1975 Wish You Were Here
"You'll be back!” The words of foreman Andy Sneddon back in 1970 returned to haunt me and my pal Ted Foster in January 1975. I was back in the 'Works', not the C.W. Mills this time but the EWSR. It felt like I'd been re-captured after five years on the run. This January morning I found myself trudging depressingly down the familiar trek of Occupation Road. The gravitational pull of the steelworks was dragging me back in.
‘Occy’ Road is one of the oldest streets in Corby, named after a farm of the same name that was situated around the Tanfields Road area. In the early 1950s it was alive with a buzz of activity, an abundance of shops and amenities. Perks Grocers, the Co-Op, Cory’s newsagents, Allan’s the bakers, a cobblers, coal merchant, the Mobil Garage, hairdressers, Charles' Off Licence. Three schools; Our Lady’s Catholic, Rockingham Road Juniors and Samuel Lloyds Seniors. Corby Town Football Club took up residence in 1948 opposite the Corby Sea Cadets Hall. Stewarts and Lloyds Welfare Club was the entertainment centre for decades. McCartney could have based his Penny Lane on Occy Road! By the mid 1970s little had changed. The cobblers and coal merchant had long gone but it was pretty much the same, how many times had thousands travelled down this route on their way to the steelworks? The pungent stench of dirt, dust and steam invading the nostrils with every step.
Occy Road has been like a bloodline throughout my life. Since my earliest memory of being dragged down there to start school at Rockingham Road Infants. My formative years spent going back and for to the Corby Boys School, a brief affair with the 3rd Corby Cubs in the old St Columba Church, taking this route to the steelworks and tubeworks in my teens, not to mention the twenty years or so traipsing down this avenue as a dedicated Corby Town supporter. Now as I looked up there was a huge lighthouse type chimney stack at the very end of Occy Road. At least that was what it looked like. In fact it was an ugly big concrete tower overlooking the Stephenson’s Way estate from the steelworks Sinter Plant beyond. Beckoning one forth. It seemed to be saying; ‘this way!’
Thought I’d seen the last of all this.
Occupation Road. An aorta feeding the steelworks. What I didn't realise was that it was heading for a coronary.
The intervening five years had been fun, working on building sites, and best of all, working behind the bar of the Open Hearth. The pubs in Corby were busy back then, all had their characters and the Hearth was no different. Landlord Alan Smith asked me to become full time bar and cellar man in 1972, I had already been working part time there since I'd left the CW in 1970 and was well acquainted with the 'regulars', the 'bread and butter' merchants of the trade, the bar crowd. Insults and complaints were part and parcel of the job. Serving pints of beer and 'a hof and a hof' to ageing and miserable domino players during lunch time sessions and being told 'you wouldn't last five minutes in Aberdeen' by 75 year old Willie McHattie was all part of the experience. I took it all with a pinch of salt and gave as good as I got back. Thick skin was an advantage. Craggy Glaswegian John Ogilvie scowled with a look that would drop you down dead if the head on his pint was too big. "You could put a whiskey in that!" he'd rasp, refusing to move until it was topped up to the brim. Joe Gallagher, a diminutive veteran with a dry sense of humour would look at his similarly laden pint with equal disdain, "have you got a tie to go with the collar?" Appeasing others by serving up a pint with no head received equal abuse, "put a head on that big yin! It looks likes maiden's water!" I enjoyed every minute of it though, the banter and crack was brilliant.
The times they were a-changing though. The previous eighteen months had become a struggle in the Hearth. Punters had grown bored with the weekend cabaret and had moved elsewhere for their entertainment. The Shire Horse, Nags Head, Maple Leaf, Candle, Raven had all jumped on the bandwagon and started live music and discos to challenge the Hearth for it's status as number one venue in town. Alan had been forced down the soul-destroying road of the 'Free and Easy' night. The death knell sounding with the Saturday Night offering; ‘Singalong with Tam on the organ’. The final nail in the coffin. Alan called it a day and finished in June, later admitting; "the time was right to get out, I was flogging a dead horse in the end." Truth was, I too had grown bored with the routine of bar work and was looking to 'settle down' and move on with my girlfriend Sue Beaver. Moving into our first home in Steyning Close a 'steady and reliable job' was the requisite. An uncomfortable thought that held little desire. Factory life had no appeal, nor did the uncertainty of a building site. So it was that the EWSR was my next port. A 'plum job', apparently, as a tube inspector, thanks to 'a word in the right ear' from former tube works manager and fellow barman at the Hearth, Barry Priddy to the Inspection manager Mr. Pell. ‘Plum’ or not, the prospect of returning to the grime, noise and 'double decker egg and bacon toasties' in the far from salubrious canteens, not to mention working three shifts again, filled me with remorse. The thought gnawed away at me - 'is this it?', 'for the next 25 years?'
Ted Foster and I had since gone our different ways after a spell on the sites, last I heard he was working for contractors steel fixing. Hunched over a mug of tea and newspaper early one dayshift, a voice interrupted my train of thought; "excuse me pal, can you point me in the direction of the foreman’s office?” There was something unerringly familiar about that voice. Looking up from page three of The Sun, I was astonished to see Ted looking down on me. “Aw no!” Ted blurted in disbelief. Both of us cracked up, shared a few expletives even though it was good to see each other again. It turned out that he too was rather less than enamoured at being back in the 'works'. Five years of touring the building sites, spells with Shanks' and Pearce's contractors in the steelworks and a brief stint working in Holland - and Ted was back with his old mate in the Tubeworks! Pink Floyd released their classic album Wish You Were Here! in 1975. The irony was not lost on either of us! Contemplating a future of 25 years in the EWSR inspired as much enthusiasm in Ted as it did for me. As it transpired though, by the end of the decade, both of us would be out of the 'Works'. And so would around 5,000 others.
Police reported one of the busiest Hogmanys on record in Corby, the worst incident being a brawl which ended with two shop windows in the town centre smashed. Several people were arrested and spent the night in the cells. One was a yuletide regular as Police Constable Taff Skinner explained; "Davy Collins was a character who was often found sleeping on the bus station benches. He threw a brick through the Co-op window every Christmas, then wait to be lifted and taken to Bedford nick. Davy liked his Christmas pud as much as the next man. One year when he didn't show up at Bedford, they actually phoned Corby Police Station to find out where he was!"
Davy once thanked Corby magistrates for giving him a three month prison sentence when he was charged with malicious damage to a police station window. It was reported that Davy had entered the police station at 11.20pm on a Friday night and laid down on the floor. He was thrown out after refusing to leave but returned and was ejected a second time, kicking a large plate glass window in as he left. Inspector Corner in attendance added that Collins had a 'formidable record' including convictions for begging, larceny and drunkenness.
Pleading guilty, the Magistrates Chairman Mr. W.T.Montgomery told him "You'll have to spend the next three months in prison", to which Collins replied; "Thank you sir, thank you very much."
Corby's New Year shenanigans were received with curled eyebrows around the county. Judge Nancy Wilkins at Northampton Crown Court condemned Corby as a town 'not conducive to respectable living,' adding, 'Corby has the biggest beer consumption in the country I am told.'
This assumption followed the prosecution of a man for assault on another youth in the town and had revealed, "I don't feel I've had a good time unless I've spent half my weeks wages in a night's drinking," He was fined £110 for his trouble. In defence of the town, Civic leader Kelvin Glendenning retorted; "I can't believe Miss Wilkins has any first hand knowledge of Corby. We would be delighted to welcome her as a guest for a day and let her judge for herself what the town has to offer. Corby has the best living environment in the county in terms of quality housing, cultural and recreational facilities. No other town in the country can match our modern town centre, festival halls complex and sport amenities."
The New Year was greeted with news of TV license fees going up. The cost of watching colour TV increased from £6 to £18 whilst those still with a black and white set, the increase was slightly more moderate, £1 to £7. This despite many complaining, was value for money if only for watching Motel Chief Meg Richardson getting married to John Bentley in Crossroads this year. Two classic shows to debut this year were The Sweeney and Fawlty Towers.
The cost of posting a letter also went up; First class from 4 1/2p to 7p, second class from 3 1/2p to 5p. The 'sweeping increases' explained apologetically by the Post Office Chairman, Sir William Ryland, 'they still fall short of what is necessary to get us out of the red.'
Pay rises of 74% for hospital workers, 35% for the miners - prompting the Coal Board to announce that the price of coal would also rise by 30% - saw inflation reaching 21%, Electricity followed on the upward spiral, rising by a record 33%. When rail workers demanded an increase of 33% it confirmed Chancellor Denis Healey’s forecast that 'higher wage claims would see higher unemployment' prove to be correct.
In the light of the financial crisis consuming the country it came as no surprise when the Labour government announced its intentions to abandon plans to build the Channel tunnel, 'due to rising world oil prices'. The tunnel had been talked about as far back as the 1880s when construction had actually begun in France, near Calais and in between Dover and Folkestone on Britain's side. At the time British Generals didn't trust the French and feared an invasion which prompted the construction company to suggest they have a soldier permanently on guard to 'pull the plug and blow the tunnel up' if the invasion came to fruition. At that point the French pulled their plug on the operation. Nearly a century later, the umbilical chord between Britain and the rest of Europe was still a quarter of a century away from completion.
The Conservative Party meantime was in a state of transition following two disastrous election campaigns. The emergence of 50 year old Finchley MP Margaret Thatcher forced Ted Heath to resign as leader when she trounced him in the first round of the leadership race with 130 votes to his 119. She became the first woman to head a British political party after a landslide victory over the other four male candidates. Mrs Thatcher - who served as Secretary of State for Science and Education in Heath's Government - was exultant, proclaiming "It's like a dream."
Edward du Cann, Chairman of the 1922 Backbench Committee told BBC Television: "We have a new and rather exciting leader. Mrs Thatcher will make the Tory Party distinctive."
Escaping the uncertainty in the country was Roger 'Jonah' Johnson and his family who decided to embark on a new life in Australia. Jonah recalled the reception and their first impressions when home in Corby during 2009; "We arrived in Sydney and made our way with a host of others to a place called Narellan. We were given directions to find the housing office, a medical centre to have x-rays done etc and then the dole office. If you were Greek, a Yugoslav or Italian or something, they arranged for a bus to take you around. Because we Brits could read the language we had to make our own way to these establishments. We were promised a council house when we got there, yet to my amazement, there was still some grumbling, 'putting us on an effing council estate!' I couldn't believe it. The guy behind the desk at the dole office asked me what I could do and I told him I was a plasterer. 'Can you plaster swimming pools?' he asked me. 'I'll plaster anything' I said.
I later moved from Sydney to Perth, packing most of our gear into a motor and telling my wife Sylvia that when I had a house sorted she should follow me over by train, which I figured would be less hazardous and more scenic if nothing else. The Indian Pacific Railway advertised; 'gives you two oceans on one of the worlds longest and greatest train journeys. Most of your cruising will be across the vast continent of Australia. From the spectacular Blue Mountains to the treeless plains of The Nullarbor, where the train travels the world's longest straight stretch of railway track (478 kilometres), see unique landscapes unfold and spot a fascinating array of wildlife from the comfort of the lounge or your cabin.' When the time came for Sylvia and the boys Darren and Gary, to leave, Sylvia ordered a taxi and started to take out the suitcases. 'Whoa!' the driver said, 'I can't take that lot'. 'You'll have to' Sylvia said. After some arguing, he took her to the station, which was about fifty miles away, in the middle of nowhere! The station was like something out of the Wild West. They were dumped, at an outpost which was basically a railway line and a tiny wooden platform, to wait for the train. It was pitch black. Sylvia said she could hardly see the ground they were standing on. The two kids were tethered together by a belt and hung on to her while she lit a cigarette lighter to see if she could find the rails! The train eventually turned up, a distant light emerging out of the darkness, and they all had to jump up and down to catch the driver's attention. It must have been a nightmare! As was the journey I guess - it took 75 hours!'
'My first job was working alongside a gang of Australians who were building a swimming pool at a private house in Perth. The heat was unbelievable. I hadn't experienced temperatures like that before. By dinnertime it had become so hot we stopped working and took a break sitting beneath a window in the shade. I was so exhausted I just lay prostrate on the ground listening to these Aussie blokes talking amongst themselves. The first thing that struck me was that their conversation was liberally sprinkled with bad language; it just seemed natural to them! Suddenly, and I was quick to learn, rudely in their opinion, they were interrupted by a banging on the window just above our heads. Next thing, a guy comes out of the house and informs us that his wife has complained to him about our abuse of the Queen's English, 'she can hear every word you're saying, can you please tone the language down?' Momentarily stunned, the Aussies looked at one another as if to say 'women complaining about bad language?' Shortly afterwards the gaffer returned and an indignant worker informed him; 'gaffer, the Sheila in this house has been complaining about our language.' He went straight over to the door and banged it. The feller opened it and was told in no uncertain terms, 'will you tell that Sheila of yours to stop eavesdropping on my boys' conversation!' I thought to myself, 'welcome to Australia!"
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 during the summer of 1974. Coyne 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. Rick recalled: “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. We concentrated on getting blotto before managing to get in about an hour of rehearsal at the end of the night."
John Mayall had a reputation for being a renowned hard taskmaster but Rick's main memory of Mayall was that he couldn’t speak a word of French, "watching him trying to order 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 unceremoniously sacked as Virgin (Coyne's Record Label) wanted to 'commercialise' the band. Rick was a really good sax player and had a bizarre sense of humour. I remember two things in particular. On tour in Holland or Belgium, sitting in a restaurant and Rick placing a pizza on his head like a beret, with one little olive sitting in the middle. He 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 urinate 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. It never affected his playing though which was always passionate and full of fire.
Rick; "Gordon Smith was a bit of an oddball. He was a familiar face around the jaunts of London as a busker before he joined Kevin Coyne. 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 could ask him if he was okay and he would just sit there and nod his head with a big grin across his face! 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 that life in a rock band is glamorous and to a certain extent it is but when you consider that most 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 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 and asked him if he'd give me a hand to get my horn out, which with hindsight wasn't the brightest thing to say!"
Rick's old friend from the New Formula days, singer Mick Harper was fronting Corby's popular band, Auction and breaking all audience records during a summer season at Pontins Holiday Village, Southsea. Mick’s first solo record I’m Crying, on the EMI label was released simultaneously, prompting the band's manager Gordon Varley to espouse; ‘I'm very pleased for Mick. This is a big step for both him and the band and I hope it will mean more top class bookings for them’. A bright future was predicted but unfortunately for Mick and the boys, the summer was to end in acrimony, as revealed by rhythm guitarist Derek Cowie; "Joining up with Mick to form Auction was probably the best time of my life music wise. We supported top line acts like American country star Waylon Jennings at a U.S.Air Base. Conversely, a six week weekend residency at the Heathrow Hotel where we had to doss in a dressing room wasn't so great. By the third week we were really tired of it and then one night a security guard with the name tag Crosby pinned to his lapel knocked on our door at 3am, and asked us gruffly what we were doing there! Before telling us to get out. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. Mick jumped up and startled the guy; "Look Bing, either give us a song or f--- off!" Next morning Bing was back again and Billy Mathieson gave him some verbal. That was it. We got the sack!
The Pontins gig was scheduled to run for around five months but came to a premature end when Mick's record I'm Crying was due for release. We had already agreed beforehand that if opportunities came along for television or radio work, we were all in this together, we would go as a band but Mick told us he didn't agree and intimated that we were surplus to requirements if such an occasion should arrive. It did cause an upset and talk of unrest within the band was soon resounding around the camp. There was a buzz that something was going on. Pre-empting Mick's departure, and no one could deny him the opportunity to make a go of something he had craved for longer than the rest of us, we decided to recruit a Bluecoat called Perry, who was also a great impressionist, to replace him. Mick was stunned. Our hand had been forced, we had to do something as there was the possibility that our contract might have been cancelled and we'd have lost out on everything! Perry was a scouser, a right wag as you'd expect from Liverpool. He came back to Corby with us and we rolled on with a name change to Steps. This originated from the Pontins camp when we used to watch Perry carrying arm fulls of trays up the steps into the Ballroom and inevitably, when he reached the top, he always managed to stumble and come crashing back down with the trays spilling everywhere. It was hilarious. We'd be waiting for it to happen and crease up every time. All the old dears sitting around their tables very nearly had heart attacks at the noise!"
Former Size Seven drummer Ian Murray had joined an outfit called Big John’s Rock ‘n Roll Circus; "The band started a little uncertainly in July 1975, the brainchild of Johnny Goodison who had risen to prominence with The Brotherhood of Man and written hits for Mud and Bay City Rollers. He selected six musicians, all of whom were previously known to him with the exception of me.
John Tebb from Lincoln had left the Casuals to pursue a solo singer-songwriter career and had spent a lot of time in the studio with John recording jingles and voice-overs for other bands. Gordon Smith from Edinburgh had been in London since the mid sixties and worked for several bands including a spell with a young Phil Collins in a group called Flaming Youth. Howie Casey from Liverpool was already a veteran sax player and a member of the ‘A’ list musicians on the London studio circuit. Mike Gregory from Liverpool had helped form the 60’s group The Escorts and then joined the Swinging Blue Jeans before working for Big John on the original Circus concept album in 1974. Geoff Workman, also from Liverpool was B. J’s resident studio engineer as well as being an accomplished pianist.
The Circus very much reflected B. J’s sense of humour – the laughs we had during the two week rehearsal to put the show together persisted right to the end… fifteen years later – and his high standards of musicianship. Basically, it was a cabaret-review of Rock & Roll from Elvis to the Beach Boys packed into two one-hour shows complete with fireworks, smoke bombs and dancing ‘girls’. The aforementioned uncertainty was caused by the last-minute cancellation of a six-week tour of South Africa which was actually the raison d’etre of putting the whole thing together. However, Johnny contacted the Baileys organisation and secured a series of one-week-stands around the UK starting at Baileys Leicester. We brought the house down on our first night (almost literally as a firework gag went dangerously wrong) and had a standing ovation from an audience that on the final Saturday night, included the members of Showaddywaddy who came in to see the show and stole half our repertoire.
It was the mid-seventies and the Baileys circuit, along with several other night clubs up and down the country, spoiled us with the luxury of one-week residencies; one week in a Hotel, one set-up and break-down of equipment per week, playing late and sleeping late – it was a luxury that couldn’t last ! While playing at Baileys in Liverpool, Howie got the call from Paul McCartney and left to join Wings for their World Tour. It wasn’t totally unexpected because he had done all the sessions for the ‘Band on the Run’ album and Macca’s solo star was in the ascendant.
We had already experimented with trips to ‘The Continent’ as it was laughingly known then; Amsterdam was a favourite gig, again, one week residencies at a club deep in the red-light-district. The hotel, well within “staggering distance” was open all hours and round the bar at three in the morning one could always get a joint, a beer and a good laugh with the working girls who had just come off duty.
We were, at the time, using an agent from Newcastle to organise our gigs in the UK and he had connections to an agent in Germany who could line up some work for the American Bases there. They were planned as strategically as any military operation; start in the Eiffel area of North West Germany (reached easily from Oostend, through Brussels and Luxembourg), there were the three fighter bases Bitburg, Spangdahlem and Hahn that took care of the first weekend. Mid-week gigs were usually for the officers clubs and were mostly bereft of audience and uninspiring but again, they paid well. So we travelled around what was then West Germany entertaining ‘The Cousins’. Bitburg and Spang’ got us to Hahn then Rhein-Main Air Base and Wiesbaden, from there we went south to Zweibrucken, Sembach, Ramstein and then down into deepest Bavaria; Bad Tölz and even as far as Bad Aibligen almost on the Austrian border. On the return trip we could always pick up an NCO club or two that we hadn’t played on the way down.
Apart from being stopped on the Autobahn by nervous German police and lined up for passport checks while being covered by a semi-automatic pistol (this was in the middle of the Red Army Faction terrorist movement in Germany at the time), we began to meet with German civilians who enjoyed our music and wanted to book us into local clubs around the Frankfurt area. Now this gave us the possibility to work during the week for Discos and Night Clubs while still retaining the Military gigs on the weekend. The down side of all this was of course, that we ended up working a six-week tour of Europe almost without a break, which began to take it’s toll. In August of 1978, during just such a hectic tour, Big John Goodison had a heart attack which meant a six-week stay in a Frankfurt hospital and put and end to his live performances. Overnight we were reduced to a five-piece and Murray’s singing career began (!).
British Steel chief Monty Finniston, who only a matter of months before had professed that 'the future of Corby is safe and exciting' appeared to backtrack with the release of a statement; 'Britain's six major steel centres are to be concentrated in Scotland, Port Talbot, Llanwern, Scunthorpe, Teeside and Sheffield.' Union official Frank Smyth, chairman of Joint Branches committee of the Iron and Steel Corporation said that though the statement failed to differentiate between steel production and other sections of the industry, it was hopeful that the Corby steelworks was still going to be a viable project at the turn of the century. He admitted that though the steel production into the 1980s was not secure, the future of the Corby Tubes division in the long term is bright. It is the biggest in Britain and could be the biggest in Europe. Reaction to Finniston's statement that the BSC were losing £3 million a week and the workforce should ideally be trimmed to 50,000 and Bob Scholey's, (BSC Chief Executive), prediction that 'losses could reach £375 million a year unless stringent economies were made' was swift. John Cowling, member of National Executive of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation warned, "Fears for job safety could lead to the first national steel strike since 1926. In the past we have believed in the force of argument, not argument with force. But if BSC want to pursue the issue we will have no alternative but to use every means of persuasion possible." With the steel industry running at £1million losses day, drastic solutions to reduce the following years' wages bill of £145 million had to be found. Bob Scholey; 'To prevent BSC borrowing to pay its workers, decisions are bound to mean redundancies, virtually no overtime, and the probability of stopping the guaranteed working week. But although the national position is bleak, the position at Corby's giant iron and steel tube making plant is distinctly brighter despite a fall in orders from the building industry'.
But union leaders were warned; 'Co-operate in a £45 million expansion scheme or the local industry will die.' Failure to meet the proposal of the enlargement of No 1 Furnace to the same size as No 3 was outlined, 'as this would jeopardize the future of Corby.' The caution referred to the crisis situation which developed at Corby Works in 1973 over the rebuilding of the No 3 Furnace. At the time, work was stopped at a critical stage when management ran into trouble with craft unions over a bonus dispute. Trouble escalated and almost ended with the closure of the Works.
Sir Geoffrey DeFreitas attempted to allay fears by adding; 'Corby is bedeviled by people who cry havoc when in fact we are extremely fortunate in the workers, the work and the BSC product.'
Life continued as normal as could be in the steelworks despite the continual threat to its future. George Bradshaw worked on the steelside in one of the most unwelcome environments, the Soaking Pits, underground coke oven gas heated chambers where ingots were left to soak to ensure their temperature would be uniform throughout before they were rolled in the 'Big' Mill. George; "You had to be 21 before you did that job. It was man's work! The pits were cleaned maybe twice a week; they were left to cool for two days but were still white hot. You’d descend into the twelve feet deep pits by ladder, armed with jackhammers to drill and gouge away the hardened scale from the floor and walls. It was heavy work in uncompromising conditions. The heat was intense, after ten minutes the wooden planks you stood on caught fire while you were working and you had to get out! Health and Safety? No such thing then. No helmet or hard hat, no goggles. Your work boots and overalls was the only protection. It was a filthy horrible job but the money was good!"
Whilst the future of steel was topical, the prospect of an oil boom for Britain was slowly unfolding. Giant oil and gas fields discovered under the North Sea off the northern coast of Scotland in 1969 promised to 'have a dramatic impact on both the British economy and the culture of North East Scotland'. By the mid-Seventies, Scotland and the Shetland Islands were gripped with oil fever. Aberdeen was becoming a 'boom' town. Everyone wanted a slice of the action. The government sought to make the most of the oil rush and on June 18, 1975, energy minister Tony Benn stepped aboard a hydrofoil at Tower Pier in the heart of London to be whisked down river to BP’s Isle of Grain refinery in the Thames Estuary. The occasion was the arrival of the first North Sea oil ashore, the first taste of the black gold that was to raise so many hopes and change the way of life for so many. It came from the Argyll field in the North Sea, 290km east of the Farne Islands, Northumberland. As he witnessed the first oil being pumped ashore, Benn held up a bottle of crude oil and declared, “I hold the future of Britain in my hand.” During the previous year’s two General Elections, the Scottish National Party coined the slogan “It’s Scotland’s oil” and in 1975 secured its best ever representation, with eleven MPs. Harold Wilson's government realised the oil being pumped from the Argyll field represented a huge turning point in the nation’s economic fortunes. The oil boom brought new jobs, new money, new opportunities and oil workers from around the world. The lure of big money working for the rapidly expanding oil industry in the north east of Scotland proved an irresistible temptation for Scottish expatriates, many of whom had left their homeland in search for work south of the border in years gone by. In many cases it was the second generation of Scots who returned to Scotland. Offshore operators were looking for craftsmen and skilled oilrig workers who could be expected to earn at least £100 a week. But the men would have to sweat for their money, working shifts on the basis of seven days on and seven days off and being on call 24 hours a day. However, the oil boom was not a fairy tale story of instant jobs and instant housing. Like Corby in the immediate post war years there was a chronic shortage of housing in the Aberdeen area. Not surprisingly, the number of inquiries for jobs in the oil business from Corby was well above the national average as an employment officer from Aberdeen revealed; "At one time when there were no jobs here we used to export people to Corby, but now the work's here they want to come back."
Festival starved rock fans in Corby were given a treat in September with a marquee event up at the headquarters of Corby Rugby Club on the Rockingham Triangle. Instigated by the club's resident DJ and rugby player Alan Wetherell and aided by club members Aivors Zakss, Roger Clark and Rob Purdie, the weekend was a huge success. Rob pulled of a coup by enlisting his friend Franny Lagan to help with the organisation. Franny was on his way to becoming one of the town's leading entrepreneurs over the next decade, organising gigs and trips to festivals all over Britain. Born in Coleraine N. Ireland, 1952, Fran left School (Pope John) in 1969 with 4 O Levels and confessed; "I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do. I was supposed to be doing my A levels but I just got more and more bored with it which didn't go unnoticed by my teacher. That's when I decided to jack it in and look for a job. I wasn’t interested in being a welder or fitter, more a white collar worker. I tried for three, one of which was a trainee manager at the Fine Fare supermarket in Corporation Street. Somehow though that didn't feel right, I thought I’d probably spend half my time as a glorified shelf stacker. I ended up taking an office job at the Cold Draw Plant (CDS), in the Tubeworks. That was a good little number and became even better when my gaffer, a Welshman called Ron Lyden, called me and said 'I've got just the job for you.' He realised I was good with figures and thus gave me a job sorting out percentage sheets and such things. It also gave me plenty of free time and inadvertently led me to a career path I hadn't visualised. Coming up to that Christmas, Ron asked me if I would be interested in organizing a festive bash for everybody in the CDS. I thought I’d give it a go and the first person I contacted was my friend Tom Howarth who apart from being a DJ with his own disco was also involved with the Hamblin’s set up at Corby Bowl, which obviously incorporated the Exclusive Club, the forerunner to Shafts. 'Do you think you’ll get enough people to fill the club?' Tom asked. I was confident, 'watch me,' I told him. Back at work, I began to phone up everybody I knew who worked in offices all around the works. Tickets were a modest 10p and leading up to the big night, the phone was red hot as more and more people heard about it and wanted to go. It was a great success and sparked off my interest in an entrepreneurial career.
I was asked to help in the ‘marquee’ gig at Corby Rugby Club by Rob Purdie and Aivors Zakss, both keen and enthusiastic members of the rugby team. Rob asked me if I could sort the tickets out, which were priced at the princely sum of 30p, and I printed them off on a cheap printing machine, which with hindsight, anybody could have copied with ease. Rob couldn't believe it when I showed them to him. 'Is that it?’ They were good enough though. The marquee itself was organised by the club's entertainments chief, a guy called Roger Clark. No idea how much or how, but apparently he was known affectionately at the club as Roger the Dodger!"
A fact that club captain Bob Smith concurred with. "We also called him the silver fox. He'd done the rounds at Rugby Clubs, involved at various times with Kettering RFC and Kibworth RFC, as a player and entertainments manager. An effervescent character, Roger liked to emit he was in control and at the hub of all that was happening off the pitch. Sadly, for whatever reason, he left the club under a cloud."
Searching for a good title for the Bank Holiday gig, Franny later admitted he stole the name, Midsummer from the Wembley Stadium gig of same name featuring the Beach Boys and Elton John on June 21st. "Though the local bands, Stutz, Auction, Harry Garter and so on could hardly replicate Elton John and the Beach Boys, interest in the gig intensified once we got our teeth into the promotion. I spent days handing out flyers to everybody that happened to be passing through the Town Centre. 'Give one to your friends, take them to work', that was besides me telephoning everybody at work and sticking flyers all round the Works and the town. It worked. I sold around 330 on my own. They reckon that nearly a thousand turned up!"
Bob Smith helped out on the day; "What I remember is that we worked our socks off behind the bar, it was bedlam. Tenant’s lager, we sold them by the sleeve, 24 cans in a pack. It was crazy! Next day during the clean up, the hedgerow along Rocky Road was awash with empty yellow and blue cans, millions of them!"
Franny; "There was only one scuffle as well. Surprising for Corby! Danny Quinn, a well known likable character with a disposition for enjoying a scrap, stuck one on a guy called Dave Green for no apparent reason. Dave was clean out but nobody made a fuss about it. That was Danny! Thing was he always had a smile on his face, though that was the sign to beware of him I guess!"
The festival was recalled by singer Pat Lavin of Harry Garter's Elastic Band; "It was a hot day and I'd suggested to the rest of the band that we should wear shorts, just to be different. We decided to start with Ian Hunter's Once Bitten Twice Shy and I walked up to the mic and said 'Ello!' which was Hunter's trademark. The crowd, who'd been drinking all afternoon, instantly pelted us with beer cans and took the piss! We had to take cover. It was all a bit of fun, nobody got hurt. In fact, everybody thought it was a great laugh! I dived off the stage at the end, right into the crowd. Years later everybody was doing it!"
Pat and his band were often courting controversy and they were in the headlines again following a Lodge Park School Leaving Party. Headmaster Mr. Rumbelow thought they were disgusting, lurid and promoting sex. Years later Pat met a girl up the town centre who reminded him about the dance, 'I remember that night,' she said, 'it was brilliant!'
Pat;" We played regularly at The Flying Fox in Lutterworth, a bikers pub. This was arranged by our keyboard player Pete Dyne. They thought we were a right bunch of queers! We had all the mod gear on. They always gave us a good shout though."
Pete, a self confessed 'rocker'; "I was right into that scene, had the bike, the gear. The Fox was great hang out which our gang used to frequent regular. I booked the band in and Pat nearly wet himself when he saw the punters. There was a hall up these narrow stairs and once you were up there, there was no other way out. Never thought of the fire hazard when I think about it! A ritual these Lutterworth rockers had was at the end of the night they formed a circle, like a huddle, and started jumping up and down on the dance floor, which would vibrate and looked as if it was ready to cave in at any moment. Course it never did but the first time you experienced it, it was pretty scary. The people in the bar underneath must have been sceptical though!"
Harry Garter and His Elastic Band apart, a report by the Clothing Manufacturers Federation of Britain was scathing on the attitudes of the male half of the population. 'Our sloppy dress styles make the British the worst dressed men in Europe. The British male once prided himself as the Peacock of Europe but is now falling way behind his rivals in the world sartorial league.' The extensive Federation report concluded that on average, a British male spent 74p a week on suits, jackets, slacks etc. whilst the average German spent six times as much and as a result, 'is usually immaculately turned out.' This probably explains the decline and disappearance of so many men’s outfitters from the High Street down the years. In Corby, the Town Centre once boasted an array of shops, which included George Allan, Heyworth’s, Burtons, Abington’s, Roadnights, Millets and John Collier. Only Allan's remained into the millennium. If this was typical of the average urban town, the Federation could have had a point!
Clive Smith was now well ensconced in the EWSR, working alongside recognisable faces including the former Southampton and Cardiff City footballer Norman 'Dixie' Dean, ex Leofric drummer Charlie MacFadyen and John Shaw, a character affectionately nicknamed Jaws after the infamous shark from this year's biggest blockbusting film of the same name. However, starting on the bottom rung, measuring tailpieces of steel strip cut off from the coils at the back end of Number One Mill with a micrometer and recording them for posterity on a sheet of paper was the most tortuous and mundane job imaginable. 'Does anyone look at these reams of figures?' I constantly wondered. 'Doubt it' I answered himself. Left adrift with a micrometer and a pen for doodling gave plenty of time for deep thought. The production men on the Mill kept themselves to themselves, not that there was much time and peace to strike up a conversation. The din didn't allow it anyway. I found myself daydreaming, tales of horrific accidents and fatalities in the Works were legion, even if some were grossly exaggerated. One that grew into mythical proportions was the story about a worker who fell into a ladle of molten metal, and his dad, who was also on site, did the merciful act by pushing his head under! This was a tale vehemently disputed by brickie John Crawley who remembers an incident whilst working 'on the front side’ in the Blast Furnaces. "That story was a right load of cobblers." John said, "I worked with a Kettering bloke called Tony Ventura, who was a real nutter! We were talking one day about all the accidents in the Works and I told Tony this tale about the poor lad who fell into a ladle. He laughed out loud. Then repeated what I had said, 'what a load of bollocks!' Tony then said to me, 'watch this' and picked up a cat that just happened to be wandering by, there were millions of cats in the Works, all dirty, mangy looking things. Tony threw the cat towards a nearby ladle - and before it got anywhere near it, the moggy exploded!" Myth or not, many men died in the Works. Run down by trains, falling off chimneystacks, electrocuted, burnt. Many died of boredom. Looking at a long stretch ahead of him, a nice pun he mused, stretch as in Electric Weld Stretch Resistant (EWSR), Clive was already looking for a way out. Irritated by a diminutive foreman nicknamed Budgie: "He was always flitting around, flapping", respite to a degree came when he was transferred to a job on the 6" Mill, with a regular working two shift pattern which meant he escaped Budgie every other week. "That was a good crack while it lasted, around two years, working with a squad of great characters. Crane driver Alex Frew, who greeted everybody at the start of a shift with 'Hows yer baws!' On the last nightshift, Alex would come in straight from the Rangers Club, half canned and climb the ladder to his crane - and sleep all night! All you could see were his feet sticking out over the edge of the cab. Weird thing was the foreman and chargehand would just leave him alone!
Ian Eccles, vice chairman of the the Lodge Park Tenants Association quit his post in August with a blistering attack on Corby Council and the public, calling them gutless and ingrained with apathy. Ian's outburst followed the association’s victory in the High Court over the council concerning the Lands Compensation Act. "You must think of the national importance of what we have done,” said Eccles, "We have set a precedent right across the country. We won compensation for a lot of people on the estate. The Association spent over £2,500 in taking the case to court but were not getting anything for it. It was only the pigheadedness of the Council that meant ratepayers in Corby were going to foot the bill for what we had done. I spent a lot of time and money working for those people. There were only ever a handful of us doing all the work. I've had enough. Corby councillors were just not in touch with the ordinary working class people of Corby."
Talking in 2009 Eccles was still aggrieved; "The Land Compensation Act concerned all those little white bungalows around Studfall School. Temporary housing after the war. The Government gave money to Councils to build new properties for old folk and factored in a proportion for compensation of upheaval, moving etc. The moving/relocating of the home was compulsory as they were going to be demolished! The monetary factor was known as The Land Compensation Act. Our Council, notably Jimmy Kane, said it didn't apply in this case - which of course was rubbish. So the only way to move forward was to issue a high court writ against the Council and to get a judicial solution. The council obviously were using local taxpayer’s money to fund their court expenses; we had to raise funds from raffles, fetes etc and donations. The prime movers in this were a great guy called Albert Greer and myself. The response we got from other members of the tenants association was that they didn't benefit personally so what was the hassle? They assumed we wouldn't win against the council. But the people who would benefit were all the OAPs forced to move to Shire Lodge. Eventually, with our fund-raising, Albert personally guaranteeing the solicitors fees and, after a while, getting a degree of Legal Aid, we went to the High Court and won. The Judge said it was plain that the Government had provided for compensatory payments for people displaced. Local taxpayers lost out as the council had to pay costs and compensation. They had the money, but God only knows where it went. After that I was disillusioned with the whole shower, Albert accepted, but even he resigned. But at the time I had a very famous journalist from the Daily Mail - Jean Rook - in my house for a cup of tea and a chat. I couldn't believe it when there was a knock at our door and when my wife Pam opened it, there was this group from the Daily Mail! I was embarrassed because I couldn't give her a biscuit or a sandwich though because I was skint! Pam sneaked out and 'borrowed' some off our neighbours! We also had TV News people round interviewing Albert and myself. They were heady days but showed me what a bastard environment politics is. We all assume Politics is about helping others, but the reality, with few exceptions, it’s about lining pockets and progressing one's own career/life-style”
Corby Council were scrutinising the running of Corby Civic Centre which was reported to be costing £73,500 a year. Of thirteen shows in a six month period up until the 31st of March, only three made a profit. The overall loss stood at £2,119. Most profitable evening was the performance of Ballet for All by the Royal Ballet Touring Company, which made £214. A gig by the rock and roll group Mud, (Tiger Feet) made a profit of £52.
By contrast, American star Tim Rose (Hey Joe, Morning Dew), played the Civic Theatre in January. Organised by Ned McGuigan and Kenny Payne, formerly of Sasperella and Wolfrilla. They confessed before the show, "We need 275 people to break even. We lost £200 on our last promotion, folk singer Bridget St. John." Sadly, the hall was again half full for what was 'a faultless performance from the Virginian folk singer.'
A boost came when jazz violin legend Stephane Grappelli arrived in May for a concert in the Festival Hall, which was recorded. The CD, eventually released in 2003 on the Storyville Label is described in Grappelli's biography.
'Stephane recorded frequently during the last three decades of his life and previously unissued recordings like this 1975 concert at Corby Festival Hall have continued to turn up. On this occasion lead guitarist Diz Dizley, rhythm guitarist Ike Isaacs and bassist David Moses accompany the violinist. The set is fairly typical, concentrating on standards from the 1920s through the 1940s, starting with a chugging but brisk take of I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me. The marvelous duet by Grappelli and Dizley of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Grappelli's inventive treatment of (Back Home Again In) Indiana and the crowd pleasing Sweet Georgia Brown are among the highlights. It is simply amazing that Stephane Grappelli never seemed to go on autopilot as he played a song for the hundredth (or possibly thousandth) time; this CD is a valuable addition to his already vast discography.'
In spite of the council's concerns Trevor Wright, supremo of the Corby Arts Festival, was still buoyant regarding the 9th Arts Festival in July. "This festival will be as good, if not better, than those in past years. Beer gardens and late bars are an added attraction and the very idea of a week long orgy of music and entertainment and fun seems to bring out the best in Corby people. High spots must be George Melly but a dose of Slavonic tonic in the form of Ivan Stepenov's Balalaikas, providing a couple of hours of colour, gaiety and folk song are bound to cause some interest." An afternoon of Morris Dancing kicked the week off. The troupe embarking on a tour of the local villages, East Carlton, Middleton, Rockingham and Gretton before heading back for the Town Centre where they vied for attention with the German Velbert Fire Brigade Band. Late night events began on the Monday with the Kursaal Flyers, tipped as the new 10cc, plus Neil Innes and Fatso in the Willow room. Tuesday saw late night Jazz with George Melly and John Chiltern's Feetwarmers. Melly was described in the Melody Maker as 'Britain’s number one jazz singer, a major British discovery of 1970s’. Even though he had been around since the 1950s! "Fame, that dangerous bird, has brushed my cheek once more!" George proclaimed.
Trevor's enthusiasm for Slavonic music failed to ignite the interest he hoped for but apparently; 'the small audience went overboard as the nationally costumed band put on a fine show in true Russian style.' John Sandy was most impressed; "By closing your eyes you could almost visualise a trainload of peasants trundling across Siberian wastes to the strain of balalaikas and other instruments. Coupled with the Russian humour and charm, the night was terrific." Similarly received was the return of 66 year old Cousin Joe, sustained by white wine and menthol cigarettes, and billed by Trevor as a 'gospel wailing, jazz playing, rock and rolling, soul shouting, tap dancing bluesman from New Orleans.' Two disappointments came with the late withdrawals of jazzman Ronnie Scott, due to ill health and the Chapman Whitney Streetwalkers who were down for the Saturday Night Rockshow. Tony Coe, (Pink Panther theme with Henry Mancini and one time member with the Humphrey Lyttleton and Johnny Dankworth bands) covered the Scott spot whilst ex Faces bass player Ronnie Lane filled in with his new band Slim Chance. The week was finished off with a performance from the Halle Orchestra, conducted by Owain Arwell Hughes. Despite accruing debts of around £700, the Arts Festival was given the go ahead for 1976, albeit in a more refined and limited form, after some considerable debate in which a number of councilors were in favour it was time to call a halt. Trevor Wright wasn't convinced and remained determined to keep the Festival week up to the standards it had set itself since its conception in 1968.
One time British Rock and Roll star Cliff Richard came to Corby in October, part of a whistle stop gospel tour of the country on behalf of TEAR, an Organisation helping people in poorer countries. The concert in the Festival Hall was attended by Sue Smith with Jean Tuton, mother in law of Cliff's backing group the Shadows drummer Brian Bennett. This was the first opportunity Sue had had since a disappointing Golden Wonder outing to the London Palladium in 1969 when Cliff called off with laryngitis and was replaced by Rolf Harris. "Jean arranged for us to meet Cliff backstage and we joined a queue which consisted mainly of people who were infirm. I felt a right divvy. Cliff spotted Jean and shouted 'Hiya Jean, how's the family?' We stepped forward and Jean in that brash way of hers introduced me, 'this is Sue, Cliff, she's a bit shy!' I went scarlet, my throat went dry. It was awful, talk about embarrassed. Cliff then gave me a wink and a peck on the cheek! The show itself wasn't bad, gospel singers on stage and all that, it was good but really all I wanted to hear was his hits!' This was contrary to what Cliff had in mind; “When I give a gospel concert the last thing the audience want is for me to stand up and sing Congratulations." Cliff may have been a changed man since his wild days as a rocker but according to one local press reporter, 'it was obvious that show biz has taken its toll on the superstar.' For all that, Cliff admitted; "all I've got to grumble about is a few more wrinkles around the eyes than my mum!"
An unusual crime wave, claimed to be sparked off by the high price of potatoes, occurred in Wellingborough during August with a spud thief doing the rounds. Allotment holders were beside themselves. Horace Newbury, secretary of the Wellingborough Allotments Society was livid. Horace, who also had half his onions pilfered, raged; "It could be because of the rising prices of vegetables but it's more likely people who are just too lazy to grow their own!" Two women were eventually summoned to appear at Wellingborough Court for pinching three rows of spuds. They were caught unawares by a gardener spying with his binoculars and then attempted to apprehend them. The women sped off in their car, forcing him to leap out of the way. He nearly had his chips! Horace managed to get the registration number and reported the incident to the police. Both were fined £10 with £6.70p costs. Which was a considerable amount to pay when potatoes were being advertised as 2p a pound at Cransley, 'If you pick your own and the weather is permitting. Please bring your own buckets.'
The spud crisis also affected the production at Golden Wonder Crisp factory who shed 200 jobs in December.