They're In Town....The Rockin' Berries.
It's a pleasure to welcome back to Corby for the first time in a number of years, The Rockin' Berries. The last time they visited this oasis of entertainment in East Northamptonshire was way back in the 1970s when they appeared at the Stardust Centre in between a bingo session. At the time they joined an illustrious list of top artists who graced the Stardust stage, Del Shannon, PJ Proby, the Searchers amongst many others.
The origins of the Rockin' Berries go back to the late 1950’s when Brian “Chuck” Botfield and Geoff Turton met at school. Chuck later went to Moseley College of Art where he formed a skiffle group with fellow school-mate Tim Munns who played bass guitar along with guitarist Bob Bates, drummer Barry Taylor and piano player Christine Perfect who would become a well known blues singer and eventually Christine McVie of Chicken Shack and Fleetwood Mac fame. Originally called The Bobcats they changed the name to The Rockin’ Berries in homage to their idol Chuck Berry.
Throughout the years the personnel of the band has undergone numerous changes though a constant has been maintained with original members Chuck Botfield and Geoff Turton still in the line up today.
During 1959 the first incarnation of the Berries was folding and a group being put together by singer Paul Hewitt and guitarist Doug Thompson who both worked at the Austin Motors along with drummer Terry Bond and bass guitarist Mark Johnson invited Chuck to join. Chuck agreed providing that the new group would also call themselves The Rockin’ Berries. Doug Thompson made a deal with the owners of the disused Palace Theatre in Redditch that The Rockin’ Berries would play there and keep the door takings in return for cleaning the place up. The arrangement proved so successful that the Rockin’ Berries played there regularly along with many other local groups.
In November 1961 the Rockin’ Berries, now featuring two singers with Jimmy Powell alongside Paul Hewitt, were offered bookings in Germany but Hewitt didn't want to go so Clive Lea, who had won the 'Elvis of the Midlands' contest joined the group as his replacement.
On returning from Germany, the band was auditioned by TV pop music promoter Jack Goode who was scouting for the Decca Record Company. The group failed to secure a contract but Goode showed interest in signing singer Jimmy Powell. The Berries returned for another engagement in Germany and were offered an extension to stay longer but the group was divided over the prospect. The outcome was that Doug Thompson, Dennis Ryland and Jimmy Powell returned to Birmingham leaving the others to carry on in Germany. Powell took up Jack Goode’s offer of a recording contract and became the first 'Brumbeat' recording star in 1962.
Needing a replacement vocalist Chuck Botfield remembered that his former school friend Geoff Turton was playing guitar in a group in Birmingham called the Swinging Chimes. When contacted Geoff agreed to join the Berries in Germany and it was soon discovered that Geoff also possessed a unique falsetto vocal style that was used by the group to their advantage when performing songs such as Frank Ifield’s I Remember You and Sherry by the Four Seasons. The group was unusual in that it had two lead vocalists in Clive Lea and Geoff Turton.
The long hours playing in the Hamburg clubs is where the Berries honed their comedy routine which was to become their hallmark. A trick learned from a host of Liverpool groups who also had to find a way of dragging out their repertoire.
Back home in Blighty the band was contacted by Decca Records who had been sent a demonstration tape and the Rockin’ Berries were signed up and went to London to record two singles, the second, Itty Bitty Pieces got them a TV appearance on Ready Steady Go! The publicity generated increased their following and the group refined their stage shows by introducing comedy which included impersonations from Clive Lea. After a year they dissolved their deal with Decca and were signed up to the Pye subsidiary Piccadilly by talent scout John Schroeder who also became their manager. Their first release, I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You featured Geoff Turton’s distinctive falsetto vocal which became a band trademark.
Playing at London’s Marquee Club The Rockin’ Berries were seen by American record producer Kim Fowley who was sufficiently impressed to decide that they should record a song written by famous composers Goffin & King called He’s In Town. The record was released as a single in October of 1964 and went to No. 3 in the charts.
Always Something There To Remind Me (appropriately) was number one at the time and I recall going up the town with my friend Dick Dighton who was drummer with Corby band The Zeros, to buy a single with our pocket money from Record Rendezvous. A weekly treat then! As was the way, that were many great records to choose from and we were undecided on which one we going to spend our 6/4d on. The Stones' Little Red Rooster was my choice and I still smile when I think of Dick asking the shop assistant Joyce for Um 6 by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. It was easier than trying to say Um Um Um Um Um Um! I think Joyce thought we were taking the pee at first! As a matter of fact, my friend at school at the time, Roy Hemmings who later became well known in Corby working for and then part owner of the town's leading hardware shop L.W. Hemmings, bought the Rockin' Berries record. I remember this because I swapped it for an Elvis record later on, my brother Robert's, who went crazy and wanted to batter me!
The 'Package' Tour was a regular gig in the 1960s and the Berries soon found themselves on the tour bus accompanied by Bill Haley and the Comets, Gene Pitney, Marianne Faithfull. Playing to packed audiences all round the country at the ABC and Granada cinemas.
The follow up to He's In Town, What In The World’s Come Over You was not quite as successful but the next single Poor Man’s Son featuring a lead vocal from Clive Lea again made the top ten in May of 1965. An album entitled In Town was released in 1964. The Rockin' Berries were signed up with the Capable Managements Agency, London who looked after the affairs of Irish hit makers Them, the Sorrows and Corby's Size Seven, who had released their own single Crying My Heart Out. Typically for the time, the Size Seven were booked for a 'photo shoot' for a pop magazine in London to boost their publicity. A task they found rather embarrassing. As guitarist Billy Geary recalled; "We were hanging from lampposts with people walking past thinking we were mental!"
As the hits became fewer, the Berries concentrated on a career in cabaret which included comedy routines featuring Clive Lea’s impersonations of Norman Wisdom and George Formby. By the time of the Rockin’ Berries last hit The Water Is Over My Head in 1966 the pop scene had changed and the era of the beat groups was over. The band was now one of the UK’s top cabaret acts and was heavily in demand for bookings all over the country. One of the more notable engagements for the group took place when they were invited to perform at 1967’s Royal Variety Performance attended by The Queen and Prince Phillip. The band also featured on Engelbert Humperdinck's winter 1967 tour and famously took over as top of the bill at the Portsmouth Guildhall when the velvet voiced one's vocal chords finally gave out. The Berries' mix of music and comedy went down well on the tour and they made new friends and secured some high prestige work.
In 1968 Geoff Turton left the band. Singer/impressionist Terry Webster joined the Rockin’ Berries in 1970 to replace Clive Lea who left to start a solo career as an impressionist and later joined local comedy group The Black Abbotts as the replacement for Russ Abbott. The remainder of The Rockin’ Berries continued to perform in cabaret as a music/comedy act although drummer Terry Bond later moved into management and was replaced by Keith Smart, previously from Roy Wood’s chart-topping group Wizzard.
Despite numerous other personnel changes which include Geoff Turton rejoining the band, The Rockin’ Berries along with another remaining original member Chuck Botfield still perform regularly across the UK and Europe as a four piece Comedy Show Band.
Completing the line up is Simon Ryland on drums who joined the band in 1998 after a five year stint with the 70's pop band Racey and Jay McGee who joined in 2000. Jay is responsible for many impressions, gags, vocals and general slapstick comedy.
The Rockin' Berries continue to be a popular attraction on the cabaret and nostalgia circuit to this day.
It Wasn't Strictly Sixties....Of Course......
It's everyone to their own generation they say. So as far as I'm concerned, the 1960s was undoubtedly the best time to be a teenager. Freedom to go where you want, do what you wanted, very little restraint. We weren't bogged down with Health and Safety, political correctness. We climbed trees without fear, made bogies out of old prams and raced down hills, swam in dangerous watering holes like the Clayholes, made bows and arrows, catapults. And most of us are still here! The 'baby boomers' were being liberated. National Service had been abolished for starters! Work was plentiful, cash in your pocket, fashion was exploding out of its cocoon, and we won't mention the Pill! The soundtrack to all this boomed out of the Jukebox. A wonderful innovation that filled the coffee bars and cafes with all the current top selling singles, the 45s. Magical time, a Magical Mystery Tour throughout the decade.
Rock and Roll was the catalyst for change in the music industry, as John Lennon said; 'Before Elvis there was nothing'. As we left the 1950s behind, Adam Faith was asking What Do You Want? the first number one of the decade. John Peel put it more succinctly, 'In 1960 British pop was in a critical condition. Rock and Roll had been given a suit and tie and invited on to the variety circuit.'
True, for a couple of years we had to put up with Anne Shelton and the Temperance Seven topping the charts but there was still the Everly Brothers, the Shadows and one hit wonders like John Leyton's Johnny Remember Me to thrill us. Aged 11 I can still remember sitting in the Crows Nest mesmerised by the jukebox. Eden Kane's Well I Ask You was echoing out of the machine. That's what music does to you. Well it used to! Back then we were given 2/- pocket money every week. Singles were 6/3d which meant you had to save up for a few weeks to buy a record. That two bob still had to stretch out to buy the Beano, a packet of Spangles and a gobstopper. Ask anyone of the 60s generation what was the first record they bought and they will tell you almost immediately. Mine was Why by Anthony Newley. Love struck at aged 10! Saved up for three weeks to get that! Must have been around my birthday also I reckon - a few extra shillings in my cards! Corby's record shop was originally called BBS, later Record Rendezvous, in the Market Square. A veritable wonderland with record booths along the wall to listen to a record before deciding if you wanted to buy it. Or if you couldn't make your mind up. During those pre Beatles days I had the pleasure for a quite a while, of going up the town every week with money from my mum to buy a record. Whilst dreaming of obtaining Bobby Vee's or Del Shannon's latest, I was instructed to get Ferranti and Teicher's Exodus, Shirley Bassey's latest offering. What a let down! It still gave me the chance to loiter around in Record Rendezvous though. Occasionally mum would go mad and purchase a record on a day out somewhere, to Peterborough to visit my sister Barbara, and buy an extra record, from Woolworths. Not the genuine article though, one of those cheap ones recorded by non descript artists on the Embassy label! Awful!! The odd excursion for myself during this barren time saw me include Emile Ford's Counting Teardrops to my collection before finally, with the help pf a paper round, I could buy what I wanted. I recall my mind being in turmoil over whether to get Billy J. Kramer's Do You Want To Know A Secret, or the Searchers Sweets For My Sweet. In the end I bought them both. Of course it was the arrival of the Beatles that changed everything. Attitudes, fashion, music. Opened up a whole new world. And we never looked back.
45s are like a time machine, instantly transporting you back to a moment buried in your memory. Even the record labels had their own identity, Parlophone was green, Decca was orange, blue and white, Pye was pink. Extra care was taken to look after them, careful they didn't get torn, or even worse, the record itself getting scratched. Not everyone was as mad as most of us it has to be said. My best pal John 'Wilf' Wilson irritated me relentlessly. Having lent him a Simon and Garfunkel album one time, I was enraged when I went round for him one night, and saw his dog lying all over the record in front of the fire! The cover and inner sleeve were both missing as well. I went bananas! What did Wilf say? 'You're panicking' - a flippant throwaway remark we used to often say to each other at the time!
Suffice to say the blighter never borrowed another record off me.
Music played a massive part in our lives, inspiring many of us to form our own bands, not me; I couldn't and still can't play a note on a guitar, piano, mouth organ. Not for the want of trying though. It was said in the 60s that Corby had more beat groups than any other town of equivalent size than any other in the country. The names trip off the tongue. The Hepcats, Size Seven, Midnighters, Crusaders, Strangers, Drumbeats, the Formula, Phantoms, Electrons, Invaders, Rising Sons, Friction, Pacifics. That only covers the first half of the decade.
Record collecting became irresistable, record racks essential, bands would learn their songs by stopping and starting the needle during practise sessions. Painstaking but great fun it must have been. It all bred a lifelong passion. None more so than for Bip Wetherell who began life as a vocalist with the Pacifics, later the Friction, Rhubarb Tree, Granite, Tornados, White Plains. He's still going strong, as you will see tonight, fronting the Telstars.
Everyone to their own generation I was told when complaining one night on the door at a Corby Rugby Club disco in the late 70s. Punk music had come along and smacked us all in the mouth. I thought it was garbage. It couldn't compare to our time, could it?