Career Choices – Art and Music. Part II.

Location : Norwich, Cambridge, Bristol, London

Continued from Part I.

Full time music – dance bands and pop
music. The Tempos.

You stayed with DK?

No,
I moved to Norfolk. By that time I was working at Anglia Television. I’d joined
a dance band in Norwich, the Norwood Rooms.

And they would play regularly?

They
would play five or six nights a week. So you’d be doing that and doing
television, and if the TV interfered with what I was doing in the evening I
would get a dep for the dance band. Then I heard about the Samson and Hercules,
they were looking for a small band. I went back to Cambridge – ‘cause my wife
was singing. I trained her to be a singer. She used to come and do gigs with
me. She was a good singer. So then I went back to Cambridge, ‘cause I knew
there was a guy, Alan Dennis, was a great keyboard, piano player and a drummer
I knew. So we rehearsed a band there. These two, myself and a girl singer and
we rehearsed half a dozen numbers. In those days most bands just did dance band
stuff. They were pre-printed – they were called Jimmy Lally’s – Jimmy Lally arrangements.
They were arrangements for dance bands. And only just beginning was this pop
music. I’d done various bits of pop music for television and so on. It was
right at the beginning of that time, before the Beatles.

So
we actually covered, very very early, what was called the Hit Parade. But we
covered it by getting the records, writing it down so we covered exactly like
the record and then covered it. We did a rehearsal, an audition with the
manager of the Samson and Hercules, and got the job!

So
now I was doing the television work, I was the bandleader for this little band,
and my wife was singing in the band, so we were making more money than ever. So
we installed ourselves in the Samson and Hercules. The big band was good.

You weren’t doing any lettering, any
stone mason work? So you did a lot of music.

The
big band was good and the little band hadn’t been very good, it had just been a
piano trio. So here we were doing these pop covers and we could do them really
quickly because we were a small group so it didn’t take a lot of doing.

Can you remember any covers that you
did?

Well,
all of them. The first one I can remember, Kathy Kirby.

I remember Kathy Kirby! She was on the
telly, the black and white telly – Kathy Kirby!

I
can’t remember … of course my wife sang and we did the back-up. In those days
the Hit Parade had things like Eddy Calvert and his golden trumpet, and stuff
like that … so this was just beginning to change to the new sort of music.
Everly Brothers and that kind of stuff.
So we did covers of those things and as a result the crowd built and it
ended up they had to put “house full” notices outside the Samson and Hercules.
You couldn’t get any more people in!

What were you called?

The
Tempos. We called ourselves The Tempos because we had to play for dancing as
well as pop music, because there were nights when it would be strict tempo
dancing and so on. I used to go up to London to argue for more money, because
we’d got the place packed out, and the head of the Band department for Mecca
ballrooms – it was a big industry – would say, “Well, yeah, ok.” And pay you a
bit more.

In
fact we used to do American bases as well. So we were working all the time.

Did you love it? Lots of nights?

Yeah,
but it was great. It was a lovely lifestyle, because Anne and I would be
working every night together, I’d be doing television, and if it was a nice day
we’d go off to the coast, Southwold, with the dog, we had an Old English
Sheepdog, and we’d go and sit on the beach and get a tray of tea and think, oh
come on we’d better go, because we were working in the evening. So we’d have all
day, it was idyllic actually.

And how long did that last? A lot of the
sixties?

No,
what happened was I kept arguing for more money the guys. Actually, the guys
started telling me, “Can we do less work?” (Laughs). For musicians that was
profound! So I would go to London and argue for more money, and the head of the
Band department said, “We can’t pay you any more, you’re already one of the
highest-paid bands on the circuit; the only thing we could do is offer you a
job in London where you could get more money – London weighting. So I said,
“Yeah.” So we got the job playing at the Lyceum in the Strand, opposite Joe
Loss and his orchestra. And the Empire Leicester Square – we were doing
afternoons in the Empire Leicester Square and evenings in the Lyceum. So this
was a real big deal for a local band.

London calls

Do you remember how much you were
getting paid then?

Not
really. We had to get a flat in London, off Seven Sisters Road. I can remember
it, Thane Villas. It was the Greek area of Seven Sisters Road.

So you’d stay some of the time there and
some of the time at your same house, Georgian?

We
used to work in London and then come back to the house.

And was your wife part of that band as
well?

Yeah.

Well, that’s idyllic as well. London and
the country.

In
fact, we nearly bought a house in London because we thought, well we have
established ourselves. But it didn’t last that long in London because the
manager of the Empire Leicester Square didn’t like us at all and he really
wanted to get rid of us. When I first went there, I walked in the office and he
said, “as soon as I can, I’ll get rid of
you!” He hadn’t even heard us.

You always did covers at that time?

Well,
we were doing our own original stuff as well, but in the Empire Leicester
Square, in the afternoon, it was strict-tempo dancing, so we were playing Latin
American music, tangos and all those. So we were well experienced musicians.
Yes, so Phil Tate, who was head of the Band department, because of all the
trouble with this guy used to come in and listen to us. He used to sit in the
balcony and listen to us play. He’d say, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with anything
you’re doing.” That was an interesting time, because a lot of the people who
danced there would be really, really good dancers, you know, London dance hall,
and they would be on the tempos, they’d be really sharp about the speed. So
sometimes I’d get complaints. Someone would –be dancing by and they’d go (sign to speed up) because they needed it
a bit faster and then the next couple would dance by and go (slow down sign) because they needed it a
bit slower. The speed of things is so subjective that you’d get one couple
saying you need to go a bit faster and one couple saying you needed to go
slower. So I worked it out that I needed to get over this psychologically, so I
bought a metronome and I had it on the stage at my feet. And if they went “up”
or “down” I’d just point to the metronome and they’d go “ah, okay” … Laughter.

But
anyway it wasn’t working out with this guy and Phil Tate said, “Well, there’s a
new club opening in Bristol and for that you’ll need a six-piece band with two
girl signers, four fellas, and you can call yourself a new name and we will pay
you to put the band together and rehearse it and be, you know, like a resident
club. It was more like a club than a dance hall, a new thing that Mecca were
promoting. Because the music business was changing and discos were beginning.
So this was a six-piece band but with a DJ. So we were on one of those
roundabout things, where you have a DJ on one side and the band on the other.
We would go on and do three quarters of an hour, a kind of show, and then we’d
go round and there would be a DJ playing for a while.

The Rainbow People. Television is for
being on!

So
we formed a new group, the Rainbow People. This was the sort of flower power
time.

They were all up for it, the others?

No,
we’d changed the band entirely. I went down to Bristol and – I had done
auditions in London to find the guys and got it all sorted out – went down to
Bristol and they didn’t turn up! Two guys turned up – so there was me and Anne
and the guitar player Roger Cotton and the drummer Chas O’Brian, and so there
were four of us, and we had two missing. So I had to quickly go round Bristol
looking for a couple of people and I found a guy Pete Budd on guitar and vocals
and Samantha Gordon, who was only 15. We put them all together and rehearsed it
all. We only had about a week, or ten days to put that all together for the
opening night. It was great, the band was spot on! So there we were now,
rehearsing every week, I was writing all the stuff, rehearsing the band. They
weren’t good musicians in that they weren’t good readers, they were good pop
musicians. So I used to record everything, I’d record the vocal parts – what I
did, I had a multi-track tape recorder, an expensive thing. So I would record
their vocal part, with harmonies and then record another set of vocal parts,
and they’d have their little tapes, little message tapes with their parts on
it. but I would multi-track the parts as well so they could hear …

… the best way to learn for people who
can’t read music … that was a lot of work!

Yeah,
but I was doing it full-time. We got really really good. There was a show
coming from Harlech Television in Bristol called “Mr and Mrs”, which was a quiz
show of some kind.

Yeah, you had to say whether you roll your
socks or fold your socks!

That’s
the one! Mr and Mrs! I never saw it, I didn’t even have a television, I was
just busy all the time. In fact that reminds me, I think it was Lawrence
Olivier, who was asked what they watched on television and he said in his posh
voice, “Television? Television isn’t for watching. Television is for being
on.” [Laughter] I don’t listen to a lot
of music, actually, because I only listen to music as a kind of study, an
interest; I don’t listen to it during the day. I can’t. If you play me music I
have to stop and listen to the whole thing.

What did you do on Mr and Mrs?

Well
they used to have a little musical … all the shows used to have a little
musical interlude. So we used to go and do gigs like Mr and Mrs. And there was
a producer there who thought we were good and so we were offered our own TV
series.

Was this as the Rainbow People?

Yeah.
And that was a series called The Seeds of
Love, where I was commissioned to write arrangements of West Country folk
songs but doing them like pop songs. So we were like a pop group doing
traditional folk songs. So I had to stay to the tune, they had to be Cecil
Sharpe collected tunes, and the words, but interpret it in whatever way I
wanted. So I wrote … 47 arrangements of these tunes. We then spent months
filming them all on location with the guys all dancing around. Well, it looks
highly comical now … it does look hilarious.

It was a weekly slot? On the BBC, or
just in the Bristol region.

It
was Harlech television, which was the south east and Wales

Good pay?

A
fantastic amount of money! Because I got paid for composing and arranging. And
the PRS (Performing Rights Society) fees, and running the band, and television
appearances and stuff. One of those shows, Harlech television put it up, it was
their entry for the Montreux award. So that shows how successful it was. We
were big, really big in the West Country. We were a big local group.

Did you ever do vocals?

Yeah.
I sing.

Were other people in the band doing
composing, or was it just you doing that?

Just
me.

So
then from that, we did the TV, and then we got a recording contract with Pye
records. So we were making singles. We just never really …

Was this the mid-sixties?

Yeah,
1966-67. That time. Great fun.

Did you do your own stuff, or a mixture
on the recording?

That
was original material. The Sailing Song …

Still the same name, the Rainbow People,
and still the same members of the band?

Yeah.
Anne and Sami and Pete and Chas, and Roger. So we were doing that, making the
records, still doing the residency and then we got offered support for the
Beach Boys. Because by that time we’d signed with an agency in London, Arthur
Howes agency and we had London management.

Did you tour with them, supporting them?

No,
we only did one London gig. We were the first on. There was a group that were
going to do the opening, but we got it, and there we were, with the Beach Boys!
We did the opening of the show. Of course the Beach Boys tried to knock off my
two girl singers! Which they would!

Of course! Did they succeed?

No!
I looked after them very carefully, my two girls. Well I had to because Sami
was under age and sometimes we were going out of the country doing stuff
abroad, and I used to have to go to the Courts in London and apply to a judge
to get permission to take Sami out of the country.

Were her parents quite happy about it
all?

Yeah,
they thought it was terrific.

What an opportunity for her.

Yeah.
She’s been in the music business ever since.

We
were doing all that. So what happened was, we did this big show, and there were
all these posters all over London featuring the Beach Boys and the Rainbow
People. The music department at Mecca went ballistic. Because we weren’t
supposed to do that. I said, “Well this is a great opportunity, we’re
publicising …|”. They said, “No, you’re signed to us” I said, “We’re already
signed to Arthur Howes. I haven’t signed anything with you that limits what I
can do. I’ve signed to play at your club, but that’s it.” they didn’t like it
at all. So we left. And by that time we’d left and we did gigs all over the
country through Arthur Howes agency.

So you did gigs all over the place?

Yeah,
we were doing TV in Germany and touring in Italy.

You had enough money to do all that?

Yeah,
I paid the guys a good working wage. I used to pay them a regular working wage
and if the gigs came in strong I would build up an account so that when we had
a few weeks off I could still pay them a working wage. I never made any big
money because we spent everything on clothes and equipment and …

It’s expensive being on the road?

Yeah.
We had two VW vans, driving about all over.

But
then my wife A had always said to me, “I’ll do whatever you want”, totally
supportive, “But I’m not going to sing another note after I’m thirty.” I said,
“Alright, fair enough.” We were doing a show in Blackpool in the Tower theatre
supporting Tessie O’Shea and that was her birthday, 26th July, and
at the end of the gig she said, “Well, you know what I’ve always said …” And
I said, “Yeah, I know.” And so she said,
“That’s it!”

The big bang and selling brushes

So the whole band split up then?

Yeah.
What happened was, that band had all these really strong characters. You have to
be strong people, you know. They used to have spectacular rows! And my job as
the band leader – I ran that group – my job as I saw it was … you know with a
nuclear power station there is essentially a controlled nuclear explosion –
there’s an atomic pile and there are carbon rods that go in to absorb the
nuclear radiation. If there weren’t any carbon rods it would be a bomb. It
would just go off! But these carbon rods
go in and out …

So you were the carbon rods!

Exactly.
You’d got to control this powerful energy. And you go on stage and it’s
terrific! But I had to do all the carbon rodding. And so I said to A, “OK, I
take your point, the next time it happens I won’t do anything, I’ll just stand
back.” And the group broke up. They just went “Rowahhh, bang!” and that was it.
But I had to go to my doctor and say that I was going to have a nervous
breakdown and he gave me a sick note which I then took to the management and
the agency to get out of the contract, because I was ill.

That was just before they broke up,
really.

That
was the breakup. So we broke the group up, came back to Norfolk, back to the
house which we had still got, and by that time, I think my dad had died and my
mum was living in my house. So we came back.
No, my mum wasn’t there then, she was in Africa.

And
then my wife was really ill, she had always had problems with a bad back, and
as soon as she came off the road she sort of … she sort of … It often
happens. When you’ve got the time to be ill, you let yourself be ill. She just
gave up. Went to bed. She had a terrible back and so, just gone.

So
there I was, no job, no career, nothing. And the wife flat on her back. What
the hell did I do now? For years I’d just done music. It was the most
depressing time of my life. I didn’t know what to do. I just didn’t know what
to do. Really, one of the biggest lessons of my life this: I was reading the
local paper – Eastern Daily Press! – and there was a little ad that said, “Earn
£50 a week. Healthy outdoor life. Must be a car-owner”. I thought, “Well, I’ve
got a car.” So I rang the number and I came into Norwich, it was a little
backstreet somewhere. And it was selling Kleeneze brushes and polish. I
thought, “Well, I’ve got no money” – we’d spent all the money. So I said,
“Well, OK.” And I was given Hethersett and Wymondham. That was my patch. So I
got this little case (which I’ve still got somewhere) with the sample polish
and brushes and the catalogue. (Laughs).

(Sound of knocking). Knock on the door …
Hethersett and Wymondham – there’s no-one there during the day except
grandmothers, old ladies! And so these old ladies would come to the door –
they’d be ever so pleased to see you (Laughter). They’d say, “Oh Kleeneze,
yeah, lovely” and they’d be standing on the doorstep talking about their family
and their kids, and so an hour and then the old lady’d say, “Well, I’ve kept
you here all this time…” they used to think I was a student because I had
long hair. So they’d say, “Well, I think I’d better buy something”, and they’d
take the catalogue and have a look through and then buy the cheapest thing in
the catalogue, which was a teapot spout brush! A tiny little … sixpence! So
I’d get all these orders for teapot spout brushes. And I had to place the
orders and collect them on a Saturday morning and then deliver them all round Hethersett.
I did it for six weeks and my average over the six weeks was £7.50 I think! The
best week I ever had was 15 quid and that was because I went to this posh house
where the woman was over the moon when I turned up and bought all this polish
and brushes …I was so thrilled I took the rest of the day off … (Laugher)

Saved by the dance band

Anyway
I was doing this. And I knocked on a door and a musician came to the door.
Derek, he is a great sax man that I’d known for years. He said, “Hello D,
what’re you doing here?” ‘cos the last time I’d seen him I’d left Norwich on a
high, going to London. He said, “Come in; have a cup of tea.” I sat there
feeling absolutely dreadful. Selling Kleeneze brushes and polish and this guy
being kind to me and everything. I left there and I went straight home and I
got my old phone book out with all the numbers of all the musicians and I wrote
down all the potential names that I could find and I had a long list of musicians
that I was going to ring and the first one was Applin, Chic Applin. He ran a
band in the Norwood Rooms. So I dialled his number and said, “Hi Chic, its D, D
H.” “Hi D, how’re you doin’?” “OK. It’s just … I’m looking for a job as a
bass player.” Chic said, “Man, that’s fantastic, I’ve been looking for a good
bass player for the last six weeks.” (Loud laughter). The six weeks I’d been
selling brushes!

And
I got a job just like that. I think it was sixty quid a week, which was enough
to keep the family. I could ‘a had that job six weeks ago and I could have
saved myself all that trouble if I’d swallowed my pride. It was just the pride
that I had left on my mind and I wasn’t going to ring people up.

What a lesson!

So
I got a job with the dance band. And my wife had an operation on her back and
got OK. Fused the L1/L2. So she took up singing again in the same band. So for
three or four years we did that, just working in the dance band. But then my
wife wanted to have children so she had to give up playing.

Back to lettering

So
I was working in the dance band, so I was back in the house, and we had a
little triangular room at the back of the house and really just during the day
I made – I think there was four, four or five, house nameplates, samples.
Orchard Cottage. Hawthorns. You know. Nice lettering, nicely designed. And I
took them to Elm Hill craft shop and at the time there was a woman … had the shop and she put them on a sort of
display on some blue velvet on a shelf and I started getting orders for these
house nameplates. And instead of making money out of it, I would go to see the house,
do a drawing of the doorway, and go back and work out a really nice design for
how that would really suit your house.

What material would you use for that?

Stone,
wood, slate. So I started getting all these orders for these. People were
prepared to pay half a week’s wages, something like that. I wasn’t making much
money out of it but I was building up a sort of reputation. Then an architect would
come and say, “Could you do…?” a foundation stone, or something. And I
gradually built up an income coming from this. I was still playing and it took
four years of playing every night and doing bits of lettering during the day
until one day I looked at this order book that had grown and I had enough work
in the book to give up playing commercially. So I thought, yeah. I’d got really
fed up with playing just dance band music. Not very creative, and so that was
it.

So
I gave up playing and I didn’t play a single note for seven years. I was so
busy with the work. I didn’t miss it. I’d had enough. It was a relief really,
and I concentrated on my work and I just got more and more established. And I
never looked back. I always had several years worth of work waiting to be done.
Even now at 73 I have at least two years work waiting.

So you’ve always managed to earn enough
financially from those days?

Enough.
I don’t earn a lot, but I am ok. Sort of average, well a bit below average. I’m
my own boss and always have been.

Trio to big band and small gigs again

So after seven years you did pick up an
instrument?

Yeah.
That was because … well, I haven’t talked about my relationships…

This is about jobs, so you don’t have to
do that!

I
was living with M at that time, and
there was a knock on the door one day and this guy came to the door and said,
“I’m starting a little group, a trio. And I hear that you’re a good bass
player. Do you fancy doing it?” I thought, “Well, it probably won’t last very
long.” So I said, “I’ll give it a go.” It was a guitar player called Lee Vasey.

Lee Vasey, I know him, he was in
Boswells for years. Vasey night.

So
we started a trio with me and Lee and a drummer. That was the beginning for Lee
Vasey, because he had recently moved here from Sunderland or Newcastle (northern accent) that area.

We
were making records and doing local gigs. It was really good fun. Because Lee
used to write stuff, that’s why he needed a really good reader. Because that
was on bass guitar and he would write the 1812 overture for guitar, bass and
drums! Dada da. Dada da (laughter).
So we would rehearse every week.

We
were absolutely … it was the … nobody had heard anything like it before. A
trio in a pub playing stuff like that!! Big shock for everyone. So I enjoyed
that, until Lee – do you remember there was a movie, The Blues Brothers, it was
a cult film. Well once that cult got going it really really caught on. By that
time Lee had expanded the trio, it had become a five piece and eventually
became a big band and I was still in this big band. And we were doing all these
lovely kind of jazzy things. We did bits of pop stuff, rock music and jazz as
well. And then he saw this as an opportunity to be big-time, so he changed it
into like a cover band for the Blues Brothers sort of thing. So we were all
dark glasses and trilbies and leather trousers and you know … and it was
getting louder and louder. And the band was playing blues all night. For a bass
player, I was beginning to tire of it. I played with Lee for, I think it was 12
years. All the time earning a living but eventually I thought, I’ve had enough.
So I gave up. Since then I’ve just been doing little jazz gigs, locally. I do a
couple of gigs a week.

Double
bass most of the time, double bass. Tom’s band. Simon’s band. The Big Band,
Pangaea. So I’m in four regular bands. And various other bits.

Comments are closed.