Poole lies west of Bournemouth and predates its larger neighbour by at least seven hundred years, although its history as a settlement can be traced back to the Iron Age. Its natural harbour makes the town a popular tourist destination and jump off point to explore the Isle of Purbeck and all points west. In recent years the exclusive Sandbanks peninsula has become one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world, but if one were to travel a couple of miles along Sandbanks Road heading north you would eventually reach the less affluent area of Upper Parkstone where Roy Godfrey Phillips was born on 5th May 1941. His mother Christina died shortly after childbirth, resulting in Roy entering a Dr Barnardo’s home as an orphan. Eventually he was adopted by Frank and Margaret Phillips, who raised the boy as their own in Linden Road, Parkstone.
Frankie was a skilled painter and decorator who specialised in renovating stately homes and loved music, particularly jazz, a passion he passed onto his grandson. The pair would listen to Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald on an old wind-up gramophone, much to Margaret’s disgust, as she believed listening to jazz to be an unchristian activity. On his fifth birthday, Roy received an upright piano and attended music lessons with Ada Sharp, a strict old-school disciplinarian. By the age of eight he had taken up the guitar, inspired by his idol Chet Atkins, and at fourteen he could be found playing in local clubs as part of a skiffle group. He attended Kemp Welch School in Herbert Avenue where he excelled in art classes and on leaving, signed up for a seven-year apprenticeship as a photo-engraver with the now defunct Bournemouth Times.
By the late fifties Roy was playing lead guitar in his own trio, The Royal Blue Rockers with Barry Southgate on bass and drummer Jonny Hammond. They worked for Reg Calvert’s Bandbox Agency and backed an array of artists including Eddie Sex, Baby Bubbly, Ricky Fever, the Nelson Brothers and the Dowland Brothers. As the Dowlands popularity increased, partly due to an appearance in the final heats of the Southern Television talent show Home Grown, where they finished in the top three, Reg bumped them up the bill of his ‘Fabulous Rocking Jiving Big Beat Shows’. Wanting to sharpen up their act and present a professional front, the brothers and the Royal Blue Rockers combined forces becoming the Dowland Brothers and the Drovers.
In 1961 Calvert organised an audition for a number of his acts that weren’t out on tour, plus the Dowland and Drovers, at his Bandbox headquarters in St. Mary’s, Southampton for the London-based independent record producer Joe Meek. The night proved to be a disappointment for all Reg’s acts, apart from the Dowlands, who caught Joe’s ear and signed them up to his RGM Sounds production company. Joe renamed The Drovers The Soundtracks and over the next two years produced three unsuccessful singles, “Little Sue” (August 1962), “Big Big Fella” (November 1962) and “Break Ups” (April 1963). After the failure of “Break Ups”, Meek suggested Roy should leave The Soundtracks and become a member of his house band backing his own solo artists.
Roy teamed up with the Geordie bass player Tab Martin (b. Alan Raymond Brearey 24th December 1944 in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne) fresh from a three-month stint in The Tornados and drummer Ricky Winters (b. Richard Winter 27th September 1940 in Aldershot) formerly of Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers in The Saints, a group specifically assembled by Meek for his protégé Heinz Burt. On becoming a professional musician, Roy abandoned his career in print at the Bournemouth Times and traded in the dour delights of Parkstone for the bright lights of London, taking up residence in a flat close to the White City greyhound stadium in Shepherd’s Bush.
The Saints initially backed the Greek born Andy Cavell throughout May and June 1963, as part of a Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent and Heinz package tour, which stopped off at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens on Saturday 11th May. The Outlaws had the job of accompanying Heinz and Lewis, but at a theatre in Leicester, Roy deputised for the unavailable Outlaws guitarist Richie Blackmore, joining bassist Chas Hodges and drummer Mick Underwood backing ‘The Killer’. During their short time with Cavell, the group appeared briefly in the 1963 film Live it Up (a.k.a. Sing and Swing), a low budget vehicle for several of Meek’s artists. The plot focused on four young postmen played by David Hemmings, a pre Small Faces Steve Marriott, Heinz Burt and John Pike, as they attempted to make a mark in the music business with their struggling band The Smart Alecs. Among the musical interludes added to pad out the flimsy storyline, Andy Cavell and the Saints performed “Don’t Take You From Me” over the opening credits.
In June, Jerry Lee Lewis embarked on a tour of mainland Europe with The Outlaws in tow, initiating a switch in allegiances for the Saints, as they dumped Cavell for Heinz, who was enjoying fifteen minutes of fame on the back of a number five hit with the tribute song to Eddie Cochran, “Just Like Eddie”. They appeared on a package tour with Gene Vincent, Mike Berry and Billie Davis which pulled into the Winter Gardens on 4th August, then a twenty-one date jaunt with Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas and Tommy Roe during September and early October. A further fourteen night trek with Dee Dee Sharp, Johnny Kidd, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Joe Brown and Vince Eager included yet another date at the Winter Gardens on 20th October.
Between their busy touring schedule, The Saints recorded a couple of Meek produced singles in their own right. The first, a cover of The Safaris “Wipe Out”, came with Roy’s first recorded composition “Midgets” on the B side. Unfortunately Pye managed to miss-spell his name as Ray Phillips. They followed up with the Shadowsesque, “Husky Team” four months later along with an American only release, “Surfin’ John Brown”, Meek’s attempt at cashing in on the surfing craze sweeping southern California. On this one the group were re-branded The Ambassadors. A further two tracks “Happy Talk”, from the musical South Pacific and Leon Jessel’s “Parade of the Tin Soldiers” turned up on a compilation CD, 304 Holloway Road, Joe Meek the Pye Years Volume 2 thirty years later.
In the New Year, Heinz and the Saints joined Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, Joe Brown and his Bruvvers, The Crystals and Manfred Mann on a package that passed through Bournemouth on 28th February 1964. However, by April, The Saints were gone, replaced by The Wild Ones, another Richie Blackmore bands. Heinz Burt’s recording career ended with Meek’s suicide in 1967 and his visibility waned until a comeback low-down on the bill at the ‘London Rock ‘n’ Roll Show’, (nicknamed the Teddy Boys Picnic) staged at Wembley Stadium in August 1972. Surrounded by rock ‘n’ roll aristocracy Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Bill Hayley and Bo Diddley, he put on a spirited, if unconvincing, performance. Of more interest was the future of rock ‘n’ roll standing a matter of feet away, as his backing band featured bassist John B. Sparkes, drummer The Big Figure and guitarist Wilko Johnson enjoying a busman’s holiday from Canvey Island’s favourite sons, Dr Feelgood. In later life Heinz returned to his childhood town of Eastleigh and worked at the nearby Ford Transit factory in Swaythling and then for Southern Rail, before contracting motor neurone disease. Heinz died of a stroke on 7th April 2000, ironically at the age of fifty-seven.
With Heinz out of the picture, Roy and Tab persevered with Meek, picking up a minimum union rate of £7 a session, as they tried to fashion presentable songs out of the tuneless humming and off-beat tapping presented to them by the producer. His unpredictable temperament and paranoia, created an uneasy atmosphere in the studio and if Joe suspected anyone of deliberately sabotaging a session, he would resort to verbal abuse or even violence. Finally, the tension and tantrums became unbearable and the pair headed north to Manchester to make money on the lucrative northern workingmen’s club circuit, where they picked up a manager, Alan Lewis, a former used car salesman. Lewis suggested they find a drummer, and by chance, they happened upon Trevor Morais (b. Trevor Gladstone Morais 10th October 1944 in Liverpool) a stalwart of the Mersey Beat scene and former member of Faron’s Flamingos and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. After rehearsals in a sweet shop basement opposite the studio set of the soap Coronation Street and a fruitless search for a singer the band, now with Roy sat behind an organ, unleashed their Motown / jazz inspired sound on their first audience at the CIS Buildings in Manchester. Master of ceremonies, Jimmy Savile (I’m not going there!) introduced them to an expectant crowd on a bill that included Roy Orbison, Herman’s Hermits, Freddie and the Dreamers and The Hollies. However, most of the young audience had come to hear chart friendly pop fare and made a beeline for the bar soon after they struck up their first number. Undaunted by the experience, the group pressed on, picking up dates and a recording contract with the Dutch label Phillips. Their first single, “Rose Marie”, was credited to The Song Peddlers, but by the time of their follow up, “Let the Sun Shine In”, the trio had plumped for the more concise, The Peddlers handle.
In 1966, their manager Lewis was cast aside for Joe Collins, father of actress Joan and authoress Jackie. He secured them a handful of residencies around the capital, first at Annie’s Room in Covent Garden and then at the popular Scotch of St. James close to Piccadilly Circus and a regular hangout for the pop glitterati. It was, however, at the Pickwick Club, just off the Charing Cross Road in the heart of the West End, where they got noticed. Part owned by Harry Secombe and the playwright Wolf Mankowitz, the Pickwick became their home from home as a four week try out stretched to an eighteen-month residency. During their stay, they released their first album, Live at the Pickwick. The record opened with an introduction by the disc jockey Pete Murray and featured three musicians far removed from their simplistic rock ‘n’ roll beginnings, as they embraced their jazz sensibilities on covers of “You Are My Sunshine”, “Georgia on My Mind”, “Misty”, “Over the Rainbow” and “I Love Paris”. The record gained substantial air play because of the number of DJ’s amongst an ever growing celebrity fan-base which included Richard Harris, Jimmy Tarbuck, Eric Sykes, Spike Milligan, Max Bygraves, Christopher Plummer, Elizabeth Taylor and the Queen’s party loving sister, Princess Margaret. Not only were they the darlings of the British show biz set, but they also gained the patronage of visiting American crooners, Frank Sinatra and Mel Tormé who championed the group back home. The connection proved to be lucrative over the coming years as they secured seasons at the Eden Roc Hotel on Miami Beach and the prestigious Flamingo and Caesar’s Palace Hotel’s in Las Vegas.
After three years the band left Phillips for the larger CBS label and produced their sophomore album, Freewheelers, a collection of standards mainly culled from the world of film and musicals. Miffed by their defection, Phillips cashed in on the group’s success by releasing The Fantastic Peddlers, a compilation of early singles and tracks from their only EP, “A Swinging Scene”. In 1968 Roy wrote the title song for the Hammer horror film, The Lost Continent, a loopy seafaring yarn inhabited by a motley cast of characters and a mutinous crew. Sailing on a leaky, clapped out tramp steamer to Caracas with illegal dynamite that could blow at anytime if it gets wet, they hit a violent storm that forces our hapless heroes to take to a life raft where one of them is eaten by a shark. As the story unfolds, they encounter a giant killer octopus, murderous crabs and killer seaweed, before a band of long lost Spanish Conquistadors enter the fray. One critic described this bonkers fare as The Love Boat on acid, while another remarked that the only redeeming feature of the movie was the sight of the well-endowed Dana Gillespie busting out of her blouse, sounds like a must see.
For their next album, Three in a Cell, the trio dusted off another collection of classics and blended them with a handful of originals. One song, “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”, turned up in an episode of the award-winning TV series Breaking Bad, accompanying Walt and Jessie’s final meth cook. The track stirred up new interest in the band forty-four years after its initial release. Unlucky for some, but not the Peddlers, their thirteenth single, “Birth”, cracked the top twenty becoming their biggest seller and the follow-up, “Girlie”, crept up to number thirty-four. Both songs came from their fourth album, Birthday, a varied collection of tracks including interpretations of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster”, Pete Seeger’s anti-war song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, plus four originals. Housed in a gatefold sleeve with a risqué photograph of a naked woman, the success of the singles pushed the album up the charts to a respectable number sixteen, cementing their most successful period chart-wise. “Girlie’s” distinctive wah-wah sound, an effect more associated with guitar players, marked a change in instruments for Roy. Up until that point he had played a Lowrey Heritage organ but, after a recommendation from Manfred Mann, he switched to a Hammond B3.
A popular draw on the concert circuit and sell out shows in America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand helped to enhance the groups international reputation, while back in the UK the group regularly performed high profile dates at the London Palladium, Royal Festival Hall and Royal Albert Hall. They also became regulars on prime-time TV where they rubbed shoulders with the mother-in-law baiting Les Dawson on Sez Les, the achingly hip (for a very short time in the late sixties) Simon Dee on Dee Time and with the whistling, bearded troubadour Roger Whittaker on his Whistle Stop Show. Their performance on Whistle Stop highlighted a trio at the peak of their powers, whipping up a storm on “Southern Woman” and “Walk on the Wild Side”. Check them out on Youtube.
In the new decade, The Peddlers left CBS and returned to Phillips for the release of Three for All. Recorded in a day, the twelve tracks covered an eclectic mix of material from The Monkees “Last Train to Clarksville” and Randy Newman’s “Love Story”, to Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” and Ray Charles “This Little Girl of Mine”. The lead single, “Tell the World we’re Not In”, appeared on the soundtrack of Goodbye Gemini, a dark British thriller starring Judy Geeson and Martin Potter as a pair of unnaturally close siblings, in a nightmarish Swinging London inhabited by predators. Their next album, Suite London, is viewed by many fans as their artistic peak. Witten by Roy in collaboration with Peter Robinson, who wrote the orchestral score for the London Philharmonic Orchestra, it proved to be a critical, if not commercial success. Its sheer scope and ambition caused many critics to re-evaluate their opinions of the group. However, all the plaudits garnered for its artistic creativity, were countered by the live experience. Morais felt stifled by audience expectations to hear the hits night after night and quit in 1973 during a tour of Australia. He resurfaced a couple of years later in the jazz / rock band Quantum Jump and then, after their demise, he moved to Malaga in Spain where he set up the El Cortijo recording studio working with Sade, Howard Jones, Neneh Cherry and INXS amongst a host of others. Roy and Tab vowed to carry on and recruited New Zealander Paul Johnston, after he was spotted in a support band at a Rolling Stones concert. He appeared on the album, Live in London, and toured extensively with the band until they split in 1976. Tab moved to Portugal and Johnson returned to New Zealand where he became an Osteopath and Acupuncturist until his death in 2013. Roy released two solo albums, Spanish Sun and Heavy on the Light Side, before he re-grouped with bassist Dave Flay, drummer Phil James and guitarist Kevin Healy and carried on the Peddlers legacy releasing a live offering, The Peddlers Live in Amsterdam, which proved to be the group’s swansong.
In 1981 Roy emigrated to New Zealand, a country he fell in love with while on tour in the sixties and for a while, ran a small restaurant in the seaside town of Paihia in the Bay of Islands. He then moved to Queenstown on the west coast of the south island where he recorded “New Zealand, New Zealand” with the Kimitia Te Rangimarie Maori Club of Hawera High Scool and a solo single, “Step by Step”. In 1994 the Bournemouth Echo posted an obituary stating that Roy had died at the age of fifty-one, a story he believed to be “greatly exaggerated”. Roy eventually settled on the east coast in Christchurch with his long standing partner and manager Robyn, who he married on 10th December 2017. He occasionally performs a one-man show, ‘An Evening With Roy Phillips’, a mix of music and anecdotes. Over the years he has provided soundtracks for films and TV and composed “I Have a Dream” for the 1996 New Zealand Olympic team. In 2011 he undertook a tour of New Zealand with bassist Bruce Kerr and drummer Micky Otutaonga performing The Peddlers repertoire. He has released four self-financed solo albums, That’s Way Tis, Dancing With Shadows, Blue Groove and Standard Procedure Trilogy.
During their career The Peddlers sold over forty-five million records, mostly to fans of middle-of-the-road, easy listening jazz. It’s possible they would have been forgotten over time but, thanks to the rise of the Acid Jazz scene on which they have been cited as an influence and one of their songs cropping up in Breaking Bad, the group had a renaissance and found a new audience. A forty-two track retrospective of their CBS output, How Cool is Cool is a good place to sample a sizeable chunk of their oeuvre.
Roy Phillips Discography
The Dowlands and the Soundtracks Singles
Little Sue c/w Julie: Oriole (CB 1748) 1962
Big Big Fella c/w Don’t Ever Change: Oriole (CB 1781) 1962
Break Ups c/w A Love Like Ours: Oriole (CB 1815) 1963
The Saints Singles
Wipe Out c/w Midgets: Pye (7N 15548) 1963
Husky Team c/w Pigtails: Pye (7N 15582) 1963
Surfin’ John Brown c/w Big Breaker: Dot (DOT 16528) 1963 As the Ambassadors, USA only
The Peddlers Singles
Rose Marie c/w I’m Not Afraid: Phillips (BF 1325) 1964 As the Song Peddlers
Let the Sun Shine In c/w True Girl: Phillips (BF 1375) 1964
Whatever Happened to the Good Times c/w Song For the Blues: Phillips (BF 1404) 1965
Over the Rainbow c/w You Must be Having Me On: Phillips (BF1455) 1965
Adam’s Apple c/w Anybody’s Fool: Phillips (BF1506) 1966
I’ve Got to Hold On c/w Gassin’: Phillips (BF1530) 1966
What’ll I Do c/w Delicious Lady: Phillips (BF 1557) 1967
Irresistible you c/w Murray’s Mood: CBS (2947) 1967
You’re the Reason I’m Living c/w Nine Miles High: CBS (3055) 1967
Handel With Care c/w Horse’s Collar: CBS (3333) 1968
Comin’ Home Baby c/w Empty Club Blues: CBS (3734) 1968
That’s Life c/w Wasting My Time: CBS (4045) 1969
Birth c/w Steel Mill: CBS (4449) 1969
Girlie c/w PS I Love You: CBS (4720) 1970
Thank God c/w Working Again: Phillips (6006 063) 1970
Tell the World we’re Not In c/w Rainy Day in London: Phillips (6006 34) 1970
Let me be Turned to Stone c/w True Girl: Phillips (6006 110) 1971
Have You Ever Been to Georgia c/w Manah: Phillips (6006 141) 1971
Back-Alley Jane c/w Nothing Sacred: Phillips (6006 223) 1972
Sing Me an Old Song c/w It’s So Easy: Phillips (6006 283) 1973
That Song is Driving Me Crazy c/w Just a Thought Ago: EMI (EMI 2231) 1974
Is There Anyone out There c/w Just a Thought Ago: EMI (EMI 2106) 1974
The Peddlers EP
A Swinging Scene: Phillips (BE 12594) 1966
The Peddlers Albums
Live at the Pickwick: Phillips (SBL 7768) 1967
Freewheelers: CBS (SBPG 63183) 1967
The Fantastic Peddlers: Fontana (SFL 13016) 1967
Three in a Cell: CBS (63411) 1968
Birthday: CBS (63682) 1969
Three for All: Phillips (6308 028) 1970
Suite London: Phillips (6308 102) 1972
Live in London: EMI (EMC 3022) 1973
The Peddlers Live in Amsterdam: Gemini (GEM 10) 1979
How Cool is Cool: Columbia (509740 2) 2002 CD compilation
Roy Phillips Singles
Spanish Sun c/w The Office Party: Soldoon (SDR 014) 1976
New Zealand, New Zealand c/w Takapuna: Warrior (WAR 1009) 1983 With the Kimitia Te Rangimarie Maori Club of Hawera High Scool
Step by Step c/w All Girl Planet: Zulu (Z 006) 1987
Roy Phillips Albums
Spanish Sun: PVK Records (SPVL 100) 1976
Mr Peddler: Warner Brothers (Z26001) 1976
That’s Way Tis: Beyond Sound 2006 Self Released
Dancing With Shadows: Muscle Music Production 2007 Self Released
Blue Groove: Robyn Promotions Ltd 2014 Self Released
Standard Procedure Trilogy: Roy Phillips 2020 Self Released