Mick Plugs the Gap!
1987 was the year probably best remembered for a series of disasters. The sinking of the cross-channel ferry, MS Herald of Free Enterprise, the Hungerford massacre, the Kings Cross Underground fire which killed 31 people. The Archbishop of Canterbury's envoy, Terry Waite kidnapped in Lebanon where he would remain hostage until 1991. Golliwogs banned from Enid Blyton books following complaints that golliwogs were offensive. Margaret Thatcher was re-elected in June, making her the longest continuously serving Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool in the early 19th century. On the weather front the year would end with hurricane winds battering southern England, making a mug of the BBC's weather forecaster Michael Fish's observation that there was nothing to worry about. 13 people died and dozens were injured, mostly by falling trees and buildings. Rescue workers faced an unprecedented number of call-outs as winds hit 94 mph in London and over 110 mph in the Channel Islands. Houses and apartments had their roofs blown off. On the Isle of Wight the famous Shanklin Pier, nearly a century old, was reduced to driftwood and in Jaywick, Essex, a caravan park was flattened. 'Eel have to go!' was the general consensus.
Was it any wonder then that when Mick Ferguson received a phone call late one night in November, he jumped at the chance of getting away from it all, including his wife, "she hindered my career, every time I went out she did nothing but moan", to take a three week working holiday in Dubai?
Mick, affectionately known as 'Plug', was one of Corby's most popular and sought after musicians, his prowess on keyboards and accordion regularly seeing him called on at short notice to 'dep' in any number of bands.
The phone call came from drummer Pete Buckby of the recently defunct Canned Rock. Mick; "I was tucked up in bed when I received the call from Pete. Must have been around 1.30 in the morning! The phone was above my head and initially I was speaking through the wrong end! 'Speak up' I said, 'I can't hear you.' Then I realised it was the wrong way round. 'Listen' he said, 'I want an answer right away. No ifs or buts, it’s yes or no. I need to know one way or another right now. How do you fancy a 16 day trip to Dubai to play three gigs over New Year?' I didn't have a clue where Dubai was. Might have been next to Mablethorpe for all I knew! It turned out that Pete had been contacted by his old Canned Rock buddy Don Maxwell who had been asked if he could put a band together."
How did Mick's wife receive the news? "She was lying next to me in bed when I was having this conversation. She told me that if I went through the door and off to Dubai, I needn't come back. So I went!"
She did have the last word though. By the time Mick returned home, she'd cleared the house out and gone.
It was a cold and miserable Gatwick Airport on December 28th when Mick, Pete, Don Maxwell and guitarist Derek Cowie headed off to the Middle East. Derek remembers an eventful flight. "We were sitting at the back of the plane having a sing song when some people ahead of us started grumbling. It wasn't as if we were having a party or something! They'd probably been reading too many stories in the papers about Led Zeppelin and rock stars getting bladdered on flights. Mick decided to go and have a word with them. When he returned he told us he'd been talking to the owner of the aircraft! 'Yeah! Right!' I said, 'what would the owner of the plane be doing sitting at the back with everybody else!' Mick said he'd asked the feller if he could go into the cockpit when we were coming into land so he could video it. Apparently he said 'no problem'. "
Mick; "A guy had complained to the stewardess about the noise we were making so I went to apologise to him. I said 'look can I get you a drink?' 'A vodka and coke' he said. I told the stewardess to make it a double. When he finished that I got him another one. By the time we had finished having a chat and he'd knocked back about four or five vodkas, he thought I was great bloke! He'd forgotten that the drinks on the aircraft were free! Regarding the video, I asked the stewardess if it was possible to visit the cockpit and she arranged it. The pilot was an American, a nice guy. I told him we both had something in common and when he asked what that might be; I told him that I could fly aircraft as well. Gliders. He showed me all the controls, lights, everything. One hell of a dashboard! He told me to get my video, sit next to the window but when we began the descent, everybody had to be quiet, no talking. I put the video on my shoulder and one of my headphones over the mic to capture all the requests and orders from flight control. It was amazing. You could see the lights on the runway from about six miles. Tremendous experience which since the Twin Towers disaster on 9/11 would be impossible to do now."
Derek; "We kicked the trip off with a gig on New Years Eve for all the ex pats in Jebu Ali. Followed by one night at the International Seaman's centre and then three nights later we played in the poorer quarters for people who worked in the port. Filipinos, Indians, the ethnic community. It was a real eye opener. We were the only white people there. The people were great though, really enjoyed themselves and made us feel really welcome. The Dubai trip was such a success we did it for the next three years. The flights were paid for, as was a chalet/villa for each of us. The equipment was all there for us too. We took our own guitars and Pete took his sticks and cymbals. All we had to pay for was the food and drink. And we were paid well over a grand for the pleasure! One day we were sitting in a restaurant discussing the idea of hiring a car to do some sight seeing when a feller overheard us and came over. He told us not to bother and if we were serious he'd sort one out for us and have it at our door at 7.30 the next morning. True to his word, he dropped off a brand new Range Rover! We were taken aback, 'bit heavy on the petrol' was my first thought. Chipping in about a fiver each to get petrol, we were even more amazed when a fiver filled the tank up! It was only about 33p a gallon!"
Mick; "We played on a Russian hospital ship which was weird. Only one person on board could speak English. He was also the bass player with the ship's band. We used their gear and played for around three quarters of an hour. Then the Russian band did their spot and the bass player paid tribute to us by dedicating an Elton John song to us. It was Nikita. Sung in English by Russians who didn't have a clue what they were singing! That was strange. Though not half as much as that of a barmaid I had my eye on! I told Derek that before the end of the night, I'd be off with her. I bought her drinks, chatted her up and then she opened her mouth. It was full of gold teeth! We called her Klondike Kate after that."
"That first trip was when we encountered our compatriots from Corby, Energy. Their drummer Chris Page asked me to do him a favour by taking £450 home to give to his wife. It was easier and cheaper than telexing it which would have cost him around £30. Good job he trusted me!"
Mick Ferguson's career began somewhat fortuitously with a first gig at the George Inn, Cottingham. Two weeks prior to this Mick and his pal Angus McKay had gone to the George on their Lambretta scooters and were parked outside in the car park revving up when the Landlord Butch Lenton came out and chased them! Mick; "Next time we went down there, we left the scooters parked at the top of the road. At the time there was an upright piano in the pub and I asked Butch, who didn't realise we were the two guys he had chased, if it was alright if I had a tinker on it. 'Sure' he said and I must have impressed him as he asked me if I fancied playing regularly for him on Saturday nights. £3 a night. The George was only small pub, forty or fifty punters in there and it was jam packed. My dad James, who played the accordion, joined us and we soon built up a repertoire and crack. We'd ask what they wanted us to play, I'd find the key and that was it. They were great nights and Butch was more than happy. Two years we did this. I loved it and began to think about the possibility of playing in a band, something I really fancied but not sure on how to go about achieving it. Until I spotted an advert in the local paper's music column. A band with the unlikely name of Andreas and the Quantros were looking for an accordion player, with the aside that 'vocals would be an asset, but not essential.' I'd never actually sung before but I took the bull by the horns and phoned the Kettering number to arrange an audition. Nervous as hell, I rode over on my Lambretta with the accordion in my sidecar. I don't know what they thought when I turned up in that, probably thought I was a right geek! 'Come in' Brian Turner said, all the band were there, his brother Graham also, I was introduced and then asked if I could play a certain number, then another one. This went on for about twenty minutes, I was sweating buckets by this time, my nerves were getting the better of me, the heat in the room was getting over bearable, and then I passed out! Collapsed on the floor. Next thing I know, they're picking me up as I'm coming round, and saying, 'you've got the job!'"
Rehearsals were held every Tuesday at Kettering Working Men's Club, running through numbers that were popular in the charts and because none of the other guys were keen on singing, I was thrown in at the deep end and the very first song I sang was Don McLean's Vincent. I realised straight away this is what I wanted to be."
Mick made his debut as a Quantro in January 1974, at the Ex Serviceman's Club in Lloyds Road, Corby where the band was resident every Saturday and Sunday nights.
Mick; "The club was packed out every weekend and after breaking my duck as a live vocalist my confidence shot through the roof. There was a novelty number by Little Jimmy Osmond called Long Haired Lover from Liverpool which I did. It was a piss take really, I'd sing the first half of the number normally then switch to a high pitched falsetto to finish it off. It brought the house down every time. Then at the end of May, a record came out by a band called The Rubettes which went all the way to number one, Sugar Baby Love. Graham Turner got hold of the sheet music; we learnt it and tried it out at the Old Legion. The song was so high I had to hit top G in falsetto to accomplish it. The reaction at the end of that first attempt was unbelievable. It was embarrassing! The whole crowd went nuts, standing on chairs, applauding, whistling, cheering. I couldn't understand what the fuss was about. Never seen anything like it. They wouldn't shut up until we did it again. Whether they thought it was a fluke I don't know! It's when I really burst on the scene!!" A nice anecdote to this is a signed photograph from the Rubettes which takes pride of place in Mick's lounge, "it says, 'I did it first! To Plug, Mick Ferguson, from the boys in the Rubettes.'
The Quantros split up in 1977, "the guys just got fed up gigging and called it a day, guess they wanted to settle down to a normal life". Mick wasn't at a loose end for long, a showband featuring some of Corby's most endurable musicians, the Roy Bishop Sound, came calling. The band included two former Size Seven members Billy and Jimmy Geary; both had been around since the skiffle days of the mid fifties. The others were Paul James on organ, Roy on sax and Mark Plant on bass guitar.
In 1980, at the time of the steelworks closure, Mick, then working in Glebe Coke Ovens, took up an offer from his mate Derek Cowie to join a band he was putting together for a showcase gig in the Isle of Wight. The others recruited were bass player Jack Murphy, also on the redundancy list, from E.N.Wright's, Reggy Knowles on keyboards, drummer John Donovan and guitarist Chris Beesley. The band, called Kez, received great reviews including this from The Isle of Wight News.
'Kez play chart material, waltzes, quicksteps and present a delightfully mixed bag that included Feelings, Music, Love of My Life, Cavatina (Deer Hunter Theme), Star Wars. In Mick Ferguson they possess a singer of immense talent and class. Seldom have I ever seen such emotion from a group singer as he produced from Maurice Albert's gorgeous song Feelings. The tears were streaming down his face. Pop singing at its best. (Though as Jack Murphy was later to remark - tears? that wasn't tears, it was sweat!) At present, Kez are only a semi pro outfit but in March, three of them, who are redundant steelworkers, hope to go full time. The lads revealed they'd love a summer season on the island, the only problem as far as I can see is where they would play. They seem ideal for establishments like Keats Inn but there aren't too many of them dotted around. Any of the big holiday camps would also be very suitable. Most of the band has been fully professional in the past, in different outfits, and some have worked on the continent. I certainly hope they summer on the island. If they do, I am certain they will also attract a huge local following.'
A summer season was secured, but at a Pontins Holiday Camp on the south coast, which in the wake of the steel closure was welcome news. Mick; "Playing six nights a week and four dinnertimes, we were paid £460 a week, roughly £115 each and we had to pay £22 each for a chalet out of it." The job took its toll though as Mick recalled; "Reggy and Chris both decided to leave, Bob Grimley replaced Derek and then two weeks into the season, Big Jack threw in the towel! Temporarily in the lurch, I put an advertisement in the Melody Maker for a bass player and a guy from Bristol applied. As he didn't have the means of getting to Pontins I drove down there, a 450 mile round trip, to pick him up. I should have saved my time, the bloke was awful! That bad I wished a big hole would open up on stage so we could disappear! I took him back and told him, 'don't call us'. When I got back I was told a feller from Chester was on his way down to audition. Owen Ricketts was his name. And he was brilliant! Great player and a nice feller."
"We had a great time socialising with the punters. Getting rat-arsed! Bob locked himself out of his chalet one night, we each had our own in a two tier block, and he made a terrible racket trying to get in. Woke everyone up, this was about half three in the morning. His chalet was on the left down this corridor and after trying to barge his way in, decided to lean back against the door behind him and push his door with his foot. Well, all hell was then let loose as he the door he was leaning on crashed open and Bob went sprawling into this chambermaid's bedroom! The girl was terrified! I also became friendly with a couple who lived in Essex and invited me over for a break whenever I had the time. Which I accepted. Funny thing was, whenever I went over there, the husband was always away! He didn't seem to mind though!
At the end of the summer season we called it a day, finished on the spot. Owen went back to Chester and was never seen or heard of since. The rest of us went home to Corby to pick up from where we had left off. Redundant. I was given a couple of options on our return to Corby, one was to rejoin the Roy Bishop band and the other was an offer from a Peterborough showband. It was then my old mate Derek Cowie contacted me with a proposal - to help him form a band to be called New Horizon."
But that's another story.........