Growing up in Gloucester, Robb gets his first guitar and works as a stagehand.
Leaves Grammar school with no qualifications.
Gets a job at a department store and makes his first public appearance as a singer at the works party.
Robb joins his first band, The Vendettas.
I was born in Gloucester England December 1945. My father worked as a carpenter at the Gloucester Wagon works and played piano in the local pubs on the weekends to make extra money. We were a working class family, we were not exactly poor but as my dad used to say we certainly were not rich. My grandfather was a career serviceman in the Royal navy .His rank was chief petty officer torpedo man instructor. He played in the naval brass band and also sang and played the mandolin.
In the early 1930’s he took his own life when having only two years left to finish his 20 years service. He was Robert Huxley the first, my dad was Robert Huxley the second, and I am Robert Huxley the third. In 1995 0n a visit to England to attend a Tornados reunion held at the King of Clubs in Gloucester, I spoke with my father’s cousin, Trevor Fry. Trevor had done extensive research into the background of the family tree, and after a meeting with Gervas Huxley, came to the conclusion that we were fourth cousins to the famed writer and philosopher, Aldous Huxley. Huxley became very famous in the sixties, when his novel Brave New World was widely read and acclaimed. Jim Morrison of the Doors was said to have taken the band’s name from Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception. As a kid I remember watching him on the B.B.C.’s talk show called The Brains Trust.. That had to have been in the fifties. Of course, at my age I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. My mother Joan Beryl White Huxley often used to say that we bore a resemblance to Aldous, and that my father and I came from outer space! I obviously didn’t get to meet my grandfather, and my dad has now passed on but I am sure my musical inclination came from them. My maternal grandfather William White played piano, organ, and melodeon, which is a type of small piano accordion. He played it very well, and I still have his instrument to this day.
At the age of eleven I passed the eleven plus exam and attended Sir Thomas Rich’s grammar school in Gloucester which was and still is a very good school. I sang in the school choir for the five years that I was there. Around the age of 12 or 13 I became mesmerized watching the new rock shows on the BBC on Saturday nights. The first being The Six Five Special with Lonnie Donegan and Don Lang and his Frantic Five.
Later followed by Drumbeat and Oh Boy! These shows featured artists such as the John Barry Seven with Vic Flick on guitar, Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde, Adam Faith, Vince Eager, Billy Fury, Dickey Pride, the Kalin Twins, Joe Brown, Roy Young and Wee Willie Harris. My father was quite disgusted by my addiction to those shows but he or I for that matter could not have known that in a few short years I would be appearing on stage alongside of many of those artists.
Along with my love of these shows I also fell in love with guitars. I used to browse the magazines with guitar ads that proclaimed, “Play and be popular everywhere” and showed pictures of acoustic guitars. As I had no money I had to be content by visiting the only local music store, in the town center. It was called Hickies. I never went in the store; I just stared through the window at the glossy electric guitars, dreaming that one day I would own one of them. Two of my schoolmates Jimmy Brown, and Alan Keeling owned guitars, but neither of them could play. I used to love hanging out at their homes so I could get my hands on them and try to strum a little. Alan Keeling had a nice Hofner acoustic and after getting a feel of it I knew I just had to get my own.
Every morning before school I used to deliver newspapers for Jack Keeling [Alan’s dad], for a few shillings a week. It was getting near to Christmas and I had saved up one Pound Sterling which seemed like a lot of money then. I had seen this acoustic guitar in a second hand shop on sale for two pounds and ten shillings and asked my parents if they could give me the balance so that I could buy the guitar for Christmas. As my father had paid for me to take piano lessons when I was twelve, and in which I failed miserably, he declined saying that after a week the guitar would be thrown in the corner of the room and the whole thing would be a waste of money. My mother replied saying that if he wouldn’t give me the money, she would, so thanks to her I bought the guitar. I had a little money left over and went to Hickies and bought a teach yourself guitar book. The guitar was really a piece of shit but it meant the world to me at the time. My dad even helped me tune it to the piano. From that time on my parents didn’t see much of me as I was constantly up in my little bedroom twanging away.
Dave Nash, one of my school mates came to me one day saying that he had got a Grundig tape recorder. As we both sang in the school choir we liked singing and music and thought we could sing like the Everly brothers and Buddy Holly. I used to take my guitar over to Dave’s house and we would record songs. Dave was also interested in playing drums and he had bought a pair of drumsticks. We would set up the mike close to the floor and he would drum on the carpet and I would sing and play the guitar. We did “Peggy Sue” by Buddy Holly, which I thought came out pretty good. We also used to put on the Everly Brothers and sing along together with them. We could knock off the harmonies quite well for a couple of fifteen year old kids.
One December just before Christmas, Dave told me that we might be able to get a job working as stage hands at the local Regal cinema. In those days they always held pantomimes there over the holidays. We decided to go up to the Regal to apply for the jobs. We told them we were both sixteen years old. They decided to hire us and told us to report to the cinema at eight o’ clock on Monday morning. We were both very excited especially me as I was very interested in every thing to do with entertainment.
We spent that Monday meeting the stage manager, Owen, and his assistant whose name I have forgotten, and unloading the stage scenery and all the equipment from a train at the local station. I was totally in my element, working in this field, although I must say that the spicy language and bawdy conversations that came from Owen and his assistant, took a little getting used to, but it was really just a part of growing up and being involved with adults. Dave and I worked a lot of hours that week and when we got paid at the end of the week in cash, I got home late and my parents were already in bed.
I remember pulling all the pound notes from my pocket and showering them all over my parents’ bed. I had made eleven pounds and that seemed like a fortune to me at the time. Looking back it was a great experience that gave me a look into the world of entertainment. I witnessed the whole procedure from start to finish; which included rehearsals with all the entertainers while carrying out the scene changes. One day I brought my guitar to show the A.S.M. who told me that he could show me how to play. He proceeded to slacken off the two lower strings as he said I didn’t need them and basically played the guitar like a ukulele. Featured on the bill at that Christmas pantomime was a group of five singers called the Dallas Boys. One of them had a big old Hofner jazz style electric guitar which he played in one of their numbers called Scarlet Ribbons. I noticed that he had not slackened off his two bottom strings, so I decided to ignore the advice of the A.S.M. and continued to play with six strings, thank God.
Dave and I worked the afternoon shows with Owen the stage manager, setting up and breaking down the sets and taking care of the props. For the evening show we were joined by some older guys who joked around with us and teased us from time to time. One thing that they were serious about was telling Dave and I to watch out for Owen as he, as they put it “Liked Boys”. Sure enough they were right. Owen made advances to Dave and I behind the sets or when the curtains were closed. We made a special effort to keep away from him, especially back stage and we tried not to be caught alone with him. Taking everything into consideration I really enjoyed working at the cinema during the school holidays. It gave me a look at what it might be like to work in show business. On the last night of the show I was lucky to get a kiss from one of the dancing girls that I had become friendly with over those few weeks. As she was walking out of the stage door we said goodbye and she held me and kissed me on the lips. She had to be a couple of years older than me so it was quite a thrill. The worst part was that I knew I would never see her again. We shared one kiss and it was all over.
During the next year and a half my schoolwork got progressively worse and at sixteen and a half I left school, and just like George Harrison, I didn’t get any G.C.E.s. Having left school with no qualifications it wasn’t easy to find a job. I went for a few interviews at various factories but I was told that I was not suited to do factory work and that I should look for work as a salesman. After a while I gave up looking for work and was lucky to be able to borrow Alan Keeling’s Hofner congress guitar to practice on. I kept it for over a year until he came and asked for it back. At the same time I borrowed a Dansette record player and a collection of Buddy Holly records from my friend Kenny Reece who lived next door. As I was not working I had plenty of time on my hands and spent hours and hours playing along with the records trying to figure out the chords and licks. I guess it was Buddy Holly who helped me learn to play the guitar. Although I had only a very limited chord vocabulary I started to write my own songs. This was one of the first.
Once I had a pretty little girl,
She said that she loved me,
And that we’d be together forever,
Everyone knew it was plain to see.
But there came an unhappy day,
When a new boy came to town,
He went and walked away with her,
And then I wore a frown.
That was my first effort using about two and a half chords. The months passed by and no work was to be found, but my musical education and knowledge were improving.
Dave Nash came around to see me and told me that he had just come back from Liverpool. He had got a job at Wall’s Ice cream factory as an apprentice electrician and had been attending a training program at Lever Bros. for a few weeks. He told me that he had been to a club called the Cavern and had seen this group there called the Beatles. They used to play there at lunch time. Dave said that they were a great group and were sure to be famous and that everybody loved them up in Liverpool. Then he pulled out a postcard size publicity photo of the band showing John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best all dressed in leather jackets, complete with all their autographs. At this time they did not have any records out so I had not heard any of their music but I had this strong feeling that Dave was right and that they would be big one day. It would be very nice if Dave still has that photo, I have had no contact with him for over forty years. In the 1980’s I used the memory of this chance meeting with Dave Nash as part of a song I wrote about my first knowledge of the Beatles. I featured this song called “Always Remember” on my solo album Churchill Gazoombah and The World is Mine.
One Friday afternoon I walked into the local youth employment office and was told a job was available at the Bon Marche which was the local department store. The position was for a trainee buyer in the carpet department. It was not very appealing to me but I thought I would have to check it out as I couldn’t just live at home depending on my parents. Any way I went over there right away and was interviewed by Mr. Herbert the personnel manager. He was very impressed to hear that I attended Sir Thomas Rich’s Grammar school but on learning that I had failed all my G.C.E.s he was not so impressed. He asked me why I had failed and I answered by saying that I didn’t try hard enough. He then went on to enquire about my interests. My reply was that I loved music and singing and that I had sung in the school choir. Mr. Herbert then told me that if I would join the Bon Marche choir that he would give me the job based on one month’s trial. I consented and went to the choir practice the following Monday night. That was the only time I attended. The thought of singing “Old Macdonald had a Farm” with a bunch of old fogies was definitely not my scene. Anyway I still got the job and apparently my disappearance was never missed by the choir.
I guess that things really started happening for me one day when I sat at the same table as Phil Preest in the staff cafeteria. Phil was a management trainee and a year or two my senior. I overheard him talking to another young salesman about a band he was getting together to play a set at the staff Christmas party. He played piano and had a friend who played guitar, and some other guy to play the drums. I eagerly told Phil that I could sing and that I also had a Hofner Colorama electric guitar together with an eight watt Selmer amp.[ Now that I was working I persuaded my dad to cosign for me to buy the guitar and amp from Hickies on the Hire Purchase]. Phil said ok and told me to come to a practice at the Bon Marche on the following Thursday afternoon. In those days the store closed on Thursday afternoon so everybody was off. With my guitar in one hand and amp in the other and wearing my grandfather’s jacket which I liked because it reminded me of the kind that the teddy boys wore, I caught the NO. 9 bus at the end of Clegram Road where I lived and set off for the rehearsal. Phil was there together with a guitar player and two guys that would be singing. I was very anxious to get up and sing but Phil said I should sit down and wait my turn. The first guy got up and sang “A Mess of Blues” by Elvis Presley and although he had all the moves he couldn’t really sing very well. The second guy sang “Let’s Twist Again” by Chubby Checker and sounded like he was singing in a pub after drinking about fifteen beers. I could see the look of disappointment on Phil’s face. Next an Asian girl got up and sang “East of the Sun”. She was ok but I knew I could out perform all of them. Meanwhile Phil was getting more despondent. Finally it was my turn and I can only imagine what Phil was thinking, after the disappointing performances of the other singers. He asked me what I knew, and looking on top of the piano I spotted a pile of sheet music which included some Buddy Holly tunes. “I can do these” I said, and we chose “Rave On”. We went into the number and I really belted it out. The look on Phil’s face changed drastically, and he broke out into a huge smile and asked me what else I could do. From that moment on I was the singer.
Well, Christmas soon came around and we played at the party. I even wrote a special song for the occasion called “The Bon Marche Blues”.
Well it’s the same old tale week after week
Gotta get my hair cut gotta look so neat,
And when I press my trousers and I polish my shoes,
I got the Bon Marche blues…..
I wore my black suit with a black shirt and a black Teddy boy bow tie. I even bought some black clip on shades to wear over my Buddy Holly glasses. All the employees gathered around when we played the set and we really went down great. The following day at work I was approached by all kinds of employees, especially girls, saying how much they enjoyed my singing and how good I was. Was this fame at last?
A short time later Phil Preest came up to me in the staff cafeteria and told me that he had a band that was playing down in the Forest of Dean. They were playing at the Courtfield Arms in Lydbrook. Phil asked me if I would like to sing for them, they were called the Vendettas and they played every Sunday night. I would get paid ten shillings for the evening. I was delighted and immediately said “Yes”. That Sunday Phil picked me up in his mini van and we drove down to the Forest to his parent’s house and ran through the songs on the piano. I also brought my guitar and amp as Dave Wynter who was the guitar player wanted to use them. Then we picked up Fiddy Laine the drummer. The Courtfield Arms was a country pub with an upstairs room and bar with a small stage where we set up our gear. We used the 8 watt Selmer amp for the guitar, and I also sang through it with a mic that Phil brought along. There was also a piano there. The band started off with some instrumentals and Phil could really knock out “Nut Rocker” by B.Bumble and the Stingers. I was very impressed and couldn’t wait to getup and sing. When the time came I got up and sang “A Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On” and the locals loved it. I also did some Marty Wilde and Cliff Richard songs and of course a good measure of Buddy Holly. During the break people came up to me and bought me drinks. They wanted to know all about this new singer. So this was my first paying gig and my second appearance. As Phil drove me home late that night I had a great feeling of happiness inside knowing that I was beginning to do what I had always dreamed of doing, sing, and play in a band.
As the weeks went by we continued to play in the Forest. People had begun to hear about us and our audience grew. Sometimes other musicians came to jam with us. I remember the time that a guy showed up with an upright bass. This was a real treat as we had no bass player. Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody” that we did sounded very good. At the end of the evening, Fiddy Laine the drummer raved about how good we sounded with a bass player. He mentioned that his cousin, also called Fiddy, a family nickname, had an electric bass and could come to play with us. A week later we had a bass player. We got a few other gigs. One was at the Bristol Hotel in Gloucester. They had a music room upstairs and they held dances on Saturday nights. This hotel was only two blocks away from where I lived and at one point in the evening when I was on stage singing a “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, my dad appeared in the doorway and stood watching my performance. When the break came he walked up to me and said “Well I’ve seen it all now!” Then he broke into a big smile and we walked to the bar and he bought me a pint of beer. We also played a gig for the Bon Marche at a club somewhere. Some of my friends from school came to hear me sing. Towards the end of the night a fight broke out and one of my schoolmates got hurt. Somebody was smart enough to turn out the lights and that ended everything. There were always fights in those days; you could always guarantee at least one or two.