The small Anglo Saxon town of Blandford Forum is situated on the banks of the river Stour, fifteen miles north of Bournemouth. Recorded as Blaenford in the Domesday book, Blandford became a market town during the thirteenth century but was destroyed by a devastating fire in 1731. Over the next ten years the town was completely rebuilt, overseen by the unfortunately named Bastard brothers, John and William, a pair of surveyors and architects. Up until 1966 the town had its own railway station, but it was marked for closure under the Dr. Beeching reorganisation of the railways in 1963, the same year it was mentioned in the song “Slow Train” by the musical duo Flanders and Swann.
It was in this quaint corner of rural Dorset that civil servant and guitarist Chris Williams joined a blues rock band called One Way in the spring of 1968. Born in Devon, his family moved to Yorkshire when he was young, then to Bournemouth in 1964 and finally Blandford Forum when he was eighteen. A late starter, Chris didn’t pick up a guitar until his sixteenth birthday, but over a couple of years he toiled away in his bedroom and became quite an accomplished player in a short space of time. When One Way broke up in July 1968, Chris invited a student from the Bournemouth and Poole Art College, bassist Roy Putt, to join him in a new band they christened The Room after a poem by Conrad Aiken. The line-up was completed by drummer Pete Redfearn, an employee of a record store in Bournemouth and another Blandford resident, vocalist Roger Hope. A little later they became a quintet with the addition of Scott, a guitarist from Bournemouth, but his tenure was short-lived when he made way for Steve Edge in October. Steve was a former pupil of Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Wimborne, the same seat of learning as Robert Fripp and Gordon Haskell, and had played locally in his village of Shapwick since 1963, starting out with skiffle group through to a Beatles and Byrds cover band called The Krabs with bassist Terry Lowe, Lenny Parratt on guitar and drummer Terry Dickerson. In 1967 he left them for a life of poverty as a student at the Bournemouth and Poole Art College.
The Room started life as a blues rock covers band, much like Chris’s former band One Way and took their repertoire of John Mayall, Jimi Hendrix and Cream numbers out on the road to the small towns of Ringwood, Dorchester and Wimborne, plus various village halls in the outlying hamlets of Hazelbury Bryan, Chard, Tarrant Rawston and Stourpaine. On 5th December 1968, their connections with local college social secretaries came to fruition with a high-profile date supporting Pink Floyd and Status Quo at the Royal Ballrooms in Boscombe. Disappointingly the Floyd were aloof and left after their set, but the Quo were friendly and stuck around for a chat after the gig.
In February 1969 Roger Hope was squeezed out in preference to Chris Williams girlfriend, Jane Kevern, which gave the band a unique focal point as female singers in rock bands were still a novelty in the late sixties. The change of singer also brought about a gradual transition in material as they morphed from a blokey blues band into an inventive, progressive rock outfit with a repertoire stuffed with highly original songs influenced by the bands coming out of the West Coast of America, particularly San Francisco.
During the spring there was no let-up in their busy schedule and a stop off in Weymouth for the town’s annual ‘Beat Contest’ in April, proved as good a place as any to try out some of their new songs. They opened with “Ethel”, a melodic but tricky number written by Steve Edge and an art school friend Mike Horseman, with Jane augmenting the band while pumping a harmonium, followed by another Edge composition “Rosebud Mary”. The third song has been forgotten in the mists of time but the closer was their version of the crowd pleasing “Cat’s Squirrel”, an up-tempo Doctor ‘Isaiah’ Ross instrumental made popular by both Cream on their first album “Fresh Cream” and Jethro Tull on their debut “This Was”. After the votes were counted, The Room finished a respectable third place.
At the beginning of the summer the band dropped the definitive article and became the shortened Room, just before the lucky break most bands in Bournemouth would have given their eyeteeth for, a gig at the Ritz. Owned by Len Wallen, the Ritz was situated on the cliffs west of Bournemouth pier. Len bought the Starleys hotel and the ballroom and apartments across the road in January 1966 and turned the Ritz, which had mainly hosted low key jazz gigs, into a happening place with help from local promoter Mel Bush. The pair spent the next four years bringing the likes of Jethro Tull, The Nice, Chicken Shack, Black Sabbath, Van der Graaf Generator, Taste, John Mayall, Ten Years After and Colosseum to the south coast where they performed for up to a thousand punters at a time in the claustrophobic, fug filled atmosphere of the cramped club. On a good night it was almost impossible for the musicians to battle their way through the tightly packed crowd from the dressing room, sited behind the bar, to the stage situated against the far wall. In the summer there would be a modicum of relief when the doors to the beer garden would be thrown open to ease the pressure and allow a much-needed blast of fresh sea air.
Room were already regular paying customers at the club and couldn’t believe their luck when they were booked as a support act. However, on the night the headliners were a no show, giving the band plenty of opportunity to impress the owner with their full set. Len liked what he heard and made them the house band for the rest of 1969 through to the spring of 1970, when the club closed for a refurbishment and a name change to The Hive. During their residency they supported Juniors Eyes, The Third Ear Band, Pete Brown’s Piblokto, Gypsy, The Strawbs, Julian’s Treatment, Village, The Liverpool Scene, Clouds and The Edgar Broughton Band amongst others. On one memorable night, they warmed up the crowd for the blues legend Howling Wolf, who was on a short UK tour with the John Dummer Blues Band. On another occasion they played second fiddle to their heroes, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. On the night, Mick Fleetwood had a problem with his snare drum and asked Pete Redfern if he could borrow his. Pete did the decent thing and handed it over and then watched in horror as Fleetwood beat a large indentation into the skin over the course of the evening, Pete was not amused. Apart from that, they found the Mac to be very approachable and one of the friendliest bands they met, probably helped by the fact that Peter Green was Chris and Steve’s favourite guitarist.
That summer Room had the dubious pleasure of undertaking half a dozen trips on the ‘Showboat’, the tub that plied its trade between Poole quay and Swanage during the unpredictable summer months. Filled with inebriated passengers, especially on the return voyage after they had drunk the pubs of Swanage dry, some would regret their excesses if the weather turned a tad inclement. On one particularly bumpy sailing, Pete had to lash his drums to anything that was bolted down to stop them skidding around the deck as the boat was tossed from pillar to post whilst navigating Old Harry Rocks during a howling gale.
However, changes were afoot and the drummer wouldn’t need his sea legs for much longer as the band turned professional in September 1969. Pete baulked at the idea and left to become the manager of the Bournemouth branch of Setchfields, a record store in Old Christchurch Road. During his time at the shop, he became a star of the silver screen at the nearby Gaumont cinema. In between the B movie and the main feature, Pearl and Dean advertising would feature several local business’s peddling their wares. Just after the ironic cheers for the Dave Wells used car dealership and before a local Chinese restaurant, Pete would pop up smiling awkwardly for the camera, while pretending to serve one of the great unwashed. To his regular customers, he became a legend in his own lunchtime.
Pete’s replacement was Bob Jenkins, an accomplished drummer versed in rock and jazz who had recently been in the band Tetrad with John Wetton, Richard Palmer-James and John ‘Hutch’ Hutchenson. Bob was never short of work sitting in with jazz bands, dance combos, pop groups and his father’s own Southern Jazz Quintet, sometimes alongside his vocalist mother Jo. In his youth, Bob Jenkins Senior played tenor sax in the Joe Loss and Cyril Stapleton bands amongst others and in the early sixties could be found at the Norfolk Hotel on Richmond Hill with his quartet of Percy Pegg on piano, Doug Smith on bass and drummer Geoff Proud and at the Pavilion in the Jan Ralfini Orchestra. Coming from such a musical background Bob junior was encouraged to take up a musical instrument, and the twin catalysts of Ringo Starr and Buddy Rich helped him decide on the drums.
Weeks before Bob joined, the band moved into a dingy communal flat in Westby Road in Boscombe and signed with Harry Goldblatt, an old school, Arthur Daley type manager with the gift of the gab. The band also scrimped and saved a deposit to buy a secondhand transit van so as they could travel to gigs in one vehicle to keep the costs down. It was agreed between the band and Harry that he would deduct money from their fees to make the repayments. It later transpired that Golblatt failed to honour the agreement, and the van was repossessed.
On Wednesday 10th December 1969, Room entered the local heat of the annual ‘Melody Maker Beat Contest’ held on their home turf, The Ritz. The band faced stiff opposition from six local entrants Coconut Mushroom, Concrete Trousers, The Feet, Wanted, Long Grey Mare and Estas Tom Cat, but were judged the winners by entertainment secretaries from the Bournemouth and Poole College of Art. On the day of the final, Friday 23rd January 1970, the band left home early for a pre-booked appointment at Orange Recording Studios in London, where they cut a couple of demo tracks for EMI, before heading off to the Lyceum in the Strand. They arrived to find chaotic scenes backstage as the pushy organisers attempted to coordinate the disparate bunch of hairy musicians and rough arsed roadies into some semblance of order. One shocking detail Jane related to Flashback Magazine sums up a female’s lot in the music biz of the sixties. Apparently Goldblatt approached her before the band took to the stage and suggested that if she “accommodated” one of the judges in his room they would win. Obviously she refused, too which Goldblatt replied, “You won’t get on in the business like that my girl”.
The gig kicked off at seven thirty with Saffron, followed by Rubber Duck, Blueberry Jam, Barnubus, Mushroom, Apex Big Roll, Sweet Thunder, Room, whose set went down particularly well, especially Steve’s dramatic “Vehicle” which concluded their set, Mandragon who came third and then the eventual winners Ginhouse, a power trio from Newcastle. Judged by entertainments secretaries from colleges and universities dotted around the country, Pete Drummond announced the winners at two thirty in the morning and Ric Grech from Blind Faith presented the trophy. Room came second. Initially they were disappointed, but Decca had a scout at the event who approached Goldblatt with an offer of one album and five singles a year for three years, plus a £2,000 advance. Harry pocketed the advance, and the band were lucky to see the cost of a pair of trousers each.
Along with the recording contract, the band signed to the powerful Mecca Agency who boosted the quality of their gigs immediately by booking them into several of the capitals top clubs such as the Temple in Wardour Street with The Pretty Things, the Marquee Club, Klooks Kleek in West Hampstead with Roy Harper, the Revolution Club in Berkeley Square and the Lyceum with Caparious, Spencer Davis and Sam Apple Pie. The band also travelled farther afield to various parts of the country and across the channel to a festival in Lille, France and a couple of clubs dates in Switzerland.
Decca studios in Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead, has history. The Beatles famously failed an audition on the premises in 1963, the Rolling Stones recorded their first single, “Come On”, there and Eric Clapton influenced thousands of guitar players by taping the influential ‘Beano‘ album within its hallowed walls in 1965 with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Room took up residence for two days in the spring of 1970 with producer Mickey Clarke who had just achieved a number one hit with Rolf Harris’s “Two Little Boys” the following year, not the best recommendation for a producer, but he proved to be very skilled at his job. The band were so well rehearsed, it’s believed approximately twelve songs made it onto tape, most of which only needed one or two takes. They returned to Bournemouth pleased with a job well done, apart from Steve Edge, who returned a few days later to arrange brass and orchestral parts with Richard Hartley (he went on to be the musical director of Richard O’Brian’s Rocky Horror Show). Hartley conducted the orchestra, and in tandem with Mickey Clarke, worked out link pieces before Clarke mixed the record without any input from the band.
Pre-Flight was released in November 1970 on the Decca subsidiary label Deram, joining label-mates Ten Years After, East of Eden, The Moody Blues, Giles, Giles & Fripp and John L. Watson and the Web. The seven tracks came in a memorable cartoon sleeve drawn by Roy Putt, with photographs on the rear snapped by the celebrated photographer Dezo Hoffman. Most critics were confused by the style and range of music on display and the critique that appeared in Melody Maker was fairly typical, “An interesting, laudable but rather joyless set from the runners up in ‘MM’s Search Contest’ for college bands. Room have clearly put a lot of thought into this album and they make interesting use of a string and brass section, but really it’s not an album that I want to play again”. With less than flattering reviews, zero promotion from Decca and a limited supply shipped out to stockists, the album sold a paltry number of copies.
Years later, Pre-Flight stands up well to further scrutiny. Apart from the throwaway blues of “Where Did I Go Wrong” and the perfunctory instrumental work out on “Big John Blues”, the album’s strengths lie in the complex arrangements, unexpected time changes and imaginative orchestral backing from a fourteen strong ensemble of seasoned session musicians. The two-part title track and the jazzy “No Warmth in My Life” are both worthy inclusions, but where the album really scores is on the last three tracks, “Andromeda”, “War” and “Cemetery Junction” (named after the major crossroads between Winton and the Lansdowne). The interplay between Chris Williams and Steve Edge’s guitars dazzle, the rhythm section is rock solid with Bob Jenkins dextrous drumming shining through and Jane more than holds her own. On reflection Steve Edge registered his disappointment with the track selection, believing better and brighter tunes were left in the can, while other members thought their original vision had been watered down and compromised by the addition of an orchestration. Personally, I believe they are being far too hard on themselves. If “Where Did I Go Wrong” and “Big John Blues” had been replaced by more adventurous songs such as Steve Edge’s “Vehicle” and the record company had bothered to promote it, I believe Room could have been vying with other progressive rock acts in the lower reaches of the charts.
As 1970 drew to a close, Steve Edge left for personal reasons leaving the band in a despondent mood, not the ideal preparation for what should have been a career high, a concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 6th January 1971 with Pentangle and Fairfield Parlour. The gig was plagued by amplification problems and the band was pulled off the stage after only three numbers just as they were getting into their stride. The Melody Maker reported, “One thing that came to mind during both Room’s and Fairfield Parlour’s set was, should a group be put on at a big venue before they are ready”. Maybe they had a point, as Jenkins noted they were nervous beforehand, but to be treated so shoddily must have shaken their confidence, particularly in such a daunting setting. They tried to put the disappointment behind them, but machinations behind the scenes were conspiring against them.
Shortly after the Albert Hall setback, they finally broke free from the shackles of Goldblatt and his conniving dealings. Mecca, uneasy with their lack of a manager, dropped them and the band turned to the provincial J.C. Theatrical Agency in Weymouth, a backward step in anybody’s book. Then Decca snubbed a song they submitted as a possible single and suggested they change their name to rejuvenate their career. Reluctantly, the band agreed on Stampede. In a bid to fill the hole left by Steve Edge, the band recruited Bob Jenkins band mate from Tetrad, organist John ‘Hutch’ Hutcheson, for several dates throughout Dorset and Devon and a short tour of Switzerland. However, the failure of the album mixed with less than inspiring gigs back on the local circuit and their perilous financial situation brought about their demise. On 21st July 1971, Room wrapped up their career in the less than auspicious surroundings of the assembly hall in Weymouth Grammar School.
After the dust settled Steve Edge stopped performing, but continues to play the guitar and Irish bouzouki for fun. Jane Kevern gave up singing, married Chris Williams and raised a family. In 1989 Chris became a founding member of the Average Blues Band along with former Manhattan Slide guitarist John Holmes and bassist Dave Christopher plus Mark Skerritt on keyboards and drummer Paul Beavis. They still play the occasional local gigs as the shortened ABB and have released four CD’s. Roy Putt served time with several local bands including Raw Deal, Mission Impossible and The Jim Etherington Band.
Bob Jenkins moved to London with Tony Brock from Spontaneous Combustion to further his career. He joined Gulliver’s People, fulfilling a residency at Tiffany’s in Shaftesbury Avenue, before becoming an in demand session musician working with Labi Siffre, The Three Degrees, Roger Chapman, Marshall Hain, John Wetton, Gordon Haskell, Elton John, Sandie Shaw, Leo Sayer, Bucks Fizz, Van Morrison, Edwin Star, Paul Anka and many more too numerous to mention. He has made television appearances on The Two Ronnie’s, the Southbank Show and Top of the Pops with Barbara Dickson and Kiki Dee and the Johnny Carson Show twice in America with Sheena Easton and Gerard Kenny. While touring with Barbara Dickson, he and guitarist Jerry Stevenson formed a bond while jamming during sound checks and in 1990 launched Be Sharp with bassist Dave Bronze. The band is still active and has recorded six albums. Their latest bassist is Richard J. Finch-Turner.
For a couple of years at the end of the sixties, Room was the number one band in Bournemouth, mainly through their high-profile gigs at the Ritz. However, record company indifference, a manager who looked after his own interests rather than that of the band and plain bad luck conspired to keep them that way rather than a national success. Their lone album, Pre-Flight, is now regarded as a highly prized artifact from the height of the progressive era by collectors. Many modern day reviews are gushing in their praise and compared to some supposedly lost masterpieces, the album stands head and shoulders above the competition. Despite the rushed two-day sessions and thanks to the preparedness of the band on the day and the proficiency of producer Mickey Clarke, the performances and production of the album are superb. Minuscule sales at the time guarantee that a mint original vinyl copy can easily reach a staggering £2,000 to £3,000, but if you would like to sample this gem, buy the digitally remastered 2008 CD version on the Esoteric label with sleeve notes by Room guitarist Steve Edge. It’s just a pity the unused tracks couldn’t have been excavated from the vault and added to the package as bonus tracks.
Pre-Flight: Deram (SML 1073) 1970
Pre-Flight: Esoteric (ECLEC 2043) 2008 Digitally remastered CD with notes by Steve Edge