1973 Marty Wilde about Alas Jon Smith
|Alas Jon Smith|
Two brothers who had paid their dues were twins Mick and Tony Haselip of Weldon. Tony had originally replaced Rhubarb Tree bound guitarist Graham Henderson in the Pacifics in 1966 before forming Magnetic Storm with his bass playing brother Mick. After a brief affair with the Lykes of Witch, they were now together and turning pro with another set of brothers, Stuart and Jimmy Irving and Kettering drummer Steve Short under the name of Alas Jon Smith, embarking on a tour of United States army bases in Germany beginning at Wildflecken in Bavaria. The base was originally a training centre for the Wehrmacht, the German Army 1937-39, and now a military training camp used by all NATO partners. One of its most famous residents was Elvis Presley back in 1958. Tony; 'Mick, Stuart and myself all completed apprenticeships with British Steel Corby before going to Germany with Alas John Smith. It was our first job as professional musicians, it said so on our passports and we were proud, but as events unfolded it turned out to be a real eye opener. It seems unbelievable now but we had to play 5 x 45 minute sets each night and we were working 6 nights a week. We were always broke, the deal was that we got paid 25% of our wages + expenses out in Germany and the 75% balance was sent back to the UK for safe keeping, we were told that this was the only way to avoid paying tax in both countries. It seemed logical at the time and we gave it no more thought. Later on, after returning to the UK we had another adventure trying to trace our money, we went to see the agent Harry Goldblatt (honest it’s true) in Bournemouth, but he had disappeared. We never did get the dosh, but that’s another story. I remember on one occasion shortly after arriving in Germany we played at a US base (pre re-unification) at Wildfleken on the border between East and West Germany. It was where the Americans had their crack ski-troops, just in case the Russians decided to attack across the mountains. It wasn’t only the war that was cold; it was the middle of winter with temperatures down to -20c. We got to the base easily enough, but that evening the snow was relentless and at about 8pm the guardroom told us that the main Autobahn was closed. The Officer in charge of entertainment kindly offered to put us up in the sergeant’s quarters, a decision which he was later going to regret. They were basic amenities a bunk and a sink but we had little choice and gratefully accepted his hospitality. That night the club was packed, a captive crowd as there was nowhere else to go, we finished as normal at about midnight and it was then that the CO suggested a game of poker, the deal being that if we lost we played a song and if he lost he bought a round of drinks, that went on until about 3am, we stopped when the drummer Steve Short fell off his drum stool, we were all totally bladdered. The kindly Officer then offered us a lift to quarters in his 2 cars, he had a 4x4 pickup and a gleaming Cadillac saloon, both cars were parked outside the club at the bottom of a small hill, we helped him to ‘gently’ clear away the snow so that he could show off the paintwork, he told us the story of how he had managed to con the Army and got them to fly them both out from his hometown in Texas, they were his pride and joy. He drove the pickup with Stuart Irving and me sitting up front and his Sergeant drove the Cadillac with Mick, Steve and Jimmy checking out the drinks cabinet in the back. The road was total whiteout and so slippy that even the 4x4 struggled to get up the hill, his first attempt failed he slithered to a stop just short of the crest, so he reversed back down the hill, couldn’t stop and wrote off both his cars in one hit. I often wondered afterwards what his insurance company would have to say about that. Whilst in Germany we were based in the Hotel De France at Wiesbaden near Frankfurt, it was a good central location and most nights we managed to get ‘home’ to the hotel, but some gigs were too far away. On one occasion we played at a base in South Germany that was very close to the Swiss border. It was too far to travel back to Wiesbaden so during the evening we arranged to stay overnight in the officers lounge, the local hotels were much too expensive but fortunately one of the troops we met had a girlfriend that worked in a local hotel and he arranged for her to get us some bogus receipts, the agent paid us extra for overnight stops, nice one. We finished the gig, packed away the gear and settled down for the night in the Officers lounge. It was a large room with about seven sofas and a dozen armchairs. I got comfortable and quickly fell asleep. The next thing - I was abruptly woken and heard shouting and screaming, Stuart was dragging me off the sofa towards the door I could hear him saying ‘come on Tony be quick’, I shoved him away, ‘what’s going on?’ I was confused, I turned and saw two US marines both drunk, they were shouting something about smelly feet, one of them kicked the plate glass door which smashed into pieces I then noticed that they had guns and were pointing them at us. We legged it. Driving became more and more difficult the longer we stayed in Germany. The old Ford transit was struggling with the extra mileage and extreme temperatures; it wasn’t long before it took four of us to drive it. One person on the steering wheel, another with a piece of string connected to the carburetor (the accelerator cable had snapped), another on the windscreen wipers (the motor had packed in) and another de-misting the windows (the heater didn’t work). Still we had all that money waiting for us back home, we could buy new gear, take a holiday, it was nice to dream.' Steve did most of the driving down, he was more knackered than the rest of us. I remember traveling down an autobahn when Steve suddenly dozed off and veered over onto the other side of road, with a big artic Italian wagon coming the other way. Steve panicked, just in time! and avoided a collision but we ended up facing the wrong way. The lorry chased after us, with a wee Italian driver going nuts. It didn't help when Stuart Irving gave him the finger! He managed to hem us in and jumped out threatening like a wild man. We were crapping ourselves but Steve started backing up and we escaped from the scene! Crazy!' Alas Jon Smith survived their many escapades in Germany and on their return auditioned successfully for legendary British Rock 'n' Roll star Marty Wilde who was set for a tour with his mate Joe Brown. John Grimley, who had joined Alias a month into the German tour when Mick and Tony Haselip returned home, recalls their first meeting with Wilde. "We were actually auditioning for a Jersey gig at a place in Derby, which we lost out on but Marty's manager Hal Carter, a well known figure who counted the Kinks amongst his clientele, just happened to be there and invited us to audition for Marty. We traveled up to Hull for this, set our gear up and Marty asked us to play a rock and roll song, a ballad and a pop song while he walked around this big hall in his sheepskin listening to us. At the end he asked us, "Have you got any stage gear?” We showed him our suits and that sealed it. “I like your sound, you'll do for me." It was the start of a terrific few years for us, leading to a three year gig for me with ex Move bass player Ace Kefford. Strangely, Marty asked which one of us was Jon Smith. "None of us" I said. "Who's Jon then?" I told him my name was John and he replied, "Do you know what my real name is?" to which I said no. It's Reg Smith, call me Reg from now on!" “Our first rehearsal was at the Corby Bowling Alley, soon to become the Stardust Centre, where we ran through Marty’s hits Sea Of Love, Bad Boy, Teenager In Love etc. with me and Stuart providing the backing vocals. That was the day when Shafts opened its doors as the Exclusive Club and we were supposed to be playing along with Boot Z. Then all of a sudden, we were told we were making our debut with Marty that same night in Bedford at the Royal County Theatre Club as a late replacement for the Peddlars who called off because their drummer had fallen off his drum stool and fractured his arm!' Nevertheless, despite the short notice, the band received an encouraging report for its debut in the showbiz page of the Bedford Chronicle? 'It was memory lane once again at the cabaret presented by the RYTC when Marty Wilde came on stage and did his thing. His backing men are the Alas Jon Smith Group and they presented a few numbers on their own before the top of the bill. This group was a little slow starting but once they got into the swing of things were really quite good and interesting to watch, particularly their lead singer, a very versatile funny young man by the name of Stewart. It has been said about Marty,, and quite truthfully too, that the basis of nearly all pop music is rock and roll and listening to the big voice of Marty you could see why. It was a pleasure to see a male entertainer who didn't have a tiny wasp waist and dainty little black patent leather dancing shoes. He was a big man, full of masculine charm and he turned on more than one female in the audience. Marty and his group had a right old go at Blue Suede Shoes and a Red Indian chant that had to be heard to be believed. The bawdy Old Bazaar In Cairo was done with much wit and laughter all around. Many old hits made the rounds, among them Teenager In Love, Rubber Ball, Donna, Singing The Blues. There was a great deal of variety and one of the best numbers was Joni Mitchell's Woodstock. Very nicely done and the Jon Smith backing group really outdid themselves with it.' John; 'Next day, without Marty, we drove up to North Shield for a gig. That was a sign of things to come. We played two gigs a night for two weeks with Marty and then two weeks gigging without him. It was a hectic schedule playing venues such as the She Club in Liverpool and the following night a Working Men’s Club in Bristol. One week we played in Barrow In Furness and the next night in Welwyn Garden City! Two years of living out of a suitcase, some of the digs weren't particularly brilliant either. If you were booked into what they called 'theatre' digs, tbat was fine, you would get a breakfast at lunchtime. Even the sleeping arrangements were iffy at times. We played in South Wales a lot, Swansea sticks in my mind for a joke we played on Jimmy Irving. The landlady showed us our room and told us there was one double bed with nylon sheets, and two single beds, one with nylon sheets and the second with cotton. Jimmy immediately spoke up and said "I can't sleep under nylon sheets, I'm allergic to them, I'll have to have the single bed with cotton sheets. He then went to the bathroom - and we all jumped into the single bed with the cotton sheets before he came back. Just then, the door opened - and who should be standing there but the landlady! "Well I never!" she exclaimed in that lovely lilting Welsh voice, "what do we have here then?" She thought we were a bunch of gays!."No, you've got the wrong idea!" I said. Jimmy came back in, wondering what the hell was going on and we explained to the landlady it was all a bit of a laugh. She saw the funny side of it thankfully. It was in Swansea me and Steve Short had an altercation. We'd finished playing this club and had a few drinks. Steve was having a go at me about something or nothing and we ended up fighting each other! Marty intervened, just as the bouncers turned up and threw us all out. "I've never been thrown out of a club in my life!" Marty shouted. "You have now" I said. Normally a gig began with Alias Jon Smith playing a couple of numbers before Marty casually strolled on, walked up to the mic, say “Good evening” and then without looking, stretch his arm out behind him, where I would then pass him his Gibson semi acoustic and we'd go straight into Elvis's Burning Love. It was corny but good crack. One night, I passed him a cheap plastic Woolworth’s guitar! He took it all in good fun though! I’m glad he did for he was a big bloke! Ricky Valance, the one hit wonder star, (Tell Laura I Love Her) overstepped the mark one time, making a sarcastic remark about him on stage. When he came off Marty pinned him up against the dressing room wall by the throat, threatening to do him over. Probably the highlight was a short Rock ‘n’ Roll tour we did with Billy Fury, Billy J. Kramer and Heinz. Both Fury and Kramer were nervous wrecks, used to drink a bottle of whisky before going on stage. Joyce and his kids Ricky and Kim would often show up at gigs, this was long before Kim became a huge star! 11 year old Ricky was signed up by Jonathan King as a hopeful answer to Donny Osmond and we played on a few sessions with him for his album. We finished playing with Marty when we eventually got tired of being ripped off by his manager Hal Carter.