Skifflin’, Rockin’ ‘n’ Rollin’ and the Beat Boom
A brief summarisation of beat music from the year 1952. Being the year of the first music chart and my birth, it seemed an appropriate moment in time to begin.
The year was 1952 and the Second World War still cast a long shadow over the land. The wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, had been re-elected the previous year and healthy young men from the age of seventeen were expected to do National Service. At Sandringham House, the royal residence in Norfolk, the ailing King George VI finally succumbed to a coronary thrombosis in his sleep on 6th February, leaving the throne to his daughter who flew home from a tour of Kenya as Queen Elizabeth II. Apart from a change in monarch, the main stories that grabbed the headlines that year included news of a devastating flood in Lynmouth that claimed the lives of thirty-four people, a choking ‘pea-souper’ smog that enveloped London for five days eventually killing thousands and Britain becoming the third country to join the ‘Atomic Bomb Club’. In sport, Manchester United became first division champions for the third time and Newcastle won the FA Cup. Culturally, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap opened in the West End of London, The African Queen and Singing in the Rain appeared at local Odeons and Percy Dickins, of the New Musical Express, compiled the first UK Hit Parade by phoning twenty random record stores around the country. He listed the twelve best-selling singles (actually it was fifteen as three positions tied) resulting in “Here in my Heart” by Al Martino becoming the first ever number one on 14th November 1952. The chart reflected that musical tastes hadn’t wavered far from the war years with the forces sweetheart Vera Lyn occupying three places. The only sop to a shift in taste, could be found propping up the pile in “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” by the American Johnnie Ray, an emotionally uninhibited singer known for his full throated delivery interspersed with simulated sobs. The sobriquet ‘The Prince of Wails’ and much derision from the press, reflected the thoughts of a majority of the British public who were not ready for anything that radical just yet.
Great Britain after the war was a disparate place from today, as the country sluggishly recovered from a devastating conflict that had wrecked families, infrastructure and the economy. However, there were glimpses of better times ahead as certain food stuffs and household goods slowly returned to the shelves after years of rationing and unemployment figures dropped as a result of a mammoth rebuilding programme. As the older generation struggled to return to normality after the horrors inflicted by Hitler, some young people, excluded from roles of responsibility and with cash in their pockets, looked for ways to break away from the boring grey existence epitomised by their parents. Mostly, the newly christened ‘teenager’ blended in with their dreary looking elders but, at the dawn of the fifties, there were stirrings of a new youth subculture amongst the working classes of London, particularly around the Elephant and Castle, Lambeth, Vauxhall and Southwark. The Edwardian or Teddy Boy, a name coined by the Daily Express in September 1953, began to appear on street corners decked out in long drape jackets, high-waisted trousers, fancy brocade waistcoats and thick crêpe soled shoes known as brothel creepers. The highly individualistic looked was topped off with heavily greased hair teased into a large quiff over the forehead and a carefully moulded D. A. (ducks arse) in the nape of the neck. The ‘Teds’ struck a menacing pose swaggering down high streets tooled up with knuckle dusters and flick knives and with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll in 1955, they discovered a credo to embrace, creating an unholy alliance of delinquent behaviour and a wild raucous racket.
At the vanguard of this musical revolution was the unlikely portly figure of Bill Haley, a thirty-something singer / guitar picker from Highland Park, Michigan, who scored a number four hit in the UK Hit Parade in December 1954 with a cover of “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, a song previously recorded by the blues shouter Big Joe Turner. He followed up with a cover of Max Freeman and James Myers “Rock Around the Clock”, which crawled almost unnoticed to number seventeen in January 1955. In November the song returned with a bullet, settling at the top of the charts on the back of its inclusion in Blackboard Jungle, a gritty, celluloid melodrama starring Glenn Ford as a put upon teacher attempting to engage with his disaffected pupils. When shown in the Trocadero cinema at The Elephant and Castle in London, a riot ensued as Teddy Boys ripped up seats and danced in the aisles, behaviour that was soon to be replicated around the country. The Bournemouth Echo reported on a screening at the Astoria in Boscombe which resulted in “four slashed seats and much clapping, whistling and singing”.
In September 1956 the record charted yet again after its inclusion in Rock Around the Clock, a musical cash in starring Haley and the Comets, The Platters, Freddie Bell and the Playboys and Alan Freed, the disc jockey credited with introducing the phrase rock ‘n’ roll (a euphemism for sex) into the musical vernacular. It’s said that a screening of the film at the Ritz in Winton ended in mayhem as the audience “danced in the aisles and trashed the seats”. A year later The Girl Can’t Help It kept up the momentum by giving exposure to the far more outlandish Little Richard, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran via a storyline featuring the voluptuous Jayne Mansfield as a gangster’s moll. As expected, the outbreaks of violence and delinquency caused moral outrage in the national press and the Bournemouth Echo announced that the council had been forced to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages at Town Hall dances because of “Teddy Boy disturbances”. True to form, the ultra-conservative Daily Mail pondered if this new music was “The Negroes Revenge”.
The artists associated with the new craze were a motley but exciting crew. Apart from the avuncular Haley with his camel-hair coat and kiss curl, there was Chuck Berry, a former struggling country / blues singer who plugged into the zeitgeist by writing iconic songs about school life, cars and girls while influencing a generation of guitar pickers with his riffs. Then there was the outrageously camp Little Richard, who coated his face in thick pancake makeup and plastered his pompadour styled hair with pomade, Jerry Lee Lewis, a rowdy piano pounder from Louisiana with the ominous nickname ‘The Killer’, the bespectacled and preppy Texan Buddy Holly, and the aptly named, five feet five inch tall, two hundred and twenty pound Fats Domino. And not forgetting Gene Vincent, a leather clad, heavy drinking, gun toting hooligan who refused to allow a gammy leg get in the way of his energetic stage act, the sharply attired guitar slinger from Minnesota, Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley from Mississippi who commandeered the 3 over 2 clave rhythm and made it his own and finally, the hip swivelling, lip curler and self-styled King of rock ‘n’ roll himself, Elvis Presley. These cool looking dudes fired the imagination of kids desperate for excitement and whatever the authorities in the UK did to stem the tide, like King Canute, their efforts floundered as the tidal wave of testosterone fuelled music swept all before it across the Atlantic Ocean.
BBC radio resisted the onslaught by filling the airwaves with its usual staid diet of light entertainment shows such as Sing Something Simple with the Cliff Adam’s Singers and Jack Emblow on the accordion, Semprini’s Serenade, Friday Night is Music Night, Your Hundred Best Tunes and Grand Hotel broadcast live from the sedate seaside town of Eastbourne. Billy Cotton, a portly cockney who owned a property on the peninsula in Sandbanks, Poole with his wife Mabel, hosted his Band Shows on a Sunday lunchtime featuring Russ Conway, a nine and a half fingered pianist, Kathie Kay, a balladeering soprano and Alan Breeze, a throwback to the dance band era who would gamely tackle the hits of the day. There was also Two-Way Family Favourites presented by Jean Metcalfe in London and Bill Crozier in Cologne, which linked the UK with the armed forces living in Germany via the British Forces Network. Occasionally a Buddy Holly or Elvis recording would sneak under the radar, but that was the exception rather than the rule, as the bosses at the BBC actively discouraged the spinning of rock ‘n’ roll records as they believed it would lead to a decline in moral standards and dilute the British cultural heritage.
The exceptions were Saturday Club hosted by Brian Matthew and Easy Beat on a Sunday morning also hosted by Brian Matthew and later by Keith Fordyce and finally David Symonds. Saturday Club was first broadcast in June 1957 as Saturday Skiffle Club but in October 1958 the word Skiffle in the title was dropped and the programme was extended from one hour, to a two hour slot. For the next ten years, the shows became mainstays on BBC radio, single-handedly flying the flag for pop music during the Beat Boom. To be fair, the stuffed shirts at the BBC were also bound by needle time, an archaic system created and strictly monitored by the powerful Musicians Union which restricted the amount of recorded music that could be transmitted. The Home, Third and Light Programmes had a miserly twenty two hours a week between them in which to spin discs. Saturday Club overcame the restrictions by broadcasting live sessions by beat groups recorded in the BBC’s own studios. Over the years, these recordings have been released to the delight of fans and have contained a treasure trove of music not released at the time, or radically different versions of songs that appeared on official recordings. Towards the end of the decade both programmes were effectively declared redundant with the advent of Radio One in 1967.
Apart from Saturday Club and Easy Beat, the best way for pop music fans to satisfy their thirst for rock and pop music was to look elsewhere for their fix. Most found what they were looking for on the notoriously fickle reception plagued Radio Luxembourg or, for the more adventurous, the American Forces Network beaming rock ‘n’ roll and occasionally blues records out of Germany. Other favourite sources included fairgrounds, where the latest records pumped out of large speakers over the screams and roar of the waltzer, on coffee house jukeboxes and from 1964, the hugely popular pirate radio stations such as Radio Caroline, Radio City and Radio London.
From February 1957, the lucky few that owned television sets could tune into the first music programme aimed at teenagers, The Six Five Special. Produced by Jack Good, it aired on the BBC at five minutes past six on a Saturday evening with hosts Pete Murray and Josephine Douglas presiding over a variety of music, educational information films and a sports segment overseen by Bournemouth’s own boxing legend Freddie Mills. (Freddie was the world light heavyweight champion from 1948 to 1950 and his family home was at 7 Terrace Road, a row of cottages close to the old Fox pub. After a hugely successful career, he was shot dead in his car in 1965 but the culprit was never found). The resident band of old jazzer’s, Don Lang and His Frantic Five, had a stab at creating some excitement with instrumental versions of the latest rock ‘n’ roll songs, while guest spots by Lonnie Donegan, The Vipers and the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group advanced the gospel of skiffle. However, because of the BBC’s insistence on watering down the music content, Good left for the rival ITV channel where he was given a free rein to develop Oh Boy!, an undiluted music show hosted by Tony Hall and Jimmy Henney. Broadcasting live from the Hackney Empire in direct competition to The Six Five Special, a guest list of mainly home-grown rock ‘n’ rollers plus a smattering of American acts were supported by the resident band, Lord Rockingham’s X1 with Cherry Wainer on the organ. This gaggle of disenfranchised jazz players trumped the Frantic Five by connecting with the record buying public and scoring a number one hit with the instrumental “Hoots Mon”. Oh Boy! disappeared from our screens in 1959 to be replaced by yet another Good production, Boy Meets Girls hosted by Marty Wilde.
The home-grown phenomenon known as skiffle swept the country in 1956 spearheaded by Anthony ‘Lonnie’ Donegan. Its origins lie in the African American culture of the early twentieth century, where the term skiffle signified a rent party or a social gathering where a small amount of money changed hands to help keep the landlord at bay. The music was of a simple construct using instruments that could be found lying around the house such as washboards, empty jugs, a comb covered in paper, wood saws and a tea chest fitted with a broom handle and a length of string to pluck forming a crude bass, plus the more conventional guitars, kazoos, and banjos. Donegan would perform a short set of Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie songs with a small combo consisting of Ken Colyer on guitar and his brother Bill on washboard during the interval while he was a member of Colyer’s Jazzmen. He carried on the practice in the Chris Barber Jazz Band after Colyer had been ousted from his own combo in a coup led by Barber. In 1956 Donegan scored his first top ten hit with Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line”, recorded with Barber on upright bass and vocalist Beryl Brydon scraping a washboard. The success of the single sparked a rush on broom handles and washboards in hardware shops up and down the country as bewildered housewives looked for replacements after theirs had mysteriously disappeared. Following on from Donegan’s success, more groups scored hits. Most notably The Vipers with “Don’t You Rock Me Daddy-O” and “Cumberland Gap” and the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group featuring Nancy Whiskey with “Freight Train”, but Donegan was the catalyst and his importance cannot be overstated for kick-starting a generation of guitar pickers. With half a dozen chords and bags of enthusiasm, he proved that anybody could make a career out of forming a group and creating exciting music, an ethos that was picked up by the punk movement twenty years later.
As skiffle galvanised the teenagers of Britain to take up guitars, they all dipped into the same pool of evocative American folk and blues songs, knocking out rudimentary versions of “John Henry”, “Tom Dooley”, “Mama Don’t Allow”, “It Takes a Worried Man”, “Down by the Riverside”, “Frankie and Johnny”, “Mule Skinner Blues”, “Pick a Bale of Cotton”, “Grand Coulee Dam” and “If I Had a Hammer”. They also plundered a whole slew of train songs such as “Midnight Special”, “Down Bound Train”, “Casey Jones”, “Streamline Train”, “Six Five Special”, “Wabash Cannonball”, “Railroad Bill”, “Last Train to Fernando”, “Freight Train” and “Rock Island Line”, the song that sparked it all off. These songs became the bedrock of thousands of skiffle repertoires up and down the country.
In Bournemouth, like most towns and cities, make-shift groups sprang up mainly in schools and youth clubs, in fact anywhere that skiffle mad kids gathered en masse. George ‘Zoot’ Money, Mike Montgomery, Peter Cox and John Coggin, four pupils from Portchester School and Bournemouth Grammar, formed the Four Ales. Future Police guitarist Andy ‘Summers’ Somers and his close friend Graham White did likewise at Summerbee Secondary Modern with the Midnighters, the Dowland brothers, pupils of Stourfield Secondary Modern, formed the Blue Earth River Boys and Kemp Welch Secondary Modern School boy and prospective organ grinder with The Peddlers, Roy Phillips, played regularly in a skiffle group at his local Conservative Club. Bournemouth Grammar School spawned The Korvettes consisting of Charlie Allen, Peter Turner, Malcolm Fox, Carl Russell, David Dean and Keith Thompson plus a group featuring guitarist Roger Collis, drummer Michael Giles and his guitarist brother Peter, the eventual rhythm section of a short-lived version of King Crimson. The Tennessee Tramps, also Bournemouth Grammar School pupils, comprised of Winton residents Al Kirtley, Eddie Evans, Mick Palmer, Ken Pitfield, Ron Lockyer and Ian ‘Benny’ Bennett. Kirtley, an aspiring piano player, switched to the cooler washboard for his initial forays into the world of public music making. The Voltas were slightly older, as they were students at the Bournemouth Technical College and the Five Skinners Skiffle Group consisting of Gerry Bellis, Geoff Elliot, Ray Neal, Paul Moores and Brian Miller were a bunch of apprentices from the De Havilland aircraft factory in Purewell, Christchurch.
Most skifflers didn’t expect remuneration for airing their limited talents and were glad to pick up the odd gig at church fetes, youth clubs, or at one of the many skiffle competitions held around town. The Tennessee Tramps entered several with little success, but their main claim to fame occurred the night they were interviewed by Alan Whicker for BBC TV’s Tonight programme, after playing at a charity concert held at the Boscombe Ballrooms to raise money for the poorly funded Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, you just couldn’t make it up.
The Korvettes scored a close-run victory at the ‘Grand Skiffle Jamboree Contest’ held at the Moderne cinema, Moordown in 1958. They beat off The Voltas, The Blue Earth River Boys (winners of a similar contest earlier in the week at the Boscombe Ballrooms), The Viscounts from Parkstone and Winton’s Riversiders, a gang of strummers lead from the front by Tony Head with support from Stan Osbourne, Ricky Mitchell, Lawrence Waters, David Diggins and Len Onslow. Self-styled England mascot and man about town, Ken Baily, presented the Moderne Trophy Cup to the winners, however the result proved contentious as a portion of the crowd who had forked out the princely sum of two bob to sit in the stalls, or half a crown in the balcony, felt cheated and booed the decision believing the winning song to be more rock ‘n’ roll than skiffle. Head Korvette, Charlie Allen, responded to the criticism by stating that, “purists were holding skiffle back” and “that it had to develop or remain in a rut”. Blimey and Bob Dylan thought he had a rough ride when he plugged in his electric guitar at the ‘Newport Folk Festival’ in 1965 and antagonised the diehard folk establishment.
Colin Allen, a former East Howe Secondary Modern pupil and apprentice at De Haviland in Purewell, made his first ever public appearance with his group The Jesters at a Moderne skiffle contest, but this was no lean quartet, anybody who could play a guitar was in. Chief guitarist Terry Rigler trooped onto the stage with almost a dozen scruffy herberts straggling behind. Drummer Colin, who had a rudimentary kit of a snare and hi-hat, found his tub thumping skills in demand that day as Colin Perry, a fellow De Haviland apprentice, persuaded him to sit in with his combo The Red Star Skiffle Group, as their incumbent percussionist had failed to turn up. Much to the chagrin of the unplaced Jesters, the Red Stars came in second to the more polished and professional Dowland Brothers and the Drovers, formerly The Blue Earth River Boys.
Another popular unpaid date occurred at the Moderne on a Saturday morning. Opened in 1935, the art déco building’s best days had passed because of the growing popularity of television, but a good crowd could be guaranteed as kids from the surrounding area converged for their weekly fix of celluloid magic at the Saturday Morning Matinee. For sixpence, a programme of cartoons, cliff hanger serials and westerns climaxed in a main feature that, more often than not was hopelessly dull, provoking the bored kids in the expensive (ninepence) balcony seats, to shower the unlucky peasants below with debris and half-eaten ice creams. During the interval, a gaggle of awkward looking youths, not much older than the audience, would shuffle on to the stage with assorted kitchen accoutrements and guitars and self-consciously strum away, trying their best to ignore the building crescendo of booing and catcalls. It was at one of these baptisms of fire that the Tennessee Tramps braved the crowd performing versions of “Don’t You Rock Me Daddy-O” and “Diggin’ my Potatoes”, but it was during Al Kirtley’s interminable interpretation of “Frankie and Johnny” that it all kicked off. As a barrage of coins and jeers rained down from the unruly crowd, the hapless singer gamely ploughed on to the end and remembers picking up sixpence in coppers from the stage floor as they shuffled off. So, although not exactly lucrative, it wasn’t an entirely wasted morning.
A group of art students, Tone Edwards, Tony Ringrose, Pete Ballham, Al Shep, Brian Stuart and Tony Ricard, known as The Kapota Allstars, ventured further afield than most and had six minutes to impress the judges in a regional heat of the ‘1957 National Skiffle Contest’. Although they failed to progress, on the day of the open air final in Bury St Edmunds, the heavens opened and only thirty-four of the forty competitors turned up. After much deliberation, the top prize went to Gillingham’s 2.19 Skiffle Group, with The Station Skiffle Group from Fulham coming in as runners-up. Of greater significance, The Kapota Allstars, along with the Bournemouth Girls’ School Choir, a chemist who was also a part-time stand-up comic and a chap who ate light bulbs and razor blades, represented Bournemouth on Top Town, a BBC TV inter-town talent competition. The show pitted the south against the north, in this instance, Bournemouth against Ashington in Northumberland, in a friendly battle of variety entertainment. On the day of filming in Manchester, the Kapotas befriended members of Alyn Ainsworth’s Northern Variety Orchestra and visited the local pub in-between rehearsals. By the time the group performed “The Peanut Vendor” live, they were well and truly sloshed. Bournemouth lost the tie.
Another intrepid band of amateur musicians were The Liners, who entered a skiffle competition held at the Salisbury Guildhall in January 1958. They were up against nine other groups including the Southern Sinners and Hi-Fives from Salisbury, the Teenage Ramblers from Bulford, the Blue Liners from Amesbury, The Vampires from Trowbridge, The Ramblers from Netheravon, Phins Kings Peasants (trying saying that after a couple of pints) from Perham Down and The Hiccups and The Tornadoes who travelled down the A338 from Andover. The Liners didn’t win, but one of their members, Dennis Robbins, won a special prize for his double bass playing. A couple of months later they were back at the Guildhall for another competition and this time they came out on top by beating The New Sarum Skiffle Group, The Vampires, The Ramblers, The Five Diamonds, The Avon Valley Skiffle Group and the all-female Starr Sisters from the tiny village of Durrington. Two members of the group also won special prizes for best vocalist and best instrumentalist.
By 1958 skiffle was in decline, apart from Donegan who sustained his career for a few more years by recording novelty songs, most notably with “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour (on the Bedpost Overnight)” and “My Old Man’s a Dustman”. The fall from popularity was swift, as British teenagers dumped their washboards for drum kits and plugged in electric guitars. A plethora of new artists sprang from the 2i’s, Gyre and Gimble and Cat’s Whisker’s coffee bars in Soho, originally hotbeds of skiffle. The purveyors of frothy coffee and espressos, acted as a launch-pad for the first home-grown rock ‘n’ rollers such as Cliff Richard, Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch of The Shadows, Wee Willie Harris, Vince Taylor, Adam Faith, Screaming Lord Sutch and Tony Sheridan. More would be stars came through the stable of Larry Parnes, a flamboyant, gay impresario with a golden touch. His nickname of ‘Mr Parnes, Shillings and Pence’ reflected his success, as he selected young men with teen appeal and gave them exciting names to suit their personalities, hence Reg Patterson became Marty Wilde, Ron Wycherley was christened Billy Fury, Ray Howard became Duffy Power, Roy Taylor assumed the mantle of Vince Eager and Clive Powell took on Georgie Fame, Joe Brown, understandably, turned his nose up when offered Elmer Twitch.
Britain’s first rock ‘n’ roll band to make a dent in the charts was Tony Crombie and His Rockets. Tony, a jazz drummer, hopped onto the bandwagon by modelling his band on Bill Hayley and the Comets and released several singles with “Teach You to Rock” becoming the first UK rock ‘n’ roll record to crack the top thirty in October 1956. This was closely followed by “Rock with the Caveman”, a number thirteen hit in December for Bermondsey’s Tommy Steele, the UK’s first bona fide rock ‘n’ roll star. Unfortunately, as these records ably demonstrated, few British acts captured the authenticity and raw visceral power emanating from America, but there were some notable exceptions. Cliff Richard and the Drifters “Move It”, was the first convincing British rock ‘n’ roll record to break into the top ten in 1958 on the back of a memorable riff plucked by the noted session guitarist Ernie Shear. A year later The Drifters morphed into The Shadows and with a line-up of Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris and Tony Meehan, became the first three guitars and drums combo to regularly bother the charts, making them an important link between Lonnie Donegan and The Beatles. Billy Fury’s Sound of Fury LP, featuring Joe Brown on guitar, was not widely acknowledged at the time but is now regarded as a rockabilly classic. 1959s’ “Brand New Cadillac”, a raw slice of sneering attitude by Vince Taylor and His Playboys was hidden away on the flip side of the soppy “Pledging My Love” and was later covered by The Clash on their London Calling album. The song features Joe Moretti on guitar, who by chance, also supplied the bone crunching riff on 1960s’ “Shaking All Over”, a stroke of genius by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. It is often thought that the late, great Mick Green played guitar on this record, but he wasn’t press-ganged into becoming a Pirate until a year after it was recorded.
With skiffle consigned to Donegan’s dustbin, the more ambitious guitar players around Bournemouth decided it was time to up their game and descended on Minns Music, Eddie Moore’s, Sid Fay’s, Achille Roma or Don Strike’s, a small unassuming music shop in the Westbourne Arcade, to trade in their old acoustics for electric models. Established in 1926 as a wool and needlework shop by Don’s mother, Strike’s became an oasis for budding musicians who couldn’t afford the prohibitive cost of a new instrument. However, they could buy a new or used guitar on the never-never and take it home with the promise of handing over a couple of quid a week from their meagre wages. Future member of the original Big Roll Band, Roger Collis, remembers buying his first guitar, a German made Voss from Don. It was a semi-acoustic model, but he converted it by attaching a pickup to a chrome plate and mounting it over the sound hole. His second, a Czechoslovakian built Futurama cost him approximately £40.
The most popular guitars available were mainly British, made by Grimshaw, Vox, Dallas and Burns, or German such as Framus, Hoyer and Hofner, which was galling considering the recent history between the two countries. On one occasion an irate Westbourne resident threw a brick through Strike’s window in protest at him stocking guitars built by the filthy Hun. Unfortunately, coveted American makes fell afoul of a trade embargo introduced by the British government at the cessation of the War. The cost of repelling the Nazi threat had been enormous, not only in human terms, but also financially. Britain was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and in a bid to kick start the economy, the government, understandably, encouraged the population to buy British and banned American imports, especially luxury goods and that included guitars. The ban was finally lifted in late 1959, allowing Fenders and Gibsons to seep into music stores. Roger Collis relates a story about his first Fender, probably the first in Bournemouth. On a Saturday morning visit to pay off his weekly instalment, Don invited him to look at a new guitar he had just taken delivery of. To Roger’s surprise, he showed him a spanking new Stratocaster, up to this point the only Fender he had seen had been on the cover of Buddy Holly’s, The Chirping Crickets album, or in the hands of Hank Marvin of The Shadows. Cliff Richard got round the embargo by paying the princely sum of 140 guineas direct to the Fender factory in Fullerton, California for a Fiesta Red model which he gave to Hank. As Roger strummed a few chords, Don said, “What do you think?” adding, “Take it home with you, we’ll sort the money out later”. Considering the prohibitive expense of the guitar, around £150, this was a very generous gesture.
Strike’s was not only an emporium for selling musical instruments and accessories, it was also the focus for musicians looking for a vacancy via the postcards in his window and the first stop for any aspiring guitar player wishing to take lessons. Don counted Greg Lake and Robert Fripp amongst his pupils. It’s a comforting thought to know that after nearly a century in business, his son Bev and wife Mavis are still trading in the same premises and their son Paul is waiting in the wings to take over when they retire.
Eddie Moors Music was another popular outlet for musicians at 679 Christchurch Road in Boscombe. They dealt mainly in new instruments, although a deal could always be done with the proprietor Eddie, an accordion player of repute and a friend of the groups. When he eventually retired to the Canary Islands, he managed the shop from afar until the premises finally closed its doors for good in 2009. Eddie sadly died in Bournemouth on 30th May 2020 aged eighty-eight.
Minns Music, owned by the Webb family, started out as a pawnbrokers run by the grandfather but branched out into the music retail business when his son Sydney took over. He opened his first shop in Southsea, with two more situated in Bournemouth, one at 68 Poole Road, Westbourne and the other in the centre of town at 5 / 7 Gervis Place (where a young Andy Summers worked in the early sixties). In the seventies, they invested heavily in the home electronic organ business and opened further outlets, however they over stretched and liquidated in 1984. Sydney’s son Richard carried on the family tradition by setting up Intermusic Ltd. based in Poole, until he died in January 2014. He is succeeded by his son Oliver, who carries on the family business. Other popular shops included, drummer Syd Fays in Old Christchurch Road and Achille Roma which was situated at 458 / 459 Ashley Road, Parkstone. It closed with the death of the proprietor and band leader, Achille Plateroti, in August 2000.
By 1960 rock ‘n’ roll was in its death throes. Eddie Cochran had died in a car accident in Chippenham after a successful UK tour with Gene Vincent. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper all perished in a plane crash while on tour near Clear Lake, Iowa, and Elvis enlisted into the US army and languished in Germany. Little Richard shunned the devil’s music and became a preacher, while Jerry Lee Lewis found himself blacklisted after marrying his thirteen-year old first cousin. Chuck Berry fought to stay out of the slammer for violating the Mann Act by transporting a fourteen-year-old Apache waitress over the state line to work in his St Louis nightclub. Chuck’s luck finally ran out in 1962 after appeals failed, and he served eighteen months at the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri. In Britain the demise wasn’t as dramatic, but just as depressing. Cliff had become a mum’s favourite with “Living Doll”, Tommy Steele entered the world of variety via his hit “Little White Bull” and became a sought-after actor and singer in musicals. Marty Wilde also moved into musicals and films and most of Larry Parne’s stable of stars bolted after they found out he was pocketing the lions share of their earnings. Meanwhile, the charts groaned under the weight of the hiccupping vocal styling of Adam Faith, the cockney twang of Anthony Newley, the histrionic caterwauling of Shirley Bassey, a whole slew of bland Bobby’s from America and the folksy niceness of the Danish duo Nina and Frederik, it was if rock ‘n’ roll had never happened.
Teenagers couldn’t bank on the charts for their excitement anymore, so it was down to groups locally to fly the rock ‘n’ roll flag. In Bournemouth the Royal Boscombe Ballrooms still operated a strict waltz’s and foxtrots policy for the punters to flounce around to, while at the Pavilion Ballroom Jan Ralfini employed a young Tony Blackburn as a sop to appease the youngsters. However, the Southampton promoter Reg Calvert could be relied on to bring his ‘Fabulous Rocking Jiving Big Beat Shows’ to the Drill Hall in Holdenhurst Road and the Liberal Hall in Christchurch. Plus the Downstairs Club at the Lansdowne and Bure Club in Mudeford kept their end up by booking local rock ‘n’ roll groups such as Johnny King and the Raiders, Dave Anthony and the Ravers, The Furies, The Stormers and The Blackhawks.
During 1962 a cultural time bomb ticked that would eventually explode into a global phenomenon, namely Beatlemania. You don’t need me to go over their story as it has been endlessly documented elsewhere, but suffice to say, The Beatles influence on kids to pick up instruments was even more far-reaching than Lonnie Donegan’s, although ironically, it was Lonnie who kick-started The Beatles career with the birth of The Quarrymen skiffle group back in 1956. By August 1963 the group had scored two number ones and spent a year on an endless treadmill of one-nighters prior to arriving in Bournemouth for a six night run of concerts at the Gaumont in Westover Road. Their appearance in town created quite a stir, if not outright hysteria, that would come later. Amongst the audience of predominantly young, pubescent, screaming girls was a healthy contingent of proto beat merchants out to see what all the fuss was about and busy taking notes.
The Mersey Sound fired the imagination of kids across the nation by kick-starting a Beat Boom. It is estimated in Liverpool alone; over three hundred and fifty groups were active in the city on the back of The Beatles success. It appeared every young lad in the country with a modicum of musical ability could be found either twanging a guitar, or beating the living daylights out of a drum kit. To comprehend the extent of change the Beat Boom made on the UK charts in 1963, one only has to check-out the twenty top selling singles. Three entries each for The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers, two for Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (Billy was from Bootle, the Dakotas from Manchester) and one for The Searchers emphasised the dominance of the Mersey Sound. Freddie and the Dreamers, along with the Dakotas, waved the flag for Manchester and Brian Poole and The Tremeloes did likewise for Essex, while the old guard of Cliff Richard, The Shadows and Frank Ifield put in strong showings with two hits apiece. The UK recording industry, like the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said in a speech six years prior, “Never had it so good”, particularly EMI, who had the monopoly of Brian Epstein’s groups. Contrarily the Americans struggled, with only the country singer Ned Miller, Roy Orbison Elvis Presley and Jim Reeves breaking the stranglehold.
1964 was the year of the British Invasion. For the first time in the history of popular music, numerous UK acts made inroads into the American Billboard Top One Hundred. In early April The Beatles held all top five spots in the US singles charts, with a further seven placings in the top one hundred, it was unprecedented. Never in the history of Billboard had a group or single artist dominated the charts in such a manner. On both sides of the Atlantic The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, The Animals, The Swinging Blue Jeans, The Dave Clark Five, The Hollies, The Nashville Teens and The Kinks all charted regularly, while in the UK, several female artists led by Liverpool’s Cilla Black, the wee Scottish lass Lulu, Dagenham’s Sandie Shaw and the recently solo Dusty Springfield, made their presence felt.
Like the 1950’s, television was more open than radio to making room in their schedules for shows such as Juke Box Jury, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Top of the Pops and Ready Steady Go. Juke Box Jury was overseen by David Jacobs and ran from June 1959 through to the end of 1967. The show featured a panel of four celebrities judging recent releases and voting on whether it was a ‘Hit’ (a ping of a bell) or a ‘Miss’ (a parp of a hooter). If there was a tie, it would be thrown over to three members of the audience to decide its fate. Most weeks a pop star or group would appear from behind a screen and surprise the judges after they had voted on their latest platter, which could be quite an awkward experience if the single had been dealt a resounding honk. Thank Your Lucky Stars ran from 1961 to 1966 with several hosts, but is best remembered with Brian Matthew at the helm. The show first appeared in the fallow years between rock ‘n’ roll and the Beat Boom, but was quick to pick up on the new craze when they booked The Beatles to mime their latest offering “From Me to You” in January 1963. From then on there was no looking back, as groups queued up to promote their latest creations. Top of the Pops hit our screens in January 1964 and outlived the rest by sticking around for forty-two years before its demise in 2006. The concept was a winner, the producers only booked artists that were climbing the charts, guaranteeing a large young audience keen on keeping up with the latest records and trends, plus a contingent of dads who tuned in to ogle the dance troupe Pan’s People. However, if you asked the musicians, they all wanted to be seen on Ready, Steady Go. Originally similar in presentation to the other music shows, RSG really took off when it transitioned from a mimed format to a live show in early 1965. Airing on Friday nights with the tag line ‘The weekend starts here!’, Ready, Steady Go exuded excitement and youthful exuberance until the final episode in December 1966 when the Beat Boom was all but over. RSG also had the trump card in the ultra-cool Cathy McGowan. Cathy might not of been the most professional presenter, but she was right on trend and through her fashion sense, hair and make-up, she became a role model for young females and an object of desire for hot-blooded males. Through her looks and attire, McGowan picked up the nickname, ‘Queen of the Mods’.
Mods emerged from the trendy clubs and coffee bars of Soho and the west end of London on the back of the Modernists, a small clique of modern jazz fans who had a penchant for dressing in sharp Ivy League fashions similar to their idols Miles Davis and Chet Baker. The Mods created their own sub-culture during the early sixties by latching onto r&b and ska music, amphetamines (purple hearts, French blues, black bombers etc.) and most importantly, sharp duds. Tailored suits with narrow lapels, skinny ties, fitted, button-down collared shirts, crewneck jumpers, desert boots or bowling shoes and neat, short hairstyles became de rigueur and to keep the whole ensemble dry in wet weather while riding their chrome encrusted scooters, a voluminous, ex-military parka. As the sixties wore on they gained their own mod-orientated groups such as The Who, The Action, The Creation and the most modish band of all, The Small Faces. However, The Mods didn’t have it all their own way as they had a nemesis in the Rockers or Greasers. Leather clad, ton-up-boys who liked nothing more than racing their motorbikes and meeting up at roadside cafes to eye-up each other’s machines. The antithesis of the ultra-smart Mods, the scruffy-looking Rockers greased their hair up into large quiffs, wore leather jackets decorated with motorcycle motifs, studs and patches, T-shirts, Levi jeans or leather trousers and tall leather boots. Their music of choice was old-school rock ‘n’ roll.
In the summer of 1964 rivalries came to a head with pitched battles between the Mods and Rockers on the beaches of Brighton, Margate, Clacton and to a lesser degree, Bournemouth. On the May bank holiday in Bournemouth, all police leave was cancelled to counteract a possible influx of “hooligan elements” infiltrating the town. On the Monday there were small skirmishes reported around the square with windows being broken, bins kicked over and flowers and shrubs uprooted in the gardens, but mainly it was low key over exuberance from around 150 teenagers. After the dust settled, three youngsters were in hospital and thirty-three arrests were made. Apparently the police were hampered in their duties by a large crowd of curious onlookers milling around to watch the trouble unfold. Over the years it has been suggested some photographs taken on the beaches of Britain were staged by the press, who paid the rival factions a couple of bob a head to stage mock punch-ups. Although there undoubtedly was some trouble, mostly in Brighton and Margate, the moral outrage and indignation was stirred up by a tabloid press who never let the truth get in the way of a good headline.
As The Beatles pushed their music in mind-bending directions, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Yardbirds, Spencer Davis Group and Northern Ireland’s Them brought a hard edged, bluesy twist to the party, while The Who went for all out aggression with their fourth single “My Generation”. The cultural hub was Swinging London, the home of Carnaby Street and the Kings Road, Chelsea where dolly birds shopped in trendy boutiques for mini-skirts and chiffon dresses decorated with art-deco patterns designed by Mary Quant and Ossie Clark; modelled by Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton and photographed by David Bailey and Terry O’Neil. Where androgynous men paraded like peacocks in loud patterned shirts, gaudy flared trousers and military style jackets bought from Granny Takes a Trip, Hung on You and I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet. It was the decade of the pill, hedonism, optimism and rapid change, blink for a second and you missed it.
However, in 1965 there was a new style of music making inroads across the Atlantic, folk rock. The Byrds, Sonny and Cher, The Loving Spoonful, Barry McGuire and Bob Dylan were reclaiming the British charts, and by the summer of the following year, the bubble had well and truly burst. The Beatles quit touring with a final gig at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in August 1966, the city where the seeds of a new phenomenon, Flower Power, were being sown. Spearheaded by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters Acid Tests, their house band, the Grateful Dead, played a loose, improvised style of music born of the drug experience. Known as the San Francisco sound, the Dead and several other bands with fanciful names such as the Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Country Joe and the Fish, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Quicksilver Messenger Service all played music with differing characteristics and influences, but coalesced under a regional identity. Down the coast in Los Angeles there were similar stirrings with The Doors, Love and the Mothers of Invention and on the east coast The Velvet Underground, but their music was of a much darker hue than the peace and love message emanating from the Bay Area. Back in Blighty, the proliferation of marijuana and LSD during the so called Summer of Love, birthed psychedelia, which mutated into rock, as pioneered by Cream, Pink Floyd and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The game was up for the Beat Boomers; they either floundered and died, turned to the cabaret circuit or jumped on the “if you can’t beat them join them” bandwagon, by donning paisley shirts, beads and bells and growing their hair.
Going forward The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and ELP racked up huge album sales and slugged it out with their American counterparts on the stages of the world. Of course, frivolous pop records still clogged up the charts and more fads came and went than you could shake a stick at; Glam, Punk, New Wave, New Romantics, Goth et al. but the Beat Boom had done its job and put British pop and rock on the musical map.