Nick Holmes Memories

Nick Holmes Memories

Grab a coffee or whatever does it for you and enjoy.

Started 20/04/07. This is a blog of my own memories of the live music scene in Preston when I was around 16 – 18.

Nick Holmes

Let’s start with Hard Cash. Hard Cash were featured in the Lancashire Evening Post recently (or more specifically a photo of them playing outside the Market pub during guild week 1972 – or at least I remembered it as being outside the Market pub, but according to the article below it was outside Crystal House). I was there. I was 16 at the time and Hard Cash were my heroes. They had Marshall amps (at the time I had a Fenton Weill portabass 30 – more of that later), wore stack heel boots, the Bass player could keep a lighted roll-up in the corner of his mouth while playing, without bursting out in a fit of coughing. The following article appeared in the LEP following publication of the photo:-

The mystery of a 1970s photograph of a Preston band has been solved – and it’s quite an arresting tale.

Hard Cash, a popular and rebellious progressive rock band, were escorted away by police just minutes after the photograph was taken.

The band, photographed by the Evening Post during Guild Week in 1972, were appalled that there were barely any Guild activities for the youth of Preston and set up spontaneously in various parts of the town in protest.

The picture was taken outside Crystal House where the band had asked permission to plug their electrics in, before police officers came and arrested them.

The band members were Sam Hill, Kevin Chapman, drummer Howard Richardson, and bassist Tony Green

Tony, who gave up playing in 1973, now lives in Penwortham with his wife Carole, 46, a receptionist.

Tony used to wear white trousers said: “I don’t have my white trousers any more and I doubt I’d get into them!”

The guitarist says the defiant band were arrested again a couple of days later after floods of curious onlookers congregated outside the Jolly Farmer pub where they decided to perform another impromptu gig.

Kevin went on to form a band called Old Tennis Shoes who were very popular round Preston for some time with Bass player Nick Turner who I believe had been a roadie for Hard Cash, guitarist Cliff Ovenden and on drums a friend of Kevin´s from Plymouth. They moved to Holland at the start of the Punk era and were rumoured to be still playing up to as recently as 2007. I saw them at a gig in the Ship Inn on the dock road when they made a rare return to Preston about 12 years ago. Their line-up then only had Kevin from the original. I bought a CD of the band at the gig and it still makes good listening.

In 1972, I had just left Thomas Moores comprehensive school and moved up to the Catholic College sixth form. There had been absolutely no music scene at Thomas Moore’s. I had tried to get a band together with a couple of mates. We were called Greenwich Mean Time. We had a bass drum (donated by the local Brass Band – it was one of those that you carry on your chest – we had GMT in big letters on it). We also had a home made solid electric guitar that one of the lads found in the garage when he moved house – it had no strings or hardware, a solid cello shaped bass guitar bought from Terry Nightingale for £10 and the Art teacher brought in a Sound City 50 watt PA with a real Shure mic. The band members were Chris Keilty on vocals, Bernard Watson on home made guitar, Dave Robertson on drum and me. We tried to do covers of “If paradise was half as nice” by Amen Corner and “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe – both number 1’s in 1969. We then gave up.

My dad first bought me a second hand acoustic guitar for Christmas when I was about 12. I tried to make it into an electric guitar by taking the cartridge out of an old record player, sticking it to the bottom of the guitar, adding a thin wire in place of the needle which touched the sound board, and feeding the resulting signal back through the amplifier of the record player. It worked surprisingly, but unfortunately the guitar was louder than the amplifier, so I didn’t actually gain much.

When I moved to the 6th Form, I met guys who actually had a band up and running. They were called Orchid and they let me come and listen to their practices. Not only did they all have instruments and amps, they also had a Sound Engineer and a Lighting Engineer. The sound man, Tees, was an electronics wizz and built a Treble Boost which made an old Vox AC30 sound like a 100 w Marshall. Their Bass player had a smaller version of my amp – a Fenton Weill portabass 15. Let me tell you about the FW portabass. Mine was a cabinet about 2 ft square by 18 in deep with a 15 in speaker. The amp was mounted on a board which fitted on top and when not in use, the whole amp part turned upside down and slotted inside the cabinet and was held in with two chrome clips. The amp was valve and quite heavy, so had a tendency to pull away from the board and drop down inside the cabinet. The speaker though had a cast iron frame so was easily able to take the bumps. I wish I still had it now. I got it from a second hand shop called “Frank’s Bazaar” which was frequented by me and my dad on a Saturday after we had finished the bread and pie delivery round. I also got an Antoria electric guitar from the days when they were making their own designs rather than doing copies of Gibsons and Fenders, so I was away. Unfortunately I found that I couldn’t handle six strings and by now I had got rid of the strange cello shaped bass to my cousin, so I ordered a Jedson Scimitar bass from Barratts music shop on Meadow Street. The manager, Sid Munsen, let me pay it off at £5 a week as he knew my dad. Barratts was another place that we frequently visited on a Saturday after the delivery round. They had a Bass Saxophone in once and dad was the only person who could get a note out of it. Barratts was great. They had lots of second hand stuff and Sid would let you borrow some for gigs. I once borrowed a Barratts Treble and Bass 50 watt valve amp off them and when the fuse blew, got the worst electric shock of my life as I changed the fuse without turning off the mains. What made it worse was that it had an all steel chassis and cover. Fortunately it was also very heavy, so when I froze up with the shock, the amp dropped out of my hands, breaking the contact. In those days people were known to die from electric shocks from faulty amps and such so I think I was probably quite lucky. Other music shops at the time were Southwards on Friargate and one down a side street off Fishergate – Greenwoods. There was a little corner one down New Hall Lane as well which was run by one man and was a little Aladdin’s cave. You could get fret wire and stuff there. I’m not sure if the Music Cellar was there in Fox Street back then. Southwards had a auction one day of instruments and I bought a used Bass Guitar neck. I later made a body for it when the wooden table top was replaced in the family bakery. The pickup – of course – came from Barratts. It was a perfectly useable, if strangely shaped, bass which I eventually took the frets off to make a fretless bass.

College didn’t suit me. I used to go in at the top entrance (at the time the Catholic College was all the way down the right hand side of Winckley Square). The College ran behind some of the offices. If you went in at the top and your first lesson was down at the bottom, you seemed to be going down stair after stair for ever. It was even worse the other way around. We had to clock in and then I would make my way down through the school, out at the bottom, up through Winckley Square and into the Cedarwood coffee bar. This was a real education for me. They served milky coffee with – I think – a shake of chocolate on the top and you used to make it last as long as possible. I once actually turned up for an art lesson. We had to draw the spiral staircase which was at the time in the centre of St Georges shopping centre. I thought mine was Ok but apparently I hadn’t used perspective properly, so the teacher drew a small diagram of how it should look on the side of my page. He drew the same diagram on a few of the others as well. I don’t think that’s art.

I decided to stick with music. I actually turned up for Music lessons as well but as I hadn’t had any formal music lessons at Thomas Moore (our music lessons were mostly singing folk songs to piano accompaniment – American folk songs at that….) I couldn’t keep up. I had been playing Brass instruments since the age of about 9 and at the time was playing French Horn. I once turned up in the Cedarwood with my horn and a local songwriter called Fran Ashcroft actually composed a song featuring the French Horn and we recorded it at his house. This was the early days of recording and he used two tape recorders bouncing tracks backwards and forwards adding a bit each time. There were no effects to speak of. What could he have done with a modern digital recording studio – who knows. Fran did a solo spot during a 12 hour marathon at thePublicHall which also featured many of the bands mentioned below. Apart from his own numbers, I remember he did a blistering rendition of “Paper Plane” by Status Quo.

The 12 hour marathon was sort of my introduction to the music scene at the time as I hadn’t been used to going out much up till then. I was still only 17 and so shouldn’t have been going in pubs anyway. Jerusalem Smith topped the bill along with a band called Time who were doing their last gig together prior to all going away to university.

My other introduction to the live music scene in Preston started much earlier, through the shop that delivered meat to my Father’s bakery. The shop was Nightingales Butchers which was located on Plungington Rd. – next door but one to the Plungington Pub. It was run by a Father and son, the son being Terry Nightingale, who had been in a band as long as I could remember. The first that I actually saw at a gig was “Left, Right and Centre”, a three piece that played in the local church hall. The only number that I can remember was the batman theme (as played by The Kinks on their live at Kelvin Hall album). I’m pretty sure that they had a different name before that, along the lines of The Centurions (but I don’t think it was that). They were always changing their name. Terry said it was to confuse the Tax man. Terry had a Transit van – all good bands had them. It had the phrase “No publicity without success, No success without publicity” scrawled on the side. They became Isambard Kingdom and then Fatgut. I think Terry was also instrumental in founding Amethyst – a club for up and coming bands. I saw Amazing Blondel, Brownsville Jug Band and Trapeze there. Funnily enough I don’t remember Terry’s band playing at the 12 hour marathon, but that’s not to say that they didn’t. Terry earned the nickname “String Strangler Nightingale” and was always my hero.

There was a pub on the dock road called The Ship Inn. That’s where I saw Dennis Delight. DD had a lead singer who had long hair and wore a skin tight cat suit. They had Marshall Stacks and were the first band – I think – to have a 200 watt PA. It was from America. Their Bass player Ollie ended up working with BT during the time that I was there myself. I also saw Phil Cool there before he became famous. The Ship had a room at the back that was great for gigs and many local bands played there over the years. Unfortunately the Ship closed down for good in 2011.

Orchid used to rehearse at the house of their roadie/lighting engineer, Trev. Trev built a lighting rig with an array of coloured spotlights all controlled from a board covered with domestic light switches – one for each lamp. He would sit at the side of the stage frantically flicking switches on and off in time to the music. DMX controllers weren’t thought of back then. Through my contacts with the Excelsior Band, I arranged for the use of the back room of their rehearsal room for practices and both Orchid and my band – Rock ‘ard rehearsed there. I tried my hand at composing with minimal effect, but our guitarist at the time, Greg Slater came up with some crackers. One memorable one was “Ride with me”. I wonder if Greg remembers that one. Greg went on to become a stalwart of the Preston music scene with a stint as guitarist with Dennis Delight as well as forming his own band Cold Feet. We had a drummer at the time who was a bit of an animal and was always breaking drum sticks. He bought extra thick military band sticks, used them back to front and still broke them.

There is a pub onNorth Road called The Unicorn. It has a big room upstairs. In the early 70’s the landlord played Jazz Bass and did little gigs downstairs but wasn’t using the upstairs room. By this time my band was called Erotic Fountain, still with guitarist Greg Slater. We didn’t have a drummer initially but odd ones came and went. Along with the guys from Orchid, we arranged with the landlord to rehearse upstairs and then put gigs on Friday nights with guest local bands as well. One such was “Ice Axe in the Head” who had a superb keyboard player. I think he later joined Bob Johnson with Bush Country. Another local band at the time (although we didn’t get them to play at the Unicorn) was Rubylazer fronted by Reg Keilthy who later did a spell as singer for Orchid when they played in Manchester supporting “Ellis” (Steve Ellis was an original member of the 60’s band Love Affair). I was working for British Telecom at the time and was on a training course in Manchester so I turned up early at the venue and said I was the bands manager. I was a bit flush at the time and bought a couple of crates of beer to put in the changing room for the band. It was like they had hit the big time. One of my most memorable memories from that time was that, for effect, I decided to dress up in a white lab coat and with makeup on. Some of the girls that hung around with the bands applied the makeup but my face had an allergic reaction and blistered quite badly. It took weeks to heal and I haven’t worn makeup since – honestly.

We had a drummer contacted us one day. He said his name was “Twink” and that he had played on the recording of “Fire” by Arthur brown. He was a real character. He had an enormous Hayman kit when most drummers had little premier kits. He had this small cymbal that he hit all the time and it ended up bell shaped quite quickly so he would take it off the stand between numbers and sit on it to get it back to shape. Another drummer who came along once was Hard Cash´s drummer who went on to join a punk band in London. We bumped into Twink a few months later at the Kendal festival that we went to – must have been 1973. A few of us travelled up in a mini that I bought for £30 and camped overnight. Not exactly Woodstock but we felt like we were pushing back the boundaries. The Hells Angels were very prevalent, the toilets were overflowing – music heaven. Notable bands were Stackridge, Greenslade and Hackenstack.

The mini was quite old even then. It had a couple of strange quirks. The mini engine has a stabilising bar to stop it rocking. On my mini this was faulty and occasionally would detach itself off the engine block, the engine would drop backwards and knock itself out of gear. I then had to track back along the road to find the bolt that had dropped out so we could continue on our journey. I got my first two tickets with this car, one for defective brakes and one for having mixed cross-ply and radial tyres on the same axle. It also had a defective horn switch so someone had put a simple switch on the dashboard. Five of us travelled up to kendal with one tent. Bernard and Shirley got the tent. The other three of us slept in the mini. Being my car, I got the back seat. It took hours to get to sleep and then someone caught the horn switch and woke us all up again.

There was another festival around this time at Clitheroe Castle Band Stand. Similar lineup to the Kendal festival.

We had a transit van by then (I traded in the mini plus £60) which wouldn’t stay in first gear so you had to hold it in gear while you got going and then you could change to second. I hadn’t passed my driving test yet so my mate Bernard’s’ girlfriend, Shirley, did all the driving. Bernard was the singer and rhythm guitarist with Orchid. They booked a session in a recording studio somewhere near Kendal and actually produced their own single.

My sister was going out with a guitarist called Eddie Prince. He’d been to school in Lytham and knew a few musicians from around there but not in Preston at the time. I got on well with Eddie and we formed a 3 piece with Drummer ChrisBooth, called “Street” and played places like the Dog and Partridge in Friargate. By this time I had bought an Antoria Bass which was a copy of the early Precision Bass not the one that everyone is familiar with now. Quite rare. I’ve never seen one before or since. I also had a bass rig from hell. It had a 100 watt valve top by Hi-Watt and the cab was custom built by SAI in Copul. It had a 15 in speaker in a folded horn cabinet and generated 115 dB at 10 ft. I heard a similar one used in the Guild hall and it was a massive sound. We also played Burnley Mechanics once where you played a Sunday Lunch set and then later another set in the evening. Chris was another drummer with a big Hayman kit. We stayed together through a few different lineups. One of note was when a guitarist from Glasgow, Graham, joined us. He had recently been relocated down to Preston. We started a residency at the Caravan Club near Leyland.Graham was Beatles mad and went on to join Cavern with Gary Gibson and the drummer from Ruby Lazer. I started out rehearsing on Bass with Cavern but couldn’t cope with the discipline of learning all the songs note for note.

Some Bands and musicians at the time:

  • Left, Right and Centre (Isambard Kingdom/Fatgut/Band with no name)
  • Dennis Delight
  • Bush Country
  • Jerusalem Smith
  • Hard Cash
  • Steve Hesketh Band
  • Nova Scotia
  • Fran Ashcroft
  • Time
  • RubyLazer
  • Orchid
  • Erotic Fountain
  • Places where music could be heard
  • Public Hall
  • The Unicorn Garstang Rd.
  • Amethyst
  • The Lamb on Church St
  • The Cedarwood and the Boatmans
  • The Farmers Arms
  • The Ship Inn on Dock Rd.
  • The Dog and Partridge Friargate
  • Avenham Park bandstand
  • Roper Hall Friargate

That’s all for now…Nick Holmes