Steve Rees, Cass and Pete Wilde take a break from school to hit the rythmn
Starting out as a Yew Tree Comprehensive school group in 1962, the band were first called MOBILE UNIT, the name written on an elderly delivery van for the fledgling Roy Hall Cash and Carry, then based on Claremont Road, Rusholme.
A good start for a young band - not only a van but also one with the name of the group written on it.
Original members were Phil Gregory (Bass), Alan Cassidy (guitar), Peter Wilde (guitar), Steve Rees (Drummer albeit minus kit) and a forgotten singer.
As the gigs started to come in, it was decided that Steven Rees's use of armchair wings as a drum kit were not as good as the real thing, and as his dad wouldn't let him have a kit, out went Steven and in came Dave Holmes (who had gone to Heald Place Primary School with Phil and Steve).
First promo shot - Platt Fields, Rusholme
As well as the usual round of local youth clubs, the band progressed to social clubs including the Manchester City Social club, where they were (like every other band) ripped off by the management! On the first gig, they used a handcart to deliver the equipment as the van was not available.
As the soul club scene opened up, the band - moving Peter Wilde from guitar to tenor sax and adding Leslie Eaton (vocals) and Johnny OneFinger (keyboards) - changed their style of music towards Tamla and the Staxx sounds of Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, etc.
To continue along this path, a bigger sound was needed and Paul Mlynarz (alto sax) - another Heald Place classmate and Ian Anderson (organ) were added to the line-up shortly after "losing" the previous keyboard player.
An early photo of the now seven piece band.
From left: Alan Cassidy, Paul Mlynarz, Leslie Eaton, Dave Holmes, Peter Wilde, Ian Anderson, Phil Gregory.
A change of name was required - to match the new seven piece band - and PHOENIX CITY SMASH BAND emerged. The name originated from the ska song "Phoenix City" and "Smash" was copied from the Blackpool band John Evan Smash (later to form the basis of Jethro Tull). "Band" was added to highlight the size of the act.
The work-rate increased for the band - who started to add a little comedy to the act. This was somewhat odd for a band whose image was solidly based in street credibility soul - but it "went down ok" with most crowds. By the end of 1967, Peter Wilde left to pursue his baritone and classical guitar work with the Manchester Youth Orchestra. His replacements, Alan Currie (tenor sax) and Richard Priest (trumpet) made the band an eight-piece.
Taken at Sloopy's in Manchester, this photo shows the new eight-piece lineup.
Having a perfect memory, I can remember exactly the song being played when the photo was taken - "Do the Boomerang". :-)
The line-up was not to last long - Richard soon left and the band continued as a reduced seven-piece. Richard was last heard of as a butcher - having heard the way he played trumpet some would see that as "no change". Just a joke Richard!
Now the band had less of a sound but more money for each member - earning up to 40 pounds per night (for the whole band!).
By July 1968, Alan Currie had also left and was replaced by Ivor Harveson on tenor sax - the line-up for the bands Opportunity Knocks appearance in September 1968.
Alan, Rick and Paul - Payne's Cafe Royal, LLandudno
Cass left in early 1970 and the band continued without a lead guitarist - somewhat unusual in the period, which was heavily into guitar based bands. Soul was disappearing and the only poppy bands with brass were Amen Corner and The Foundations. The style of music the band played had to change to keep the gigs flowing but, in reflection, it was perhaps done in too much of an "ad hoc" basis.
The band was possibly losing its way - opening up with "Friday 13th" - a heavy hammond based sound recorded by Atomic Rooster, then going straight into ultra crud-pop with White Plains' "(Can't you see) I've got you on my mind". The rest of the set contained songs from Joe Cocker, Alan Bown, Chicago and "heavy" versions of soul classics.
The band had flourished in the soul period of '68 and '69 but was now struggling. Whereas they had once played 27 gigs in a month as a semi-pro band, they were now lucky to pick up two a week. Rather than go into cabaret as had been suggested by their agency, Kennedy St Artistes, they kept on with the mix but the scene had changed and gigs were fewer and very different to what they were used to.
Imagine turning up to a "teeny-bopper" dance in Redcar (Coatham Hotel) and finding it was the home of the "heavy" bands of the North-East! Teeny-boppers they may have been but they were more into Quintessence and Free than Otis Redding and Sam 'n' Dave.
"Smile please" - a happy(?) looking band,
taken mid-gig at Warrington Co-op Hall, sometime in 1971.
Back: Andy, Paul, Phil Bowen
Middle: Geoff , Phil Gregory
With Ivor's leaving, the band replaced him with a trumpet player. The first, a scots guy called Pete, who was into modern jazz and really didn't like dressing up and playing the same riffs every gig. He was replaced by Geoff Wilde, who was more used to trad jazz than pop, plus with beard and a couple of kids, was sadly a bit of a square peg.
It was decided to beef up the vocals and a second singer was added to the band when Geoff left. Mike Toope from Tangerine joined and added a great voice to the band.
The lineup was organ, bass and drums, plus sax and two vocals. Paul left in late '71 and was replaced by a guitarist friend of Mike's. The band soldiered on, playing odd gigs but finally died when Phil left to join a cabaret band at Sale Locarno.
Shortly after the band's demise, Paul and Andy teamed up for the short lived "Honeychile", Phil continued to play in Sale and Les appears to have packed it in.
A new PCS was resurrected by ex-members Cass and Geoff - together with Mike Prophet (bass), Neil Bloorton (tenor sax), Nigel (surname not known, on trombone), Ricky Rodgers (vocalist) and Pete Howarth (drums).
Rickey Rodgers later formed a reggae band and had a record released ' I Never Got To See Bob Marley', which, I am told, made it into the charts.
The band was managed by Roy Crewdson (ex-guitarist with Freddy and the Dreamers).
After its demise, the Phoenix was not to awaken again.
Or so it seemed until recently!!!!! SIMPLY SOUL has been formed by Phil and Andy. CLICK HERE for more info.
I recall seeing them at Sids Youth Club (an old Presbyterian church hall) in Runcorn. It was the first time I had ever seen a stroboscope, I thought it was incredible. The lead singer (who they introduced as being direct from the USA) came on and sang REACH OUT. I guess it was about 68. I saw them shortly afterwards at the Parochial Hall Runcorn.
I remember the Phoenix City Smash band with great affection. I used to book groups for the local church youth club, St George's in Atherton. I remember the first gig. £12.10s. (£12.50) quite a lot of money in those days. But as with all things we did make a profit for the Church & Youth club funds. In fact we billed ourselves as S.G.C.S./Y.F. which stood for St George's Church Servers & Youth fellowship.
The dances started as a way of raising funds and I must admit we had many good nights along with other groups, but Phoenix City always returned (we thought they were the best.) After we had established ourselves we continued to hold dances in the local school hall (thats where we had the Youth Club).
As the dances attracted more & more people we decided to move upmarket & hire the Formby Hall (local civic entertainment centre of the day) When you did a dance there you had hit the Big Time. We, the SGCS/YF promoted far & wide we had groups such as The Equals, Bedrocks, Johnny Johnson & The Bandwagon, Desmond Decker & the Aces. You can tell how good we got we paid £500 for the Equals but still used the Phoenix City Smash as supporting act as they became more as friends, everyone liked them - especially the girls.
I wonder if they remember coming down to the Youth Club on Sundays & Tuesday nights (these were the only days open) picking up with some of the girls. I remember early 1966 our first meeting with Roy D Spencer Associates . He was promoting the Phoenix City. I had my first drink of Whisky & Coke (only 16 yrs old). I still drink that today along with Bitter & Guinness & Black.
My Dad had a Film Camera that he let me borrow when the Phoenix did their Formby Hall Gig, I still have the film today, but no sound unfortunately.
I remember those gigs well Jimmy. I think I must have been to them all. Wonderful times and happy memories.
I first saw the band at Atherton Labour Club which ran a disco with supporting bands on Thursday nights in 1968/1969. The best version of 'Let the Good Times Roll' I ever heard with the stroboscope effects.
Jimmy Bunting is a legend in Atherton for bringing top acts to the town. The night Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon played the Formby Hall was absolutely brilliant.
I saw them at a working mans club on Councillor Lane, Ccheadle early 1969, they were very good. Did not know the founding members attended Yew Tree school as I did between 66/71.
I am sure I saw them on Opportunity Knocks about 1971. Reform lads.
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I remember Phoenix City Smash playing at the'Memo' in Wrexham, it would have been around 1967/8. They were the best band I'd seen perform there, there were about 7 or 8 in the band as I remember, each member of the band was introduced by the singer as they came on stage,it was a good show. It was a disappointment seeing them on Opportunity Knocks as the band had then shrunk to a 4 or 5 piece band, and they were unfortunately nowhere near as good as when I'd seen them at the 'Memo'.