Hopping from band to band has always been part and parcel of being a musician and former Poole Grammar School pupil and drummer Christopher Robin ‘Fergie’ Ferguson (b. 7th March 1944 in St. Blazy, Cornwall) was in his fair share before forming The Nite People. His initial dalliance of a musical kind was with a bunch of school mates in The Strangers, who coalesced around a nucleus of Chris, guitarist Tony Collier, bassist Brain Oram and vocalist Barrie James. There was another group whose name has been long forgotten (or maybe they didn’t get around to thinking of one) with guitarist Keith Collins, vocalist Brian Fisher and second guitarist Clive ‘Bunny’ Warren, but neither group amounted to anything of note. Fergie then progressed onto The Ravens, where he replaced Graham Whale, joining guitarist’s Robert Fripp and Valentino ‘Tino’ Licinio plus bassist Gordon Haskell as they dipped their toes into the choppy waters of the music biz for the first time. After a couple of months Fripp pulled the plug when he left to further his education, leaving Fergie to transfer his tub thumping skills to the Kapota All Stars replacing Tony Ringrose. During his tenure with Al Shepp, Ed Roberts, Tony Ricard and Pete Ballam, the Kapota evolved into The Tall Men where he met future Nite People bassist Tubs Turner after he came in for the departing Ballam. With their demise he shifted allegiance’s to the popular Sands Combo joining vocalist’s Zoot Money and Tony Head, pianist Al Kirtley, guitarist Graham ‘Wes’ Douglas, bassist Roger Bone and Kevin Drake on tenor saxophone as they delighted the ‘Big Beat Night’ dancers every Tuesday at the Pavilion ballroom.
In April 1964 Fergie decided it was time to strike out on his own and formed his own outfit, The Nite People, with bassist Tubs Turner, former Crispen Street Quintet guitarist / vocalist Jimmy William Shipstone (b. 16th June 1939 in Le Harve, Jersey), ex Andy Somers Quartet organist Barry Curtis (b. 22nd March 1941 in Faringdon, Berkshire) and saxophonist Nigel Street (b. 1941 in Bournemouth), who never fully committed to the band. In fact, not long after their formation, he concluded that being a musician was not a secure career move and left to become a solicitor, opening up a vacancy for the sax and flute of Patrick Leyburn Bell (b. 8th July 1942 in Weymouth). Turner also had second thoughts early on and bailed out, making way for Jimmy’s younger brother Francis Shipstone (b. 26th May 1945 in Southampton, Hampshire) to step in on bass from The Vipers. The Shipsone brothers both adopted alias’s during their tenure, with Jimmy becoming Jimmy Warwick and Francis taking the surname Gordon (his middle name).
The group signed with the Avenue Artistes Agency based in Southampton joining Les Fleur de Lys and Salisbury’s Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch and gained the services of a young ambitious manager, Terry Rolph, who secured them college and club one-nighters around the south of England. He also booked them on an arduous two-month schlep around the bierkellers of Germany, which included residencies in Frankfurt and Munich, followed by a further two-month stretch across the border in the Austrian capital of Vienna and the Tyrol town of Innsbruck. The hard slog and long nights honed the band into a tight, cohesive unit which reaped dividends back home in the UK. One date at the Top 20 Club held in the Bournemouth Town Hall was reviewed by Michael Guy for the Bridgewater Mercury and illustrates their growing reputation, “If you are spending your holiday this year in Bournemouth the chances are that you will hear many of the locals raving about a bright group called The Nite People”. He added, “Their material was of an exceptionally high professional standard. Good examples of this were their arrangements of Mel Torme’s sultry blues specialty “I’m Coming Home” and Sam Cooke’s “Shake””.
On 3rd March 1965 The Who thrilled a packed crowd at Bournemouth’s Le Disque A Go! Go! with a repertoire stuffed with James Brown, Motown and blues covers plus their single, “I Can’t Explain”, which was riding high in the charts. Their hell raising drummer, Keith Moon, spotted local girl Kim Kerrigan, a sixteen-year-old model, in the audience and began a stormy, long distance relationship while fighting off love rival Rod ‘The Mod’ Stewart. Although the liaison eventually ended in a doomed marriage, during their courtship Keith became a regular visitor to the town, staying at the Kerrigans family home in Michaelgrove Road in Boscombe. He would hang out at the Disque where on 12th May 1965 he sat in with the London based Mod band The Action and on another occasion he joined The Nite People when they were playing a twenty-first birthday party for their friend Nigel Leonard. Three broken skins later Fergie finished the gig with his drums turned upside down as they were the only drum heads left intact. From that day on, the pair became mates. Keith would often turn up outside Fergie’s house in Green Road, Poole in his Rolls Royce before heading into Bournemouth for a few pints at the old Fox pub in Terrace Road or the Buccaneer bar in the Royal Bath Hotel, where Moon would place a roll of fivers on the bar with instructions to keep the drinks flowing.
In September 1966, The Nite People released their debut single “Sweet Tasting Wine” (September 1966) on the Fontana label, followed by “Try to Find Another Man” (March 1967). Six months later they tried again with a funked up instrumental version of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” (November 1967) however, try as they might, a hit eluded them. Despite the lack of chart action, they were never short of work on the club and college circuit, although a gig at the Penthouse Club in Sheffield proved to be a challenge. Like a lot of venues, unloading the gear involved stairs, but to gain entry to the Penthouse the band had to lug their cumbersome Hammond organ up five flights, an exercise that almost defeated them. On their return home, they vowed to employ an extra pair of hands and hired Ricky Somers, the brother of future Police guitarist Andy ‘Summers’ Somers, as a roadie.
On 31st March 1967 Radio London promoted a show at the Roundhouse in Camden Town featuring the stars of the ‘Hit the Road Stax’ tour. Headlined by Otis Redding and supported by Sam and Dave, Arthur Conley, Eddie Floyd, Carla Thomas and Booker T and the MG’s with the Mar-Keys, The Nite People, Felders Orioles and Ebony Keyes were hired to warm up the crowd, if such a thing was needed with such a stellar line-up. Still, not a bad bill for a quid. The tour was causing a storm all over Europe and was the hottest ticket in town with members of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who all in attendance. After the Nite People’s set, Booker T’s legendary drummer Al Jackson complimented Fergie on his playing. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing, God had spoken. Another scoop came their way in May with an invitation to join the Beach Boys on a seven date package tour of the UK. The supporting cast of Peter Jay’s Jaywalkers featuring Terry Reid on vocals, Southampton’s Simon Dupree and the Big Sound and Helen Shapiro shared the first half, while The Nite People opened proceedings after the interval, warming up the crowd for the main event. The band also had the pleasure of accompanying Motown favourites Martha Reeves and the Vandellas on a mini-tour starting taking in the 100 Club in Oxford Street, London, followed by shows in Basingstoke, Leicester and Leeds.
As their name spread around London, they became a fixture at the Marquee Club supporting The VIP’s and The Artwoods in December 1966 and bands such as The Herd, Marmalade, Neat Change, The Alan Bown, The Jeff Beck Group, The Nice, Arthur Brown, The Action, Long John Baldry, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound and Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Titch throughout 1967. By the spring of 1968 they had become headliners in their own right, topping the bill over The Open Mind, Granny’s Intentions, The Breakthru, The Staks, The Rivers Invitation, The Cortinas and an up-and-coming progressive rock act playing their second gig called Yes.
Being a resident band at the club opened the door for an appearance at the ‘7th National Jazz, Pop, Ballad and Blues Festival’ held at the Royal Windsor Racecourse, as the Marquee promoted the event. The Nite People were the first to take the stage on the Friday evening, paving the way for The Syn, Tomorrow, Eric Burdon and the New Animals, The Move and The Small Faces. They were the first of a strong Bournemouth contingent over a weekend that included Zoot Money’s Dantalian’s Chariot featuring Andy Summers and Colin Allen, local troubadour Al Stewart, who delivered a laid back acoustic set on the Sunday afternoon and bass player Bob Brunning making his debut with Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. The ‘8th National Jazz and Blues Festival’ moved to Kempton Park Racecourse in Sunbury-on-Thames and The Nite People were back playing in a marquee on the Saturday night with Clouds, Deep Purple and Joe Cocker and the Grease Band.
The band’s fourth, and undoubtedly best single, “Morning Sun” (March 1968), should have been a huge hit. Co-written and produced by their label mate Spencer Davis, the record enjoyed extensive radio plays and an appearance by the band on Southern TV’s Time For Blackburn failed to propel it up the charts. The disappointment was tangible and triggered several changes. Francis Gordon walked away and was replaced for a short period by the former Walker Brothers bassist Martin Clarke, who then stepped aside for Scot Kirkpatrick. Patrick Bell also parted company with the band, as did their record company Fontana. The slimmed down quartet soldiered on, dropped the definitive article by becoming the shortened Nite People and signed to Larry Page’s Page One label, home of The Troggs and Bournemouth’s own Trend and Svensk. Their first effort for Page “Love, Love, Love, Love, Love” (July 1969), originally recorded by an obscure American band called Wool, unveiled a slightly heavier sound, while the flip side, a cover of Bubble Puppy’s “Hot Smoke and Sassafras”, added a touch of psychedelia. They followed up with a reflective ballad, “Is This a Dream” (November 1969) backed by “Creme Tea”, a driving six and a half minute organ driven instrumental written by the band.
You have to hand it to Larry Page, he wasn’t fazed by their lack of commercial success and put his money where his mouth was by financing an album, 1969’s P.M.. Recorded at Maximum Sound Studios and produced by Phil Waller, it featured two original compositions, an instrumental “Funky Hoe” and the title track which was coupled with “Season of the Rain” (July 1970), an early Elton John / Bernie Taupin song, as their seventh single. The rest of the set included a couple of jazz instrumentals, Jimmy Giuffre’s “The Train and the River” and Curtis Amy’s “Native Land”, a reasonable stab at Frank Zappa’s “Peaches in Regalia”, a radical re-arranged versions of The Four Tops “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, a dramatic re-tooling of Tom Jones’s “Delilah” and a funky treatment of the old skiffle favourite “Rock Island Line”. Fergie thought the album was awful and has never owned a copy, the Melody Maker however, begged to differ, “They sound a bit like The Peddlers with their heavy use of bass and organ, but the use of brass and occasional strings fill out the overall sound to make the album a pretty good step off for the quartet”. Sounds summed up the album’s problem succinctly with, “Nite People certainly cover the whole spectrum of music, from the Jimmy Giuffre classic “Train and the River” to the Four Tops “Reach Out” and Zappa’s “Peaches in Regalia”. But when there’s so much good original stuff going out, the public are unlikely to buy cover versions, however good”. On refection the dearth of new material was probably the album’s downfall and why it failed to catch the imagination of the record buying public, no matter how good the musicianship was.
By 1970, that was just about that, apart from a bizarre twist in the story. A Page One representative persuaded the band to record “Tra La La Song (Makin’ up a Mess o’ Fun)” (October 1970) and release it under the pseudonym, The Banana Bunch. The blatant cash in on the kids’ TV programme, the Banana Splits was an embarrassment, but by then the game was just about up anyway. After a German tour and a few local dates at uninspiring venues such as the Parley Sports Club and East Howe Youth Club, the band called it a day, leaving Fergie with fifteen quid in his pocket.
After the dust settled, Chris Ferguson and Barry Curtis became the resident band in a Bournemouth cabaret club backing singers such as Kiki Dee, Kenny Lynch and Helen Shapiro. Fergie then moved to Cape Town and worked with a trio on a cruise ship sailing to Mauritius, the Seychelles and Rio de Janeiro before joining one of South Africa’s top groups. In 1979 he became a booker at an entertainment agency in Johannesburg before marrying and moving back to England, where he worked for booking agencies in Bournemouth and London until he started up his own entertainment company. Barry Curtis carried on playing and trained as an accountant, he lived in Child Okeford and then Sturminster Newton where he ran the thirty strong mixed voice choir, The Okeford Minstrels, until his untimely death in June 2018. Jimmy ‘Warwick’ Shipstone moved to Australia where he worked as a Radio DJ before he became head of A&R for RCA and BMG Records and then MD for BMG Music Publishing for Australia and New Zealand. He is now retired and lives near Sydney, but works with indigenous performers and has written a couple of children’s musicals. His brother Francis ‘Gordon’ Shipstone also emigrated and lives in Perth, but has given up playing and performing music altogether. After Pat Bell left in 1969, he played with many local bands including Blackwater Gold, the Alan Martin Band, the Pete Wilson Band, The Ambassadors and the Weymouth All-Stars. In the seventies he set up the Record and Tape Centre in Weymouth until he trained as a nurse in the eighties and opened the Roundhayes Nursing Home with his wife Jennifer. He retired in 2007 but kept on playing locally until 2019, he sadly passed away in July 2020.
The Nite People have gained belated kudos on the collector’s market because of the rarity of their records. Their singles regularly fetch up to £100 on bidding sites and their solitary album, P.M., goes for around £500 however, a mint copy fetched a staggering £1,120 in 2013. In September 2020 a limited run, red vinyl edition in the original French sleeve was released on Record Store Day.
Special thanks go to Chris ‘Fergie’ Ferguson for emails and photographs and Jimmy Shipstone for emails.
(The) Nite People Discography
Sweet Tasting Wine c/w Nobody But You: Fontana (TF 747)
Try to Find another Man c/w Stay as Sweet As You Are: Fontana (TF 808) 1967
Summertime Blues c/w In the Springtime: Fontana (TF 885) 1967
Morning Sun c/w Weird and Funny: Fontana (TF 919) 1968
Morning Sun c/w Were You There: Fontana (TF 919) 1968 Alternative B side
Love, Love, Love, Love, Love c/w Hot Smoke and Sassafras: Page One (POF 149) 1969
Love, Love, Love, Love, Love c/w Hot Smoke and Sassafras: Page One (14 409 AT) 1969 German picture sleeve
Love, Love, Love, Love, Love c/w Hot Smoke and Sassafras: Page One (1104) 1969 Italian picture sleeve
Love, Love, Love, Love, Love c/w Hot Smoke and Sassafras: Page One (POF 149) 1969 Dutch picture sleeve
Love, Love, Love, Love, Love c/w Hot Smoke and Sassafras: Amsterdam (AM 85008) 1969 American release
Love, Love, Love, Love, Love c/w Hot Smoke and Sassafras: Page One (POF 149) 1969 Norwegian picture sleeve
Is This a Dream c/w Creme Tea: Page One (POF 159) 1969
P.M. c/w Season of the Rain: Page One (POF 174) 1969
P.M. c/w Season of the Rain: Page One (14 625 AT) 1969 German picture sleeve
P.M. c/w Season of the Rain: Page One (POF 1107) 1969 Italian picture sleeve
P.M. c/w Season of the Rain: Page One (PO 1025) 1969 Canadian release
P.M. c/w Season of the Rain: Page One (PGK-3741) 1969 New Zealand release
Tra La La Song (Makin’ up a Mess o’ Fun) c/w Funky Hoe: Page One (POF 183) 1971 As The Banana Bunch
P.M.: Page One (POLS 025) 1970
P.M.: PM Music (507234) CD Possibly a bootleg
P.M.: Trading Places (TDP54022) 2020 A limited release on Record Store Day 2020 on red vinyl in the alternative French sleeve
Compilations featuring The Nite People
Jagged Time Lapses: Flashback Productions (FBCD02) 2000 “Morning Sun”
We Can Fly 2: Past and Present (PAPRCD 2037) 2001 “Love, Love, Love, Love, Love”
Instro-Hipsters A Go-Go 3: Past and Present (PAPRCD 2045) 2003 “Creme Tea”
We Can Fly 5: Past and Present (PAPRCD 2058) 2004 “P.M.”
Glimpses Volume 1: Spiral Groove (SGLP 3009) 2012 “Hot Smoke and Sassafras”