Irlam Secondary Modern School 1957 -
An Arts teacher called Mr Gater created a skiffle club, held after school in the main hall. The majority of attendants came with guitars, a couple had tea chest bass’s and I had a Washboard.
The best playing five of the week would be selected to play as a group, on the stage every Friday evening after school. The five most regularly selected was, Dave Cleworth, (guitar), Tom Savage, (guitar), Rob Taylor, (guitar), Terry Aston, (Tea Chest Bass), Eddie Beales, (Washboard)
We all left school in 1958, some started work, and others college. One evening not long after we all set off to each other’s house’s (on bikes) to see if we wanted to carry on with the group. We all initially missed each other but all ended up at Tom’s house, we could not believe the coincidence.
Tom’s mother offered us the use of the cellar, providing we emptied and cleaned it up. This we did with youthful gusto, we painted it, rewired, it, fitted carpets and cadged various items of furniture, there was even a fireplace, and we had a neat little pad. We would spend most of our leisure time, practicing and learning new song’s, followed by listening to records and playing cards (it kept us off the streets).
One evening a Mr Maurice Johnson called to enquire if it was live music being played? And would we consider playing at one of his youth clubs. (he later became M.J.Promotions). We didn’t have a name to give him, and came up with “THE BLACK ROSE RHYTHM GROUP”, Toms mother knitted us all a sweater each (see photo).
Transport to gigs was by the local bus services, not to bad for the guitarists and myself, but what a laugh with Terry and his tea chest bass. I joined in that fun shortly after when I got my first sidedrum & stand, and had a massive bass drum given to me. We then had to rely on family and friends to drop off our gear when my brother (Colin) built amplifiers for us, Terry got a bass guitar, Dave & Tom upgraded their guitars, I purchased my full kit, (second hand Olympic).
Gigs were kept pretty local, youth clubs, 21’s, parties, etc. I remember playing at a couple of holiday camps in Rhyl during summer time, and a few spots at The Old Black Swan at Hollins Creen, (orange juice & coke only, honest).
Name change due to poster space, the birth of “THE SWAGGERS“. Tom left us, and amazed us by marrying one of our old school teachers, a Miss Carr, shortly thereafter.
Tom was replaced by Ray Shoebridge on rhythm guitar,
Dave took on the roll of lead guitar, and of course we lost our little cosy bolt hole, practice was then transferred to a youth club held three nights a week at Cadis head secondary, at Prospect road, our music was developing into rock and rhythm 'n blues, and away from skiffle/contry.
We had a few singers come and go for a couple of years, before we were joined by Phil Lowe, we then became Little Phil & The Swaggers, (he was 6ft tall) or Phil’s Swaggers, again depending on poster size.
Terry left us to go to art college. After graduation, Terry took up a position at Queens University Belfast where he remained and prospered until retirement. He still lives in Belfast with his wife Felicity and is a very fine and well respected artist.Ed & Terry have kept in contact over all this time.
Keith Tuplin came in on bass guitar, he remained with the group throughout. Sadly Keith has passed away and is greatly missed.
Our first manager was another of Dave’s & Eddie’s school friends, Derek Grills, and the bookings really took off. Back then in the early sixties you could go to most large pub’s and be entertained with live music, seven nights a week, and Derek being mobile and of determined mind made sure The Swaggers got a piece of the action.
Now the group was earning a few bob, the equipment began to improve. Saturday afternoons were spent touring the music stores of Oxford Street Manchester, along with most other groups, trying out guitars, amps and drums in store names that have long gone - Mameloks, Johnny Roadhouse ,Barretts, and my favourite Stock & Chapman.
Miss Chapman was like a mother hen, fussing around her young musicians of the future, as she used to say. I traded in my tired old Olympics’ for Autocrat with premier stand’s and fittings, as Miss Chatman advised, a very hardy little kit with a big punch, perfect for hard gigging.
Phil had a sister who was an Air Hostess with Pan Am and Dave asked her if she ever flew into Nashville, and if she did would she visit Chet Atkins studio and enquire as to purchase one of his guitars (Dave idolised the mans talents and sounds).
Through her persistence and devotion, Dave received a guitar that was unique in apperance, and sound. A Gretch Ronny Lee, this guitar was the envy of most guitarists that we encountered, and some offered large amounts of money for it. That guitar gave the Swaggers one of its unique sounds.
Before Derek left us to immigrate to Canada, one of his acquisitions was a resident spot at “La Cave” in Brasenose Street Manchester, Derek now lives in Mexico and he has been in close contact with Dave who has lived in California U.S.A., for a long time.
With Derek leaving, transport became troublesome for awhile, and Ray Cash joined us as our road and transport manager, until he was involved in R.T.A, writing off his van. Somebody tried to go through it sideways, and the doors were closed. Ray emmigrated to Australia, would love to hear from him.
A young chap who lived next door to Keith impressed us with his skill on his Gibson Jumbo guitar and his vocal harmonies; he was given a few sessions at our rehearsals, and we offered him a position. He replaced Ray in the group. His name then was John Bayley, Later he became Griff Hammer who became Griff Meister, he has spent many years in the music industry, and still runs a successful karaoke/Disco, based in and around the Stockport area.
Griff and I have recently had a reunion, and I have spent a couple of most pleasurable evenings at his venues, along with both our wives, he still belts out a fair tune or two.
I had taken on the transport responsibilities and we were then managed by an accountant named Mike? Sorry I can’t remember his surname, but my did the venues and calibre of bookings take on a serious pace, not so many small clubs, pubs, but Mecca Dance halls, the larger cabaret clubs, Altricham Ice rink, The Luxor Club in Hulme.
We would open the show for an hour set, pack up do other sets in and around Manchester, return to the Luxor and play out the last hour, We opened the Manchester Cavern, should have been with The Four Pennies (Juliet), but the lead singer had got a throat infection and cancelled.
Tony Sheridan was flown in from Germany at the last minute. Another main gig was first backing group at the C.I.S on a Saturday nights, they boasted having whoever topped the charts that week main billed there, two I remember was Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits.
These larger venues caused me problems, my poor Autocrat kit could not provide the drive, and I was going through vellums for fun, I had finish payments also. Mike told us all to keep updating our gear to offset tax, so Miss Chapman to the rescue, upgrade to full orchestral Premier drums, now I knew why she suggested Premier fittings.
A large amount of work came in via agencies, a D.J used to turn up at our gigs with a couple of turntables plug into our P.A and spin discs whilst we had breaks, (the birth of the disco).
This guy was D.L.T., what a nutter he was, there was never a dull moment.
I remember vividly charging around Manchester in the early hours, in a Willys Jeep he owned, and it was G.I green covered in large multi coloured spots.
We used to practice at the Rialto in Salford, and who used to be there D.L.T getting up to all sorts, I could not keep him off my drums, he drove us potty, but we loved him being around all the same. I wonder if he still remembers those days before he became the hairy monster.
There was a period when we were coached on harmonies and arrangement, by Pauline Clegg, manager of Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, and owner of The Oasis - what a taskmaster she was. We had to be set up and ready to play at eight-o-clock sharp on a Sunday mornings, and boy did you cop it if not, she was responsible for me picking up my first ever speeding fine.
Whilst taking a break at a gig at the Bodega in Manchester (1964) a gent introduced himself to us as Henry Henroid, P.R man for Mickey Most, he was impressed by our sound and performance, and wanted a demo disc with four songs written and performed by us on Mr Most’s desk within four days. After not much sleep and solid hard graft, we had the four pieces ready; the disc was recorded at a studio in Underbank Stockport, and sent to London by courier.
Our manager Mike told us that the disc had impressed London, and they had requested we go on a tour of the Star Clubs in Germany to polish our performance to professional standard. He had accepted the offer, and the contracts would be sent, we were over the moon.
We all had to join the Musicians Union for the contract to be sanctioned, passports and Visa’s obtained, transport arranged, notice given into work. The first of October we were to appear at Bielefeld Star Club, the morning of departure the streets were packed with fans, friend’s families and press. Then pushing through the crowds appeared a G.P.O telegram boy, DO NOT LEAVE.CONTRACT SUSPENDED. MUSICIANS UNION. We could not believe it, the embarrassment.
Mike was ages on the phone. The previous weekend The News of the World had exposed a flaw in The Star Club booking system - British groups were being multi-booked and being left stranded in Germany, hence the block by the M.U. We would be contacted at a later date with new dates and contracts.
Mike must have had very good contacts because we were kept fully booked, we even won The Northern Beat championships at the Talk of the north in Eccles, owned by Joe Pullan. Every week when we saw Mike we asked about Germany, and he kept fobbing us off saying he had plenty of work lined up and not to worry, but we did not earn enough to be classed as professionals, some of us took on temporary work.
Bremen, Cologne, with a fourth option Hamburg, if we had reached the high standard required, start date First of January 1965.
Mike was not very pleased by the interference, but wished us well. This time we slipped away quietly. I stored the van, we were told transport in Germany would be provided by the Star Clubs own mini buses, all expenses would be paid by the club you arrive at.
Our parents were concerned for us, and Dave’s mother chased up the M.U promise and eventually new contracts came through, for Bielefeld.
We arrived at Bielefeld and they refused payment, that first two weeks was hard, we were subbed by other groups; we got to the end of the month.
When we enquired about the buses to move to Bremen they told us to find our own transport. Not very happy, we arrived at Bremen, no expenses again. We received a letter from our manager asking if we were O.K and could we send him his commission - we thought he was being a little bit naughty and ignored him for the time being.
Bremen Star Club was situated out of town on the banks of the river Wesser. The attendance was poor during the week but very busy Fri, Sat, Sun. The owner would bring in extra groups and used to farm us out to various venues in and out of town (Bremerhaven) using club buses.
He brought in Gene Vincent and used us to back him. That was funny, we would do our own set, another group called The Ebonies do a set, then us go back on as The Blue Caps, only this time dressed in denim waistcoats and Blue caps, we believe the Germans never cottoned on.
Star Club buses moved us to Cologne. Tthe living accommodation previously had been on club premises, here it was in a hotel owned by the club, taxi’s, more expense, very busy, vibrant city and club.
We received another letter from Mike, this time asking for his commission, and if we did not respond he would cancel all bookings for our return, including a main line tour of Britain.
I was voted down when I suggested contacting Mike to come and do his job in Germany, getting our owed expenses would have covered his commission with loads to spare, and we really needed a manager, the earning potential was huge out there. The attitude was stuff him, a sad mistake I thought.
We were offered the extra month at Hamburg, appearing with The Cherokees (seven golden daffodils) and a group called The Londoners, it was really hard graft, but loads of fun. Most of all it made a really tight, polished, professional group, out of five young men.
We arrived back home to a fantastic welcome, our parents had hired the Irlam Palais (where Joe Pullen started his empire). It was a total sell out, packed to the doors, nobody could believe the transformation in the group.
I got my van back on the road, a local scout hut was offered to rehearse, and lo and behold, not only could we not contact our “manager”, he had moved house, we had nothing. There was a heated discussion, and without going into details, I packed up my kit, and left, on the way home I called in at my old employers, and was fortunately offered my job back. The next day I traded my van in for a car, very sad.
Later on that year (1965) I was on holiday in Blackpool, waiting on South Pier to see the show, when along came Mr Gene Vincent. He recognised me, greeting me with gusto. I spent the rest of my holiday with him, he had a large house on rent for the season, when I came to leave he asked me to join him as his drummer in a band he was forming to tour South Africa when the season at Blackpool ended (about four weeks). He took my phone number, and when he phoned I declined his offer, how mad was that.
I carried on drumming for a few years, doing organ/drum club work, dance combo, trad jazz and a C/Western trio; I gave it up due to work commitments. I offered the drums to both of my sons but they sadly showed little interest. I sold them in the eighties to a pro drummer from Blackpool, he sent them the premeir factory for a refurb, and all they did was recolor them and re-plate the two cymbal stands.
God bless Miss Chapman.
I look back on those times with lasting memories, amazing experiences and feel honoured to have played a small part in a wonderful era, and LIVE MUSIC.
PHILS SWAGGERS EQUIPMENT LINE UP
2 VOX AC 30 AMPS
1 MARSHELL BASS AMP
1 HOME BUILT BASS SPEAKER UNIT
(constructed from 1 inch marine ply with a double skinned 3 inch sand rammed back, 2 x warfdale H.D bass speakers front air vented) weight 3 cwts.
GRETCH RONNY LEE (SPECIAL)
GIBSON JUMBO RHYTHM GUITAR
FENDER BASS GUITAR
PREMIER DRUMS & FITTINGS
MARSHELL P.A SYSTEM
SHURE MICS & STANDS