmingham group came over to do an audition there and it happened to be one day when the piano was out of action so they brought their own piano with them. By the time they had hauled it up the fire escape, it was so out of tune that they completely fluffed the audition. I don't think they ever appeared in Wolverhampton again."

Soul Seekers. Of the local groups it was the 'N Betweens and the Soul Seekers who stole the shows at the Ship. Here we see Graham Gomery (vocals) and Roger Bromley (lead guitar) wailing out top class R&B. (Graham Gomery)

Other members of the Soul Seekers were Graham Gomery and Roger Stafford. Their memories of the Ship are mainly about the nature of the audience:

"It was one of the most successful venues for the Soul Seekers because the audience was most appreciative of the style of the group. As a result we played the Ship often and always received a good reaction from the paying customers. The same was true for groups of a similar style to us."

"When I joined the group in 1963 they were still Dane Tempest and the Atoms, but once we became the Soul Seekers and changed our basic style to a more bluesy set, we became the perfect group to play the Ship. The clientele at the Ship, especially on a Sunday night, were blues fans. It was always a crush at the R&B club at the Ship every Sunday, whether it was us or the 'N Betweens playing."

John Howells remembers the Ship very fondly because it gave him and the original 'N Betweens the opportunity to play alongside some of their personal favourites and learn from the artistry and ability of those performers:

"The Sundays at the Ship were really good nights because they provided us with an opportunity to work alongside people like Alexis Korner and Spencer Davis. Alexis was the tops as far as I was concerned, so to play with him was one hell of an experience for me."

"The Sunday night sessions at the Ship were probably our first chance to create a definite style and sound for the group. It had a real club feel about it. The customers gave us all the support we needed and would also provide us with a lot of constructive criticism. It was a very knowledgeable audience at the Ship. They knew their R&B and their blues"

While venues like the Staffordshire Volunteer, Cleveland Arms, Three Men In A Boat and Ship and Rainbow became renown for their 'live group' nights, they were far from alone in providing such entertainment. In fact, a fair proportion of the locality's public houses were able to host such evenings because there were so many groups around the area, all seeking work. This was especially true during the years from 1963 to 1968. Some of the area's public houses deserving of special mention include:

Wolverhampton (outside town centre) – Wednesfield-Bilston

  Ashmore   Holly Bush
  Albion   Merry Boys
  Black Horse   New Inns
  Borough Arms   Oxley Arms
  Bradmore   Pear Tree
  Bushbury Arms   Parkfields Tavern
  Castle   Rough Hills Tavern
  Cock Inn   Spread Eagle
  Crown   Staffordshire Knot
  Dan O'Connell   Three Tuns
  Fieldhouse   Warstone
  Fighting Cocks   Wood Hayes
  Golden Lion    

Walsall - Wednesburv - Darlaston - Willenhall



  Duke of York
  Black Horse   Grapes
  Brunswick   Millfields
  Chamberlain   Noah's Ark
  Duke of Wellington   Red Lion

Dudley - Kingswinford - Tipton - Sedgley



  King Arthur
  Bramford Arms   Lost City
  Brickhouse   Loving Lamb
  Caves   Red Lion
  Crown & Cushion   Rowley Rag
  Doughty Arms   Saracen's Head
  Ellowes   Seven Stars
  Fieryholes   Summerhouse / later Hillcrest
  Foxcote   Victory Inn
  Gate Hangs Well   Ward Arms
  Harrier   Waggon & Horses

Hen & Chickens

  Hillifields   Woodman
  Horse & Jockey  

Yew Tree

  Ivy House    

Amongst those public houses there were some which achieved near 'legendary' status with both group members and fans. Places like the Caves at Wren's Nest, the Lost City at Ocker Hill, the Waggon and Horses at Kingswinford and the Merry Boys on Willenhall Road continued to present live group entertainment throughout the decade. There was hardly any of the local groups who did not play at each of those venues some time during the period.

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