1964 to 1966
READY STEADY POP
After the success of the Beatles and finding out that they came from Liverpool, also how talented they were, The Sunday Times thought that Lennon & McCartney were the best composers since Beethoven! Others refused to believe that they were what the nation’s youth wanted. They were right but for the wrong reasons. A New Statesman writer wrote in February of 64 that Beatles fans were “dull, idle, failures”. He meant either all of them were like that or had one of the traits. Yet he made it clear that the leaders and creators of tomorrow “will NEVER go near a pop concert.” Then again nor did the Music industry believe that something like the Beatles was not what all the nations teenagers wanted. So the record companies sent out their artists & repertoire to all the regions of the UK to search for raw talent which was like the Fab Four, but just not quite. They hadn’t much choice in the matter! Tin Pan Alley songwriters and music publishers were not much good at producing songs about how working-class teenagers felt. Try as the might they still struggled to find working class heroes. The obvious place to start was Liverpool and those 300 bands that the Cavern man knew. Epstein was quick off the mark and managed the best. Signed up by his new friends at EMI, he rarely went wrong with his acts. The only real exception was Tommy Quickly, who failed to chart, presumably because he wasn’t a group? Having said that, George Martin became very familiar with Liverpool and its bands, yet confessors to having seen nothing that came close to the Fab Four. Then again what did he want to go looking for something that he already had? Not that they didn’t try some of them out on the public. Bands like the Toggery Five and their single I’m Gonna Jump did not impress Joe Public one bit. The problem wasn’t lack of talent as such. You would hardly believe it today, but a lot of bands were not out to seek the fame, like the Beatles had, some of the bands that did go on to be famous, such as The Dave Clark Five, started out singing & playing for charity. In their case to send their rugby team to Holland. Teenage culture, although formed, wasn’t like the 21st Century. Careers advisors told singers and musical teenagers that few who wanted such work would get it, with the exception being if you knew someone or came from a musical background. Those told were disappointed, yet it was true. If you sang poorly it came out on the recording. 24 and 48 track tape machines were not around. Often there was little that could be done to disguise faults, errors, and mistakes on the recording. Even big names like The Beatles and Cliff Richard had faults on their tracks. The record companies released them because few people would have known about them, or costs of correcting would have been high. The crackles of the record and mono sound disguised Cliff clearing his throat during the instrumental break in On The Beach. Nevertheless they could all sing and play well. In the Beatles case so well it’s easy to dub a film of the singing live on TV with the recorded version.
Still the A&R came to search for more pop idols and brought the BBC to film the historic moment, as they descended on my home town of Sheffield. I might have been 4 at the time, but I’ve never heard of Knives and Forks and their classic Being with You, nor have I heard of: The Square Circles, Mickey’s Monkeys, or Small Paul & the Young Ones. It wasn’t gloom and doom for all the acts spotted. Dave Berry performing at Doncaster Baths, whom I have heard of (before I started writing this book), was seen by the legendary Mickie Most, at that time
freelance and not yet famous not that he hadn‘t tried himself to sing. Manchester and Birmingham also got the same treatment. Ron Richards was lucky and found the Hollies in Manchester. Liverpool far outweighed them all. The music press headlines say it all. The American’s picked it up as the ‘British invasion’; meanwhile Blighty was invaded by Liverpudlians. Oxford students were Scouse, though not one came from there. Mersey Beat became a national phrase, not just a local music paper. It wasn’t all good news. Mersey women hardly got a look in, despite Mersey Beat renaming Cilla White as ’Black’, she’s one of a few. The paper knew of at least 50 girl groups, they all disappeared without a trace. It was for other places to give females a chance at pop stardom, starting with Scotland.
As you can well imagine the Scots were keen to show that they had as much talent available as any south of the boarder. The truth was that their own scene was dead and the only person that was any good had done the same as the Beatles and gone to Germany. The Scottish Daily Express was at the spearhead at finding what was left. They didn’t realise that a lot of venues (like ballrooms) had gone for bands to play live in. The music business personal boarded trains at Kings Cross and Euston, invited by the paper, to see the Mac-Beatles types. They saw none! Red faced the Express was relieved when Tony Gordon contacted them telling there’s this teenage girl singing songs with a band. Gordon, a businessman, was setting up nightclubs in Glasgow and Manchester based on the French Discotheque venue. Marie Lawrie’s singing had impressed people since the Queen’s Coronation. At aged 12 she was touring Glasgow with her own band that consisted of 17 to 18-year-old lads. With the money made from it, Marie was the best-dressed girl in school. This didn’t make her popular, with the girls or the Head teacher. Confidence oozed from Marie and she became a rebel, questioning, speaking out of turn. As most schools teacher’s missions was to nock the guts out of kids, then mould them into something else, when the opportunity arose the Head went for it. An accident with a red hair dye, at home, but was still strong when she got to school, was perfect for some humiliation on a grand scale. Marie was all ready suffering from it, which didn’t matter to any Headmaster or in this case mistress. A full assembly and the Head’s insults flowed. Not satisfied with that, the assault was continued with a bottle of disinfectant over the girl’s hair! Music was the only escape and Marie went rarely to school, especially after she was chased home and beaten by a gang of girls, because she didn’t fit in.
|Lulu aged 14|
Lulu wasn’t the only Scots act found by Decca, Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle a duo where given a contract, but their time was yet to come. Another record company that had the Beatles went and picked up the Mckinley Sisters. Starting March 1964 they released four singles. If any made a chart it’s not been recorded.
A more rebellious girl came up with an image that doesn’t go away. Sandie Shaw’s mum made her see a chiropodist when she decided not to wear shoes during her performance. This image was a reflection of her attitude to fashion, but had more practical reasons. She teamed up with Chris Andrews to write songs, but her biggest hit was with a number written by ace songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Always Something There to Remind Me was recorded like most tunes then in a day. Sandie thought the recording process just like the car production line at Dagenham, where she was born. Girl Don’t Come probably would have great difficulty getting released many years later; being sung by a female artist, people thinking it was about not having an orgasm! However this was the sixties and sex was not on the agenda. So in this case it was the horror of a boy being stood up! For most boys this was their biggest nightmare and sex was a bonus, they were not at all interested in the female orgasm. However things were beginning to change and Sandie and the female orgasm were to get linked together through Tommy Woodward.
Woodward is part of the real name of Tom Jones. Tom decided one night when he was singing Jerry Lee Lewis numbers in a Walsh club, to move in a suggestive way. Most in the club were puzzled, yet the target audience loved it, thus he had moving ever since. His manger (Gordon Mills) had heard Sandie’s big hit and had the perfect song for her. Tom wanted to sing it, but Mills had to get the best deal for the song so went to her manger. She hated it and so Tom recorded It’s Not Unusual with session musicians (including members of Ted Heath band-brass) and sandpaper on a stool. Well dressed in a ‘Beatle’ jacket and tight trousers with that movement and Tom success was assured. So were the females having you know what watching him! Anyway it ended the idea you had to be a group to be in and get a recording contract. Many women would have been disappointed to find out that Tom was married. This was because of getting his girlfriend pregnant; by the time of his first hit it wasn’t unusual for lots of teenage girls to get that way. A banker’s wife called Helen Brook had got fed up with this situation and set up clinics for girls in 64. Brook’s flouted the rules on the pill, giving it to single women. General practitioners were only allowed to prescribe it to married woman. The only alternative was the backstreet abortionist, despite the reality of 40 deaths per year. However most of this was a direct consequence of increasing education. Teenage women had little understanding of relationships, because they were treated like girls. Life-skills were not taught in schools nor can schools teach them. That was one end of the extreme; the other was not having sex at all! One marriage went unconsummated for 25 years, recalled a London marriage councillor and they were plenty of them during the fifties and sixties.
This is the Modern World
The ITV show that Lennon was on was breaking new ground too. But it was also aimed at an audience who was not all that keen on the Beatles or on the Mersey Sound. And Lennon found out too! Not ALL the nations’ youth did want the Beatles. This group of classroom created teenagers thought that the Beatles were “girls’ music” perhaps because the movement was
very male orientated. This is again connected with schooling. For in those days a lot of the schools (particularly grammar) where separate sex. My future comprehensive school had been a boys only, and the adjacent one the girls. But this movement had no origins in Sheffield and was London based. More specifically it had started in the Soho area and even down to one school! Saint Martin’s School of Art students were hanging around a club called the Flamingo, which would later give rise to the Manfred Mann song, Pretty Flamingo. The stereotyped image of these kinds of students was one of woolly jumpers and jeans that had been deliberately splashed with streaks of coloured paint. They like to listen to Modern Jazz, hence the line in Rock & Roll Music, by the Beatles, Unless they try to play it to dam fast and had become known as ’Modernists’ by the hacks at Melody Maker. Naturally they shook of the student image, by dressing well. Jeans such as Wrangler and Lee Cooper however where very popular and although you could buy these Jeans in shops, they were not the right ones! Sounds familiar doesn’t it, what every modern parent dreads the words “you’ve got the wrong one”. Leading to the blazing row! Well you can now blame it on the soap Peyton Place and the actor Troy Donahue. He wore Levi Jeans with buttons. Unavailable in the UK and all other brands had zips.
The TV show created a demand for another type of clothing, a jacket worn by the character Rodney Harrington often played by Ryan O'Neal.
His Jacket was most desired, but no-one seems to have known the name of it and it became known as the “Harrington”. The actor Steve McQueen also wore it and the in the Superman movies of the late 70's when Superman was being Clark Kent he wore one too. Obviously another side affect was to name your son Rodney. This name and another Modernist clothing accessory would become part of two BBC TV comedy series that had a huge impact. It really goes to show that TV simply responds to cultural change rather than leading it. For the Mods as they became known were mostly from families in the clothing trade or as it was known be most people: the Rag Trade, hence the fascination with clothes. The Rag Trade itself was big business and attracted its own TV comedy show. The piece of clothing that got the Mods burning holes in their pockets was a French Beret. Thanks to the 1960 French film Shoot the Pianist, American style became unpopular. With the drawing ability, taught them by Saint Martins, they sketched clothes from French films rather than watch the action. Subsequently splitting away from the norm, the Mods’ sport became the Tour de France, again due to education, this time getting there. Cycles were cheaper than going by bus, plus the Italian Bertorelli family had set up a shop to sell cycles in the Fulham Road. This youth movement noticed that when the racing cyclists trained during the winter, they wore a beret. Of course any Mod wouldn’t be caught dead on a bike, so they swapped them for motor scooters.
The next influences on the Mods came from the National Health Service and the Black Market. They had discovered that you could stay awake all-night at the nightclubs if you took amphetamines, most of which were brought in the clubs by US servicemen. The US Air Force had issued them as standard to keep pilots awake on night bombing missions; they kept the practice up after the war. Selling them through clubs became a regular thing for servicemen; still the price wasn’t right for some. With the NHS in full swing doctors encountered older women who were self-conscious of their own figure in greater numbers than before. The answer to the problem was simple available (on prescription) a pill called amphetamine. By 1956 the drug was no longer on sale at chemists, because of its misuse problem. Yet it was not the only drug out there, Benzedine, which became known as Speed, was found in the emergency kits of pilots. The most popular with Mods was Drinamyl, largely because they got them from their dieting mother. She got them from her doctor and the World Health Organisation found out in 1964, that 13 doctors in the Inner London area were responsible for Britain’s drug problem. For this reason alone, it proves that the London clubs were too exclusive to provide the drugs alone, but no-doubt they kick started the phenomenon going. Mod youth quickly worked out what the pills were that mother was taking, even if she kept it secret from them. The reason was obvious; mother couldn’t sleep and was hoovering the house in the middle of the night! The drug was so common they called them ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ and was used by the Rolling Stones in a tune. Their more popular name was Purple Hearts and John Lennon’s famous remark at an award ceremony to the next Prime Minister Harold Wilson, shows how much they were in the culture.
If you didn’t know he was referring to the drug, Lennon was just seen as taking a dig at the US military operations and the name of the medal, it gave returning soldiers. In reality it was both the Government’s opposition to drugs and the Vietnam War. All the Mods’ drugs were banned by 64.
Anti-drugs or not it didn’t stop Mods taking the pills from mothers and selling them to their mates. Prices were varied, but the going rate was between 6d and a shilling per pill. Another way of getting hold of the drug was to get inhaler from the chemist, used for asthma sufferers. It was 100% strong than a single tablet, nicknamed the B-Bomb! Consumption could be very high; one social worker noted 16 lads took as many as 90 pills over a weekend! The physical affects of these pills were recorded in song by the Who in their song My Generation. The singer of this tune mimics the style of a nervous teenage boy, or someone with a stammer. Under-confidence in teenage years is very common effect of puberty. Spots don’t help the self-image and dealing with authority is weakened. It’s not uncommon to burst into tears if anyone even shouts at you. Aggressive behaviour is also caused by higher levels of testosterone; both of these are incorporated into My Generation. The fast-angry style, stammering vocal, is also the side effects of the Purple Hearts. This mixing perhaps explains why this song has remained popular long after the Mods disappeared from the scene.
They also had a name for the special style leader and he was called the ‘Face’. To be one of these you had to be male and really up-to-date with everything; little surprise that many called that went on to big stars, such as Rod Stewart. What’s more had one place that was there’s the Marquee Club. The club had developed a talent finding method of it’s own - Mods would pass judgement. Unsigned acts would play during the breaks of star acts. Unlike the girl-groups with screaming fans, Mods watched and did nothing else. If they liked them … Well you were made and the names say it all… The Who, The Move, David Bowie. Only one band they didn’t like made it big. They liked to do things with guitars, like hitting the manger on the head!
Enter a right bunch of juvenile delinquents, well some of them: Mick Jagger’s mum recalls all he ever wanted was money and was well on the way to be an accountant. Keith Richards was nuts about guitars, while Charlie Watts was the same about drums. Brian Jones was definitely and defiantly one, whereas Bill Wyman was very religious, at least about Little Richard. The qualities they acquired through the education culture set them on course for rock stardom. Jagger for instance stretched rules over uniform and got ‘leader’ status applied to him. Rhythm and Blues glued them together and contact with Blues man Alex Korner brought them playing at the Marquee Club under the name The Rolling Stones. Potentially they would be big rivals to the Beatles, but that never really happened due to the fact that Epstein had employed Andrew Loog Oldham to do the publicity work with his acts. He was told to see them by Peter Jones working then on Record Mirror. Eventually they all ended up in front of the man who turned down the Beatles. “I didn’t want to make that mistake again” said Dick Rowe at Decca Records.
The Mods had a love hate relationship with the Stones, but the were great for TV and Ready Steady Go first live outside broadcast featured the Stones, they limited the tickets to 8,000 still it was massive.
RSG was so popular the BBC head of Light entertainment told his team to come up with something to get ratings with pop music. They also now had a big advantage the charts were full of UK acts. More to the point they were singing songs that were at least English or appeared to be. Home grown talent and now with Royal approval after the Beatles got medals. They didn’t need to worry about middle class types saying they were pushing US crap down the viewer’s mouths anymore. But Bill Cotton (son of the bandleader) couldn’t get them to think up something, so he invented Top of the Pops. Still it didn’t mean the BBC Governors were keen. Nor did they like these longhaired types hanging around the new BBC building at Sheppard’s Bush. So they sent them to an old church in Manchester and got ex Luxemburg DJ Jimmy Saville to present it. TOTP was however based solely on what was in the top twenty charts; even so the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richard said that it was very commercial “for a government agency”.
What it really became famous for was acts miming to music. In his presenting style Jimmy Saville would have a copy of a single in his hand and then play it on a record deck. Meanwhile the artist, such as Jonathan King pretended to sing Everyone’s Gone to the Moon, but seeing
a clip reveals the record couldn’t have started in time with King. Union control of the BBC, in those early days, made them invent silly rules where acts had to record the track again for the BBC to broadcast and then still mime to the BBC recording! Bruce Welch of the Shadows says you had about 3 hours to record a version of the single, which often took a few days to do originally. The M.U. man watched to make sure it was done. Then without the knowledge of the union (or maybe with?) the tape was switched with the real recording and the act mimed to that. On the ITV music shows the union was ignored. The BBC Governors hated the unions; still it took them several years to pull a fast one on them. Meanwhile TOTP had grown and by 1966 its 7.30 slot pulled 20 million viewers. Union bosses were now fully in the belief that musicians were losing money hand over fist because of this and threatened to pull the plug on all music. Classical music no-way thought the BBC high level for the sake of pop music, yet 20 million people were not all kids! The Manchester studio was too small to cope with the Union demand of an orchestra, so with blackmail threats, TOTP went to TV centre. The orchestra played on hits which never sounded right and the poor floor manger had to have a wig to stop his bald head spoiling the image of a trendy show. Yet nothing could spoil it for it was trendy and Mary Quant models knew it. In spite of that despite the backlog for tickets, the risk of getting squashed by the huge cameras, the show sent people to clubs giving fashionable people tickets. So the bosses knew they were on to a good thing. They also won the argument with the union. But despite it's success the BBC never cared much about Top of The Pops it was after all something for teenagers and to some extent the BBC were still of the belief that kids should be seen, but not heard. So they turned a blind eye to the going ons back stage, something that would haunt them in the future.
There was another problem, getting bloody artists to perform. For the Beatles it wasn’t so much they didn’t want to appear it was that thousands of girls also wanted to see them. And so the film was born. Even so some artists caused a problem if they went to number One. Such as Elvis, who didn’t come to England (apart from in airports) and doesn’t seem to keen on sending films over. Being music the problem was solved by dancers. Being the sixties they were very attractive girls. Rather than confusing the audience into thinking they were the act on the record, especially when the girls danced to a female artist(s), a regular dance troop was employed called the ‘Jo-Jo’s’. For this reason the show would soon pick up adult males who tune in to see the dancing young women! Pop music is of course a business, whereas you can argue that classical and other forms are ‘art’. This problem plagues the BBC to this day, because it can’t be seen as a commercial organisation. Pop can be ‘art’ too, yet by the inclusion of the chart means by definition that the show must be commercially based. As someone joked once ‘why are teenagers so obsessed with how much money a recording artist makes?’ The shows’ producer Johnnie Stewart attempted to get round the art-profit issue by setting up a rule that the artist had to be going up in the chart, new, or at number one. Even then only the number one act could be played EVERY week. Generally two weeks later the effect of being on TOTP, selling more records, could see the artist on again. This spiralling effect, balances out eventually, when the bulk of the population of regular single buyers have bought what they like. However when non-regular buyers start than massive sales can happen, often when things come together, the key sometimes is tragic events.
Can You Hear Mr JonesIn a Manchester school some brothers had got chucked out of assembly for singing close harmony to the National Anthem. They never stopped singing even after they went to Australia, where they grew up performing all the time. Enough to have social workers panicking! By the time they returned to England, another ex Australian had discovered his talent was being an agent. Robert Stigwood had already opened doors for John Leyton, Mike Berry, Wendy Richards (later of EastEnders fame) and a fan of Billie Holiday and Sammy Davis, who renamed Billie Davis. She had success with versions of American hits Tell Him and End of the World. With the success of the Beatles German recording, that record company set up Polydor Records in 1965. The director of Polydor happened to be friends with Stigwood and so he gave him this group of brothers who sang in harmony, to work with called the Bee Gees.
Meanwhile in Wales another 116 children were never going to hear the Bee Gees. Their school happened to be very close to a colliery tip that was built on a stream. Too close… On the 21 October 1966 the tip smashed into the school at Aberfan. The story made headline news around the world. It was BBC television news first UK disaster covered and even I remember (only aged 6) the black and white TV news image to this day. Charitable donations flooded in
from the public, but this wasn’t the age of the charity record. Yet records in the pipeline (made before the disaster) benefited from this event and some artists did too. After his record success Tom Jones was able to jet off to New York. The record retailing business in Britain wasn’t as geared up to deal with the vast range on offer. Most record shops were small compared with American stores. The Twelve Inch LP takes up lots of space and so shops concentrated on the more commercial LPs, such as film musicals. Even popular US artists were often not in stock. So Tom’s hero Jerry Lee Lewis Country album Country Songs for City Folks was like gold dust in UK shops. In New York record shops, with all the trouble Lewis got in with young girls and knowing moral standards in the USA, the staff at the US store Tom picked up his copy, probably thought Jones was a gold dust customer! The upshot of this purchase was a million seller for Tom, for on the album was Green Green Grass of Home.
Strange as it seems a song about a condemned man dreaming about his home just before he is executed, would relate in the public’s mind to a tip disaster in Wales is a bit of a puzzle, but too many it did. Funnily enough I never related it to the event, but I can see why people would. For one thing Tom’s song hit the chart less than a month after the news broke. The Welsh connection with mines is another indicator and the (I think) ironically titled book and film which also features a tear jerking mine disaster, How Green is My Valley also comes to mind. Then of course as Tom knew too well a Welsh man singing that song on Top of the Pops, with an audience which could get as high as 20 million. Well you couldn’t have a bigger hit if you had ‘mining disaster’ in the title… Well no, but you can have your first hit if your called the Bee Gees. Perhaps that’s why they sing about Mr Jones in the New York Mining Disaster 1941, for there wasn’t one in New York in 1941.
But why were teenagers obsessing with how much pop stars make? The answer is simple - to fit in or not to fit in. Sounds Shakespearian in answer yet it’s not. While teenagers seek independence, because of puberty, they also don’t want to be alone. If others buy what they like they don’t feel alone. More to the point they feel empowered something that school often takes away with all those rules. However if your trying to be different you can see what others are buying and well be different, by either not buying the same things, or buying different things. The same can applies to image and trends, which may not be commercially based, though having said that few catch on without having something that can be sold. Again empowerment is achieved. Not everyone was keen on powerful youths. Manchester business men had found ways of getting hold of the teenage cash and loosing the red-tape from authority. After school or work, there wasn’t much to do, but hang around Coffee Bars. The owners of these worked
out by charging a membership and appealing to the teenage clients, with things they liked, an being of course alcohol-free, they had the private club status applied them. More importantly they could do what they wanted and no ‘licence’ headache troubles. Unregulated they were dirty, nasty, smelly, dark, cesspits, just what the teenagers loved! They were also dangerous, drug filled, dens run by a bunch of crooks. At least that’s what the Manchester Police and probably the older members of the public thought. The police were also not allowed to go snooping on private clubs. For this reason many of these clubs were run by dodgy persons. There was only cause of action for PC Plod, to raid them. Unfortunately for the police when they did the results were poor. In one club they found 1 girl had 1 speed capsule, out of 150 persons! The only other problem was that 42 girls and 13 boys were under 18. The parents were horrified at the location they were found in and had no-idea they were missing from home! Appalling many clubs were used by homeless youths to stay in, even during the day. Nevertheless these places were fire traps and dirty, so the pressure to do something about them resulted in section 18 of the Manchester Corporation Act of 1965, which would put an end to health and safety issues. Together with the 1964 Drugs Act, these clobbered youth empowerment, in places like Manchester, closing youth clubs down, leaving only two there by 1968. Across the pond in America, with higher education basically a right to all but black people, US authorities couldn’t impose rules on their youths. When they tried to impose a curfew on Sunset Strip in 1966, youths fought back. The tale of which made it into the Buffalo Springwater’s 1967 record Hey What’s That Sound. It failed to make the British top 50 though.
This is an unfinished chapter….