TORNADOS: PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5
More changes in the lineup and Sonia from the Diamond Twins joins the band.
More gig stories on the road doing Cabaret clubs and one nighters with Billy.
Recording sessions and the band is offered a tour of Israel and accepts.
A last minute set back before we leave for Israel and another lineup change.
A grueling journey through France and a horrendous Mediterranean crossing.
The Tornados meet Mandy Rice – Davies in Tel- Aviv.
Robb strikes up a friendship with Stan Solomon of the Churchills.
The Tornados final gig and the band breaks up.
We had heard from George Cooper that we had a one – nighter in Manchester right at the end of the month so as we needed more rehearsals with Pete Hollis in order to fulfill that gig, we decided that we would give the Top Hat club in Spennymoor a call and ask the manager whose name happened to be Johnny Ray if we could do some rehearsals during the day at the club. He kindly consented so we decided to spend some time in Spennymoor to get the Tornados up to scratch. We checked in to the Knicky Knack Guest House once again and found out that our old mates The Symbols were appearing at the Top Hat for the week. They were also staying at the Guest House. We got the rehearsals underway in the afternoons when Johnny Ray was getting the bar set up for the night. One afternoon he asked us if we would like to do a residency gig at the Top Hat for 200 pounds a week. It would be steady work and money. 50 pounds a week each sounded appealing but we decided to turn it down. After all we were the Tornados and the Tornados were not a residency band. We had our gigs with Billy and there were some things coming up so we decided that we would continue as we were. Anyway the thought of continuingly having to learn and perform all the top ten hits was unappealing to us, and it would just turn us into a nothing kind of residency band playing everybody else’s hits. The future of the Tornados was uncertain but we felt that it would be better to stick with what we had.
After spending a couple of days down in Gloucester I drove the old Bedford to Bromley and met Dave at his parents’ house. Dave told me that John had found us a new bass player and not only that, Dave said that he had received a call from George Cooper to say that we were booked to do a radio show with Billy Fury on October the 5th for the BBC program called Swingalong. This was to be in two days time so once again we were under the gun to get ready with our new bass player. We had often expressed to each other how we felt about Pete Hollis and his moody ways and felt that if someone suitable should come along we would make the change. John had mentioned Chris Lethbridge who I remembered from the Saxon days. He played in a band from Cheltenham called the Road Hogs. I can’t say that I really knew him but I had seen him play a couple of times so he was not like a complete stranger. John apparently had gone to Cheltenham to look for Chris only to find out that he was playing in a residency down in Torquay. The name of the club they played at was called Pegotty’s and they were called Pegotty’s People. When John failed to find any phone number for a club called Pegotty’s and knowing the urgency of the situation, he decided to call the police station in Torquay. He had been given Chris’s address by his sister but there was no phone there. John said that it was urgent that Chris call him as he had news that Chris’s uncle was here from Canada and wanted to see him. So the local constable went around delivering the urgent news. When he heard “Police! Open the door” Chris thought for sure that it must be some kind of drug raid and feared the worst. He was very relieved when he heard the news about his uncle from Canada who of course did not exist and thought that John was playing some kind of practical joke on him. Chris called John to curse him out for playing such a dangerous trick on him involving the police. Anyway Chris took up John’s offer to join the Tornados.
On Tuesday 3rd of October at 11 am John showed up in Bromley with Chris in tow. Chris and I acknowledged that we remembered one another and after the usual chit chat we introduced Chris to Dave. Chris was about 20 years old, had medium length mousey brown hair. He was wearing a grey double breasted RAF overcoat which he proudly told us that he had bought at the Army and Navy surplus store. Under his arm he carried his blond Gibson EBO bass which was Gibson’s best selling bass guitar for the 60’s and 70’s. Without delay we started to work on the six songs that we were to record with Billy. Together we carried Dave’s Hammond into the front room and I brought in my Marshall amp which Chris and I played through while John tapped away with his drum sticks on a cardboard box. We were coming along very well with the rehearsal when we heard the phone ring. Mrs. Watts who had just been preparing a pot of tea for us popped her head around the door announcing that Pete Hollis was on the phone. With all our attention directed towards the rehearsal we had totally forgotten all about him and now we were faced with a dilemma. What were we going to tell him and who was going to speak to him? It was quickly decided that the thankless job would be given to me. I picked up the phone and putting on the saddest voice I explained to Pete that the band had broken up and I was getting my stuff together to move back to Gloucester When he asked to speak to Dave I told him that Dave had left the band and was rehearsing with the Symbols and I had no idea where John was. So that was that, I said goodbye and wished him luck and with a high degree of relief I returned to the front room and continued to rehearse.
Chris turned out to be very quick to learn the bass parts for Billy’s songs and by the early evening we had them all completed. Chris was really a likeable character with a great dry sense of humor although at times a little on the sarcastic side. His favorite television show was Captain Pugwash (a popular kid’s program at the time). During conversation he would regularly inject the line “Back to the Black Pig Tom” which he said with a put on voice in the style of the Captain Pugwash character. The following day we met up with Billy at a rehearsal hall and ran through the numbers. Everything went along very well and Billy was pleased with the sound Chris fit in very well and played well and by the end of the rehearsal we were all confident that the session for Swingalong would turn out successfully.
On the 5th we all met at the Aeolian Hall in New Bond Street and just as we had hoped .everything went well. We basically recorded the numbers live just as if we were playing a gig. Billy sang very well and we got most of the songs down in one take. Billy stood behind a screen while we and our amps were all separated so as to get the best sound possible. Apart from the obvious surroundings the session reminded me of recording in Joe Meek’s studio. It was almost a year since we had last recorded “No More You and Me” at Holloway Road and that session really brought back memories of all the recording that we had done with Joe since the days of the Whirlwinds. The recording engineers commented on how good it all sounded and commended us on our professional conduct. At the end of the session we were paid thirty pounds which when divided up gave the four of us seven pounds ten shillings each which was roughly what session musicians were paid in those days.
Hoping to find a new direction for the Tornados Dave and I had discussed the possibility of recruiting Sonia from the Diamond twins to join the Tornados so that we could put together a cabaret act. We thought that as Billy Fury’s gigs were not so numerous that we might be able to fill in the time off between those gigs doing cabaret shows. We considered that Sonia being a very attractive girl with a great voice would add greatly to our appeal on the cabaret scene. There was talk that Sonia’s sister Sandra may have been thinking about leaving the duo and getting married to Roger Holder, now with the Holder Brothers, so this would open a door for Sonia to join the Tornados. The Diamond Twins were booked to appear at the Casino Club in South port for a week so it was decided that the band would drive up and rehearse in the club with Sonia and prepare a set of music for cabaret shows.
Saturday 7th October found John, Dave and I driving to Watford to pick up Chris who was staying there with his girlfriend. The old Bedford was beginning to sound pretty rough and it looked as if we might not make it to Southport so we decided that we would try to make it to Gloucester where we would stay the night at my folks place and ask my dad if we could use his car to make the trip up north. We made it to Gloucester and Sunday morning we drove up to Southport using my dad’s car. We were able to find a flat in Southport where we could stay at and we began to rehearse with Sonia in the daytime at the club. The house band was kind enough to let us use their gear to rehearse on. We started with numbers like “I’ve Got You under My Skin”, “Autumn Leaves”, “Yesterday”, “To Sir with Love” and a medley that Dave and I had been working on which was to be called “A musical Tour of the World”. Using a theme song “Faraway Places” we would take the audience to Spain for “Granada” which we already had played with Tony Dalli in Yarmouth, to Brazil for “Coffee in Brazil”, to the USA using the song “On Broadway” eventually ending up in good old England with “London by Night”
We were thinking that we might see Roger at some point to find out how things were coming along with the Holder Brothers but he did not make an appearance and by the 11th we found out from Sonia that he had left and had returned to the farm in Newent. In the middle of the week when parking my dad’s car I backed it into a lamp post and broke the tail light and dented the rear fender causing the back bumper to become detached. Luckily we were close to a body shop and dropped the car off for repair. Unfortunately we were left without transport for a few days and were forced to hang out at the flat all day running through songs as best we could. A general air of depression began to set in which was caused by our confinement and also by news from Dave that he had called the Cooper Organization only to find out that there was no work on the horizon.
Friday 13th we picked up the car from the repair shop and I paid out 11 pounds for the work they had done. The following morning we drove back down to Gloucester. Chris said that his brother was a mechanic and would take a look at the Bedford and could possibly make the repairs at his home near Cheltenham. The rest of the band caught the train to return to London while I stayed with my parents to await the repairs on the van.
Having picked up the repaired Bedford from Chris’ brother I drove to Bromley to find Dave feeling pretty down and depressed. He had spoken to John Redgrave in an attempt to get something going but although Redgrave tried to give encouragement he still really had nothing to offer.
Over the next few weeks we had a lot of rehearsing to do along with Chris and Sonia. We had to get the rest of Billy Fury’s repertoire down, finish off the remainder of numbers for the Tornados one night stand shows and get the additional cabaret pieces completed with Sonia. Dave and I decided to pay a visit to Dougie Millings’ tailor shop to get measured for a casual suit each. I got a beige two piece made for 30 pounds which looked real sharp. I paid for it by check from my bank account. Although there was no money in the account the bank honored it and sent a letter to my home address in Gloucester. My Dad ended up paying the money to the bank to cover the bounced check to keep me out of trouble.
We did however get a little encouraging news from John Redgrave saying that he was working on getting us an audition with Ronnie King who at that time was a booking agent in London. As the Cooper Organization was coming up with next to nothing in the way of work we decided to pin our hopes on something materializing in that direction. Sonia gave us the news that the Diamond Twins would be leaving at the end of October to perform in Singapore for 3 weeks so we stepped up the rehearsals to make up for the time that she would be away. At last a trickling of work came in from Cooper who had booked us for a gig at the Lyceum in Bradford on October 21st which was to be followed by a week of Cabaret in Jarrow at the Club Franchi. The Lyceum turned out to be a horrible gig where we were told to play two sets starting at midnight with the second set starting at 2.30 am. After the first set at around 1 am the lights went out in the club after which we were told that we would not be required to play the second set. According to what we had been told by the Cooper Organization we were booked for one 45 minute set only so we thought that something was up. At the point when we decided to leave the club the lights came on again under rather mysterious circumstances and when Dave went to pick up the money we were told that we had not fulfilled our part of the contract and we ended up only being able to get 4 pounds ten shillings from the manager. That worked out to be just over a pound each. Being that we had gotten the gear put away in the van and also seeing the threatening looks that we were getting from the bouncers we decided not to pursue the situation any further and got the hell out of there.
Sunday we drove to Jarrow and found some digs. As we were not due to perform at the Club Franchi until Monday night we hung out all day and in the evening Dave and I decided that we would go to watch a movie at the local cinema. John and Chris opting not to come along stayed at the digs. Dave had a set of walkie talkies that he had got from somewhere and taking one along with us he told Chris that he would try to contact them after the show just for fun. When the movie was over and everyone was leaving the cinema Dave and I went to the men’s toilets and because two way radios were illegal at that time Dave hid in one of the stalls and began to try to contact the boys at the digs. I waited by the door and saw the puzzled looks on men’s faces as they entered the toilet hearing a static crackling coming from inside and the sound of Dave’s voice giggling and saying “Hey man I can’t here you”. I turned around to see what was going on in the Foyer and saw the presence of several police constables busily searching for something. “Holy Christ” I said to myself, the cops must have somehow picked up on the walkie talkie radio and were searching for the person who was operating the then illegal device.
Trying to look inconspicuous I entered the toilet and walking over to the stall in which Dave was hiding I whispered “Hey Davie the place is crawling with cops” Dave immediately flushed the toilet and quickly hiding the radio in his jacket pocket we both walked out into the foyer past the cops and into the street. “Bloody ‘ell that was a close one Robbie” said Dave as we jumped into the Bedford and drove away from the cinema.
When we got back to the digs and related the tale to Chris and John they burst out laughing and admitted that they had called the police to say that there was a bomb in the theatre so that the presence of the police would make Dave and I think that they were looking for us and the 2 way radio. Dave had to smile but he was pissed off. “You bastards could have got us busted” he complained.
As we were booked to appear for the week at the Club Franchi and it was a cabaret gig Sonia came in on the train on Monday. This was to be our first official gig with Sonia where we were to try out our new cabaret act. We showed up at the venue in the afternoon to get set up and run through a few numbers. We thought that it was strange that there was no mention anywhere at the entrance of the club advertising that the Tornados would be appearing there for the week. We just thought that they had forgotten to post the announcement. We played our set that night to a very small audience but all in all we thought that the act went over reasonably well considering. The house band took over as we left the stage and returned to the dressing room. Presently a knock came at the door. It was one of the bartenders who asked us which one of us was the leader of the group. We all looked at each other and Dave said “I am”. He was told that the club manager wanted to see him at once. Dave returned after about five minutes or so and announced that we had been “Paid off”. Thinking that Dave was up to one of his pranks again we all fell about laughing and we ignored his words of assertion that we had indeed been paid off and he was not joking. Being paid off in show biz terms basically meant that the club was firing you and that you would just be paid for the night’s work and asked to leave. When the grim truth was eventually realized by the rest of the Tornados the dressing room got very quiet. The usual reason for being paid off was because the entertainment had put on a bad or sub-standard show. Dave went on to explain that the manager had told him that many of the audience had walked out and had voiced complaints at the exit. This puzzled us as there was not a large audience to begin with. When we asked the doorman if anyone had left and had complained about the band he answered in the negative. We also asked the house band if we had sounded bad. They had no adverse comments about our act. Dave was told that we could pick up the check for the night’s show the following day.
All the following day we hung around and waited outside the club for it to open. Needless to say we were all in a state of deep depression. When the club finally opened up in the late afternoon we entered to find posters advertising that Johnny DeLittle would be appearing there that night and for the rest of the week. As Johnny DeLittle was the son of Dave Macbeth who was the booking agent for the Club Franchi we smelled a rat and came to the conclusion that we were victims of some kind of a fiddle. Although we felt a little better about the humbling experience we had been subjected to, on the long drive back to Bromley I still had a nagging feeling inside of me that we might not have been up to par after all and maybe it was not a fiddle.
When we finally made it back to Bromley we expected that we would all stay at Dave’s place but we got a cold reception from Dave’s mum and dad who complained that there would be too many people staying at the house so we continued to drive down to Sonia’s folks’ home in Maidstone where we were able to stay the night and thus let things cool down a bit in Bromley. The next day when we returned to Bromley Mrs. Watts said that I could stay there for two pounds a week but there was no room for Chris as Les Baguley the Diamond’s pianist was staying there too I would have to sleep on a camp bed that my Dad had given to me on my last trip to Gloucester. He used to use it when he worked away from home at places like the Farnborough Air Show where he and his workmates slept on site in a large tent. He said it might come in useful for me and as it could be rolled up into a small package I could fit it into my suitcase and would always have something to sleep on in any kind of emergency situations.
After the “getting paid off” episode we were still depressed and we were all getting low on money and as Chris had nowhere to go he said he would sleep in Mr. Watts’ car outside in the street. This could not have been very comfortable as it was near the end of October and the nights were getting colder. But Chris being the character that he was took it all in stride and didn’t complain. Dave called John Redgrave again and after hearing our tale of woe said that he would arrange for us to meet with Ronnie King. In the meantime we continued to rehearse our set and Billy’s numbers at the Black Horse pub in Bromley with Chris still roughing it in the car.
Towards the end of the month just before Sonia was due to leave for Singapore we went over to see Ronnie King where we had a meeting with him and along with Sonia we did an audition. For some strange reason we did not play well but King showed a lot of interest in Sonia so we thought that there may still have been a chance for us. Even so a heavy depression was still hanging over the band.
We called Duncan Burns who was Billy Fury’s agent who told us there would be some work coming up soon, in particular a gig at the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square. We also spoke to George Cooper to complain about the lack of work. We told him that we were almost out of money and were getting desperate. He told us that the organization would consider putting us on a weekly wage so that we could support ourselves but we were not keen on that idea. Knowing how we had been cheated in the past, Cooper would probably have us working seven days in all kinds of hovels for 10 pounds a week. About a week later Cooper called to tell us that an opportunity had come up for us to play a residency up north for a hundred and sixty pounds a week. We put two and two together and figured it out that it must have been the Top Hat at Spennymoor as we had discussed that with Johnnie Ray there a few weeks ago. Remembering that we had been offered 200 pounds a week, after deducting Cooper’s commission of 10% we would have been left with 180 pounds. It was obvious that he was deliberately attempting to take double commission by offering us 160 pounds.. We turned it down. A gig came up for us to back Billy Fury on the 17th November. This was good news but by the time that gig would come around we would already have been 25 days without work. I don’t know how I got by. I can’t remember how much money I had in my pocket at the time. It couldn’t have been much, but somehow I got through it. We were all in the same boat. Dave luckily got some session work with Les Baguley who was composing music for a TV film that needed a Chinese feel to it. Then a few days later he got another session, this time with his old mates the Symbols. They were recording a song called the “Best Part of Breaking Up” which was written by Phil Spector and wanted an organ on the session. Between those two sessions Dave probably made about 15 pounds or thereabouts, so he was better off than all the rest of us. He probably had to lend me a couple of quid to help me out here and there.
17th of November came around and we drove up to Liverpool to play at Dino’s Club. To enter the club you had to climb a very long and steep flight of stairs. It was tough work to lug the amps and drums all the way up to the top, and Billy’s Marshall PA too, was something to wrestle with. Dave’s Hammond, however was a different situation. Dave had made a wooden sled on which the organ was placed. It was held in place by two belts that were lashed around the sled. There was another belt attached to the front of the sled by which it could be pulled. Dave swears that this was his invention as he had not seen any other band with a Hammond that had this kind of set up. As was usual the four of us would pick up the Hammond each of us on a corner of the sled and carry into the club. This time we put it down at the bottom of the stairs. Then we would usually pull it up the stairs with two guys on the front and two pushing from behind. This time Dave told John and Chris that he and I could manage it alone which gave them an opportunity to get some more gear out of the van. Dave and I pulled the Hammond up to the top of the stairs without too much of a struggle. Just as I was changing my hold on the belt to get a better grip, Dave let go at the same time saying “Hold on to this Robbie” as he reached to open the door. The belt slipped out of my hand with Dave and I watching helplessly as the Hammond slid smoothly down the stairs just like a skier on a mountain slope. Time almost stood still with just the roaring sound of the wooden sled against the metal tread plates on the stairs ringing in our ears. It hit the bottom with a huge thud which sent it turning over and over and ending up on its side only a few inches from John Davies who had just come in carrying his bass drum and a tom- tom. Dave cursed me all the way down the stairs, putting all the blame on me. Upon inspection we saw a long split on the side of the organ where the wood had splintered, along with a few smaller fractures. “That’s all right” Dave said, “I can fix that, but will the bloody thing work when we plug it in”? We got the Hammond back up the stairs safely this time with the four of us and vowed never to do it any other way again. Placing it up on the stage we maneuvered it into position and Dave gingerly plugged it in. We all held our breath as Dave engaged the two switches and we heard the beautiful sound of the start up engine in operation. Releasing it after a few seconds Dave nervously ran his fingers over the keys. Halleluiah it worked. Dave proceeded to check out all the draw bars and stops and everything was fine. Dave gave me a glance saying “You’re lucky this time Robbie”. I accepted fault for the incident and I never said anything, but I thought that it was partly Dave’s fault as he had let go before making sure that I had a good grip in the belt. The show that evening went down very well with Billy on home turf, he was born in Liverpool. It also felt great to have some money in my pocket again. We were paid 80 pounds for the gig, which gave us 20 pounds each. The only down side to the gig at Dino’s was that someone stole Dave’s briefcase form the dressing room. Luckily he had nothing of any great value in it, just some sheets of music manuscript, pens and a few odds and ends. The real lucky break was that Dave’s diary that he always kept in the brief case had been left in the van as he had been writing in it on the way to the gig. If that diary had been stolen many of the details of this part of the story would have been lost forever, and Dave admits that if this had happened he probably would have not continued to keep a record of the day by day events.
The following night we played with Billy in Chester. We got set up but found that the Hammond was beginning to act up a bit. We all kept our fingers crossed that it would be all right when we played the set. We were getting closer to Billy as we had now done quite a few gigs with him and we often chatted together in the dressing room. We respected him and looked up to him as he was already an idol when the rest of us were just kids. Before I met him and had only seen him in action on TV, movies and on stage, I thought that he probably had a mean streak in him due to those facial expressions and stances that he portrayed in his act. However he was the total opposite of that. He was always great to be around and never ever gave any hint of meanness or ego. After you knew him for a while you couldn’t even imagine seeing him being anything but pleasant. Chris in particular enjoyed chatting with Billy and that night in the dressing room, out of the blue Chris said “Hey Bill, do you have any reefers”? I couldn’t imagine why Chris had said this to Billy, and how would he know that Billy smoked reefer and how did he have the nerve to ask this? I suspected that Chris had most likely indulged in the art of smoking and Dave had mentioned that he had tried it a few times himself and always talked about us clubbing together to get a ten quid deal . For my part I had never been exposed to smoking pot, didn’t really know much about it and generally thought that it was something only done by beatniks or weird artists and poets. I didn’t even really enjoy smoking cigarettes it was just the in thing to do. In fact it was something that Pete and Roger Holder together with me looked down upon and perceived it as some kind of drug addiction.
Billy leaned back in his chair and with a nervous smile said “No boys I don’t have anything on me” to which Chris replied with his cocky little whine “Oh c’mon Bill, c’mon give us one” Billy reached inside his jacket pocket and produced a soft pack of Pall Mall cigarettes and pulled out a rather strange looking cigarette with a piece of carton rolled up in the end to serve as a filter. He handed it to Chris and Chris thanked him. Chris sniffed and said “All right boys let’s light this up shall we”? And we followed him out to behind the club and in a secluded corner the four of us smoked it together. Billy did not join us. I was petrified and would not have wanted to try it but I knew that I had to hold my own with the rest of the guys and couldn’t chicken out. I was scared of what I might experience but as it happened I didn’t feel a thing and couldn’t see what the big deal was. The only thing that I experienced was the passing of the joint and the pleasant and exotic herbal smell of the smoke which I actually found enjoyable. I asked Chris what had made him ask Billy for a joint. Chris’s answer was that he had seen Billy come out of the toilet and recognized that unmistakable odor of marijuana wafting through the air.
Back in the dressing room Billy greeted us with “All right boys”? And we all sat back down and continued to hold a casual conversation with Billy, joking and laughing together. At one point in the conversation Billy asked us if we had ever tried Amyl Nitrates. I thought “What the hell is he talking about”? We shook our heads and he explained that they were generally called Poppers or Snappers and came in small glass vials covered with a net – like covering that you broke under your nose and inhaled. He said that you used it when having sex with a girl and broke it at the point just as you were reaching an orgasm and it was fantastic. He was surprised to find out that we had never tried it. My knowledge of any kind of drug use was virtually non-existent and anyway I just looked upon it as something very weird and really had no interest in it or desire to use it. Looking back and now knowing that Billy had heart problems and Poppers are used to treat Angina attacks it is likely that he probably got them on prescription.
That Sunday the Diamond Twins returned from Singapore with Sonia smuggling in a genuine Rolex watch for Dave which she had strapped to the inside of her leg in her suspender belt. Dave was overjoyed with his most welcomed gift but was not at all happy when Sonia told him that one of the tour musicians had attempted to sexually molest her in her dressing room and she bore the scratches on her shoulder and chest to prove it. Dave was totally infuriated and after finding out the name of the musician vowed to go after him and deal out some justified punishment. Sonia advised against this and said it was better to forget the whole thing. She did not consider pressing any charges against her assailant.
On Monday November 20th Dave and Sonia went back over to see Ronnie King to follow up on the audition that we had performed a few weeks ago. They found out that King was not at all interested in the Tornados but he did say that he felt that he could do something with Sonia. When King started to outwardly make all kinds of inappropriate suggestions to Sonia in front of Dave it became clear what his intentions were and the meeting ended up with Dave and Ronnie King getting into a pushing and shoving contest with Dave and Sonia walking out in a huff. After Sonia’s unpleasant experience in Singapore it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Those events closed any possible opportunities with the Ronnie King Agency and it was just as well.
A day or so later I received a call from my Mother at Dave’s house. She was calling from the phone box at the end of the street to tell me that my sister Georgina and her boyfriend Ray were getting married on the coming Saturday November 25th. My mum was hoping that I could come down for the ceremony. I knew that we were scheduled to appear at Wantage Town Hall that Saturday and as Wantage was not too far from Gloucester I decided that I would take the train immediately and attend the wedding. My dad said that I could use his car to drive to the gig. Upon my arrival at Clegram Road I commented on how this was all rather sudden and was told that Georgina was 3 months pregnant. Ray had asked my Dad a few weeks ago to marry Georgina and under the circumstances he had given his consent. My sister had just turned 19 years old and Ray was 23. That Saturday it was a cool autumn day and rained for most of the day. As my father escorted my sister down the aisle at St. Stephen’s church just a stone’s throw from the Bristol Hotel where I had played a few years ago with the Vendettas, I stood next to my mum and held her hand. I could feel her shaking and saw teardrops rolling down her cheeks. I spent as much time as I could at the reception which was actually held at the Bristol Hotel and left in the late afternoon to drive to the gig in Wantage.
I didn’t see the Bedford outside as I drove up to the town hall and became a little concerned that the boys may have had some trouble with it as it had been acting up again. However I did notice another van parked outside which looked similar to the one belonging to Dave’s next door neighbor. I found out that it was indeed that vehicle and that Dave had decided to buy it for a good price. It was much better looking than the old Bedford and much more reliable. We decided that I would now sell the Bedford. The gig went over very well in Wantage although Dave’s Hammond was showing some signs of acting up and it was obvious that it would need some work on it as it was beginning to fall apart. That night in the dressing room we were all joking around and with a play on words I came up with the nickname of “Boris” for Chris. I thought of the name Chris and then thought of the name “Christophe” who was the French singer we had worked with in Barcelona. I then came up with Boris Christoff the famous old time opera star and “hey presto” from that day onwards Chris Lethbridge became known as Boris. Being the easy going and comical character that he was Chris did not object and in fact he really quite enjoyed his new name. After the gig I returned to Gloucester and a day or so later I took the train and returned to Bromley.
I got a sinking feeling in my stomach when I sat down in the front room at Dave’s for a cup of tea and Dave told me that Heinz Burt had called and offered him a job to play with the Wild Boys again. There was a tour of France coming up and they needed an organist. I asked Dave what he was going to do and he said he didn’t know. On top of that he also had another recording session coming up at the end of November with the Symbols. I honestly thought and felt that it would only be a matter of time until Dave would get snapped up by some band along the way. Dave never did leave the band. We had made some good money on the last two gigs with Billy and had about 40 pounds each in our pockets, and with his session coming up Dave did not feel so worried about money and so he was not under so much pressure to look for another band. He had played for Heinz before and knew what it was like, and the Symbols didn’t want to add another member to their group; so even considering the uncertain future of the Tornados he decided to go with what he felt in his heart.
There was little going on until the 6th December when we were to do a show with Billy in Norwich. But that didn’t matter; we had money in our pockets and didn’t need to spend much of it. Boris had found himself a bed sitter and no longer had to sleep outside in the van and John was happy with Debbie in Acton. Dave and I were having fun jamming together in the front room. Sometimes I would pick up Boris’ bass and try to play along with Dave on some jazz pieces. We had also put some new songs in our Tornados act. I had been doing some heavy listening to the album John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton and so we had put songs “All Your Love” and “Little Girl” into our repertoire. The first few times we played it Dave said it was the best solo he had ever heard me play. After the way I used to butcher the “Tornados” solos with Dave having to let me off the hook by taking over those parts himself, I felt pleased that maybe I was getting somewhere with my guitar playing after all. I think that I had the confidence to play that stuff because that’s what I wanted to do. I had so much enjoyed one of the first albums that I bought titled the Blues of T Bone Walker. Back then I found something very alluring about the blues and it gave me a strange feeling to listen to those old blues records. I had never really had the chance to play that kind of music in the Whirlwinds or Saxons and only now in the final months of Joe Meek’s last group of Tornados did my opportunity arise Just like everyone in the UK I was totally awed by the Sergeant Pepper album. We chose to do cover’s of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life”. We did these well with Dave doing an excellent job on the Hammond. His interpretation of the discordant crescendo in A Day in the Life gave me goose bumps when we played it. At that time I was also astounded by Jimmie Hendrix Are you Experienced album and Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. I felt that this was more my kind of music but I could only get away with so much at a time. We also did a very good cover of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harem. Dave always played it with superb accuracy and it sounded just like the record.
At Norwich we began to introduce some of the new material that we had worked on, which in some ways was changing the feel of the Tornados’ show. At these one-nighters there was always an opening band, usually locals. Then we would open up with a half hour set and Billy would close the show. That night I noticed that the opening band did a couple of Hendrix numbers along with some other good material which inspired me to try to get more of that kind of music into our set. There was a deejay there that night who acted as a host for the evening. Back stage before the show he came into our dressing room carrying a large brief case. He told us that he had been asked to give us our payment for the evening. This was great we were actually being paid before the show. After having been through a few situations where we didn’t get paid or they said they had mailed a check to George Cooper, this was a rare and most welcomed event. “By the way” he said “If you boys need any “Gear” come and see me” and he pulled out a building brick sized clump of what looked to me like cabbage and parsley pressed into a block. We didn’t go to see him.
The gig went over well and we were beginning to feel a little better about ourselves as a band. The large gaps of time between the jobs had worn us down and had given us a lot of time for what was usually, negative thinking. Now with the work picking up a little more and with good receptions at the shows the morale of the group had improved and put us all into a “Happy-go-lucky” mood full of fun and frivolity. As we drove out of Norwich well after midnight Dave noticed the gallon of petrol in the back of the van. We always kept a gallon for emergencies, as just recently we had run out of petrol in the early hours of the morning and I had walked for miles in the dead of night to try to find a filling station. “Here boys” said Dave “C’mon lets set the road on fire”. Boris pulled into a side street and parked the van. Climbing out with nervous excited giggles, Dave opened up the petrol can and poured most of the gallon down the gutter and just like it had rained the petrol made its way about twenty or so yards down the street. Dave jumped back into the van next to Boris and striking a match he casually threw it into the gutter as we drove off. “Woof”! The petrol ignited and a wall of fire spread twenty yards down the street, brightly illuminating the houses on either side. We sped away with our heads twisted around to watch the amazing light show that Dave had created. We turned the corner with sounds of mischievous, schoolboy laughter escaping from the open window of the van. This laughter suddenly stopped after about a hundred yards when we all saw the police car heading towards us. “Oh shit we all said in unison. “Take the side streets Boris, they’re bound to come looking for us” Only when we were finally outside the city did we begin to feel relaxed and began to laugh and joke again.
Dave and I were woken up the next morning by Dave’s mum shouting up the stairs that George Cooper was on the phone. I lay there on the camp bed and waited for Dave to return with whatever news he had. “Get a load of this Robbie boy” Dave announced with that pleased look on his face, “We’re rehearsing with Billy on Saturday and playing the gig with him on Sunday at the American Embassy, and George said something about a recording session and sending us on a tour of Israel”. Once more things were taking a change for the better and the future for the Tornados was looking a little brighter.
After a good rehearsal with Billy on Saturday we played the gig at the Grosvenor House to a very receptive audience and all in all it was a great gig and we had a lot of compliments from all kinds of people. This was a great boost for us and the overall feeling of the band was good and positive. We were back on track again.
Cooper called again on Monday morning confirming that the recording session was on and we were required to play and perform four songs at Lansdowne Studios. The four songs were to be “Puppet on a String” by Sandie Shaw which Sonia would sing, “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees and “When I’m Sixty Four” the Beatles which I would sing, and we were told that they were bringing in a professional session singer to sing “The Last Waltz” by Englebert Humperdinck. Luckily Sonia knew “Puppet on a String” and had the record, so we got that one off quickly. Dave went out and bought the Monkees’ ’45 so that was just a case of listening to it and getting it down. We also bought copies of the sheet music for the other two songs and got them down in record time, working late into Monday night. I was very familiar with “When I’m Sixty Four” as I had played Sgt. Pepper over and over, so that helped things along. We realized that our final rehearsal would be in the studio right before the session. We explained to George Cooper that we needed a bit more rehearsal time due to the short notice and the apparent urgency of the session. George assured us that they had arranged for extra time in the studio to compensate for that.
Early the next morning Dave and I together with Sonia drove off to Lansdowne Studios where we would all meet for the session. It was a nightmare because the van was beginning to act up badly and kept stalling all the way there in the morning rush hour traffic. There were a few times when it was very hard to restart the van and we seriously doubted that we would ever make it to the studio. Luckily, by a miracle, we did make it.
We began to work on the songs and get them finished up while the technicians took time to get everything miked up. Luck really seemed to be on our side as we were ready to begin recording not too long after the set-up had been done and the balancing and sound adjustments were made. The backing tracks went down quite quickly without any major problems. Dave changed to the studio piano for “The Last Waltz” and as we did not have a copy of the record we played it in the key that it was written in for the sheet music and by lunch time we were ready to start with the vocals.
Sonia launched into “Puppet on a String” and was about half way through a take when we saw George Cooper, come into the studio along with two Indian gentlemen and an olive skinned guy who looked like he could be from the Middle East. He actually turned out to be from New York and was the agent who wished to book us for the tour of Israel. When the take was over and Sonia came into the control room to hear the playback we were all introduced. The two Indian gentlemen were from Zell records, and the other guy was introduced to us as Danny Ben-Av. The Indians explained that the recordings that we were making were to be released in India on an EP and would be accessible to the poor people who could not afford to buy the original records. It was something that reminded me of the Embassy Records that they used to sell in Woolworth’s. Danny Ben-Av didn’t say too much at this point but he did seem a bit preoccupied with Sonia and watched her intently as she performed a second take. Both takes were excellent and were mixed together with the song coming out quite well.
When my vocal takes were finished on “Daydream Believer” and I had done my best take-off of Davey Jones we gathered together in the control room. George Cooper announced that we were indeed going on a six weeks tour of Israel as Danny Ben-Av had liked the band and was ready to go ahead. Danny had now loosened up a bit and was talking freely with us. He told us that we all looked like we could use some sunshine. He said that we should start to see some sun a few days into cruise across the Mediterranean and we should be arriving in Israel sometime around Christmas. This was great news. According to Cooper the pay was decent and we could also look at it as a great holiday in the sun when everybody else in England would be freezing their asses off. We were all totally excited with the exception of John who was a bit quiet and didn’t seem to be sharing our enthusiasm. Just to think in no time al all we would be on our way to Israel; this strange place far away in the east.
We were all taking a short break when the “professional session singer” showed up to sing “The Last Waltz”. The sound men began to play the track back to him and we handed him the sheet music. He was having a terrible time in pitching the tune and finally said that this had to be the wrong take. It was in the wrong key and you would need a choirboy to sing it. He even had Dave join him in the studio and as Dave played it on the piano he reconfirmed that the song was in the wrong key. For a male voice it was too high to sing in that key and too low to sing when you lowered it an octave. I later found out that he was absolutely correct. We had not learned this song from the record and we had just gone along with it as it was written. The sheet music was in a different key and not like the original record. The session time was ending and as we were breaking down our gear one of George Coopers’ assistants approached me. I noticed that he had been having a rather stressed huddle with the Indians. “We need somebody to sing the song; do you think you could give it a try? He asked
I said that I didn’t think so, due to the key. He said that there was no choice at this point, somebody had to do it. They didn’t have time to re-record the song, so could I please help them out? I would get paid for the session, just show up and try. I couldn’t really say no so I said “Okay” and made arrangements to meet them at the studio the next morning. That night at dinner Mr. and Mrs. Watts gave me specific directions on how to get to the studio by train and underground. It was great staying at Dave’s and the next best thing to being at home as we had the advice and encouragement of our seniors who had seen more years of life than we had. Mrs. Watts in particular was always voicing encouragement to Dave and I. Like Dave, she was a pianist and was responsible for Dave’s introduction to the piano.
The Watts’ directions worked out fine for me and that morning found me showing up at Lansdowne studios at around 9.30 where I met up with George Cooper’s executive, whose name I don’t remember. We chatted over coffee and I mentioned that the Tornados were leaving soon for a tour of Israel. He asked me if I had ever tried any Jewish food and I answered “No”. In fact I knew very little about Jewish people or their food. All I knew was that millions of them were slaughtered in WW11. I remembered the documentary war time films that I had watched on the BBC as a kid that showed heaps of bodies being bulldozed into mass graves like garbage. It was horrible to watch and gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. I had also heard the derogatory, prejudicial, remarks and racial slurs that you came across in everyday life. All that I had heard was that Jews are dirty and smell of garlic, they love money and will cheat you out of your last cent and most of all that they are very tight with there money. They would never give you a penny. I had been told most of this by co-worker John Devereux when I worked at the Bon Marche department store in Gloucester. The head of our department, Hughie Newton was a Jew of Austrian descent who had supposedly written a book on how he had escaped from a concentration camp in Germany during WW2,.and Devereux despised him. I gathered that my coffee partner was probably Jewish so I felt it better to direct the conversation towards the coming session. I mentioned that it was not going to be that easy to sing so early in the morning especially in a key which was virtually impossible to sing in. Anyway we downed our last few drops of our coffee and walked across the road to the studio.
The technicians had already got the mike set up and were just starting to put on the playback when we walked into the studio. We listened through it twice and I was thinking “Jesus Christ, how in the hell am I going to pull this off”? I was trying to pitch it in my head as I listened but it was impossible. When they told me to go into the booth to test the mike I was dreading it. After they were happy with the sound it was my turn to sing along with the track. I tried it in full voice which was all right up until it came to the refrain with me screeching “I had the last waltz with you” It was horrendous and I was embarrassed as hell and did all I could to let the technicians know that it was in the wrong key and impossible to sing. They said that maybe it was the early morning and maybe my voice would loosen up and all I could say was “It’s in the wrong key and it can’t be sung like this”. On the third take I made a real effort to try to figure out a way to pull it off. It was okay until the refrain came around but all at once I moved closer to the mike and in a half falsetto kind of whisper I spoke the words. Within a few seconds after the refrain the machine stopped and it all went quiet.. I said to myself “Shit! It probably sounded ridiculous and they’re on their way into the booth to curse me out” The two Indian gentlemen had also shown up and together with my coffee partner they approached me as I took off the head phones. “That’s it”! They said in unison “You’ve just got to speak it exactly like you just did and it’ll sound great”.
After a few more takes we completed the number. As I listened to the play back it occurred to me that in some way I felt I had been influenced by Joe Meek. After all Joe was the master of being able to take a complete and utter abortion of a song and turn it into something at the very least acceptable, or even sometimes turn out a hit. He would do this by electronic wizardry and or by coaching the vocalist on how to put across the song. I may have also been influenced by Joe’s recording of the Blue Rondos “Please Stay” which had been sung in almost a whisper. Joe probably would have liked that kind of approach that I was inspired to give to the song. I got paid my session money, said goodbye to everyone and walked out down to the tube station. I was thinking “Thank
God that record will never be released in the UK”. I never heard that recording again, and it’s just as well. I must have sounded like some adolescent schoolboy whimpering in the moonlight. I think that Englebert Humperdinck would have probably gone into shock if he had heard it, or he may have laughed thinking that it was a joke: which it was.
As I walked in through the front door and towards the kitchen back at Dave’s place, Dave walked up to me with a very worried look on his face.” John’s not coming to Israel, we have no drummer what are we going to do” Dave went on to tell me that he had already been over to George Cooper and had picked up some money for the trip expenses and had also gone over to get the Green card insurance for the van. He had not been home long when John had called with a shocker. Apparently Debbie was pregnant and John was refusing to leave her. Once again we were thrown into a very scary predicament and it was almost impossible to figure out how we were going to get ‘round this one. The phone rang and it was Boris. He had already heard the bad news from John but he was in fact the bringer of good news. John had mentioned to Boris that a friend of theirs who had played with Boris in the Alan Walker band in Cheltenham might be able to fit in on drums. His name was Mick Strachan and Boris had spoken to him already and he had agreed to join the band. He was also a very good drummer according to Boris. So it all looked like things were getting better again. The only set back was that we were asked to return the Marshall PA system, so Dave and I drove over and gave it back to Billy. This left us a bit on the downside as we knew that we would not sound as good now, so we just had to put up with it and carry on regardless.
I decided that I would shoot down to Gloucester to pick up some personal things and let my folks know that I was leaving for Israel. I drove down in the old Bedford that was still being parked outside of Dave’s place and I picked up some clothing along with my collection of LPs which I kept in a nice wooden carrying case that my dad had made for me. It was painted with black gloss paint and he had put a monogram on the front, R H in golden letters. Boris had mentioned that he would be taking his small portable record player with him so I thought that my L P collection would give us some sounds to listen to when we were not working. I got back to Dave’s place Friday afternoon as we were scheduled to leave for Israel on Saturday morning which was the 16th December. Dave answered the front door and led me into the kitchen where he said that Boris was waiting with Mick Strachan. When Boris introduced me to Mick, I had to look twice. Here was this skinny guy about 5’ 10’’ with a very bad, spotty complexion, and the biggest, sticking out ears that I had ever seen. To say that he looked like Dumbo the elephant was an understatement. I felt embarrassed and had to look away with concerns of having this weird looking guy in the band. But what was there to do? We had to leave the following morning. Dave and Boris suddenly started to laugh as Mick began to take off the huge fake ears that he was wearing and I laughed too, knowing that they had pulled a good trick on me. I was relieved to see the real Mick and apart from his complexion he looked fine. That evening we spent hours changing the jack plugs on the mikes with Dave giving the soldering iron a lot of action. I also found out that Mick Strachan was more than a drummer and could also sing, play the harmonica and acoustic guitar that he had brought along. He serenaded us while we all sat in the living room. His favorite song was “San Francisco Bay”. Here we were, the Tornados, on the eve of our departure to the Middle East sitting in the front room at Dave’s place in Bromley with a drummer that we had never played with before and once again faced with a situation that we would have to overcome.
At 5am on Saturday morning we set off to pick up Sonia in Maidstone and continued down to Dover. We paid the fare and boarded the ferry to Bologne. We had been given expense money by Cooper which was supposed to be enough to get us to Marseilles and provide for a hotel there. We decided to change it to Francs while on board and everything was running smoothly until we set foot on French soil. The customs officers there asked us in French “Vous avez une carnet?” We had no idea what they were asking us, and what was this carnet that they kept talking about? They asked us by means of broken English and gesticulations that they wanted to see the contents of the van and we had to unload all of the equipment out onto the dock. They wrote down all kind of notes and jabbered among them selves and still asked us to produce this carnet. We eventually found out that a carnet was a form of a manifest that contained details and the value of what we were bringing into the country and without that we would not be allowed to proceed. We showed them our tickets for Zim cruise lines leaving from Marseilles for Israel on December 18th and implored them that we had to get to Marseilles. They said that they were worried that we might try to sell our musical gear in France. We explained that if we did that we would have no way of fulfilling our contract in Israel as we would have no instruments to play on. Using sign language they motioned for us to put the gear back in the van so we figured that we would be able to proceed. They also told us all to get back into the van. The customs officers walked off into there office and one of them picked up a phone and was talking for some time. As we saw him end the call we expected that he would wave us through and we would be on our way, but no, he just sat there with his fellow officers and totally ignored us for about an hour. We had no idea what we could do as none of us knew much French and felt that we could not communicate with them. When we were really starting to get pissed off with the whole thing a customs car pulled up and an officer got out and entered the Customs office. It looked like they were having some kind of a discussion. Eventually they all walked out together and the new guy started to speak in some kind of English asking about the carnet again. We went through the whole story with him and to our utter dismay he asked us to get all the gear out of the van again. Once again they jabbered away in French until we were told that as we had no carnet we would have to pay a certain amount of money which was far in excess of what we had in our expense money. When we told them that we were unable to pay it they asked to see how much money we had. Dave produced the Francs that we had bought on the ferry explaining that this was to provide petrol, food and accommodation for us to travel to Marseilles. This was followed by another lengthy discussion in French between the officers. We were then told to put back the gear in the van and wait. Once more they returned to the office and seemed to be looking up some information. Eventually they came back out and told us that we would have to pay a fee to transport the gear through France. It looked like they decided that they could take part of the money that we had and took about 15 pounds in Francs from our expense money. They didn’t give us any receipt for our payment and most likely divided the money among themselves. We were just happy to get out of there and drove off in the direction of Paris having wasted 4 hours with those assholes in the French customs. Looking back I really don’t know how we were able to undertake this trip through France. We had no idea how long the remainder of our money would last or even if it would get us to the ship, we had a pretty full tank of petrol but how far would that get us?
Well at least it had got us to Paris. The drive from Bologne to Marseilles was pretty much a straight drive through the center of France that would take us 16 hours or more.
It was well into the evening when we decided that we had to stop somewhere in Paris to get something to eat. We pulled up outside of a small bistro called “Chez Oscar” or “Oscar’s Place”. Luckily Oscar spoke reasonable English and he brought us all steak and chips. He was the only person we saw in the bistro. He cooked the food and served it to us, entertained us, and he really was a one man show. The food happened to be good and we enjoyed it. When Oscar presented us the bill at the end of the meal Dave looked at it and said “Bloody ‘ell, How much”? It turned out to be pretty expensive for what we had and Dave paid out the money realizing that another chunk of our expense money had gone.
It was getting late when we left the bistro. Dave had driven from Bologne so I volunteered to take over and drive through the night and get us as far as I could. Mick sat in the front with me as co pilot. We had worked out a route and all you had to do was follow a list of the towns that you had to pass through and it was quite easy. There were no big highways then, like today, but it was all well sign posted and easy to follow but you really couldn’t keep up a good speed. As we were leaving Paris I said “Hey boys when we are on our way back home coming through Paris, remind me to throw a brick through Oscar’s window”. “Okay Robbie we will” replied the sleepy voices from the back seat, “Good night Robbie” and we settled down for the night. It wasn’t too long before Mick started to drop off and soon it was just me driving through this dark French night staying awake and alert, driving on the opposite side of the road with the safety of all of us well in mind. The thrill of driving down through the middle of France in the dead of night excited me and at no time did I ever get tired or sleepy.
At around 3am while passing through some nondescript, nameless little French town I spotted a petrol station which was open all night and had a little grocery store attached. I thought that it would be a good opportunity to fuel up and get something to drink. All that they had were different bottles of what I thought must be some kind of white lemonade. I thought it was a bit strange but even so I bought one of the bottles and paid for the petrol. As we drove away I unscrewed the bottle cap and took a swig. “Its bloody water” I moaned “I’ve just bought a bottle of bloody water” I complained about being ripped off again in France and went on about water being free and that you should not have to pay for it. There was no commercial water industry then as there is today. Who would want to buy water when you could drink it from a water fountain or from your own tap at home?
In the end Sonia said “Well Robbie it’s probably some kind of healing water with special minerals from a holy well somewhere and that’s why it’s sold. It’s probably very good for you”. Well I guess that I did feel a little better after hearing Sonia’s words and drove off into the night again.
I continued to drive until about 10am and although I could have kept going Boris said that as I had been driving for about 12 hours that he would take over and that I should get in the back and have a sleep. After a few more hours and filling up with petrol again we saw that our money was getting low. Knowing that we had enough gas to get us to our destination we decided to spend the money we had left on a few roast beef sandwiches that we shared in a small rural café somewhere along the road. We had already accepted the fact that there was no way that we would sleep in a hotel that night. It was early evening when we finally drove into Marseilles. We eventually found the offices of Zim cruise lines but they were already closed. Our intention was to hopefully be able to use their facilities and freshen up but that would have to wait until the next morning. Having no money, nothing to do and nowhere to go we just found a place to park and sat in the van together. I don’t even remember if any one of us had to go to the toilet. When it became dark at last we figured that we would just try to go to sleep. Dave and Sonia lay across the front seat and Mick, Boris and I did the best we could to get comfortable in the back bench seat. At one point during the night it got so cold that Dave had to start up the van and put the heater on to give us a bit of warmth. Although we were all very tired we did not get much sleep that night and when day began to break we were all glad to see the sunrise.
We drove back around to the Zim Offices and waited until they opened at 9am and told them our tale of woe and asked if we could use their bathroom. When we had all freshened up we asked for directions to the port hoping that we would be able to board the ship and get some rest. We were told that we were not allowed to board until 6pm so we were faced with another day with nothing to do except sit around in the van. We did take a bit of a drive around the city but we were not really in the mood for sightseeing and seeing all the restaurants busy with people sitting outside enjoying their meals was just too much for us to handle. We drove to the port and arrived at dock 15 at 4pm. We had not eaten for more than 24 hours and were absolutely starving. We stood around and watched our van get hoisted up on board the ship by a large crane along with some other vehicles. They were all lashed down and secured. Official boarding time was 6pm but it was 7 o’ clock by the time we finally got on and into our room. They had put us all together but Sonia pulled a few strings and was able to get her own room. Needless to say Dave stayed along with her for the voyage. We finally got something to eat when we went to dinner at 8pm. This was pure luxury, a bed to sleep in and “food”.
The next day we spent eating and taking it easy wandering the decks and began to settle down. The only bad thing was that we had no money and couldn’t enjoy the benefit of the duty free prices in the bar. When we were passing Sicily on the way to our first port of call in Naples Dave came up with an idea to get some cash. By a stroke of luck he had found his check book was still in his suitcase and the Purser was willing to cash a check for him for 15 pounds. We divided the money amongst ourselves and promised to pay Dave back when we got paid in Israel. Now things really did improve. We headed straight for the bar and quenched our thirsts. While enjoying our drinks we got talking to an American guy called Dan. He said that he was from Arizona and was traveling to the Middle East. He hung out with us for the voyage and we enjoyed sitting on deck at night looking up at the stars. Dan said that it was unreal as he was seeing the constellations in totally different parts of the sky. Not at all like when he was back home in Arizona.
By the next morning we had landed in Naples. Although the weather was beginning to get a bit overcast we still went ashore just to take a look around. We were approached by several hucksters offering all kinds of wares; watches, cameras, jewelry and God knows what. Before too long the rain began to come down pretty steady and we returned to the ship, ringing wet. There was a kind of night club on deck with a dance floor and a piano so we got permission to rehearse there in the afternoons.
The wind was beginning to blow and whipped up the sea as we sailed out of Naples Harbor. We all made our way up on deck and started to unload our gear from the van and carry it over to the club room. We got set up and began to run through our numbers with Mick. Boris was right, Mick was good. He had no trouble with anything and did an excellent job on “Wade in the Water” ala the Graham Bond Organization. We noticed that the ship was starting to pitch a little. Sometimes it was difficult to stay on mike, and outside, things were getting to look pretty grey and soupy. From time to time some passengers and crew members peered in through the windows to see what was going on. At dinner time our utensils were sliding about the table and the waiters were having difficulty in keeping their balance. At one point Boris slid away from the table on his chair. We all had a good laugh but we didn’t realize that we were heading into some really bad weather. Just before dinner the purser had come up to us and said that many of the guests on the ship had heard us rehearsing and were hoping that we might play for them that night. Thinking that it would be a good opportunity for extra rehearsal and a good work out for Mick we agreed. With dinner over we went out on deck and over to the club room. The sea looked black and the waves were building with a pretty hard wind blowing.
We had a very good time that night. It was quite a struggle to be able to stand up and play due to the rocking of the ship but the audience enjoyed it we enjoyed it, all kinds of people bought us drinks and by the time we said goodnight and staggered off to our berths the sea was getting to be quite rough. Dave and I paused for a few seconds and held on to the guard rail and looking out across the waves Dave said “Bloody ‘ell Robbie” and we made our way down stairs. Throughout the night the weather worsened, we got tossed around in our bunks; Boris was heaving and throwing up so we didn’t get a lot of sleep. The sound of the waves pounding the ship got quite scary at times and we could hear water slopping around. The next morning found us with even worse weather. Boris was feeling pretty sick so Mick and I decided to venture out to see what was going on. It was almost as if the whole ship was deserted. The corridors were completely empty. We held on tightly to the hand rails; the ship was really rolling now and it was impossible to walk without that assistance. The air was thick with the smell of vomit and the sounds of people coughing and heaving in their rooms. Up on the main deck they had posted signs on the exit doors that nobody was allowed out on deck. We suddenly saw Arizona Dan staggering up towards us “This is fuckin’ unreal man, it’s just like being on a ghost ship” There was somebody on duty in the purser’s office who told us that there were some pastries available in the dining room but no breakfast could be served due to the bad conditions. We sat down at a table holding on to it so as not to slide away from it and grabbed a couple of sandwiches but there was nothing to drink as any type of liquid would just get spilled. A couple of other people trickled in along with an older American lady. They pecked at the food a bit but didn’t stay long. There was nothing to do all day except hang around and try to look out from the spray covered windows at the raging seas. In the late morning Dave arrived in the empty lounge where we were sitting. He looked a bit on the pale side and said that he had been seasick but was beginning to feel better especially now that he had made it upstairs. He had seen Boris in our cabin who, he reported was in his bunk and looking pretty green. Dave also said that Sonia was feeling rough and couldn’t come up to the main deck. Dave said “Let’s take a look outside boys” so we opened up an exit door with a “No one allowed on deck” sign and quickly stepped out side but we didn’t dare approach the guard rail. The sound of the storm was deafening, the winds were blowing a gale and we looked in utter awe as we saw 25 foot black waves breaking over the bow of the ship, pounding into the vehicles lashed on the deck almost breaking them away from the belts that had them secured to the deck. The deck was running with water and it looked like that any minute our van would get washed overboard. This violent scenario really put the fear of Christ into us and we quickly returned to the apparent safety of the lounge with Dave declaring that we were all going to die! We spotted a crew member and asked him about the weather. He said that we were plowing through a force nine storm which had 50 – 55 mph winds with about 23 foot waves. It’s what you might call a strong gale. When we asked if we were in danger he said “Oh we’ll be all right once we get through this, but I think that this is the worst crossing that we have had in the past 15 years”.
That day 21st December 1967 really dragged on. There was nothing to do but sit around as it was almost impossible to stay on your feet. No one was working in the bar so we couldn’t even get a drink. We went down to see Boris a couple of times but he was still feeling very bad. We tried to coax him to come upstairs telling him that he would feel better but he refused. He was always on the verge of throwing up and the smell of vomit that had taken over below deck just made him feel worse. I was very lucky and at no time did I ever feel sick or woozy. I attributed this to the fact that I was from a seafaring family. My ancestors, the Huxleys had all been sailors and sailed the old tall ships back and forth from England to China. They owned property in Shanghai and at one time were deemed to be quite wealthy. I presumed that all their experiences of sailing the high seas had been passed down to me and were firmly embedded in my genes. At dinner time nobody showed up except the three musketeers Mick, Arizona Dan and me. There was no hot food only the same kind of stuff that we had for breakfast. It was too dangerous to attempt any kind of cooking in the galley. That night the bad weather persisted with the constant rolling of the ship. Around 2am the ship suddenly listed heavily causing Boris to get thrown right out of his bunk and on to the floor. We stayed in that listing position for what seemed like a few minutes and I thought “Oh no the ship has keeled over” but it suddenly righted itself and we all got thrown in the opposite direction. I will never forget that night.
The next morning it seemed like we were coming out of the storm and things were calming down a bit. People were milling around the decks and there was a long line at the first aid room where a nurse was handing out medicine for seasickness. We had managed to get Boris upstairs and he was given some medication in the form of suppositories. Boris said that he didn’t really want to shove one up his ass but knowing that it would help him he reluctantly went off to the bathroom and succeeded with the operation. Although the ship was still rolling things were a bit better and the galley was able to provide food for breakfast along with some coffee which was most welcomed. Dave and Sonia made an appearance and looked like they were in a recovery mode. We were now allowed out on deck so we decided to take a look at the van. The cars were all over the place and every one of them had signs of damage. The van didn’t look as if it was damaged but upon closer inspection we did find a few dings and dents. The sky was beginning to clear up but the waves were still on the big side. We stood by the guard rail and looked down to see the stabilizers that were usually below the water line were coming up right out of the water. The club room was in total disarray as we entered in to inspect our gear. Although the amps and drums had shifted a bit they seemed to be intact. The baby grand piano however had rolled across the room and had smashed into the wall and was badly damaged. All things considered however, we did manage to get some rehearsing done in the afternoon. Boris was beginning to feel better but the only problem was that he was plagued with gas and was belching constantly. Each time he burped we could smell the odor of rotten eggs similar to the smell of stink bombs that we used to fool around with at school. We put it down to the suppositories and all tried to keep away from him but that foul smell just hung real heavy in the air. The purser did pay us a visit during the rehearsals telling us that the ship would not be landing it Greece as was scheduled due to the weather being still too rough to enter the port. He thought that it would be a good idea and would help with the morale of the passengers if we could play again that night. We of course consented and enjoyed another evening of performing. We were very well received again and got to talk to some Israelis who tried to teach us a few words in Hebrew. We told them that we would be touring Israel. They asked us the name of our band and we told them that we were the Tornados. They weren’t sure what a tornado was so we explained that it was a very strong wind storm. “Aha” they said “Now we understand why we have had all this terrible weather” and we all laughed. The spirit of Joe Meek had really made the presence of his Tornados felt here in the Mediterranean.
The next morning we were able to dock in Cyprus. We got up and decided that we would take a look ashore but were told that the launch had already left at 7am so we were stuck on board once again.
On Christmas Eve 24th December 1967 we were approaching the Israeli port of Haifa. The bad weather had now subsided and the sea was completely flat and calm. The water had a kind of muddy, turquoise look to it. We loaded the gear back into the van, packed our suitcases and waited up on deck taking in the sights of this Middle Eastern port as we approached the harbor. As the ship was being secured at the dock I surveyed the scene. It was a total hive of activity with all kinds of hustle and bustle taking place. The most prominent thing that I noticed was that there were several young people dressed in military uniforms, so much so that I thought that there must have been some kind of emergency or something. The young men were equipped with machine guns and even some of the young girls were carrying rifles. I had never seen anything like this before and I found it fascinating. The girls particularly got my attention. There were blondes, brunettes, short, tall and for the most part very attractive young ladies. Some were very fair skinned and looked like Europeans, while others were of dark complexion. There were even a few red heads here and there. I must say that the sight of all these attractive young women who also looked in very good shape, carrying weapons and dressed in military uniform was a big turn on.
As we all walked down the gang plank we were met by some of the young soldier ladies who smiled and pointed us in the direction of customs and immigration. As we proceeded in that direction we could already see our van being lowered on to the dock. We were systematically ushered from one office to another and were made to sign all different kinds of papers and asked various questions by the immigration officers. They also made us take all of the gear out of the van just like in France. They didn’t ask us to pay any money but they did write down all the particulars in our respective passports. All this being accomplished we were released and made our way to the van. Arizona Dan joined us there as we had promised him a ride to Tel – Aviv with us. Then we saw a familiar face. It was Danny Ben – Av who approached us and welcomed us to Israel. He said that he had heard that we had a pretty rough trip and hoped that we were all okay. The plan was that we should follow him to Tel – Aviv. He was driving a Ford Mustang and we got in behind him and drove out of the port. It was a bright sunny day as I looked out of the van window at the palm trees and Arabic looking buildings that lined the route. We had just about reached the outskirts of Haifa when all of a sudden we heard a grinding noise coming from the front end of the van. Almost immediately after this one of the front wheels collapsed and became detached causing the front of the van to slump down on one side. Luckily we were traveling quite slowly at the time so nobody was hurt. Danny Ben -Av saw what happened and turned around as we were all piling out of the van to survey the damage. The wheel had come off and we all agreed that it must have been caused by the stress and stain that the van had undergone during the rough voyage. A tow truck was called and the van was towed away to some garage for repair. There was not enough room for all of us to fit in Ben – Av’s Mustang so I ended up waiting with Arizona Dan on the side of the road as we were told that they would send a car to pick us up once they got to Tel – Aviv.
Once I met up with the rest of the band in Tel – Aviv, Danny Ben – Av said that we were going over to meet Raffi Shauli and we would be staying at his house until our flat was ready for us to move in to. Raffi Shauli was an Israeli businessman and was the guy who was sponsoring our 6 week tour. We found out that he was married to Mandy Rice – Davies who was a British show girl who had played a small part in the Profumo scandal that rocked the British Government in 1963. I remember seeing her on the news riding off in a taxi with Christine Keeler who she shared a flat with. Keeler along with Stephen Ward a celebrated osteopath and artist renowned for his portraits of royalty were involved with Mandy Rice – Davies in the sex scandal that brought about the resignation of John Profumo the British Secretary of State for War. There was also considerable involvement with MI5 and British and Russian spy rings. It was almost like a James Bond movie. So here I was in Tel – Aviv Israel on my way to meet the notorious Mandy Rice – Davis. After having gone through our brief but scary involvement with the infamous Kray Twins I thought that this one would be a breeze and the thought of meeting her was quite thrilling. We met Raffi out side of his nightclub on Ben Yehuda Street. The name of the club was Mandy’s obviously named for his wife. He was from Yemenite descent, good looking and spoke good English. He told us that almost every body spoke English in Israel and that his English was improved when he worked as a flight attendant for some time. He said that we were going over to his place and insisted that some of us ride with him in his army style open jeep. He was a gregarious character and was definitely putting on a show for our benefit. I rode in the jeep and at one point at a stop light he deliberately let his jeep roll and bump into the car waiting in front. The driver jumped out of his car and approached us. I thought “”Oh no, here we go again” but it turned out that it was somebody he knew; a friend of his. They ended up laughing and shaking hands. It was a lucky occurrence for Raffi as it gave him another opportunity to show off to us.
We all bundled into Raffi’s house and were greeted at the front door by Mandy. She welcomed us politely and we all sat down at the dining table. Looking at her as she brought a tray of tea and biscuits to us I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. I didn’t think that she looked like anything special. The Israeli girls in their army uniforms were far more attractive. It was not my place to judge her but I also did notice that she acted rather aloof. It was not that easy to make conversation as I’m sure that she knew that we were aware of her notoriety. We were about the same age. She was a year older than me so she was 23 at the time. As she came around with the tea pot she asked me how much milk I wanted. As we used to say at home if you didn’t want a lot of milk in your tea I said “Just a drop” and that’s exactly what she gave me although I would say it was more of a spot that a drop. She moved on to Boris but then hesitated and returned to me asking if that was enough milk for me. I said that I would like a little more but she told me that she had given me what I had asked for and then poured the exact amount of milk into my tea. After tea we went outside into the garden and stood around talking in the warm sunshine and thinking how happy we were on Christmas Eve to be enjoying the warm weather, while all the folks back home were shivering in the cold.
That night Raffi drove us over to an old part of town which we later found out was the Yemenite Village which was close to the old port of Jaffa. All I could think of was that I was in some far off land right in the spot where the Jaffa oranges came from. He took us to what we thought was a very primitive restaurant. It was an old stone building where we sat outside at a long, rustic wooden table. It was already dark and a couple of lamps suspended from a tarpaulin which served as our roof, provided the light over the table. Raffi disappeared through a door way and quickly reappeared. As we all continued talking we were brought out some orange and grapefruit soda pops by a small dark looking Arab guy. We also got hot pita bread which I originally mistook for poppadums a favorite of ours from the Indian restaurants back in England. The pita bread was served with Hummus which was a paste of garbanzo beans spread on a plate, with a dash of olive oil, a dab of tahini sauce a hot pickled pepper and a sprinkling of paprika. We were instructed to tear off pieces of the pita and use it to pick up the hummus from the plate. We ended up with some steak on the grill with some English style chips followed by some good Turkish coffee. We left the restaurant in good spirits and even though we had no money we had somewhere to sleep and we were being fed.
We woke up on Christmas Day with the sun already up and shining brightly through the lace curtains. As our van was not ready yet and we couldn’t rehearse we decided to take a walk down Dizengoff Street which is the main street in Tel – Aviv and used to end up at a circle with a fountain in the middle. It was a Monday morning and it was business as usual. The streets were full of traffic and the buses roared by at high speed. We strolled along looking at the shops and the restaurants with everyone sitting outside in the sun under the shade of umbrellas advertising some kind of drink in a language that we couldn’t read. All the streets were signposted in Hebrew, English and Arabic so you could find your way around and as we began to find out almost every body spoke English and the menus in the restaurants were in English too. As we paused by the fountain in Dizengoff Circle I thought about my folks back home in England and how they were probably still asleep or just about to wake up on their frosty Christmas Day; while I was here half way across the world smoking an Israeli brand cigarette in the sunshine with the smell of some exotic food wafting through the air with the aroma of roasted nuts that were being sold on the sidewalk. On Christmas night Raffi took us down to Jaffa for a meal at a fish restaurant and that was that. Certainly it was a much different Christmas from a year ago when we were stuck up in Newcastle staying in a hovel and playing in empty depressing clubs.
Boxing Day we got our van back with all the musical gear intact. We followed Danny Ben – Av over to Ha Yarkon Street to Mini Mandy’s one of Raffi’s night clubs. It was located right on the ocean. Danny told us that an Israeli band called the Lions was rehearsing there and we could do our rehearsal after them. They were sitting around with their manager, a guy named Haim Saban when we entered the club and it seemed like they were checking us out, especially our gear. They really took notice when the four of us carried the Hammond in. They were taking a break from their rehearsal and as we were bringing in the last of our gear they got up on stage to continue. We immediately noticed that they had a Marshall PA system, were using Fender guitars, Ludwig drums and what looked like Fender amps. Those amps turned out to be made in Israel by a British guy called Wally Garrett who had been a member of a band called The Sing Sing.
The Lions were a five piece band using lead and rhythm guitars, bass and drums. Each member was also a vocalist. They proceeded to play a few numbers like California Dreaming, Dedicated to the One I Love along with some other pop songs of the day. They had strong voices and they were very good. Their manager Haim Saban, had hand picked them all for their vocal and musical abilities and created The Lions and he stood in the back of the room looking as proud as a peacock. As they broke down their gear and we began to set up ours it really began to look like this rehearsal had been set up so that Haim Saban could show off his super group to this visiting British band, The Tornados.
We knew that the lions were going to stay around to see what we could do and sure enough they did. We decided to play Wade in the Water; the jazzy type instrumental originally done by Graham Bond and Dave really let it all go. We wanted to show them that we were a different kind of band to them. We followed it with “All your Love” by the Bluesbreakers and when Sonia got up to do one of her numbers they all took notice. It was a pity that our first meeting with an Israeli band turned out to be a “My band’s better than your band” situation, all put together by the Lions’ manager Haim Saban. After a while the Lions got up and left us to continue our rehearsal undisturbed by their presence as it should have been from the beginning.
Danny Ben – Av showed up as we were winding down the rehearsal telling us that we were to appear in an interview at a local radio station that night and that he and Raffi Shauli were taking us there after dinner. We all arrived at the radio station in the evening. The whole place was filled with men and women all wearing army uniforms but without the customary weapons. We were subsequently told that this radio station was run by the Israeli Army and was called Galey Tsahal. We were to be interviewed by a guy called Abner Rosenbloom who by all accounts was acclaimed to be some kind of expert on pop music. We were told that most of the conversation we would hear would be in Hebrew but we would be asked questions in English and the interviewer would translate our replies to the listeners. About 5 minutes before the interview Abner Rosenbloom came out to meet us. He was a skinny guy with a terrible pock marked complexion with greasy hair. He told us how much he liked “Telstar” and before long we were all seated together in the studio. “Telstar” was used to kick off the interview followed by a lengthy introduction by the host. The only words we could understand were titles of Tornado records and the name Joe Meek which cropped up from time to time. He then asked us to introduce ourselves which we proceeded to do and we all rattled our names off. Boris thought that this would be a good time to pull out a marker and draw an eye on each of the lenses of my eyeglasses. We were asked what it was like to record with Joe Meek so we talked about how Joe was dead and that he had shot himself in the studio. This really got Abner’s attention and he continued to translate into Hebrew. At one point in his commentary we suddenly heard the names Clem Catini, George Bellamy, Alan Caddy, Heinz Burt and Roger LaVern followed by the names Dave Watts, Chris Lethbridge, Mick Strachan, Robb Huxley and Sonia Diamond. Just like magic Abner Rosenbloom brought out an LP by the Tornados with the original group with all their names on it. Although I didn’t understand Hebrew I knew what was coming next. “Where are the members of this band, the Tornados” we were asked as he displayed the album cover to us. Our reply in unison was “Oh they’re all dead”. When he then asked us if they were all killed in the shooting incident at the recording studio and were we there at the time? We all fell about in fits of laughter much to the dismay of our puzzled host. Danny Ben – Av and Raffi Shauli seeing where the interview was going motioned to Rosenbloom to wind it down. It was not in their best interest to let him continue to expose us as being a bunch of phonies. This would have no benefit at all. On our way out of the studio Danny Ben – Av said that we were lucky that Raffi had a lot of pull in the community and was able to shut Abner Rosenbloom up, if not he would have torn us to pieces. This dispute as to who were the Tornados was not new to us as we had often been asked at gigs where Heinz was or which one of us was Clem Catini, but this time on the radio it was a bit different so we were glad to get out of there.
We followed Danny Ben – Av along Ben Yehuda Street and pulled up outside of Mandy’s nightclub. We found out that the club was located in the basement of a four storey building and you would never really know that it was there until you walked down the stairs and into the club. It was not a big club by any means. There was a small dance floor surrounded by booths and tables, they had a pretty good bar and also served food there. Raffi ushered us in and told us to order whatever drinks we wanted as they would be on the house, which was just as well as none of us had any money anyway. The heavy sound of soul music filled the air and was accompanied by a sound sensitive light system. The blackness of the club was pierced by all kinds of colored lights flickering and pulsating along with the beat of the music and a huddle of swaying and writhing bodies danced away on the dance floor. Mandy Rice – Davies acted as a hostess and walked the club with a gin in her hand passing from table to table, smiling at the guests. While talking to Danny – BenAv I mentioned that I was interested to notice that the club did not play pop music but soul music. At that time in England we were pretty much done with soul music and the psychedelic era was at its beginning with Jimi Hendrix at the forefront I asked Danny what type of music did Israeli kids like. He said it would be best to ask somebody from a local group and suggested that we might look for a Canadian guy who was the singer in a band from Tel – Aviv called the Churchills.
He was usually in the club and after a brief search Danny found him. We were introduced to him and he told us that his name was Stan Solomon. Mick, Boris and I introduced ourselves and told him that we were part of the Tornados from England. He said that he heard that we were in town and that we might be doing some gigs together with his band. We asked him about the Israeli music scene and if soul music was the in thing at that time. He told us that the Churchills were basically a pop band and that he just did a half hour set of soul music. He said that bubble gum pop music was about all the kids liked and that Mandy’s was the only place that you would hear soul music all night. He said that the half hour set of soul music he did was about as much as the audiences could take. He asked what we played and we told him. They will probably expect you to play all the hits that they hear on the radio, but you should just say “Fuck that shit” and play whatever you want.
Stan was about 20 years old, about 5 feet 6 in height with brown hair and a freckled complexion. When I first saw him I thought that he looked a bit like Davey Jones from the Monkees. He remarked upon my glasses with Boris’ eyes drawn on them, which I had apparently forgotten about and said “Hey! Are you guys stoned? If you wanna get high I’ve got some great Lebanese hash” Boris’ and Mick’s eyes lit up and said they would take Stan up on his offer. Mick said that we were supposed to be moving into a flat in a couple of days and we would invite him over. At that time I was unaware of how much involvement and influence Stan Solomon would have in the next 25 years of my life.
We played our first gig in Israel at the Club Casablan on 29th December. It was located in Jaffa and the stage was so small that we just set up the gear on the dance floor and played like that. We did two 45 minute sets .We played quite well and the audience seemed to be responsive, but it did feel a bit strange. We found that the audience did like to come up and talk to us. They spoke English with heavy accents and usually asked if we were from Liverpool or did we ever play with Cliff Richard. It was hard to figure out if they liked our music or not.
The next day Raffi told us that he would be taking us over to our flat which was in Tel – Aviv and was on King David Street. He also mentioned that we had been booked to do a tour with two other Israeli bands but that had been cancelled at the last minute. King David Street was a pretty respectable street lined on each side with apartment buildings all about 4 storeys high. Our flat was on the 4th floor and Raffi led the way as we lugged our suitcases up the stairs It was a spacious three bed roomed flat with hardly anything in it. The floors were made of stone tiles and the place echoed as we spoke and walked from room to room. Dave and Sonia took the master bedroom while Mick, Boris and I chose the larger of the other two rooms. We pushed an extra bed into the room so the three of us hung out and slept together in the same room with our three beds positioned around the walls. We put Boris’ little record player on a chair with my box of records underneath and that would be our little corner of the world for the next two months. As Raffi handed us two sets of keys he said “By the way there’s no electricity in the flat but I’ll get it on for you in a day or so” Luckily there was hot water of sorts as the building had solar heating panels on the roof which were and still are very popular in Israel. After what we had been through since we left England to be a couple of days with no electricity was bearable so we put up with it. Raffi also came up with some money for us. He said that we would only be able to get paid half of what we were supposed to get for the next few weeks as the tour had been cancelled and we would have to wait until his new club would open up. It would be called the Cheetah.
With a bit of money in our pockets we drove down to the Jaffa Market and bought some food and knives and forks, although I don’t remember that we ever cooked anything there. That’s because there was no stove in the flat. Raffi did show up with a Primus camper’s stove but that wasn’t much use to us. That afternoon Arizona Dan showed up at the flat. He said that he had asked about us at Mandy’s and had been told where to find us. We invited him to come with us that night as we were doing a 20 minute spot at the Casablan. Before we all left he brought out a hash pipe and we all took some good tokes. In Dave’s diary for 31st December 1967 he has written, “Did a 20 minute spot, stoned out of our minds”
On New Years Day we drove over to the Casablan packed up the gear and took it over to the Mini Club and got it set up. We played a 30 minute spot there that night and enjoyed it. Mick Strachan was doing a very good job on the drums and he kept us in good shape. Sonia was going over well with her songs and we were getting tighter as a band. The audiences in the Casablan and the Mini were not kids and we were received reasonably well. It would be a lot different once we got out into the kids clubs. After the show we were invited over to Raffi’s place for a few drinks. Mandy was there and had just got ready to go down to Mandy’s. We had a little chat with her and she asked us how we were finding things in Israel and we said “Okay” and that was about it. As she was leaving she said “Come on over to the club, dinner and drinks are on the house”. We didn’t need anymore encouragement and took Mandy up on her offer. We all had steak dinners and the alcohol was flowing freely especially the gin which Mandy drank and encouraged us to do the same. She made sure that our glasses were always full. With the pulsating music and the flashing lights we were all having a real good time. We stumbled out of the club at about 2 in the morning and made our way to King David Street to our flat and groped our way around in the dark and finally found our beds. We still had no electricity.
At our rehearsal at the Mini the next day Danny Ben – Av asked Dave if he would let the Lions use his Hammond on a recording session. Apparently Dave had the only Hammond in the country and together with his Leslie Speaker system it was very desirable. Dave said that it would be okay and rightfully so. Our PA was a piece of shit and we had been able to use the Churchill’s Marshall on our gigs so Dave thought that it was fair. We continued to rehearse the following day at the Mini. Danny Ben – Av showed up and told us that a photographer was coming over to shoot some publicity shots and the Churchills were coming over for the shoot. They showed up when we were still rehearsing and we could see that they were watching us in everything we did. They looked a bit younger than us and talked among themselves. Although we could not understand their language we could see that they seemed to be a happy go lucky, full of fun, bunch of kids. When the photographer arrived we went out side and down to the beach. It was a nice day but a bit breezy so the sea was quite choppy. We all posed by the shore on the sand and the rocks and we all walked out on a small jetty where the waves were breaking over it. The photographer said he loved to get shots with the waves breaking behind us. This was fine but we were getting soaked and before long we were all wringing wet and returned to the Mini looking like we had just jumped into the ocean. We saw the Churchills had changed into their stage suits which were floral printed waiter’s uniforms with vests and frilly shirts. The band wore red ones while Stan Solomon wore the same but in blue. They all disappeared for the photo shoot and returned in about 20 minutes all wet and talking excitedly.
I had another chance to talk with Stan Solomon and invited him to come over to the flat that evening. He showed up with a kilo of hash in a carry – on bag and Boris rolled up a big joint which we smoked sitting in the darkness of the flat. Dave came in with Sonia and Dave took a few tokes. Sonia sat with us but she didn’t ever smoke but when she started to burst out in fits of laughter we figured that she had got high just from the smoke that filled the room. Stan told us that he was currently staying with Churchills’ drummer, Ami Treibich at Ami’s parents’ home but was not feeling comfortable there. We said that he was welcome to stay with us at the flat as we had lots of room and a spare bed for as long as we would be in Israel so he took us up on our offer and from that moment on he stayed with us. When we all finally woke up the next day we were all hungry but there was nothing to eat in the flat so we decided to walk down to the corner of King David and Ibn Gvirol Street. There we found a small coffee shop and right next door was a nice little restaurant called Bar – El. Dave and I remembered that just down the street from Joe Meek’s studio in Holloway Road was a small transport café called Charlie’s Restaurant so we christened Bar – El as Charlie’s and as the food was very good, affordable and the owners were nice we continued to eat there regularly. This first meal that we ate at Charlie’s took what little money we had left so we knew that we would need to speak to Danny or Raffi as we were absolutely broke. That afternoon we decided to take a drive down to Jaffa for something to do. We pulled up to the outdoor market which was full of all kinds of stalls and shops with the vendors hawking their various wares. Dave said that it reminded him of Petticoat Lane in the East End of London and for a lark Dave and I climbed on top of the van with an old pair of trousers that we found behind one of the seats and started shouting at the passers by offering the pants up for sale. Before we knew it we were surrounded by dozens of people who were all curious to find out what all the noise was about. The crowd was getting bigger by the moment as people seemed to appear out of nowhere. Soon the van was completely surrounded by a mass of people and when we heard the sound of a police siren approaching, we decided it was time to get out of there. The only problem was that we couldn’t move the van. Boris and Mick were in fits of laughter while Sonia was looking a bit worried. Dave said “Bugger this, lads’ and got behind the wheel and with his hand firmly planted on the horn managed to force our way out through the crowd. As we pulled off we could still see all kinds of people who were running down the side streets coming to see what the commotion was all about. One thing we found out about Israel was that even the smallest, out of the ordinary occurrence attracted hundreds of people. The Israelis were a very inquisitive bunch of people. Later that afternoon Raffi Shauli showed up at the flat and handed out some more money to us. He brought a guy with him dressed in army fatigues, saying that this was a friend of his from the army and that they were going to fix the electricity. They disappeared up on to the roof and hot wired the electric. Now we were bathed in luxury and had power, it was a wonderful day. We hooked up Boris’ little record player and soon the sounds of Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour filled the flat.
Over the next few days as we were not working we hung around with Stan and spent the evenings smoking, talking listening to music and having fun with Stan’s cassette recorder. Boris would sit up higher than us on a couple of cushions and conduct the all Australian Farting Contest in which we featured Dave Watts as a surprise contestant from England, who knocked out Big Jim Asshole in a most exciting final. Dave’s expertise in the ability to fart at will really shone through and for an encore Dave farted to the riff of Sunshine of your Love. Stan and I also started to write poetry. We wrote most of it in my note and song book that I carried around, and still have. We wrote all kinds of stuff in it, some funny, some serious, some stupid, and some about what was going on in our lives at that time. We were writing so much and knocking ourselves out that Boris got irritated and ridiculed us, but in the end he said that we bastards were really quite lucky as we would be able to look at all that nonsense years in the future and be able to be reminded of those days in Israel. He got that one right for sure.
We were all having a good time, getting high, going down to eat at Charlie’s, listening to music; Mick started to disappear late at night and we knew he was going down to Mandy’s, he told us he had met a girl down there, Mona. The only downside was that we were still not being paid what we were contracted for. As it was there was not much that we could have done about it. We were thousands of miles away from home so we just couldn’t say “Fuck it let’s go home” It wasn’t that easy. We didn’t have enough money to get us through France and back to England anyway. We played a gig at the Mini Club and at the end of the evening, on our way out; we took twenty five tins of assorted food from the kitchen. We thought that we would take part of the payment that they owed us in food. We bought a can opener and cooked the food on the small primus stove in the flat.
The following day there was a scare and the whole country was on the alert. We tried to find out from Ben – Av what was up and we were told that there could be another war coming up as there was some kind of trouble down at the border with Egypt. We thought “Lovely, not only are we not getting paid properly but we’re going to be caught up in a war”. Luckily we were never affected by anything that may have occurred there.
Things began to get a bit strange when we were walking back from Charlie’s in the evening and we started to notice what turned out to be bats flitting around in the twilight. There were large flocks of them diving in low over us. We thought that there was a plague of bats upon Israel. That night a big storm blew up followed by seventy to eighty mph. winds over the next few days. When the weather got back to normal we were glad to be able to get out and about again and drove down to the Mini Club to get the gear ready as we were told that we would be playing the opening show at the Cheetah club on the 16th January. To Dave’s horror he found that two keys had been broken off the Hammond. At first we presumed that something had fallen on the organ and snapped the keys off but there was no evidence of that. The keys were broken off in the mid range of the keyboard and Dave said that some bastard had done it on purpose to screw us up. We couldn’t figure out why somebody would have done that. We didn’t look upon the Tornados as being some kind of threat to any body or to the other bands as we played a different kind of music to them, but we did feel that there was some kind of rivalry between the groups there and that we had been caught up in that. Presently the Churchills roadie showed up and when asked he said that nobody had been in the club for the past two days due to the stormy weather. The janitor in the club also confirmed that. So it was a complete mystery but we did come to the conclusion that we were the victims of sabotage. We broke down the gear and loaded it into the van and decided to drive over to Wally Garrett’s place and although his business was guitar amps he was able to help us and glued the keys back onto the keyboard. Luckily the keys held well and Dave was able to play again with no difficulty. That evening back at the flat Stan came in and told us that there had been a tragedy in the Churchills’ band. Their bass player’s mother had been run over by a bus and killed and the band was in a state of shock. The bass player’s name was Michael Gavrielov and he was a founder member of the band. As expected he was distraught but had said that he would do his best to show up for the gigs that were coming up.
The next day being the 16th we went over to the Cheetah club in the afternoon to set up the gear and do a sound check. The club although quite spacious was really no more than just a large bare room with a few tables and chairs scattered here and there. There was no kind of decorative adornment on the walls but there was at least a pretty good sized stage on which we could stand, and we were able to fit all of the gear on to. Danny Ben – Av showed up and during a break from the sound check Danny told us that they wanted to do something special for the opening night. He went out to his car and returned with a Hussar’s army uniform, a plumed helmet and a sword. He said that I should wear this for the opening night and that I should be seen entering the club in the full regalia. I was not that excited about making a spectacle of myself and said that I didn’t think that it was necessary and anyway we were not Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Boris said “Oh come on Robbie you can do it” and under pressure from everybody I had no choice and consented to wear the uniform. When I tried on the jacket it reminded me of a picture I had seen showing Jimi Hendrix wearing one similar so I felt a bit better and decided that I would back comb my hair that night and puff it up ala Jimi Hendrix.
When we showed up at the Cheetah Club that evening there was a sizeable crowd milling around outside. To our surprise it was mainly made up of young guys. For the most part they were all dressed in a similar way which meant that they were wearing very low cut pants with wide belts, floral or plaid shirts and pointed shoes. There was no evidence of long hair styles in fact everyone looked like they could have been French or Italian. This was probably due to the crowd being made up of Israelis that were mostly of dark skinned Moroccan ethnicity. They surrounded our van as we pulled up outside of the club and tried to peer through the windows to get a look at us. The roadie that we had met at the Mini Club showed up out of the blue and began shouting at the onlookers. We could not understand what he was yelling but it looked like he was ordering them to move back and let us get out of the van. He spoke to us in English and told us that his name was Yoshko and that he worked for Haim Saban and Yehuda Talit and was there to watch over us. Yehuda Talit was the Churchills’ manager and as we were exiting the van they showed up and watched from the sidelines as we made our way into the club. I got a lot of looks from the crowd as I got out of the van in my uniform looking just like I had left the movie set of some epic Napoleon filming. I felt a bit awkward with the heavy helmet balanced precariously on my head and using the sword like a walking stick I made my way through the crowd. Sonia got a few whistles from the guys and I heard the words Beatles and Liverpool shouted around. Once inside the club I had to get that helmet off my head and teased my hair up once more. As we were checking out the gear and tuning up I noticed that Michael Gavrielov from the Churchills had come in and was sitting over on the side with his girlfriend. We decided to walk over to him and offer our sympathy for the terrible loss of his mother. He forced a smile as we shook hands. He told us that he had come to see us play so that he could take his mind off things for a while. By the time we were ready to begin the scheduled two forty-five minute sets only a few people had trickled into the club. We thought that they were just waiting for us to start but after we had played the first few numbers only a fraction of the people that had been gathered outside entered the club. During the course of the evening our audience grew a little more but overall the attendance was disappointing. After the show we drove back to the Mini Club and stashed away the gear and decided that we would rehearse over the next few days and clean up some of our numbers.
Danny Ben – Av showed up with Raffi Shauli just as we were perfecting the discordant build up in “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles. They said that they had to talk to us so we all sat around one of the tables and lit up some cigarettes. When we discussed the poor attendance at the Cheetah Club Danny said that the kids outside waited until we started to play and as they didn’t recognize any of the songs that we were playing they wouldn’t come in. Danny pulled out a handful of 45’s from his briefcase and said that we were to learn those numbers. We sifted through the discs on the table and saw that it was a collection of songs that all the other groups in Tel – Aviv were playing. The ones I remember were “The Letter” by The Box Tops, which had been a big hit in ’67 and stayed at number one on the Billboard charts for a month and won several awards including Cashbox Magazine’s Record of the Year; “San Francisco” (Be sure to wear flowers in your hair) by Scott McKenzie which had been a top ten hit in the USA in ’67 and was recognized as the anthem for the Hippie Movement; “L.S.D” some obscure record that had been a hit in Israel, and they said that Sonia must sing “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. We agreed to the fact that these were great hits but why should we play them? We had been brought to Israel as the Tornados and to appear as such, for what we were, and what we played, this would just lump us in together with the rest of the Israeli groups. Why bring the Tornados all the way from England to play the same songs as every body else when you might as well just play the record in the club or have a local band play it. We just about threw up when we were suggested to play “Here we go Loop de Loop here we go Loop de Lie” We had seen the Lions play it at their rehearsal and thought that it was a silly number. During the subsequent conversation it became clear that the Israeli kids could only appreciate bands by comparing how they played the same songs. If a band played music that they had never heard they considered the band to be crap and would not think twice about coming into the club, and that was why the attendance was poor at the Cheetah. Raffi Shauli said that if the attendances didn’t go up they wouldn’t make any money and we wouldn’t get paid. At this point we knew that we had no choice in the matter and agreed to perform the numbers. We got them all down over the next few days. A verse from “Rockin’ in Jerusalem” a song I wrote remembering the trip to Israel sums it all up.
Well when we got out on the road we didn’t go down so great,
They said that they wanted to hear all the songs that were in the Hit Parade,
And Danny Ben – Av told us boys you gotta understand,
We want you just to sound like any other Israeli Band.
So we said goodbye to Graham Bond and the Blues Breakers too,
If you’re going to San Francisco, you better take the Letter with you.
So we swallowed hard and learned the songs and played ‘em note for note.
And wished to Christ we could take “em all and shove ‘em down his throat.
We’re ROCKIN’ IN JERUSALEM; we’re ROCKIN’ IN JERUSALEM TONIGHT.
I thought back to the conversation that I had with Stan Solomon at Mandy’s Club regarding the music scene in Israel and he had been right, we did get asked to play the hits. He said that the kids basically didn’t like him or the soul music that he sang and he was looked upon as an interruption in the Churchills’ set by the audience. Stan refused to sing any of the hits and so got away with it by just performing a half hour set and letting the Churchills’ take care of all the hits. He said that he got hassled regularly by guys in the audience asking him to sing some pop song or other. They always asked him why didn’t he sing this or why didn’t he sing that?
We had very little trouble getting off the songs, we took the records back to the flat and played them on Boris’ little record player I say that we did the numbers well with Dave’s Hammond playing giving us an edge over the Israeli bands. Sonia did her best with “Respect” but she was not a soul singer. She had a great powerful voice and always sang perfectly but she couldn’t belt it out like Aretha. During those rehearsals we blew one of the speakers in the Vox columns. Our audio system was pretty lame as it was so it had to be replaced and we had no money for a new speaker. Dave and Boris found that the speakers in the Mini Club’s system were the same size as ours so they promptly disconnected one of them and replaced it with our blown speaker. Boris sniffed and said “Fuck these assholes, they’re screwing us with the money so they owe us on this one”. On the drive back to the flat we noticed that the van was beginning to suffer from its diet of Israeli petrol which Dave said was a pretty bad quality.
On the 20th January it was time to return to the Cheetah again. This time we opened up our set with the new numbers and lo and behold the people began to come into the club and we had an audience. Once we had used up the new additions to our repertoire it was a little different when we had to play the songs that they didn’t know. When we could see that the audience was getting irritated we would have to repeat some of the new songs to keep them happy. We must have played “The Letter” to the point of embarrassment, but they would keep asking for it and all we wanted to do was play, keep them happy and hopefully get paid. After our 90 minute spot at the Cheetah a blond guy by the name of Michel came to escort us over to the second venue which was the club at Bat Yam (Beautiful Sea). The club was in some ways a bit similar to Mandy’s in the respect that it was down in a basement located in a shopping center. There were street vendors everywhere with portable grills cooking shish kabob and steaks that they were stuffing into pita bread. The heavy aroma of spices, onion and garlic hung in the air and if you didn’t know where the club was you could easily miss it. Unlike Mandy’s, Bat Yam’s audience was made up of kids from mid to late teens. It was a struggle to get the Hammond down the stairs into the club. There was no problem with the rest of the gear as we used the Churchills’ amps and they used ours. The air in the club was thick. There was no air conditioning and we felt that we were walking into a sauna. It was a long narrow room with a very low ceiling and when we got up on the stage there was very little room above us. Dave said” You better not jump up and down Robbie you’ll bang your bloody head on the ceiling”. I guess that we went down okay. We sprinkled the new songs throughout our set and managed to keep the crowd’s attention for the ninety minute set. We were all pouring with sweat and felt drained from the heat and lack of fresh air. Mick was beginning to look a bit weird about half way through the evening. He was looking like he was in some other world and his face bore an anxious expression. “It must be the heat” I suggested to Boris as we both looked back at Mick as he slouched over the drums. “Nah!” answered Boris, “He ate a chunk of hash earlier and he’s tripped out”.
Danny Ben – Av showed up at Bat Yam at the end of the night and looked happier than usual. In fact he was pleased about the attendances at the clubs and said ‘You see, if you play some of the music they know everything is okay” He also told us that we would be working four out of the next five nights.
The second gig was at a club called The Cocos which was a Spartan looking kind of place located in an area mostly made up of factories. It was a warm humid night and we showed up around dusk. We got out of the van and the first things we noticed were huge rats that were scurrying everywhere seemingly unaffected by human presence. They would dart in and out looking like black shadows in the night which you were not quite sure if you had seen or not. Sonia was terrified and we all had the creeps so we hurried inside and up the stairs. The place was practically unadorned. It was just a big room similar to the Cheetah with a stage that was just about big enough for the band and there was a small concession which sold orange pop, grapefruit pop and white lemonade. At these kinds of clubs we always got bugged by guys insisting that they help us carry the Hammond into the place. Every body and his brother wanted to get a hand on it some where. When we would arrive at the entrance door it was a competition to see how many of them could get in without paying pretending that they were with the group. We soon got wise to this and on future occasions the roadie Yoshko would yell at everybody to stand back when we carried the Hammond in.
Well we did actually get paid the following morning when Danny Ben – Av came by the flat. This was the first time that we had been paid correctly but we were working almost every night to get it. When we did get to see Stan here and there we talked about our gigs and Stan talked about his gigs with the Churchills and we would all go down to Charlie’s to eat at lunch time. That night we played in a dance hall just outside of Tel – Aviv called Petah Tikva. We arrived there in the afternoon to set up the gear and get everything ready and then just had to hang around the place for a few hours. The place got pretty packed out that night with the dance floor full of kids. There was a local curiosity there in the form of a dark skinned little guy who was almost like a midget except that he didn’t have short stunted legs; he had a very short body and apparently no neck. He could have passed for the hunchback of Notre Dame but was better looking. When the floor was filled with dancers he would circulate among them hopping around and from time to time he would leap up into the air so high that we could see him above the heads of the people. He always wore a huge grin on his face and it delighted every body to watch him especially us, as we could see everything very well from up on the stage which was very high in comparison to the hall. In fact it was higher that the average person that would be standing on the dance floor. As usual there was the group of young guys that were always gathered together right in front of the stage. They were looking up at us, especially Sonia from where they stood and they were continually smiling and we thought that they must really be enjoying the show. They would often call Sonia to come to the edge of the stage like they wanted to ask her something and generally encouraged her to stay up front. Sonia took it that she was going over well and continued to dance around in her sexy flaring mini skirt. All at once a big, burly tough guy who turned out to be a bouncer burst through the crowd and began to set about the half a dozen young guys that were in front of the stage he smacked them all across their heads like an angry father and pushed them all out of the club; at the same time indicating to Sonia that she should move back on the stage. The guys up front had all been looking up Sonia’s dress and getting a real good view. Sonia blushed a little stood back from the edge of the stage and we got through the rest of the show without further incident.
We drove 4 hours the next day to somewhere up near Nazareth to play at a cinema with the Lions and some other Israeli band. On the way there I couldn’t stop thinking about “Jesus of Nazareth” as we were taught at school and church and thinking of Nazareth as some far away place in the world that you would never ever see; and here I was driving towards it. As was usual there was a big crowd of people out side of the cinema when we arrived and Yoshko was barking at every body to stand back and got us through the crowd and into the cinema. We were beginning to understand the different scene that we were experiencing there in Israel. Guys used to shout “Hey Johnny you know Liverpool” but they pronounced it “Libber Fool” and we used to crack up. Some of them would come right up to you and sing a line from a song like “Gimme a ticket for an Aero plane” or “Lucy is this guy that I love” which was meant to be “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” Back stage at the cinema we hung around with the Lions and another band that looked like they were just kids. They were called the Monsters and they were a three piece band, guitar, bass and drums and they opened up the show. The guitar player had very long hair even by European standards and it was red. We were told his name was Gingie Land. The bass player was a kid of about 17 and the drummer a kid of 16, Yakie Yosha and Moti Levi. They were like what you might call a garage band today. They had something different about them and although I couldn’t understand a word they were saying to the audience I could see that they were getting a reaction. They sang all their songs in English. Gingie Land did all the vocals. Later he told us that he was born in the USA and his parents had immigrated to Israel when he was a kid.
The Lions did a very good show and played well but I couldn’t help feeling that because of the way that they were dressed in their stage clothes I expected them to at any moment, throw down their instruments and turn into a trapeze act or start walking on the High Wire. But the kids liked them and they went down well with a set of music that was definitely aimed at the audience. The highlight of their show was when the bass player, Danny Shoshan gave his bass over to the lead singer and went on to do a few soul numbers and really put on a big, dramatic show in the style of James Brown.. He had and still has a very rich powerful voice. Here we see something similar to what was happening in the Churchills, with Stan Solomon doing his 30 minutes of soul music hoping to be something different and special and hopefully cause some kind of a sensation. Soul music was the medium through which Israeli bands used, to try to break away from the norm. In England it was what we called Underground music or Psychedelic music all mixed in together with a good helping of blues. As the Tornados at that time we were beginning to take the road of breaking away from the normal pop scene. It showed in our repertoire with “All your Love” and “Little Girl” that we covered from John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, a definite blues influence, and ‘A Day in the Life” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” from the Beatles which was all part of the emerging Psychedelic era. I was already planning to include some Hendrix numbers in our set when we would get back to England.
When the evening was coming to a close and the gear was being put into the vans the Tornados and the Lions stood around and chatted together. We were standing in a dimly lit passageway and I was hanging with the Lions’ drummer Moshe. He produced a flashlight from somewhere and asked me to shine it on the wall, which I did and he proceeded to create shadows on the wall displaying various animals and caricatures at the same time giggling like a small child. He just about had me giggling along with him. I asked Lions’ bass player, Danny if Moshe was tripping out on acid or something and Danny said “No, he’s always like that, that’s the way he is” I thought “Wow, that’s weird”. Throughout the evening I noticed that Dave had been talking to Danny Ben – Av and as we were just about to get in the van Dave came up to me and said that Ben – Av had offered him and Sonia a ride home with him in his Mustang or “BenAv –mobile” as Boris called it. We followed them back and somewhere deep inside of me I felt that something was afoot. That event would contribute to the final break up of Joe Meek’s last group of Tornados.
Finally we got a day off although much of it was spent sleeping after getting back to the flat just before daybreak. Stan and I began to hang out together on the time off. I turned him on to Hendrix and the Blues Breakers which we listened to on Boris’ record player. We continued to write poetry during our smoking sessions and bit by bit we began to sing and play together in the big empty living room at the flat. It was good to sing and play there as the room had a natural echo due to the stone floors and lack of any furniture. It wasn’t long before we had a couple of songs written.
That night down at Charlie’s restaurant we got to see the paper man. Apart from Stan and I he was the only other customer in the restaurant. He sat in the corner and ate his food just like a ritual. Over the next weeks we would continue to study him and got to strike up conversations with him. He was probably in his late sixties, with a bald head and always wore the same white shirt. We asked him why he mixed up his foods in certain ways and why he put ice in his hot tea. He gave us an elaborate explanation why people should not eat anything that is too hot or too cold. He told us that he was lucky to be alive as in the war for independence in the forty’s his house was destroyed by a bomb blast He was asleep at the time on the second floor and he was blown into the street and landed still lying in bed. We all had a good laugh. Whenever he stood up he would have these large wads of something in the back pockets of his trousers and would be continually searching for something on the floor or in the corner behind his table. Our Persian waiter Maurice took a delight in telling us that those wads were just pieces of plain paper and that one time the paper man had been hit on the head and robbed. The robber must have thought that his victim was carrying his life savings around in his back pockets According to Maurice the robber when finding out that his booty was nothing more than pieces of plain paper, he threw them at the paper man screaming “What the hell is this?” Later the paper man confirmed that the story was true and when asked why he carried the plain sheets of paper around he said “You never know when you might need a piece of paper for something” At that point we revealed to him that we called him the paper man and he was quite amused by that. He said that we should all stuff our pants pockets with paper and carry signs around saying “We are the paper men of Tel-Aviv”.
Back out on the road again the next day we drove up to the ancient city of Akko or Acre as it is written in English. It is located on the coast a little to the north of Haifa and is a historical city that dates back some 4,000 years. We played a half hour set there in a small club. As what seemed to be the norm, there was a group of vendors with their little stands set up around the entrance to the club. As we were leaving Dave, for a lark, reached out and picked up a few peanuts from a tray that an Arabian looking guy was holding and continued to walk to the van. As we were getting into the van the Arab guy came running up to us and screaming and shouting he pushed a pistol in Dave’s face. Danny Ben- Av was quick to react and immediately consoled the vendor and paid him some money to get rid of him. He walked away muttering and probably cursed us out in Arabic. Ben-Av warned Dave to be careful as it was unwise to play those kinds of tricks on Arabs. He told Dave that he could have been shot or killed. Dave was visibly shaken as nobody had ever stuck a gun in his face before. On the drive back to Tel-Aviv at around 2 am Dave now recovered from his run in with the Arab guy spotted a banana plantation on the side of the road. He asked Boris to pull over and ignoring Sonia’s pleas for him to be careful he ran over to a tree and broke off a whole bunch of bananas. It was such a large bunch that he had a job to carry it to the van. He threw it in the back on top of the gear. Over the next few days we ate so many bananas that we got sick of them in the end. Not only that, the bunch was infested with insects that became real pests in the flat. We also found out from Michel our escort who when he saw the bananas in the flat told us that we had taken them from a Kibbutz which usually had armed guards on patrol and anyone caught stealing could have been shot on sight. So in theory Dave could have been shot twice on that day.
We all hung around the flat on our day off. Boris’ record player was kept in use, my Beatles EP. Magical Mystery Tour was often on the turntable and Dave got rid of the squawking birds that had been annoying us constantly in the trees outside our windows. He went downstairs and finding a house brick he hurled it up at the birds in the tree which scared the shit out of them and they flew off in a squawking flock and settled in another tree across the road where they proceeded to annoy some body else. The only thing that Dave had miscalculated was that a car was parked directly under the tree. The house brick tumbled down and landed smack on top of the car. We watched from the window and saw Dave, who realizing what he had done swiftly turned around and came bounding up stairs back to the flat, quickly closing the door and disappearing into his bedroom. A little later on when I was sitting alone in the empty living room strumming on my 335 Dave and Sonia came in and we did a little three part harmony together as we often did. At one point Dave said “Listen Robbie I’ve got to tell you something. The other night on the way back when we drove with Danny Ben-Av he told me that they wanted to build, what he called, an English style band in Israel and asked me if I would like to stay on here and play the Hammond” Dave said that it was something to do with the Lions and he didn’t know what to do. It was clear to see that there was a lot of work here but he felt that he couldn’t leave us, mainly me and Son, and said that he didn’t want to go along with it unless I could play in the band too. Chris and Mick kept talking about getting back to England so I began to feel that sometime in the next couple of weeks that some situation would arrive. I felt that Dave was probably going to go for it in the end and if I was not considered for the band, then should I leave with Boris and Mick or stay in Israel hoping for something? It was an insecure and worrisome feeling that gradually came over me. It was just another one in a series of stressful events that had taken place in the past five months; starting with the departure of the Holder brothers Being on our second bass player and second drummer who had only been with us a matter of weeks it seemed like we were not that tight fit group any more. Although I tried to deny it I just knew and felt that a change was bound to come.
Later on when Stan and I were writing some poetry I told him about what Dave and I had talked about and that I didn’t know if I should stay in Israel or return to England. Stan immediately told me to stay. He said that we could make a band together or he would get me into the Churchills. He knew that two of the band members were due to be called up for their national service in the Israeli Army and that would be a good time to get me into the band. Although Stan’s words gave me some feeling of hope I still felt worried; and inside I was hoping that I could still stay with Dave and get into the “British Style” band that Danny Ben-Av was talking about. I didn’t realize it at the time but this bid to get Dave into the “British Style” band which would turn out to be The Lions of Judea” was coming from their manager Haim Saban. We played again at Bat Yam after our day off. It was the second time that we played there. Just like the first time we had all the people in the front continually calling out the names of the songs they wanted to hear. It aggravated me and during the set I was developing an angry attitude. If only they would just listen to what we wanted to play. People would come up to the stage when you were singing a number and start to pull on your pant leg to get your attention expecting you to stop singing and talk to them. At the end of the show I was admonished by the club owner and Danny Ben-Av for making rude gestures on stage. I guess the use of my middle finger was unacceptable.
We enjoyed a couple of days off. Mick, Boris, Stan and I hung out all day long in that little bedroom. We sat on our beds and listened to music while Boris rolled up the joints. Stan and I were still writing a lot of poetry and it was just pouring out of us. We would often collapse on the floor with laughter at things that we had written. From the moment that Stan and I met we had been creative and that creativity was to continue throughout our short career in music together. During the day Dave and Boris went down to fetch a few things from the van and came upstairs looking puzzled. Dave said that it was freaky as when he and Boris went to the van which was parked outside they found it running with the doors locked and no key in the ignition!
We decided to do some more rehearsals over at Mini Mandy’s on the 29th January just to brush up as we were due to play at the Cheetah on the 30th. We were also waiting to get paid and Danny Ben-Av kept putting us off and coming up with nothing. We had a big row with Raffi and Mandy when we went over to see them about getting paid. They had no money to pay us and we walked out in a huff. At the gig that night Danny Ben-Av met us after the show and invited us over to Mandy’s for a peace talk. Throughout the night we went through a back and forth thing with them where we complained that we were not getting paid on time, and that for the amount of work that they were getting out of us we should be paid even more money. They in turn hit us back with “Well your PA system was not powerful enough and we hand to rent a Marshall PA for you”. And it went on and on all long night with Ben-Av becoming nastier and meaner by the minute. It finally erupted into a full fledged shouting match with even Mick who was a real quiet, soft spoken guy, raising his voice and putting in his 2 cents. It was not a good feeling so when Sonia who was getting upset by the big fight with Danny Ben-Av said that she wanted to leave, we all got up. Raffi asked us not to leave so we continued to converse in a restrained manor. Raffi said he would get our pay for us by February 1st and we ended up parting under friendlier circumstances. We were assured that we would be paid so with some feeling of accomplishment we walked out of Mandy’s into the daylight at 7am. We were all in bed by 7.30. At 11.30 we were woken up by a loud banging on the apartment door. As I stirred from my deep sleep it sounded like distant cannon fire. Realizing that it was the front door I stumbled out of our room and bumping into Dave in the process, we both discovered that it was Yoshko shouting “Come on, come on, and wake up everybody’s waiting outside”. We looked out of the front window and there parked outside was a 60 seater coach. He told us we were driving to Tiberias which would be about 4 hours from Tel-Aviv and we were doing a big show with the Lions and the Churchills. We couldn’t believe that Stan was still asleep in his room as he must have known about the gig and why wasn’t he awake? We woke him up and he said “Oh shit that’s right we’re all playing together in Tiberias, I spaced out”. He dragged himself out of bed and said that they would just have to wait until we all got ready. After our traumatic night at Mandy’s and our lack of sleep the Tornados finally got themselves awake and ready and trooped downstairs with Stan lighting a cigarette and bringing up the rear. The Lions and Churchills were all on the bus along with a roadie by the name of Little Tony. He was huge to say the least. He was 6 foot six and big all over with a large ugly scar on his cheek. He had greasy, black hair, a bad facial complexion but contrary to his appearance he was really quite pleasant and spoke reasonable English. We drove over to the Cheetah to get the Hammond and whatever gear was needed and drove north to Tiberias located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The bus ride was fun. It almost felt like we were on a Magical Mystery Tour. Once again it was exciting for me to know that we were on our way to the very special place where Jesus is said to have walked on the water. As bands we did not intermingle that much but from time to time one band member may have struck up a conversation with a member of another band. I had a chat with Danny Shoshan, Lions’ bass player. We talked mainly about music. I told him to listen to a guy called Jimi Hendrix, Danny was basically into soul music and had the kind of voice that could pull it off. He confessed that he was not happy with most of the music that the Lions played and preferred to play a harder style of music and that was why he did his soul feature act to end the Lions’ set. We really didn’t get to talk to the Churchills much, but Stan did come over for a chat here and there. The Churchills were younger than the Lions and Tornados by about three or four years. They seemed to be fun loving and they laughed and joked together, but we couldn’t understand what they were saying. One of them spoke English with a South African accent. Stan introduced him to us as Selwyn. He was born in South Africa but his family immigrated to Israel. As of that time we had not seen the Churchills perform but had heard a lot from Stan. I was interested to see how they were.
We pulled into the town of Tiberias which dates back about 2000 years and is located on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Although a lake, its size is so great that you could imagine it as being a sea. We looked across it and could see the smoky outlines of mountains in the distance. Michael of the Churchills who Stan had brought over to talk to us explained that those mountains were in Syria and that the Syrians were their enemies. It seemed like we were gradually descending into the town and in fact we were. Tiberias is situated 200 meters below sea level. We had the luxury of staying in a hotel that night and we all bundled into the place and took to our rooms. Boris, Mick and I had a room together and after we settled down I decided to take a walk around the place. At the end of a long corridor I could hear sounds of laughter and as I approached the open door I could here Stan Solomon’s voice and peals of laughter. It was Stan who was parading around the room wearing Little Tony’s trousers (The group Roadie) which were about 100 sizes too big for him with the waist band coming up almost to his chin. Little Tony was taking a shower and Stan had the Churchills in fits particularly Selwyn who was actually in tears. I was invited in to join in their frivolities and accepted. Stan formally introduced me to the Churchills after the laughter had died down and Little Tony had come out of the shower wondering what all the noise had been about.
.One by one I met and shook hands with the Churchills. They were Ami Trebich, on drums, Haim Romano lead guitar, Selwyn Lifschitz guitar and vocals, Michael Gavrielov bass and vocals and “Churchill” who was actually a guy called Yitzhak Klepter lead and rhythm guitar. Michael explained that when Yitzhak was at school he was kind of chubby and had been given the nickname of Churchill by his school mates due to a resemblance to Sir Winston Churchill and that’s how they had come up with the name “Churchills”.
They opened up the show that night and I stepped out into the audience to take a look. Well they were basically a carbon copy of what all Israeli groups were playing at that time but I did notice that what they played they played very well. Selwyn did a nice job of knocking off “The Letter” and “Live for Today” and they did a very good job of backing Stan on his half hour set of soul music. They not only played well but gave a good vocal backing to his numbers. I thought that their outfits were a bit dated and blasé but on the whole they were a very good band. We went on after the Lions to close the show and half way through our second number the power went off. Apparently this was a regular occurrence in this area and was more or less tolerated by every one. We thought that it would the end of everything and that we would all go back to the hotel. Not so; the whole audience sat and waited around with us for over an hour till the power came back on again when we restarted our set and finished up the evening.
February 1st was “Payday” and we drove over to the Mini Club to collect our money, and met with Danny Ben- Av, Raffi Shauli, and a guy called Sasson who in due course we found out was either an accountant or he was from the Income Tax people. It was never quite clear. He presented us with some papers to sign and informed us that we owed the Israeli government taxes and they were deducting 250 Lira, at that time about 30 pounds, from our pay. There was nothing that we could do about that. We just took our money and left presuming that it had been some kind of a fiddle and we had lost out again.
February 3rd came around and it was the first anniversary of the Holloway Road tragedy. It is doubtful if any of us even realized the significance of that day. The name of Joe Meek probably never even entered our minds. There was so much going on. There we were thousands of miles away from England in the Middle East having to adjust to a different kind of audience and culture. The possible break up of the Tornados was definitely looming upon the horizon and the future was filled with uncertainty. I had no idea what was in store for me and still didn’t know for sure what Dave’s situation was with the Lions. It was a worry to me and was always in the back of my mind. I had spoken to Boris and Mick again as to what they thought about the situation and they were still adamant that they would leave Israel and the sooner the better. If Dave did go to the Lions then I would definitely be on my own with this one. Stan Solomon remained supportive toward me and still promised that he would get me into the Churchills. We had just written our first song together and there was a definite creative thing going on between us.
As far as February 3rd 1968 went it was just another day in Tel-Aviv. We played a double between the Cheetah and Bat Yam. It was a very hot and sticky night with the air thick and humid. It was unbearable in the clubs; we were absolutely dripping with sweat and completely out of energy. It was hard to breathe to say the least. Although it was just another day in Tel-Aviv it was the last gig that Joe Meek’s “end of the line” Tornados would ever play. Exactly one year to the day that Joe Meek shot and killed Violet Shenton and then, himself the New Tornados played their final gig and faded into oblivion.