From the Firecrests to the Four Originals
We chose our repertoire from what we considered were our own abilities and limitations. We were known as an excellent musical group, but not a heavy rock one. We chose 'middle of the road' tuneful items that suited Dale's voice (he was sort of in the Elvis, Tom Jones style), also some Emile Ford stuff.
I had a Rogers Jazz Solid guitar in 1957, followed by an Antoria Solid (like Johnny Guitar and Hank Marvin) and a Resonnet/Futurama in 1960 (George Harrison also had this model). I've still got the guitar, in bits and pieces, at home. I think it cost me £70.16s and I remember the serial number was 6430. Later I had a variety of Fenders, one of which was a second-hand Stratocruiser which I bought in Rushworths in 1960 for £49.10s (what would it be valued at now!). The amplifiers were originally a Watkins Westminster, then a Truvoice Tr19T and in 1962, a Vox Ac30.
I always acted as manager of the group and looked after all the bookings. We never turned professional as we had what we termed 'good jobs' and were soon to be married and have young families.
Our original gig fees ranged in 1960 from £7.10s at the Cavern and £5 an appearance at venues such as Aintree Institute, St John's Hall and Wilson Hall.
Our Christmas gig at Wilson Hall turned out to be a real rough house. Charlie McBain, a lively man, ran the dance hall - but big fights seemed to be regular occurrences. We were there on Christmas Eve and a terrible barney started. We barricaded our girlfriends and ourselves in the dressing room until it stopped - and we wouldn't return to the venue on Boxing Day because we were too scared. Charlie was upset that we cancelled and I don't think we ever appeared there again.
In the Mersey Beat Popularity Poll in 1962 we came 20th. Virtually all the other 19 groups went 'pro' and I really believe a lot of those 19 arranged for all their mates to send in lots of votes - we were really well out of things living 'over the Mersey' in the Wirral.
In early 1961 I became a member of Group One. It was formed by ex-Remo Four members Keith Stokes (vocals/rhythm guitar) and Harry Prytherch (drums) together with Eric London (ex-Faron's Flamingos) on bass and the former lead guitarist with the Jaywalkers - myself.
At this time many bands were turning professional and in most cases touring Germany and France, as well as the U.K. The members of Group One didn't want to pursue the music scene as a career and became, probably, the first supergroup of the Mersey sound era, due to their proven musical talent with previous groups. During 1962 and 1963 Group One were probably one of the busiest bands on the scene, supporting the Beatles many times - and also the Rolling Stones at the Locarno. The gig with the Stones took place in December 1963 and we thought they were very scruffy and we weren't really impressed (we haven't changed our views over the years). However, we got on well with them and our drummer obtained all their autographs - but he sold them years later for a very small amount!
At one time Brian Epstein called us in for a meeting and I went along with Keith Stokes. Epstein said he wanted to sign us as a support band to go out on his package shows, sometimes on short notice. We considered how this would affect both our private and working lives and declined his offer. I don't know if we regretted it or not. I enjoyed playing, but regarded it as a hobby and didn't want to make a living as a full time musician.
Another time, when we were playing at the Cavern, Bob Wooler was quoted as saying that Group One's version of 'Please Please Me' was as near to the Beatles as you can get!
During early 1963 Eric London left the band due to reasons connected with his work. Brian Hilton (later to join the Hillsiders) joined on lead guitar and I went on bass. However, this lasted only a few months and the band then reverted to it's original personnel.
In late 1963 the group appeared in 'The Mersey Sound', the first television documentary the BBC made about the Beatles. Many black and white clips from this film are still used regularly in programmes relating to the Mersey sound.
In early 1964 the lads called it a day and the members went their separate ways. Keith Stokes and Harry Prytherch went into a showband. Keith later played for some years with the Cavaliers, while Harry spent the late 1960s and 1970s working as a drummer/compere in Cabaret clubs and is now a leading historian of the Mersey sound. Eric London went into business but still plays regularly at the Merseycat jam sessions.
In 1964, following the demise of Group One, I formed the Four Originals, together with Dale Roberts, Phil Howard (formerly with the Defenders) on bass and John Nugent (formerly with the Lee Eddie Five) on drums. We still operate the band, although John was replaced in 1973 by Colin Middleborough (ex-Kansas City 5) and in 1989 we took in keyboard/rhythm guitarist Derek Green (ex-Del Renas/Motifs).
Although we have kept the name the Four Originals, there are actually five of us!