More cabaret gigs, Tornados go horse riding and fun with some groupies.
The fakir in the van and the strange story of Robb’s ring.
Down on the farm the Tornados begin working on the music for the Great Yarmouth Show, and go drinking with Tom Holder.
Dave and Robb get scared to death while holding a séance to contact the spirit Joe Meek.
The Tornados meet the cast of the Yarmouth Show at the Windmill Theatre.
Parties and rehearsals.
Drug use and remembering being searched for drugs outside of Joe’s studio.
The rehearsals begin with bickering between some cast members.
The end of a grueling week of rehearsals ends with a party and the Tornados get high acclaim for their work and performance.
The show gets underway.
Robb has an unusual fortune telling episode with a gypsy.
More parties and fun and games and the gorilla at St. Nicks.
The Morecambe and Wise cricket match.
Dave has an erotic experience with Ruby Murray.
Ruby has a narrow escape and the hilarious story of the filming of the Joe Baker TV show.
Escapades on the Norfolk Broads where Dave speeds up a rental boat causing havoc on the river.
Big surprise for the Tornados as the Holder brothers announce their intended departure from the band at the end of the season.
The Tornados search for a new bass player and a group van and find both.
Roger and Pete join together with Tony Tait and perform their first gig on the Billy Fury show.
The Yarmouth show closes and back in London the Tornados land a new job as Billy Fury’s backing band.
Robb meets Jackie Grant again and for the last time.
With the week’s work finished at Spennymoor we left for Sunderland to appear for the first week in May at the Parama Club. As was usual, we regularly found digs through the clubs we played at and found a good place where the New Vaudeville Band was staying. We shared the bill with a fire eating magician who looked like Ali Baba without his forty thieves. His magic tricks were the kind that you might find in a children’s teach yourself magic set and we soon figured them out, but his fire eating display was impressive as he blew streams of spirits into an open flame. From where we stood upstairs looking down to watch the show, we could feel the heat from the burst of flames that shot into the air. We spoke to him in the dressing room after his performance and asked him about his fire eating which we told him that we enjoyed immensely. He said that it was really quite easy to do but you had to make sure that you turned your head to the side at the end of the burst of fire in order to cut off the stream of spirits from the flames. By doing that you would avoid getting burned.
While at the Top Hat at Spennymoor we saw that the Symbols band were following us the next week. They were good friends of Dave Watts and Dave had actually played with some of the band members at one time. As we had the Tuesday off at Sunderland we decided to visit the Top Hat and have a blow with the house band and watch the Symbols play their set. They were staying at the Knicky Knack guest house and we went by to see them and had a jam with their guitarist Sean. That night we got up and played a few numbers with the house band and had a real good time downing a few pints. The Symbols played their set doing a collection of Beach Boys style numbers which they did very well. They were a good vocal group. After the show we hung out with them at the casino chatting, drinking and losing more money than we intended at the roulette table. The Symbols were to go horse riding the following day and Dave and I decided that we would go along with them. We all met at a stable near Spennymoor and were asked if we had ridden before. We all said yes but our reply was not what I might call exactly truthful. I had only been on a horse once before myself and that was at the Holders’ farm. All I had basically done was to sit on the pony as he walked round the farmyard. I doubt very much if Dave had ridden before and as for the Symbols the rate at which they were falling off their mounts more or less answered that question. There were two girls who escorted us on the ride and at one point they said that we were going to canter up the hill that we were approaching. I was terrified but managed to hold on tight as in front of me I saw the Symbols come flying off their horses in all directions. At the top of the hill there was a large open field where we were invited to ride around at our pleasure. I saw Dave get his horse up to a pretty fast gallop and was careering across the field whooping and hollering like the Lone Ranger. As he passed by me in a fuzzy blur he started shouting “I can’t stop this bloody horse”. It was hilarious to see him race up to a hedgerow where his horse stopped abruptly causing Dave to fly off over the horse’s head into the air, where he disappeared behind the hedge. We all had a good laugh at that to see Dave reappear picking his way back through the prickly hedge and much the worse for wear he painfully remounted his steed. Gone were the shouts of “Hi ho Silver” and our escorts seeing that they thought that we had had enough began to lead us back down the hill to the stables. I for one was proud and surprised that I together with Sean from the Symbols were the only two riders who had not fallen off. As we arrived back at the stables I noticed that I had quite a headache from bouncing up and down and my legs were sore from holding on so tightly.
La Reserve at Sutton Coldfield was our next weeks work and actually turned out to be a good paying gig. We were paid 225 pounds for the week which meant that after paying the Cooper Agency their 10 % we made roughly 40 pounds each for that week. This was about four times as much as a factory worker made and over eight times as much as I was making at the department store. I don’t remember too much about the gig itself but I do remember that we stayed at a guest house that was frequented mostly by entertainers. So we usually got to meet other musicians and show biz people who were appearing in the area. It was like a home away from home atmosphere with all of us artists sitting around a long table eating, drinking and entertaining each other with tales of the “Road”, comparing venues and agencies and general show business chit chat.
Our accommodation was conveniently located away from the guest house at the rear of the building in what was probably once a garage which was converted to a two bedroom unit with a bathroom. Pete and Roger took the room with the two beds while Dave John and I shared a room with three beds. At the end of the week on Friday night around 2 in the morning, we had all just got to bed when we heard a gentle tap at our door. Dave switched on the light and went to see who it was .There in the doorway stood two chicks and they asked if we were the Tornados; and Dave standing in his skimpy underwear told them that yes indeed we were the Tornados of “Telstar” Fame. They boldly entered the room and out of the blue the cute cuddly little blonde one strutted up to my bed saying “Oh I like you ” and stripped down to her underwear and jumped in bed with me. I barely had time enough to find out that her name was Anna Marie. Meanwhile the second chick had done the same thing and jumped in bed with John Davies, leaving poor Dave the guy who had opened the door, looking completely astounded with the realization that Robbie and John were suddenly in bed with a couple of chicks while he was standing there with the door handle still in his hand.
John and I began to reap the benefit of our good fortune but when the lights went off, Dave, like the mischievous schoolboy that he was, started to disrupt the proceedings with his unique sense of humor. Just when he thought that John and I were getting down to business he’d say “Sorry lads I got to get a drink of water” and he’d put the lights on and take his time at the sink. At one point I felt a rustling sound coming from the foot of the bed together with a bright light shining up through the bed clothes. There he was the world famous gynecologist Dr. David Watts performing a little overtime with a flashlight that he carried in his suitcase. It was only after, when the two girls agreed to show Dave their tits and let him have a quick feel that the lights went off and things stayed quiet
Around 9 am the next morning when we were all still in bed another gentle knock came at the door. As we began to stir the gentle tap was repeated and followed by “Breakfast”. Anna Marie sat bolt upright saying “Oh no it’s my mother”. “Your mother” we all said in disbelief. “She works here, that’s how we knew you were staying here”
In a twinkling of an eye the two girls leapt out of bed picked up their clothes and jumped inside of a big old fashioned wardrobe that was in the room and was basically empty. I pulled on my trousers and walked over to open the door. And there she stood in the doorway holding the breakfast tray, the same lady who had brought our breakfast each morning and her looks could not deny that she was in fact the mother of Anna Marie. She stood in the room holding the tray no more that a few inches from where her daughter was hiding in the wardrobe.
When she had left and the girls emerged from the wardrobe we all breathed a sigh of relief and began to laugh about it all. We shared our breakfast with the girls before they said that they had to leave. As they were leaving Anna Marie pulled out a small note book and a pencil from her hand bag, and looking my way she made a short notation and waved goodbye. A little later on I pondered whether she had written down my name and the date to refer to just in case she might get pregnant or maybe she was just keeping a log of all the artists in show biz that she had spent the night with.
Mid May once again found us doing a double, up in Blackburn. We shuttled between the Starlight Club and the Cabaret Club. It was a typical week’s cabaret work as we appeared alongside of magicians, fire eaters and dancing girls. One entertainer who looked something like an Italian gypsy featured sword swallowing and ate champagne glasses and light bulbs. We consented to let him ride in the group van with us between the venues. He entertained us with all kinds of magic tricks during the journey and took a liking to an amethyst ring that I wore on my little finger. He outstretched his arm towards me, opened his hand and asked me to place the ring in his palm, which I did and while closing his hand around the ring told me that I would never see the ring again. Then without moving his hand in any way he reopened his palm and the ring was gone. I was totally amazed and a bit worried to say the least, thinking that I would never see the ring again. Then he smiled, closed his hand again and reopened it immediately and there was my ring back again. “Just kidding” he joked and dropped it back in my palm. “Remember this” he said “You have lost this ring before but you will only lose it three times” We all begged him to do it again or at least show us how it was done but he just laughed. “It’s a secret” he said.
As it happens he was right. I had already lost that ring twice. One time when we were rehearsing at the Welsh House in Newent I went outside and picked up a stone to throw across the field. Upon doing this the ring flew off my finger and landed somewhere in the field in the grass which was about two feet high at the time. It was pointless to look for it so I gave it up for lost. Several months later Mick Holder was mowing the grass in that same field and as he was finishing up he saw something glistening in the late afternoon sunlight. It was my ring and he returned it to me. Some time after that when we were on the road and had left a bed and breakfast place I suddenly saw that the ring was missing from my finger. I was sitting in the back of Roger’s Ford Anglia and asked if we could return to the guesthouse as I had probably dropped it somewhere in the bedroom. I asked the receptionist if anyone had seen it in my room. She said that nobody had found it but she gave me the key so I could look for it myself. It was nowhere to be found. I spent a miserable day driving to our next gig mourning the loss of my ring. Late that afternoon as I was getting out of the car at the club I looked down and there it was close to the floor mat in the back of the car. It finally disappeared the following year when I was in Israel and I never saw it again.
Then he pulled out a couple of photos and in the dim light of the back of the van he passed them around to us. They showed him accompanied by two scantily dressed girls who looked like they could have come from the Amazon. They had pushed three feet long skewers through the side of his body, through his arms and tongue. “I don’t do this in my act at the clubs” he said, “They won’t allow me to, they say it would be too intense for the audience” We were inclined to agree with him. We asked him how come he didn’t bleed when this was done to him, whereupon he went into a lengthy explanation talking about mind over matter and meditation but none of us really understood much of what he was talking about.
When the Burnley week was over we all went our separate ways. Pete and I left for Gloucester, Roger went to meet Sandra of the Diamonds, John disappeared like he usually did and nobody would hear from him until he would suddenly turn up, and Dave caught a train to London. Harry Dawson had left a message for Dave to call him. Now that Harry knew we would be backing the Great Yarmouth show he had changed his tune about the band. Now all of a sudden he was very pleased with all the great reports that he was receiving about the Tornados from the venues that we had appeared at. We had not changed and were still playing our same act but somehow now we were great once more in the eyes of the Cooper Organization. Dawson instructed Dave to go to Hampstead to pick up the musical scores for the show. These scores were for piano, organ, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and drums. Dave held on to the keyboard parts and mailed the rest down to Aylesmore farm where I was staying with Pete. All the artists’ music was included along with the dance routines and so on. The music parts were a little more difficult than the ones for Blackpool the previous year so Dave got some help from The Diamond twins’ pianist, Les Baguley, who was currently lodging at Dave’s parent’s home.
On May 24th Dave caught the train to Gloucester and then hired a taxi to Newent and that’s as far as the driver could take him, so with his music bag under his arm Dave trudged the extra few miles out to the farm. Roger had already arrived and together with Pete and me we had gotten a look at the music before Dave showed up. We had worked out some of it but we knew that it would fall together better once we got together with Dave. We were scheduled to rehearse from the 24th till the 26th of May at the Welsh House barn. Pete and I had set up the gear ready for the rehearsals and we started in the afternoon but to our disappointment John Davies failed to show. There was no reply at his parents’ home so we had no other choice except to proceed without him. The following day the rehearsals were coming along fine but John had still not showed up and we were beginning to get worried. Finally that night as we sat around the dining table the phone rang and it was John saying that he had been away on holiday with his parents and he would be over the next day. This was typical John. He would never let us know of things like this and would invariably show up late. We were all relieved to hear the news and were able to relax now.
After supper Roger and Pete’s dad, Tom Holder, stood up and said “Come on you buggers, I’ll take you all out for a drink” We all piled into his car and he drove us over to the Feathers Hotel in Ledbury. The Feathers was a three storied inn with an attractive Elizabethan black and white exterior. As the Saxons we had played there on occasions. Tom Holder was in his element as he walked into the bar accompanied by his two sons Roger and Pete along with Dave and me in tow. He wouldn’t let any of us buy a drink all evening and proceeded to introduce us all to his farmer friends as the Tornados who had been Joe Meek’s top group. He gave them all the details on the band and told them that we were spending a few days at the farm before leaving to appear in a summer show in Great Yarmouth. Tom was well known in the area and was pretty good with his fists, one night knocking out a drunk who was causing some trouble, and then driving him home afterwards. As the night wore on we all got quite merry with Tom approaching us one by one with a grin from ear to ear offering us five pounds to fuck the milkmaid who worked at the farm. He followed his offer with that remarkable wheezy laugh that he had. By the time closing time came around we staggered out of the Feathers and Tom drove us back to the farm via those narrow winding country roads while that cool, night time country air laced with the aroma of wild flowers and hops, soothed us as we sped past the hedgerows that lined the side of the road.
After everyone else went to bed, Dave and I decided to stay up and chat for a while. That whole area was steeped in superstition and mystery with ghost stories galore. I was telling Dave of some of these that I had heard around the Holders’ dining table on dark winter nights when Dave suddenly suggested that we should conduct a séance due to the area being rife with all the stories of robbery and murder. We set up the table with a glass surrounded by the alphabet which we had written out on squares of paper torn out of a writing pad in Dave’s music case. It seemed to get very quiet as we began with the séance and a deathly hush seemed to fall upon us. We were conscious of every little sound that would occur as we placed our fingers on the glass with Dave starting to ask” Is anybody there?” The atmosphere began to get quite eerie and coldness seemed to penetrate the air. “If there’s anybody there give us a sign” Dave asked, putting on a voice with a mysterious tone attached. A creaking sound suddenly emanated from nearby causing Dave to freeze and with his eyes coming out like organ stops he said” Bloody ‘ell Robbie, did you hear that?” We tried to get in touch with one of Dave’s relatives who had passed away and apart from the occasional little sounds and the rustling of the trees outside the letters failed to spell out anything of any consequence. Dave, being the impatient guy that he was and wanting to get some results suggested that we should try to get in touch with Joe Meek. As the remains of Joe were lying in the cemetery in Newent only a mile or so away from where we sat at the farm we thought that it was a pretty good idea. Even though we did not get much of a response from the glass we pressed on. With nothing much happening Dave asked “What really happened up at the studio Joe?” The question was answered by a long mournful moan that appeared to come from outside causing Dave to jump up from his seat at the table and with a terrified look on his face he stammered ” Fuckin’ ‘ell Robbie, let’s get out of here” I jumped up too knocking over the glass and as some of the cut out letters fluttered off the table onto the floor we both bolted up the stairs to the bedrooms leaving the light on and seeking the protection of our beds where we could disappear under the covers.
The following morning Mrs. Holder who got up early to prepare breakfast, finding the lights still on and the remains of our séance on the kitchen floor and tabled asked what we buggers had been up to last night. Dave and I apologized for the mess and related the events of the night before and the strange, haunting, mournful moan we had heard when we had presumed that we had contacted the ghost of Joe Meek. We in turn asked if anybody else, for that matter had heard it. Nobody else had and Mrs. Holder concluded that it was probably her husband Tom snoring while sleeping off the effects of the several whiskeys that he had downed at the Feathers. Dave and I knew for sure though that this had not been a snoring sound but definitely a moan scary enough to make your blood run cold.
Roger drove over to Cheltenham to pick up John and we began to rehearse the numbers later that morning. John refused to look at the drum parts stating that he didn’t need that crap and he just played along with us as we ran through the tunes. We rehearsed till late that night and we were pretty tired at the end of the evening but quite pleased how everything had worked out. A year had passed since we did our first Summer Season in Blackpool. Gone was any trepidation on behalf of the Cooper Agency with no rumors of a stand in band if the Tornados failed to hit the mark with their musical ability. We were taking it all in our stride and becoming confident and seasoned professionals.
Saturday morning Roger drove Dave to Gloucester station where Dave departed for London and left for a holiday in Spain together with his parents and Sonia. I decided that I would hang out at the farm with Pete to practice our guitar parts a little more and before long Roger left to meet up with Sandy.
Just about a week later as Pete and I relaxed at the farm a news bulletin appeared on the TV. stating that the Israelis had attacked Egypt and the famous Six Day War had just begun. Israel was vastly outnumbered and with the exception of the sea to the west, was surrounded by Arab countries that were bent on the total destruction of the State of Israel. As Pete and I watched the footage of Israeli jets totally annihilating their hostile neighbors’ air force as it sat on the ground, we thought about the occasions that we had played charity shows for the Jewish Federation where the aim was to raise money for weapons and tanks to protect Israel. We felt in some way that we were part of this whole thing with Pete even saying “Good for them” and I agreed with him. Our only disappointment was that we most likely would not be going on the tour of Israel that the Cooper Agency had been working on for us. We were tentatively scheduled to embark on that tour some time after the end of the Yarmouth Season, but in didn’t happen. However if somebody had predicted that six or seven months down the road that I would actually be walking along those narrow streets in the old city of Jerusalem I would very much have doubted that.
On Sunday June 11th we all arrived at the Windmill Theater in Great Yarmouth. Dave had left London around 6am. picking up John at Victoria Station. Dave was able to use his dad’s yellow Zephyr for the time we would be in Yarmouth. Pete and I showed up in the van and Roger showed up in a newly acquired M G. 1100. We all met at the Windmill Theater. It was an old looking structure with actual revolving windmill vanes. At night they were illuminated by hundreds of light bulbs. The most striking thing was that our faces had been painted on cut out boards and along with the rest of the cast they had been attached to the exterior of the building and now adorned the front of the theater We had not expected this and we were quite tickled to see our faces up in lights. We stood outside in the street looking up as passers by stared at us and recognized who we were. This became embarrassing so we quickly entered the front of the theater and made our way through the auditorium towards the stage.
We gazed down into the orchestra pit which was to be our musical home for the next three months. This year’s group of the Fox Miller dancers was already on stage limbering up and we noticed that they were a completely different batch to the Blackpool group. We made our way around to the back of the stage where we were approached by a guy who was smoking a pipe which he withdrew from his mouth and introduced himself as John Redgrave. He was to be stage manager and was related to the famous showbiz family of Lynn, Vanessa and Michael Redgrave. He instructed us to bring in our gear and set it up in the orchestra pit. As we were doing this John Redgrave introduced us to Fred Perry, the director who had devised and produced the show. Perry had an impressive career and at that time at the age of twenty seven had worked with many top of the line artists such as Bob Dylan, Shirley Bassey, Val Doonican, Peter Paul and Mary and so on. We spent that Sunday afternoon rehearsing the dance routines with the Fox Millers. Everything went very smoothly with Fred Perry commenting to us that he was very pleased with the way things had started out. It looked like this show was going to be a lot more professional unlike the Blackpool show a year before.
That evening there was a big get together party with the whole cast which was held at St. Nick’s. St. Nick’s was originally an old vicarage set on its own grounds. It had been converted into a guest house of sorts with a bar / clubhouse. Several chalets had been built surrounding the main building. Many of the artists were staying there with five of the girl dancers sharing the spacious apartment over the bar. We all got acquainted and what a party it was. Once more I was surrounded by show business stars that up until that time I had only seen on TV. The drinks were flowing fast and free and we all circulated among the artists introducing ourselves and participating in the usual show business banter that was always part of those occasions. The Dreamers, Freddie’s backing group seemed like a nice bunch of guys whereas Freddie himself acted rather aloof. Pete Birrell, Dreamers bass player confided in me that the Dreamers had not played on any of the singles that had been released so far but they were scheduled to record a new album with Freddie where they would actually play the backing tracks. He said that their whole comedy routine was developed to basically cover up their inadequacies as musicians. Derek Quinn guitarist was a quiet rather mysterious individual, hiding behind his dark glasses that he wore. Roy Crewsdon, guitarist was a nice kind of guy who had a glass eye which made it seem that he was looking in another direction when he was talking to you. Drummer Bernie Dwyer was a kind of character that, who we found out at subsequent parties, would get drunk and start to shout and rant and rave in a way that you could never quite figure out if he was being serious or not.
Dev Shawn was a comedian who was basically at the bottom of the bill who claimed that he was the highest paid entertainer on the show and was making more money than anybody else. We didn’t question this and didn’t give any credence to his statement. Ruby Murray was a very sweet and completely unaffected person. She would always make you feel very comfortable as she spoke to you with that remarkable husky Irish accent that she had. The huskiness in her voice stemmed back to her childhood when she underwent an operation on her throat. The sound of her singing voice did not suffer from this operation and is clearly demonstrated by the success of her career; with five singles in the top twenty all in the same week! Ruby was married to Bernie Burgess who was once a member of the Jones Boys vocal group and was now her personal manager. Bernie went on to manage Sonia and Sandra the Diamond Twins for a short time.
There was no mistaking Tony Dalli.He was a big and tall, rather loud Italian guy who really stood out in a crowd. He kind of reminded me of Mario Lanza. He spent the evening circulating with a drink in his hand at all times. His talking voice really penetrated the air and rose above the surrounding conversations. He had originally emigrated from Italy and had worked as a coal miner and a foundry worker before turning professional.
Joe Baker was the top comedian on the bill. He conducted himself in a very professional manner being reasonably friendly but knowing when to turn on that aloof or distant attitude that certain artists in show business portray. Ruby Murray was always the same no matter what, always polite and smiling. Joe however could sometimes be quite amusing and funny but at other times he could make cutting remarks and act quite scathingly. At that time he had a very successful T V series called My Man Joe and throughout the season he was filming parts of the new series, his fifth for A T V. He also lived on his 35 foot yacht which was moored in Great Yarmouth.
By the early hours of Monday morning the whole cast including The Tornados were stoned out of their minds on alcohol. Dave Watts in particular was totally blitzed. We all made it back to the Ponderosa to the chalet where we would spend the next few months together. There were two bedrooms with double beds and a couch. Pete and Roger took one room, John and Dave the other and I crashed on the couch.
Monday morning came fast and furious as we had a 9 o’clock call for rehearsals and were all in our respective stages of recovery from the Sunday night party. Dave was the worst of all of us. At the theater you could almost see auras of hangovers surrounding the cast. When Dev Shawn heard that Dave was suffering badly from the night before, he promptly pulled out a little packet from his pocket and handed Dave two “Purple Hearts” saying “Take a couple of these Dave, you’ll be as right as rain”.
Sure enough Dave did very shortly become “Right as rain” and was transformed from a hung over; life less shadow of his former self, into a confident musical director, taking charge of the situation at hand, with no signs of the aftermath of the previous night’s drinking session to be seen.
This was the first time that I had ever witnessed any use of drugs in “my world” of show business. I had of course seen alcohol use but that was accepted. It is quite well known and confirmed by many of Joe Meek’s artists that he would regularly pop pills under cover of the control room when he thought that no body was watching. Pete Holder in fact definitely remembers seeing Joe turn his head to one side and pop something into his mouth. The police definitely had Joe’s premises under surveillance during the time when we were recording “Is that a Ship I Hear” and the situation with Dev Shawn and the “Purple Hearts” brought to my mind the time when we were out side the studio in Holloway Road and were hanging about on the pavement as we could not get any answer when we knocked on the door at the top of the stairs. This of course was rather unusual as Joe had never refused to open the door at any other previous time. All at once we were approached by what we were soon to discover were two undercover police officers. When they asked us what we were doing there we replied that we were waiting to do a recording session. As a part of the enquiry one officer in a strong Scottish accent asked us if we had any “Purple Hearts”. We looked at them in amazement asking why they would ask us such a question. The Scot said that we looked like the kind of people who would be using those kinds of drugs and began to ask John Davies what was in the top pocket of his jacket. John being the devil may care character that he was, told them that his pen was full of heroin. They pulled it out of his pocket and began to inspect it and when finding nothing asked John what else he had in there.
“All I’ve got is some Monopoly money” he told them and pulled out a 5 and a 10 pound note and it “was” Monopoly money. We all looked at each other and together with the cops tried not to laugh. They must have thought that John was some kind of a nut who was walking around with Monopoly money in his pocket. Very soon after that they decided to get into their car and leave without asking anyone else any questions. I remember feeling quite mad that they said that we looked like drug users. Nobody in the New Tornados was taking any drugs. All we did was have a few drinks here and there. After this incident we climbed the stairs again and this time our knocks were answered by Joe who opened the door. Could it have been that Joe had not opened the door previously as he knew that the drug squad was casing the studio and thought that we were the cops knocking at his door? He could have been watching the whole thing from an upstairs window and seeing the cops pull away he knew that it would be safe to open the door. I don’t remember if we told Joe about the incident and don’t recall him mentioning anything either.
That Monday we began to settle into that usual routine of rehearsing with the artists. There were certain parts of the show which featured spots involving the artists working together in comical situations. We rehearsed these spots and with direction from Fred Perry things got done at a reasonable pace without too many problems. The worst thing that happened that day was when Dave was playing the piano that was in the orchestra pit. He played it for the sequence in which Ruby and Freddie were walking in a park and the Fox Miller dancers were riding bicycles around the stage. Suddenly in the middle of the dance routine with Freddie and Ruby as Dave tinkled on that old upright piano the whole front of the piano collapsed creating a loud discordant bang which scared everybody to death. Pete Rog and I faced each other grinning with that “Watts is up to his tricks again” looks on our faces. Dave spent a minute or two putting the front of the piano back together but when the same thing happened again in the next run through it was decided that we should leave the front off.
During the short lunch break John disappeared like he usually would and then suddenly reappeared from under the stage behind his drum kit. He called to me and Dave to take a look under the stage with him. “Take a look at this Robbie” John whispered as we entered the small opening from behind John’s drums. The light was very dim under the stage but in the darkness with the help of the light that was shining through the opening my eyes gradually made out rows and rows of what appeared to be Victorian looking bird cages each one inhabited by some kind of stuffed bird species. There were all kinds of colorful parrots and hawks and eagles. It was quite an eerie scene to see all those stuffed birds, sitting in silence imprisoned in their ornate cages. We later found out that Jack Jay who was the owner of the Windmill Theater was the father of Peter Jay the drummer of Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers. The bird collection belonged to Jack and was probably a part of a one time exhibit that he had featured somewhere.
The next morning Toni Dalli was already complaining to Fred Perry that he had expected to be backed by a full orchestra, not a rock band. He was teaming up with Joe Baker to get support for his complaint. Joe Baker agreed with Tony and so began our rehearsals with them. From that point there started a competition between Joe Baker and Toni Dalli to see which one of them could waste the most time with the band continually going over and over their music and finding all kinds of little insignificant parts to get right. When Tony finished his set Joe did his and then Tony would jump back in again to redo something followed by Joe again asking me to shout “Dri Feer” in German and have Dave play the German National Anthem on the Hammond. At one point during a break Joe Baker summoned us into his dressing room. He complained to us that he thought that we were spending too much time with Tony Dalli’s material and after all he was a bigger draw that Dalli and should be entitled to a greater share of the rehearsal time. It dragged on till late that night and even Fred Perry was getting annoyed with Dalli and Baker. He sympathized with us saying that everything was fine and did not direct his annoyance to the Tornados. We were all glad to get back to our humble Chalet at the Ponderosa and get some sleep. It had been an exhausting day.
Ruby Murray’s rehearsal was the easiest and most enjoyable. It was just a case of running through her numbers which were really quite simple tunes. She in her own special, polite way, graciously demonstrated to us how she would like to hear the numbers sound, and we in turn did our best to carry out her requests. The rest of the week went quite well with no major problems. Thursday was a long hard day for us. We started at 9 AM and finally got finished at midnight. We went through a dress rehearsal at 8 PM which went very smoothly. The only noticeable mistake occurred when the wrong music was put on during the bicycle scene. Instead of the correct music some one had put on “God Save the Queen” which had us all in fits. That whole 15 hour day we spent sitting with our instruments in the orchestra pit, except for a 10 minute break we had to grab a cup of tea.
Friday was the opening night show which started at 8 PM but we were all still there again at 9 AM for rehearsals. That night the show went over very well with no problems. Our set was well received and The Theme from Lawrence of Arabia was always a dramatic set closer. The only set back was that Dave had to play our set on a Vox organ which could not compare with the Hammond. We obviously had to come up out of the pit to play our set on stage so we used the Dreamers gear. They had these brand new Vox amps which were transistorized and sounded quite tinny.
Everybody met over at Jack Jay’s house after the show and once again the drinks were flowing freely. The Tornados received many compliments and we were congratulated on a fantastic job. We were told that we had such a big sound for a small group of musicians. From time to time artists from some of the other shows in town dropped in for a drink. We saw some familiar faces from Coventry and Blackpool.
The next morning which was Saturday found us once again feeling the effects of the night before; but we were still all there at 9 AM for band call. Fred Perry announced to the cast that the show had over run by at least an hour which meant that certain acts would have to be shortened to cut the length of the show. The comedians were given a strict amount of time for their acts, and the Dreamers shortened their act a little by cutting down some of the verbal comedy in their set. By the end of the afternoon the show was shortened to the desired time. We were happy that we were not asked to shorten our set. I think that Fred Perry liked us as a group as he had mentioned that we were a good contrasting act. We didn’t feature any comedy in our act while at The Windmill as we thought it would be inappropriate. The new, shortened Saturday night show went over well but we were tired out from the intensive week of rehearsals. We all looked forward to a rest, but that did not come until after we had to break down the gear and load it into the van, ready for the gig at the Ponderosa at noon on Sunday.
The Ponderosa was basically a campsite with log cabins instead of caravans or trailers. A husband and wife team ran the site. They were a young couple and usually dressed in western outfits and could have probably passed for Billy the Kid and Annie Oakley. They had a singing and comedy act that they performed as a warm up for the Tornados. We played about a forty minute set on Sunday lunchtimes and this we did in exchange for our accommodation. We played in the clubhouse for the guests that were staying at the Ponderosa. The lunchtime show was quite enjoyable the only downside was that we had to move the gear every weekend.
With the first week under our belt we settled in to the day in day out routine of backing the show. In many ways the Great Yarmouth summer season was different to the Blackpool show of 1966. Joe Meek was no longer around and there were no letters arriving from him and no talk within the band of getting a new single put out. In fact our prospects of doing any recordings in the future were nonexistent. We just expected that at the end of the season we would continue with our cabaret shows and one night stands. Dev Shawn was sharing our dressing room with us and overhearing our conversations about how we should expand our act came up with some good vocal numbers and song combinations which he offered us. He was at one time part of an Irish vocal trio and was actually a pretty good singer. We thought that his ideas were good but when he found out that we were starting to rehearse some of the creations that he had offered us he turned around and told us that we could not use them. This left us wondering why he had offered them to us in the beginning only to deny us use of them when he discovered our interest in using his ideas.
Although a few members of the cast seemed rather aloof, on the whole it was a closer, friendlier atmosphere than we had experienced at Blackpool. Ruby Murray always kept a good supply of alcohol in her dressing room and invited us in regularly for drinks during the intermissions. We had a lot of fun swapping jokes with the Dreamers while hanging out with them in their dressing rooms. I actually bought a knee length black frock coat from Derek Quinn. It had a velvet collar and he wanted six pounds for it which I gladly paid. I loved it and kept it for a long time. I took it to Israel with me and wore it on our travels all over Europe when I played in the Churchills. It finally disappeared when my future father in law gathered up all my old belongings which I had left behind and sold them to a vendor at the flea market in Jaffa.
We got real friendly with the dancers and as most of them were staying over at St. Nick’s we visited them regularly and hung out with them at their place. On Thursday nights, after the show we would all go to the midnight movies together and watch Vincent Price in various horror movies. One of the male dancers by the name of Wayne was a big Bob Dylan fan just as I was and on sunny afternoons you could see us sitting together outside at St. Nick’s singing Dylan songs with me on guitar and Wayne playing the harmonica backed by the “rat a tat tat” of Dev Shawn’s type writer as he sat nearby working on material for his comedy routine.
A few weeks into the show Roger and Pete said that they would be moving out of the chalet at the Ponderosa due to the cramped conditions and would be moving over to St. Nick’s as the rent was reasonable and there was a spare unit available there. This left Dave, John and I together, but I was still unable to get off the couch that I slept on as Sonia and Debbie regularly stayed with Dave and John. I finally got my own bedroom when John and Debbie got their own chalet as Debbie had got out of college and would be staying for the rest of the season. One day some wandering gypsies came around the chalets at the Ponderosa offering to tell our fortunes. Right away one old lady gypsy told me that I was an entertainer in music which impressed me. She also said that there would be some changes coming up for me and that I would not be living in England for much longer. When she looked at my hand after I had “crossed her palm with silver” and given her a shilling she told me that I had a broken life line which scared me a little. She didn’t explain its meaning and I didn’t know what to make of it. After the gypsies had left and I was contemplating my fortune telling experience I noticed that my Gibson 335 was propped up against the couch as I had been working on a song that morning and knowing that they had seen it through the open door I realized how they had been able to predict that I was a musician. I then disregarded all that they had told me and presumed that I had been hoodwinked by some clever clairvoyant. However upon reflection the gypsy was correct about the changes that would surely come up before the end of the season and at that time I did not know that in the coming month of December that I would leave for Israel with the Tornados which would bring about a big change in my life and that I would in fact not be living in England again for a few years
As we were to be staying in Great Yarmouth for a few months John and I decided that we would take driving lessons and get our licenses. I had always felt at a disadvantage at not being able to drive particularly with regard to my past relationship with Jackie Grant. I always had to depend on her for transport. John and I took a few lessons per week and would be able to take our tests by the end of the season. When Debbie came down to stay with John she also decided to take driving lessons too and on several occasions we took lessons together all riding in the same car with the instructor.
There was much more of a social life with the cast at Yarmouth with frequent parties. Freddie threw a party at his place one Saturday night. He did not live at St Nick’s as he stayed at a nice rented house. It was a wild party with plenty of booze. At one point we heard some shouting going on and once again it was Bernie Dwyer the Dreamers drummer ranting and raving when he got drunk. I thought that he was just acting belligerent for fun just like John Davies and I used to do at times and decided to play along with him by shouting back at him. I kept waiting for him to stop and break out in laughter but it seemed that he was getting very serious and as I was getting warning looks from Pete Birrell I decided it would be wise to back off. The party lasted all night long and we ended up leaving on Sunday morning with just about enough time to get to the Ponderosa to play our lunchtime show. It was a rough performance as we had not slept all night and were still feeling the affects of the drinks.
One night there was a big scare over at St Nick’s. Some of the dancing girls were screaming that a gorilla had been seen roaming around the grounds. Most of the cast were woken up by the disturbance. Ruby Murray was standing in her doorway in her underwear, Dev Shawn together with his wife who was six months pregnant were peering out from their window and Tony Dalli came running out in his “Y” fronts carrying a shotgun. Tony ran around the grounds and upon seeing the gorilla disappear behind a tree he took aim and fired. With all the commotion going on some body had called the police who, when they arrived found that the gorilla was none other than Wayne the dancer who was dressed up in a gorilla suit and was roaming around the grounds hoping to scare the girl dancers. He was painfully picking out shot gun pellets from his backside!
With Pete and Roger now staying over at St. Nicks I found myself spending a lot of time on my own. John was with Debbie in their chalet and Sonia would visit Dave regularly so I began to use my time to write new songs. Pete was still seeing Ann whenever she was within driving distance. As she was appearing at Bournemouth with Tommy Cooper and Des O’Connor Pete was lucky to get to see her when he volunteered to drive Freddie down there in Freddie’s Alpha Romeo. The Dreamer’s road manager was away and unable to provide the service. Also on the bill in Bournemouth were the Rockin’ Berries. They had a few hits in the early sixties and also featured comedy and impressions in their act. Backstage, Pete was treated to an impromptu session of impressions by singer Geoff Turton of the Berries who did an excellent Tommy Cooper impression. However Pete’s attachment to Ann didn’t last much longer as they had a falling out at the London Palladium not long after the Yarmouth season and he never saw her again.
We decided that on a Sunday night we would hold a party down on the beach together with the dancers. Dave and I drove out to the Norfolk Broads and collected a bunch of logs and branches and that night we lit a huge bonfire at the beach. We swam in the sea in the dark and noticed bright phosphorescence in the water. It was beautiful to see the little points of light swirling around in the dark water. I had gotten friendly with a young girl who was related to one of the dancers and we walked down the beach together and lay on the sand. That night I stayed with her at St. Nick’s and we slept in one of the spare bedrooms in the dancers’ apartments. Early the next morning we were woken up by the girl’s cousin who warned us that the brother had arrived to take her back home. It was decided that I would stay in the bedroom so that he would not discover that his young sister had spent the night with one of the Tornados. Only when somebody was able to coax him outside was I able to make my entrance by suddenly appearing in the room. I realized how lucky I was after they had left when I found out that the girl was really quite young and that I would have caught hell from her brother if he had found out that we had spent the night together.
Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise who were appearing in Great Yarmouth for the season announced that they were organizing a cricket match to be held at the local sports arena. It would be a charity affair on a Sunday afternoon. Eric’s team would play against Ernie’s team. The team members were to be made up of all the show biz folks in town that wished to be involved. More than enough artists showed up to make the two teams so we all hung around and from time to time we were invited to go in and bowl a few overs or be a batsman. Most of the cricketers who showed up were dressed in the traditional white flannels and shirts. Being the rebel that I was I decided that I would be different and wear an all black outfit. I wore the black jacket that I had recently bought from Derek Quinn with black trousers. They announced me as Robbie Gayle of the Tornados as I walked out onto the pitch. As I neared the center of the field all heads were turned in my direction with Eric and Ernie exchanging puzzled looks and asking “Is he one of ours? I was definitely the black sheep in the fold that day. I guess they didn’t appreciate my sense of humor or the Monty Python style of statement that I was hoping to make. They let me bowl six balls and were relieved to get me off the field.
After the show one night, Ruby Murray’s manager / husband, Bernie Burgess asked Dave if he would come over to their place at St Nick’s as he wanted two of Ruby’s songs transposed to other keys. As soon as Dave found out that Bernie was willing to pay five pounds a song Dave eagerly agreed and they made arrangements to meet the following day. Dave came back with ten pounds in his pocket and a report on how it was over at Ruby’s. He related to us how Ruby had opened the door and stood there dressed in a “see through” negligee wearing very little underneath it. Dave wondered what he was in for and as she ushered him into the living room he caught sight of Bernie who was seated on the sofa. Dave tried to act cool but inside he was wondering what this strange scenario was all about. Here he was in Ruby Murray’s place to do some musical work and she was walking around almost naked with her husband relaxing calmly without even batting an eyelid. According to Dave he was there for close to two hours while she continued to display her feminine attributes which could clearly be seen through the fabric of her negligee He said that at times it was hard to concentrate especially when she leaned forward over the table to examine the music that he was writing out. He apparently made a few screw ups here and there but managed to get it finished somehow.
We also got a similar report from Roger who said that Ruby had invited him over for a drink after the show on a few occasions and Ruby was usually in her underwear. Just as in Dave’s situation Bernie was there too. We also noted that Roger was a regular in Ruby’s dressing room between shows where they would share some sherry together. Ruby escaped injury one night during her act. She was about half way through “Goodbye Jimmy Goodbye” when one of the large white pillars that were part of her backdrop began to sway and looked like it wouldn’t take much to make it topple over. As usual she would throw a glance at us down in the orchestra pit from time to time. She could see the concerned looks on our faces as we tried to visually warn her about the precarious pillar but she could only look back at us in bewilderment. When the pillar finally came down it was headed straight for Ruby. Roger was quick enough to shout out “Ruby” and point to her left. As she turned round to look she stepped to the side and the pillar missed her by inches and there was an audible sigh of relief that came from the audience as they too, along with the Tornados, were witnesses to Ruby’s close call with misfortune. Ruby was able to keep going and finished her set with the pillar still lying across the stage. I couldn’t help thinking that I might have heard a little voice coming from somewhere up above whispering “Now be a good girl Ruby and put your knickers on”.
One night Joe Baker honored us with an appearance in our dressing room. He wished us a good evening, looked at Pete and shook his head, looked at Roger and nodded, then at John and me shaking his head and then at Dave and nodded. We were mystified at this and wondered what it was all about. Joe went on to tell us that he was currently filming segments for his next T V series, “Baker’s Half Dozen” and needed two guys to act as German soldiers. He had chosen Roger and Dave and offered them the parts. Dave and Roger accepted and were even more pleased to hear that they would be paid. I intended to go along to watch the filming but had a driving lesson that day. Dave said it was a blast, when he and Roger returned after the day’s filming. They had been dressed up in German army uniforms along with Joe Baker who looked like Rommel himself. They also used an old, Gestapo style convertible automobile with which at one point they had to create a fake accident to appear as if they had crashed into a tree. They all had to push it into the tree and then the bonnet was raised and a smoking device was ignited under it for added effect. Later on Dave and Roger were instructed to hide behind a hedgerow and on command they should spring up from behind the hedge and race across the field holding their rifles and screaming loudly. They crouched in their hiding place and on the word “Go” they did as they were told and began screaming their way across the field as fast as they could. All of a sudden and quite unexpectedly, the figure of an old man with a walking stick emerged from the trees and they almost ran into him. He looked a bit like an old country yokel who could very well have been a veteran from the First World War. Roger and Dave, thinking that he was part of the scene charged at him, screaming loudly. The old man threw his hands up causing his stick to fly into the air. He let out a yell and turned and ran off as fast as his arthritic legs could carry him. He scrambled his way through the hedgerow and as he disappeared he was heard shouting “We’re being invaded”. When they stopped running they looked toward Joe Baker, who was standing next to the director and the film crew. They were all falling about in fits of laughter. Roger and Dave thought that they must have really done a good job but they thought that the guy who played the old man deserved all the credit for his splendid performance. When the laughing finally died down and Joe had gained his composure he explained that the old guy had nothing to do with the scene and must have just stumbled onto the set by accident. Some body picked up his discarded walking stick and they went off searching for him but they never saw him again. It was a very comical mystery and was never solved. Nobody knew where the old man came from or where he went. All that remained was the walking stick.
For the next part of the filming Dave and Roger were to run across the field while a Spitfire fighter plane flew in low over them. The production team had spent a lot of time laying out electrical lines with small explosive devices attached that when activated would make it appear that the spitfire was strafing the two German soldiers as they were running. When the scene was put into action the Spitfire flew in over Dave and Roger as they ran and the devices were activated causing Dave to jump up in the air as heard the reports of the explosive devices. Seeing a funny side to it Dave burst out laughing as he ran. This really pissed off Joe Baker who yelling at Dave shouted, “You’re not supposed to laugh when somebody is trying to shoot you. We didn’t come here to waste our time and film”. With that the crew had to laboriously begin to set out the electrical lines again, reset the scene and synchronize the arrival of the Spitfire once more.
Later that morning Joe Baker seemed to be getting agitated with the developments of the filming and began to berate the crew and the director to the point that everybody was getting totally pissed off with him. In the following scene that they were filming Baker was to have jumped by parachute and landed in a tree where his chute got caught up. The crew went to great pains to get him up into a tall tree and fasten him into the harness. Throughout this procedure Baker continued to bitch and complain to the director. When Joe Baker was at last firmly secured about 15 feet off the ground the producer called a lunch break and walked off with the crew with Roger and Dave included and left him hanging there for over an hour. When they returned, Baker who was still hanging up in the tree, screamed and cursed everybody until his face turned purple. When they finally let him down he stormed off in a rage and that was the end of the day’s filming.
About half way through the season I was beginning to feel the effects of the way things had changed. The Holder brothers and I had always been close, as we were together since the Whirlwinds. Pete and I for the most part always used to stay together and I thought it just a little unusual at the time that they would have decided to stay together over at St Nick’s. John and Debbie were together and Dave saw Sonia regularly which created a lot of time for me on my own. I had no car and had not yet taken my driving test, so I had to rely on Dave for transport as he had his dad’s car. I was never the kind of guy that was into having a lot of different chicks. I preferred to have a relationship with just one girl like I had with Jackie Grant. Still feeling the loss of Jackie I decided to try to heal that loss by having a few casual affairs. I started to try to hang out with the girl dancers over at their place at St Nick’s. Mandy was good fun. She was arty, and liked to write poetry and was accompanied by her collie dog whose name was Penny. We had a lot of fun with séances, writing poetry and generally acted like a couple of little kids, but after we spent the night together everything changed and Mandy said that it had spoilt everything, because we had lost that child like friendship that we had shared. I guess that she was right.
The countryside outside of Great Yarmouth is comprised of an area known as the Broads which is a network of rivers and small lakes. It was then, as it is now a very popular tourist attraction with boat rentals available. Dave and I decided that it would be good fun to take some of the dancers with us and rent a boat. We invited Mandy, Carol, Ann and Wayne to join us. We found a small boathouse on one of the many rivers and rented a boat for the afternoon. It was really just like a big tub and after we had all jumped in we chugged very slowly away from the dock. With Dave at the wheel we gradually disappeared around the bend of the river, at a snail’s pace. It seemed that it was taking us forever to get anywhere, until Dave said “This is no bloody good Robbie, let’s pull over”. Dave turned off the engine and opened up the cover and after a brief scan of the engine he said “There’s a bloody governor on the engine” Using a pair of pliers that we found in a small tool box Dave relieved the engine of its governor and restarted the engine. As we pulled away you could feel the difference and even though there were six of us on board Dave soon got her up to full speed. The girls loved it as they laughed out loud with their hair blown about by the wind. Soon we were creating a huge wake behind the boat which caused large waves to break over the riverbanks. All at once up ahead we saw that we were bearing down on some approaching boats that were chugging merrily along under the control of their “Governors”. Dave shut off the engine in an attempt to slow us down but we were still going too fast, and as we sailed by, our wake caused the other boats to get tossed so violently up and down that the passengers were hanging on for dear life.
Although what we did was irresponsible we couldn’t stop from laughing and Dave was literally pissing himself. We then proceeded at a more careful speed until it looked clear ahead and Dave got us, once again up to full speed. This time we were swamping the fishermen on the banks. They glared and shook their fists at us as they watched their rods and keep nets getting tossed around by our wake. We pulled over shortly after wreaking havoc with all those poor people who had just wanted to go “mucking about on the river”. We enjoyed the sun for a while and then decided that we should start to head back as we had to work that night. Once again it was full throttle all the way back. Luckily we didn’t encounter any other boats on the way and it looked like the fishermen had gotten disgusted and had gone home or to the pub. We had no idea how far we were from the boathouse and kept at a good clip until we came careering around a bend and there was the boathouse right up ahead. Dave cut the engine but it was too late. We completely overshot the boathouse and were forced to try to turn around in the turbulent wake that followed us. The boat rental owners came out on the dock and watched us as we approached and tied up. We all jumped out like mischievous school kids with the girls laughing and Dave Wayne and I trying to look innocent. They didn’t say anything to us but we could tell that they were pissed off. They must have known that we had tinkered with the engine and had probably heard complaints from the other boaters that we had swamped them. They didn’t smile back when we piled into Dave’s car and bid them goodbye. They were just glad to get rid of us. So the Pirate captain Davey Watts who had terrorized the Norfolk Broads and had broken all previous speed records, drove off in a cloud of dust with his motley crew in the direction of Great Yarmouth and the Windmill theatre.
The parties continued to come and go and we got to meet quite a few celebrities from the other shows in town. I became friendly with the guys from Val Doonican’s backing band and used to watch them rehearse over at St. Nick’s in the clubroom. Roger and Pete bought a small boat so I didn’t see that much of them and it did seem like we were drifting apart as I only saw them when we were working. Tony Dalli had a Jaguar that he wanted to sell and Pete Holder at one time was interested in buying it, particularly as the license plate was P H 67 but the price was too high. The show went on in the same way, there were no major changes, nobody left the show and nobody got fired. Freddie got pissed off at John Davies one time though, as John had deliberately played the park dance sequence too fast so that Freddie and his dancing partner could barely keep up In the intermission Freddie told John that he was going to have him fired, but that didn’t happen, although I think that John heard a few words from the stage manager John Redgrave. My driving test finally came around and I failed it. When the examiner asked me to pull in and park at the nearest place and I parked in a no parking zone that sealed my fate. I was told that I had failed, but with a few more lessons I should be o k on the second test. I later found out from my instructor that the next available test would be about a week before the end of the season, so it looked like I would be able to get it all finished up before we had to leave.
At one of the parties I hooked up with one of the dancers and after a few drinks we joined the guests who were dancing, and we wound up dancing together all through the night. We were hip to hip and pelvis to pelvis gyrating simulated sex till the early hours. From time to time we would sit down to take a breather, and in part of our conversation she wondered if I knew that Pete and Roger were rehearsing with another band or singer over at St. Nick’s? We were both quite tipsy at the time and I didn’t really pay much attention to her babblings and really didn’t give it much thought but it did come right into my head the following morning when I woke up with Ann the dancer over at St Nick’s. Later in the day I asked her what it was that she had told me about Pete and Roger last night at the party. She said that she had heard them singing and playing with other musicians here at the resort in the clubhouse. I still didn’t know what to make of it; maybe they were just jamming with people? Dave and John picked me up from the resort for the show that night and as soon as I got into the car Dave told me that Pete and Roger were leaving the band at the end of the season. They were forming a vocal trio together with the lead singer of Billy Fury’s backing group The Gamblers. He also said that they would be called The Holder brothers and they would be appearing on a big show at The Aquarium Ballroom in Great Yarmouth towards the end of the season. “It’s true Robbie” John confirmed as he twisted around to look at me from the front seat “They really are leaving, Roger told the whole story to Dave this afternoon”. Now I figured it all out and understood what it was that Ann was trying to tell me.
I felt a little strange that night when we were all gathered in our dressing room, getting into our suits. Roger was explaining that they would be managed by John Redgrave with Larry Parnes being involved and they were joining up with Tony Tait the lead singer of the Gamblers to form a band in the same style as The Walker Brothers. That night in the orchestra pit and on stage I looked across at Roger and Pete with the knowledge that it would only be a few short weeks and we would be going separate ways. We had been together for close to four years from our beginning as Robb Gayle and the Whirlwinds, to our involvement with Joe Meek, followed by the Saxons and then finally to the New Tornados, as full time professional musicians and Joe Meek’s most trusted and loyal group. We had all been touched by the trauma and mystery of Joe Meek’s murder/ suicide. We had driven through many dark nights and slept in many decrepit hovels together. We had faced each other across many different stages, from tiny village halls in Gloucestershire to cabaret clubs, working men’s clubs, theaters and T V shows but now that was over. Pete and Roger were going on to do their thing together and John, Dave and I were going on to something unknown but one thing we did know was that we would have to get together the next day to plot a course of action.
Dave poured us out a cup of tea as we sat around the table in our chalet at the Ponderosa and we began to weigh up the situation. With the Holder brothers out of the picture we would end up without a bass player, or a lead player; no transport, possibly no P. A. system and what would the Cooper Agency‘s reaction be to all this. It was a scary situation but we just pressed on with what we knew had to be done. We put an ad in the Melody Maker. “Name Group currently appearing in Great Yarmouth is looking for pro bass player”. We left the phone number and address of the Windmill together with the time to call. We started searching the news paper looking for a van for sale.
That night at the Windmill during the intermission I found myself alone with Roger and Pete in the dressing room. Roger said that he and Pete felt bad and were sorry that they could not include me in their plans but they did offer me a way to keep the P. A. system for the Tornados. As we had owned the system since the Saxons I was entitled to a share in it. We figured out that their share would be about 45 pounds so if I could pay them off, the voice system would be mine. After discussing this with John and Dave I gave the Holders the money and John and Dave clubbed together and paid for the microphones. We needed to make a few repairs to the PA system as some of the plugs were faulty and got some help from the Dreamers’ roadie who recommended a place in Yarmouth that did good repair work.
Tony Dalli approached Dave to ask him if he would play the organ for him, for “I’ll Walk with God” at a charity concert after the show that coming Friday. It was to be held at the Olympia Theatre in Great Yarmouth and many stars were to be on the bill. The main artists were The Eric Delaney Big Band, Morecambe and Wise, Joe Henderson, Mike and Bernie Winters, Rolf Harris, Joe Baker, Susan Maugham and of course Tony Dalli. Dave admitted that the day before the show he was literally shitting himself, with his stomach in knots feeling quite concerned about being alone there at the show and backing Tony Dalli without his fellow Tornados; also knowing that there were to be many excellent musicians on the show added to Dave’s plight. As it turned out he had nothing to worry about as the whole show was a great success with Dave getting numerous compliments on his playing from many artists on the show. The only downside was that Dave had to lug his organ and amplification down there and back.
The season was beginning to wind down. The show was scheduled to close on September 9th so there was about three weeks left and we still had no new bass player or van. The Holder brothers were rehearsing regularly with Tony Tait over at St Nick’s. They were getting ready for their opening show which was only a week away. Each night at the show everything the Tornados did in the way of appearing at the Windmill became matter of fact and just like clocking in and out at a regular job. Pete and Roger would be pursuing their musical careers and presumably going on to bigger and better things leaving the remainder of the Tornados still barely floating in a pool of total uncertainty. There seemed to be an air of sadness brought about by these changing events. At that time Dave, John and I had no idea that the next few weeks would be bombarded by a series of unexpected events that would turn our luck around and catapult us into a new world of entertainment. As these events began to unfold my thoughts kept returning to the words that the gypsy had told me at the Ponderosa several weeks earlier.
We did however get one good laugh in before the end of the season. As the curtains opened for the ballet sequence in which Freddie Garrity would dance with “Prima Ballerina” Linda Goffin of the Fox Miller Dancers, the microphone and stand got caught up and was dragged off to the side of the stage and left suspended in the air as it was tangled up in the curtains. Freddie was unaware of this until it came to the part when he was to approach the front of the stage and pick up the microphone to sing his song. It seemed that nobody back stage was aware that the mike had suddenly changed its location so when Freddie directed anxious glances toward the wings John Redgrave realizing what had happened, rushed to let the curtains down enough so that Freddie could reach up to grab the microphone. We all had a good giggle down in the orchestra pit and Dave looked across at me with a grin on his face and whispered “Serves him right that cocky little bastard”.
When we were just about giving up hearing from any bass players, we received a call from a guy who said that he used to play bass for Johnny Hallyday, his name was Pete Hollis and we invited him down to the Windmill for an audition. As it turned out he had his own gear but he didn’t have a group van. He showed up at the Windmill on September 25th and we went through some of our numbers and he seemed to be working out o k, and because there were no other applicants from the Melody Maker ad and we were running out of time we took him on. We decided that he would stay in Yarmouth with us over at the Ponderosa and rehearse in the afternoons at the Windmill. He was about our age and looked like he could have been French, as he had a dark complexion and black wavy hair combed back. The very fact that, as he said, he played for Johnny Hallyday, made him appear even more French looking. He was actually a Londoner and quite respectable. He told us that his father was a dentist and they lived in a decent part of town. We introduced Pete Hollis to Roger and Pete and Roger was kind enough to let Hollis use his bass amp for the rehearsals. We put in a couple of good days of rehearsals with Pete Hollis and by Saturday afternoon we had the Tornados repertoire down pat. This was helped along by the use of some manuscript paper I had bought on which Dave had written out all the music for our set. We also worked on a set for the Diamond Twins as they were to appear at the Oasis Club the following Monday. Sonia had asked Dave if we could back the twins for this one nighter as they had played that venue before and were not happy with the backing group there.
After our Sunday gig at the Ponderosa, Pete and Roger rushed off for last minute rehearsals for their first appearance with Tony Tait as the Holder Brothers. John Redgrave, now their manager, had got them a spot on the rock show that was to be held at the Aquarium Theatre. Redgrave was able to pull this off as he knew Larry Parnes who was the promoter of the show. The Move who were part of the big star line up had been fired for playing too loud so this had opened up an opportunity for him to get the Holders on the show. Billy Fury was topping the bill which included artists such as Amen Corner and The Nashville Teens. The Holder brothers were to be backed by Billy Fury’s band that Tony Tait had once been a part of. Dave, Pete Hollis and I went down to the Aquarium that night to see the show. We turned up at the box office and told the cashier that we were the Tornados from the Windmill Theatre and we got free admission. We made our way upstairs to watch the show from the balcony. When the curtains opened for the Holder’s set we saw the three of them dressed in white suits that were made for them by Dougie Millings Their appearance as the curtains opened was accompanied by screams from girls in the audience. We looked down from the balcony and saw that the screamers were none other that the Fox Miller Girls who had consented to show up to scream for the boys. They performed three numbers which were embellished by a series of three hundred lighting combinations that were carried out by John Redgrave. All in all it was a good set but for me it felt very strange to see my long time band mates performing with another singer in another group. It gave me an empty feeling inside and in some ways created a feeling of sadness for me. Although it was not the kind of line up that I would have wanted to have been involved in, I still felt that I should have been up there with them in some way. I walked away from the theatre after the show with Dave and Pete Hollis realizing that it was in fact over between the Holder Brothers and me.
Monday afternoon when we arrived at the Windmill we were told by John Redgrave that the show would be closing a week early on September 2nd.We never found out why but we knew that now, more than ever that we had to work on getting a van quickly. This also meant that I would have to stay down in Yarmouth for an extra few days to take my driving test. The show at the Oasis that night where we backed up the Diamond Twins, went smoothly considering that it was our first engagement with our new bass player. Pete Hollis turned out to be pretty good and Roger actually was kind enough to lend Pete his stage suit to wear for the gig. Roger actually ended up selling the suit to Pete at the end of the season.
Things took a change for the better when Dave spotted a van for sale in the local newspaper. It was a Bedford and they were asking fifty pounds for it. The van was to be found at an address in London so we got up at six am and drove to the location. We spotted the Bedford parked on the side of the road. It was blue and looked like it had seen better days. There was a kangaroo emblem on the back door along with an Australian flag and I couldn’t help feeling that somebody had probably driven it all the way from Sydney to London. We walked up to the front door of the house only to find that there was nobody home. We were totally pissed off knowing that we had driven all that way for nothing. Pete Hollis came up with a good idea which was that Dave and I should return to Yarmouth and that he would go home and come back the next day to try to buy the van and if successful he would drive down to Yarmouth. We agreed and dropped him off in the West End with Dave giving him a blank cheque to pay for the van. As we drove off I turned to Dave and said “Bloody ‘ell Dave what if he cashes the cheque and we never see him again?” Dave looked at me and said “I never thought about that Robbie, but wait a minute we still have his bass guitar and that’s worth a lot more than the van so he’ll be back”. Dave was right, Pete did come back and he drove up to the Ponderosa on Saturday afternoon just as we were getting ready to leave for our final show at the Windmill. We decided that we would travel down to the theatre in our newly acquired van. The Bedford coughed and sputtered all the way there and it looked as if we would need to have it worked on at some time, but for now we were doing fine we had a sound system, a van and a new bass player.
That night we played our final show at the Windmill. It was a regular show. There were no practical jokes or attempts by the stage crew to sabotage anybody’s act; in fact it was the complete opposite of the fiasco that had occurred on the final show in Blackpool a year before. This would be the last show that I would ever play with Pete and Rog , I would not see them again for seven or so years I don’t remember shaking hands saying “Good Luck” or even saying goodbye and thoughts of that have a much bigger impact on me today than they had back then. The show was followed by a big party over at St Nick’s with an abundance of alcohol flowing freely It was a party where a cast of people who had worked together for the past three months were saying goodbye and going on to other shows in all different locations; one nighters, weeks of cabaret TV and Radio. As the Tornados our future was uncertain. Joe Meek was out of the picture, we had not yet told the Cooper Organization of the split in the band, we were working with a new bass player and we had heard no news of any up coming work for the band.
The final week of the show I had been talking to a girl who was working in the booking office at the Windmill I can’t remember her name but she had caught my eye and we had become quite friendly. She accepted my invitation and accompanied me to the party. We spent our time at the party chatting mostly about music with me talking about the new jazz albums that I had recently bought. I told her that I would be staying on at the Ponderosa for a few more days as I was to take my driving test. She felt a little sorry for me as I would be all alone for those few days and suggested that we might hang out together. I took her up on her offer and made arrangements to meet her again on Sunday evening.
Sunday turned out to be a nightmare. We had an awful time trying to make the gear fit into the van. The seats in the back needed to be taken out to make enough space but we had no tools to accomplish this so after about four hours of sweating and cursing we finally got it all in having to place some stuff on the passenger seat and a few extra items in Dave’s Zephyr. John and Debbie hitched a ride with Pete Hollis who dropped them off in Acton as they had got a place to stay there together. Dave drove the van to his parents’ house in Bromley as that Monday we were scheduled to back the Diamond Twins on a TV show in Dover. I of course was unable to make the gig, so just Dave, John and Roger played and were paid fifteen guineas each which was pretty good money. Returning from the show Dave was stopped by the police and was issued a fine for having no road tax on the van. The cost of the citation ate up the money he was paid for the show so Dave had nothing to show for his labor.
Meanwhile back at the Ponderosa, having no transport I caught the bus down into Yarmouth and met my date at the Windmill. She invited me to her place telling me that her parents were away on holiday and we could listen to some music together. I had brought a couple of albums so we listened to Wes Montgomery and Charlie Byrd and spent a very pleasant evening together. I guess that I could have spent the night there but a little voice in my head said “You better not” so I decided to catch the last bus and returned to the Ponderosa. On Monday she came over and we hung out together all day long. The chalet was quiet now as the band had left the day before and I took advantage of this spending most of the time in the bedroom. When the time came to say goodbye she started to cry asking if we would ever see each other again. I consoled her saying that I would be back again some day and we would get together. I never returned to Great Yarmouth and never got to see her again.
This time, the driving test was a breeze. It looked like the examiner was uninterested in anything that I was doing and spent most of the time looking out of the window at the shop fronts and passers by. On our return to the driver license station I was happy to tell my instructor that I had passed my test and we chatted amiably as he drove me back to the Ponderosa where I spent the evening getting my suitcase packed. Next morning I said goodbye to the managers of the Ponderosa and handed them the key to the Chalet. On the train ride to London I began to wonder how things had been going with Dave and what might be in store for yet another “New” Tornados band. I looked up at my green suitcase that I had thrown up onto the luggage rack. It was no longer shiny and new like it was when I had bought it a year and a half ago in the Bon Marche in Gloucester. Now it bore the scuffs, scratches and battle scars of one night stands, variety and cabaret shows and countless trips up and down the M 1. It had been dragged in and out of hotels and guest houses and forced in between amps and drum cases in the back of the group van. I gazed out of the compartment window at the countryside and thought of where that suitcase might be another year down the road. I smiled to myself as I remembered that I had passed my driving test and fantasized about maybe being able to save up enough money to buy a Zephyr 4, or even a 6. It would be nice to have my own car and not have to travel by train everywhere.
On my arrival at the Watts’ residence I rang the door bell which was answered by Dave who proceeded to jump up and down, smiling from ear to ear. “Wait till you hear this, Robbie” Dave beamed. I followed Dave into the kitchen where Mrs. Watts had just made a pot of tea, and over a welcome “cuppa” Dave told me the news of the past few days. He thought that there was something fishy going on over at the Cooper Organization as on Tuesday morning he had received a call from Harry Dawson. Harry wanted to make a deal with the Tornados that would involve him being the sole manager of the band. It looked like Dawson might be leaving Cooper and would be setting up his own agency. Dave told Harry that we could not commit to a deal like that as he would have to discuss it with the rest of the band. A few weeks later we found out that Dawson had actually been fired from the Cooper Organization for allegedly cheating George Cooper out of a lot of money. It seems that they not only cheated their acts, but also stole from each other. On top of this, Dave got a call from Larry Parnes the following morning with an offer for the Tornados to back Billy Fury on his cabaret dates and one- nighters. Parnes was closely connected to the Cooper Organization and as he had met us a year ago at the Blackpool Show, which he had promoted along with Cooper, he knew our capabilities and offered us the job.
He had taken us all out to dinner one night in Blackpool and after dinner we wound up at his flat for drinks. He loved to talk about cooking and said how much he enjoyed making spaghetti. The only thing he didn’t like was having to stand holding the pasta in the boiling water and waiting for it to soften. He also seemed to be interested in Pete Holder and made some comments about making him a film star. The thing I remember the most about that night was traveling in Parnes’ Bentley and having fun operating the power windows. Now a year later he had invited Dave over to his luxurious penthouse on Park Lane where Dave had been that very afternoon. Dave told me that the place was absolutely unbelievable and that he had not seen so much luxury in all his life. Larry offered Dave a drink which he poured from a cocktail bar that was hidden inside the wall. Parnes pushed a button and a huge array of liquor appeared just like magic. Larry went on to tell Dave that he was very interested in the Tornados and could be very helpful to us in our careers. We would have to be ready to back Billy Fury on the coming Sunday at the Batley Variety club which at that time was the biggest cabaret venue in the country. Dave, although realizing that we would only have three days to prepare for Billy’s act, went ahead and accepted Parnes’ offer, knowing that the band would have no objections. When the conversation came around to the Holder Brothers, Larry Parnes told Dave that he wanted nothing to do with them. This signaled to us that maybe the future did not look so bright for Roger and Pete after all. He may have had no further interest in them as John Redgrave was their manager and this left no room for him to get in on the scene. Throughout his meeting with Dave, Parnes continually sprinkled sexual innuendos into the conversation and only when his intentions became clearer and direct did Dave decide that it was time to leave. Larry Parnes had tried the same thing a year before with Pete Holder in Blackpool. He had invited Pete out for dinner at a ritzy night club in Manchester and sent a chauffer driven limousine to pick him up. All night long he impressed Pete with his ideas that Pete could be an actor like Terrance Stamp and at one point in the evening, much to Pete’s embarrassment, he had the emcee announce that there was a celebrity in the house. Pete was introduced as the lead guitarist of the Tornados of “Telstar” fame and with the spotlight directed at him he was made to stand up and take a bow. Later that night back at Parnes’ hotel room when Pete refused Larry’s sexual advances and offers to spend the night, he was ushered out and driven back home to Blackpool but not in a limo this time. Pete joked about how he was picked up in a limousine and brought back home in a Ford. To make matters worse when Pete arrived home at four in the morning without a key to get in he climbed up a drainpipe and broke the bathroom window to get access as he didn’t want to wake us up.
On the sixth of September 1967 the Tornados’ world had completely turned around. We had gone from not knowing what we would be doing after the season at Great Yarmouth, to suddenly becoming Billy Fury’s backing group with the promise of regular work and maybe some opportunities in the future. That night Dave and I along with Mickey Watts, (Dave’s dad) sat in the front room of the house and sampled some of Mickey’s alcohol which was mostly made up of liqueurs that he had bought and collected on trips abroad; mainly Spain. It was nice to go to bed that night feeling a little nervous, but very excited about what the coming week would bring.
We were woken up the next morning by Dave’s mum as she knocked on the bedroom door “Dave… There’s somebody on the phone”. It was Pete Hollis calling to tell us that he was on the way over for the rehearsal with Billy. John had not called as yet and knew nothing of the “Billy Fury” deal. We did hear from him about an hour later when he called to see what was happening. John surprisingly seemed to be full of trepidation as Dave told him of the deal. “We can’t do it, we’ll never pull it off, I don’t know if I can do this and I can’t make it for the rehearsal” Once again we were plunged into that world of uncertainty and disappointment. But Dave just told John in a matter of fact way” That’s alright John, we’re going anyway and I think I’ll give Mickey Simmons a call, he used to play for the Symbols, he might want the gig”.
Pete Hollis, Dave and I arrived at the rehearsal hall and set up our gear. We were warming up and running through a few numbers when Billy walked in. He was alone with no managers or entourage following him. We stopped playing and he walked up to us and smiling he greeted us and shook hands with us. It was a knockout experience for me as I was a big B.F. fan and once again I was enjoying the thrill of being close to and working with a rock star that I had gone to see at the local rock shows that came to town. My sister and I would go together and she would scream “Billy!” and I would sit there just wishing that I could be up on that stage. Be careful what you wish for! Billy was great. He looked great and dressed great and had a very pleasant if slightly shy demeanor.
We told him that our drummer was ill but he would be coming tomorrow which didn’t bother him. We actually had no idea at that time if we had a drummer or not but we just hoped for the best. Billy had brought some tapes with him and he used my Gibson 335 to show me some of the chords in the songs. We listened on a tape recorder that he had brought to the 8 or 9 songs he did in his set. I knew most of them and along with Pete Hollis working out the bass and Dave doing his thing on the Hammond the first get together with Billy Fury went well. The vibes were good and it was a big pleasure to work with Billy. He was just a very nice, down to earth, regular kind of guy that had a special aura about him. He was a star, albeit not as big as he once was, but he still had that charisma, that something very special. He was the closest thing that we ever had to Elvis. There was Cliff Richard of course but he was a little too nice. Billy could pull off that mean sexy look together with those Elvis style movements on stage. We watched as he drove off in his Mercedes Benz then turned around to pack up the gear still not knowing who, or if anybody at all would be playing drums for us at the next rehearsal.
Later that night Dave and I listened to Billy’s tapes and Dave started to write out the music for the songs. At one point the phone rang and it was John calling to ask how it went with Billy. From what I could understand from the conversation it seemed like John would be coming to the rehearsal and Dave confirmed that after he had hung up the phone.” Yeah Robbie it looks like John will be coming after all. It’s just as well, I couldn’t get hold of Mickey Simmons, and he’s playing away somewhere anyway” Once again we were back on the plus side. We gave Pete Hollis a call to let him know that John would be showing up after all and with a feeling of relief Dave and I continued our work on Billy’s numbers. When it got very late I had to go off to bed but Dave stayed up most of the night writing out the parts for us.
The next day it was great to rehearse with the whole band present. We arrived early so that we could run through some of the numbers before Billy arrived. We were about halfway through “I’ll never find another you” when Billy arrived. Once again he was alone and as we stopped playing he walked up and with a smile he said “Sounds good boys” We ran through a few numbers with Billy and everything felt real good and relaxed. It was great to work with him as he never attempted to be the big star singer, treating us as humble musicians. He, although older than us, he was twenty seven at the time, was just like a member of the band and one of the lads. I always felt very comfortable with Billy, he didn’t have any attitudes. At the end of a good rehearsal as Billy was leaving, he said that he had a 100 watt Marshall P A system that we could use if we wanted and all we had to do was pick it up from him. This was a great thing for us as the Vox column speakers and 50 watt Dynachord P A amp we had, didn’t amount to much so now with this most desirable P A within reach things were really looking good. We would be able to use it on our gigs too It was remarkable that Roger and Pete had bought a Marshall P A for the Holder Brothers and now suddenly we were to have a Marshall too and it wasn’t costing us anything. That evening Dave and I unbolted all the seats in the back of the van, took them out and put them down at the end of the back yard where they would rust in peace. Now we were truly ready for the road. There was plenty of room in the back of the Bedford now for all our gear including the PA that we picked up from Billy the next day. On the way back to Bromley we stopped off in the West End to buy a couple of Shure Mikes and cables. As we got out of the van and walked towards the music store we saw Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce standing out side. We nodded and they nodded and we walked inside. The rest of the afternoon Dave and I spent testing out the P A. With a celebration curry down at the local Indian or “Brownie” as we called it, the day ended with a good feeling that we had accomplished something.
Sunday would be an exciting and challenging day for us. It would be our first gig with Billy Fury; the first of a set of seven nightly shows at the Batley Variety Club. Dave and I were out of the house by 7 a. m, with Dave driving the “Old Banger” van and me following cautiously behind in Mickey Watts’ yellow and black Zephyr, losing my driving virginity by embarking on my first ever solo drive. Dave seemed to be able to get access to his dad’s car as needed. We picked up Pete Hollis and his gear and headed up the M! to rendezvous with John Davies at the Blue Boar Café and then make our way up north. We pulled up outside the café and looked around for John but he was nowhere to be seen. We waited for about a half hour but no sign of him. Dave suggested that Pete and I take off in the van and that he would stay behind and wait for John. He said he could travel faster than us and could make up for the lost time quicker by car. Pete and I thought that was a good idea and took off up the M1. We left not knowing if John would even show up. If he didn’t, Dave wouldn’t even be able to let us know. We didn’t have the luxury of cell phones in those days and for the most part we just went ahead like pioneers into the great unknown jungle of the entertainment world, and hoped for the best.
With the old Bedford coughing and sputtering Pete Hollis and I made our way up the M1 with everything looking as if we would reach our destination in Batley with no hitches. When Pete took a wrong exit from the motorway our luck changed. Unable to find our way back to the M1 we pushed on blindly, stopping here and there on the way to ask directions to Batley from various pedestrians. The best we could get out of them was that we were a long way from there and nobody could really give us any dependable directions. As we proceeded to drive from one small town to another we started to become aware of an ominous knocking sound that was coming from somewhere in the back of the van. It sounded like it was coming from the rear axle. We stopped to take a look at the axle, but with both of us not really knowing what we were looking for we continued on hoping to find a petrol station with a repair shop. It was Sunday afternoon and everywhere was deserted and with the knocking sound becoming louder by the minute we began to worry. By now it was mid afternoon and our prospects of reaching Batley in time looked fairly remote. The knocking sound had increased to a heavy thudding and just when we thought that it was the end for us we suddenly spotted a filling station ahead and pulled up at the pumps. The repair shop was closed but the attendant who turned out to be the owner offered to try to help us out. “You’ve got the wrong size wheel on the back left hand side. If you would have gone another mile the bloody wheel would have fallen off” was the news he gave us as he crawled out from under the back of the van. He then went on to give us a lengthy explanation of how many pounds per square inch of added pressure had been exerted on the axle due to the wrong size rim and with it being Sunday there was nowhere open to get a replacement so we were basically stuck. Pete and I were at a loss to know what to do. We could not contact Dave and we had no phone number for the club. It looked as if we would be letting Billy Fury down on our first ever engagement with him. When all seemed totally lost the mechanic said “Wait a minute” and walked off disappearing behind the filling station. Pete and I looked at each other hoping that some kind of miracle would happen that could turn our desperate situation around. A few minutes later he appeared carrying a rim which he joyously told us that he had found in a pile of rubbish at the back of the station. Upon investigation he found that it was indeed the right size that we needed. After he had mounted the tire and all was ready we thanked him profusely. We settled up with him and after getting some good directions we set off again and eventually pulled into Batley at around 7 pm that evening.
We found the club and drove around to the stage door and saw Dave’s car parked there. At least he had made it on time and presumably with John. As Pete and I entered the dressing room Dave exploded “Where the fucking hell have you been” he shouted “We’re supposed to go in 30 minutes”. There was very little time for explanations so we hurriedly brought the gear inside and set it up on the stage. Billy was hanging around back stage and was visibly concerned but happy that we had made it. An announcement was made in the club that the show would be running half an hour late and we finally got to appear at 8 o’clock. We were to perform our 30 minute set which would be followed by Billy’s act. After the stress of the day I was very nervous on stage and totally fucked up the guitar solos in “Telstar” and “Lawrence of Arabia” much to the displeasure of Dave who glared at me from across the stage. Our first performance as the new set of Tornados was disappointing due mainly to my bad playing. One thing we had not really thought about was my playing of Pete Holder’s lead parts. I had always been rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist since Robb Gayle and the Whirlwinds and playing melodies was not a strong point with me. I was more into blues type of improvisation and never was any good at playing Hank Marvin style guitar.
We had more success with Billy’s act. There were no specific lead parts for guitar and I was comfortable just to play rhythm guitar as I had always done. We played the set without any problems and got our first ever set with Billy Fury under our belts. Back in the dressing room after the show Dave asked what the fuck I was doing in the guitar solos and said “Well we really missed Pete Holder tonight didn’t we boys?” I was embarrassed and felt bad inside. I kind of knew that it wouldn’t get any better, and it didn’t. Near the end of the week after I had continued to fuck up the solos each night Dave said “Okay Robbie, that’s enough I’ll play them from now on”. I was off the hook and felt relieved that I would no longer have to be faced with that problem, but I was upset and felt that my musicianship was questionable. I dealt with it by telling myself that it was because I was not into that kind of playing and that was not what I wanted to play. Although true, it was still an excuse. I was just unable to play those parts correctly, simple as they may have been.
I didn’t realize it at the time but that unfortunate situation would lead to a turning point in my musical career. I would gradually come to experience the reality of working in a band in which I was one of the main songwriters, where we performed only our own original material and were able to preserve that music on three L P’s. It would be part of the “psychedelic” era moving towards “psyche- hard rock”. Forty years down the road we would be considered a curiosity in musical history. Rare copies of our first album would sell for up to $3000.00 each and would be called the “Rarest psychedelic record in the world.”
The nightclub recommended us a place to stay for the week. It was a cottage that was attached to a large mansion house and was once probably used as a gamekeeper’s residence or servants’ quarters. It was up on a hillside with thick woods at the back of the property. The only bad point was the gas works down the street. When the wind blew in the right direction the unmistakable smell of coal gas wafted in through the windows. Although old, the accommodation was comfortable so we settled in for the week. We made arrangements to rehearse with Billy the following afternoon at the club. Everything went very well, Billy was pleased and we had got his act down well as a band. Billy was in my opinion the coolest singer that I ever worked with. Even though we did have a great rehearsal we did have a mishap on the show that night. During Billy’s act he announced the number and Dave counted it in. Unfortunately Dave had his music sheets in the wrong order and while the rest of us were on the right song. Dave was playing another number in a totally different key. Billy turned round and in a very polite way said” No ,no lads that’s the wrong number” We got ourselves together and Dave professionally counted it in again and off we went with the right song. Billy never mentioned anything to us about the mistake. He didn’t throw any temper tantrums in the dressing room afterwards. We did apologize to him but he said that it was okay and to forget about it. Tuesday night the singing duo Peter and Gordon appeared on the bill for a one nighter. Backstage they acted aloof and didn’t speak to us although Gordon Waller may have mumbled “Hi”. I don’t think that they even acknowledged Billy. Somebody from their company did mention to us that there would be a big party at Peter Asher’s place at the end of the week and we were invited and it sounded like fun.
About half way through that week at Batley it occurred to me that we were not that far from Barnsley. That was where my ex girlfriend Jackie Grant lived with her parents; unless she was away working somewhere. Now that I could drive and had access to the van I was able to do things without having to rely on others for my transport. With this new feeling of independence I boldly decided that I would drive over to Barnsley to see if Jackie was home and if she was I would invite her to the show. Don’t ask me how I remembered her address or how to get there but I did show up one afternoon and knocked at the door. It was opened by her mum who called out,” Ay by gum, it’s Rob, Pam” and invited me in. Well at least I knew that Jackie was home and that it had not been a waste of time to drive over there. I followed Mrs. Eastwood into the living room and caught sight of Jackie sitting on the sofa, nervously fixing her hair. It had been almost 6 months since we last saw each other and it seemed like we were strangers. Her mum shuffled off into the kitchen to put the kettle on while we chatted about what we were doing and so forth. I decided to leave after about an hour and on my way out I asked Jackie if she would like to come to the show the following evening. She said that she would and I arranged to pick her up the next day. On the drive back to Batley I felt good and thought that I might have accomplished something. Jackie looked good and I carried a hope somewhere inside of me that maybe we could renew our relationship.
That hope was blown away the following evening when I arrived to find Jackie and her mum all dressed up and ready to go. “Me mum said she’d like to come with us, if that’s alright” What could I say? Although I knew at that point that there was no hope, I continued to act like a gentleman. I got them some good seats and a couple of drinks and they actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. I looked out into the audience and picked her out when I was singing “Let it be me” and remembered when she used to stand in the wings at Coventry in her sexy little jungle suit and watch me and smile from the side of the stage. After the show I brought them back stage and introduced them to Billy and the rest of the band. On the drive back to Barnsley the conversation was up beat between Jackie, her mum and I, and I thought that maybe there was still a chance that her mum might go on in and leave Jackie and me alone for a few minutes when we got to their home. That didn’t happen but I did get invited in for a cup of tea with a chance to chat a little more, although not on an intimate level. I mentioned that there was some talk about the Tornados possibly going to France to tour with Billy Fury. Jackie said that she might be going to Paris with a dancing group. “Maybe we’ll meet again in France” I said with a smile as I left. “Maybe we will” Jackie answered. I bid them goodbye, got into the Bedford and drove off and never saw her again.
On the way back to Batley while stopped at a red light I accidentally hit the ignition key and cut off the engine. Within half a second I turned the key to restart it creating the loudest backfire I had ever heard. It was late at night but a few pedestrians were still walking home and I saw them all literally jump out of their skins when the van backfired. Later on at the cottage I told the guys what had happened and we all had a good laugh about it. Of course, the next day Dave and Pete couldn’t wait to try to recreate the backfire and we decided to take a drive downtown that afternoon. Looking up ahead we saw about a dozen people standing in line at a bus stop. That all too familiar look of mischief appeared on Dave’s face as he slowed the Bedford down and when we got adjacent to the queue at the bus stop he quickly turned the ignition on and off. It was a great success, he had reproduced a huge backfire and we all burst into fits of laughter as we saw the whole line of people jump into the air altogether with terrified looks wondering where this huge bang had come from. We spent the next hour driving around Batley and Dewsbury looking for suitable bus queues and heavy pedestrian areas where we could work our backfire mischief. As we hung out at the cottage later that afternoon we began to notice that Pete Hollis had a moody side to him. He would suddenly become very quiet and soon would disappear for a long time in his room He was washing his hair and blow drying it for what seemed like hours. We saw this to become a daily routine with him and Dave would say “Oh oh, Pete’s washing his hair again.
Thursday night in our dressing room before the show, Billy walked in and told us that he wanted us to be his permanent backing group which we were happy to hear. He told us that we would also be working again the following week in Warrington. We would be doing two shows a night at two different venues and would be sharing the bill with Freddy Starr and the Delmonts. He also asked me what the song was that I was playing and singing as he walked in. I told him that it was one of my own songs and he asked me to play it for him. It was a song called “The Wedding of Mr. James and Mrs. Brown”. He listened closely and when it came to the end he said “That’s a great song man, I really like it and I’d like to record it on my next album”. I was thrilled to hear Billy Fury say that he wanted to record one of my songs. That never happened, but I do believe that he would have done a great version of it probably using an orchestral style backing. I shortened the title to “The Wedding” and finally recorded it myself some thirty eight years later and featured it on the Joe Meek tribute album called Lost Songs of the Sixties.
Friday night after the show we decided to check out the Peter and Gordon party. When we arrived we found out that it turned out to be some kind of fancy dress party and everybody was in “drag”. We definitely stuck out like sore thumbs dressed in our regular everyday “Mod gear”. We were definitely out of place and felt uncomfortable and at one point when we were approached by some guy wearing a dress informing us that there was a charge of 30 “bob” per person to go towards the drinks Dave said “Well that’s it then boys”, and we planned to make our escape. We were a little embarrassed about just walking out altogether and leaving, so we decided that we should leave discretely one by one as if we were going to the toilet. Dave was first off followed a minute later by John and then by Pete leaving me the last and alone in the room. Just as I was turning to leave, the guy who was collecting the money walked up asking “Are you staying then?” I just walked off and turning my head to him I said “I’m just going to the toilet, I’ll be back in a minute” and made my way to the toilet but scooted out of the front door. Dave was at the wheel of the Zephyr with John and Pete and walking briskly out through the front gate I jumped in beside the guys and we drove off into the night laughing about our weird, short trip to the “Peter and Gordon Drag Party”.
Somebody at the club told us about a very nice van that was for sale which would be suitable for us. As the old Bedford was getting the worst for wear with its muffler totally blown out due to our repeated “backfire” antics, on Saturday morning we drove over to take a look at it. It was a total piece of crap actually much worse that what we already had so we decided to keep the Bedford for the time being anyway.
Saturday night we were in high spirits. It was the last night of the week at Batley and we were feeling satisfied that we had done a pretty good job backing Billy on our first week with him As we hung out that evening back stage in our dressing room a knock came at the door. It was a reporter from the local news paper who introduced himself and requested an interview with us and Billy Fury. Billy had not yet arrived so we went ahead with the interview. Placing his “Nikon” down on the table and pulling out his notebook he asked us what it was like to be backing Billy, but most of the interview was centered around our experiences with Joe Meek in particular the murder-suicide. From time to time he would pick up his camera and snap shots of us. When another knock came at the door it was the Mayor of Batley who was attending the show that night and wanted to meet Billy. We chatted with him and the reporter until Billy showed up. They decided that they would move into the dressing room next door to interview Billy and the three of them stood up and left. A minute or two later as we began to get into our stage clothes we noticed that the reporter had left his camera sitting on the table and as Pete Hollis moved to pick it up and return it Dave said” Hold on a minute Pete” and I saw that all too familiar, mischievous twinkle appear in Dave’s eyes. Dave said “Keep an eye on the door Robbie” and pulling down his underwear he passed the camera to John saying “Here Johnnie take a real good shot of my arse” Dave got up on the table, raised his legs in the air and spread his cheeks. John sprang into action and assuming the stance of a professional photographer he promptly snapped a great shot of Dave’s lower extremity. As Dave hurriedly pulled up his underpants we were once more surprised by another knock at the door and it was the reporter who had returned to retrieve his forgotten camera. Trying hard to contain our laughter we watched as John handed it to him. “We were just about to bring it back to you” said Johnnie and the reporter said “Thanks boys” and left. We all fell about laughing as Pete said “I bet he’ll get a bloody big surprise when that film gets developed” We could only imagine the look on his face as he would sift through the photos and come across that beautiful close up of Dave’s anus.
Sunday afternoon it was time to “pay the piper” for our irresponsible abuse of the muffler backfires. When we were about half way over the Pennines the complete muffler assembly fell off the van. We stopped and threw it into the back of the van and banged around until we reached Warrington and found the club. The poster outside the club read Billy Fury and the Tornados and Freddy Starr and the Delmonts. We never got to see Freddy Starr or the Delmonts for that matter as both bands were in transit between the shows. We opened at the Garrick Lea Towers and closed in Warrington. It was always agreed that bands would use each others amps and drums as there was no time to break down the gear between the shows. We found out that there was a huge concert organ at Warrington which Dave was not eager to play so we decided that we would try to take Dave’s Hammond organ, his big “coffin” speaker cabinet and 100 Watt amplifier from gig to gig. The first night it was like a nightmare trying to get Dave’s gear out of the club and into the van. It became clear that we would be running late due to the delay with the equipment. We rushed into the club with only a few minutes to spare before we were due to appear but as soon as we got Dave’s organ set up we discovered that we had forgotten the plug board and with a shortage of electrical outlets we were unable to get Dave’s gear plugged in . We did our show with Dave doing his best to play the huge concert organ with its multiple keyboards and vast array of knobs and stops but we got through our set and Billy’s set went well too On the way back to the digs after the show Dave said “Well boys there’s not enough time to move the Hammond and it was such a muck up tonight I suppose I’ll just have to play that bloody big organ and sound just like Sandy McPherson”.
Early in the week John Redgrave showed up at the club. He said that he had come to help us with our stage act and presentation. I thought it rather strange that here he was buzzing around the Tornados when I thought he should have been working with the Holder Brothers. I suppose that he was trying to get in with whoever he could to manifest his desire to be a group manager. The week passed without incident with Dave making the best out of the Sandy McPherson organ and with Billy seemingly satisfied with our backing. We did notice however the moodiness of Pete Hollis when we hung out at the digs during the day. He would suddenly get very quiet and his regular hair washing and mega blow dry sessions were a ritual. I noticed how it was beginning to bother John and Dave. They often made comments about him and said that he was a bit on the weird side and not one of the boys. The Joe Baker show together with Dave and Roger’s performance was aired on that Friday night when we were at Warrington. We never got to see it as we were working. I was disappointed to say the least as I was looking forward to seeing the show after Dave had told me all about those hilarious events that took place during the filming.