Personal letters from Joe to the Tornados in Blackpool.
An unprofessional end to the Blackpool show, the Lawrence of Arabia recording session with Joe.
The Cooper Organization lands us a spot in the Mike and Bernie Winters Birthday Show in Coventry.
Robb falls in love with dancer Jackie Grant.
The Aberfan disaster benefits show where the Tornados meet up with the infamous London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray the Kray Twins.
Ronnie Kray wants to take over the Tornados and pledges to send them to America.
Robb has an unusual, revealing and scary séance with the dancing girls.
Bert Weedon jams with the Tornados and reveals financial improprieties by The Cooper Organization.
Tornados’ practical joking on the Coventry Show results in some dire consequences.
Robb turns 21 and Jackie Grant gives up the Ventriloquist in favor of Robb.
The Coventry Show comes to a teary end.
One morning about a week or so after we had been on the show we woke up to find a letter addressed to the Tornados from Joe. We looked at each other not knowing what to expect, but there was an overall sense of excitement as we opened up the envelope. To get a letter from Joe was something special and we all held our breath as Pete read it to us.
Joe’s letter summed up what was going on in his life at that time, the summer of 1966. He was obviously in financial trouble as he stated that he was very happy to get the money from Harry Dawson. As his receipt of the cheque was apparently connected with Dawson’s pleasure with our performance in Blackpool, it could be presumed that Joe was being paid some kind of commission with reference to the hiring of the Tornados for the season. Joe was not only the recording producer of the Tornados he was their manager and had full rights to the name and had total control of who was in the band and for the most part what the band recorded. He also dictated what clothes the band were to wear as well as each member’s hair color and so on. The Tornados were Joe’s band. As the manager of the Tornados I guess Joe was entitled to get a percentage of what we made, although he never mentioned anything regarding that to us and as the New Tornados we never signed any kind of contract with Joe so it was never known for sure if Joe was getting anything from the Cooper Organization. On the contrary Joe was always offering to help us out financially if we got into a bind and on a few occasions did actually pay for some of our van repairs.
He was obviously hoping that the Telstar case was coming to an end and that it would be resolved in his favor. Then the royalties would be released and he would take some of the money to, as he put it, buy “Is That a Ship I Hear” into the charts.
Things were also getting pretty bad within his company as he complained that Shanks his partner had put him in a mess. We were actually quite touched when he included us among the very few people that he could turn to with his problems. It made us, in some strange way; feel rather close to him, even though we did not know him personally, that well. We had spent a great deal of time with him in the studio, but the only time we had ever done anything with him socially was at the Cinderford Fete. He, as he said, had the best time with us there, and we enjoyed it too. It was the only time I ever saw Joe outside of the studio.
He made reference to the movie projector that he had and was considering lending it to Pete. Joe was hot on the idea of making us more of a comedy group and urged us to try to come up with all kinds of funny situations that we could try to put on film and we could all write the music to go with it. Of course we were never able to accomplish anything in this field, but I have often thought that had Joe lived and reaped the benefit of the “Telstar” royalties, we could have quite possibly followed that road and maybe we would have produced some kind of comical music videos. With Joe’s history of enjoying and participating in theatricals when he was a youngster, he probably would have found it very enjoyable and who knows he may even have developed a new facet to his career out of these pursuits. Joe was pleased with us and he made it clear in this letter. His reference to the seance and knocking three times on the side board shows that Joe was still very much into the spiritual side of things. We never held a seance in Black pool, and Joe never ever referred to ever hearing any knocks on the side board, but he did mention to me once that sometimes he would wake up at about three in the morning and the table and chairs would be dancing around the living room. At the same time he told me that the flat was haunted and on one occasion he heard the steps of some body walking around his bed. The spirit had apparently tripped over the chord of the electric fire that was plugged in and pulled it out of the wall. Joe said that’s how he knew that it really happened as he saw the plug come flying out from the outlet.
After reading Joe’s letter and feeling that Joe would benefit from a change by getting out of the studio for a few days, we decided that we should call him up to invite him to stay with us in Blackpool and come and see the show. As Pete was always the one who communicated with Joe on behalf of the band he called him up and made the invitation. Pete said that Joe sounded very pleased and happy and said that he would try to make it. About a week later another letter arrived from Joe. This time, it was more upbeat.
Joe was obviously in a different mood with this letter which was probably brought on by his pleasure in realizing that the Tornados cared enough about him to invite him to get away for a few days to relieve his stress. We can only speculate as to what that may have been like as Joe never did make it up to Blackpool.
He was apparently optimistic that things were going to go well with our new single as he assumed that the big shake up at EMI was going to provide more exposure for the disc. He had again changed the title of the disc to “Carry on Pirates” which was a play on the “Carry On” series of comedy movies that were popular in the sixties. For some reason unknown to us when the single came out a few weeks later it was called “Is that a Ship I hear” We will never know what made Joe change his mind with the title. He may have thought that “Carry on Pirates” was too blatant or there may have been a copyright infringement with the “Carry On” part with regard to the movies. Anyway it ended up as “Is That a Ship I hear”. It was also notable that the titles of both the A and B sides of the disc were in the form of a question and were not accompanied by question marks on the record.
As far as the seagulls were concerned we did not see the connection and we thought to ourselves “Oh no, what is he doing now?” When the disc came out and was reviewed in the musical papers it was severely ridiculed with one critic asking sarcastically if seagulls were paid musician union rates for appearing on record! We laughed when we read the review but I think that it hurt us inside to realize that we and Joe were being made out to be a laughing stock in the music business.
Once more we see Joe in his theatrical personality pushing us in the direction of humor and entertainment when he mentions that the B side of the record would be better for our cabaret shows He was probably right, but we never played it on our shows. Joe’s reference to all the members of the band with his little funny remarks about us in some way suggests that he wanted to acknowledge us all and let us know that he appreciated us as individuals as well as a band.
We had told Joe some time previously a story that may have come from Dave Watts that somebody somewhere had spit on the floor when the name of the Tornados had been mentioned. It must have stuck in his mind as he offered us some consolation by telling us that it was a good sign and that if we all stuck together it would be alright. If anything got to be too bad he would step in for us. He of course told us to be nice to every one and as in his previous letter; he ended it with words of encouragement for us to be humble and helpful to others as that would bring rewards in the future.
The final letter that Joe wrote us in August 1966 towards the end of the season was accompanied by the demo discs of “Is that a Ship I Hear”, and some publicity photos that we had taken before leaving for Blackpool. Joe joked about the photos, suggesting that we go steady with them as they didn’t drop out of the air; but knowing how Joe was in financial trouble and that he probably had to come up with the money to provide them, we understood what he meant. Of course we were very happy to get the disc of “Ship” but as we had no record player to play it on we couldn’t listen to it. We ended up getting to hear it on a record player that Al Paige brought in. To be honest we thought that it was crap although we were reasonably pleased with the B side. Hearing it today without the influence of all the various changes that had, and were, taking place in 1966 it’s really not bad, and was quite a good recording. It was certainly not hit material. It didn’t seem to get a bashing on the North Ship as Joe had been promised. We could tell this as we listened to that station whenever we were driving to the gigs and that could have been hours and although we heard it a few times it really didn’t get heavy plays. He also mentioned that he had written a letter to Harry Dawson to complain about Sid Raymond and wanted to know the results. Even on a short note as this letter was, Joe still ended up by assuring us that he was there to help us by offering to sort out any problems that might come up with the group van.
Meanwhile the show went on in Blackpool and the Manfred Mann Sunday shows came to an end. The following week would feature the Small Faces who were fastly becoming a very popular and “in” group. It was about half way through the season and some nights the audiences were very small. Sometimes only a handful of people came to the show. There was a rumor that Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas were being fired from the show as they had come late one night to the show after a recording session in London. Well something definitely happened as they were suddenly gone and were replaced by the Lorne Gibson Trio. Not too long before this we saw Larry Parnes and Brian Epstein sharing a conversation at the end of the pier. Sid Raymond reveled in the whole thing and reinforced his threat to us that if we disobeyed we would be off the show just like Billy J Kramer. The show was losing money so it may have been a business decision made by Parnes and Epstein to replace Billy J Kramer with Lorne Gibson as the latter was more affordable. Anyway I’m sure that Brian Epstein had better plans for Billy. Sid Raymond strutted around the stage like a pompous ass rejoicing in the fact that somebody had been thrown off the show and that he was the God Almighty boss of the stage. This was all to be blasted into oblivion with the arrival of the Small Faces.
Dave Watts talked excitedly about giving it to Steve Marriott for making a joke out of “Pop Art Goes Mozart” in his review in the Melody Maker. Dave may have hinted on it when we got to meet the Small Faces but we never made a big deal about it because deep inside we knew that Steve was right for that time and place and the way music was heading. They turned out to be a likeable bunch of guys. Unlike Manfred Mann, they came up and talked to us and Steve Marriott seemed to have a certain respect for Marty Wilde. I can’t say that we got that close to them, after all they were this big band and we were the latest incarnation of Joe Meek’s “Tornados” with most of the band feeling dissatisfied with the musical direction in which we were being directed by Joe. All we tried to do to exonerate ourselves was to play what we thought was our best and most modern numbers. We would turn up the volume a bit, get “Telstar” out of the way, and do mostly vocals, with Dave also doing his raving version of Wade in the Water. We also tried to wear the most hip clothing that we had to show that we were not really a “Brown” group.
It was really quite remarkable to meet the Faces for the first time and to see that they were all in fact quite small in stature. Not only that, they were also skinny and had these Mod hairstyles which after a while we began to adopt. They all came from the East End of London and were just a little younger than us. At that time their line up was Steve Marriott on guitar and lead vocals, Ronnie “Plonk” Lane on Bass and vocals, Ian McLagen, organ and Kenny Jones, drums.
The first Sunday Show with the Small Faces was August 7th 1966. The show went in the usual way with The Diamond Twins and Marty and when it came to our set we really let it rip to try to save face in the eyes of the Faces who were hanging around off stage during our set. Sid Raymond glared at us from the wings and we knew that the “You’ll be off the show cocker” threats would be on the agenda again. Sure enough as the Faces gear was being set up during the intermission Sid strode over to us and began to give it to us about the volume and came out with all kinds of threats. Half way through Sid’s tirade Kenny Jones walked over to his drums, sat down and proceeded to batter the hell out of them at full blast. Sid’s head spun around like a weather vane to see who was causing all the commotion and then he looked back at us, and we looked back at him with a “Well, what are you going to do about that?” kind of look. He strode over to the side of the stage where he always stood and stared at Kenny Jones but didn’t say a word and after Kenny had been going at it for a good ten minutes he gradually started to pretend that he was unaware of it. We were in a state of utter rejoicing to see this scenario taking place with the great Sid Raymond being unable to do anything about it. Kenny Jones did the same thing during the intervals of all of the next six shows we played with them and we loved it.
When the rest off the band started to come on stage to pick up their instruments to get ready for their set we decided to go out front to watch the show. As we took our seats at the back of the theater we could still hear Kenny walloping the drums behind the curtains and the sounds of tuning up. Suddenly everything went quiet and Al Paige came out to do the build up for the Small Faces. After his introduction Sid opened up the curtains and “Wham” here was the Small Faces at full throttle. Steve Marriott was dancing around the stage and singing with that unique raspy soul voice that he had, which you could never imagine coming from a guy of his small stature, and we guys were enjoying the show and imagining the looks on Sid Raymond’s face as he had to endure a Small Faces set at full volume. We loved every Sunday Show from then on as Sid never complained about our volume. How could he? He knew that the Faces were twice as loud as we were. On their third show with us the Small Faces hit #1 on the UK charts with their latest release titled “All or Nothing” They were all in great spirits and looking for fun. During our set they opened up a case of champagne in the wings and engaged in a battle by popping the champagne corks across the stage at each other. We acknowledged them, they smiled at us, and we smiled back at them, and in a way it felt good that we were being included in their celebration. They also shot corks across the stage during Marty’s set and he took it all in good fun. The Faces were enjoying themselves. We could see them guzzling from the champagne bottles. It was great that they were close to us on the side of the stage, they could just as well have been secluded in their dressing room like Manfred Mann would have been, but no, they were young down to earth guys, and wanted to have a good time with every one. When we closed our act we guzzled some champagne too.
We continued to churn out the show week after week and as the season wore down the audiences began to dwindle. On some nights, especially in the middle of the week, both shows were poorly attended and sometimes when the audience was particularly bad Adam Faith would appear behind our gauze curtain shaking his head and giving us a hard time about the way we had played his set. I guess he had to blame it on somebody, there was nobody else to blame it on except himself and he wasn’t going to do that.
It wasn’t very long before The Lorne Gibson Trio left the show for reasons unknown. However they were an interesting group. They had no drummer. Lorne played electrified acoustic guitar and sang and was accompanied by a lead guitar player and a bass player. They were really just the same as the Karl Denver Trio. Their music seemed like it probably came out of skiffle and was a bit like folk and country. Most of the songs that they performed were of American origin. One night their bass player was unable to appear and Roger Holder stepped in for him. They wrote out the bass notes and set up a music stand and Rog did a very good job. Lorne Gibson was a nice kind of guy and his band were the same It was always nice when other artists were unaffected by their fame as it always made every one feel comfortable. The only person on the show that kept a polite distance from us was Adam Faith.. I can’t say that we knew him any better at the end of the season as we never had any conversations with him about anything. He was always secluded in his dressing room on the other side of the stage and never did anything with us socially.
Marty was different and although he had done more in show business than we could ever hope to do he was still basically one of the boys. We would all go out to the Indian Restaurant together and Joyce would insist that we put pineapple on our curries and the following day Marty would greet us with the words “My ass exploded at seven o’ clock this morning”. One night after the show he took us down to meet Tom Jones who was appearing at the North Pier. We stood around and talked for a few minutes and shook hands. Tom Jones had a cut on his forehead covered with a band aid and Marty asked him if he’d been fighting again, and Tom answered in his thick Welsh accent “No mun, I ‘it me ‘ead getting’ out of the car” Marty and Joyce would come over to our place and I would make some food. One night I made some spaghetti and meat sauce. Les Baguley who had come over with the Diamond Twins was getting kind of drunk and when nobody was watching overloaded the meat sauce with parmesan cheese and basically ruined the whole meal. Marty and Joyce didn’t say anything but John Davies said that it tasted like shit and that he had thrown it out of his bedroom window. Sure enough there was a pile of it on the front lawn which was still there at the end of the season. Anyway we didn’t hold anything against Les and after a few more drinks we wound up with him upstairs watching him jump up and down on the bed singing “We’re gonna smoke some marijuana tonight”! But we never did.
The season was beginning to wind down. Apart from the Sunday shows, which we always enjoyed, everything was gradually becoming the same old thing. Two guys by the name of Mo and Jeff replaced Lorne Gibson and although they were decent guys they were nothing more than just an act you would see in a Working Men’s Club. They were doing musical comedy with Mo doing the patter and the singing and Jeff backed him up on electric guitar. We backed them but they didn’t want Pete and me to play as Jeff would be on guitar, so we just stood there and mimed while Roger, John and Dave played for them. At a point during their act Mo would always mention the Tornados as some of the finest musicians in the country. Pete and I got a big kick out of that as we weren’t even playing. Mo and Jeff were about one rung on the ladder higher than Johnny Clamp. We would still hang out with Marty and Joyce in their dressing room from time to time. We would swap songs together on Marty’s Gibson. Roger was always to be found with the Diamond Twins as he and Sandie had hooked up together. Pete and I got friendly with a couple of girls who were part of the Players No. 6 girls dancing group. There were four of them altogether and they wore these cute little outfits and danced on a show somewhere in Blackpool for the season. Pete got Judy and I got Vivian. We would meet at their place after the show and hold séances, smoke Players No. 6 cigarettes which were always in abundance and generally hang out with whoever was at the flat at the time. The only highlight towards the end of the season was when we rushed over to the Central Pier at the close of our show to catch the last two songs of the Yardbirds set. They were all wearing sharkskin suits with Jeff Beck on guitar and Jimmy Paige playing bass. They went over really well and we enjoyed what little we got to see.
Eventually the final night of the show came around, and on the second show of the night Sid Raymond and his cronies, the stage hands, did everything in their power to totally mess up the whole show. They completely decimated Johnny clamp in his act by holding up a “Clap Now” sign to the audience at inappropriate times. At first Johnny was completely bewildered by this and couldn’t make out what was going on as they pulled away the sign every time he turned around to see what was going on. Eventually he finally caught on and began to try to make fun of it all by throwing sarcastic remarks at Sid and his band of “terrorists”. During our act every one back stage decided that they would join in singing our vocal number “Let it be Me” by the Everly Bros. on a spare mike and they made sure that they were all singing out of tune. They also let off some smoke bombs which they had stolen from our dressing room and persisted in walking across the stage in the middle of our numbers. During the Fox Miller girls dance number they continually kept pulling the girls off stage and holding them there until there was only one girl left on stage. Marty Wilde was somewhat spared in his act but did get his mike turned off here and there and was awarded a smoke bomb. Sid Raymond was acting like a big kid and was thoroughly enjoying himself until the second half of the show when Adam Faith refused to appear as he had come down with a bad case of food poisoning and was vomiting all over the place. Anyway that’s what Marty Wilde reported when he was commandeered to take the stage before Adam’s spot was due to begin and explain that Adam was sick and was unable to appear. I doubt very much if this was true and knowing that Adam Faith was a very proud and professional entertainer, he obviously did not want to be put through this embarrassing last show debacle. I can’t say that I blame him really. Looking back it was a shame that a show that started off as a really good show ended up like this. Some people thought that it was a great joke and real good fun but really it was a disgusting display put on by Sid and his Cohorts. Pete and Roger’s mum Mrs. Holder and my mum Joan Huxley were present for the last show and reported that it was terrible and embarrassing to watch the show. So that was it, the Blackpool South Pier Show was over and instead of going out in a blaze of glory it fizzled out as a fiasco.
That night we said goodbye to every one on the show with the exception of Adam who had left the theatre. That was almost forty years ago and apart from members of the Tornados and the Diamond Twins I never got to see anybody from that show again, with the exception of Manfred Mann who we opened up for at a gig in South Wales. He was now “Manfred Mann’s Earth band” it was the early seventies and I was playing in the Israeli hard rock band “Jericho”. Needless to say Manfred Mann was still stuck up and didn’t speak to us this time either.
As we had worked for about eighty-three days straight without a break we decided to take a little time off. Roger and Dave left together for London while Pete, John and I went back to Gloucester and to our respective homes to stay with our families. We kept in touch by phone and a couple of times I would walk up to the top of the street to the phone box, just past the fish and chip shop, out side of Wesley Hall and call up Pete to find out where we would be playing at next. It was nice to be home and sleeping in that little back bedroom in Clegram road where I had grown up. It was great to eat mum’s cooking again especially the Sunday dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. It was always great to creep into the front room and raid my Dad’s collection of home made wines. Roger and Dave were hanging out together possibly because of their association with the Diamond Twins with Roger staying at Dave’s place. From this point on we never again rented a flat. We just stayed wherever we could. Between one nighters Roger and Dave would drive to London and Pete, John and I would go to Gloucester. When we did venues of longer duration we would team up and find somewhere to stay together. As a rule Pete and I usually stayed together. In fact we did a lot of things together. We dated girls, sometimes even sisters together; we wrote songs together and went on holiday together. One time while in the Saxons when we had our bleached blond hair we caused a sensation on the beach in Nice. We had a lot of curious onlookers saying “Topless, topless” as they walked behind us. They couldn’t see our fronts so from behind we probably looked like a couple of blondes sunbathing topless on the beach.
Before very long we were back in London again. Pete and I stayed with his girlfriend Judy from the Players No.6 girls and my girl Viv also a No.6 girl came over to stay with me. The Beatles album Revolver had just been released in August and we listened to it over and over and talked about how amazing it was and that they were sure to be getting high on something to be turning out this psychedelic pop music. Pete and I assumed that this was the reason although neither of us at that time had any idea what it was to get high. The most that we had ever done was have a few drinks. Pete called up Dave as Roger was staying over with him and Dave had come up with this idea to play the theme music to Lawrence of Arabia. We all met up at R.G.M. and Dave demonstrated the piece to us and it was quite a simple job for us to get it down. Dave once again asked Joe if he could play the piece on his Hammond but Joe was still adamant that it should be done on the Lowry. I must say that Joe’s basic attitude during this session was indifferent. It was just a straight forward recording without Joe coming up with any mind blowing effects or off the wall ideas. This was notable as after all, wasn’t this just a typical Tornados instrumental? The reason for Joe’s apparent disinterest may have been due to his distressed mental condition, he also had nothing to do with the writing of the piece, and who knows, Joe might have at last realized that this kind of thing was getting old. When listening to the recording today (it was never released at that time) it totally lacks any of the Joe Meek magic which leads me to believe that Joe probably abandoned it and did no further work on it. He was not excited about it at the session and it was basically recorded in a matter of fact way and really just sounds like a demo. However we kept it in our act right up to the end of the New Tornados and it was always very well accepted by our audiences and actually became a highlight in our act. At the same session we recorded a song that I had just written around the end of the Blackpool show. It was called “I Wonder Why?” We even put the vocals down and Dave Watts sang the lead on it. As far as I know it has never been found in the Tea Chest tapes but I guess it must still be there somewhere. I don’t even remember Joe asking us what the title was.
Not long after that session Joe was excited to tell us that Harry Dawson had called to say that he hand landed the Tornados a spot on the Birthday Show at the Coventry Theatre with Mike and Bernie Winters as headliners. The show would run for eight weeks, which was good steady work, and we were to be paid 50 pounds each per week. This was a good step up from the South Pier at Blackpool and would give us good exposure. We worked it out that we would play a shortened version of Telstar, do our comedy routine, sing a version of “Let it be Me”, by the Everly Brothers and finish with our new instrumental “The Theme from Lawrence of Arabia”. There would be quite a full orchestra and we would need to provide them with our “Play Off” music which was of course, a few bars of “Telstar”. Being as the orchestra was available we decided that it would sound great to be accompanied by them in Lawrence of Arabia; so Dave got together with Les Baguley, who had also moved into the Watts residence, and together they wrote out all the parts for the orchestra. We fine tuned and perfected “Lawrence” and the rest of the set that we would play when we did our various one nighters here and there. We also found out that we were to be featured in a dance routine with the dancers which made us all feel a little scared to say the least. They were rehearsing the dance routines at a studio in London and we were required to show up to rehearse our parts. Well it certainly was great to show up there and check out all the girl dancers. They were a very nice looking bunch for the most part and it was a pure pleasure to see them all prancing about in their skimpy leotards. The choreographer and head dancer was Johnny Webster who was accompanied by his brother Jimmy. The first thing that he told us was not to worry and that we would not have to do any dancing. All we had to do was walk hand in hand with a girl take our top hats off, bow and sing Love and Marriage. We did the basic rehearsals with the girls and we were all relieved when it was over. Actually we didn’t do a bad job. Full credit must be given to John Davies as he absolutely hated to do anything like that. We were sent over to outfitters in Leicester Square to be measured for the morning suits that we would be wearing in the dance or should I say walk routine. The actual suits that we would wear were chosen from suits worn in My Fair Lady.
We arrived in Coventry about a week prior to the opening night of the show. It was a Monday and Harry Dawson told us that there was to be a press conference at the theater that morning and that it would be good for us to be there as it would get our faces shown. Around noon time artists began to show up together with the press. We all assembled together and got acquainted which culminated in a group pose together which would be featured in the local newspaper together with a short article which basically advertised the show. The Tornados stood in a row with Mike and Bernie Winters in the Middle while Bert Weedon and Stan Stennett goofed around with their instruments as Johnny Hackett and Kris Keo looked on.We arrived in Coventry about a week prior to the opening night of the show. It was a Monday and Harry Dawson told us that there was to be a press conference at the theater that morning and that it would be good for us to be there as it would get our faces shown. Around noon time artists began to show up together with the press. We all assembled together and got acquainted which culminated in a group pose together which would be featured in the local newspaper together with a short article which basically advertised the show. The Tornados stood in a row with Mike and Bernie Winters in the Middle while Bert Weedon and Stan Stennett goofed around with their instruments as Johnny Hackett and Kris Keo looked on.
The artists that showed up for the press were nice people. Mike and Bernie, although aware of their fame were unaffected by it and appeared friendly and talkative, Mike puffing on his pipe, and Bernie fooling around. They were obviously seasoned pros and remained friendly towards us for the duration. Bert Weedon was a charming and friendly character and above all a great guitarist. In the weeks to come we would hold jam sessions together with Stan Stennett and Bert. We always ended up with Bert teaching us some of those old Django Reinhardt numbers. Stan was also an accomplished guitarist and a good all round entertainer. Bert would always encourage us to take solos in the jams and even if we didn’t have a clue what we were doing, if we only got two or three notes right Bert would say “Nice!”
As we had just arrived that morning in Coventry, we would need to find a place to stay. Pete and I noticed a small note on the bulletin board back stage offering accommodation.
We called the phone number and spoke to a guy who said he would meet us backstage at 4pm. His name was Peter and he had a three bedroom house. Pete and I could make ourselves at home and use all facilities for a fiver each a week, which we thought was a pretty good deal. It turned out to be better than we thought when we got a look at the house which was well furnished and equipped. It was definitely a bachelor’s pad. Peter was an accountant who loved the theatre and also had a terrific record collection consisting of musicals, jazz and even a collection of Dylan Thomas works that were read by Richard Burton. He had a Welsh corgi that was unpredictable and possessive by the name of Shan. I think the dog was jealous of us and from time to time made a point of taking a crap in our beds if we forgot to close our bedroom doors. Although it did not appear so, Pete and I fancied that Peter was gay and when his blond, actor boyfriend came down to stay with him on weekends, that confirmed our suspicions. Peter was a nice mellow guy to be around, never came on to us but did decide that he would call me Robin which Pete thought was hilarious and constantly ribbed me about it, smiling and saying “Cheers Robin”.
The following day would be first day of rehearsals. Roger, John and Dave had found a house and came by Roger’s car. Pete and I always arrived in the Commer van. As we walked backstage the dancers were already running through their routines and the cast was milling around engaged in conversation. When Alec Shanks, the show director arrived we all gathered around as he outlined the format of the show and the rehearsal procedures. All the acts that were involved with the dancers were to be done first and run through correcting any mistakes. Our turn soon came around and by some kind of a miracle we managed to get through it with little or no problems. Shanks’ only concern was that we were not singing Love and Marriage loud enough. By the end of the day all the dance routines and sketches had been run through and things were shaping up. It was already clear that this was a very different show compared to the summer season at the South Pier. It was a very professional affair. There were no “Johnny Clamps” on this show.
A full run through of the total show took place the following day, along with the Coventry Theatre Orchestra conducted by Bill Pethers. It was a dress rehearsal and all artists performed their acts under the scrutiny of Alec Shanks. We were very excited as we had never played together with an orchestra before. Dave was quite concerned as he had no idea how the parts that he and Les Baguley had written for the orchestra, were going to sound. We got through Telstar ,did our comedy routine, sang Let it be Me and then under the watchful eye of Bill Pethers for the first time ever we played Lawrence of Arabia with orchestral accompaniment. It sounded great and made a tingle go up my spine. Our “play off” music turned out fine, which consisted of a few bars of “Telstar” which the orchestra played nicely but which did make us smile a little. We had never heard “Telstar” played by a brass section before and we were amused by the sound of it. It was quite interesting for us to watch all the other acts run through their routines. Mike and Bernie were very funny and all the skits that they did either alone or with the help of some of the dancing girls came across very well. Bert Weedon’s act was good and he played his music in a very pleasant manner. He was billed as the King of the Guitar which was an appropriate title for him. One of his numbers that he played had over 2000 notes in it. He claimed that he held the record for playing the greatest number of notes in the shortest time. He was probably correct about that as he did play incredibly fast and didn’t miss a note.
Bob Williams had the strangest act. It was basically a performing dogs routine. As it happened his troupe of dancing poodles were in quarantine and could not appear. They were hidden away somewhere on the roof of the theatre. All he did in his act was to hold a conversation with this old looking Spaniel called Louie that literally looked as if he was on his last legs. The dog did absolutely nothing. He completely ignored Bob Williams’ orders and requests and appeared totally disinterested in anything. He basically looked like a canine that had just come back from the taxidermist. At the end of the act the dog just strolled off stage looking very professional and aloof. Bob was an American artist and had actually performed at the London Palladium with his partner Louie.
Johnny Hackett did a very professional comedy routine with his Liverpudlian style of humor. Stan Stennett did a musical and comedy set assisted by Kris Keo. Stan and Kris had been long time regulars on the Black and White Minstrels Show. They were followed by Adele Leigh whose act was comprised of a set of romantic numbers which she always performed flawlessly with her well trained operatic voice.
At the end of the first run through of the show the entire cast was instructed to gather in the foyer of the theatre for a meeting with Alec Shanks He proceeded to inform us that the show was running way too long and either some of the acts had to be shortened or somebody or some act would have to be cut from the show. This was poorly received by the cast as nobody wanted to cut down their act. Mike and Bernie were obviously not going to be asked and so the problem was really put upon the rest of the cast. At one point the conversation got quite heated between Stan Stennett and Alec Shanks with Stennett basically telling Shanks that he had been thrown off better shows than this, and he was prepared to walk off. I was feeling worried about the Tornados as I half expected Shanks to criticize our act and when he brought up our name I expected the worst. He told us that our comedy routine was being cut out of our act to save time and that we should play “Telstar”,”Let it be Me”, and “Lawrence of Arabia” On Saturdays when we did two shows we were allowed to play only “Telstar” and “Lawrence”. We argued against this but we had no choice in the matter. Shanks told us that we had been hired as an instrumental group as a contrast to the rest of the show and that the comedy routine was not needed. On the Saturday shows that followed I made a point to get a little dig in and after we played the opener “Telstar” I would announce “Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen we would now like to finish with the theme from “Lawrence of Arabia” In a write up which appeared in the local Coventry newspaper concerning the show it was written that it was a pity that the Tornados spot was so short and that they were deserving of a longer set. Anyway nobody got thrown off of the show and the acts were somewhat shortened so that the show ran for the correct length of time. On that Thursday we did the final dress rehearsal. This performance was attended by certain members of the public and all the proceeds were donated to a recently founded fund to aid dependants of police officers that had been killed when on duty. The next day being Friday was the opening night of the show. Everything went well without a hitch and we were all pleased with everything. It was really a great feeling to be appearing on a first class professional show.
One thing that we as the Tornados found out was that we had quite a lot of time on our hands during the running of the show. We were not required to appear on stage until the end of the first part where we did or routine with the dancers in the Love and Marriage sequence. We had plenty of time to put our stage makeup on and get into our morning suites. After the interval we were the first act on after the opening dance sequence and then we did not reappear until the finale where we had to stand on a staircase and wave to the audience. We were given straw boaters to wear and joined the cast in singing “Bye Bye Blackbird” to close the show. This was a much better deal for us as the Tornados compared to the Blackpool show where we had to be onstage for most of the evening. This was less work and more money which we of course enjoyed.
We soon settled into the daily routine showing up at the theatre by 6 pm. The show started at 7.30 pm. and was over by 10. There was a speaker in every dressing room so that all the acts knew at what point the show was at. This enabled every one to be ready to take the stage at the time they were required. After about ten days on the show I was able to recite the whole show along with the acts as the sound was transmitted through the speaker. I knew all the punch lines and gags and each night I recited the whole show in the dressing room much to the annoyance of the rest of the group. In the end Dave Watts had to say “For Christ’s sake shut up Robbie” and that kept me quiet for a while. There was a small private bar backstage for the cast to enjoy and we began to frequent it from time to time in between our acts. We would meet the other acts there and get acquainted swapping stories with each other. Mike and Bernie liked their whiskey and Mike loved to puff on his pipe while standing at the bar. From time to time some of the dancing girls would pop in for a drink and Pete and I, as always, were keeping our eyes open for nice looking ladies.
One evening during the interval Pete and I decided to go up to the bar for a lager and lime. As we walked in we noticed two dancing girls having a drink together. One was a brunette the other a blond. I had actually been keeping an eye on the blond one as she appealed to me and I often strolled backstage while they were doing their dance routines and watched her from the wings. She was a good dancer and I enjoyed watching her. Pete and I joined them at their table and we all chatted together. The brunette was Ann and the blonde was Jackie. Ann had been in the Tiller Girls and had also worked as an assistant for the famous magician David Nixon. She told us that she used to get cut in half by him in his act and said that he was a very pleasant person to work with. Jackie had also been in the Tiller girls and had done many shows with the Black and White Minstrels and had also danced at the London Palladium. She knew Stan Stennett and Kris Keo very well as they had all worked together before. Seeing that Pete was already making considerable headway with Ann to the point that he had asked her out and she had accepted, I had to make my move on Jackie somehow. I just virtually blurted out, “By the way I would like to say thank you”. Jackie looked puzzled and asked me “For what?” And I replied “For saying that you’ll come out for a drink with me”. “I didn’t say that I would” she answered and my heart sank. Then she smiled and added “But I will”.
Once again Pete and Robb had scored a couple of girls together just like we had always done, and as always we used the Commer van to pick up the girls and take them out for a drink. It was a great evening sharing conversations about the business and various people in the business, and winding up at Peter’s place where we were staying. Peter was a great host and made Pete and I and our guests feel at ease. He even had us all listening to Richard Burton reading Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas. We dropped the girls off and I was surprised to find out that Jackie had her own caravan and car to tow it. She explained that she took it wherever she worked and always had a place to stay and saved a lot of money by not having to pay hotel bills. Her friend Glennis who also danced on the show was staying with her so we stopped in to say hello.
About two weeks into the show on Friday 21st October 1966 at around 9am a disaster struck the village of Aberfan in South Wales. A waste tip (slag heap) had slid down the Merthyr Mountain destroying many houses and virtually decimating Pantglas Junior School. The children were returning from assembly where they had just been singing “All Things Bright and Beautiful” when the disaster struck. There were 144 people killed with 116 of them being children between the ages of 7 to 10. There were also 7 teachers killed and only a very few children were pulled out from the rubble alive.
The following week we were approached by the Cooper organization through Bert Weedon and Stan Stennett who asked us if we would be willing to play at a benefit show in Cardiff for the victims of the Aberfan Disaster. They explained that we would be put up in a fine hotel and would get money for petrol. We of course consented and made our way to Cardiff that Sunday. Bert Weedon had just finished his set when we arrived and it wasn’t long before we were playing our set. The theatre was packed with many celebrities and everyone was dressed to the hilt in tuxedos. As we played I noticed two sharply dressed men sitting together in the Royal Box. One of them in particular seemed to like us and gave great applause and acknowledged us with waves of his hand. I had no idea who these guys were but I presumed that they must have been somebody important to be seated in the Royal Box. We hung around the theatre for some time talking to various people and had a few drinks from a case of wine that had been placed backstage by a sponsor of the show and eventually decided to return to the hotel for the night. As we were about to drive off a guy came up and asked us where we were staying and we told him The Angel.
At around 1am that morning when we were all sound asleep we were woken by the phone and Pete picked it up and found out that someone over at a local hotel wanted us to have a drink with them. We all gestured “no” and Pete apologized and we all went back to sleep. A few minutes later the phone rang again and Roger answered the phone. He told us that these guys called the Kray twins said that it would be in our interest to go over and meet them at the Piccadilly Hotel. Dave was quick to explain to us that we had no choice, we had to go.” You don’t know who these guys are” he warned. “Remember those two guys in the Royal Box? They’re the Kray Twins. “So who are the Kray Twins?” we asked. “They’re the two biggest gangsters in London, like the head of the Mafia, they’re the fucking Kray Twins, they’ll kill us if we don’t go over there, my dad used to be copper in London and I’ve heard about them, they could nail us to the wall if they wanted”.
We were all out of bed and dressed and ready to go in two minutes flat, crowding into the elevator, pouring into the van and speeding over to meet the Kray Twins. When we arrived in the lounge, we noticed a large group of celebs gathered together near to the bar, and way over on the other side of the room sat the Kray brothers accompanied by Reggie Kray’s wife who we later found out was Frances. We approached their table and introduced ourselves and were invited to sit down with them and have a drink. They introduced us to their older brother Charlie and a couple of their henchmen who were standing behind them. One of them had a big scar on the side of his face and looked real scary. After the drinks were ordered they passed out cartons of cigarettes to us and introduced themselves as Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Ronnie was definitely the talker and started up a conversation with us. He looked at us with a kind of leer, telling us what a great band we were and how good looking we all were. “You look lovely boys, just like the Beatles” Ronnie said while Reggie kept pretty quiet and his wife Frances did not speak at all. In fact I noted that she looked unbelievably depressed. Her face was completely without expression and you could see that there was something wrong in her life or with her herself. Not too long after she took an overdose and died. I remember Reggie as looking like the hardest looking guy I had ever seen. I remembered the Teddy Boys from Gloucester and how some of them had reputations as being real hard guys and nobody would even dare to look at them, but Reggie Kray could put them all in his pocket.
It soon became clear to us that Ronnie Kray had certain things in mind for the Tornados. He continually praised us for our good looks, told us how much better we were than all those other celebrities congregated on the other side of the lounge that were nothing more than snobs, and then mentioned that he was interested in managing the group and had various contacts in the U.S.A. with whom he could arrange a tour of America for us. In fact he requested a phone to be brought to our table and called an American contact that was currently visiting the UK and was staying in London to do some business deals with the Krays. Ronnie raved to him about what a fantastic group we were, continually talking about our good looks. He eventually hung up the phone and assured us that he would be sending us to the States.
The drinks kept coming and the Krays were knocking back the gin one after another. At one point Reggie started to ridicule Ronnie because he had pledged to buy a painting by the famous artist Andrew Vicari, which was a work of art the artist had painted especially in support of the Aberfan disaster. Vicari was actually born in South Wales in 1938 and attended the Swansea College of Art. Ronnie had won the bidding to buy it for 1000 pounds which was a hell of a lot of money back then. The painting had been auctioned during the interval. At one point Dave and Roger decided that they had to go to the men’s room and left the table. Ronnie Kray also got up after them and followed them to the toilet. The rest of us just remained there and chatted. When Dave and Roger returned Dave was visibly pale and told me in a whisper that Ronnie had offered him 5 pounds to have a piss with him and that Ronnie kept saying how much he liked Roger’s blond hair. Back at the table Ronnie was making an obvious move on Roger who kept complaining that he had a cold and didn’t feel too well. Ronnie was whispering to Roger and was showing him this big diamond ring that he was wearing. Later that night Roger told us that Ronnie had said that the ring was worth 5 grand and he offered it to Roger if he would spend the night with him. Ronnie had also told Roger that he preferred boys to girls which offended Roger. When Ronnie asked Roger if he had gone off of him because of what he had said Roger replied “No” and requested that Ronnie should not talk about those things any more.
This whole scenario was absolutely uncomfortable for us as we feared the Krays because of their reputation as portrayed to us by Dave, and who would have ever dreamed that one of them was gay? This only added to our predicament. After my episodes with Joe I was at least relieved that Ronnie had not made a pass at me. I was off the hook this time.
However it seemed that Ronnie was adopting a certain closeness to Dave as Dave was a Londoner and the rest of us were basically “Up from the country”. Just before we left, Ronnie invited Dave to come and meet him in the East End after the Coventry show ended. Dave said that he would but we all knew that Dave was petrified. It was time for us to leave so we all said goodnight. I can’t remember if we all shook hands but we left knowing that the Krays, particularly Ronnie had a definite interest in the future of the Tornados.
The general feeling that we got from talking to some members of the cast who were present at the hotel that night, was that the Krays were there to make themselves look good in the public eye. Something to counteract and in some ways to detract attention from all the crimes that they were alleged to have committed. I was only in the company of the Krays for a couple of hours and was awed by their presence but not having heard of them before that night, I could not form any opinion as to their sincerity regarding the disaster benefit. However having read biographies on the Krays and seeing continual references to their generosity, particularly Ronnie’s which was sometimes apt to be reckless, and remembering that Reggie had berated his brother for buying the painting at the benefit for 1000 pounds, today I would say that their patronage of the Aberfan Disaster Benefit was sincere. I believe that irregardless of where their wealth was gained, be it legally or illegally they were basically willing to share some of it with people or causes that they believed deserved it and needed a helping hand. We did find out later that the case of wine which had been put backstage to be used by the performers was provided by the Kray Brothers. We also found out later that the famous actor George Raft (1895-1980) had been scheduled to attend the benefit. Sure enough his name was on the list of acts and celebrities that were to be appearing on the show. He was denied entry into the United Kingdom because of his associations with the underworld. He also managed a high class gambling club in England. It seems highly likely that Raft’s involvement with the Aberfan benefit probably came through the Krays. At this time they were courting their counterparts and fellow businessmen from across the pond attempting to set up deals and do business with them. Remember Ronnie had called up a good friend of his who was visiting from the States to impress the Tornados that he could send us to America for a tour.
The following morning we went around to the local bank to cash a cheque that we had been given to cover our petrol expenses but it had been made out to the Tornados and as we had no bank account under that name and couldn’t actually prove who we were they would not honor the check. Together we did not have enough money to buy the petrol to return to Coventry. As we returned to the hotel not quite knowing what to do we bumped into Peter Murray the renowned Dee Jay who had been on the benefit show. He asked us how we were doing and we proceeded to tell him our tale of woe. He said that he would put this right for us and would accompany us to the bank and vouch for us. He even said that if they wouldn’t cash the cheque he would provide the petrol money for us. When we walked up to the teller Peter Murray was recognized immediately and proceeded to explain our predicament and how we had performed for the Aberfan Benefit. That was about all it took and Pete Murray even endorsed the check for us and we were given the cash. So, many thanks to the famous Dee Jay we were able to get back to Coventry.
It was good to be back in Coventry and to see Jackie Grant again. We had been out a couple of times and she invited me to stay with her and her friend Glennis over in her caravan. She offered to make a steak dinner for us all. After dinner we talked about things and the conversation got around to Joe Meek and his séances with Geoff Goddard and their alleged contact with Buddy Holly. Jackie and Glennis were thrilled at the thought of holding a séance and I was into it too so we decided to get a glass and arrange the letters of the alphabet and see what would happen. After the usual “Is there anybody there? stuff, and a few more tries nothing seemed to be happening so thinking of Joe I suggested that we should try to get in touch with Buddy Holly. After a few attempts the glass began to move and when we asked if Buddy was there it spelled out yes. Just like Joe had done with Geoff Goddard I decided to ask for help with songs or lyrics. When we asked for a good song title it spelled out “Just a longing for you near me”. We also got a reference to a middle of a verse of something but we couldn’t make it out. Then all at once the glass began to move quite fast and spelled out “Look for loving in Pamela”, which I presumed to be another song title or line. Pretty soon the energy seemed to fade and we lost Buddy and nothing much happened after that. I tried to get in touch with my late uncle Bill but that was fruitless so we decided to end the séance and have a cup of tea. I guess that I really should have knocked three times on the side board just for Joe but unfortunately I forgot. I started reading what we had written on the piece of paper while the kettle was on the boil and referred to the line “Look for loving in Pamela”. “Oh that’s me” smiled Jackie. Jackie Grant is my stage name and my real name is Pamela, Pamela Eastwood.
I was surprised and quite tickled to find this out and it felt a bit strange knowing that someone that I had known for a couple of weeks as Jackie was really Pamela. I was happy with both names. Jackie Grant was “flashy” showbiz” and Pamela Eastwood was intriguing and mysterious. Glennis and Jackie swore that they had not pushed the glass during the séance and they were both as surprised as I was. One thing I know for sure is I didn’t push the glass. That night after we had gone to bed a tremendous rain storm erupted. The rain came down in torrents accompanied by very strong gusts of wind that literally rocked the caravan. It went on for hours and hours with out any let-up and none of us could sleep. Everything seemed extremely weird and you could imagine if you opened the curtains, and looked out into the storm you would see the face of the devil howling at you. I guess that somehow we had angered the spirits with our séance. As I tossed and turned that night I couldn’t help thinking that there was something about Jackie that I didn’t know about, maybe something that was said in the séance, but I had no clue what it could be.
On the show I would still stand and watch her from the wings, as she danced in that sexy Jungle outfit. She would often see me and smile. She started turning up in the wings during our set and we exchanged smiles. When we sang “Let it be me” I was hoping that she would think that I was singing it for her. Everything was cool and I was happy and excited with this new person in my life.
One evening as we were walking back to our dressing rooms after the wedding scene I saw Jackie on the public phone which was in the hallway backstage. Roger turned to me and said that she was talking to Uncle Wiggly (not his real name). Uncle Wiggly was a famous ventriloquist who had been on the London Palladium and had done a lot of T V and was actually quite a celebrity. According to Roger he and Jackie had worked together on many shows and although he was married Jackie was apparently his girlfriend and he called her most nights. It seems that everybody knew except me. I felt sick inside and the happy world that I was floating in had now become a world of sadness and gloom I guess somebody must have wanted me to know and had told Roger to put me wise. I had a gut feeling that it might have been Glennis or even Jackie herself. I guess that this was the unknown thing that I couldn’t figure out on the night of the séance and the wild storm. To make matters worse a few days later one of the dancers held a party at her house as she and her family lived locally. We all attended and Jackie and I went with Pete and Ann in the van as usual. When we arrived, Jackie, who had been acting a bit quiet and strange, told me that she wanted to “circulate” and for the rest of the evening stayed away from me. I watched her with her glass in her hand as she held conversations with the guests and in particular Roger. Towards the end of the party Roger came and told me that Jackie wasn’t feeling well and had asked him to drive her home. What could I say? I had no car and couldn’t drive anyway. They left together without Jackie saying good night to me I felt pretty rotten. I presumed that it was over and that was that. I kept pretty quiet for the next couple of days and kept my distance. There were no smiles from the wings.
Anyhow we did get a good laugh when Davie Watts the mischief maker took off his top hat during the wedding sequence to reveal a sock and his underwear on his head which he had carefully placed in his hat. When he bowed his head they slid off and landed in the middle of the stage where they sat until one of the male dancers was able to kick them off into the wings. The girls were all hysterical and we could hardly sing for laughing. It caused a hubbub back stage as the dancers all gathered around laughing and with Bert Weedon and Stan Stennett wanting to find out what all the excitement was about. Even Adele Leigh who was usually secluded in her dressing room poked her head out from behind her door to see what was up. When we were questioned about the occurrence by the theatre manager, Dave maintained that he had forgotten that he had left the items in his hat. We all knew that he did it on purpose. We saw him put them there. Dave always liked to cause a stir and make things happen just like he had done on the Blackpool show, but this was a high class show and these kinds of pranks were definitely not the norm. At one point Jackie approached me asking what had happened on stage as she had not seen what had happened. I took this as a gesture on her part to make contact with me again as I had not spoken to her or acknowledged her for the past two days after the party. We met later by chance in the bar and I told her that I had heard about Uncle Wiggly. She said that she was sorry about the party and went on to tell me about her relationship with Uncle Wiggly who she had been seeing since she was sixteen. She told me that her mother was angry with her because she was seeing a married man. She said that she was kind of mixed up with things right now but we could be friends. I accepted that and felt a little happier but knowing that I was up against the famous Uncle Wiggly I realized that there was some hard work ahead to win her over.
On a Saturday afternoon between the shows we got together with Bert Weedon and Stan Stennett back stage for a jam session or as we called it, a blow. It was good fun playing along with such a virtuoso as Bert Weedon and Stan Stennett was a very competent player too. Stan had his own plane and actually took Dave and Pete up for a joy ride one weekend. After the session as we were standing around talking Bert Weedon asked us if we wouldn’t mind telling him how much we were getting paid from George Cooper. (Bert worked for the same organization). We told him that we were getting 50 pounds a week which was 250 pounds for the band. Bert said that Cooper had told him that he was paying the Tornados 500 pounds and as we were five in the band and Bert was one he said that he could only get 250 pounds for Bert. Bert assured us that he usually made 500 pounds a week on these shows. Bert reckoned that Cooper was probably getting one thousand pounds a week for the Tornados and Bert Weedon and by paying both parties a total of 500 pounds a week they were probably putting 500 pounds in their pocket instead of their usual 10 % which would have been 100 pounds. Bert confronted Harry Dawson on this and was told that the company had been losing money and they had to make it up some way. As the Tornados we never questioned Cooper about this and that was the end of it All we knew was in all likelihood we had probably been cheated by the Cooper Organization once again.
We were into the last couple of weeks of the show and Dave Watts was getting itchy. Since the sock in the hat prank nothing much had happened on the show and it was basically a day in day out routine. This changed rapidly when the great mischief maker Davie Watts decided that he would conduct an experiment with a tin of smoke powder that he had bought at a joke shop for use in our cabaret act. Dave said “Let’s try some of this stuff and see how it works”. Pete took a look at the directions and read, that for a large amount of white smoke ignite a small amount of powder in a small tray or bottle cap. Pete said that we had nothing to put it in so Dave went ahead and set fire to the whole tin right there in our small dressing room. In no time at all the room was filled with the thickest white smoke that you could imagine. It was like a white fog that was so thick that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face or anybody else in the room. It was lucky that we were ready for the finale as we would not have been able to see to get changed. We couldn’t open the dressing room door as we were afraid that the smoke would spread to the outside so we all stood in the dressing room until it was time for the finale and made a speedy exit from the room when it was time, hoping that nobody would notice anything.
During the finale the whole cast would be onstage and we were positioned at the back of the stage on a staircase with straw boaters and joined in the singing of “Bye Bye Blackbird”. About half way through the song, we began to notice that white smoke was billowing out among the musicians in the orchestra pit, and also from beneath some of the chairs in the first few rows of the audience. As the curtains closed for the end of the show the cast onstage were all chattering with excitement thinking that the theatre could be on fire. We were saying “Oh shit Davie has really done it this time”. We obviously knew what it was and later we found out that the smoke had been sucked out through the ventilation system from the vents in our dressing room. When we arrived backstage and opened the dressing room door, some smoke still remained but most of it had gone out through the vents. We all faked our surprise saying that somebody must have left a lit cigarette near an open tin of smoke powder and that had caused the powder to ignite. Once again the Tornados were at the root of the trouble. The next day when we arrived at the theatre we were told to report to the manager’s office. We knew what was up and we sauntered into the office and stood together in a row in front of the manager’s desk. He started to question us as to what had happened the previous evening and didn’t appear to accept our explanation of what had happened with the smoke powder. After the sock in the hat we were suspected of deliberately setting fire to the powder, and rightfully so. We got a royal dressing down and were warned that this was our last chance and if anything further happened we would be fired from the show.
Jackie and I seemed to be getting a little closer together but the thought of Uncle Wiggly was always present and I noticed that Jackie was still talking to him by phone. I tended to try not to think too much about that and hoped it would go away. Just before the final week of the show we had a Sunday off as The Cooper Organization did not have us booked anywhere. Pete asked if Jackie and I would like to go to Gloucester with him as he was taking Ann down to the farm for the weekend. Jackie said that she would like to go so we arranged to stay with my parents. We left right after the show on Saturday night and arrived at Clegram Road in the early hours of Sunday morning. I let us in as I always carried a key. My parents were sound asleep upstairs and Jackie and I fulfilled our passions on the living room carpet. It was at that time the most beautiful thing that could have happened and it did really look like I was winning the battle against Uncle Wiggly. We spent that Sunday with my parents and returned to Coventry that evening. Pete was going to stay with Ann over at her place that night so I took Jackie with me over to Peter’s place where we snuck in and spent the night together. Jackie and I were hitting it off real well, and so were Pete and Ann.
The final week of the Birthday show had arrived and we were scheduled to do the last show on December 3rd which was the eve of my 21st birthday. On the Friday evening there occurred the third event which had it happened a few weeks earlier would have been the last nail in our coffin and we would have probably been fired from the show. In the finale we as the Tornados were supposed to stand on a staircase that was built on a rolling scaffold. John and Dave stood at the top above a few of the dancing girls and Pete Roger and I stood a little lower on the stairs. The rest of the cast was gathered in front of us with Mike and Bernie at center stage. On this particular night and as the show was drawing to a close John and Dave were up in the bar having a few drinks. We all took our places on the stairs waiting for the curtain to rise and Dave and John were missing. They had totally forgotten about the finale. The curtain rose and we went into the final song. As it ended and Mike and Bernie were doing their goodnight bit to everybody, a loud clambering noise was heard behind us. Mike and Bernie and the whole cast turned around to see what the commotion was about and witnessed John and Dave appearing over the scaffold as they had climbed up from behind, cocked their legs over the rail and took their places at the top. The audience was in stitches and this comical event stole the show from Mike and Bernie which pissed them off. Thank god there was only one show after that.
The following day being the final show and the eve of my 21st birthday, it brought about a special feeling in the air for me. When I arrived I found an array of birthday cards waiting for me, some from family and friends and some from the dancing girls. The show went just the way it had gone, for the most part, for the past eight weeks, very smoothly and with no problems. The only difference was that we were doing everything for the last time and that tomorrow it would all be over and we would be entering a new phase in our careers as professional musicians, leaving to perform in some other city, in some other club or dance hall. I watched Jackie dance in the Jungle routine for the final time, smiling but knowing that tomorrow I would be going in one direction and that she would be going in another. Just when things were getting real good we would be saying good bye.
When the final curtain came down there was a kind of quietness in the air as all the artists left the stage. It was like everybody knew it was the last show and it was over. For the most part many of the artists hung around and had a few drinks in the bar as an extended way of saying good bye. Jackie and I met there after the show and so did Pete and Ann. At one point Jackie asked me to come upstairs with her to the dancer’s dressing room. We took our drinks with us and sat in the room together in front of the mirrors. It was quiet and peaceful in the room away from the usual back stage noise. She told me that she had a present for me and pointed to at a picture she had of Uncle Wiggly taped to her mirror. There he was together with his dummy. She stood up and peeled the photo off the mirror and tore it up in front of me. She told me that it was over between her and Uncle Wiggly. I guessed that I had won the battle with the ventriloquist man and Jackie was mine. She told me that she would be going home to her folks in Barnsley and would soon after be leaving for rehearsals to dance pantomime in Bradford for the holiday season. I told her I was going home too and would stay in Gloucester and then soon after leave for London to make new recordings with Joe Meek. I told her that we were hoping to try to record our first single with a vocal “A” side and it was going to be exciting.
Jackie gave me her mother’s home phone number as she would be staying there. I had no number to give her as we had no phone at my parent’s house. We all met again in the bar as Roger and Dave were leaving for London. They were answering the siren call of the Diamond Twins. John Davies was anxious to get going as he wanted to see his girlfriend Debbie as soon as possible, so we had part of the band saying good bye to their girls and the other part looking forward to saying hello to their girls.
Ann and Jackie were teary eyed and Pete and I kept a stiff upper lip. Jackie said that her brother would come the next day to tow her caravan back to Barnsley. Pete, John and I decided that we would drive back to Gloucester that night and were about ready to leave. We left with hugs, kisses and good byes and “I’ll miss you. I’ll call you”.
I took the back seat in the Commer van and with Pete at the wheel and John as co-pilot we drove off into the night. I was able to stretch out on the bench seat but with everything on my mind I was unable to relax. I stared up out of the window at the dark shapes of the trees as they sped by. It was going to be a long drive and a long night. We had the radio set on Radio Luxembourg which would sometimes fade in and out and just about dawn as we were driving over the Cotteswold Hills it started to come in clear. It was Bob Dylan fading in with “Mr. Tambourine Man”. I sat up, yawned, rubbed my eyes and with a very peaceful feeling I looked out of the window as the sun began to rise. I wrote two songs that season and both were about Jackie and me. I was to record “Signs of You” with Joe in the coming weeks. That recording has yet to be found in the “Tea Chests”. The other song was “The Ventriloquist Man” which Joe didn’t get to hear. I featured it on my “Joe Meek” tribute C D Lost Songs of the Sixties. Both of these songs were personal to me and greatly influenced by my infatuation with Bob Dylan.