Monday, 27 January 2014

George Mitchell and the Black & White Minstrel Show

George Mitchell, (1917- 2002)

George Mitchell was born in Falkirk in 1917. The family moved south to London when George was a child and he learned to play piano influenced by his grandfather who was a musician. He trained as an accountant after leaving school and joined the Pay Corps at the break of war. Whilst serving he started a small Army choir called The Swing Group and although not a singer he enjoyed composing and arranging the music. Conducting came naturally. The Swing Group proved popular and appeared on wartime radio but after demobilization the group disbanded and George returned to accountancy. The BBC asked George to arrange some Negro spirituals for a new radio show called Cabin in the Cotton in 1947. As a result he formed The Glee Club and they were soon radio regulars. The group toured and appeared on television. In 1957 BBC producer, George Inns, admired the group's slick, dynamic style and it was he who, in 1957, devised the format for The Black and White Minstrel Show and asked George to join a stage tour. After several name changes the ensemble became the George Mitchell Minstrels in 1957. The Black and White Mistrals ran from June 1958 until July 1978 on BBC1 and featured the Mitchell Minstrels with soloists: Tony Mercer (bass- baritone) (1922 -1973), Dai Francis (bass-baritone) (1930 – 2003), and John Boulter (tenor). Leslie Crowther (1933-1996) , George Chisholm (1915-1997) , Margo Henderson (1928 – 2009) and Stan Stennett (1925 –2013) provided the humour and glamour and choreography was graciously given by The Television Toppers (formation dancers). The variety show slotted into a regular 45 minute show on Saturday evenings. One show guaranteed an audience of at least 16 million, and at its peak frequently managed to top 18 million viewers. The variety show was at the time a popular television genre for the whole family, The Black And White Minstrel Show established itself as one of the world's greatest musical programs on television. At the time there was no thought given to the impropriety of portraying coloured people.

The Comedians
Three if the main comedians were Scottish ,well Leslie Crowther was Scottish by adoption. They acted as "fillers" between slick song and dance routines. The complete list was impressive with Leslie Crowther, George Chisolm , Stan Sennett, Margo Henderson, Don Maclean ( toured Australia in 1971), Keith Harris (Orville and Cuddles), and Lenny Henry.

Leslie Crowther (1933-1996)
Although Leslie Crowther was not Scottish he had been a Bevin boy and was sent to Rothesay in the Firth of Clyde during the war. There the young Crowther stayed with his aunt and soaked up the West Coast humour.

George Chisholm, (1915-1997)
A trombonist from Glasgow he came from a musical family. His father was a drummer and his mother a pianist. His brother Ron became a pianist while another brother, Bert, was a trumpeter. Chisholm's first professional work was as a pianist in a Glasgow cinema and he made his first broadcast in 1932. He began working on trombone in 1934 and he doubled on both instruments for the next few years. He moved to London in 1935 to play in Teddy Joyce's band and then settled on trombone in a variety of "society" bands in the West End. He became a first class jazz trombonist and was well respected as a musician recording with the legendary Fats Waller in London in 1938. In 1940 George enlisted with the Royal Air Force and joined the RAF Dance Orchestra (known popularly as the Squadronaires). George had worked with the Goons and enjoyed comedy routines so when he was invited to join the B&W cast in 1961 he jumped at the opportunity.

Margo Henderson (1928 – 2009)
She was born in Clydebank and grew up as a young entertainer in the 1940s, singing and dancing for friends and neighbours while German bombs blasted their homes in Clydebank. She became a professional entertainer aged 19 and worked as an offbeat impressionist comedian.

Stage Show
Robert Luff's production opened at the Victoria Palace Theatre in 1969 and established itself in The Guinness Book Of Records as the stage show seen by the largest number of people. After leaving the Victoria Palace in 1972, the show toured almost every year to various big city and seaside resort theatres around the UK,. This continued each summer until 1987, when a final tour of three Butlins resorts (Maidenhead, Bognor Regis and Barry Island) saw the last official Black and White Minstrel Show on stage. Touring companies did continue the traditions until 1992 and now there are retro Minstrel style shows packing them in.

B&W Australian Tour
There were two major tours in 1964 and 1969. The BBC show was very popular with Australian audiences.

Culture Sensitivities
Many became sensitized that a large part of "minstrel humour" was based on caricaturing black people and depicting them as being both stupid and credulous. This image was felt to be insensitive and inappropriate in an increasingly multi-racial and multi-cultural Britain. Ultimately, its removal from the air coincided with the demise of the popularity of the variety genre on British television. The show was attacked as racist, a "cultural obscenity", by some, from the early 1960s. However the program was not generally perceived as racist at the time by people outside the United States, and it was sold to many parts of the world, including Australia and many African countries. Under increasing pressure the show tried a 'whiteface' variant in the late 1960s entitled Masquerade and swapping the black faces with masks, with a resulting loss in viewing figures.

History of Minstrel Shows
The Black And White Minstrel Show nostalgically harked back to the popular music hall minstrel show and was an endless flow of traditional American 'Deep South' and Country songs, usually performed with the men in blackface, and with ladies in lavish costumes. In between sets there were comedians to amuse the audience. The combination between white dancers with black-faced singers was thought by George Inns, the program’s producer, to make visually striking television. (The original Minstrels wore red make-up which made them look black on camera.) In the 19th century minstrel shows were the leading vehicle for popular music in the U.S. The banjo music influenced the development of ragtime, and the clog dancing evolved into tap dance. Two popular forms of entertainment merged: the popular acts of white actors giving comedic costumed impersonations of black people between acts of plays or during circuses; and black musicians who sang, with banjo accompaniment, in city streets. The minstrel show was born.

The "father of American minstrelsy" was Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice (1808–60), who between 1828 and 1831 developed a song-and-dance routine in which he impersonated an old, crippled black slave, dubbed Jim Crow. This routine achieved immediate popularity, and Rice performed it with great success in the U.S. and Great Britain, where he introduced it in 1836.

Soon there were bands of entertainers who eagerly took on the minstrel guise including a group called the Christy Minstrels, headed by the actor Edwin P. Christy (1815–62). The Christy Minstrel set the pattern for Minstrel stage shows. The entertainers were seated in a semicircle on the stage, with a tambourine player (Mr. Tambo) at one end and a performer on the bone castanets (Mr. Bones) at the other; the singing of songs with harmonized choruses; the exchange of jokes between the end men and the performer in the centre seat (Mr. Interlocutor). To conclude the bill there was always a special variety act. After the Civil War black entertainers (usually in blackface makeup) became more prominent. The most famous of the black minstrels composers was James Bland (1854–1911). The "Nigger Minstrel" entertainment tradition was kept alive in the music-halls and vaudeville but its popularity declined after the First World War as audiences craved more up-beat entertainment.

Worth a listen:
Swannee River
Sitting on top of the world

Scot Joplin
The Sting

Al Jolson

The New Christy Minstrels
Four Wheels on my Wagon

Fats Waller
Your feets too big

George Chisholm Sextet
Makin' whoopee (1956)

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Scottish Australian Rockers

The Young Brothers
Alexander Young was born in Cranhill, in the east end of Glasgow, in 1938. His parents William and Margaret had eight children and four boys became musicians Alexander (Grapefruit), and younger brothers George (Easybeats), Malcolm and Angus (ACDC). The family immigrated to Australia in 1963 and settled in Sydney but Alexander (aka George Alexander) stayed in the UK and continue his career as a professional musician. He played with The Bobby Patrick Six before forming (The) Grapefruit with three former members of Tony Rivers and the Castaways, (John Perry, Geoff Swettenham, and Pete Swettenham). He had been signed as songwriter with Apple Music Publishing Ltd and Grapefruit became a pet project of the Beatles after Lennon named the band. They released two albums and several singles on the Apple label. Despite Beatle patronage the band had little commercial success and split in 1969. George Alexander continued to work as a session musician and later collaborated with brother George Young and Harry Vanda (The Easybeats) as Paintbox and Tramp.

George Young

George Redburn Young was born in 1946 when the family moved to Australia they stayed in Villawood Migrant Hostel, Sydney. There he made friends with Johannes Hendricus Jacob van den Berg (aka Harry Vanda) a fellow immigrant (from the Netherlands). Inspired by the "British Invasion" George and Harry formed the Easybeats in 1964. The line-up was Stevie Wright (lead singer); Gordon Henry "Snowy" Fleet (drummer) and Dick Diamonde Bass) with George (rhythm guitar) and Harry (lead guitar). They soon became a popular Sydney group and were signed to Albert Productions. By the end of 1965 the Easybeats were the most popular pop band in Australia with a string of hit singles co-written by Young and Wright. In 1966 the group signed to United Artists Records and relocated to London. The Easybeats released "Friday on My Mind" which rocketed up the charts in the UK and US. Due to a combination of factors the Easybeats failed to make much headway after their initial success and returned to Australia. The band began to drift apart and by1970 the Easybeats were no more. To pay off debts Vanda & Young stayed in London and concentrated on writing and producing pop and rock songs for other recording artists. One of the bands was 'Marcus Hook Roll Band', which was made up of Malcolm and Angus Young and Harry Vanda. In 1973 they returned to Australia and with Ted Albert became the house producers for Albert Productions. They wrote and produced several major hits for John Paul Young including "Love Is in the Air" and "Yesterday's Hero." As Flash and the Pan, they had Australian hits with "Hey St. Peter" and "Down Among the Dead Men". In the70s "Waiting for a Train", "Midnight Man", "Early Morning Wake Up Call", and "Ayla", all sold well and charted in Europe. Meantime when Angus and Malcolm Young formed AC/DC in 1973 Vanda and Young recognized AC/DC had potential and co-produced their early successful albums.

Malcolm and Angus Young

Malcolm Mitchell Young was born in 1953 and is younger sibling, Angus McKinnon Young two years later. Growing up the Young brothers were all influenced by 50s rock and roll, and blues-based rock guitarists of the 1960s. Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Freddie King, loomed large with John Lee Hooker, Jimi Hendrix, and Keith Richards all seminal to their playing style. Encouraged by Alexander and George, Malcolm learned to play rhythm guitar Angus first played banjo but re-strung them with six strings. The teenage brothers were soon playing with local bands and in 1973 when Malcolm founded AC/DC he invited Angus to join the line-up. The original group was Angus on lead guitar, Malcolm on rhythm guitar, Colin Burgess on drums, Larry Van Kriedt on bass guitar and Dave Evans on vocals. After building a loyal following in Sydney as a glam band they started touring Australia in 1974. Keen to stamp originality on their live performances Angus dressed as a schoolboy on stage wearing an Ashfield Boys High School (Sydney) cap and uniform. His guitar antics on stage became a focal point for the band. Later in the same year Bon Scott replaced Dave Evans as lead singer. The band had several successful albums before relocating to the UK and embarking on a European tour in 1976. The bands popularity grew internationally and their 1979 album Highway to Hell reached the top twenty in the United States. In February 1980 Bon Scott suddenly died and AC/DC briefly considered disbanding. However they recruited Brian Johnson (Geordie) and completed the album Back in Black, as a tribute to Bon Scott. It went on to become the second best-selling album in history. The band continues to record and perform.

Bon Scott (1946 – 1980)

Ronald Belford Scott was born in Forfar, Scotland. His family immigrated from Kirriemuir to Melbourne in 1952. Ronald attended the Sunshine Primary School and the kids called him Bon because he had recently arrived from ‘Bonnie’ Scotland.’ The name stuck. In 1956, the family relocated to Fremantle, Western Australia and Bon joined the associated Fremantle Scots Pipe Band where he learned to play the drums. Bon was a rebel and dropped out of school and soon got into trouble with the police. In 1964 he formed his first band The Spektors who eventually became The Winstons. Bon shared the lead vocals with Vince Lovegrove when he joined The Valentines. Before disbanding the band had a couple of hits with "Every Day I Have to Cry" and "Juliette." In 1970 Scott moved to Adelaide to become the singer with Fraternity and soon after the group changed their name to "Fang". The band continued to work in Australia and had a UK tour but when they returned in 1973 Scott began singing with the Mount Lofty Rangers. Scott liked to drink and after a boozy session at the Old Lion Hotel in North Adelaide, in 1974 had a motorcycle accident and suffered head injuries. Whilst recovering he was introduced to ACDC and joined the band replacing Dave Evans as the lead singer of AC/DC. In 1980 he passed out after a night of heavy drinking in a London club. Left to sleep it off in a friend’s car Bon Scott died from inhaling his own vomit. Five months after Scott's death, AC/DC finished the work they began with Scott and released Back in Black as a tribute to him with two tracks from the album, "Hells Bells" and "Back in Black", dedicated to his memory.

John Paul Young

John Paul Young was in Bridgeton, Glasgow, in 1950. His family immigrated to Australia in 1962 and settled in Sydney. He left school when he was 15 to work as an apprentice sheet metal worker. He and some school mates formed a band called Elm Tree in 1967. The group consisted of Robert (Slim) Barnett (bass), Ollie Chojnacki (guitar), Phillip Edwards and Andy Imlah (co-lead vocals), Dave Kaentek, Ron Mazurkiewicz (keyboards) and Geoff Watts (drums). The made one record, a cover version of “Rainbow” (Marmalade) in 1970 but it failed to make an impact. Simon Napier-Bell, heard them in a pub in Newcastle and persuaded John Paul Young to sign as a solo artist to Albert Productions. His first single "Pasadena," under the name John Young was a hit in Australia and was co-written by George Young and Harry Vanda (The Easybeats) and UK actor, David Hemmings (Blow Up). In 1972 he joined the Sydney cast of Jesus Christ Superstar and played Annas until 1974. Keen to rekindle his solo career he signed for Albert Productions and liked up again with Vanda & Young. "Yesterday's Hero" was released in 1975, and gave him another Australian single and album chart topper. The single sold strongly in the United States, and reached No. 44 in 1976. John Paul Young became a popular fixture on Countdown in Australia and regularly featured as a performer or guest. Presenter Molly Meldrum christened the singer “Squeak,” and he toured as John Paul Young and The All Stars. Other chart success came with "Love Game", "I Hate the Music", "I Wanna Do It with You," and "Standing in the Rain". John Paul Young had already proven himself to be popular outside Australia with several European and South African hits. Standing in the rain was a disco hit which led the way for his biggest international success, “Love is in the Air." By 1989 JPY had stopped recording to concentrate on a career as a DJ with New Fm (Newcastle) but when the film Strictly Ballroom was released in 1992 with a new version of “Love is in the air” it catapulted the singer back into recording and performing. He was a featured performer at the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. He continues to perform and remains active participant in children’s charities

John ‘Swanee.’ Swann

John Archibold Dixon Swan was born in 1952 and his younger sibling James Dixon Swan four years later, both in Glasgow. The family immigrated to Australia in 1961and settled in Elizabeth, Adelaide. Jim and Dorothy Swan divorced soon after and their mother remarried to Reg Barnes. Dorothy encouraged her children to change their surname to Barnes. All of them did except for John who kept his natural father’s name, Swan. He became know as ‘Swanee.’ Initially Jim (Barnes) had little interest in music but John learned to play drums and joined his first band, Happiness when he was 14. After serving time in the army he took up his musical career by playing in a few bands until he joined Fraternity and for a short while Jim sang with the group. The previous singer was Bon Scott (ACDC), but . Jim left to front Cold Chisel and Swanee took over as lead vocalist. He later left to sing with Feather in 1977 and recorded one single, "Girl Trouble." A year later Swanee decided to break with the band and go solo. He had a minor Australian hit with his version of "If I Were a Carpenter." Then in 1982 he released the album This Time is Different which gave him two hit singles, "Temporary Heartache" and "Lady What's Your Name." Whilst John did not achieve the same success as brother he did earn the respect of the Australian rock music industry. Swann continues to perform.

Jimmy Barnes

Jim Barnes left Fraternity to front Orange, The group consisted of organist and songwriter Don Walker, guitarist Ian Moss, drummer Steve Prestwich and bass player Les Kaczmarek. The group quickly changed name to Cold Chisel and build up a loyal fan base before moving to Melbourne in 1976 and then three months later shifted base to Sydney. The group had an on- off attitude but eventually live performances convinced them to stay together. Cold Chisel signed to WEA and by 1980 became the biggest band in Australia. They were the perfect pub rock outfit but try as they might to crack the US market they failed to make an impact. After a disastrous tour in 1981 Cold Chisel returned to Australia ready to break up. A second chart topping Australian album followed and by the next year the band were touring Germany. Constant touring caused many arguments and Jim was drinking heavily. They decided to call it a day on return to Australia and The Last Stand farewell tour became the highest-grossing concert series by an Australian band. The group's final performance was in Sydney in December 1983. Jimmy Barnes launched his solo career and signed to Mushroom Records. Each of his first six solo albums debuted in the Number One position in Australia, a record unsurpassed by any other act. Determined to break into the US market he signed to Geffen Records and his second album, "Working Class Man," sold well. The song featured in Ron Howard’s film Gung Ho. Jimmy toured Canada and US with ZZ Top. More and more he worked with US artists producing highly commercial rock albums. Depite his successes he continued to battle drug and alcohol addiction which led to artistic differences causing him to switch labels. In 1990 he was signed to Atlantic for worldwide release. Jimmy’s love for soul music saw him release Soul Deep, an album of soul covers which became his most successful album. He returned to his hard rock roots with subsequent albums and continued to sell well in Australia and New Zealand. In 1993, Jimmy Barnes did a duet version of (Simply) The Best with Tina Turner. By the mid 90s Jimmy faced financial ruin in Australia and relocated to Europe. He toured with the Rolling Stones and continued to record. His albums sold well in Australia and eventually Jimmy Barnes returned to the country to pursue his career. He underwent heart surgery in 2007, made a full recovery and continues to work and record both as a solo artist as well as with a reformed Cold Chisel. Jimmy Barnes remains the most popular and best-selling Australian music artists of all time.

Colin Hay

Colin James Hay was born in 1953 in Kilwinning, Scotland. The family moved to Australia when Colin was 14. He met Ron Strykert and formed a duo in 1978 then later they expanded to become Men at Work. The group line up was complete with Jerry Speiser (drums), Greg Sneddon (keyboards) who was quickly replaced by and Greg Ham (flautist/saxophonist), and John Rees (bassist). The group released their debut album Business as Usual in 1981 on the Columbian Records. It topped the Australian and New Zealand charts. The album was eventually released in the USA and the UK. Men at Work toured the USA to promote the album, supporting Fleetwood Mac."Who Can It Be Now?"and “Downunder” topped the American charts in 1982. Their second album “Cargo” produced three chart singles in the USA: "Overkill“, "It's a Mistake", and "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive". In 1983 the band toured the world extensively. By 1984 Jerry Speiser and John Rees left the band and Hay, Ham and Strykert) recorded a third album “Two Hearts.” The single from the album "Everything I Need", was a minor hit in the US. Line-up changes followed with Hay and Ham to only remaining original members. Eventually Ham left the group and Men at Work folded in 1986. Following the breakup Hay followed a solo career as singer and actor. In 2002 Hay appeared as the Troubadour in the Scrubs episode, "My Overkill," and made a cameo in the season 8 finale of Scrubs, "My Finale. . His music is a feature of the series. Back in Australia Hay established his own record label, Lazy Eye Records, inspired from his own strabismus (lazy eye) condition. Men at work did reform briefly in 1996 to tour South America, and they continued to play until 2000. Men at Work performed "Down Under" at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Colin Hay continues to perform and record as a solo artist and has played with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band.

Eric Boogle

Eric Bogle was born in Peebles, Scotland in 1944. His father was a woodcutter and played the bagpipes. He started writing poetry when he was eight-years-old and as a teenager taught himself to play guitar and started a skiffle group called Eric and the Informers. After leaving school at 16 he odd jobbed until he immigrated to Australia in 1969. By day he worked as an accountant and joined the local folk music scene. Many of his most successful songs have political connotations and have been recorded by other international artists. He continues to perform and record and has established myself as an international folk musician.

Worth a listen


High Voltage (1974)

TNT (1975)

It’s a long way to the top (If you want to rock and roll) (1975)

Dirty Deeds (1975)

Jailbreak (1975)

The Jack (1975)

Let there be rock (1977)

Highway to Hell (1979)

Jimmy Barnes

No second prize (1984)

Working class man (1985)

Many rivers to cross (1991)

Simply the best (1992) with Tina Turner

Cold Chisel

Khe Sanh (1978)

My Baby ( 1980)

You Got Nothing I Want (1981)

Flame Trees (1984)


She's So Fine (1965)

Friday on My Mind (1966)

Colin Hay

Waiting for my life to begin (1994)

Are you lookin’ at me (2007)

Men at Work

Who can it be now (1981)

Downunder (1981)

Be Good Johnnie (1982)

Overkill (1983)

John ‘Swannee’ Swan

Temporary Heartache (1982)

Lady What's Your Name (1982)

John Paul Young

Pasadena (1972)

Yesterday’s Hero (1975)

I hate the music (1976)

Where the action is (1977)

Love is in the air (1978)

Eric Bogle
And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda (1971)
No mans land (1976)

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Marmalade (aka Dean Ford and the Gaylords)

Glaswegians, William "Junior" Campbell met Patrick “Pat” Fairley both enjoyed playing rock roll and inspired by the Everly Brothers and Cliff Richard the Shadows, the boys formed a band in the early sixties. Junior Campbell (instrumentalist, vocalist), Pat Fairley (bass guitar), Billy Johnson (bass) and Tommy Frew (drums) became the Gaylords and played at local clubs. Later Bill Irving and Raymond Duffy, replaced Billy Johnson and Tommy Frew respectively and the quintet’s format was complete when Thomas McAleese (Dean Ford) joined them as the singer. Dean Ford the Gaylords became one of Scotland’s most popular groups but like many others in the early 60s had little chance to get a recording contract. The group regularly supported visiting acts and was regulars on BBC Radio Scotland but real success failed them despite their undoubted popularity within Scotland. Eventually they were signed by EMI-Columbia in 1964. Their debut single "Twenty Miles," sold well in Scotland, but failed to chart.

The group relocated to London and fellow Glaswegian, Graham Knight replaced Bill Irwin. Despite more efforts to crack the charts their records failed and fame eluded them. Things changed when the Gaylord’s changed their management at the request of their friends, The Tremoloes manger, Peter Walsh recommended a change of name and The Gaylords became Marmalade and became a resident band at the Marquee Club, London. In 1965, CBS Records signed Marmalade and their first single under the new label was "It's All Leading up to Saturday Night," but despite showing how the group had improved no commercial success came.

None the less the persevered. Marmalade had two bass players which gave them a unique sound and their next single "Can't Stop Now" (with Alan Whitehead as the group’s drummer) did well in the US, getting to number one on some State charts.

Marmalade were a hard working band and getting more and more exposure as well as winning the admiration of fellow artists such as Jimi Hendrix. However chart success was not apparent and they were all but ready to give up when in 1968 they recorded "Lovin' Things."

The single sold well and gave the group their first UK hit. This was followed by a cover version The Beatle’s "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." The song became number one hit in the UK and sold millions of copies around the world.

Marmalade was delighted with their success but a bit embarrassed because the sound was too commercial for their tastes, but their record company was keen they continued in the same vein. Keen to lose the ‘bubblegum’ tag changed labels and released “Reflections of My Life," an original composition by Campbell and Ford incorporating pop/rock and harder progressive elements. The single went to the top of the UK and US charts.

The follow up single "Rainbow," also did well.

By 1970, Marmalade was in serious internal strife. Junior Campbell left the band to pursue a solo career.

Hugh Nicholson (former Poets) joined Marmalade and shared the vocals. Junior Campbell continued to do the band’s arrangements and Marmalade’s music changed back to rock’n’roll and eventually Alan Whitehead was replaced by Dougie Henderson (Poets). By 1972, Pat Fairley decided to give up performing, taking over as the band's publicist and coordinating publishing activities. In the same year they were back in the charts with "Radancer.

As the years passed new lineups followed until Dean Ford was the only original member. By this time Marmalade were more like Status Quo and their popularity started to slip. Peter Walsh grabbed the opportunity and used Alan Whitehead and Graham Knight as the basis for a relaunched Vintage Marmalade. Sandy Newman (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Charlie Smith (guitar), made up the new format and they has a surprise hit with "Falling Apart at the Seams," in 1977.

This was their last chart success. Marmalade continues in some form to entertain live audiences.

Worth a listen:
Lovin' Things (1968)
Wait For Me Mary-Anne (1968)
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (1968)
Reflections Of My Life (1969)
Rainbow (1970)
Cousin Norman (1971)
Radancer (1972)
Falling Apart At The Seams (1976)

The Pathfinders (aka Jason's Flock, White Trash, Trash and Cody)

In the 60s a popular Glasgow dance hall was the Flamingo (The Flam) in Paisley Road West.

The Pathfinders replaced the Poets as the resident band and concentrated on singing cover versions of American soul and Tamla Motown. The band was made up of Timi Donald (drums), Neil McCormick (guitar), Frazer Watson (replaced McCormick in 1967/68), Ronnie Leahy (organ), Colin Morrison (bass) and lead singer Ian (Clewsy) Clews.

The group briefly changed their name to Jason's Flock in 66-67 to reflect psychadelia but reverted back to the Pathfinders before moving to London and signed to Apple in 1968. As the Pathfinders they were tagged the 'soul jukebox' and Clewsy was a talented singer and stage performer . The group did record some demos but with no commercial success. They also were offered, but refused to release Loving Things and record Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. Both songs went on to be big hits for Marmalade.

The change of name to White Trash came at the suggestion of Richard Di Lello (The Longest Cocktail Party) when they signed for Apple. White Trashed gigged as the backing band for Marsha Hunt before they recorded two singles in 1969; ‘Road to Nowhere/Illusions’ and ‘Golden Slumbers/Carry that Weight, ’ (before it was released as a Beatles track on Abbey Road) .Neither made a major impact although the latter did enter the lower part of the UK charts.

Controversy over the band’s new name saw them drop “White “ and the group were known thereafter, as Trash. Increasing frustration at Apple meant the band was disgruntled and Colin Morrison left to open a tailoring business. They continued for a short time as a quartet but eventually Frazer Watson left and he was replaced by Noddy McKenzie. The band renamed themselves Cody in the early 70s but broke up in 1973. Ian Clews retired from the music scene in the mid seventies and now lives in the California as a horse rancher.

The Poets

The Glasgow five piece formed in the early 60s and enjoyed immense popularity in Scotland. On stage they wore Regency high-necked jackets and ruffled fronted shirts and high heeled boots. The look was distinctly influenced by the Scottish bard, Robert Burns. The founder members were George Gallacher (vocals), Hume Paton (lead and 12 string guitar), Tony Myles (rhythm guitar), John Dawson (bass guitar), Alan Weir (drums). The band became residents at the Flamingo Dance Hall on Paisley Road West.

The Poets wrote much of their own material (mainly George Gallacher but Paton and Myles also contributed) and were embryonic in Celtic Rock. Their forte was self-moody, melodic ballads and their sound was unique with a 12 string guitar sound. In the beginning the band could not afford to buy expensive instruments but were keen to produce a unique sound. They achieved this effect by tuning the 1st and 2nd strings of two guitars the same resulting in a semi-12 string effect. Later they played twelve string instruments in the studio and worked with many well know session musicians, including Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. Unlike other beat groups their fans came to listen to them and were seldom disappointed. Andrew Loog-Oldham signed them to Decca, and later released several singles on his Immediate label. Their first single 'Now we are through' would reach the lower end of the top thirty in the UK.

Promoting meant a tireless series of one-nighters interspaced with some television appearances, including Ready Steady Go (ITV), Stramash (BBC Scotland) and Top Of The Pops (BBC). Despite this spike of success, other singles by the Poets had little chart success.

Andrew Oldham’s attention was taken with The runaway success of the Stones meant Andrew Oldham’s attention was fully taken. Consequently the Poets were left to other producers including Paul Raven (aka Garry Glitter) and their work suffered.

Innumerable line-up changes followed but after Gallacher left in 1966, the band was a shadow of its former self. By 1967 no original members of the Poets remained and whilst the group continued as a four piece they failed to progress with musical trends.

In their time the Poets were a standout group and their musicianship is likely to have influenced many others. They did have an opportunity to go to the US but declined preferring to stay in Glasgow.

Worth a listen
Now We're Thru (1964)
That's The Way It's Got To Be (1965)
I Am So Blue (1965)
Call Again (1965)
Baby Don't You Do It (1966)
Wooden Spoon (1967)
Heyla Hola/ Fun Buggy (1970/71)

Friday, 17 January 2014


Donovan Philips Leitch (aka Donovan) was born in Maryhill, Glasgow in 1946. As a child he contracted polio and his father, a poetry buff, read to his young son. In 1956 the family moved to Hatfield, Hertfordshire where young Donovan grew to like the folk music of Woodie Guthrie and Derroll Adams. He began playing guitar at fourteen and became a regular at the St Albans folk club at The Cock pub. There he met Mick Softly and long-time collaborator and companion Gypsy Dave. Aged 16, Donovan was a competent guitar player and played with a distinctive finger picking style (which he later taught John Lennon). In 1963 he dropped out of Art school and caught the wonder lust, travelling the country as a busker. He started writing songs with his two friends and when they arrived in Brighton, Donovan played during gig intermissions. His reputation grew and Geoff Stephens and Peter Eden employed him as a song writer. When Elkan Allen (producer of 'Ready Steady Go'), heard Donovan’s demos he took the unprecedented action of putting the unknown denim clad folkie on the program. His bold action was rewarded and Donovan became an instant hit with the Mod audiences. Donovan made his TV debut in 1965 and had his guitar emblazoned with the words "This Machine Kills."

Inspiration came from his hero Woody Guthrie whose guitar bore the slogan "This Machine Kills Fascists". Pye Records quickly signed the eighteen year old and his first single “Catch the wind” went to Number three in the UK charts on release.

Many of Donovan songs were inspired by his wife Linda Lawrence. Linda had previously been the girl friend of Brian Jones but eventually Donovan and she got married, and celebrate one of the longest marriages in show business. Donovan follow up was "Colours," then the antiwar "Universal Soldier."

Both did well in the charts but late 1965, Donovan parted company with his original managers and signed with Ashley Kozak, who was working for Brian Epstein's NEMS Enterprises. Ashley Kozak introduced Donovan to American impresario Allen Klein who in turn introduced Donovan to producer Mickie Most. Most had previously made his reputation working with The Animals and Herman's Hermits. Donovan was now acknowledged as a notable UK folk singer. Public comparisons were quickly made with Bob Dylan and the two met in 1965. They enjoyed each other’s company and Dylan invited Donovan to tour with himself and Joan Baez. Pete Seeger, too recognised the emerging talent and invited him to play at the Newport Folk Festival in the US. Donovan had a fan following in the US but ran into contractual difficulties which interrupted his record releases. In 1966 he signed a $100,000 deal with the CBS subsidiary Epic Records. In the same year he was busted for possession of marijuana and became the first high-profile British pop star to be arrested. Now super hippy, Donovan used his notoriety to highlight his political beliefs for nuclear disarmament and against the injustices in a materialistic and violent world. Donovan's best recordings were produced by Mickie Most and featured excellent session musicians including: Jack Bruce (Cream), Danny Thompson (Pentangle), Spike Heatley (upright bass), Tony Carr (drums and congas), John Cameron (piano), Harold McNair (sax and flute), and John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin). Mickie Most and John Cameron (arranger) combined pop with Donovan’s soft folk style to produce a run of psychedelic hits including "Sunshine Superman,", "Mellow Yellow," (arranged by John Paul Jones and featuring Paul McCartney on uncredited backing vocals), and "Hurdy Gurdy Man,"(featuring Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones).

During this time Donovan became a close friend of the Beatles and appeared uncredited on several of their studio recordings including 'A Day in the Life', from the Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album (1967).

He was attracted to the philosophical teachings of the Indian guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and journeyed to India with the Beatles to meditate. As the sixties progressed, Donovan continued to record successful material in accord with the developing UK psychedelic but growing tensions between Mickie Most and Donovan came to a head in late 1969. The two parted company and Donovan joined forces with Jeff Beck to produce the rockier, “Goo Goo Barbajagal.”

Disillusioned with the music scene Donovan dropped out for almost six years before he finally re-emerged. His commercial appeal had waned and although he continued to perform and release albums, the popular phase of Donovan music was over. The singer relocated to the US where he continues to have a loyal following and regularly tours. Donovan is a committed conservationalist and enjoys much popularity on the retro circuit.

Worth a listen:
Catch the wind (1965)
Colours (1965)
Universal Soldier (1965)
Mellow Yellow (1965)
Sunshine Superman (1966)
Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968)
Goo goo Barabajagal (1969)

Reviewed 31/05/2016

Sunday, 12 January 2014


Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie was born in 1948 in Lennox Castle, Lennoxtown, Scotland, the daughter of a butcher. Marie grew up in Dennistoun, Glasgow, where she attended Thomson Street Primary School and Onslow Drive Junior School. Little Marie loved to sing as a child and started at the tender age of 12 year old with a local group called the Bellrocks. At 14 she joined The Gleneagles and had a regular spot at the Lindella Club, Glasgow. The owner of the club had a sister (Marion Massey) who was one of a few female theatrical agents based in London. In 1962 Marion signed up the new girl and gave her the stage name Lulu and the backing band The Gleneagles became The Luvvers. Lulu and the Lovers became part of the Decca stable of artist. The precarious nature of the music business and the vulnerability of a young girl was enough for Massey to invite Lulu to live with her family in her London home. Lulu attributes much of her success to having had a family-oriented and mature manager in Marion Massey. Decca released Lulu’s first record in 1964. It was a raucous cover version of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” and it became an instant UK hit and reached #7. She was fifteen.

Decca quickly followed up with the more soulful ‘Here Comes The Night' (1964), 'Leave A little Love' (1964) and 'Try To Understand' all of which reached the lower end of the UK charts.

By the end of 1965, Lulu was voted 'Britain's Most Promising Newcomer in Showbusiness, ' but the lack of major chart success forced her to leave The Luvvers behind and join Columbia where she was teamed with producer Mickie Most. In April 1967 she returned to the UK singles chart reaching number 6 with the more poppier "The Boat That I Row", written by Neil Diamond.

The relationship between artist and producer was not always as harmonious as her singing but the results in chart success gave her the most successful years in her career. All seven singles cut with Most made the UK Singles Chart. These included: 'Let's Pretend,' 'Love Loves To Love Love, ' 'Me The Peaceful Heart', 'Boy' and 'I'm A Tiger. '

Lulu appeared with The Monkees at the Empire Pool, Wembley, in 1967 and there were rumours she and Davy Jones were an item. She would prove a credible actress and co-starred with Sidney Poitier in E. R. Braithwaite's 'To Sir with love' directed by James Clavell's Lulu also sang the title song.

Lulu was well on her way to become a polished performer and toured extensively. In 1968 she co-hosted a new TV show (BBC) entitled Three Of A Kind, with Mike Yarwood. Lulu was such a hit she appeared regularly until 1975. Her popular variety shows went under various titles including: Lulu's Back In Town, Happening For Lulu, Lulu and It's Lulu, which featured Adrienne Posta. Her BBC series featured music and comedy sketches and star guests, including Jimi Hendrix, who chose to pay an impromptu tribute to Cream on live TV.

In 1969 Lulu was chosen to represent the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest and won with, "Boom Bang-a-Bang", written by Peter Warne and Alan Moorhouse.

In the same year Lulu married Maurice Gibb (Bee Gees). A romance which started after the couple met backstage at Top of the Pops. Sadly careers and his heavy drinking forced them apart and they divorced in 1973.

In 1970, she embarked on a trans-American tour with Englebert Humperdinck and also took time out from her heavy schedule to co-host television's 'Andy Williams Show' with singer Ray Stevens.

She toured Australia, New Zealand and the Far East and was at the peak of her career. Despite this chart success eluded the singer then in 1974 she performed the title song for the James Bond film 'The Man with the Golden Gun.'

In the same year she released a cover version of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World" and "Watch That Man". Bowie and Mick Ronson produced the recordings.

"The Man Who Sold the World" became her first top 10 hit in five years, peaking at number three in the UK chart and was a top 10 hit in several European countries. It proved to be one of Lulu's biggest record successes. The follow up 'Take Your Mama For A Ride' sold reasonably well but was only a minor hit.

In 1976 Lulu married London Hairdresser, John Frieda and split in 1990. Lulu continued to have chart success in the US with 'I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do), 'If I Were You' and the Grammy nominated track 'Who's Foolin' Who'.

She continues to entertain and from time to time has successfully diversified into acting. Lulu remains without question the greatest Scottish Female entertainer of the 20th century.

Worth a listen
Shout (1964)
Here come the night (1964 )
Leave A Little Love (1965 )
Try To Understand (1965 )
The Boat That I Row (1967 )
To Sir With Love (1967 )
Let's Pretend(1967 )
Love Loves To Love Love (1967 )
Boy (1968 )
I'm A Tiger (1968 )
Me, The Peaceful Heart (1968 )
Boom Bang A Bang (1969 )
Oh My Oh My (1969 )
The Man Who Sold The World (1974 )
The man with the golden gun (1974 )

Friday, 10 January 2014

Andy Stewart (1933 – 1993)

Andrew "Andy" Stewart was born in Glasgow in 1933 the son of a school teacher. The family lived in Shieldhall, Glasgow until he was 5 then they relocated to Perth before settling in Arbroath, six years later. He grew up in a musical family and played mouth organ. Andy actually preferred to use his natural vocal dexterity to impersonate other instruments rather than learning to play them. He was a natural mimic and amazed his parents with impersonations of famous singers and actors. He attended Arbroath High School and wrote his first lyric at the age of 14. The song “My Hameland" was recorded much later in 1969 and became the title track of one of his most popular albums.

Andy trained as an actor at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and started on the boards in 1954 as a comedy impressionist. One of his most popular routines was to perform “Ye Cannae Shove yer Granny Aff a Bus’ in the voices of American stars like Jolson or Armstrong. Andy reveled in the audiences’ reaction to his impressions of Presley and Little Richard. In 1955 Andy joined the cast of a new comedy series on the Scottish Home Service called Jim & Mary (17 Sauchie Street) it drew large audiences and ran from 1955-1959. He was also master of ceremonies to the first packaged Rock & Roll show to tour England, introducing the likes of Tony Crombie and his Rockets, Don Fox and Maxine Daniels to the music-hungry teens.

Steward became a firm favourite with older audiences too and appeared regularly in variety shows and pantomime throughout Scotland. In 1957 he became the host of BBC TV’s The White Heather Club which started as annual New Year's Eve party (1957–1968) before becoming a weekly series (1960–1968). At the height of its popularity, the show had a viewership of 10 million.

Andy affectionately known as the ‘Hobbit,” was the master of ceremonies and sang songs and told jokes. In 1959 he signed his first recording contract with Top Rank and they released “Donald, Where's Your Troosers?” This gave Andy his first taste of chart success because it was a minor hit in the UK charts peaking at number 37.

Next EMI released “A Scottish Soldier” on the Top Rank label. The lyrics were written by Andy and the song was based on an old pipe-tune called “The Green Hills of Tyrol.” The song was recorded at Abbey Road, London and accompanied by The Michael Sammes Singers with Orchestra conducted by Bernard Ebbinghouse. The recording was produced by Walter J. (Wally) Ridley. "A Scottish Soldier" spent 36 weeks in the UK Singles Chart in 1961 and was in the top 50 in the USA for over a year. In Australia, the record became the biggest selling single since Bill Haley's Rock Around the Clock in 1956.

Whilst his records continued to sell he never was able to repeat the earlier chart success. As an entertainer, he frequently and successfully toured Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

Recurrent ill-health took its toll and from 1973 onwards Andy was frequently hospitalised. He continued to work when he could but sadly the "The Tartan trooper, " Andy Stewart died in 1993.

Worth a listen

Come in-Come in ( )
Donald Where's Your Troosers?” (1961)
Campbeltown Loch (1961)
The Muckin' O' Geordie's Byre (1961)
The Road to Dundee (1961)
The Battle's O'er (1961)
Take Me Back (1061)
Tunes Of Glory (1961)
Dr. Finlay (1965)
The Gallant Forty-Twa" (1968)
Rainbows Are Back In Style" (1969)
Farewell My Love" (1972)
Song Of Freedom" (1975)

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Sir Jimmy Shand (1908 - 2000)

Born in East Wemyss in Fife, in 1908 and was the sixth of nine children. The family soon resettled in Auchtermuchty. His musical father played melodeon and taught Jimmy to play mouth organ. The young Jimmy mastered the fiddle and quickly established himself as a talent playing at social events and competitions. Jimmy left school at 14 and worked in the local mines until he was prevented from doing so after doing benefit gigs for striking miners during the 1926 General Strike.

He carried on playing in small dance bands and built a solid reputation and was eventually given an audition at the BBC in 1929 but failed to impress because he kept time with one foot. While working for the Fife Power Company a chance visit to a Dundee music shop in 1933 gave Jimmy a chance to play an accordion. He played it so well he as offered a job as travelling salesman and debt-collector. Jimmy recorded a couple of records with Regal Zonophone label in 1933 but his career really took off two years later when he switched to making 78s for the Beltona label.

Meantime Jimmy was uncomfortable with the design of his accordion and rejigged it in 1939. The "Shand Morino" became a firm favourite with other musicians up until the 70s.

Unable to enlist in the RAF he continued to entertain throughout the war years and became a popular player of Scottish Country Music. On New Year's morning on 1945 he made his first BBC broadcast with "Jimmy Shand and Band" and soon after became a full time musician.

The Shand Band made many radio broadcasts and recorded many titles suitable for Scottish Country Dancing and their records sold in millions throughout the world.

In constant demand as a live act the group toured the UK endlessly entertaining audiences with his trademark bald head, Buddy Holly specs, British chromatic button accordion, and full kilted regalia. The band played Scottish reels, jigs and strathspeys to North America, Australia and New Zealand audiences as his fame grew internationally. He signed for EMI/ Parlophone label and under the direction of George Martin released one single per month in the mid-fifties. Jimmy Shand and his band had a top 20 hit in 1955 with "The Bluebell Polka."

He was a great favourite with the Queen and Queen Mother and played for them at many royal functions at Balmoral and Windsor Castles. Due to illness in the family Shand went into semi-retirement in 1972 and only played only small venues in out-of-the-way places for a reduced fee. During his career he is credited with writing more than 330 compositions and recorded more tracks than the Beatles and Elvis Presley combined. He released a retrospective album called “The First 50 years” (1983) and an album and video with his son, Dancing with the Shands (1990).

Jimmy Shand was knighted in 1999 for his services to Scottish culture. Jimmy Shand died after a five-week illness in 2000 at aged 92.

Worth a listen
Scottish Waltz (1942)
The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh (1942)
Medley of reels (1942)
Gay Gordons (1942)
Comin’ through the Rye (1950)

Robin Hall (1936 – 1998) and Jimmy McGregor

Robin Hall was born in Edinburgh in 1936. As a child the family moved to Glasgow and he attended Allan Glen's School. His first career choice was acting and he went to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. He tried his luck in London but fell back on making music to live. When he appeared at a youth music festival in Vienna in 1959 he was partnered by Jimmy McGregor on stage. Although strangers off stage their harmony was so good it attracted praise from the legendary Paul Robeson, who was also appearing at the same concert. The pair decided to team up and their big break came when back in London their agent convinced the BBC’s current affairs program “Tonight “to feature them on Burns Night. Neither Hall nor MacGregor knew any of the Bard’s work but legendarily rehearsed “Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin “in the taxi on the way to the studio. So popular did they prove the duo was given a ten-year residency.

Now exposed to a nightly audience of more than nine million people they quickly became household names and signed for Decca. In 1960 they had a hit single with “Fitba’ Crazy.”

Jimmie McGregor was born in 1930 in Springburn, Glasgow. He was a real tenement kid and grew up in a musical family. After his national service, he studied ceramics at the Glasgow School of Art. He loved playing his guitar and sang in local folk clubs. During this time, he became friendly with Annie Wilson (Nancy Whiskey) a fellow student and folk singer. He tried teaching but the call to perform was greater and moved to London. Jimmy liked blues music and was taken with the new skiffle craze. He joined the Chas McDevitt skiffle group where he once again met up with Nancy Whiskey.

Eager to play more authentic music he left the band and played with the Steve Benbow Folk Four before joining The City Ramblers.

Whilst the duo, Robin Hall and Jimmy McGregor appeared on the BBC (i.e. Tonight programme and the White Heather Club) they both played and recorded in The Galliards with Leon Rosselson (banjo and guitar) and Shirley Bland (vocals). Their repertoire consisted of folk songs from the British Isles and from around the world. The group broke up in 1963.

Hall and Macgregor recorded over 20 albums during their partnership, which ended in 1981.

They were Scotland’s first folk stars and became household names throughout the UK. Following the split both successfully continued in broadcasting. Robin Hall died in 1998, aged 62.

Worth a listen

The Mingulay Boat Song (1961)
Coulter’s Candy (1961)
The day we went to Rothesay (1959)
The Glasgow Street Song Medley (1962)
Davy Faa (1962 )
Mandolin Medley (1962)
Barnyards O’ Delgaty (1963)

The Galliards

My love is like a Red Red Rose (1962)
Lowlands (1962)
Johnny I hardly knew you (1962)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Nancy Whiskey (1935 – 2003)

Anne Alexandra Young Wilson was born in Bridgeton, Glasgow, Scotland in 1935. Youngest of six children her father, a lorry driver, taught her to play guitar. To earn some money at art school she performed on the local folk club circuit. One of her classmates was the singer and guitarist, Jimmie McGregor who introduced her to blues and hillbilly music. She eventually took the stage name Nancy Whiskey after the chorus of a well-known Scottish folk song called "The Calton Weaver."

On recommendation from McGregor she was signed to the independent folk label, Topic. She moved with friends to London in 1955 and quickly established herself as solo folk singer but somewhat reluctantly agreed to join the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group for a Radio Luxembourg talent contest. Nancy was a folk singer and preferred to work solo but her soprano voice blended perfectly with McDevitt's whistled obligato on Freight Train. The group re-recorded Freight Train and when it was released as a single it made the top five in the UK Singles Chart in 1957. The record sold over one million copies after which the group toured the US including an appearance on the high profile Ed Sullivan Show.

Freight train entered the American charts which was most unusual for UK act at that time. A second single, “Greenback Dollar," also sold well reaching the Top Thirty Charts in the UK.

Unfortunately, the third single “Face in the Rain” failed to be a commercial success and Nancy left the band to follow a solo career but not before she records the album “The Intoxicating Miss Whiskey” with Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group in 1957.

br> When Nancy fell pregnant she married Bob Kelly (piano and drums) who became a member of her backing group, the Skifflers (aka the Teetotallers). Nancy continued to record and broadened her appeal with more generalised pop and jazz standards. She recorded He's Solid Gone album in 1958. Throughout the 60s the singer became a popular cabaret act but the 1970s, she had largely retired from the music industry. Occasionally she was encouraged to reprise her singing role, notably with Lonnie Donegan, at the Royal Albert Hall in March 1999.

Nancy Whisky died in 2003.

Worth a listen

Poor Howard
The Fireman’s Not For Me
Sporting Life
The Riddle Song
I'm Satisfied
Face In The Rain

Chas McDevitt (The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group)

Charles (Chas) James McDevitt was born in Eaglesham, Ayrshire, Scotland in 1934. The family moved to Camberley, Surrey where he grew up. As a teenager he suffered a long illness and developed a liking for American Blues and Jazz. During this time, he taught himself to play the banjo and later joined a local college jazz band called The High Curley Stompers. In 1955 McDevitt moved to London and played with the Crane River Jazz Band. Fellow band members included Ken Colyer, Sonny Morris and Marc Sharratt.

Keen to progress he also busked and performed in a skiffle group with blues singer Redd Sullivan (The Thameside Four). Quickly they established themselves as coffee bar favourites and appeared regularly at the 2Is Coffee Bar and other Soho Jazz Clubs. Oriole Records recorded a demo the group’s version of Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train” in 1956.

The group regularly played this as part of their live set and featured it in a talent contest promoted by Pye Records on Radio Luxembourg. Bill Varley, their new manager suggested they recruit a female vocalist to help them stand out from other skiffle groups and they seconded a folk singer called Nancy Whiskey. They rerecorded Freight Train with Nancy as lead vocalist. The single was released in 1957 and reached # 5 in the UK Singles Chart. Riding high on chart success the group toured Europe and America featuring on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The group had a second lesser hit with `Greenback Dollar' on which Nancy was again vocalist.

Nancy left the band soon after and was replaced by Shirley Douglas. The group made a guest appearance in a couple of movies The Tommy Steele Story (Rock around the world) (1957) , by which time Dennis Carter and Alex Whitehouse left the band to form a rival group, i.e. The Oldtimers Skiffle Group; and The Golden Disk (1958) .

When Jimmie MacGregor left Tony Kohn, Lennie Harrison and bass player, Bill Bramwell all joined the line-up and the group toured extensively. Once the skiffle phase passed the group broke up in 1959. The group did reform in the 80s for festival performances with Chas McDevitt, Marc Sharatt, John Paul and Nick Lawrence. The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group still survives with Steve Benbow (lead guitar), Jack Fallon (bass) and Chas' daughter, Kerry on vocals and washboard. Occasional members include Martyn Oram (fiddle), Mike Martin, (guitar and banjo) and Richard Sharp (bass).

Worth a listen
Worried Man ( 1956)
Greenback Dollar (1957 )
Don't You Rock Me Daddy O (1957 )
New Orleans [House of the rising sun] (1957)
The Cotton Song (1957 )
Worth a listen
Worried Man ( 1956)
Greenback Dollar (1957 )
Don't You Rock Me Daddy O (1957 )
New Orleans [House of the rising sun] (1957)
The Cotton Song (1957 )

Monday, 6 January 2014

Karl Denver (1932 - 1998)

Angus Murdo Mckenzie was born in Springburn, Glasgow, in 1932. When he left school at 15, he joined the Norwegian Mercantile Marine as a deckhand. There he practiced the guitar and entertained his shipmates. After leaving the merchant navy in 1951 he joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and served in the Korean War. He was wounded then discharged and during his recuperation developed a liking for country music. Once recovered he went back to the sea before jumping ship in the US when he was 21. Angus made a living playing country music in clubs in Nashville. During this time, he took the stage name Karl Denver and became friends with Faron Young and Lefty Frizzell. Karl Denver was the first British performer to play on the Grand Ole Opry radio show.

In 1959 the US immigration department caught up with him and he was deported back in Britain. He settled in Manchester and formed the Karl Denver Trio with Gerry Cottrell (bass) and Kevin Neill (guitarist). They became popular and toured the Northern working men’s clubs until they were seen by impresario Jack Good. He featured them on his television series Wham!

Jack Good also negotiated a record deal with Decca and acted as producer on the series of their hit singles. A popular song performed by the group on stage was the Zulu chant, "Wimoweh." The trio recorded it but the record company felt it too bizarre to release as a single. Instead "Marcheta" was their first single and became a minor hit in the UK in 1961.

This was followed by "Mexicali Rose" which also sold well.

Karl Denver Denver had a distinctive voice with a multi-octave range, and falsetto yodelling register. Many of his growing fans enjoyed the songs of Slim Whitman and when the US group the Tokens released ‘The lion sleeps tonight’ (a vocal version of "Wimoweh") and it began to rise in the UK charts they organized a petition for Decca to release his version of "Wimoweh.” The company relinquished and the single shot to #4 in the UK in 1962.

In the same year "Never Goodbye", was an entry in A Song for Europe.

The Karl Denver Trio toured the UK extensively and was regulars on public variety radio. In 1962 the Trio was given their own BBC Light Programme show, Side by Side.

Inevitably the popularity of the Mersey Beat over took popular demand and the Karl Denver Trio lost hold in the charts. They did continue for several years to perform in cabaret at home and overseas. Karl Denver was declared bankrupt in 1966, then again in 1973 and in 1978. About the same time Gerry Cottrell left the trio but they continued to perform in cabaret although were never able to recapture their salad days.

Karl did enjoy a brief return in 1989 after guesting on the Happy Monday’s single "Lazyitis (One-Armed Boxer)".

In 1993 he released his final album which was a frail effort from an aging and ill performer. Karl Denver died in 1998 from complications from a brain tumour.

Worth a listen
Marcheta (1961)
Mexicali Rose/Bonny Scotland (1961)
Wimoweh (1962)
Can You Forgive Me (1963) Indian Love Call (1963) Still (1963)

Happy Mondays
Lazyitis - One Armed Boxer (1990)

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Harry Robinson (1932 – 1996) aka Lord Rockingham’s XI

Henry MacLeod Robertson was born in Elgin, Moray, Scotland in 1932. His professional music career began in 1957 as composer and conductor for TV shows such as Six-Five Special (BBC) [1957] and Oh Boy! (ITV) [1958].

He also worked for record labels EMI and Decca, and was musical director for many artists including Craig Douglas. When Jack Good wanted a backing band to segue together the guest stars on Oh Boy! He asked Harry to put the band together.

Robinson gathered ten session musicians including Red Price and Rex Morris on tenor sax, Benny Greene and Cyril Reubens on baritone sax, Ronnie Black on double bass, Cherry Wainer on organ, Bernie Taylor and Eric Ford on guitars, and Don Storer and Reg Weller on percussion. Kenny Packwood (guitar) and Ian Frazer (piano) joined the group later. Good decided to call the house band Lord Rockingham's XI i.e. on a play on the words "rocking 'em” and they were billed as Good Presents Lord Rockingham's XI. This would later become a bone of contention but meantime the house band proved very successful playing a wall of sound with a stomping beat. They recorded "Fried Onions" b/w "The Squelch “but it failed to chart.

A second single "Hoots Mon" (based on the traditional ‘A Hundred Pipers’) was however an instant hit and became UK #1 in 1958. The first instrumental to do so and the hook line 'Hoots Mon! there's a moose loose aboot this hoose’ proved an international success. The record was one of the first rock and roll songs to feature the Hammond organ.

At the end of Oh Boy! problems arose concerning the rights to the name Lord Rockingham XI. The legal case that followed was settled out of court and the group began recording and touring. They made several records including “Wee Tom," (1959) “Ra-Ra Rockingham," (1959)"Long John ," (1959) and "Newcastle Twist" (1962), but they would never repeat the same chart success.

The group eventually disbanded to pursue their own solo careers.

Harry Robinson went on to become a very successful film composer writing dozens of UK film scores including, ‘It’s Trad, Dad! ‘(US title: Ring-A-Ding Rhythm) released in 1962.

He was also involved with many Hammer Horror film scores. He continued to work in television as an arranger, songwriter, and composer and is also credited with the string arrangement on Nick Drake's track "River Man" (1969).

On the West End stage Robinson arranged and conducted the Lionel Bart musicals Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'be (1960) and Maggie May (1964).

EMI did attempt to resurrect Lord Rockingham's XI in 1968 and released an album of contemporary covers directed by Harry Robinson called The Return of Lord Rockingham, but it failed to chart. Harry Robinson continued to work until his death in 1996.

In rather an unusual twist Harry Robinson married model and photographer Myrtle (Ziki) Arbuthnot who inherited the Wharton Barony in 1990. She became Lady Wharton, 11th Baroness Wharton and sat in the House of Lords.

Worth a listen
What The Butler Saw EP (1958)
Lord Rockingham's Lament/ Fried Onions
Blue Train/ Lord Rockingham Meets The Monster
Wee Tom/ Lady Rockingham, I Presume? <1958)
Ra-Ra Rockingham/Farewell To Rockingham (1959)
Newcastle Twist/ Rockingham Twist (1962)

Nick Drake
River Man (1969).

Lonnie Donegan (1931 - 2002)

Born in Glasgow in 1931, Anthony James Donegan was the son of a professional violinist who played for the Scottish National Orchestra. When his parents divorced in 1933 Anthony moved with his mother to East London (hence the accent). Young Anthony loved listening to the radio and enjoyed country and blues music as well as New Orleans jazz. He got his first guitar at the age of fourteen. Once he mastered the guitar he began playing around London. Chris Barber thought Anthony could play banjo, which at the time, he could not. He brought a banjo to the audition but failed to impress however, he and Chris Barber got on so well Anthony was asked to join the Chris Barber Skiffle Group. In 1949 Anthony was called up for National Service and served two years during which time he heard a lot more American music.

When he was demobbed, Anthony formed his own group called the Tony Donegan Jazzband in 1952. He took inspiration from a new source of blues and folk music from the library at the American Embassy, which allowed visitors to listen to any recordings that were on hand.

The stage name Lonnie came as a tribute to Lonnie Johnson who Donegan admired. The Tony Donegan Jazz band played on the same program with the blues musician at the Royal Festival Hall and was mistakenly introduced as Lonnie Donegan, he like it and the name stuck.

In 1953 Lonnie was back with the Chris Barber, now in a band called Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen.

Being that bit younger than the rest of the group Lonnie began to play skiffle in between the trad jazz sets. He entertained the crowd to some do-it-yourself music with a washboard, a tea-chest bass and a cheap Spanish guitar, singing folk songs and blues by artists such as Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. So popular was the skiffle segments he was asked to record a fast-tempoed version of Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line", with Chris Barber's Jazz Band in 1954. The single with John Henry as the B side was a spectacular hit in both UK and the US.

Lonnie Donegan's last recordings with the Chris Barber Band, before he left to pursue a solo career capitalising on the success of "Rock Island Line", were made on 4 April 1956. He was replaced on banjo by Dick Bishop, who also soldiered on with the skiffle group (known both as Chris Barber's Skiffle Group and Dick Bishop's Skiffle Group).

The King of Skiffle launched the craze which would lead to the creation of over 50,000 skifffle groups in the UK alone, Lonnie Donegan changed the face of popular music forever. His first single “Lost John" hit No. 2 in UK. A series of popular records followed including "Cumberland Gap" and "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavour on the Bedpost Over Night?".

He also followed up on the music hall style comedy, with "My Old Man's A Dustman".

By the early sixties Lonnie Donegan was no longer a headline act but had inspired many of the new order of guitar players including John Lennon and Pete Townsend. He resigned himself to live concerts and cabaret and worked tirelessly touring the world circuit, starring in Las Vegas, Hollywood, New York, Canada, Bermuda, Australia and New Zealand. He was back in the UK for a reunion concert with the original Chris Barber Band in 1975 but back in the US severe heart problems forced him to retire in 1976. By now many of his disciples were established stars themselves and Adam Faith encouraged the King of Skiffle to cross the Atlantic and re-record some of his earlier works with an array of stars including Ringo Starr, Elton John, Peter Banks, Ron Wood, and Brian May. All contributed to “Putting on the Style” which was released in 1978.

A follow-up album featured Albert Lee and Lonnie Donegan singing country-and-western.

Refreshed by the interest Lonnie formed his own Skiffle group and started to tour again. Health problems continued however and in 1992 Lonnie underwent bypass surgery. Two years later he joined Chris Barber, when the trombonist band leader was celebrating 40 years of his band. Both reunion concert and tour were recorded.

In 1999, collaboration with long-time fan Van Morrison resulted in Lonnie's first album release in 20 years, Muleskinner Blues. Lonnie became a frequent guest and opening act for Van's shows and in June 1999 played at the Glastonbury Festival and the Fleadh Festival, followed by a tour that autumn. Lonnie also featured in the Skiffle Sessions – Live in Belfast with Van Morrison, Chris Barber, with a guest appearance by Dr John in 2000.

Lonnie died in 2002 shortly before he was due to perform at a memorial concert for George Harrison (a lifelong fan). He was aged 71. .

Worth a listen:
Rock Island Line ( 1954)
John Henry (1954)
Midnight Special (1955)
Worried Man Blues (1955)
I'm Alabamy Bound (1956)
Don't You Rock Me Daddy-O (1956)
Mule Skinner Blues (1957)
Cumberland Gap (1957)
Putting On The Style (1957)
Jack O' Diamonds (1958)
The Grand Coulee Dam (1958)
Tom Dooley (1958)
Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavour (1958)
Battle Of New Orleans (1958)
My Old Man's A Dustman (1959)