Everything was geared up for a massive party to commemorate the Queen's Jubilee. Euphoria reached fever pitch by the time celebrations kicked off in June with street parties, fetes and a general ballyhoo sweeping the nation. The forecast for a fine summer encouraged a spurt in sales from Binley's Camping Shop in Kettering. I caught the mood myself and persuaded Sue and our friends Alan and Marion Murphy to embrace the outdoor life and spend a week under canvas in the New Forest. Camping isn't everyone's cup of tea of course. We ended up in a field on the edge of Ringwood after a four hour drive in glorious summer heat. 'Perfect weather for camping', I proffered to my dubious party. What could be better than sleeping under a moonlit sky; bedding down and waiting for Zzzzzz to envelop you aided by a bellyful of Whitbread's finest or a Dry Martini; waking up to a dawn chorus of song thrushes and blackbirds; negotiating a way through a plethora of tents, careful not to trip over a guideline as you hurried to the latrine, an Andrex under the arm? Not everyone shared my enthusiasm though! And it wasn't long before Sue, Alan and Marion were questioning the wisdom of letting me, the wannabe Boy Scout, take control and commandeer the whole charade. True, I had once managed six weeks as a cub and to my delight, grown a plate of cress which earned me a badge. My first trophy! But that was many moons ago and once William Tell started on television that was it. There was no contest! It was goodbye 'dib, dib, dib' and hello to Tell and his arch enemy the rotund Emperor Gezzler!
Two hours was spent trying to figure out where all the tent poles went on the tent we had borrowed off a friend, discovering a number of pegs were missing, making do with twigs and branches to stabilise the contraption which was going to be 'home' for the next seven days. Not concentrating fully didn't help as we simultaneously had the car radio on listening to the England v Scotland match from Wembley Stadium. This was a game that was forever going to be remembered as the day when the Tartan Army took over the grand old stadium as they celebrated a famous victory, culminating with a herd of inebriated and over excited Scots perching themselves on top of the goalposts before being dumped back to earth when the crossbar eventually gave way! What a laugh! Amazing scenes which went a long way to the F.A. taking the decision to call an end to the annual scrap with the auld enemy.
The week looked promising; Bournemouth was only a half hour drive away, Christchurch not much further. Plenty of fun to be had was the general consensus, though the Murphy’s and Sue remained less optimistic. "Why didn't we go to the south of France or something" was aired as grey skies circled overhead, the sun disappearing over the horizon and a slight but chill wind dampened the spirit further. "If the worst comes to the worst, there's a refuge to be found in the Red Shoot Inn" I told them. A pub on the periphery of the campsite with a generous selection of ales and food to whet the appetite. It would prove to be a welcome oasis.
With a misplaced air of confidence I informed them that there was an unmissable gem on this part of the south coast, a smuggler's paradise called Lulworth Cove. "You can really imagine pirates coming ashore there in their rowing boats with their contraband in years long past". Next morning we headed to Lulworth, and couldn't see a thing! A blanket of fog covered the area. "Marvellous it must be" Alan said with a heavy dose of sarcasm! "Waste of bloody time that was!" Sue crowed.
The weather did it's best to make the week as miserable as possible. A steady drizzle, 'where's that bloody sun gone!', a campsite getting boggier by the day, attempting to make toast on a tiny portable butane gas cooker huddled up close to keep some warmth between us, teeth chattering. "Great idea this was!" Alan despaired. On the penultimate day before heading home, the rain was relentless, the tent gave a good impersonation of being a sieve, the campsite resembled a lake, and it was all we could do to refrain from pulling the tent down and scrambling everything into the car and heading off home that Friday evening. Sense of a kind prevailed and instead we headed for the comfort of the Red Shoot Inn where a glorious log fire was ablaze. This was where one of those very odd moments arise when you least expect it.
In walked a couple seeking shelter from the storm and decamped themselves in front of the fire too. Hearing the Scottish lilt in our conversation, they couldn't resist and butted in by asking; "What part of Scotland are you from?" Alan, whose parents hailed from Stirling answered "We're not from Scotland, we're from the Midlands."
"Oh, whereabouts? We are too," they replied.
Alan;" You wouldn't have heard of it, a place in Northamptonshire".
"Really! That’s where we are from."
Alan;” We’re from Corby."
"You're joking, so are we!" Laughter all round by now, the incessant rain forgotten.
Alan; "Where do you live?
Alan; "No way! We live at the back of you on Clwyd Walk!"
And none of us knew each other from Adam! Amazing.
'New jobs are essential to the town's survival unless there is government action' was the stark appraisal emanating from a meeting between the East Midlands Economic Planning Committee and representatives of Corby District Council. 'Without government support the town will become an industrial wasteland. The town badly needs new roads and future control over its own land to attract industrialists and vital jobs. The unemployment rate standing at 7.5% is among the highest in the country. Not only must steelmaking remain in the town operating at present levels at least, but we have got to attract new industry to Corby. The long term fear is Corby will not have the ability to control its own land once the Corby Development Corporation is absorbed by the New Towns Commission.'
Shortly after this, it appeared as if prayers had been answered when the Evening Telegraph ran a front page story with the headline 'Bonanza for Town'. The feature announced news of a 'massive £60m investment programme set to confirm the town's place as one of the most important steel producing centres in Europe. Work has already started on a new plant and installation of machinery that will help push Corby into the forefront of BSC's strategy for the 1980s. A £50m scheme to build a new electric weld stretch reducing mill plus upgrading of existing mill is expected to increase production of round and rectangular tubes. The new mill should start production in 1980. £6.5million will also be spent on a new dragline.'
Despite this, BSC Chairman Charles de Villiers was cautious; 'we have a marvelous complex at Corby. But tubes are a difficult business and have been bad throughout the world. We need investment at Corby very badly,' He then warned; 'a massive wage explosion could kill the industry, it could be catastrophic.'
It was just a month later a bombshell hit the town with the breaking news; 'a major decision expected soon on future of steelmaking at Corby could mean loss of jobs. BSC chiefs at Corby were ordered to economise in all plants in desperate attempt to cut back expected losses. Could be as much as £250m next year. Corby steelworkers will be holding their breaths until the announcement.'
It was on September 20th the plan to axe 1200 jobs at Corby was announced, confirming everyone's worst fears. 10% of the workforce. Cuts, across the board in management and production workers would be through natural wastage, early retirement and voluntary redundancies. The report revealed; 'Corby ended a disastrous run of three years in the red last year with a £6.3m deficit. Meanwhile, at four other groups in the Tubes division, profits were up to £2.7m. The consequences for Corby could be dire. School leavers are joining the dole queue in their dozens every year in Corby.' Union leader John Cowling spoke out; 'Corby could become one of the most depressed areas in Britain unless a bid is made to save the 1200 jobs at BSC. It is time the people of Corby woke up to the fact that their town is crumbling around them.'
On October 8th a mass rally, called by the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation was held in the town. Speakers included Sir Geoffrey DeFreitas who shortly afterwards announced his decision to retire at the next election, and Bill Homewood, ISTC Senior Divisional Officer who pledged to form an Action Committee; 'there's an urgent need for action. Corby will suffer deprivation and decadence unless we close ranks.' Though the rally only attracted around 60 people, Mick Skelton, ISTC joint Branch Secretary, said he wasn't disappointed with the turn out. 'Everybody knows about the apathy in this town. People in Corby only put up the umbrella when it starts to rain. Well I've had my umbrella up for eight years now and I certainly don't want to get caught in the storm that is going to break in this town.' Alec Nimmo, ISTC Branch Chairman, was far from optimistic; 'It is BSC's intention to close Corby steelworks. The 1200 jobs are just a start.'
Apathy prevailed and another meeting, held in the Labour Club attracted just 30 people, causing Bill Homewood to slam Corby workers and public alike; 'I am very disappointed; Corby doesn't seem to be taking this seriously.'
Arthur Pitcher was ambitious and intent on gaining a higher profile for the Stardust's late night 'hang out' Shafts. Reverting it to its former name of the Exclusive Club Arthur insisted on 'gentlemen wearing collar and tie at weekends'; "We felt it was about time to improve the image and no member would be admitted unless we considered them to be properly dressed."
Falling foul of the new 'rules' on the first night was plumber Mick Dickson. Described by his mate John Grimley as 'a big amiable fellow', Mick had once been involved in a headline making incident following an argument outside the Exeter Estate chip shop when he and his pal Martin Kettle both ended up in hospital after being chased and hit by a madman with an axe! Mick; "We had come out of the chippie with our chips and found these guys looking for trouble. There was a bit of cross talk, and then this feller lunged at me swinging an axe. I moved my head just enough but he caught me over the ear. Martin was struck in the back. Our first reaction was obviously to leg it. I'd never run so fast in my life. All the way down Burghley Drive. Adrenalin took over! I could feel my ear flapping, blood running down my face and neck. Strange thing was by chance there was an ambulance at the bottom of the road! The ambulance men put us in the back and were ready to head off when I calmed down and decided to go back and look for those morons. We went running back to the chippie but they'd disappeared. Maybe they were frightened they'd killed us or something! In hospital they put 30 stitches inside my ear and thirty outside, bandaged me up with what looked like a turban, and sent me home. Next night I was back in the Strath having a pint with the boys when one of them told me, 'we know where those guys are staying, you coming to get them?', 'No way' I said, 'looking like this?'
|Dave Johnson Combo|
Back in the Exclusive Club, Mick was sitting in an alcove with a girl, having a quiet drink and a chat when a bouncer, big feller, Peter somebody came over. 'Where's your tie?' he asked. 'Haven't got one,' I told him. 'You'll have to get out then!' he snarled. 'Look' I said to him, 'I'm not doing any harm, I'm minding my own business' and the thing was, I was dressed quite smart and there was a right load of scruffy gets in that night, wearing torn jeans and crappy jumpers to hide their tie. You could see the ties just sticking out of the neck like a wee bob. The bouncer ignored them and repeated, 'get out!' I told him to eff off '. Next thing, a big fist comes smashing into my face, knocks me flying. I jumped right back up and booted the guy, he went down. Then his mates piled in, gave me a few whacks and tossed me out. I was well peed off. Next day it was preying on my mind, I was thinking, 'I'm not letting that go, I'm gonna have that guy.' So I went up to Shafts the next night, knocked the door and they opened the little hatch, 'what do you want?' a voice asked. 'I want that big guy that's what I want.' 'Too bad' the voice said, 'he's in hospital, you broke his kneecap when you booted him last night!'"
|The Unadopted Society's Bob Clark|
In between times, jam sessions at the Corinthian pub enabled you get some practice. There was virtually a 'house' band of regulars, all under the generalship of saxophonist Bob Crawford."
Bob Crawford remembers well; "The Corinthian jam band began with myself playing solo saxophone then over a period of a couple of months I was joined by Bob Clark, Dave Johnson, the Grimley Brothers (Bob and John) and Johnny Heron on drums It became so successful that the police shut it down because it had no adequate fire exits. The day the Corinthian was flooded, was I believe the first Christmas the pub was open, and the landlord had decided to have a special 'do' by having the jam band play on Christmas Eve. However that dinnertime the pub was heaving and a friend of ours, Joe Dorian suddenly for no apparent reason stood on a table and lit a match. This set off the water sprinklers which resulted in the pub being flooded and the 'jam' was cancelled.
Bob Clark; "The Unadopted Society split up around 1970 and this was when I first came into contact with keyboard player Dave Johnson. We became great friends and remain so to this day. Dave had this band called Eve, with Phil Daltrey on drums and Chris Jones on guitar, playing what they called 'Progressive' music, Black Sabbath, Nice type material. It was trendy at the time. This genre with the tag 'Progressive' or 'Underground' gave you a different identity to the average pub band. We thought people might take us more serious! With hindsight, maybe they didn't. The band only lasted about six months!
Dave and I then formed a five piece, what we called a function band, and found ourselves inundated with work. If we worked it right, we could be playing every night of the week. As The Clark Johnson Set we travelled the country playing the clubs most weekends which was a great learning curve. A thing I happened to notice was that many of these working men's clubs all looked the same. We played in Hartlepool one time and I couldn't believe how alike the club was to Corby's Welfare. There must have been a template for this type of building or something. My main memory of this town though was us turning up late and the entertainment's officer immediately telling us our pay was being docked! Those northern clubs were a world of their own. Arriving at another venue, in Consett, we were told by a committeeman that 'if the audience boo you, we'll throw them out!' It was an education playing those joints!”
In 1977 The Clark Johnson Set joined forces with another local combo on the road, the Alan Howard Band, recruited female singer Kathy Lee, and became the Steve Wheeler Band. The line up read; Dave Johnson on keyboards, Chris Jones guitar, Jack Thomas bass, Brent Webb drums, Mark Webb trumpet and Bob Clark sax. Bob; "We diversified to a certain extent, playing more contemporary material like Manhattan Transfer rather than modern jazz and found ourselves playing the cabaret circuits. This lasted a couple of years and it was back to the Dave Johnson Band, playing up and down the country again. One day our bass player let us down and Dave phoned up Jack Murphy to see if he could sit in. "Where's the gig?" Jack asked. "Up the AI" Dave told him, intentionally only telling him the bare truth. It was way past York! Jack was alright about it though; he was always game for a crack anyway, liked his bevy. He stayed with us for years!
Sunday dinnertime sessions at the Kings Arms in Kettering were a regular stint until we fell out with the landlord. Dave uprooted us and we moved to the Royal Hotel in Kettering instead. This was a great success, enhanced by guests of the calibre of Dick Morrissey, Pete King, Tommy Whittle from London."
Jam sessions at the Nags Head were a regular gig around this time, often with a nucleus of John Grimley, Mick Haselip, Johnny Heron, and John Dolby – the Jam Band. "They were good days" John Grimley recalls, "Bip had taken over the Nags and gutted the manky back room to make it an ideal place for live music. Anybody could get up and have a go if they wanted. When the punk scene broke a young lad came in and asked me if he could borrow my guitar. 'No probs' I said. Dave Stocker, well known on the scene for being an enthusiastic fan of the rock culture had the cover of the Santana album Abraxas emblazoned over the bonnet of his Mark Cortina III car. Big Dave had an aura about him and a reputation. His looks could be off putting if you didn't know him. He sadly passed away in 2005." Dave Stocker was a great friend and fan of the band Chrome Molly as guitarist Colin Pheasant remembers; "Dave used to work the door for us when we played in Corby. He had a reputation but really he was a great bloke. There was never any trouble when Dave was on the door that's for sure. People would look at him, and he wasn't the friendliest of looking guys, and decided it was better to keep on the right side of him! He was a massive music fan with a hell of a record collection. I called him the John Peel of Corby. He had albums that you'd never heard of. He'd often say 'Hey Colin, take this and listen to it'. It'd be anything from the latest Stones album to an obscure Quintessence offering. One memorable day he came to my mum's house with a bag of albums. My dad answered the door and told Dave I was in the bath. 'Go on up' my dad said. There was I, lying blissfully enjoying a peaceful soak when all of a sudden the door barges open and Dave says, 'Here, I've brought you some albums!' I couldn't believe it! 'Blimey Dave' I said. 'It's alright, your dad told me to come up!' My dad had never met him before, had heard of him, everybody knew big Dave and what he was involved in. 'You know who Dave Stocker is dad? I asked him. 'Yeah, he seems a nice chap. What he does is his business and besides you don't involve yourself in those sorts of things, do you?' Well I never did. 'No problem then.' dad said."
Corby's annual summer gala, the Highland Gathering featured the usual Massed Band parade and Highland Dancing contests but arguably the most popular event was a Rabbit Show. Veteran rabbit breeder, Joe Sharpe from Weldon, who claimed to have fifty at home, picked up the first prize for his bunny, called Bugs. Joe wore a smug look as he picked up the trophy; "50 years in the game" he smirked. Rival George Bradshaw was disappointed but phlegmatic when his Chinchilla came in a poor second;” I don't know what Joe feeds them on, maybe there's a better quality of dandelion in Weldon!"
Sunday saw the second annual bed push organised by Corby District Lions Club. Twenty four beds took part in a dash around the streets, lined with cheering crowds before ending up in the Boating Lake. 'It was squeals on wheels' the ET reported. The team representing the Spread Eagle in Cottingham were the winners with the Rockingham Arms squad led by Captain Willie Ross a valiant second.
Causing a riot at Corby Stardust centre was a band modelled on the Sex Pistols; the Flashers were an outfit booked by Arthur Pitcher with support from John Grimley's band The Echoes to cash in on the craze. John; "Myself, Maureen and Jimmy Gourlay, John Dolby and Tommy Chapman were asked by Arthur if we would back this spoof band for a few numbers. We agreed and several rehearsals later they said they would go for it. All was well until the night. The Evening Telegraph had given the show a lot of advertising, more of a send up really, and when we turned up on the night at the club there were about 200 punk rockers outside the building that had been turned away. Now to say they were unhappy is an understatement. The E.T. had done SUCH a good job it was backfiring in Pitchers face. He didn't know what to do, he didn't think it would go that far...but it did. The media had gone over the top with the hype and the build up, and when the band started wrecking things and winding everybody up, Arthur really was in a flap! We did the gig and it was a laugh, if not a tadge frightening at an earlier stage."
The Flashers milked the publicity for all it was worth. The 'exclusive' in the press told; ‘the band, Gary Gutrot, Sergeant Sadistic, Geriatric Punk and the weird singer Punkular are making their debut in Corby later this month, they stopped off in the town at the weekend to see Arthur Pitcher the leisure centre manager who had booked them. Arthur made it clear that any obscenities and expletives on stage would result in a possible ban from appearing at the venue in the future; "I have written to the group’s manager and warned him that I will stop their act outright if they step too far out of line, should I consider any part of their act offensive, no bad language will be acceptable. They really are pretty disgusting specimens but I've heard their music is good and that's why we've booked them."
The feature concluded by stating; 'The group were travelling to London from Manchester where a number of shows were cancelled because of their behaviour and although they have an extensive British tour lined up for early next year it is believed many towns will follow suit and ban them.'
During their performance the Flashers smashed speakers, wrecked chairs and broke glasses - terrifying many of the audience into the bargain. Arthur Pitcher, aided by a barman was forced to haul them off before their act led to a riot. Arthur was far from amused; "They were disgusting. This act was extremely violent and I warn all other clubs against booking them. Corby is just not ready for this sort of thing."
For all the mayhem it engineered, the show was later exposed as a fake. It was in fact, four Corby lads with a strong sense of humour, complete with oozing blood capsules and sick bags. Bar manager Eric McKenna was Sgt Sadistic, Club manager Robert Halfyard was Geriatric Punk, Corby Town FC goalkeeper Peter Walters was Punkular and club doorman Kevin Barby was Gary Gutrot, out to raise money for the Evening Telegraph Christmas Appeal. The audience didn't know it was a set up but dipped into their pockets when the Flashers asked them to buy safety pins.
Liverpool became the first British club to win the European Cup since Manchester United in 1968, defeating Burussia Munchengladbach 3-1 on a glorious May night in Rome. Amongst the hordes of 'reds' fans celebrating was a Corby contingent that included DJ Dennis Taylor. "Jimmy Wilkinson, Jeff Stewart and other Corby reds travelled, it was a fantastic experience made even better by gaining entry to the post match celebration party for the Liverpool team. We even managed to get our photographs taken holding the cup aloft." Dennis and his pals had travelled for years following Liverpool, witnessing the club's first European Cup was a night to remember for the rest of their days. Unfortunately I was unable to go even if I'd had a ticket, family bereavement, but I do have the consolation of having been at the scene of the club's first ever European trophy victory, in Munchengladbach some four years earlier. Some you win, some you lose!