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Thursday, 23 August 2012

1971 Rod Stewart meets Big Bob Knight

The Nags Head Wollaston.

From the late 1960s to early 70s, the Nags Head was like no other place in the world. It hosted the biggest bands, had Radio One DJ's appearing weekly and was talked about all over the country. 'Big' Bob Knight, landlord, disc jockey, local legend was the brains behind the Nags phenonomen. Born in Earls Barton in 1933, Bob was brought up in Rushden,"one of my earliest memories is of being buried alive under a pile of rubble during the war years." On leaving school he was working as a clicker in a shoe factory when he was called up for national service in 1951. It was the time of what has become known as 'The Forgotten War' - Korea. "I spent a year there with the Royal Norfolk Regiment, we took over from the Glorious Glosters. I'd been transferred from the Northamptonshire Regiment and sent to Bury St Edmunds for training. They told us we were going to Korea, I didn't have a clue where Korea was! I was 18 and being sent to the front line. We had no idea what lay in store for us. A vivid memory is on arrival at Seoul and being transferred onto a train to take us to our camp - and a train pulling into the station as we were about to leave, full of injured American servicemen. That was a waking up call I can tell you. All these guys lying on stretchers with limbs torn apart and blood and guts everywhere. Frightening. Because I was a big lad I often got lumbered with humping things around. One time I was on a patrol with about a dozen others, making our way through a terrain that was mountainous, boggy, because of all the bombing that had been going on, and I was carrying this big heavy wireless on my back! It was scary and then all of a sudden I thought I heard these Chinese voices. I told the sergeant but he said 'no, no way, they're nowhere near us'. I was convinced but he refused to acknowledge it - until we went over a brow of a hill and spotted about four hundred of the Chinese coming towards us! We turned and ran like hell, tumbling back down the hillside to our jeeps. We'd spend the days and nights camped in the trenches, every so often giving the Chinese a burst of about 400 rounds out of our Vickers machine gun, working it in an arc, back and for, firing non stop. Just to let them know we were still there!" The 1st Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, the 'Glorious Glosters', were so called because of a heroic three-day stand where they held off a Chinese force ten times its size. Fifty-nine were killed and 526 captured during the battle for the Imjin River, April 22-25, 1951. Bob; "It was only recently when we saw a 50th anniversary celebration of the war on television that I realised that the Glosters had suffered one of the worst defeats in the war. Wiped out." On demob Bob went back to the shoe factory and soon found the mundane work soul destroying. He left and became a lorry driver for a number of years, returning to the shoe industry when life on the road became tiresome too. "It was then me and a bloke called Don Planner, who used to run the West End Club in Rushden, started a disco. We were earning little money at work so we started doing it in our spare time. Concentrating mainly on the Tamla Motown stuff that is still my favourite music. That's how it all started. We went over to the Nags in Wollaston and done a few there and after a few months, the landlord said to me he was thinking of packing up. 'Why don't you put in to be the landlord?' he said. Well I had a good friend who ran the Blisworth Hotel where we also ran a few discos and he said 'I'll give you a few tips - take it on'. We took it on, Planner and me as tenants. And it all went from there. I used to do the Railway Club on the Monday, North Park on Tuesday, Nags Head on Wednesday, North Park again on Thursday, Friday the Nags, Saturday the Nags and a few others in between. Rushden Windmill Club as well. We used to play all sorts of music there. The Wellingborough Railway Club used to attract 500 to 600 people every week for about ten years, that was a Motown night. I was the first person in Northamptonshire to have twin deck turntables. They came from Japan. I used to share them with a bloke from Bedford. I used to have them on a Friday at Rushden and he used to use them on a Sunday at Bedford. Nobody had twin decks. Everybody just used too have one. We were the first discos in the area." The natural progression was to start putting on bands and branch out from the Motown discos that Bob had made his name with. Bob's protege Steve Hadjuk; "I knew Bob from Rushden, initially from when I used to deliver his newspapers! One day he caught hold of me and in that gruff voice of his, told me in no uncertain terms to tell my boss at the shop to stop the order. 'If he can't get the papers to me before 9 am he can keep the papers!' I then got to know him when they had bands on at the West End Club. He'd asked me to do some roadying for him when I was about sixteen and I started DJ'ing a bit - Motown. After a while I told Bob, 'look I'm not really into this, I've got all blues and rock albums.
That's what I'm into. I'm not enjoying the music'. Because he was a very forward thinker he said, 'well, why not do a blues night in the lounge downstairs?' I encouraged people to bring their albums along, one guy brought Captain Beefheart, another Frank Zappa. We started off with about five people in there, next week about twenty, the following week about forty or fifty then after that, they were spilling out into the yard because the people couldn't get in! Bob looked at it and thought maybe we should move this upstairs." Regular Ken Marsh from Rushden; "Audience clientele didn't change much, you could guarantee who you'd see there. The uniform was typical of the type of hippie era around that time. Plenty of hair. Plenty of denim. Plenty of colour. It was about the birds and music definitely but I think the scene and the ambience of the place made it all the more special" Bob was an entreprenuer way ahead of his time, contacting various agents to get the stars of Radio One to appear at the pub. Bob; "I had Dave Lee Travis, Noel Edmonds, Paul Burnett, and then I had John Peel and we just hit it off as friends. He loved it and stayed for four or five years." More and more people flocked to the Nags Head. The Friday John Peel night was a massive hit. Steve Hadjuk; "When transport became an issue for punters travelling from across the county, Bob took the matter into his own hands." Bob; "United Counties stopped running the bus from Wellingborough because the kids going home were making a nuisance of themselves. So I put a bouncer on the bus. Then I had to send a car to bring him back. So I bought a bus. I used to run it to Wellinborough to pick the punters up and then drop them off again at the end of the night." All the regulars were fond of Bob's pink double decker bus. Andy Bartlett; "You'd spend a lot of time acquainting yourself with a young lady throughout the evening - thinking you were going to be alright, walk her home and get to know her some more. And just as you'd think you were doing alright, they'd be whisked away on the bus! That was irritating!" Steve Hadjuk;" Bob was very loyal. He's paying me for being the DJ, we've got the bands on when John came, it would have been very easy for Bob to say 'thank you very much, we've got John Peel now, we don't need you'. Instead he said, 'right, you open, John will do his stint, the band will then come on, and then you finish.' He could have ditched me but he never did. John settled in nicely and wasn't just showing up and playing a few records and then going home again. He got involved in the running of the night." Bob;"Sometimes, we'd take £20, sometimes nothing.
Most of it was £40 plus a percentage on the door. Course, John was straight, there was no fiddling. He would plug the Nags every week on his radio show, he'd plug it in his column in the Melody Maker." Steve Hadjuk;"For the first few years I was a bit star struck because I'd been listening to his shows for ages. Bob wasn't because he wasn't into it. John Peel? Yeah, alright. That's where the magic was. Bob and John instantly hit it off. Bob's a very honest guy, he'd tell you what he thinks, and John liked that. At the time John Peel wasn't the cult hero that he became in later life. But the regulars still took it all in their stride. John Peel was such a relaxed guy, milling around with everybody. He'd stand at the top of the stairs at the Nags and stamp your hand. You'd walk by him as you went in. He was just one of the gang. But to Bob he'd become one of his closest friends. Bob; "He was a genuine bloke. He'd come and stay with me at the pub because we'd got three bedrooms. He'd sometimes stay the night then go back to London to do his radio show or he'd go up to Liverpool to see his beloved 'Reds' play. I went to all his birthday parties. When I got married he came to my wedding. Got a christmas card off him every year. We just hit it off." Good judgement and some good luck led to a few scoops for the new promoters on the block. Steve Hadjuk; "Alexis Korner came up on two or three occasions. One time Alexis rang up and said I've got this band my friend's son is playing in it. Paul Kossoff, son of the actor David. They want to rehearse, they've got a record coming out, I'll bring them up to support me'. They were called The Black Cat Bones, the forerunner to Free." Mick Austin was a familiar face around the scene; "I saw so many great bands at the Nags, Free being my favourite.You did'nt have to go to London to watch class bands. The first gig I ever saw there was Alexis Korner when he brought The Black Cat Bones with him, and low and behold they returned a couple of months later in their own right as Free. I'll never forget them, they were great. I remember Big Bob having a blazing row with a very young Carl Palmer (Atomic Rooster)? Little did we know just how big Mr Palmer was going to become!

Some of the bands who played there have long gone but the individual musicians are still out there today playing. - Free, Blodwyn Pig, Bronco, Paladin, Uriah Heep,Formerly Fat Harry, Medicine Head, Burning Red Ivanhoe, Audience, Stray, so many........A pint of beer and a vodka & lime came to 7shillings and sixpence. Women could walk home safely and you could smoke your bloody head off without anyone complaining!...Now look at me A grumpy old man...GREAT DAYS." The night which is still talked about is when The Faces came to play. John Peel asked Rod Stewart, who was a friend, to play as a favour. Bob Knight;"Peely said 'I can get the Faces to come'. Bloody hell I said, that'd be a good night! So we booked them, all the contracts were signed, all the kit came in at dinnertime. Mountain of it. They had a great big lorry full of kit. They only used about 10% of it because that's all they could fit in! So the kit was there, the fans were there en masse, the atmosphere was incredible. John Peel was there. But The Faces weren't!" Kevin Marsh remembers the disappointment; "The lead up to it was incredible because the excitement was so intense. The rumours started going round that they hadn't turned up. We waited and waited. Something you thought couldn't happen, and it didn't happen. It was just absolute disappointment." What should have been the biggest night in the pub's history ended in bitter disappointment. Steve Hadjuk helped John Peel to carry his records to his car; "a set of headlights then pulled into the car park and I'd never seen John lose his temper like he did that night. 'You have let me down! This is my friend's place' he bawled at them. The look on the guys faces, he said a few more bits and pieces to them and then got in his car and went. Billy Gaff was the Faces manager at the time. He promised that the band would re-arrange the gig, and they said, right, the only date we can play is on Thursday but we'll do it and we'll do it free. But John Peel couldn't make the night because his show was on the radio. So it was down to me and it was fantastic." Pete Marshall from Corby (a big Rod Stewart fan) remembers an altogether different side of the Nags Head and of Big Bob. Pete: “John Chapman and I went over to Wollaston on the first night that the Faces were meant to appear. When they didn’t show, the management announced that everyone with a pass-out stamp on their hand would be able to get their money back - so Chap and I stumbled back up the stairs to collect ours. We were about to make our way back down to the pub bar, when suddenly I realised that I’d lost my wallet. I turned to go back in, but Big Bob and one of his DJs were barring the door. When I told Bob that I’d lost my wallet - and was only going back in to look for it - he swore at me. Then, completely without provocation, he punched me in the face! As I reeled backwards I bowled John over (he was standing right behind me) and we tumbled downstairs - ending up in a heap at the bottom. We were both too drunk to argue our case, and so I just looked at Chap and said indignantly: ‘There was ten bob in that wallet!’ Because his foot was stuck in the banister and he couldn’t get up, John merely shrugged his shoulders and offered me a cigarette, saying: ‘Never mind. Have a No 6’ (which was the 1970’s equivalent of a Woodbine.)
No one was really sure why Rod and the Faces failed to show up on time. Bob thinks it was confusion over the Nags opening times where Steve just reckons that they got lost. But whatever the reason the gig was back on and this time it would go ahead. Steve Hadjuk;"It was kept mainly a secret. We tried to keep it local because if we'd have advertised it it the whole of Wollaston would have been flooded. John wanted that as well. I don't think he even plugged it on his radio show."
Bob Knight; "It was absolutely fantastic. We had so many people, we had to let the people in who had tickets from the first show and everybody was there at six o'clock that night. Well the kit was all there, set up - but it was before! And I couldn't stop biting my nails!" Steve Hadjuk;"You couldn't move. If you wanted to go to the loo, God help you! They were so close to the audience and I remember there were so many in there that Rod Stewart shouted back to the roadies to pass a crate of beer forward. They were the first band I ever saw who had what they called a tea break in the middle of a set! The bar was right at the back. You couldn't get there. The Faces asked to put the lights on and they were passing about twenty pints down over the people's heads to the guys at the front. And the band were talking to them, having a drink and after about ten minutes or so, they said, 'right, ok everybody happy? right, get the lights down again' and they kicked back in." The gig was a massive success, the punters had had the gig of their life and it was fun to hang out a bit with the band as Steve Hadjuk recalls;" It was about two in the morning, which was late in those days, we sat around in the lounge just drinking after the gig - we just wanted to keep up with the Faces a bit - a bit awesome really - I was getting a lift home with Don Planner - I was on a real high. They had come in the lounge, started giving autographs and albums away. They were fantastic. Ronnie Wood sat there picking his toenails - it was that relaxed!" For many bands gigs come and go, what city, what venue, but that gig at the Nags stayed with Rod and the boys." Years later when Steve was making his way in the music industry he attended his first convention when the Nags legacy came into play. It was for the Phillips Record Company and Rod was guest of honour. He was dressed in a satin suit, and we've all got our suits on, I was a rep then. And we stood up at the bar and he about ten feet away talking to the likes of the Managing Director, Chairman, and he turned round and sort of looked at me, then said, 'I know you, don't I?' Well, yeah, I said, 'Do you remember the Nags Head Wollaston?' 'Yeah' And he totally ignored the directors after that! 'How's it going?' 'What's happening?' Because of that, whenever I saw Rod and The Faces gigs after that, I was always invited backstage. Not because what I am, but what the Nags and John Peel had done for them."
 Taken from 'Alive In The Dead Of Night' by Clive Smith and David Black.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

When Merseybeat Came to Corby

When Merseybeat Came to Corby On 9th September 2011 a sell-out concert (in aid of Prostate Cancer Research) took place at the Core at Corby Cube. Starring the ever-popular Liverpudlian band Gerry and the Pacemakers, the audience that night were treated to a rip-roaring performance from the creators of hits such as How Do You Do It?, I Like It and Ferry Cross The Mersey. As Marsden and his group rattled off their famous repertoire, for those of us in the crowd who consider themselves to have been ‘children of the Sixties’, it was immensely enjoyable to watch and listen as - in our mind’s eye - the clock was turned back almost fifty years to those heady days of Merseybeat, miniskirts, and Beatlemania. Of course Gerry and co. once worked the same circuit as the Fab Four travelling between Liverpool and Hamburg in the period prior to the beat music explosion of 1963 (in which year alone the band earned a place for themselves in the record books as they notched up consecutive UK number one hits with their first three singles.) After they split in 1966, Marsden went on to become a successful cabaret artist, children's television entertainer and star of the West End stage. Although carrying a little more weight than in his heyday, that night at the Cube we were re-acquainted with the Gerry of old. Still blessed with a tremendous voice and an ability to bring the house down, Marsden closed his seventy-five minute set with a soaring rendition of an anthem which he’s made his very own - You'll Never Walk Alone.  In 1963 Britain’s biggest-ever wave of home-grown pop talent exploded onto the scene. It became known as Merseybeat, and, as a result, for the next three years the city of Liverpool ruled the world of music. The images have become so familiar that they’ve lost their impact. Moptop haircuts, Italian suits, screaming fans, the jangle of guitars and raucous vocal harmonies - the sound and vision of the British beat boom has passed into the history books. British beat has become part of our shared cultural heritage. Even if you weren’t alive when our rock bands first conquered the world, you’ve seen it so often on TV that it feels as if you were there. What the hazy black and white newsreel clips can’t capture though, is the sense of shock that shuddered through the British music industry, and then the whole of the country, as Liverpool’s beat crusaders swept the pop establishment aside. British pop had been content to follow lamely in the footsteps of its American equivalent since the Second World War. We had our share of home-grown stars but they were all blatant copies of the U.S. originals. Cliff Richard mimicked Elvis Presley, Matt Monro wanted to be Frank Sinatra, whilst Adam Faith based his career on Buddy Holly’s vocal quiver. When the Beatles set off the Merseybeat explosion at the start of 1963, the charts were suddenly awash with cheeky Scouse quartets. Within a year solo singers were virtually banished from the Top 30 - unless, of course, they came from Liverpool. To the London establishment, Merseybeat seemed to come out of nowhere. In reality, Liverpool was just one of a number of bastions of British beat music, including Glasgow, Newcastle, Birmingham - and even our own town of Corby (or ‘Little Scotland’ as it is so often referred to.) In such places dozens of bands were dutifully preserving the legacy of Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and other early rock ‘n’ rollers. Following in the wake of these was an even more committed brigade of purists, musicians who were devoted to Chicago blues and R&B. However, it was Liverpool that broke through first, not least because the city spawned the original architects of 1960s British pop, the Beatles. Thus Merseyside went down in history as the capital of the beat boom. In 1963 every record company in the land scoured Liverpool’s backstreets for their own version of the Fab Four. Careers that were born overnight were dead within a fortnight, as hastily concocted Beatles impressions failed to chart. By the end of 1965 the love affair was over - after that Mersey origins were the kiss of death. Nevertheless, for those three scintillating years Merseybeat was state-of-the-art pop. In June 1963 the dance hall of Corby’s Welfare Club played host to the Big Three - a Liverpudlian band with a big reputation and an even bigger sound. As ‘survivors’ of the night were to discover, the group were regarded on Merseyside as the loudest, most raucous and uninhibited exponents of Merseybeat - Britain’s answer to American rock ‘n’ roll. Before an unsuspecting and ultimately dazed, sell-out crowd (it’s said that no one even danced during the set) they proceeded to tear apart their audience’s preconceptions of what live British beat music was or could be. Dave Black remembers: “I was there the night the Big Three played the Welfare. They were the first Liverpool group that I’d ever seen playing live on stage, and I have to admit that I found it hard to believe that they could be British. Up until then I’d never seen or heard anything like it from a home-grown band. As their name implied - they were only a trio, however, the sheer power and volume that they generated was a totally unknown quantity in these parts, or, I suspect, anywhere else. They were sensational! Prior to the group’s performance, everyone was intrigued by the massive speakers that had been set up on both sides of the stage. None of our local players had seen anything on that scale before - anywhere. When the sound eventually kicked in, the entire room just seemed to take a step backwards! Looking back, one can now see that they were the forerunners to those power trios who would emerge later in the decade - e.g. Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience etc. That night at the Welfare served as my introduction to live Merseybeat and also made me realise that the UK was capable of producing rock music that was as good as (if not better than) that played by American artists.” Following on from the Big Three, over the Easter weekend of 1964 the Merseybeats were the next Scouse group to play in Corby. When they appeared at the Raven Hall they were still riding the crest of a wave with their hits I Think Of You and Don’t Turn Around. The band were featured in the Corby Leader newspaper and were photographed taking part in a tour of the Stewarts & Lloyds steelworks. Clive Smith, who was only fourteen years of age at the time, recalls being more than a little peeved when he and his pals were unable to gain admittance to the show. Instead, they had to settle for a night’s camping in their friend Dougie Wilson’s garden. Clive: “There were three tents and they were occupied by half a dozen reprobates! I can’t quite remember who came up with the idea, but at four o'clock in the morning someone suggested that we take a walk down to the Raven Hotel - just on the off-chance that we might bump into the Merseybeats. You see we had been told that they would be staying there overnight. As you might guess, we never did get to meet them.They were long gone. You can imagine the scene as we all traipsed back up Occupation Road, pinching bottles of milk from people’s doorsteps to drink on our return to camp!” Cilla Black, a former cloak-room attendant at the Cavern club in Liverpool, performed what was to be her last engagement in a dance hall when she appeared at the Welfare club in June 1964. Just a month previously she had topped the charts with Anyone Who Had A Heart, and on the night in question made it quite clear to promoter Pat Casey that she really didn’t want to do the gig. No surprise, surprise there! As things turned out, the songstress received a lukewarm reception from the local crowd - many of whom denigrated her singing talent. Nevertheless, she went on to become one of British television’s most popular presenters. Two more class acts from Merseyside visited Corby over the following months. Unfortunately the Fourmost, whose set was largely based around a comedy routine, received a very dismal welcome from Corby’s beat purists (only a couple of hundred bothering to turn up.) Soon afterwards Tommy Quickly, who at that time was probably Liverpool’s most highly regarded male solo artist, was also disappointed by the rather subdued reception that he got from Corby’s pop cognoscenti. Tony Jackson and the Vibrations fared much better when they appeared on 19 February 1965. Jackson, the former lead singer and bass player with the Searchers, gave a storming performance. At the end of the night he reprised his former group’s first number one hit, Sweets For My Sweet, leaving an ecstatic Corby crowd begging for more. Propping up the same bill were local lads the Invaders, who apparently gave ‘a good account of themselves.’ In 1965, as the Merseybeat era was approaching its zenith, the Undertakers did a gig at the Rockingham Arms dance hall. Clive Smith, who was still below the legal age for alcohol consumption, was yet again determined to reinforce his musical credentials. So it came to pass that on a murky Thursday night ‘Big C’ found himself scaling the side of the building, where, from his perch on a rear window-sill, he watched as the Scousers executed their very lively set. In one respect the Undertakers were different from other Mersey bands - in that they had a sax player in their line-up. Interestingly, they were to provide the inspiration behind the career of Ricky Dodd - one of Corby's most successful musicians. During an interview for It’s Steel Rock and Roll To Me,  Dodd revealed that despite having initially been a jazz fan, it was the Undertakers who turned him on to rock ‘n’ roll. After serving an apprenticeship with local outfits, and then embarking on a twelve month stint in the Hamburg and Frankfurt area with a German band, Rick finally made his breakthrough when asked to take the place of Liverpool sax player Howie Casey in the Roy Young Band. Casey, of course, is considered a Liverpool legend in his own right - having played with Sir Paul McCartney on his ground-breaking album Band On The Run. As time went on Dodd became firm friends with Casey (who incidentally was once a member of Derry and the Seniors - the first Liverpool band to play Hamburg.) The latter also played for a number of years alongside another Corby instrumentalist, the former Size Seven drummer Ian Murray. The pair enjoyed working together during a fruitful stint in Big Bob’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus. Corby’s preoccupation with American rock ‘n’ roll, during the period spanning the mid-1950s until the early 1960s, is not the only thing that the town has in common with Liverpool. Concentrations of people migrating to a geographical area can cause a town/city to develop its own accent. In Britain two of the most striking examples of this relate to Liverpool and Corby. Liverpool’s dialect is influenced heavily by its Irish and Welsh ancestry, making it sound completely different from the surrounding areas of Lancashire; whereas Corby's dialect is primarily derived from its predominantly Scottish heritage - thus setting it apart entirely from the rest of Northamptonshire.
* Thanks to Radio Merseyside broadcaster and author Spencer Leigh; Clive Smith and David Black, authors of It’s Steel Rock and Roll To Me, available from all major book shops.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Legends of Corby Rock - 'Nidge' Hart and Bumper at the Roundhouse 1976.

(Taken from 'No Occupation Road') Corby rock band Hard Road changed their name to Bumper when drummer Ned McGuigan decided to retire. The recruitment of Thrapston's Nigel 'Nidge' Hart preceded their success of winning through to the finals of the National Folk/Rock contest held at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, North London in July. Twenty eight area heats were held throughout the country for the contest which was presented by the association of Musical Instrument Industries and sponsored by the Melody Maker and EMI Records Hart began his career with an Oundle based combo called The 49th Parallel. Nidge; "Playing drums was all I was interested in. I was lazy at school, not really interested in any subjects. Subsequently when I left it was with no qualifications and no idea where I was heading. If somebody had told me then that one day I would play and count among my friends, Procol Harum guitarist Mick Grabham, Dick Parry, Pink Floyd's sax player on the Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here albums, and Foreigner keyboard player Rick Wills, I would have laughed at them!" 49th Parallel failed to accrue any measure of success, as illustrated by the accompanying aside to the photograph of their debut in Nidge's scrapbook; 'This is the one and only gig 49th Parallel did, and we didn't get paid for it!' A change of name and musical direction was needed; maybe the inspiration behind The State Of Mind and playing harder edged Cream and Jimi Hendrix material. Nidge was now playing a twin bass drum kit, a rare commodity on the local scene, and rapidly building a reputation as a rock drummer. The band's preferred heavy rock style saw them change their name yet again, to a more suitable Brain Damage and striving to reach a wider audience, they moved en bloc to Liverpool where they lived in 'digs' in the district of Aigburth, south of the city. Signed to Playlord Enterprises Agency in Manchester 'playing really heavy rock in Black Sabbath style' they played venues such as Liverpool's famous Cavern Club, capturing an enthusiastic audience and fan base. It was an exciting time for Nidge and his pals in the rarified atmosphere of the world famous basement where the Beatles and other 60s rock stars learned their trade. In truth the Cavern in 1974 wasn't actually the genuine article, the original club having been closed down in 1973 after failing to keep up with health and safety regulations but it was a small and sweaty cellar, and still in Mathew Street, the entrance just 15 yards further up the road. Nidge; "Back in Corby I was approached by Mick Haselip, bass player with Bumper to ask if I was interested in having an audition at the Raven Hall to replace Ned McGuigan. I decided beforehand though to catch Bumper at the Central Hall in Kettering; "that sealed it for me, I thought they were fantastic. Bumper also had a tremendous following and was clearly heading in the right direction." Attired in matching 'Godfather' gear, "the Prohibition era dress also seems to pull in the fans" said singer Stuart Irving, Bumper were given plenty of support in their quest to win £2000 worth of equipment and recording time. Their brand of aggressive rock music built them up a good following in Corby, as indicated by the coach loads of supporters who travelled to London to see Stuart 24, Jimmy Irving 23, Mick Haselip 25, Bob Grimley 25 and Nigel Hart 21 do battle. Stuart; "We always try to play to our audience; We go out there and grab them by the neck. That's the way they want it so that's the way we play to them." Bob Grimley; "We were a bit concerned at first, all the other bands were greeted with loud cheers and shouting from their followers when they took the stage. When it was our turn it was a more a mooted silence. We couldn't understand it. Then all of a sudden a crescendo of noise resonated around the arena when the hordes of Corby fans made the grandest of entrances! Turns out the coaches had been late getting away from Corby Rugby Club where Colin Porter, Joel Jacklin and co. had been organising the trip. They were well oiled by the time they arrived at the Roundhouse - and didn't the rest of the crowd know it!" Judged by a panel which included eminent DJ, 'Whispering' Bob Harris and Jimi Hendrix bass player Noel Redding, Bumper played two of their own numbers as well as their arrangement of Paul McCartney's Norwegian Wood/Rock Show. They came a respectable third to collect a prize of £150 plus a voucher for musical equipment behind second place The Please Y'Self Skiffle Band from Matlock and the winners Stallion, who, said the Melody Maker wit, 'galloped through'! Afterwards Bob Grimley was magnanimous; "It was great day and the group was very happy with what we got. We would like to thank everyone who followed us throughout the competition." Bob's brother John was also in attendance; "The Roundhouse, yes, that does bring back memories. We all left the Nags, I think it was a Sunday afternoon, in a coach to travel down there. Franny Lagan was on the bus as well. Stinking hot day so the beer (cans) for the journey were not quite as they should have been. We all had a great time in the Roundhouse even though Bumper failed to win the day." Nidge; "Gavin Dare of Rebel Records, who operated from studios owned by Monty Python star Michael Palin signed us up for a record deal after watching us rehearse. We were taken out to a flash restaurant in Covent Garden for lunch to celebrate. Felt like the big time had arrived! With hindsight we maybe should have hung on a little longer. After the Roundhouse gig, Bob Harris came back stage and whispered in that inimitable style of his, that he'd like to record us. Bob was presenter of TV's biggest rock programme Old Grey Whistle Test and it's fair to say we could have been down for an appearance which would have been a real thrill and opportunity. Unfortunately we had to tell him we were tied up with Rebel." Under the eyes of engineer Andre Jackeman, who was the composer of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, Bumper cut enough demos, all compositions written by the Irving brothers, to record an album which would also include a single, Ballerina. Gavin Dare was supremely confident in the band's chances; "Bumpers agreement with Rebel Records will last three years if both parties are happy after an initial six month period. They play the kind of music that will sell records all over the world. Over the last six months we have seen around 300 bands and none of them are up to the same standard as Bumper. We are just sure they are going to make it. They are all talented individuals who can get together and make the most incredible sound. With our contacts overseas we can almost guarantee releases all over the world." Announcing that he is planning to take the band to the international MIDEN festival in Cannes, France in 1977, Dare added, "I can see Bumper emerging in the same image as 10cc and Queen."

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Legends of Corby Rock 'n' Roll - Rick Dodd

Rick Dodd (Taken from 'No Occupation Road') Corby's nomadic sax man Ricky Dodd was back in town after a two year stint with the Kevin Coyne Band, the highlight arguably a Free Hyde Park Concert with a host of other big name bands in the summer of 1974. Coyne, formerly a therapist in a psychiatric hospital, had a reputation for being 'an uncompromising and unorthodox artist blessed with one of the most individual voices in rock'. His 1973 album Marjory Razorblade won critical acclaim for its variety of ‘disturbingly accurate character studies, delivered with a voice of astonishing range and volume.’ Rick joined the band after Coyne had advertised in the music press for a sax player to fill out his sound for a forthcoming European tour with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. In 2002 Rick recalled his initiation; “I turned up at a rehearsal room in Chelsea which was booked from 8pm till 1am to find that no one was around, except the roadie. 'Where is everybody?' I asked. 'In the pub' came the reply. That was my introduction to Kevin Coyne. I went over, and found the rest of the band well into a drinking session. Kevin greeted me and bought me a pint, then introduced me to the rest of the band and that was it. We concentrated on getting blotto before managing to get in about an hour of rehearsal at the end of the night. John Mayall was a renowned hard taskmaster but the tour did have its lighter moments. My main memory of Mayall is that he couldn’t speak a word of French, and watching him trying to order some food when we were in Paris was very funny. John was very articulate and thought the locals would understand his efforts with both tongue and sign language no bother. He eventually gave up and asked me if I could help him out.” Life on the road with Coyne and Dodd was often lively, as keyboard player Tim Penn revealed during a conversation following Ricky Dodd's demise in 2007; 'I played with Kevin from about May 1974 - Sept 74 and then again Nov 74-Dec 74, at which point Rick, Terry Slade, and Tony Cousins were unceremoneously sacked as Virgin (Coyne's Record Label) wanted to 'commercialise' the band. Rick was a really good sax player and had a bizarre dsense of humour. I remember two things in particular. On a tour of Holland or Belgium, sitting in a restaurant eating pizza and Rick placing the pizza on his head like a beret, litterally with one little olive sitting in the middle. Had us in stitches. I also remember him telling a story about the soul band he used to play in. How all the musicians had invented a catheter like apparatus, using a condom and plastic tubing, going down to a bag strapped to the leg, so that they could drink and piss without having to leave the stage - whether that was true or just a musician's 'urban tale' I'm not sure. Rick was a heavy stoner in those days and he would nearly always be rolling one in the back of the touring van - a box top transit with a row of aircraft seats in. It never affected his playing which was always passionate and full of fire. The Coyne fan club page on the web contains a list of the sessions etc that Rick played on, and there are bootlegs floating around of Hyde Park and various BBC sessions. I completely lost contact after Dec 74. I sort of understand that Rick gave up the life of the professional musician after Coyne - I think he was quite a bit older than some of us (I was 22) he was about 30 and the break up of the band was pretty upsetting to him - but I'm not sure." Bass player Tony Cousins; 'Rick took that Virgin rebuff worse than everyone else, and as far as I know quit the music business in disgust. In a way it was understandable because he was bitter about the way he had been treated before he joined the band. You probably know more of the details than I do but it would have consisted of the usual hazards involved in trying to be a musician - failed promises, rip offs and sordid living conditions. I considered myself reasonably close to Kevin Coyne partly because I had worked for Virgin before joining the band and consequently had a bit of insider knowledge. I cannot remember how or when Rick came to join the band. I suspect it was because he had been to the Manor to make a solo album and met some of the people who had been involved in the making of the Coyne records which were also done there. I always thought the combination of sax and slide guitar was very effective. Rick could be very inspiring to play with. My main memories are to do with his extraordinary appetite for drink and drugs, on the bus or van he was constantly rolling up, at the gig he always had a drink in his hand. I saw him, more than once, vomit before he went on stage and then play as if nothing had happened. He was not a big man but his constitution must have been iron. I suppose he was more used to it than anyone else because of being schooled from an early age, playing in Germany etc. I also think that these excesses were the only way he could deal with his own sense of isolation. When his wife came on the road or just to local gigs he would never leave her side, hold her continuously. Rick used to call Kevin 'Ken' which he did not like. Kevin tried very hard to like Rick and welcome him into the band, he did this with everybody for the reasons you might expect but always found it difficult with Rick. I do not mean to say that he gave up but that there was a competitiveness between them which Rick would not let lie. Because Kevin was the leader he granted himself certain airs. For example if he should say something outrageous or behave badly he did not expect everyone else to immediately do the same, however Rick often rose to the apparent challenge. Initially this might have aroused Kevin's curiosity but eventually it became tiring and then downright annoying to the point where it appeared that he did not know when to stop. Rick would probably have said in his own defence that Kevin encouraged this which was true but one had to learn the boundaries. For example it was Rick who got us thrown off the bus on the John Mayall tour because he was winding up their bass player Larry Taylor. I cannot remember the exact circumstances but Rick just did not know when to stop and Taylor who was a well respected musician refused to put up with it. The Mayall tour was not very long, possibly ten days or even a week but it was certainly eventful. In Rome we got booed because the audience could not hear properly, this was in the days before everything was fed through a mixing desk. In Naples there was a riot and the glassfront of the club was demolished. I remember sitting in the dressing room after our set, three guys walked in, turned a table upside down, broke off the legs and went off to battle. The worst gig was Bari, in the Opera House, where we were all so drunk we could not tune up let alone play and were booed off the stage, very ignominious. Even though Kevin had obviously quaffed a few he always managed to hold himself together, so he was livid and rightly so. The Coyne band played quite a lot in Europe, always short tours of a week or two. Outside of the gigging life of that band we did not socialise that much, possibly because our encounters were intense but I am only guessing. The band was for a while quite busy so it would be normal to recuperate and see friends etc. Kevin had a huge appetite for life and was as demanding as he was compassionate, he had his demons too. Gordon Smith was in some ways as bad as Rick except that he kept quiet, he says he has virtually no memory of any of it because he was perpetually drunk.' "Gordon Smith was something of an oddball", Rick recalled. "He was a familiar face around the jaunts of London as a busker. At times he would go two days without speaking to anyone. He was all right though, it wasn't because he'd fell out with someone or he was in a mood. You would ask him if he was okay and he would just nod his head as he sat there grinning! I think a lot of it was the boredom when we were driving miles sitting in the back of a bus - that used to get to me too. People think the life is glamorous and to a certain extent it is but when you consider that a lot of the time is spent traveling miles in the back of a van and hanging about, it does your head in." In April 1975 Rick teamed up with some old buddies from his Roy Young days to play a benefit gig at the Marquee for the Average White Band's deceased drummer Ronnie McIntosh. Rick, who declined the opportunity to join the fledgling blues band, "I'd had enough of the road" recalled meeting Elton John there. "I was surprised how small he was! and I'm only a wee feller. I was talking to him in the dressing room, which was tiny, and jam packed with musicians. I asked him if he'd give me a hand to get my horn out, which with hindsight wasn't the brightest thing to say!"