Off To London
As early as 1961 our town, Preston in Lancashire, had a Coffee/Cellar Club called The Catacombs, known locally as ‘The Cats’. It was owned and run by a scouser called Clive Kelly, and Clive brought a succession of Liverpool bands to play there on Sunday nights.
The first time I saw a rock show, was at Saul Street Baths once again, funny isn’t it, Saul Street Baths features quite heavily in my early life, I learned to swim there, I first sang in public on a microphone there and I saw my first serious ‘live’ music show there.
It would have been early ’61. Top of the bill was Emile Ford and the Checkmates, who had the hit with ‘What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?’ and it was also the first time I saw Billy Fury, little realizing at the time we would work together and become friends.
It was also the first time I saw The Big Three, they wore canary yellow suits and boots, Wow, how cool is that? And they played simply excellent Rock and Roll!
Billy Fury was incredible, the crowd was unbelievable, and Billy had them right in the palm of his hand… Such charisma! All the girls wanted to be with him and all the guys wanted to be him. Amazing!
The Big Three used to play at The Catacombs on Sunday nights and, along with many other Liverpool bands, their influence showed heavily in the way that our music was going. Even though Sundays was our one night off, we still came back to the club every Sunday to listen and watch the Liverpool bands. This was all quite some time before any of them were well known.
When we finally returned from France, our first booking was at Leyland Public Hall, a prior successful venue for us. We arrived in the afternoon and set up, these days they call it a sound check, those days it was simply to see if everything was working!! We then retired to the Pub, as you do, then returned to the hall about an hour before we were due on stage.
The place was full and the support band, which was another Preston group called The Thunderbeats, were going through their set. Trouble was, when we left to go to France, we were the only group in Preston to be playing the Liverpool based, British Rock, R and B style. But when we walked in we were really surprised to see The Thunderbeats doing basically all our numbers. This ultimately caused the Bobcats to disband.
I was offered a spot with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes in Liverpool. It was late ‘62, and Ringo had left Rory to join The Beatles in the August.
Another Preston drummer, Keef Hartley, who went on to do great things, also had a stint with Rory.
Must be something about drummers from Preston!!
It was a good gig, Rory used to do 2, 3 and sometimes 4 jobs a night and with the pay being around a couple of Pounds per job to me, it was very lucrative indeed. We’re talking 1962 here, wages were about 5 or 6 Pounds a week as I remember. However, when Dave Millen, the guitarist I was with in the Bobcats, and Jim Whittle the bass player from The Thunderbeats approached me to join them in a trio, the timing was right. I was 18, I didn’t drive and I was catching the bus to and from Liverpool – about 30 miles – to do the gigs with Rory each week, usually staying at Rory’s house from Thursdays to Sundays.
So when Dave and Jim asked me to join them not only was the timing right, but I had already worked with Dave in the Bobcats and knew him to be an excellent guitar player, and that I could work with him really well, so I said “yes”. When we first got together we spent 9 straight days and nights rehearsing in a place called Club Regan, a strip joint that was being refurbished. It didn’t take long to work out stuff with Jim and we became a tight rhythm section indeed, we came out of that rehearsal, a full working band with an enormous repertoire.
Now around this time there was a singer from Preston, a guy called Bob Eccles, who used to sing under the name of Robb Decca. He approached us to back him on a couple of original songs he was going to record in London, at Joe Meek’s Studio in Holloway Rd., for the purpose of Joe hearing his work. Joe Meek was the guy who wrote and produced ‘Telstar’ which was the world’s first instrumental to be No. 1 in the UK, the USA and Australia at the same time. So he certainly was considered a big face. What an opportunity!!
So we packed ourselves off to London in Jim’s black Austin Atlantic Convertible, to record Robb’s songs, and whilst at the studio we also did a couple of numbers ourselves. I remember we did a version of ‘Little Bitty Pretty One’ which showed off our harmonies very well indeed.
A couple of weeks later we received a phone call from Joe himself and he told us that he didn’t like the singer but that he wanted to sign the band up, and become our Personal and our Recording Manager. In unison we chorused, “What singer?”. Sorry Robb!!
Loyalty has always been big in Rock and Roll!!
Seriously though, we didn’t owe any loyalty to Robb, we only agreed to back him on the songs he wanted Joe to hear, which we did.
But think about this folks, just because Robb asked us to back him on this gig, I have led the kind of life I have, and I am still performing in 2013.
The Puppets are indeed deeply indebted to Robb for asking us to back him, at that time, there were lots of other groups he could have asked, but he didn’t, and it totally changed our lives. A sincere great big thanks Robb from all of us, as we say here in Australia you’re a wee ripper!!
I must point out that Robb went on to make many records, changed his name to Robb Shenton, and is still working live and touring in 2011. He has a new album being released on 10th of October on ‘Fury’ records titled ‘We’re Gonna Rock’ by Robb Shenton and The Western Allstars.
I wish him all the luck in the world. Good on you Robb!!
And Thank You.
Well you could have knocked us down with a feather. Joe Meek wanted us! And that’s how we originally got in with Joe and it was Joe who renamed us The Puppets.
It’s worth looking up the history of Joe Meek. He engineered many, many hits indeed. It was Joe who was responsible for Lonnie Donegan’s hits and I think, well, without Lonnie I honestly don’t think Rock’n’Roll would have happened in England in quite the same way.
Lonnie passed away in November 2002, and recently I was in touch with Vince Eager, ‘60’s Star of ‘Oh Boy’ and ‘Boy meets Girls’, and he told me he was actually on stage and singing with Lonnie just a few days before he passed on!!