From the Firecrests to the Four Originals
I was born on February 2 1941 in Bromborough Pool and my parents lived at Eastham, the next village to Bromborough. On my 16th birthday I got my first guitar and listened to all the early rock 'n' roll records - by Elvis, Bill Haley, Little Richard and later, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis etc. There was also the influence of Lonnie Donegan.
At Birkenhead School we formed a vocal/instrumental harmony group that was led by vocalist Chris Morris (later to become Lance Fortune) with the other members, which included myself, Gavin Melville, Brian Wrench (Brian Allen, occasionally) and Barry Ezra. We were known as the Firecrests.
The group recorded a few tracks at Allansons (a radio/recording shop) in Borough Road, Birkenhead. We did it for fun and the numbers we recorded were 'That'll Be The Day', 'I Knew From The Start' and 'Party.'
In my own village I was also a member of a trio in 1958. We based ourselves on the Crickets and the group featured myself on guitar, Ian 'Goz' Boyle on bass and Vic Hubbert on drums. As a trio we played many local gigs.
In 1958 I was also involved with a local skiffle group called the Del Rio Mountain Boys. In fact at one time we played at Lowlands club in West Derby, although I can't remember how we came to get the booking. The main places we appeared at were the Eastborough Hall and St. David's Youth Club, Eastham on Tuesdays and Wednesdays respectively.
At St. David's Club a guitarist called Phil Rogers, who our drummer had known from school, came up from Ellesmere Port where he lived and supplemented the group. Subsequently Vic Hubbert left to join the Merchant Navy and Phil brought in his friend Bill Bulk on drums. This was eventually to lead to the formation of the Jaywalkers.
The members decided that we might do better if we found a good vocalist and Phil suggested George Roberts (who later became 'Dale'). George had sung at the Shell Club in Ellesmere Port for some time with Phil on guitar, Bill on drums and Connie Rogers (Phil's mum) on piano.
We appeared on the Carol Levis Show. We didn't win the heat, but it was a good experience. We performed 'Down The Line' and 'My Babe.'
The next day Rory Storm, who had seen our performance, rang me at home and asked me to join his group. I told him I was happy with my current band and he said 'you will get nowhere with that band - we are off to the holiday camps soon and have lots of bookings.'
Although I declined his offer, we became good friends and later appeared many times together, notably at Crewe Town Hall on a bill that also featured Emile Ford & the Checkmates.
My dad was a teacher and one of his pupils was Mike Millward. Mike used to play at Holyoake Hall with Bob Evans & the Five Shillings. I vaguely knew Mike and went to see him in Bromborough (I went by motorbike and was caught speeding on the way there by Constable Kidd!)
Mike said he would get us an audition and once we'd done it Wally Hill gave us several bookings. Wally was very strict and I recall his wife being the 'Boss.' At the time it wasn't easy getting to the gigs, especially as we lived 15 miles or more away on the Wirral. At times we were late arriving and this didn't go down well.
We played regularly at the Wall City Jazz Club in Chester as the interval band for Gordon Villers. Gordon recommended us to Ray McFall as a reliable, smartly dressed group of good musicians, which suited Ray and, as a result, we first got to play at the Cavern.
Following our Cavern debut on Friday February 26 on a bill with the Southside Jazzmen, lots of bookings followed.
We had never seen anywhere like the Cavern. Magic atmosphere! Hot! Sweaty! These days I would feel more claustrophobic being in such crowds where there was only one way to get in and out.
We also played at the Iron Door Club, the Merryfield Club and did gigs for Brian Kelly at Aintree Institute, Litherland Town Hall and Lathom Hall. Dave Forshaw booked us at St. John's Hall, Bootle and Doug Martin booked us into the 'Jive Hive', Crosby. On March 21 1961 we appeared on the Cavern with the Beatles. We knew then that they were something special. While we all tried to copy the rock songs exactly, they often put their own
interpretation on them. Looking back, I reckon it gave them their own identity.