You can’t imagine what it was like then: the girls screaming their heads off, the boys throwing the girls out of the way to get a closer look at how our hands formed the chords. Sweat pouring off of all of our faces, the beat and the heat combining powerfully to change the chemistry of the atmosphere; turning it into a heady brew of teenage hormones and eclectic, electric noise.
Our band stood on those tiny Odeon stages, plugging into pitiful little amplifiers and using two nearly dead microphones to spread our particular brand of rock and roll to the masses. My partners and I had traveled from the dark heart of Europe to these frozen theatres in God-forsaken Scotland, primarily because we loved the music and lusted for the women. A couple of uppers and a dose of rum and Coke could get us up to the upper echelon of performing prowess-the sounds we created echoed out of the scuffed up lobby doors and bounced off of the dirty crusts of snow lining the high street.
The four of us had been lucky to get where we were. Lowly, barely in the middle classes, wanna be bad boys willing to drop school like hot potatoes to chase impossible dreams; laughing, lunching, learning about the world that exists beyond the docks and the pubs of our forefather’s civilization. I remember out across from our one up was a pit of rubble-a playground for my mates-which in reality was a graveyard for the neighbors. The heavy metal rain of war fell upon our towns, and from those blighted skies I remember the sound of vibrating monsters and whistling follies. There were so many scars of darkness, yet we kids could see the hope in the rays of light rising in our brave post war world.
You know what it’s like, making friends and discovering similar interests. You start to become a human at that stage. You get to pick all the parts that make up your psychological constitution. My dad taught me music; he was a musician himself, a damn good one too:
He taught me the piano, the trumpet, showed me how to harmonize and hear the notes in your head…all of those things were given to me freely as gifts for future edification. He gave me the love of melody, the richness in old timey music that made me feel happy and caused my toes to tap; but then Rock happened. That music of chaos coming from America was brought to us on the big and little ships in the harbor, all of these great records that the seamen bought in New York, or New Orleans; they gave us something we never had before. We could identify with those crazy and powerful statements of independence, we started to have self-actualization. I learned the words to my favorites and I got a guitar. I wanted to be Little Richard and Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. These guys had fun, they had style, and they made me feel so fucking good! I wanted nothing more than to slick my hair back and play the role. Get the chicks and the respect and the money. Looking back I still can’t believe how close I got to that goal.
Being at a local church garden party, I lucked out to hear a little group of barely capable skifflers; each of them trying to play the latest and greatest of the popular charts-and amazingly not doing to horribly at it. With a precocious audition I managed to join that ragtag team of nothings and even sneak in one of my mates to play with us. We had lots of practice, me and the boys would even travel miles from home to meet up with guitarists that knew some chords we didn’t. Our line-up was tweaked and re-tweaked until we had the tightest bunch of rockers you could find.
I remember every barely paid gig and school dance-we were always trying to write a couple of tunes of our own and sometimes sneaking them in for a laugh, and we were always surprised when the kids seemed to like them. Twisting and shouting until our vocal chords could barely croak out a note, then smoking a couple of fags to loosen em’ up again. I don’t know how we could even speak in those days; I remember that throat lozenges were eagerly fought over after most shows.
We poured all of our strength and energy traveling the continent, ending up in some sorry shitholes full of raving drunks. We did uppers and downers and pretty much made it with every girl we could get into our tiny little cots. It was a wonderful life!
Eventually, we got ourselves known enough to warrant a manager who could actually get us real money; but the heady possibility of being recorded is actually what seduced us into following his advice. The thought that we just might become famous shook us to our cores! So we bucked up, bought some matching suits (with TIES no less), cut our hair and changed our look. Gone were the leather jackets we got during our long slog playing for the most violent European audiences anybody ever had. Now, clean and organized we were ready to take on the country-maybe even the world.
The only thing we wouldn’t and couldn’t adapt to, was his suggestion to nix our drummer, the same one we had had for years! We were too much of a team of mates to do that, so we told him it was him or us. And us stayed. He managed to get us some great bookings in the Odeons and the Paramounts and the Palaces all up and down the country. We were making a name for ourselves. And then we got the Call. Our shot at immortal fame, with a real record company. What an opportunity!
So we walked in with our best material to an audition with one of the biggest labels around—and we blew them away! Our manager told us that the producers thought we were the best guitar group they had heard. Period. They say that good luck is hard to find, but we had it. The whirlwind of preparation and not to mention the cash advance, was just spectacular. We had finally arrived at the top!
Our first single came out backed with an original tune by my partner and me. It reached number three on the charts. I remember holding that copy of Mersey Beat with the four of us on the cover and thinking that even if it all fell apart right now, this somehow made it all worthwhile. And soon our second single was burning up, up, up to big ol’ number four.
We begged to release some of our own compositions as A sides, thinking that between us we might have some real golden tracks, but our producer, a right fat git, told us that our originals were not as “sellable” as those being turned out by fucking Tin Pan Alley. So it came to be that our last charting single, “How Do You Do it?” didn’t. It flopped miserably. We hated it, we hated recording it. We did manage to put out an album, Besame Mucho, with twelve covers and no originals. We still played the local circuit; we even got on the Beeb. But our fame wasn’t what we were expecting.
It was so painful. We worked so hard and had come so far. These days I sit in my flat and wonder what we could have done differently. Listening to what has come out since; I can see that the kids would have wanted something more original and creative. Perhaps if we had failed that audition, got picked up by a different label with a more sympathetic producer, maybe we could have had a chance at doing more of our own stuff. Maybe even churn out some hits.
Life could be worse I guess. I hear tell that there is a resurgence of interest in the Beat bands of the 1960s. A promoter contacted me recently to see if the boys and I would be interested in getting the band back together for a one-off concert. He says Herman’s Hermits and the Dave Clark Five were for sure. I know Pete would want to do it, maybe take a weekend off from the bakery. Possibly George, though he thinks the whole thing was bonkers to begin with. The only hard case might be John, what with being the “poet laureate” of Liverpool. He might think playing rock and roll with a group of senior citizens beneath him, but with his sense of humor he may do it and insist that the name of the band be in bolder font than the other ones.
I’ll give him a call.
You never know, The Beatles might still have it.