Right: Practice in John Firth's front room - as you did in those days.
Backbeats memories by John Firth
The 121 all night bus from Manchester to Middleton wound it's way up Rochdale Road through Collyhurst and Harpurhey. On the top deck Kelvin "Spud" Hudson, John "Feef" Firth and Alan "Alby" Greenhalgh, among others, were enthusing about the Saturday night out they'd just enjoyed.
"Why don't we form a group?"
The words came like a bolt out of the blue. Don't recall who uttered them, but I do remember it feeling like it was the most natural thing in the world for us to start making our own music. We'd only been out of school a couple of years, were all in reasonably steady jobs or apprenticeships, but the highlight of every week was when were able to go into town to watch a band or group in one of the many venues that had sprung up in Manchester.
Spud, a big Buddy Holly fan (he even had Holly glasses) was a natural for guitar, I'd always been fascinated with drums and Alby surprised us all by saying;"I'll play tenor sax!"
Although, come to think about it we shouldn't have been surprised. We all had slightly "off the wall" musical tastes for our age, barely 17. Not for us the watered down pop music of Cliff, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde or their ilk. What really lit our candle was the butt kicking rock 'n roll of Little Richard, Jerry Lee, Fats Dominoe, the down home blues of Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, Muddy Waters etc. Even venturing into the world of jazz with John Coltrane, Count Basie, Tubby Hayes, The M J Q.
We talked more about our great plans to conquer the music world during the following week and on Saturday made our first of many pilgrimages to Barrats, Mamelocks and Johhny Roadhouses to check out prices and think of how we could con, sorry, persuade our Dads' to sign as guarantor.
We eventually aquired a Selmer sax, Hofner guitar and an Olympic drum kit oh, and another sax player, Mike Belton another old school friend and through an ad in the Middleton Guardian a bass guitarist called Jack Unell from Collyhurst. We called ourselves The Backbeats and spent months of practising for 6 and 7 nights a week, in between work & night school.
We now felt ready for our first booking which turned out to be at a local youth club as payment for them letting us use the club to practise in. We did this a few times then got offered our first payed booking, the employees'children's party at Middleton Post Office. Big Time here we come.
Because I had access to a phone at work, I got the job of fixing us up with bookings which I did for some months. But we were growing in ability, still practising every spare hour, and confidence so decided we needed an agent.
One of his bookers, a certain Ian Hamilton, was designated to look after us which, it has to be said, he did admirably. We worked all over the North West and when we could manage it with work commitments, even further afield. And all this before the advent of motorways, the travelling could be horrendous. Before long, however, Hamilton told us what we already knew.
"None of you can sing. You need a vocalist"
They say that fate has a way of working, Well, it worked for us. Alby's Mum was friendly with a lady in Middleton whose son in law "did a bit of singing". Roy Gibbs was a little older than the rest of us and married, so when he came to Alby's for a jam we were a bit cagey. He saw that with the two saxes we differed from other groups of the day but wasn't at all fazed.
"What sort of stuff do you sing?" said Alby
"I like Jackie Wilson, Brook Benton, Little Richard, that sort of stuff"
"Do you know Little Richard's Lucille?"
"Count it in, Feef"
We'd hardly got through the first 12 bars of his vocal before we were all looking at each other with a mixture of disbelief and awe.
"Well, do you fancy getting together with us?" I said , not wanting to sound too eager. I instinctively knew all the guys wanted this singer. Weeks of intensive rehearsals followed. A set list to die for with numbers by James Brown, Bobby Bland, Little Richard, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Wilson Picket and not one of them a problem for Roy or Tiddy as we found out he'd always been known.
In the late fifties, early sixties he'd been quite succesful with a band called Tiddy & The Teenbeats, even doing an early Six Five Special on T.V., counting a certain James Saville as a fan.
Ian Hamilton was impressed and was certain he'd keep us busy, which he did. He even came up with a name.
"Some years ago, there was an outfit called The Powerhouse 6, there's six of you now and that name fits your sound perfectly"
Carry on the Powerhouse story by clicking on this link
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