Joe calls us back to the studio for more recordings.
Joe changes his attitude towards Dave’s Hammond organ and our pleas to do a vocal “A” side.
The Tornados perceive a different demeanor from Joe and he suggests that the band record “No More You and Me” a vocal that he has come up with.
A memorable final recording session with Joe where Joe gets unwelcomed visitors and screams at them to leave. Who were these visitors?
More contact with Ronnie Kray.
A horrible Christmas away from home.
Robb pays a visit to Jackie Grant.
Roger and Dave relate the details of the last “No More You and Me” session with Joe where Richie Blackmore plays guitar and the Diamond Twins do backing vocals.
Doubling with the Searchers and playing cards with Wee Willie Harris.
Robb spends a little time at home in Gloucester.
Then more time off with a visit to Jackie Grant in Bradford.
Robb hears the devastating news of Joe’s death on the radio.
The Tornados attend Joe’s funeral in Newent.
George Cooper offers the Tornados the Great Yarmouth Summer Season with Freddie and the Dreamers.
Under pressure Tornados sign with Cooper to back the Yarmouth show.
More gigs and Robb and Jackie break up.
More time at home and a miserable failed attempt by Robb to get Jackie back, but he will get a song out of it.
Robb takes an air rifle slug in his rear in Spennymoor.
It was very nice to be home with my Mum and Dad on my 21st birthday. They had bought me a watch which they had in inscribed to me on the back. Although It was a very happy day I was feeling sad as I was missing Jackie and a bit later in the afternoon I decided to walk up to the end of the street to the phone box to give her a call. She had gotten back home safely and asked me how I was doing. I told her I was fine but that I missed her a lot. She said “I miss you too Luv”.
Joe wanted us back in the studio right away so Pete, John and I made our way back to London. Pete was lucky because Ann was rehearsing for a show in London and they would get to see each other. We dropped John off at a tube station and he went over to stay with his cousin Graham (Grime) Wilkes, and all I could do was hang out with Pete and Ann until we got a hotel to stay at. We stayed at the McDonald hotel where we had stayed at some time before. It was a semi decent place, but now had become rather run down and decrepit. It made things worse for me as unlike Pete who had Ann with him I was alone in a depressing run down room wishing I could be with Jackie.
We all met up at the studio the following day and gathered together with Joe. Pete had mentioned to me that Joe had sounded down and depressed in the last phone conversation that they had together, and it was clear to see that although Joe was pleasant and complemented us on our good performance at Coventry, underneath, there was something that was keeping him preoccupied. Time has shown that at that time he was financially strapped and was also under all kinds of stress coming from all different directions. As he had mentioned to us in a past letter he was hoping that the “Telstar” case would be over in his favor soon, so he must have been walking on a tight rope not knowing if he would fall off and land in the safety net of the “Telstar” royalties, or that there would be no safety net and he would fall into oblivion.
He was definitely different. That feeling that you had around Joe of not knowing if he would explode or freak out at any time, had seemed to have disappeared and although he was noticeably depressed he seemed more relaxed and did not take a domineering attitude as we talked. As usual we started to implore Joe to let us do a vocal A side for the next single and his reply was that we had “Lawrence of Arabia” in the can. We continued to plead our case with Joe and to our surprise he suddenly said “You can do whatever you want to do” and that if we wanted to do a vocal he had a great song he wanted us to hear. We went from ecstasy to despair as we dreaded what kind of song it was that Joe wanted to play us. Fortunately we were to be pleasantly surprised for when he played the demo to us we liked the song very much and we thought that the arrangement that we could do for it would put it in with the current trends in music. We had been inspired by the Small Faces at Blackpool and hoped to approach the number with that style of music in mind. Joe suggested that we bring up the gear and rehearse the song in the studio Dave turned to Joe and asked if we could bring up his Hammond for the session and surprise number two, Joe agreed to let us bring it up. This was not the Joe Meek that we were used to. It was hard to believe that he was letting us do whatever we wanted to. We all went down to the Commer and started to bring the equipment upstairs. When it came to the Hammond it was a ceremonious affair. We weren’t just lugging an organ upstairs we were lugging it up to Joe Meek’s studio, finally accomplishing something that we had been hoping to do for quite some time. Getting the Hammond up the first flight of stairs was reasonably easy as it was lashed to a sled and the stairs were just a straight flight. However the second stair case was another thing as the steps were very steep and the flight twisted around almost like a spiral staircase. We almost had to hold the organ up vertically to get it up the stairs but after a heavy groaning session we got it up to the control room and pushed it into the studio. Dave was ecstatic and very excited to start the rehearsal. When I was down home in Gloucester I had come across the little 8 watt Selmer amp that had been my first amplifier. When I got my Vox A C 30 I lent the Selmer to some friends and when they returned it the speaker was blown out as they had played bass through it. The good part about it was it had that natural bluesy distorted sound which I liked and as I thought it would be good to use for recording I had brought it with me. Joe seemed interested and asked me why I was using the little amp so I explained that I liked the distorted sound. Joe put a mic in the back of the amp and stuffed a blanket in on top of it. The amp made a few little pops and sputters here and there but Joe wasn’t worried about that and just gave it a polite tap on the top and the noises stopped. Once we were all set up Joe left us to learn the number and went downstairs to talk to Patrick Pink. It took us very little time to get the number down. It was called “No More You and Me”. and was quite a simple song but we thought that it had something special. It began to take shape and with the use of the Hammond and the little distorted amp we developed a different, if not new sound for the band. It was a great feeling that we all shared and we believed that at last we had turned the corner with Joe and were beginning to head in the right direction. There was an air of excitement in the studio and when Joe appeared in the doorway with a smile on his face announcing that it was beginning to sound good we all felt happy and relaxed.
We continued to run through the number and Joe adjusted the sounds in the control room and from time to time would come into the studio and fiddle with the amps and microphones. At one point he was messing with some of the wires that were trailed through the doorway and round the corner into the control room when there was a pop and a bright flash. He quickly remedied the problem with a little electrical tape and all was well again. He couldn’t help but tease Dave about the Hammond saying that we had dragged it all the way upstairs for nothing as the Lowry sounded just as good. The smile on Joe’s face as he said it gave it away that he didn’t really mean it and probably was pleased by the sound of it.
After running through the backing a few more times Joe’s head popped around the corner and he said that he thought that we were ready to put it down. Midway through the second take Patrick Pink appeared nervously at the studio door and when the take was over he whispered something to Joe who throwing his hands into the air said to Patrick “Oh tell ’em to fuck off” and sent him back down stairs. Joe stood at the top of the stairs and hearing that conversation was still going on he charged down the stairs shouting “Fuck off! Fuck off” and everything went quiet and shortly we saw Joe reappear again at the top of the stairs He was a little red in the face but was able to force a nervous smile saying “Well that’s got rid of them”. It is quite possible that Joe’s unwelcome visitor was Ronnie Kray as in later years Patrick Pink had stated that Joe had ordered him to tell Ronnie to fuck off. There is also a possibility that it may have been Violet Shenton who had come upstairs to ask for her rent money. If I had to choose I would say that it was Ronnie Kray as only a few days earlier Dave Watts had met with Ronnie at a pub called The Grave in Whitechapel in the East End. Dave related to us that he had received a phone call from Ronnie and had made arrangements to meet at the pub. When Dave arrived in the afternoon the place was empty except for the bar tender and Dave was feeling nervous and was not sure what to do. So clutching the envelope which contained the publicity shots which Ronnie had requested he decided to wait. He took a seat at one of the tables and sat there hoping and praying that he would not end up in a real grave! Soon after, the doors opened and two burly looking characters appeared. They approached Dave and asked him what he was doing there. Dave answered saying that he was Dave Watts from the Tornados and that he had an appointment to meet Ronnie Kray. One of the men left and his partner walked over to the door and locked it. This made Dave even more nervous. The guy returned to the table and thanked Dave for coming and asked him how much it had cost him to come over to the meeting and Dave answered saying that he had paid 2 shillings and nine pence for his train fare, and was surprised when Ronnie’s henchman pulled out a five pound note and handed it to Dave saying “I think this will take care of the train fare for you” Dave began to feel a little better as he had five pounds in his pocket. A fiver in the 1960’s was worth a hell of a lot more than a fiver is today. After about twenty or thirty minutes Ronnie Kray arrived with two gang members and sat down with Dave and reaffirmed that he was definitely interested in taking over the band. Ronnie explained that he had a contact in the States who owed him a big favor and that they would set up a tour for the Tornados all over the country. Ronnie looked at the photos that Dave had brought and was pleased and continually made references to the appearance of the band and “What nice looking boys we were”. Once again Dave mentioned that we were managed by Joe Meek and that our agents were the George Cooper Agency. Ronnie reassured Dave that he would take care of George Cooper and Joe Meek.
We eventually got the backing track down to Joe’s satisfaction and called it a day. There was a different atmosphere in the air as we put away our guitars. Joe seemed to be quite relaxed, his voice had a very gentle timbre to it and as he was talking he seemed to be figuring out something in his head. Sometimes he would look away and his eyes seemed like they were looking into infinity; not just focusing on some nearby object. It really seemed that he was accepting us as friends and there was a certain kind of closeness between us which was probably enhanced by the Tornados themselves. I say this because we were now looking at Joe in a different light. At last we had won our way with him in having him record what we considered to be a more modern type of music which could give us a chance at breaking into the Rock mainstream. Joe had dug up this song from somewhere and we liked it and it looked like everything was beginning to fall into place. We talked about the new song and Dave indicated that he would like to join me on the vocals, as he had done previously on the lost track called “I Wonder Why?” which we had recorded before leaving for Coventry. Joe turned to us with a look of excitement in his eyes and a shy grin of pleasure on his face and said “It’s gonna be a double A side” “Theme from Lawrence of Arabia” with “No More You and Me”. Our hearts dropped on hearing this. Was Joe really going to do this and make “Lawrence” technically the A side with “No More You and Me” the B side which was good enough to be the A? He could see that we were upset and when we started to speak in favor of the vocal he said “Ok, ok, the vocal will be the A side that’s what I had in mind anyway”. We made arrangements to meet the following day to put on the vocals and as we were all filing out of the studio Joe stopped us at the door at the top of the stairs and said “I’m going to ask Richie Blackmore to play on your record”. We showed up at around 10 am. Before we started on the vocals for No More You and Me, Joe asked what else we had in the way of new songs. As I was the only person in the band who was writing, I offered a song that I had recently written in the few days that we had off after the Coventry show ended. Pete and I were not writing together at that time as we were both pursuing our relationships with our girlfriends. We didn’t spend so much time together as we did in the Saxons, and Pete and I never wrote another song together after but I continued to write songs alone. The song I offered was called “Signs of You” and came out of my relationship with Jackie Grant. The song tells the tale of the guy whose girlfriend has left him and he is haunted by the things he is seeing that remind him of her. It was also inspired by the Bob Dylan album Blonde on Blonde. It seems that some how I knew inside that Jackie would leave me one day. It started to come to me after Jackie had ignored me at the Party and I finished it in Gloucester. To my knowledge it has not been found among the Tea Chest Tapes. It was the very last recording that we did with Joe. I did actually rerecord it when I was in the Churchills as a B side. I gave the writer’s credit to Romano and Trebich who were the Lead Guitarist and drummer in the band so they would get some share of any royalties that would be earned.
With “No More You and Me” the vocals went down quite well as I remember and we had them completed in good time. Dave and I sang together which was a change as Pete and I had always sang together before. One of the differences with this session compared to previous sessions with Joe, was that there was no banging on the stairs, dragging bells over a glockenspiel, or jamming a screw driver into an echo chamber: this time it was a more or less straight recording which made it seem that Joe could have been getting away from the gimmicks that he was used to using and hopefully would produce a more up to date style of recording and music. I believe that I did do the vocals on “Signs of You”, I don’t remember if they were that good, only finding the recording amongst the Tea Chests will provide that answer.
I can’t really remember what we all talked about after that session. I don’t think that Joe said that much only mentioning again that he would use Richie Blackmore and that Dave and Roger should bring Sandy and Sonia, (The Diamond Twins) to the studio after Christmas so that they could put vocal backing on “No More You and Me”. We took the gear down to the van as we would be leaving the following day for Sunderland where the Cooper Organization had us booked to play over the Christmas Holidays. Joe said goodnight and we left walking down the stairs and out through the bottom door into the cold evening air of Holloway Road. I lit up a cigarette and climbed into the van. We drove off down the road and I sat there looking out of the window not knowing that this was the last time that I would ever see Joe Meek.
At the beginning of January 1967 Dave Watts began to keep a day by day account in his diary of the events that took place with the Tornados for the whole of that year. Little did we know at that time how important those notes would be forty years down the road. I would like to give a huge thank you to my dear old mate Davie Watts for his cooperation in allowing me access to those invaluable pages of his diary. Over the past forty years memories can get a little cloudy but with Dave’s great help we have been able to get a clearer picture of the way it was.
All in all it was a lousy Christmas for us that year 1966. Dave Watts said it was the worse Christmas that he had ever had in his life. We were booked to play in Sunderland at a casino club for the week before Christmas. We opened up on the 18th of December after driving up and booking into some horrible accommodation. It was a decrepit bed and breakfast place. The beds were awful and the breakfast was ghastly and completely inedible. We decided to skip the breakfast for the rest of our stay. The performances in the club were very depressing as there was basically no audience each night. Just a few people trickled in here and there. I guess that we couldn’t really have expected anything more than this as people were getting ready for Christmas and the business at the casino was slow. They probably needed to get a band for the week at a cheap rate and The Cooper Agency supplied them with The Tornados. On Christmas Eve which was on a Saturday the casino was completely devoid of any audience and we basically played for ourselves. Pete and Dave went to collect our pay and returned with Dave saying “Well we actually got paid boys” We all felt grateful as we were all dreading that there would be no money to pay the band as the club had been empty all that week. We had made arrangements for an early wake up call at the bed and breakfast for six in the morning as we had to travel to Widnes on Christmas day to appear at the Regency Club. There was a small speaker in the room with a volume control and was connected to somewhere downstairs in the bowels of that horrible place. At precisely six in the morning we woke up to the sound of bells, followed by the radio announcement, “This is the BBC on Sunday the 25th of December 1966, we wish all our listeners a very Merry Christmas” Roger Holder poked his head out from the grimy sheets and moaned, “Oh go to fucking hell”.
We couldn’t wait to get out of that miserable dump and soon got on the road. As it was Christmas Day morning there was absolutely nowhere open to get any breakfast so with rumbling stomachs we started our journey over the Penine chain of mountains and sometime around noon apparently in the middle of nowhere we spotted a Chinese restaurant with a sign advertising “Christmas Dinners”. I had never eaten a Christmas dinner in a Chinese restaurant in my life. Christmas Dinner was always eaten at home, but we were far away from home and with pangs of hunger in our stomachs we decided to take a chance. If some body told me I would be celebrating Christmas in a Chinese restaurant in the middle of nowhere on top of a mountain in 1966 I would have said they were crazy. The food turned out to be not bad, not like home of course, but at least it helped to fill a small part of that big hole that was created by the first Christmas that I had ever spent away from home. To add even more sadness to this bleak holiday I had found out a week earlier that Jackie was to be working in Gloucester, of all places, over the holidays and would be staying with my parents while she was appearing at the Gloucester Regal Theatre. I cursed the Cooper Organization for booking us into dead end clubs over the Christmas when I could have spent the holidays at home with my folks and my girlfriend.
Widnes turned out to be just about the same as Sunderland was; a week of miserable, depressing shows in a next to empty club. Christmas night was really bad. The club was almost totally empty and after the show Roger and Pete got invited to a party somewhere and John, Dave and I feeling left out of all the celebrations moped off back to the Hotel in the early hours of Boxing Day morning. It was an old, Gothic, creepy kind of place where you could imagine Vincent Price lurking in the shadows. We climbed up the big wooden staircase in the dim light and bid each other sad goodnights and went off to our separate rooms. I climbed up onto the high bed with its huge four posts and lifted up the heavy blankets and crawled into bed. Looking around the room I noticed the old landscape paintings on the walls and the huge wardrobe from out of which at any moment I expected some kind of bloodthirsty vampire to emerge. I laid there thinking about Jackie and feeling a bit envious of Pete. He was really the only one of us who was happy. His girl Ann lived in Birkenhead and he stayed over with her for the week; while the rest of us were away from family and friends Pete at least had his girlfriend. I imagined my Mum and Dad sleeping soundly down in Gloucester. It had probably been the usual Christmas with my folks going around next door to celebrate with the Reeces and other friends and neighbors. For sure my Dad had played the piano all night and had probably sunk quite a few pints and so had everybody else. They would all sit around and sing the old songs till about midnight and as the evening wore on they would all get jolly and their noses would turn red just like the characters on an old Christmas card. The only time that the music would stop was when the plates of turkey sandwiches and pickled onions were passed around.
And here I was holed up in some bleak hotel in Widnes, in some spooky bedroom on Christmas night while everybody except John, Dave and I were out partying. I couldn’t sleep so after a while I opened the drawer on the big wooden night stand and pulled out a bible that had been placed there by some religious institution. It was black with red edged pages and it looked appealing to me. Flipping through the pages I began reading. I finally put the book down around four a. m. switched off the light, turned over on to my side and fell asleep. At the end of the week I couldn’t resist tucking that bible into my suitcase. It followed me around for many years through different groups and countries. I eventually lost it somewhere and have no idea where.
We were all glad to get out of Widnes and with New Year’s Eve over the miserable holiday season came to an end leaving us all to look forward to our second year as professional musicians playing cabaret shows doing one night stands, a summer season and recording with Joe Meek. Back down in Gloucester once more I made my pilgrimage to the phone box to talk to Jackie and was lucky to catch her at home. She explained that she had some time off before she had to leave for Bradford where she would be working at the Alhambra Theatre in the pantomime which would be running there. As the Tornados next gig was to be at the Cabaret Club in Burnley which was not too far from Barnsley she invited me to stay with her folks for the weekend and she would drive me to the club as we opened up on the Monday night. I accepted her offer gladly and at the end of the week bright and early on Saturday morning I took the train to Barnsley. On the way I thought about what it would be like to see Jackie again. I had not seen her for about a month since the end of the Coventry show. I noted how different it was to carry on a relationship as a full time musician compared to when I was semi- pro. I could see my girlfriend whenever I wanted as I was never away from home but now as I was dating a girl who was a professional dancer and we were both in show business traveling regularly, it became clear to me that this would be a much different relationship. I started to think about what would happen if some day I wanted to get married and raise a family. How would I be able to do that if my fiancé was an entertainer just like Jackie and we were constantly on the move both in different cities at different times and even possibly different countries? The thought was pretty scary so I decided to leave it in the back of my mind and not dwell on it anymore.
The train rolled into the station to the sound of the loud speaker system announcing “Barnsley, this is Barnsley”. I stepped down to the platform and with suitcase in hand walked towards the exit. As I made my way outside, there she was walking towards me and with her top coat open showing her short skirt and her blond hair blowing in that cold January wind Jackie Grant looked terrific. After the much welcomed hugs and kisses we got in her car and drove to her parents’ home. It was almost like starting over again and we talked about the past month in which we had been apart. Mr. and Mrs. Eastwood were nice folks and they made me feel welcome. They had pretty strong Yorkshire accents and it took a little getting used to in the beginning to understand everything they said but that was fine. I never really noticed that accent that much when Jackie spoke but it did come out a little more now that she was at home with her folks. During the conversations Jackie’s Mom and Dad addressed her as Pam and it was kind of awkward for me as “Pam” had always been “Jackie” as far as I was concerned but I started using “Pam when with her parents and “Jackie” when we were alone.
On Sunday I found out what real Yorkshire pudding was like. It was excellent and was served as a starter with a good helping of gravy. It was also served with the main course together with the roast beef and potatoes. Dinner was followed by cups of dark brown tea which Jackie’s dad sipped as he sat in his arm chair beside the coal fire. I believe that he was or had been a coal miner and he looked like a man who had worked hard all his life. That night the temperature dropped down and the weather forecast predicted ice and snow. Mrs. Eastwood suggested that Jackie should not drive me to Burnley as we had planned due to the bad road conditions, but Jackie insisted that she would take me.
We arrived safely in Burnley Monday afternoon and met the rest of the band at the Cabaret club.
As we set up the gear Dave and Roger told us how they had been up at the studio with Joe with the Diamond twins, and that Sonia and Sandra had put vocal backing on “No More You and Me” Joe really liked the Twins and they did some back ups on another of Joe’s recordings. Joe told Sonia and Sandra that he would like them to make a record at R.G.M. so they should start to look for material. We were eager to find out what Ritchie Blackmore was like. Roger said he thought Ritchie was a decent bloke but was most impressed with the fuzz box that he used. Ritchie listened to the track as Joe set up the mikes for the girls and with a few suggestions from Joe came up with a nice line. Ritchie completed his part in about an hour. The Twins put on their back ups together with Ritchie and may have possibly double tracked them after Ritchie left. At the end of the session Dave asked Joe if he would play them the recording we had done of the “Theme from Lawrence of Arabia”. Joe consented but Roger said that he thought that Joe had sped up the recording and that it didn’t sound as good as before. Versions found in the tea chest tapes show no sign of being sped up. That session was a milestone in the short time that we worked with Joe because at last we thought that there was something new coming out of R.G.M. A more modern and maybe a little more serious music. We looked forward to its release knowing that we could play it on stage with confidence as we felt that “No More You and Me” was up to date. I don’t believe that we ever played it live.
As Roger Dave and the Twins left the studio Joe assured everybody that the vocal would still be the A side and Lawrence, the B side. As they said goodbye to Joe and took the stairs out into the street, this would be the last time they would walk down those stairs and the last time they would see Joe Meek.
That week in Burnley we were doubling with the Searchers which meant that we would play two shows each night. We opened up at the Cabaret Club Burnley at 8 o’ clock and closed the show in Brierfield at the 77 club at 11.30. The Searchers played the opposite, opening at Brierfield and closing at Burnley. We enquired at the Cabaret club regarding suitable accommodation and were informed of a good place close to the club for 5 guineas per week which included breakfast, an evening meal and the added luxury of central heating. There was also a communal kitchen where guests could prepare tea and snacks and a sitting room to relax in. After we had finished setting up and achieved a good sound balance we made our way over to the digs. Jackie and I left in her car and on the way over we arranged that as Jackie would be staying the night with me that we would have to masquerade as a married couple. Jackie wore no rings so I gave her my amethyst ring which I wore on my little finger which she turned around on her ring finger to make it appear as a wedding ring. I swiveled my onyx ring around in the same way. When we arrived at the digs we were introduced to the proprietor, a very nice lady. Jackie explained that she was a member of the famous Tiller Girls dancers and that we had been recently married and as we were both on the road we were taking the opportunity to spend a night together. The landlady felt sorry for us and immediately began to mother Jackie offering a cup of tea and showed us to our room.
We went down very well at the Cabaret Club but the 77 Club did not have a very good attendance. It was rather awkward to play at the 77 as due to the traveling time between the clubs we had to use the Searchers’ gear and as they had no keyboard player Dave had to play the house organ there which was a big old Hammond similar to a B 3. When we made it to the club there was no time to experiment with sounds on the keyboard and although Dave was not happy with the situation he made the best of it. This was the first time that Jackie had seen us play a nightclub gig as on the Coventry show we only had a three song set. When we finished our set she remarked on how much she had enjoyed the music which pleased me and I was also very happy that we were together. We all drove back to the Cabaret club in the Commer van and then took our separate cars back to the digs. Dave decided that he would drive the Commer and upon arrival at the digs decided to make a cup of tea before going to bed. When the rest of us returned we couldn’t find Dave anywhere. He was not in his room and the van was parked outside and we began to get worried. Suddenly Dave appeared through the front door in fits of laughter as he had made a mistake and entered the house next door. Hearing some noise downstairs the house owners came down in their pajamas and asked Dave what the hell he was doing in their house and were ready to call the police. At that point Dave realized that he was in the wrong place, politely apologized and made a hasty exit. Those were the days when, unlike today people left their doors unlocked at night. The following day Jackie and I went down to breakfast at around 11 a.m. We had spent a great night together but as the weather was getting worse she decided that she should leave for home. There was no snow but the wet roads had turned to ice. I warned her to drive carefully and sadly kissed her goodbye.
Frank Allen, the Searchers’ bass player was staying at our digs together with their drummer. I don’t remember the drummer’s name but I do remember that he was a coalman in London before he played pro. We all hung around together in the afternoon and played a few games of cards and swapped stories, experiences and generally talked about the business. Frank Allen was a seasoned pro with a confident personality He was very funny and all in all a likeable character. He had previously played with the Rebel Rousers, Cliff Bennett’s band and had replaced Tony Jackson. Chris Curtis had also left the Searchers by this time. Mike Pender and John McNally both lived in that area so they were staying at home and we didn’t get to meet them. Frank Allen told us that the legendary Wee Willie Harris was also staying at our digs and a little later that afternoon he entered the sitting room. We expected to see him clothed in his Teddy Boy outfit together with his bright pink afro hairstyle but all in all his late fifties image was not present and he had the appearance of a regular guy with short graying hair. He did however have a terrific personality. He entertained us with card tricks, magic shows and funny jokes which had us pissing in our pants with laughter. Just before tea time I decided to call Jackie to make sure that she had arrived home safely. When I got through to her I found out that she had skidded off the icy road and crashed into a shop front on her way home. Luckily she was ok and there was little damage but as she was a bit shook up her brother had met her to drive her home. Needless to say Jackie’s mother was quite angry as she had warned her not to drive me to Burnley.
On that Monday we had played a few card games with the Searchers and Wee Willie Harris but as the week wore on the card games started as soon as we woke up and lasted until we left for the gig. John Davies and I were not card players or gamblers so we decided to watch while the rest of the Tornados matched their wits against the Searchers and Wee Willie. It was interesting to see how the game would go back and forth with winners and losers continually changing places and with the Searchers’ drummer continually threatening to bet ten quid on his hand things sometimes got a little scary. The shows were going quite well at the clubs and at the end of the week we got three encores at the end of our set which left us feeling in good spirits. At the end of the week we had a Sunday night gig at the Princess and Domino clubs in Manchester after which we all made our way home. The New Year seemed to be starting off with a lack of gigs and we would not be working for another 12 days. When Pete dropped me off at Clegram Road I decided to unload my Marshall amp and guitar in the hope that I might write something new during the time off.
It was always cold in January in Gloucester and sometimes that cold rain would fall in the evening. It was always nice to be home for a while especially when it was cold; and instead of sleeping in some grubby hotel or bed and breakfast in some depressing place up north, I found myself enjoying the luxury of home cooked food, and sleeping in my once familiar bed in the back bedroom, with so many layers of blankets on it that once I got into bed it was almost impossible to move. It was nice to sit in my father’s chair and to warm my feet in front of the fire place, sip on a cup of tea and toast crumpets in front of the fire.
All this comfort of being back home helped me come up with a song. I imagined my sister Georgina and I sitting together with our mum in the glow of the fire in the evening. We were looking at the old photo album and my mother was turning the pages, informing my sister and me who the various relatives were. The rain was tapping on the window and the wind was howling in the chimney. I called it the “Sunday Evening Song”. It ended up with my mum brushing a tear from her cheek when we were putting the book away. This song would wind up almost two years later sung in Hebrew on an album of children songs by then top Israeli singer Arik Einstein.
My sister’s boyfriend Ray would often take me out for a drink and we’d ride on his motorcycle. I took a ride up the town and said hello to some of my friends at the department store. I had spoken to Jackie and she told me that she would soon be leaving for rehearsals in Bradford and she gave me the phone number and address of the Alhambra. I wanted to send her something as a surprise and Ray said he could get me a nice teddy bear so I decided to send it to her. Ray drove my sister and me out to the country to see some poodle puppies at a breeder. They had only one left and the breeder said he was the pick of the litter and was saving him for last. Georgina fell in love with the puppy immediately. The breeder said she would take eleven pounds for “Sweep” so I bought him for my sister.
By the end of the twelve days off I was getting itchy to be playing again. We all met at Drayton Manor Park for the Friday night gig and drove to Barton upon Humber to play the Saturday night at the Army Drill Hall. Dave said that he hadn’t received any contracts from The Cooper Organization except for one that had just come for a gig at the Starlight Rooms in the Kingsway Casinos in Southport. This sounded quite impressive to us but it would not be until February 9th which meant that we would be off for another eleven days. I called Jackie and was able to reach her at the Alhambra and hearing that I had some time off she said I could come and stay with her if I wanted. I decided to go by train Saturday night and Jackie would meet me at the Station in the morning.
It was a long dark night on that train journey. Those night trains were always slow as they had to schedule the times for the mail pick ups. We had to change at Leeds and had to wait for a few hours for the connection to Bradford. It was weird to be the only person in the waiting room in the dead of night with nothing to do but huddle over the coal fire that was burning in the fireplace. Each time a train pulled in I would walk out onto the platform hoping that it would be the train for Bradford. I asked a few railway men who were standing around and one of them said that he was the driver who would be taking the train to Bradford and it would be due in about an hour.
After what was the longest hour the Bradford train pulled in and I climbed on board and entered what I thought to be an empty compartment. I opened the sliding door and put my suitcase up on the rack and in the dim light I saw an old lady who looked like she was about to stretch out on the seat and fall asleep. She sat up as I entered and seemed a little unhappy that some body was invading her little space. I decided that I would stay and as we sat down on opposite sides of the compartment we struck up a conversation. After a while she said she was going to sleep and I said that I would do the same. I have never been able to sleep in trains or planes so I basically laid there while she snored away. At one point I must have dozed off and was woken by a sound. I opened my eyes to see in the dim light the old lady standing up and releasing a fusillade of farts one after the other in a way that I can only call a “Real Razzmatazz”. Dave Watts had a certain expertise which enabled him to fart at will. Once in a hotel room he claimed that he could do 300 farts one after the other. He in fact did that and we counted them. I laid there trying to hold back my laughter as I imagined Dave Watts and the old lady embroiled in a farting contest. At one point in the night she got up and left the compartment as we pulled into a station and got off the train. I laid back and tried to get some sleep but it didn’t come. My mind was far too active with the sound of the Saturday gig still ringing in my ears and the excitement of seeing Jackie again.
It wasn’t until the sun started to come up and it’s early morning rays penetrated that musty compartment through the condensation on the window that I really thought that I could actually fall asleep. I was almost disappointed when the train pulled into Bradford Station as I was in that state when you feel that you are so tired that you could just drift off to the most peaceful sleep that you ever had but you had to get up. I straightened up my clothes, ran my fingers through my hair and dragged my suitcase down from the rack. It was a crisp cold morning as I walked along the platform looking toward the exit to see if Jackie was waiting there for me. I didn’t see her anywhere as I handed in my ticket stub at the gate. I hoped that I would see her car parked by the curbside but it wasn’t there. I walked back and forth a bit not knowing what to do wondering if something had happened. Once the noise of the train pulling away was over there seemed to fall a very still silence and apart from a pigeon that was cooing somewhere it was totally quiet. I sat down on one of the benches and waited for some time. It was early Sunday morning and it seemed like all of Bradford was still asleep, when I finally heard the noise of a vehicle approaching from some distance. And there she came around the corner driving a bit faster than she should have and pulling up by the curb she rolled down the window “Throw your case in the back, sorry I’m late luv, the alarm didn’t go off.”
Jackie drove me around the city center and showed me the Alhambra where she was working at and then we went on to where her caravan was parked in an empty lot next to a transport café of sorts. It was a convenient spot as it was not too far from the theatre and we were able to use the facilities at the café. We spent the rest of the afternoon making up for lost time and talked about what we both had been doing since we last saw each other. She told me that they were still rehearsing the pantomime for another week and the opening night would be on the coming Saturday which was 4th February. I could go with her to hang out at the theatre for the week and Johnny Webster was there as he and another male dancer were working on that show. I had worked with Johnny and his brother Jimmie Webster on the Birthday Show in Coventry.
We arrived around 10 am on Monday morning at the theatre where Jackie proceeded to introduce me to everyone. The director was a very nice guy and told me that I could watch the rehearsals or be back stage as I wished so I felt at home and comfortable. I spent most of the time that week hanging around in the male dancers’ dressing room with Johnnie and the other dancer, but from time to time I strolled around back stage to watch the rehearsals. At lunch time we would all meet at an Italian restaurant down the street and eat spaghetti together with the director who was a real pleasant guy who always made sure that I could get in on the conversation. The rehearsals were going along as planned and by the time that Friday came around for some reason I told Jackie that I might just stay at the caravan for the day instead of going to the theatre. I didn’t want to wear my welcome out there and anyway Jackie had got me a ticket to the opening night show on Saturday so it would be good to take a break so that I could enjoy the show more. Around 12 o’ clock I was beginning to feel sorry that I didn’t go down to the Alhambra. I had nothing to do, no guitar to play and was totally bored. I took a walk outside in that rather bleak looking empty lot and strolled over to the café for a cup of tea. Later back in the caravan I remembered that Jackie had told me that she had a portable radio and looking above the bed on the shelf I spotted it nestled in the corner. Luckily the batteries were in good shape and the B.B.C. came in fine. After the 1 o’ clock news was over I laid out on the bed and snoozed for a while, drifting in and out of sleep Just as the 2 o’ clock news was beginning I began to stir and turned on my side to hear the announcer reporting that the independent record producer Joe Meek had been found shot dead in his London studio. He went on to say that Joe Meek was the composer of “Telstar” which was a multi million seller recorded by the Tornados, and that was that.
I immediately jumped up from the bed and then sat right down again. Did I hear that right? Yes Joe Meek, shot! I sat there hearing the news bulletin repeat itself over and over again in my head it was almost like a mantra which stopped me from thinking of anything else. I didn’t think of the guys in the band or where they were at the time or what we were going to do without our manager and record producer and how it might affect our future in the music business; all I could think of was that Joe was dead and that some how he had been shot. Due to the lack of information given on the news I presumed that somebody had gone by the studio and shot him.
I had a feeling of helplessness as there was no way that I could talk to anybody about this. I had no phone or for that matter any body’s phone numbers. I knew that Pete was in Liverpool with Ann but I had no idea how to contact him. On the 3 o’ clock news it was reported that Joe Meek had in fact shot himself with a shot gun after apparently shooting his Land Lady Mrs. Violet Shenton. This was absolutely unthinkable that Joe had shot and killed Mrs. Shenton and then shot himself, but it was true. All I did was sit there in total silence, just like the time when Joe had gone berserk and told us all to fuck off back to Gloucester. Eventually when Jackie finally returned home I could at least talk to somebody about it. It wasn’t the same as being able to talk to the guys in the band but it was the next best thing. Although Jackie knew little of Joe and could not feel it as I did it was still good to be able to talk to somebody.
The following day, Joe’s death and everything that was affected by it really hit home, and I decided to return to Gloucester on Sunday morning by train and hope to contact Pete Holder at the farm if he had returned from Liverpool. Jackie and I had spent a great week together but I had to leave, regrettably, and after going to see the opening night Pantomime show which did take my mind off things a bit, on Sunday morning Jackie drove me to the station and we said our goodbyes It seemed we were always saying goodbyes not knowing when we would see each other again. I had lots of time to think on that train ride back to Gloucester and for quite some time I sat alone in a compartment. At one stop a large group of what I thought to be soccer or rugby fans joined me in my compartment. They were a noisy bunch of hooligans who proceeded to tear the place apart. They pulled all the light bulbs out of the sockets and threw them at each other while I sat there trying to look cool and unaffected by the mayhem they were creating. It was a great relief when they all finally got off the train. I was grateful that I didn’t get the shit beat out of me and was happy just to shake the bits of broken light bulbs from my hair. Passing through Stroud I got up and stood in the passage way and pulled down the window and stuck my head out to breathe the fresh air. From time to time when the wind changed direction I got a face full of smoke from the engine and everything seemed very strange because I was coming home to the area where Joe Meek came from knowing that he was gone, and thinking how things were with his family in Newent. I knew that they had to be completely devastated. Joe Meek was gone and would never throw a temper tantrum, create another “Telstar”, kick another organ or sneak a kiss from an unsuspecting boy in the studio, ever again.
Back home in Gloucester, my folks had heard about the tragedy. We sat and talked about it but there was very little that I could really say except that I knew Mrs. Shenton was Joe’s landlady and that we had seen her briefly on a couple of occasions when we were at the studio. I called the farm and Mrs. Holder told me that Pete was not there but she had heard from him and that he was on his way home. She also said that everyone was in a state of shock in Newent and that they were all wondering what could have happened. In the early part of the week it was announced in the Gloucester Citizen that the funeral for Joe Meek was to be held at St Mary’s church in Newent at 11 am on Friday 10th February just one short week to the day of the mysterious murder- suicide. I finally got to speak to Pete who said that he had been at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool staying with Ann his girlfriend as she was working on the pantomime Tom Thumb starring who else but Jimmy Clitheroe. At some time in the evening somebody came up to Pete and said that they were playing “Telstar” on the radio and talking about Joe Meek. It was then that Pete heard the terrible news and just like me was in a state of having nobody to contact and that I was the first member of the band he had spoken to. As we talked there was really very little that we could say. We didn’t even talk about how or why and it just seemed that we were in a numb state of shock. The main thing at that time was that we could not understand why Joe had shot Mrs. Shenton. On the few occasions that we had met her when she was visiting Joe at the studio she was always all smiles and very pleasant in her demeanor. There have been many stories of how she was constantly complaining about the noise but in all the times we were recording there I do not remember that she came to complain.
On Thursday 9th February the day before the funeral we were booked to play at the Starlight room at the Kingsway Casino in Southport. We decided that we would have to drive home directly after the gig and that Pete, John and I would stay at the farm so we would all be available to attend the funeral. When Pete came to pick me up Thursday morning we decided to get some Valentine cards as February 14th was coming up shortly and send them to Jackie and Ann as a surprise. I thought that I would send Jackie’s card to her mother’s address and decided that I would put Uncle Wiggley’s initials on the card. He was the Ventriloquist that I mentioned earlier in the story and that was not his real name. I did this because somehow I didn’t really trust Jackie and thought that she may have still been seeing him occasionally. By doing this I was testing her to find out if she would mention the card to me. This would prove to be a stupid mistake on my behalf that I would pay for in the future.
Pete had brought Joe Cavanaugh with him. Joe was a farm hand who worked for Mr. and Mrs. Holder and took care of the milking. He wanted to come along for the ride and act as our road manager and set up the gear for us as he had done this for us on several occasions when we were the Saxons. As it turned out he did nothing but complain the whole time about all the work he had to do to the point that Pete wished that he had not brought him along. When we arrived at John Davies’ place we discovered that John had only just heard about Joe’s death as he had not listened to the radio or read a newspaper in the past few days. Just like us John was in a bewildered state not understanding why this whole thing had happened.
We met up with Dave and Roger in Southport. This was the first time we had all been together since the tragedy and we were all basically in the same state of disbelief and completely baffled by the mystery of the whole thing. Dave said that he was with his brother at Biggin Hill working on a car outside in the driveway and had heard the news on the radio late that afternoon when he had gone into the house to get something from the kitchen. At first he thought that it may have been a hoax of some sort but did find out that it was the truth and just like us Dave could not figure out why it had happened. In fact in his diary for Friday February 3rd 1967 Dave had written “Joe Meek…Dead” followed by a question mark, which seemed to ask was it really true and why did it happen. Roger said that he had been staying with Sandra (Diamond Twins) at her parents’ home in Maidstone in Kent. They had tried to call Joe that fateful morning to see if he had any news of a release date for “No More You and Me” but got no answer. They decided to go into town to do some shopping and upon their arrival back home they were met at the front door by Sandy’s father who informed them that he had heard on the radio that Joe Meek had been shot dead at the studio. Roger and Sandy were in complete shock and disbelief but when the news came through again on the radio the sad truth became clear to them. It seems that I was the first member of the New Tornados to hear of Joe’s death as I sat there alone in Jackie’s caravan on that cold bleak morning in Bradford.
We sat around in the dressing room as we waited to play our set, all of us feeling that we were in the “Twilight Zone”. Surprisingly enough we didn’t talk about how we were going to make records from now on or who would manage us; all we knew was that Joe was gone and our minds were totally numb from the shock and mystery of the whole tragedy. The only thing that we could ask was “Why”? We did talk about “No More You and Me” and in that conversation we realized that our dream to have the first ever “A” side vocal single to be put out by the Tornados was now totally shattered and completely unreachable. Just when it seemed that Joe was coming around to our way of thinking and everything was looking good, it was all over, and could never be again. There would be no second chance this time, Joe was gone and couldn’t give any more second chances.
We decided that we would all return to the farm after the gig so that we would be ready to attend the funeral that morning. John, Pete and I drove back in the van whilst Dave and Roger drove by car and after only a few short hours of sleep we woke up on Friday morning and sat around the long dining table while Mrs. Holder made breakfast for us. We wondered what the approaching funeral would be like and still talked about Joe’s death with the family. We all got ready and drove down to the church at around 10. 45 and we waited in the churchyard for the family to arrive. Dave and Roger drove into Gloucester as Sonia and Sandra were arriving on the train from London. When they arrived Sonia and Sandra were wearing matching trouser suits and they looked very attractive as always. When the funeral party arrived Joe’s casket was rolled into the church followed by the Meek family. Mrs. Meek was supported on each side by Joe’s brothers Eric and Arthur who were accompanied by Joe’s sister Pam. It was difficult for Mrs. Meek to walk at the best of times as she was partially crippled and even with her two sons as support, this would be the hardest walk that she would ever have to make. The total devastation and heartbreak could be seen on her face and also on the family’s faces. This modest hard working country family had lost their beloved Joe who had moved to London to seek his fortune and fame and from very simple sources had produced some huge hits including the world famous “Telstar”. There was also a certain air of sadness at that time. It was because it was bad enough that Joe had committed suicide but even worse because he had also murdered Mrs. Shenton. Under these circumstances it would be very difficult to sing the praises for one of the most important forerunners in the history of modern recording and mourn his loss because all of that was overshadowed by his crime of murdering his landlady. As far as a eulogy went I really don’t remember the vicar saying that much. It must have been an awkward situation as most people in Newent, although saddened by the loss of the greatest phenomenon to ever come out of their small town, felt that Joe Meek had brought disgrace upon them as he had murdered Mrs. Shenton. The scene at the grave site was very sad and upsetting as poor Mrs. Meek finally said goodbye to her beloved Joe. Eric and Arthur although they tried to remain stoic were obviously under great pressure to contain their grief, whilst their sister Pamela openly wept as she threw a handful of soil into the grave. She was tragically killed by a drunk driver in 1975 and Mrs. Meek (Biddy) passed away four years later. As the Tornados, the grief and disbelief was apparent on our faces as we all stared at each other not knowing what to say to anybody. Earlier that morning as we sat at the farm we thought that we would see an outpouring of Joe’s artists and business associates attending the funeral but nobody showed up. Apart from the Tornados and the Diamond Twins the only other people that could have been from show business were two older guys dressed in cowboy hats and wearing bootlace ties. Nobody seemed to know who they were except that they may have come from the Forest Of Dean. We didn’t speak to them but we did exchange polite smiles with them. It is possible that they may have been from a band called the Foresters who recorded with Joe back in the early days of his recording career.
We were indeed surprised that there were none of Joe’s other artists present at the funeral. We expected to see the Honeycombs, members of previous Tornados, Heinz, Geoff Goddard, or people from the Cooper Organization, but not a single soul was there. Obviously there had been a falling out with Joe and many of his artists which could have been a reason for some of them not to attend, but knowing that the methods of communication were not then as they are today, that could account for the absence of other artists. In those days you just couldn’t bring up a website and read about Joe Meek’s upcoming funeral arrangements on your computer. As the Tornados we were basically local, and due to the Holder family’s close ties to Joe Meek’s family we knew all the details concerning the funeral arrangements. We were lucky to be able to say our last goodbye to Joe Meek, who had taken us from our humble beginnings as the Whirlwinds and Saxons from his home town of Newent and by using us to create the New Tornados introduced us to the world of professional show business. In the lives of all his other artists, few friends and associates Joe Meek disappeared just as quickly as he had appeared and was now gone forever.
The New Tornados were now alone without the figurehead of Joe Meek to guide and provide for them. At this point we would have to fend for ourselves and make our own decisions, something that we never had to worry about before as Joe had made all our decisions for us. We never questioned anything and if Joe said that The Cooper Organization had us playing on the “Moon” we would have gone along with it. Now that the cushion called Joe Meek had been removed we were dealing directly with our agents and representing ourselves.
Just before the funeral, the Cooper Organization began their approach to get the Tornados to commit to be the backing group and appear on the Great Yarmouth summer season show which starred Freddie and the Dreamers. Dave Watts’ records show that the gigs had been few and far between ever since we finished the Coventry show in December, and what gigs we did have had been mostly depressing, low paying venues. We were working a little more than once a month. We met at their offices where George Cooper and Harry Dawson showed their disbelief in Joe’s murder suicide and hoped that we could shed some light on the mystery; but even though we were probably among the closest people to Joe we still had no idea how or why the whole thing happened.
When the subject of the Summer Season came up they wanted us to back the show and do our own act as we had done in Blackpool but the money they were offering was about the same as we had made in Blackpool and we thought that we were worth more than that. We brought up the lack of work and decent venues and said that we couldn’t make a decision. Harry Dawson hinted that they had not been getting good reports on our cabaret shows and had they been better then we would have been working more. We left agreeing that we would let them know our decision. As there was no work available in the next few weeks everyone left for their respective homes.
That weekend I decided to give Jackie a call at the Alhambra. She told me that she had received a Valentine’s card from Uncle Wiggly. Her mother had seen it and had called him about it but he had sworn that he had not sent it and that there was nothing between him and Jackie anymore. It was then that I should have kept silent and been happy to know that Jackie had told me about the card, but like the poor honest fool that I was I confessed to having sent it myself. Jackie was pissed off about the whole thing, and rightfully so and ended up asking me why I did it. “Just to know if you would tell me” I said. “Well you know now don’t you?” she hissed and that was the end of the conversation. I walked sadly back down the street knowing that I had probably lost the girl that I had stolen from the ventriloquist man and all because of my own paranoia and stupidity. I called her after a few days and was received with the same if not colder reception than before and as our conversations drifted apart I knew that our relationship had come to an end.
As there was no work to keep me occupied all I could do was hang around the house feeling totally sorry for myself. It didn’t take long for my parents to figure out that there was something wrong. Eventually my dad asked me how things were with Jackie and I told him that it looked like it was over. He was sorry to hear the news and said that he had liked Jackie very much as she reminded him of a girl he knew when he lived in Portsmouth as a teenager. During the war she was killed by a direct hit on the air raid shelter she was in, and her body was never found. Just a few scraps of her clothing and some of her blond hair was all that remained.
The next two and a half weeks dragged by very slowly and I was looking forward to getting on the road again. I was able at least to start writing a new song which turned out to be called St. Valentines Day Anniversary Dream which was written around the sad situation that I had brought upon myself. Optimistically, I hoped that it would all turn out to be a bad dream in which everything turned out fine in the end and I was reunited with my love. If only it would have turned out to be like that.
It was a relief to be back on the road again and on Sunday March 5th we drove to Sunderland where the Jimmy Dunn agency had arranged a few gigs for us for that week. After the first gig on Monday night we had two days off and basically just hung around the digs with nothing much to do. We called the agency for details of the Thursday night gig only to find out that it was cancelled and in order to deal with the boredom that had set in we ended up in a cinema on Thursday night watching the film “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” Friday we appeared at the Ivy League club and Saturday morning we showed up at the Dunn Agency to collect our pay for the gigs and get details of that evening’s venue. A letter had arrived addressed to Dave Watts and the Tornados from the Cooper Organization. This being a rather unusual occurrence Dave hurriedly opened up the envelope to find a letter from Harry Dawson. Harry said that he was amazed and disgusted with the attitude of the band with regard to the Great Yarmouth summer season and pointed out that they had represented the Tornados since their first hit “Telstar” in 1963 and had handled every Tornados group since then. They told us that they had an existing contract stating that they had sole rights to represent the Tornados and enough correspondence with Joe Meek to prove the close tie up with them and the Tornados. Harry’s final paragraph in the letter stated that we most likely did not know that if they wanted to the Cooper Organization could stop us from using the Tornados name and they themselves could form another group of the Tornados all this being in accordance with contractual agreements with the late Joe Meek. Whether or not this was in fact true most likely will never be known, but the Cooper Organization was basically saying that at that time they had the rights to the name of the Tornados. As we didn’t relish the idea of calling their bluff on this Dave and Pete appeared at Evelyn House on 14th March and signed the contract for the summer season at Great Yarmouth. It is unclear whether Dawson offered us more money as we had requested on our prior meeting with them but he did say that he was working on a certain deal that would be a benefit to us while we were in Great Yarmouth. Had Joe been alive at this time this scenario would never have taken place. There would have been no question whether or not we would play the summer season, but we cannot rule out whether as the Tornados we might have asked Joe to push Dawson to pay us more money. After all Joe was on our side and would probably have taken our side on the matter. Now with Joe being dead the Cooper Organization did not have to arrange any commissions for him which was a savings on their behalf.
Harry Dawson called Dave Watts towards the end of March with news that he had got us free digs for the summer season. We would be staying at a resort called the Ponderosa and would be given a two bedroom cabin to stay in complete with kitchen and bathroom. In exchange for this we had to do a thirty minute spot Sunday lunchtimes, in the clubhouse for the guests. It did look like Harry Dawson had made some effort to try to help us out after all and thirty minutes a week was not much to pay for free digs.
The last week of March found us playing some of the most unusual and out of the way venues that the Cooper Organization could come up with. After playing at the X L bowling alley in Middlesbrough where we spent the night at the Studley Hotel we spent the next day driving twelve hours to the next gig which was in Falmouth way down in the county of Cornwall. We arrived in the small town at around ten o’ clock at night only to find out that there was nowhere to stay. We drove around the tiny place searching for accommodation thinking that we would probably have to spend the night sleeping in the van. Suddenly in a small side street we spotted a sign in the window of a residence which read “Bed and Breakfast Vacancy”. It was well after ten p m at the time and when it looked like there would be no reply to our knocking we heard the sound of footsteps from inside. The front door was opened by the proprietor and his wife receiving us with looks of trepidation so we quickly explained that we were entertainers and would be appearing at the night club the following day. They were sorry to say that they didn’t have enough room for all of us. After some discussion they said that we could stay if we liked but the accommodation would be rather cramped. As we had no choice in the matter we ended up sleeping three in a bed and paid one pound and ten shillings each for the stay. The following day, much to our surprise the venue turned out to be pretty good and we played for a decent audience.
We had a relatively short drive the next day to the Hartland Heritage coastal area in Devon where we were scheduled to perform. We were surprised to find that the gig was to be held in a hall situated in the small village of Hartland. We arrived in the afternoon at the rather ramshackle place where we found an elderly custodian there. He was the only living being that we could see as the whole village was completely deserted and looked like some place that you might see in a horror film. We set up the gear and talked to each other and laughed about this strange place. We could not imagine what kind of audience, if any, we would have that evening. We asked the old custodian if there was a hotel anywhere in the village. He shook his head and in his thick Devonshire accent said that the only place we could stay at was at the Manor which was located down the street. We pulled up outside of the old very creepy looking place and noticed above the door carved in stone above some old crest, the date 1066. We knocked at the door using the big old fashioned knocker and the door was opened by an old man who looked something like a retired colonel from the army. We entered the gloomy looking foyer, signed the guest registry and paid for our rooms. Everyone that worked in that mysterious creepy place was old. The lady who showed us to our rooms had to have been well into her eighties and kept giving us these strange looks. At any moment we expected her to say that nobody ever stays in this place after dark due to the moans of the ghosts and the rattling of the chains. The walls were lined with old ancestral paintings and the heads of various animal trophies stared at us as we walked along the dim hallways to the sound of creaking floorboards. Our rooms were just as eerie. It was like stepping back in time. The bed was very high and creaky and the sheets felt damp and smelled musty. There was a nightstand with a large pitcher of water and a washbowl on it. We were all beginning to have second thoughts about this scary place but as there was nowhere else to stay we decided to stick it out and spend an hour or so resting in our rooms. Late in the afternoon we heard the sound of thunder and a rainstorm blew in off the coast. Dave Watts knocked on my door and invited me to his room where he pointed out the rain that was leaking in from the roof onto his bed. “Here Robbie this bloody place must have been built in 1066 and they’ve never had the bleeding roof repaired” he joked. John Davies joined us saying that he had decided to take a snooze but couldn’t sleep because of all the weird sounds he was hearing. We met in Pete’s room together with Roger who was totally freaked out by this “Haunted” house and we all decided that we would not stay there the night and that it would be best to leave after the gig, drive through the night, and return to our homes.
As it turned out 400 tickets were sold at seven shillings and sixpence each for the venue and it turned out to be an enjoyable gig. We couldn’t figure out where the people had come from and how they knew about the show as we had seen no signs posted that advertised the dance. We could only presume that they must have come from Bude or Bideford which were the closest towns to the village. After the show we drove off through the village past the creepy old manor imagining the ghostly sounds of creaking and groaning that were probably taking place inside in the dead of night. As Roger was going to meet Sandy at a venue where the Diamond Twins were working Dave decided that he would come with the rest of us to Gloucester and then get a train to London. Pete dropped us off at Clegram Road at 5 am that morning and my dad drove Dave up to the station on his way into work.
When he arrived home in Bromley at 11.30 a m Dave was greeted by his mum who told him that somebody by the name of Ronnie Kray had just called to speak to him and wasn’t that the man that the police had been questioning about some murders? Dave called Ronnie and made arrangements to meet him that afternoon at the Blind Beggar pub in the East End. Dave does not remember exactly what happened at that meeting but thinks that being as Joe Meek was now out of the picture that Ronnie’s interest in managing the Tornados was becoming greater.
Back home in Gloucester I was again faced with another 3 weeks of nothing to do as there was no work on the horizon until around the end of the month. I was reduced to moping around my parents’ house grieving for my lost love, Jackie Grant. One weekend my dad and I were talking and knowing how much he would love to play on a Hammond organ I called out to Aylesmore to speak to Pete but found out that he had left to visit Ann. Mrs. Holder said that Pete had unloaded the band’s equipment and it was in the barn over at the Welsh House where we used to rehearse. My dad and I drove over and got the key to the barn where we set up the organ and we had a blow together. My dad was in seventh heaven as he had always wanted to play an organ but at that time had never been able to afford one. I plugged in my guitar and we played a few of my dad’s favorite songs together. At one point he told me that he had only ever written one song in his life which was for one of his old girlfriends and he played it for me. It was a romantic waltz with words like “My love for you will last forever like the waves flow to the shore” Talking about old girlfriends our conversation came around to Jackie. We had a heart to heart talk about the failed romance and my dad mentioned that he would be working in Bradford the following week and asked me if I would like him to go over to Barnsley to see Jackie. I thought that it might be a last chance for me to regain my love and we decided that he would pay her a visit.
While my father was away in Bradford for the first week in April I spent most of the evenings at home talking with my mother and raiding my dad’s supply of home made wines. The days really seemed to drag and all I really could do was to keep waiting until my father returned hoping that he would bring some good news for me. Upon his return he did bring good news. He had been over to see Jackie and luckily she was at home with her parents as the pantomime in Bradford had come to an end. He told me with a hint of happiness in his voice that Jackie said that I could go up to visit her if I wished and to give her a call. For the first time in many weeks I started to feel a little happier as it looked like I might be renewing my relationship with Jackie. That evening standing in the call box I pressed button A when I heard Jackie’s voice answer the phone. The coldness seemed to have gone from her voice and after the usual chit-chat we arranged that I would come up to Barnsley by train the following Friday.
The reception I received from Jackie was what I might call cool when we met at the station. There were no hugs or kisses, just polite conversation. I could definitely feel that things were not the way they used to be, but I hoped that given time things would work themselves out. At her home things were not the same either. She basically ignored me for most of the time and I had to make conversation with her mother and felt out of place and uncomfortable. That evening Jackie went off to bed early leaving me alone with her mother downstairs. I felt awkward and miserable so as I was unable to talk to Jackie about us, I decided that I would see what I could find out from her mum. I could obviously see that everything was not working out the way I had hoped. During the conversation with her mum I asked what was the matter with Jackie and I was told that she just didn’t feel the same way about me anymore after I had shown my distrust in her and sent her the card from Uncle Wiggly. I explained to Mrs. Eastwood that I was very, very sorry that I had made such a stupid mistake and I wished that I could undo everything that I had done. She thought that it was a bit late for that and I went off to bed wondering what the hell I was doing there and began to feel worse than if I was at home moping around.
I spent that night unable to sleep, tossing and turning feeling that I was being punished for what I had done and by the time morning came I resolved to leave. As Jackie and I sat together in the kitchen that Saturday morning I told her that there was no point in my staying any longer and asked her to drive me to the station. She stretched out her hand and touched me softly and said, “Oh don’t go, my cousin will come over tonight and take us to a cabaret club to see a show”.
At that point I thought that well maybe things were going to be alright after all and a glimmer of hope appeared. We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the Rugby match on the T.V. and didn’t get into much conversation. That evening her cousin showed up and drove us to the club. Jackie decided that she would sit in the front seat with him and I was left alone sitting in the back seat feeling really bad and completely left out of the conversations that they were having. She spent the whole time talking to him and completely ignored me. As the night wore on I began to feel really bad and was now sure that the only reason that she had asked me to stay was to prolong my punishment.
The next morning I told Jackie that there was a train leaving for Gloucester at noon and asked her to drop me off at the station. I told her that I couldn’t figure out why she had said that I could visit her only to be treated in this way and her reply was that she couldn’t stop me from coming to visit her if I wanted to. What I thought was to be a healing and forgiving time turned out to be no more than a way for her to and hurt me for the unintentional stupid mistake that I had made. As we said goodbye at the station I had a feeling of sadness but at the same time a feeling of relief that I knew that it was finally over. In a way I felt glad that I had made the decision to leave and as the train pulled out of the station I decided that I would put her out of my mind, start to enjoy myself and get on with my life.
A few years later when I played in Jericho Jones (A continuation of the Churchills) I wrote a song called “There is always a Train” on our album Junkies Monkeys, and Donkeys
I can find a train in the afternoon,
No need to explain, I’ll be leaving soon,
Take me away; I’ll be leaving soon,
Take me away, in the afternoon,
You could take my place if you wanted to,
I can hide my face it’s not hard to do,
Take me away; it’s not hard to do,
Take me away, if you wanted to.
Who, in his little mind likes leaving you behind?
I can find a train on the evening line,
No need to explain, ‘cause I need the time,
Take me away, ‘cause I need the time
Take me away on the evening line
The last week in April found us in Northampton, from where we went for a week’s engagement at the Top Hat club in Spennymoor. The Top Hat was a night club which featured a casino. There was a resident band there with the now famous organist Brian Sharp playing keyboards. The house band played all night and we came on at 1 am in the morning and did our forty minute set. There was not enough room on the small stage area for both of the Hammond organs so we decided to leave Dave’s in the van. This meant that in order to make a smooth take over between the house band and us, Dave would gradually slide over the seat taking over the keyboard from Brian and would finish the number off and be ready to launch into “Telstar” as the club manager introduced the Tornados. They were a nice bunch of guys in the house band and we struck up a friendly relationship with them. John Davies liked their drummer as he looked like jazz drummer Phil Seaman. Early one morning as we were leaving the club after downing several pints of Newcastle brown ale John, the house drummer and I fell into a photo booth all posing as Phil Seaman, each with a cigarette hanging from his mouth.
We stayed at a guest house called the Knicky Knack, which was a big old house with a lounge downstairs. It was within walking distance from the club. We had decided that it was time to work on some new numbers for our act so we were lucky to be able to get access to the club in the afternoon to do some rehearsals. After one of the rehearsals John Davies and I decided to take a stroll and walk back to the guest house. We were about halfway there when I suddenly felt a very sharp pain in my backside right at the top of my leg. It was so intense and felt like getting stung by a hundred bees at the same time causing me to literally jump up and down with pain. John was totally befuddled by my outburst and jumping up and down, that he burst out laughing thinking that I was just fooling around and acting stupid like we often did just like Monty Python. When he saw the look of pain on my face he realized that I was actually hurt and became concerned. “What happened to you Robbie?” he asked. “I think I’ve been shot” I replied while rubbing the stinging spot with my hand. Looking around on the ground we soon found an air rifle slug and concluded that I had actually been shot in the butt by somebody with an air gun. On our way to the Knicky Knack we suddenly saw a young kid appear from out of the bushes with an air rifle. He didn’t seem that concerned as we walked up to him and asked him what he was doing and why he had shot me in my ass. He said that it wasn’t him and that all the kids in that area had air rifles and they were all out shooting. I kind of thought that he could be telling the truth so we didn’t press him any further. Back at the digs we met up with Dave Watts and after we had taken a look at the wound Dave said that he would drive us down to the police station to make a report.
The three of us walked into the police station and I approached the desk behind which stood a sergeant and two constables. I told them that I wanted to report that there were some sharpshooters down the road in Spennymoor. They looked at us in a puzzled way and asked me what I meant by “Sharpshooters” I went on to tell them that somebody had shot me in the ass with an air rifle and smiles appeared on there stern faces. John and Dave were trying hard not to laugh but they couldn’t help breaking out into wide grins along with the officers. In fact everyone present was either smiling or tittering except for me. Well I suppose it was funny in some ways and eventually I managed to force a slight grin.
The officers said they wanted to see the wound and motioned that we should all adjourn to a side room where I pulled down my trousers and everybody went “Ooooh” as they gazed upon the red disc at the top of my leg which resembled the Japanese flag all red and inflamed and far too close to my testicles to even think about. We told them that we were the Tornados and that we were appearing at the Top Hat club and staying at the Knicky Knack guest house but even that didn’t seem to influence them they just wrote out a report and had me sign it and we left the station with the constables still smiling at each other. .