Interview created and compiled by Michael Skywood Clifford
First published in the Musical Crocodile 1993
I sit here at 56 years of age and you ask me how I started drumming?
There’s both music and longevity in my family. My mum 90 now and she still plays the piano and that was how I started. I played for a couple of years and I must have been quite good as my music teacher used to parade me about as part of a PR job for her department. My grandfather used to work at Leed’s Empire, the entertainment theatre, so he was very musical. The only one out of the family who wasn’t especially musical was my father.
A Yorkshire lad, I left school at 15, in 1952 and went to work cutting ladies costumes in a factory. I was there for six years.
I was really interested in trad jazz which was the pop music of the day. There had been a big revival in the Forties of trad in London which was still circulating around the country. Most of the trad bands were seven piece – like Chris Barber’s band used to be. I used to watch jazz concerts and educate myself that way.
I watched a lot of top well named drummers and thought – with that precocious arrogance born of youth – that I could do just as well. So having decided to prove myself, I went to a second hand music shop and bought a snare drum. It cost 30 bob, or £1 – 10 shilling, which was a week’s wages. I still have a replica of it to this day, and it’s a great favourite of mine. I then sent off to Boosey and Hawkes in London for a pair of brushes and sticks for 1/ 6d and I’ve still got them. They remain in mint condition because I quickly escalated to flashier sticks quite soon after.
I found a drum teacher and had 18 months of drumming lessons. Alick (Alec?) Sidebottom – a great Yorkshire name – was a good face with a handle bar moustache. He was a good teacher and a good drummer and he helped me a lot. Sadly he died a couple of years back.
While I was at the factory I got a few gigs with the odd dance band and a few small outfits. I soon had a regular number of gigs going and as people got to hear about me they increased.
It was too expensive to own a telephone in those days so people used to phone the factory or more usually pop round the house and say can you do this gig tomorrow night for 35 bob? Of course I could: I could buy a second hand cymbal or drum with that. So the more I gigged the more I built up my kit.
It was 1955 then, and I was eighteen, something of a late starter. I gigged like this for three years. During those years the new rock scene was just starting but I didn’t go for it at the beginning. It was the jazz scene that I was aiming for, yet it was for the pop scene I was destined.
A phone call came through one morning to the office from a young guy called Jimmy Stead. He asked me if I wanted to join the John Barry Seven? The John Barry Seven was an all Yorkshire Band of note, so I said yes immediately. John Barry was changing the band little by little, because the original band before 1958 weren’t good sight readers. He was getting a lot of backing work so he wanted readers.
After a quick rehearsal we were off. In late 1958 I joined the Seven and went to London in a van jogging for six hours down the then Great North Road. When I got down there I was knackered, having picked up a tummy bug on the way. I had to go to a week’s rehearsal at Barry’s flat feeling absolutely shattered. This was the first time I had been away on me Jack Jones – and I felt exhausted and slightly homesick. I almost packed it all in then, but somehow I stuck to my guns and what was to happen, happened.
I gained a lot of experience from this move for later session work, for now I had become one of the three new faces – together with Clem Clatimmi of the Tornados, and Brian Bennett – on the London scene playing rock and roll. We were the new stylists after the big band drummers of the fifties.
After my initiation we went out on tour in late 58.
John Barry was getting well known. He was something of a delicate theatrical performer. He was originally a trumpet player of little note but he wanted to arrange and compose for the band so he eventually took backstage and did just that. Taking a Bill Russo arrangement course from America, John used to arrange for Johny Dankworth and many others. We were featured in many magazines, the cuttings of which I’ve still got. When we got into the top league John Barry took out a œ10,000 insurance policy against any of the band getting married within the next year because that was how much it would cost if the team were to break up. A lot of money in those days.
The Seven used to do their own spot, but were now doing a lot of backing work and had just been in the limelight backing Paul Anka in Sweden after his Diana hit. Simultaneously they also backed a guy on concert performances called Jackie Dennis who was a Scottish pop kid who wore a kilt – the original Bay City Roller. He was flavour of the month for a while.
When I joined we were backing people like Marty Wilde. In the Empire Days, Marty Wilde had had his own band, the Wildcats, but we took over as Marty’s band. A star, he always had a good quality voice. A nutcase as a character – but then we were all barmy.
We were with Marty for about three months doing regular jobs each in a different place. Norwich Theatre Royal, Cardiff New Theatre, Sunderland Empire, and the Metropolitan Theatre, Edgewhere Road. When seven guys (and all their kit) travel around non-stop in a Dormobile they soon get to know each other. We had a reunion three years ago, and it was magic day.
All this new rock and roll music coming from America was magic, unbelievable. These were the halcyon days. We had a great band in the Seven. Put up the music and we could play it. We were one of the link bands – and there aren’t many – between the jazz big bands of the 50s and the rock bands of the 60s. We had excellence in every department.
A new boy is discovered
Then Johny Worth, the songwriter, discovered a guy in the cutting rooms of a film studio called Terry Nelhams. Together with John Barry they wrote him some songs and changed his name to Adam Faith. Adam was a good down to earth guy, a Londoner, upper working class. We had some laughs together. We backed Adam then in 1959/ 60.
It was the TV series in 1959 which put Adam on the concert stage. The Seven originally did 65 special before I joined. Don Lang (who passed away last year) his Frantic Five, Lonnie Donegan, Wee Willy Harris and Joe Brown starred on the show.
In 1959 Barry came up with a series for BBC television in opposition to Oh Boy on the commercial channel, called Drumbeat. The regular cast included Bob Miller and the Miller Men, (the big band), The John Barry Seven (the small band) Adam Faith, Danny Williams (of Moon River fame), the Raindrops, the Kingpins and Roy Young (a white Little Richard), and Sylvia Sands the singer. At the onset of the series we all went into number 2 studio in Abbey Road with a live audience and we cut a complete album in a day. Drumbeat began in May, live, and went on for six months, right through the summer.
At six o’clock on Saturday night, with the crazy studio audience, the red lights would suddenly come on and we were live. Millions of people were looking at us on their TV screens. The adrenaline was fantastic. There was no room for mistakes.
Playing both channels
Over on the commercial channel on Oh Boy they had Lord Rockingham’s Eleven. At one stage in the series Jack Good the producer and Harry Robinson had a big argument over internal band policy and there was a split. Some of the guys stayed with Jack and some stayed with Harry. As live TV needed deps (replacements) for the imminent show, three out of the John Barry Seven were drafted in to play because we could literally read fly shit. So I took over from the drummer, and Vic Flick and Mike Peters took over guitar and bass respectively. (Vic Flick incidentally did all the James Bond playing for John Barry’s arrangements). So for a week or two we became part of Lord Rockingham’s Eleven.
On Drumbeat our backing group was the Raindrops whereas over on the commercial channel, on Oh Boy, Cliff had the Dallas Boys and the Vernon girls. There was obviously rivalry, but we made good friends from both series. The Dallas Boys from Leicester became good buddies. Some of them have retired recently, or are just about to do so. They’ve been gigging and doing cabaret for many years.
Joe Brown, Adam Faith and Marty Wilde were all good mates. Joe is a great country guitarist. They were all great characters.
Incidentally around this time Barry wrote the Hit and Miss theme for a programme called Juke Box Jury. The record is now a collector’s item like a lot of those early records.
Royal Command Performance
We did the Royal Command Performance at the Victoria Palace in 1960 in front of the Queen. They put a package deal together with us Cliff and Shadows and Vernon girls to represent the younger generation of that time. It was the only time we all had to wear top hat and tails hired from Moss Bros and I looked a right prat. It just didn’t suit me because of my size.
Bud Flannigan was on the show and was doing his song Strolling. Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Junior and Liberace were all top of the bill. Freddy Cole, Nat’s brother is still doing he rounds as is Natalie Cole.
In 1962 Adam and the Seven did a summer season in Blackpool at the Hippodrome. We shared top of the bill with Emile Ford and the Checkmates. We worked from Monday to Saturday in Blackpool and often did session in London on Sundays. We had a great summer season for five months but there were some complications.
Married life on the road
Even though I had a flat in Blackpool I also kept my flat in Fulham going. My Daughter was now on the way and my wife had to keep going back to London by train to have checkups. So I had to pay for two places. It’s never easy for a lady to be married to a musician because of the nature of the job. The musicians in the Seven were on a good wage but because we were only employees the royalties were in John Barry’s name, and that was that.
Reforming the Seven
In fact I tried to restart the band four years ago and wrote to John Barry to ask if I could use the name of the band, but he didn’t reply, which didn’t surprise me. He’s a good business man, and has made a fortune for himself. He wrote and arranged a lot of the numbers and all the royalties were his. He did very well for himself and that’s what the business is about. Another reason why the reformation was still born was the sad loss of one of the guys last Christmas. The tenor player, Dennis King, had battled with Leukemia for two years. A great face, and a great sax player.
Anyway during this time in Blackpool I could have been happier. I was aware that things were changing, other styles were coming in. I said to Vic – the now surrogate leader because Barry remained in London to write – ‘We’ve got to become a vocal band or we’ll get left behind.’ My advice was not taken heed of, yet, now we were regularly having dates cancelled. I saw the light: the writing was on the wall: I said to myself, “Do something and do it now.”
All these discontents culminated in a telephone blow up with Barry over upsetting my wife. So I said, “Thank you and goodbye.” A few days later I gave official notice to quit the band.
So I hit the big wide world in late ’62. And guess what. Nobody wanted to know. I couldn’t find any work. I suddenly found I had a daughter to keep and a wife and rent to pay. This was the toughest of times.
I came down to earth with a huge bang. I had gone from being a star musician signing autographs every day of the week to an unemployed Joe. All I could do was plunge into the twilight world of the small gig scene in London where I knew absolutely no one.
Before I had always had regular dosh coming in from the Seven. Now I couldn’t get money from anywhere. We were having to sell our records to eat.
There was (and is) a street in London called Archer Street where all the musicians collected. Having no choice I went down one Sunday afternoon, to be engulfed, pavement to pavement, in a flood of all these these middle aged old fashioned musicians swapping gigs. There were thousands of them. It was the stock exchange for musical work and I didn’t know a soul. I had just come off the top rock and roll scene and here I was in the middle of all these hard bitten musicians of twenty years grind. I went in the street pub, the Red Lion, walking round like a headless chicken, wondering where do I start?
Then my eye caught a familiar face by the bar. It was Dave Allen, we had been backing him on tour – an unfamous comedian at that time. He was talking to Art Morgan from London, a drummer I knew. I was so pleased to see these two guys having a drink. I explained my predicament and Art pointed out a guy called Les Dawson (not the comedian) who was giving out gigs. I went over and secured a few gigs in the West End. Small stuff but it paid the rent. I got more laughs out of those gigs than I had for months and I needed that. That was the start of my gig scene in 1962.
I was at home one night and piano player, Brian Hazelby, whom had followed Les Read into the John Barry Seven popped in to see me. “Ted Taylor’s drummer is leaving the quartet,” he told me. The Ted Taylor Four were a popular band. Until a couple of years ago Ted Taylor was the musical associate for the Benny Hill Show. Ted had augmented some of the Seven’s records with electric keyboards, so I knew him. I gave Ted a ring. “I hear Bobby’s leaving the band going to America. Any chance of me joining?” “I know you can play the parts,” he said, “but I need someone who can sing too.” Well I had never sung before, apart from a talent competition as a kid.
So I went for an audition and sung. And I cracked it! Suddenly life took a whole new turn.
….So, where were we? Yes, it was 1962 and I had a regular job again. Great! I was now resident drummer at the Jack of Clubs nightclub in Brewer street, Soho. It was situated opposite Paul Raymond’s Strip Alley, although I believe it’s a piano bar now. It was run by the son of entrepreneur Jack Iseau. A restaurant was on the ground floor with a club underneath. And here’s where I began my second apprenticeship.
Having done one apprenticeship with the John Barry Seven on the road, I was now doing a second apprenticeship in a night club backing artists every week. Cutting rhythms with cabaret artists, comics, jugglers, Cossack dancers, Spanish dancers, everyone. I would drum the arrangements and sing the harmonies off whatever sheet music was put in front of me. The Bachelors came in, Dave Allen came in, Val Doonegan came in. None of them had made it then.
Four nights a week I would be there until three in the morning, and Friday and Saturday until a quarter to four. Sunday I had a day off. I was also doing session work in recording studios during the day.
So I was finishing and getting to bed at four in the morning and getting up again at seven, doing session work during the day. I didn’t get much sleep but I could do it: I was in my twenties and I was in good shape. I gained great experience with Ted Taylor and Bob Rodgers – singing experience especially – doing four part harmonies. We did a lot of broadcasts like that. It was all written out: I was reading the drum part and the singing part at the same time. It was no place for passengers.
The club had a regular talent spot every week in 63/64 and we had all the Liverpool bands coming through. The Beatles, Gerry and the Piss-takers (as we used to call them), Billy J. Kramer, The Tornados, The Hollies, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, they all came through that show; that was one of the great shows.
I remember the first time I ever saw the Beatles. They fell out of a Dormobile in lower Regent Street into the Paris cinema where we were all working. The door flung open and they all marched in scruffy as armholes, straight from the Pool, having just come back from the Star Club in Hamburg, making a big name for themselves. Now they were trying to hit it big in England having just done ‘Love Me Do’.
Andy White was on drums. It wasn’t Ringo. Andy was a mate of mine who had been with Bob Miller on Drumbeat with us. Ringo had just joined the band but he hadn’t got the feel for it yet, so they got this session guy in until Ringo got it together. Andy is now in America teaching.
In walked John Lennon wearing his NHS glasses and our guitarist Bob Rogers looked at him and said, “Every band has got its Hank Marvin, hasn’t it.”
We got to know them, we (the Ted Taylor Four) did a couple of live concerts with them. They were top of the bill. They were getting quite well known and Brian Epstein was pushing them hard.
I had never seen them live because we were usually having a break while they were on stage. The first time I watched them was from the wings at the Embassy at Peterborough (the building is still there) in 1963. They utterly amazed me. McCartney and Lennon were singing this number from America by pianist Bobby Scott, ‘A Taste of Honey’, a jazz number, yet the Beatles were doing it in an astonishingly jazz-orientated way. I had never seen a pop group doing things like this before. They had a great music quality.
The kids in the audience were going potty. I said to Jimmy from the John Barry Seven later, “I just seen a band called the Beatles and I’ve never seen anything like it man. The Shadows might be top group at the moment but the Beatles are going to knock them for six.” And they did. Yet nowadays in 1993 the Beatles are not together and the Shadows are. Full circle again. Strange business isn’t it?
Oh yeh, I talked to them. We shared dressing rooms with the Beatles occasionally. Seth got all their autographs – something I regret not having done now. I could have got them collectively and individually – they would be worth a damn fortune. I could have got so many autographs down the years but I didn’t get any. None. And you’ll see what I missed as I go on.
I met up with Paul and Ringo later in the Seventies when the Beatles had split.
The Session Scene
I left Ted in 1965 because my individual connections were building up very rapidly as a session drummer in the studios. It was really going mad, crazy. It was four sessions a day sometimes, not just three. Try and get a day off on a Sunday if you can – although I shouldn’t knock it – it was great money. Hot line, hot line. With more people getting to know me as a reliable guy who could do a reliable job, I was becoming very much in demand for freelance session work in London’s west End, so I decided I had built up enough connections to go freelance, and in early ’65 I quit the club.
Session playing was the ultimate; the height of a musical career at that time. Everyone was coming in to town. It was the place to be: London. Not LA, not New York. The Beatles were helping the industry a great deal.
The rock groups from the fifties were meeting up with big band players of ten years earlier and something special was being created. The hooligan rhythm sections like us were playing along with these tremendous musicians, the old big band players and the combination was fantastic. We were kicking them alive, replacing the plod of the old-fashioned swing drummers.
Almost as soon as I quit, I had a call from probably the top fixer in London, Charlie Kats.
A fixer (or contractor) is the person hired by the recording studio (EMI, Decca, etc.) to book an orchestra or a session band for each session that’s going on. The fixer is the go-between between the studio and the musicians so it’s similar to an agency. A record company (with their own studio) would contact a fixer, who has a number of musicians on his books. From these, he then puts a band together and gets a percentage for doing it. He’s an agent between the hierarchy who are paying the money and producing the record and the musical employees. He gets to know exactly what musicians are especially suitable for each type of session.
Anyway, shortly after I had turned freelance I had a call from Charlie saying he had booked me for a pilot TV pop show. A session band for the programme was being put together to back the few solo artists who didn’t have their own band, and they wanted me as drummer. We did the pilot programme at Lyme grove, from the old ATV studios, Wembly and we had no idea if it was going to take off, but it did. The commercial channel wanted to screen a pop show to oppose Top of the Pops. It was called Ready Steady Go.
We all had to turn up every week. I did 76 programmes over about two years. I was on the pilot show and all the shows that followed during that time. I was employed as drummer in the Ready Steady Go Orchestra, lead principally by Johnny Pearson, the musical director, who has written a lot of quality music down the years. We backed hundreds of stars, including many stars like Sandy Shaw, Lulu, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, Diana Ross and the Supremes. etc.- basically, any solo artist who didn’t have their own backing band. There’s too many to remember. Although I recall clearly when Diana Ross heard the band on rehearsal and said, “Gee! I knew there was something in London we had missed.” That was a nice compliment.
Due to the boom in groups – at that time – and the decline of solo stars, sometimes we would have to sit through the whole day and end up only playing one piece of music. But we had to be on call in case we were needed. So we used to go and have our hair cut , or a coffee, or take a kip in the cupboard or something, you know. It proved to be a very lucrative little job because it enabled me to put a down payment on my first house. I also established a reputation then as being one of the better younger players on the scene. From then on, the phone kept ringing, day by day. The contractors, people like Charlie Kats, David Kats, Harry Benson, Sid Sacks, Alec Firman, Bernard Monchen continually booked me for the different studios in London. I was well established on all their lists. So things were lucrative, very, very good.
The stones came on Ready Steady Go when I was drumming in the orchestra but I didn’t talk to them. Jim Sullivan and some of the other guys did. For what they did they were a good group. They were in their own ball park. They created a sort of white English R&B and they made a lot of money with what they did and I admire that. Nevertheless I once worked with Bill Wyman on a session to record some film music at Olympic Studios in Barnes. David Whitiker was the musical director, an excellent musician who wrote, arranged and conducted orchestral music. The producer was a bit of a whiz kid and he requested that he must have Bill Wyman on the session as he got such a great sound. Well Bill came in and he sat amongst a bunch of highly-skilled, hard bitten (not me as I new to the scene then) session players. Having grown used to working with ace players, I was first surprised to find Bill couldn’t read music – as it soon became apparent he couldn’t handle the piece of music he was given. Then, worse, it became obvious he couldn’t tune his instrument either. No matter how he tried, he just couldn’t get in tune with the rest of the band.
And worse to follow. With a nickname for excellent timekeeping in the business, I know when a guy can’t keep time. And Bill couldn’t. So – no doubt to save embarrassment – the piece of music was recorded but then scrapped. I watched him as he floundered through the session. So if you had take Bill Wyman out of the Stones and put him into something else the guy didn’t make it all.
Dave Clark was a good enough business man, although an egomaniacal editor of his later acquired Ready Steady Go programmes, which he sliced up to give himself a lot of undeserved glory. In fact he never played on any of his own records. Clem Clattini who went into sessions after the Tornados split up used to drum on them all. (The Tornados are gigging again incidentally.)
Similarly, Gary Leeds of the Walker Brothers never drummed on any of their records. I should know, because I did them all. Gary Leeds the drummer in the band used to drum at the concerts but I did all the studio tracks.
Scott Walker had a fantastic voice and they used to use the most massive orchestras in sessions, with people like Reg Guest arranging and conducting. Scott was well respected by the musical fraternity. He was a nice guy, quite a loner, and very interested in Surrealism. He’s still bombing around in London these days.
Of course as well as being on all their hit tracks (which I noted at the time in a diary) there hundreds of stocking fillers, the BCDE tracks, and album tracks so numerous they would stretch from Broughton Astley to London if listed. Scott and John would usually do about three tracks, (sometimes four) in a session and from these they would chose an A and a B side. I was the regularly guy for the Walker Brothers, but on the odd occasion when I couldn’t make a session they would use Clem Clattini. Between us, we played most of the records of that period, doing more commercial hit parade sessions than anyone else in the business.
It was a fast, varied and spontaneous lifestyle. I rarely had a clue what I was going to be doing on the way to a studio. The team I would be going to work with could have been anyone. I’d perhaps walk in and find some session guys I’d played with last week. Hi, I didn’t know you’d be here. What we doing? No idea. Who’s the MD? Suddenly in walks a musical director. Oh, we didn’t know it was you today. Sometimes we’d go over the pub at lunch, and by the following fortnight the track would be in the charts. It was complete guess work as to who you would be playing with.
What’s happening today?
One particular track I did in 1964 is a good example of how many sessions worked. Booked at EMI studios, I turned up with my kit, and was directed into the small studio, number three, at Abbey Road. Jeff Love – at that time a a staff arranger for EMI and later Max Bygraves musical director – was there. We exchanged a few niceties. What are we doing today? I enquired. “There’s only you and bass player Eric Ford. We got two new guys coming in, playing guitar and singing a song by Lennon and McCartney. There’s no music so you’ve both got to make it up,” he explained.
So Jeff starts putting a few dots and quavers down on paper while I was getting a drum sound with the engineer. One of the two young guys was plonking out a sort of rhythm on an acoustic guitar as Jeff continued writing bass lines down on staves for Eric to play. I was just going along with the rhythm of the thing in my own innimitable way. Then the other guy comes in and we are introduced.
As we were putting it together, Jeff literally writes down what we are doing to get an impromptu score. Vic Flick was called in to put twelve string guitar sound on, Harry Sternam was called in to put an organ sound on.
The track was issued a week or so after and it soared up the charts. It went to number one here, and it went to number one in the States! Big money. It was Peter (Asher) and Gordon (Waller)’s, ‘A World Without Love.’ Vic, Harry, Eric and yours-truly built the rough song up into a recordable arrangement that made the song work and all we got was a session fee, yet it sold millions. It was the same old story over and over again.
That’s a good example of how many sessions went. Putting a record together without any music was quite common.
Hi Ho Silver Lining – Jeff Beck
To be honest, I don’t remember this too clearly. Jeff was an okay guy. It was at number two studio at Pye. All the groups used to record there. The rest of the band were Jeff’s regular line up and they called me in just to hold the thing together time wise. Bringing a session guy (or guys) in saves time, and time is money. To me it was just another record. I thought, “that’s nice, ” and I went on to the next session.
Love Grows by Edison Lighthouse
A record that went to either number one or two. That was at Les Reed’s studio, Wessex Sound in Highberry. Les was an old mate of mine from the John Barry Seven days. He organised himself as a musical director – did a lot of arranging for Tom and Engelbert, people like that, and he got himself an old church and turned it into a studio. I used to do a lot of sessions out there. He also recorded the Fortunes there, ‘You’ve Got Your Troubles’, and all the others. I was on all of the Fortunes stuff.
Studios were very busy then. You wouldn’t believe it – it was an incredible community. It’s good that the Hinckley Musician is writing about the session community of the Sixties and the Seventies because no one else has. They’ve always written about the artists but the not the session players.
Brilliant players like guitarist Jim Sullivan, Bass player Dil Cats. Both Jimmy Page and John Baldwin (John Paul Jones who also went on to form Led Zepellin) were just ordinary session guys at this time. I used to work with Jimmy Page every day. He was just one of the guys. A fantastic player, although he couldn’t read music, but he did have a fantastic sound. Terry Britton was another one – he was on the Alvin Stardust stuff. I was on all that too. A lot of stuff was written and then given to session musicians to record and then the proper band would learn it off the record. Time is money. If you put a piece of music in front of a session guy you’ve got it recorded in ten minutes. Played as well as it can be played.
In time many of these session players went off to form or join there own bands.
John McLoughlin the guitarist did this. He was just a string plonker when I knew him. What was he like? Terrible. Bloody awful when I knew him.
He wasn’t booked as a lead solo player – the better players were booked for that, people like Jim Sullivan, Vic Flick and Richard Tattersall. Chris Spedding was another one. He had a hit single with ‘Motorbiking’. I used to work with him a lot. Great player, good sound and good rocker.
A lot of the guys who made it big later were backing artists at that time. Elton John was a backing singer and I worked with him as such. Most of the time, these people would just politely say good morning to each other and just put a product together and move on to the next session. Then we would see each other again in maybe a couple of weeks when we were booked together again. Often we used to go for a pint across the road, but whereas the musicians would usually drink with the musicians, the backing singers would go off to their own scene in a different pub.
The pubs and studios
I went to literally hundreds of studios.
At EMI studios, the session player pub was the Alma in St. Johns Wood, at the May de Vale Studios we used to go in the BBC club (people used to go in there sometimes and get smashed – I don’t know how they played at times – sometimes they used to live in there!). The Olympic Studios had the Red Lion at Barnes. The Decca studios at Broadhurst gardens have closed down now. Decca didn’t have a pub as such but it had a chinese restaurant across the road where we could get some food and wine.
There were lots of little studios floating around in enthusiast’s front room, like Denmark Studios, and Regent Sound, the one Joe Meek had. Joe Meek’s claim to fame was that he created the Tornados. He was a homosexual, and he was renowned for being a bit nasty with it as well. I had a shout up with him one day and that was the only time I ever worked with Joe Meeks. He didn’t like the way I played and I wasn’t keen on him.
But the session scene was gradually changing in the late sixties. At that stage you would record tracks as long as there were hours in a day, but the Beatles were changing the approach to studio work – they were given carte blanche by their record label, Parlophone, who would book out a studio for three months (or more) at a time for them.
They weren’t the saints they’ve been pictured to be either. They used to work through the night, have meals sent in and have a smoke etc. They would get so high they’d chuck the plates and everything else against the walls and break the place up. When the tracks were finished they would take it out on the studio – not unlike Keith Moon with his drum kit.
Occasionally I would follow them into a studio (for a booked session) the morning after they had left. The job of the studio porters was to help clean out the studios and help the next musicians in with their gear. “Can you get my stuff in Terry while I go and park? “I’d ask. “Take as much time as you like,” he’d say, “we had the Beatles in here last night and they wrecked the place.”
Mind you, I must point out that the hooligan element is not confined pop music. Not at all. Leonard Bernstein made a habit of wrecking his hotel room before he left it. Some of the biggest hooligans in the business are in the classical world. But that’s excepted because it’s the respectable side of the business. One law for working class culture and another for middle class culture. That cuts no ice with me. I judge a potato by its skin.
I was involved in quite a few things with Dusty Springfield, if you pardon the expression, although she wouldn’t have been inclined in my direction anyway. I had worked with her in 1958 (before the Springfields had formed) when she was the singer in the centre of a group called the Lama Sisters. None of these three girls would have been inclined in my direction if you get what I mean. Three of them together – can you imagine! They were allegedly known be somewhat devious and they gave the John Barry Seven a ****ing hard time when we backed them. I was continually being told my timing wasn’t right here, that was wrong there, etc. etc. I was just a young guy coming into the business and I hated them.
Anyway I worked with her again when she had moved on to the Springfields. She was more mellow by that time. She has a bit more up top at that point. She had learned a bit and she now accepted I could make the scene. But she always gave drummers a terrible time, even the top quality drummers. She tried it on with Buddy Rich in America but she was firing off at the wrong man and he shot her down in flames. Touchy, temperamental; very temperamental. Nevertheless an excellent singer.
I remember a session where we were doing the flip side of a number called, “In the Middle of Nowhere,” a ballad, the name of which I can’t recall, recorded at Phillips Marble Arch. She had her own backing rhythm section for that session string players and brass players. I always felt uncomfortable at her sessions.
In the early Seventies I did a lot of library music because it was a big deal money wise. I was booked as first call on the Reader’s Digest library music with Decca and I’d be out there every week at Decca Studios. Then, due to illness, I had to go into hospital for a couple of weeks. Of course when I came out I had lost my bloody connection, hadn’t I? That’s how fickle the music business is. If you slip up then you can be assured that somebody else will move in. Nobody is unexpendible. Inevitably, you build up this barrier against being let down. It’s easy to become sceptical, hard bitten, cynical, everything, yeh. If you say you can do it, you’ve got to go and do it to survive. This is learning the hard way. Nevertheless I’m 56 now and still surviving.
For all budding musicians
There are two things I have got to get across on this interview. Firstly, to get a continual stream of work as a musician you have to be reliable. That’s the way you survive. Doing the job musically is one thing, but if you can’t turn up on time and keep your nose clean you won’t be working long.
If you have a professional attitude people will enjoy working with you. You have to be compatible with other people. You’re doing a job and getting paid for it. If you don’t provide the product they’ll book somebody else. And you’re up there doing something a lot of other people want to be doing – so don’t blow it!
Secondly, you can’t play music properly when you’re out of your tree. I’ve tried it. When I’m high I can’t think straight. It’s a mug’s game. I’m too relaxed. I went to Japan for three weeks in the Seventies and I went out with two or three guys before the show and I had too much Saki. Lethal. When I got back I went on stage in front of two thousand people and I was drunk. I was trying to get it together. My muscles were tired. I couldn’t move myself. Move yourself, you brat! You got two big drum solos to play! Yet I couldn’t put it together. I was getting paid quite a lot of money for this and I couldn’t produce the goods. Bad news.
Anyway this takes me up to the time when I had a boat to catch.
All at sea
I had a great time in 1970. I was booked on an extensive cruise for a couple of weeks in the Med on the Cranberra with Ray Davis (not the Kink’s singer) and the Button Down Brass: a session band specialising in Herb Alpert type music. Not marijuana music but Tihuana music: a Mexican style of music which was all written out so it was an easy job.
A BBC outside broadcast team came with us. Travelling first class we had our own cabin stewards who looked after us. We didn’t get a lot of money from the trip, but it was free, as was all the food and drink we could tuck into. All you needed was a little pocket money for when you went ashore in Palma, Naples or Athens.
From the BBC we had ‘Saturday Club’ and ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ compere Brian Matthews and producer Pam Cox and sound engineers with us as well. They had come to broadcast the band live from the high seas.
Sixties & Seventies
At the end of the Sixties different kinds of music were coming into vogue. Reggae and Ska, Country and Western, and Brazilian Bosanovas were becoming fashionable. Bacharach’s music was especially popular.
The whole period was good for me. It was lucrative from the beginning of the Seventies right through until the mid-period when it began to tail off. From then on you had all the Punk and the Glam Rock stuff coming in, Bowie, etc. Although that was great actually: it was good fun.
The scene was changing all the time, different ideas were coming into music and the session players were having to change with it.
It struck me that songwriters were making a lot of money so I decided to have a go at writing songs myself. I started early about 1966 but even though I had a lot of my songs pressed I never had any hit records. Vic, John Barry’s guitarist, and I used to write songs together.
Vic used to be involved with Francis Day & Hunter publishers, and because of this he had his own little publishing company which was a subsidiary of the main company. A lot of the stuff we used to write we used to plough into Vic’s company.
There were artists looking for material, although we used to get somewhat
non-descript artists. A little bit recorded here a little bit recorded there. One excellent singer I wrote for was Mike Readway, a great singer on the London Scene.
I’ve got all the demos but they don’t mean anything now. It’s all old fashioned stuff now, and very twee. You write things according to what style is selling at the time. A lot of it you wouldn’t give house room to these days.
I wrote a couple of things with Herbie Flowers, the great session bass player, who played with many stars, including Elton John, and was the guy who put Sky together. We started working together about 1962.
He came into the music scene from an army band; he played a wind instrument as well as bass. He was a well trained musician and excellent time keeper. A character but a nice one. And very reliable.
Herbie Flowers wrote and had a hit record with ‘Grandad’ with Clive Dunn. So we got together to write a follow up, called, ‘Me and my Dog’. Unfortunately, even though Clive liked it, it never got off the ground. Politics again.
I had some success in 1972 with another session guy, Alan Hawkshaw, a great player, who went on to big things later. Alan was doing a lot of writing at that time. One day we were at a session at Delane Ley and Alan said he had a melody he had written and asked me if I wanted to put a lyric to it. Yeh, I said. And we put the song together during the course of somebody else’s session. On playbacks of the song we were recording, he jotted the thing down and gave it to me and I put the lyric together in about two hours. So now we had a song.
Alan was then helping out with the shadows at that time so he had first hand information about Cliff: a door was opened and access was permitted. He went through and was introduced to Cliff and the whole thing was built up that way. Another example of not what you know but who you know.
It was published by one of the companies in Denmark Street – although I can’t remember off hand which one – and was entered for the Eurovision Song Contest. It passed three hundred songs and got through to the last six. Once again, not what we knew, but who we knew. ‘
The song was called the ‘Days of Love’. Cliff himself didn’t like it much. It was a ballad and he couldn’t sing ballads anyway – he seemed to lack a bottom range to his voice.
Anyway the winning song that year was, ‘Power to All Our Friends’. Cliff recorded all the nearly-made-it songs and our song was put out on an album and we got some royalties back. Only a few hundred quid each, but it was still worth having put pen to paper.
One of the things I used to like doing was producing cover versions of hit records on the cheap labels. A lot of session guys were earning money doing that then. Labels like Top Ten, Top Six, Super Six, the Woolworths brand labels and all that, you know. I used to do a lot of that, as well as library music, background music or advertising jingles for TV. One day it would be Martini the next, double cream. All that stuff, you know. You might be selling a car one day and some supermarket product the next. I did a lot of film music. Once film session I went along to had the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andre Previn. Why me? They wanted this hooligan, rock sound for the rhythm section. We were all producing a lot of background music.
I suppose you could say I’ve just been a background musician all these years. Apart from the highlights when I was a bit of a lunatic with the John Barry Seven, when I was top front man with the Seven as a star band.
Some Sessions of the Seventies
In the early seventies Paul McCartney was producing his own stuff in the studio and I was booked on a session with him. I had known him from previous years when the Beatles were doing concert performances so we were on familiar terms. A nice guy is Paul. I can’t tell a lie – nice fella. He was doing his own stuff, a thing called ‘Uncle Albert’, from Ram. I did a thing for Ringo around that time that was a small hit, ‘Sweet Sixteen’.
I’ve done a lot work down the years and I’ve been very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, but that is not the same thing as being absolutely lucky. I’ve had to work at it. I’ve had to produce the goods. I’ve had to become a good player. In order to get a reputation and get the work, and to create the opportunities to work with other great players.
I was doing quite a lot of work for the Worzels. They were a great fun band. We got on so well I was the fourth worzel. They had hits like, ‘I am a cider drinker’, ‘I’ve got a brand new Combine Harvester’ and ‘Morning Glory’. They were all parodies of other songs.
They became a quite big deal in mid to late Seventies. They were already a big deal around the west country and they used to fill the places out. It used to be Adge Cutler and the Worzels but despite Adge getting killed in a motor accident the Worzels carried on. And they had hit records and became a national name. They are still living off those hit records as they are still singing their hits doing their rounds. I did all those sessions. In fact there was no sheet music involved: we just knocked ideas together.
Nevertheless, they were great players. Tommy Banner, Pete Bud and Tony Begis were the three original guys but Tony dropped out. The other two carried on and put bass and drums behind them. They are still doing cabaret around the country. Quite recently they sent their regards to me which was nice.
I helped write a song with the Worzels, ‘Good Old Somerset’, which we put together in a pub around the back from EMI, the Alma. We wrote it during a lunch break from the studios which the Worzels had booked for a day. We wrote it over lunch and then recorded it when we got back. And I’m still getting royalties for it!
It was just their kind of stuff. Folk rock pop material. As well as Royalties, the Performing Rights Society people collect a little money on that as well. Sometimes it’s possible to be ripped off with the smaller publishing houses but with the main publishing houses you’re usually okay.
Anyway that was in the mid Seventies.
The scene was beginning to change after the mid-Seventies. A lot of everyday work was dropping off. The session work situation was thinning out. Things were beginning to get more electronic and computerised. Subtly, somehow the keyboard players were taking over. The keyboard session players were bringing in synthesizers and producing bass sounds, guitar sounds and drum sounds on synthesizers. If you wanted something very special you would book a keyboard player all on his own.
Gradually people were beginning to realise that you didn’t need to book a complete session band anymore because synths could produce the sounds of saxes, trumpets and even new noises all together. All this stuff had been coming up from the early Seventies, but now it began to flood in.
I saw the light when Herbie Flowers said to me, “In the old days making a record used to be a lot of fun. Nowadays it’s all about electronics, sequencers and pressing buttons.”
As all these changes were going on in the music industry, things were also changing on a personal level in my life at the same time. I was prompted from all angles to make changes and look for something else. My marriage had been rocky for a while but now it was virtually over.
I was forty. I thought I’ve got to get away from London. I’ve seen enough of it. So I left.
I didn’t used to practice a lot in my session days because I was keeping my technique in shape by playing every day. Later when I moved away from London I started to practice again because I wanted to become a better player in other music styles, especially jazz. In fact I did quite a lot of jazz work through the Seventies but – as I said – in 1977 I moved from the smoke.
In one way you could say that I’d forgotten how to play. I’d become typecast, stereotyped. I was going from studio to studio playing the same thing because that was all that was required. I had forgotten how to be an adventurous musician – and that wasn’t me at all. I had almost forgotten how to put it together.
Musically, personally and professionally life started again at forty. As soon as I was out of London I once again started religiously practising every day..
I left my wife behind and my two kids. I regret the latter very much, although I have not lost contact with them – I’ve been in touch with both of them every week since. Of course they are both grown up now.
I was looking around for another job while I was contemplating leaving London. The session scene was thinning out and I notified various contractors I was leaving for a place in Leicestershire and I would still be available for work if necessary.
I’ll tell you about what happened to me in Leicestershire next time.
I was 40 and thing weren’t right. I wanted, and needed, to do something else. Things were happening to me that made me feel I had to get away from London.
In 1977 My wife and I split up. Still in London, I got myself a flat in Morden. One day I travelled through London to visit my mother when quite by chance I made a telephone call in response to an advert.
I spoke to guy called Martin Stevenson, who was the head of the peripatetic teaching staff, at the Leicestershire College of Music.
I told him what I had been doing for twenty years, explaining my lack of formal or teaching qualifications. He said, “The only qualification you need is your experience. When can you start? Come up for an interview in the next week.”
I got the job.
For the first few months in late 1977, I travelled backwards and forwards, coming up to Leicestershire on Friday afternoon to teach in the evening. I stayed over night, taught Saturday morning and returned to London on Saturday afternoon to arrange the session work for the forthcoming week. So, teaching round the schools and colleges, I became temporary staff at Leicestershire College of Music, doing at first up to two days a week, then it was extended to three.
I’d also angled a job with the Coventry School of Music too, doing a day a week for them. I was also doing a day’s teaching over the week in public schools in the area.
It was great! I had some good kids at that time and the numbers built up to about 100 on my register. I began to learn about teaching, about all the numerous skills required, including the record keeping of what progress is being made with each student and so forth.
I learned a great deal about myself and the world at large by teaching the kids. They would come back with all sorts of comical answers to my questions. I was an amateur teacher, so I learned a great deal from the professionals I was working with. I also learned a great deal about how to conduct myself in – and between – schools.
My bank manager in London raved when he heard about this, he said, “My dear boy it’s the best thing you’ve ever done: you are getting regular money now.”
Teaching was exhilarating because I had to answer the questions the students asked me on any aspect of practice or theory. Now, you can’t do this unless you’ve done your own home work. What is a dotted crochet; what are dynamics; How do you notate; how do you look after your instrument; etcetera, etcetera? Knowing your craft is imperative in teaching. So in the early teaching days I practiced a great deal. I had degenerated into being more a physical labourer than a musician in London. To counteract this I practiced every day to get my technique back in to shape and to find new and more exciting methods of playing. Gradually I developed a technique far surpassing my skills on the London session scene. I was determined to get back on top again – even if it only for myself.
Anyhow, that’s how the teaching started. It just built and up over the years. I was even tutoring privately from home. Anyway it just kept building to the point where it got ridiculous and I had to axe some of it. It got too much. It was taking over and my playing was suffering yet again.
So, eventually with ennui setting in, and my technique better than ever, it wasn’t long before I was playing again.
I’d heard about Roger Eames from some of the session guys in London. “Get in touch with Roger,” they said. He was second in command at BBC Radio Leicester. He knew I was coming to Leicester, so we met up. We had friends and experiences in common from London straight away. He invited me to join the Radio Leicester Big Band, a very popular band at that time and it was going in for the ‘All Britain Big Band’ contest. We won it for a couple of years running. In fact, they were going to give me a drum prize but I lost out. One of the judges knew me from years back and thought I had too much of an advantage over the younger players. Never mind, they only need cleaning and dusting anyway.
After that, I formed a trio called Whiskers, a jazz trio. Electric – not steam piano – bass and drums. I actually rang the pet food people in Melton (Whiskas) to see if we could organise some sponsorship but they didn’t want to know. We did a lot of good jazz, and I’ve got some respectable tapes of that period. We were broadcast on a number of radio stations.
I taught and played until I was 47 and then I did a dreadful gig at the Demontford Hall for a band. I got œ25 and a cheese sandwich and thought I’ve had enough of this and hung up my drums for ever. Or at least that’s what I thought at the time.
So in 1984 I had this dreadful gig with a local band at the Demontfort Hall: 25 quid, a cheese sandwich and half a bitter. I came back and said to my second wife, Judy, “That’s it, I’ve had enough. I’ve retired from the music world for ever: good bye music.” She didn’t seem too surprised. From 84 to 87 I didn’t strike a bat with any band.
The next three years
Naturally, I kept teaching to pay the rent. I also practised regularly during that time. Even though I’d retired, I spent a lot of time watching live drummers and I saw a lot of rubbish to be nice about it. During this time I had been putting a lot of my rhythmic ideas and scores on paper with a view to publishing a drum tutor, but the London publishers needed something less sophisticated to turn over a large number of books. I’m still adding to this core of ideas – it’s not student stuff – and I’ve been advised to try America for publication, in the future.
Anyway, for three years, I was absorbing things, and eventually came to conclusion that I still had something to offer.
So when I hit the big five O in 1987 I went back into the business again.
The first gig I did was for Radio Leicester’s Roger Eames. His Radio Leicester Big Band were backing Madeleine Bell and Dave Bartram (who was soloing away from Shawaddywaddy) at Loughborough town hall.. After a long afternoon session with the big band, with only a half hour break, we went straight into the evening show without any refreshments at all.
It was hell. I hadn’t played for three years with a band. Pushing a big band along, driving sixteen 16 people along is hard work if you haven’t played for three years. Somehow I made it. The first thing I did at the end was to rush over to the pub opposite and put some liquid down me because I’d sweated so much out. Nevertheless it was good to be back.
The Hamelin Band
So, from 1987 for the last 6 years I did a lot of jazz venues with the Hamelin band, run by a millionaire called David Hamelin. That’s where I met the guys I’m working with now. The rhythm section of the big band was so good that eventually we decided to get a front singer and go it alone, as a small function band. Cadenza came into being.
Steve Hession Keyboard, Colin Medlock on guitar, Colin Bilham on bass who has now left and been replaced by Steve Nutter, yours truly and a front singer called John Brenham.
Keyboardist, Steve Hession knew a lot of bookers and agents from his previous days. He started the ball rolling by phoning up various agencies. How much do we charge? What do we do? What kind of band are we? they asked. Soon we were pulling in work and spin offs from other agencies
All the band sing, with four musicians backing and two fronting. Diane, was our first female fronter, then came Jo, whom had a great voice who couldn’t get her act together as a person, and now we have Leslie Anne, who is great both visually and vocally. She’s dynamite; a little miss Tina Turner.
Over the last three years, Cadenza has grown in to a very well respected function band in the midlands area and people are now phoning us from far afield places like Manchester, Essex and the London area.