THE GOLDEN GARTER DAYS (and Nights)
It’s hard to know where to begin, having left the comfort of playing in a residency for 6 great years we were now about to start another one, but for how long we did not know. The first thing that got to all of us was having to strike all the gear off the stage once we had done one spot and then back on again for the next one. It was a real pain when you were doing 4 spots a night, even though there was the stage manager “Mack” with his trusty sidekick and lighting engineer “Ian” and any other body’s that happened to be there.
This went on for a while but then we were relegated to one of the small side stages but at least we could leave the gear there. It was at this point that the band became The Golden Garter Trio - the Harbour Lights were no more.
I remember going in on the very first Sunday to do a sound check and whilst I was there a very charming young lady appeared out of the darkness of the back stage area and walked towards me and said 'hello' in a beautiful soft Irish accent. Sshe then asked me when the sound system would be available for her to try out. The resident band had not yet arrived nor had the sound man Ian, so apart from me and the young lady, her people and the cleaners, that was it.
It turned out the young lady was Dana, who had recently won the Eurovision song contest. That was quite a pleasant week.
I can’t say that working at the Garter was an enjoyable time but over all it wasn’t too bad. Some weeks were good, some were bad and some just very boring. For me there were too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.
First of all the club manager Mr Mike Robbins (one of Paul McCartney’s relatives) would tell you what to do then the assistant manager would tell you what to do and then the stage manger “Mack” stuck his two pennyworth in and then Ian the lighting man had to have his say and it didn’t finish there. The bloody band leader, Dozy Derek Butterworth stuck his bit in till it all came full circle back to Mike Robins!
Sometimes you didn’t know what to do next with all this crap and bullshit flying around; it’s as though they had to justify their subliminal existence, the poor sods. But now and then, when a top artiste appeared, it could be a real buzz and everyone had to be on the ball.
One such artiste was the great Dusty Springfield.
She was due to appear for two weeks and I had just finished doing a week for Cliff Richard. Cliff was not too happy with the house PA system and he had wanted echo on some of his stuff but this was a facility they did not have on the house system.
David Bryce, Cliff's personal manager, asked if I could help; we go back a long way. So I rang Jim Marshall the week before Cliff was due to appear and he had two 2x15 power cell cabs with horns and a 9 channel mixer sent up to the shop (Barratts) and a two hundred watt and fifty watt slave amp.
I put the system in on the Sunday using a Watkins echo unit for the effects Cliff wanted and on the Monday band call it sounded really awesome. It was much better than I expected and Cliff was over the moon.
That week was fabulous and it was great to meet up with Terry Britain (left) again who had played guitar for Cliff for many years.
He was a local lad from Wythenshawe who went on some years later to write a massive worldwide hit for Tina Turner called What’s love got to do with it. Terry is a very nice guy and genuine person which is quite rare in the old rock 'n' roll scene.
The week with Cliff really flew by and before I knew it, I was giving up my Sunday again to take the Marshall PA system out. We had used some gold plated AKG microphones, which looked pretty cool, which I was now about to remove.
Unusually there were some people already in the club and that included some of the house band and its iconic leader Derek. The mikes were at the side of the main stage, so I started to get on with the job of taking the system down and by now I realized that all the action was because Dusty Springfield had arrived.
She had requested a band call on the Sunday as well as the Monday. I watched and listened for a while and it turned out that she was not happy about the house PA system. Now, for a girl, she turned out to be quite savvy and during a short break in the rehearsals she wandered around for a while and finally walked over to where the Marshall speakers were situated on the side stages.
I was just sat there when she walked over, looked at the gold plated mikes and asked to try one. I explained that they were for a different system which was being removed today but that they would not work on the house system as it was low impedence and they were high. She then asked who it was for; I said I put it in for Cliff last week because his management were not happy with the house system. She said 'OK', smiled, said 'thank you' and walked back to the stage area.
It must have been all of two minutes before Mack, the stage manager, with band leader Derek in tow approached me and asked if Dusty Springfield try the Marshall PA that Cliff had used the previous week.
I explained that I had come in on my day off to move it back to the shop but they were adamant that she wanted to try it, so I said 'okay pal, its all yours'. I thought that at least I did not have to dismantle the whole thing and I could now have a lazy Sunday.
I put the mikes back on the stand and reconnected them to the PA amp, switched it all on (including the echo unit) and was making my way to the stage door when Mack called me and said that Dusty Springfield was now insisting that I operate the dammed thing for her during the rehearsals.
By now I was really pissed off with the whole thing and my lazy Sunday was going down the pan, rapid. I went back stage where (from here lets call her Dusty) Dusty was now waiting. She was most polite and thanked me for helping her out. She then asked me to go through a list of her songs and started to tell me where she wanted echo and where she didn’t. Well, I was bowled over it was my second huge star in two weeks.
As the time went on we were getting on really well and before long all the cue tabs were written down and ready for the rehearsal which went really well.
I arrived at the Garter on the Monday night to be greeted by Mack the stage manager who told me that Mike Robbins wanted to see me in the office urgently. Apparently at the morning sound check and rehearsal had not gone to plan and Miss Springfield was less than happy.
As I made my way to the office I had a good idea what was about to happen and sure enough, Mike tells me the band call had gone really badly and Dusty was quite upset at not getting what she wanted.
Now let me make one thing quite clear before I carry on. It was well documented that Dusty Springfield was a difficult person to work with but this was a bit of an urban myth. Whoever said it in the first place didn’t tell the absolute truth. What she liked in point of fact was to have things done correctly she was a perfectionist and she made sure that this was the case. Why not? She was a super star at the height of her career and she deserved to have it right. So, anyone who bad mouthed her and said she was temperamental had most likely had a rollicking for not doing their job properly - and rightly so.
I don’t think she ever did for the hell of it. She had Joe Public to think about and more to the poin,t she had worked bloody hard to get where she was. When things were running smoothly, you never heard her complain but she was quick to say well done when things were really together - that I can vouch for personally.
The upshot was that Dusty had insisted that I work the PA for her, so I went up to her dressing room and we went through list of songs again. One of the songs she did was Windmills of your mind so the que from Dusty was 'I would like to do this song from the Thomas Crown Affair, Windmills of your mind'.
As soon as she said 'mind' I pressed the foot switch on the echo. She sang 'round' and the echo repeated 'round, 'round, 'round', fading gradually. It was just as she wanted it and having got the first night over, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Everything went fine until the fourth night - all the ques were spot on and the house band, augmented with brass, sounded terrific.
It came to Windmills of your mind but Dusty said 'I would like to do this song from the Thomas Crown Affair ... round' There was no echo as she didn’t give me the right que and add ' Windmills of your mind'.
Panic! I hit the foot switch and hoped that she realised that she had made a mistake. The rest of the set went fine but when she came off she made straight for me and said 'You missed your bloody que for Windmills you little s--t.'
I spent the next 20 minutes with her and the management, trying to explain that it was not my fault and that the mistake was hers. It eventually got sorted out and all was peace and quiet again. But this was the calm before the storm!
THE SATURDAY I WILL NOT FORGET
Friday and Saturday were always big nights at the Golden Garter, especially when you had such a big star like Dusty Springfield appearing and this particular Saturday was building up quite nicely. Because it was so busy, such a big show and with me working for Dusty as well as playing for dancing, we only had to do three spots instead of four. There was a big review type thing with all the dancing girls and Shep's Banjo Boys - gawd love em! Then there was us, then top of the bill - you know who. I have to say that it was a really good show.
Dusty came back stage a few minutes before she went on, just to check things were ok. She looked stunning.
The band struck up and the mc introduced Dusty.
'Ladies and gentlemen a big welcome live on stage tonight, the fabulous Miss Dusty Springfield'.
The atmosphere was absolutely electric - you could feel it in the air; it was almost touchable and it gave you goose bumps. Even my goose bumps had goose bumps.
She went through the curtain and out to her audience and the noise was absolutely deafening even back stage, so it must have been awe-inspiring out front.
Now all artist’s from big stars to club singers do a false tab number. For those who don’t know, its when they sing one of their big hits or best songs and then go off but then come back on and do another couple of songs.
Now all artist’s from big stars to club singers do a false tab number. For those who don’t know, its when they sing one of their big hits or best songs and then go off but then come back on and do another couple of songs.
Dusty’s false tab number was the fabulous Preacher Man. The show had gone smoothly without a single hitch. I was sat back stage soaking up the atmosphere and doing all the ques and listening on my monitor speaker to Dusty belting out Preacher Man when all of a sudden I couldn’t hear her voice, I could hear the band but not her. I looked at the amp and the monitor, all the lights were on.
I could hear the band but not Dusty.
The next thing I remember was the curtain flying open from the on stage area and Dusty appeared flying down the steps and what she didn’t call me has not yet been written or invented yet.
She was absolutely incandescent with rage. 'You f---in! ba----rd! What the hell did you do, you little shit? How dare you f—k me around like this! You will never work here again! Why is the bloody mike not working? What the f—k is going on? Get me the f—kin manager. I won’t be working in this bloody hole another minute. '
I don’t need to tell you that all hell broke loose back stage with her yelling at me and me yelling back, saying 'I don’t know what the f—kin hell happened. I just lost you on the monitor!'
Through all this, the band was still playing; real pro’s. I tell you, it was surreal.
All the management came from nowhere. The stage manager was running around like a headless chicken, Mike Robbins was a whiter shade of pale and trying to calm Dusty down but that seemed to make things worse than ever (but the band played on).
All her people and her personal assistant were trying to calm Dusty down. She eventually went back on and did her last 2 songs using the house system. It goes without saying that regardless of what had happened, she went down an absolute bomb.
She then stormed off to her dressing room with the whole management in tow. In the meantime, I discovered that the HT fuse had blown in the main amplifier. Unfortunately it was just one of those things that no one could have foreseen happening.
Now I had to go and get ready quickly to play the last spot for dancing. As I left the back stage area, Mack the stage manager said to me 'Can I have a word with you before you leave tonight'.
I replied that it was not my fault and it was just one of those things. I added that I wouldn’t be spoken to or swore at like that by her or anybody else - especially as I was doing her a favour.
We (the Golden Garter Trio) played the last spot and after I went up to our dressing room and took off my make up. Yes, I did say make-up - Max Factor 24 or 28, I can’t remember.
The dressing room phone rang. Dave Buckley, my drummer, answered it and said 'Brian you are wanted in the front office, now', to which I replied 'I am going home. I am pissed off with the whole affair and I know they want to give me the bullet - not just for this row with Dusty Springfield but because I won’t bloody well dance in the revue. So tell them they can stuff their job up where the sun don’t shine, I have had it up to here.'
I turned and walked out of the dressing room door slamming it so bloody hard it very nearly came off it hinges.
By the time I got downstairs, the assistant manager Steve Kalton was there and he very politely asked me to go to the office with him. He then explained that they (the management) were well aware that it was not my fault but they would like to talk to me and so I went to the office where somewhat surprisingly I was greeted with smiles and a big 'Hello Brian'. That in itself was a bit unnerving.
Before anybody could say anything, I said 'Fire me if you want but it was not my fault'. They explained that they had talked things out with Dusty and that she was now aware that it was just a very unfortunate thing to happen and despite the fact that she had threatened not to work the second week that she now would IF I sorted out the PA and on condition that I did the second week for her, for which the management would pay me extra for my trouble.
I could not believe my luck, so I agreed to do it once I found out how much extra I was going to get. Oh, I’m all heart (££££££££). The next day Sunday, I spent nearly all of it putting in a spare amp on to the same system with a bleed to the main house system so in the event of any HT fuses blowing, all I had to do was put the jack for her mike into the next main input which I had now preset so if the worst did happen it would just seem like a drop in volume for a second or two. Well, that was my master plan anyway.
WOULD IT WORK? I HOPED I WOULD NEVER HAVE TO FIND OUT
After the first week, could anything else go wrong?
I arrived at the Garter on Monday night and we did our first two spots as usual and there was all the other stuff going on - Shep's Banjo Boys, the revue, etc. When it came to top of the bill time, I made my way once again back stage and as I approached the mixing console, Mack the stage manager was standing there. He turned to me and said 'I hope all goes well tonight Brian, I really do',
I turned around looked him straight in the eye and said to him 'If Dusty says one wrong word to me tonight, I am straight out of that door)and I won’t be coming back except to pick up my money and my gear'. Well, there was the usual hub-bub back stage while we waited for Dusty to arrive. All of a sudden Dave McDonald my bass player came through the stage door and said she on her way.
We stood there back stage in a line - me, Mack and the two Dave’s. When you think about it now, we must have looked pretty bloody stupid - it looked more like a guard of honour. Anyhow the stage door opened door and she appeared (wearing the dress in the pictures) and she looked a zillion dollars - definitely the Wow factor.
She then looked over in my direction, walked right up to me and took both of my hands and pulled them up to her bosom - holding both hands really tightly. We could not have got any closer if we had tried. She looked me straight in the eyes and said 'Brian, I am so sorry for what happened last week and all the things that I said to you. I realised that it was not your fault and its been worrying me all yesterday and today. Will you please accept my apology? I am truly sorry for everything I said, honestly I really am.'
Ok, you know what came next but I will tell you anyway. I melted like a piece of butter, went all goo goo and said 'Please don’t give it another thought and thank you for the apology'.
She then asked me to work the rest of the week for her, which I agreed to. She then gave me a kiss and said 'Lets have a good night tonight'. I have to tell you that Monday night was one of the best nights ever.
The rest of the week went without a hitch and you would think that we had always known each other. She treated me like I was her best friend. Later in that week, I took my wife Carole to meet her and they both sat in the dressing room comparing contact lenses and glasses as they were both blind as bats without them.
After all these years, I still find it hard to believe that I spent that precious time with one of the biggest stars this country had ever produced and we were just like really good mates.
THE FINAL SATURDAY
The last night finally arrived and just when you think things could not get any better, they actually did.
It was a fabulous show and Dusty was just awesome. At the end of her set, before the last number, she thanked the band for being so wonderful (and they had been terrific). She also gave me a little mention, you know 'I would like to thank my back stage sound man for looking after me for the last two weeks', that kind of thing.
After the show there was a little party in Dusty's dressing room just for a few close friends. After about half an hour, she took me to one side and thanked me once more for being there for her. She then said to me 'I would like you to have this as a gift from a very close friend' and she then handed me a package and on the outside wrapping it said To Brian, the voice saver - all my love Dusty.
She told me to open it - by now everyone was nosing around. I undid the wrapping and inside was an oblong shaped box, which I opened and inside was a beautiful Parker pen, engraved on the cap it read 'To Brian, many thanks, love Dusty”.
I have to tell you there were tears in my eyes when she gave me a big hug and a kiss; everybody in the dressing room gave a round of applause. It was a night and a moment that I will never forget.
Dusty Springfield kept in touch with me for quite a while after our time at The Golden Garter; the odd phone call now and then, usually when she was a bit down as her career started to wobble but generally she was pretty up beat and cards form here and there.
She rang me at the shop quite regularly but as with most long distance friendships, the calls became less and less especially when she went to America.
I only ever saw her once again some years later at the BBC in Manchester and you would think that we had been together only yesterday as we sat laughing and reminiscing in the beeb canteen. I think the people in there thought we were a pair of crazy people, laughing like a pair of loons.
I still have that wonderful gift, the pen that she gave me but sadly we no longer have Miss Dusty Springfield - which is our sad loss. I often get out the pen just to look at it and to think she spent the whole of Saturday afternoon looking around Manchester looking for a gift just for me. How lucky was I to deserve such attention from a star as big as Dusty Springfield - not just a star but someone I could call 'a friend'.
Now, how many nobody’s can say that.
I bet she still wows them up there with all the other stars. Give em hell Dusty.
Nashville gets a taste of real Manchester musicianship!
Brian finally gets to play Nashville (2008). Sadly Brian's empty begging bowl in out of shot.
In the Nashville Hall of fame next to Luther Perkins.
If you have ever worked in retail then you will know that no two days are ever the same. As with most things in a large musical instrument shop apart from people actually coming in, the only other link to the outside world was the telephone.
Now today that may seem a bit old fashioned but back in those dark days there was no fax or internet, no pc. Just the old dog & bone & if you wanted to send a letter or a bill to someone you put it in a thingy called an envelope then licked the back of a stamp which had glue on it made out of dead cats (oooh nice) & then stuck it in a big red box on a corner somewhere & if you were really lucky you would receive ot a week later or maybe longer. Expectations were not high Back In The Day .. but I digress.
The phone rang one particular morning & was dually answered by young Kevin Parry who happened to be nearest, the voice on the other end asked to speak to me. After a short while Kevin came over to me looking somewhat bemused & said it’s for you, he say’s his name is Elton John (Kevin was a trumpet player bless) so I went to the phone & said "Hello, Brian Higham speaking".
The voice at the other end said "Hi its Elton John here, hope you don’t mind me calling but your name& number was given to me by Saville Artiste’s of London (Cliff’s Office) & they said if I had any problems whilst touring in the north to contact you & if it was possible you would be able to help so that’s why I am calling I have a big problem".
I said if I can help I will what seems to be the trouble…….well he said & then paused, then went on to say that the road manager for his band had parked the van in a less than secure place (they were staying at the Piccadilly Hotel) near the hotel & some artful Manchester dodger had prised off the back door of the & stolen all the guitars.
At this point there was a short silence & then I said oooh that is a problem when is your next gig…..another short silence & then he replied tonight in Stoke on Trent tonight, actually it was The Place at Hanley but lets not be pedantic.
So then I said well what it is you would like me to do to which he replied is there anyway that he could hire some instruments just for the one night.
I asked if he knew what they needed … "I have no idea" he replied, "I’m just the piano player".
I said ok you send the guys down to the shop & I'll see what I can do as they will know what they need. He said ok I'll tell them now & thanks its really appreciated Brian...click the line went dead.
Approximately twenty minutes after the call I was looking out of the window when I saw the biggest gleaming white Roll’s Royce that I had ever seen & I thought to myself some lucky bugger most probably won the pools.
After a brief conversation I said that is some car you have there, he said yes I like it come & have a look inside. Two minutes later I was sat in the back of this roller with Elton John. The back seat area was like a small room with blue leather upholstery & beautiful sold burr walnut on the doors, there was a fully stocked bar & a record player & all the fittings were gold even the telephone was gold.
Elton then pressed a button and a big screen came up between the rear & the front, he pressed another button and another screen came up but this was a privacy screen so you could not see the driver & that is what the gold phone was for to talk to the driver.
It was just absolutely awesome, it was just then when I was trying to take in all this opulence that I noticed another Rolls pull up behind. Elton said oh this is my lead guitar player so as we both disembarked from Elton’s rolls yet a third rolls pulls up & he said that it was the bass player. Well by this time my head was spinning & so was half of Oxford Street with this trio of Rolls Royce’s lined up outside the shop. Finally the last car arrived & it was Nigel Olsen the drummer in a Thunderbird thank god for that BIT OF NORMALITY.
The people on Oxford Street & passing buses must have thought it was a wedding taking place & I’m sure it’s a sight that will never be seen again.
So all the guys in the band + Elton were there & they set about picking various instruments. When they had finally decided which they wanted I booked them out to Elton Johns office, he then asked what the cost would be so having valued them I said give me a cheque for £500.00. to cover the insurance cost’s in case of any damage as the instruments were all new & if they all come back in tact we will deduct the hire charge.
I asked Elton if that was ok for him & he replied that was absolutely fine, he then gave me the cheque. The guys in the band were really happy & there were a lot of hand shaking & thank you’s then they loaded up & left.The Rolls then pulled up & stopped right outside the shop door. The driver jumped out & came around to the kerb side to open the door; I thought bloody hell it must be the Queen visiting (no pun intended). The driver opened the door & out stepped Elton John himself. He came into the shop & asked to speak to the shop manager I said that’s me Brian Higham we shook hands & he said very pleased to meet you & said that the boys are on their way.
Now working in the shop as I had done all through the 60tys I had met some very rich & famous people & that was just a part of the job but that day was different & I just could not get over the enormity of the wealth on display that it was so in your face.
Don’t ask me why because I don’t know myself but it did bother me even my wife (Carole ) said that when I got home I looked a little bit pensive so I explained all about the day with Elton John & the 3 Rolls Royce’s & she said it was all part of life’s rich pattern ( what the hell does that mean). In other words get over it.
The next day about 10 o’clock a van pulled up outside the shop. It was Elton John’s roadie. He brought all the gear that had been borrowed along with the delivery note. After a quick inspection I sad that they were all ok except for one minor scratch on one of the guitars well you would expect that after a gig.
About 11 o’clock I rang the Piccadilly Hotel & asked to speak to Elton John & they said he was just having breakfast so I asked the receptionist to tell him that I would be over to see him shortly. She asked me to hold which I did for a minute. When she came back on she said that that would be ok just ask for Elton at reception when I got there & he would come down.
Around 11-30 I went over to the Piccadilly Hotel, went to reception & asked for Elton John & told her my name & the very pretty young lady said he is expecting you I’ll just give him a call.
Well he arrived at the front desk all smiles & we went & sat down, he asked if I would like a coffee & I said that would be nice. The coffee came & we chatted for a while about this & that & last night s gig.
I told him that all the gear had been returned ok & he kept on saying how much he appreciated the shop lending him the instruments. I then said that you had better have this. I then gave him back the cheque for £500-00.that he had given me the day before & he was somewhat surprised & said that I had not deducted the hire charge to which I replied” there is no charge just consider it a service from Barratts Of Manchester”. ell at this point he looked a little bit over come so I stood up having finished my coffee & said that I have to get back to the shop, he stood up & we shook hands & he then said to me in a very sincere way. If there is anything that I can ever do for you at anytime whatever it is don’t hesitate to call me you have the office number & I owe you a very very great big favour. With that still ringing in my ears I left & went back to the shop.
Well just in case you are wondering …..no I never did ask him to return the favour in fact I never saw him again but at least I did help him along the way courtesy of Barratts Of Manchester.
I’ll have to look to see if I still have his number as my old Range Rover is getting a bit long in the tooth.
I did eventually get over this famous visit & disappeared back into total obscurity .
This is quite an amazing set of coincidences that leads me to write this . Whilst doing research on the web into the serial numbers of 3 guitars led me to this site.
Ive just read your account of the day Elton John walked into your shop..... and almost 40 years on i sit here with the original Barratts Hire Invoice to Elton John.
Now Ive just got off the phone to my brother inlaw if your memory serves you ok you might remember him he is Kevin Downing and worked in the shop along with his band mate Kevin Parry my brother inlaw played the trombone .
Anyhow he gave me the Invoice almost 35 years ago and told me of the story of Elton and how you passed on the Invoice to him as a keep sake of that day and since that day its been with a copy of Elton Johns Yellow Brick Road until I started doing research into the signature and serial numbers the 2 Fenders serial numbers were easy to trace the Les Paul Gibson is proving more difficult and I am waiting for a reply from Gibson direct as it is a pre 1975 vintage and the serial numbers are impossible for me to work out.
If you would like a copy of that Invoice for the site let me know and if you give me an email address I'll forward it on to you.
Its left me totally amazed at how these things turn out.
Harbour Light Meets Web Master
When I found out that Paul Mlynarz the Manchester beat webmaster was coming to the UK for a Christmas visit 2008 I mailed Paul and asked if we could meet up.
We had met before in the '60s but whilst Paul remembers I didn’t and so it was that we arranged to meet.
We arranged to meet at the George and Dragon at Holmes Chapel which was a pub that I managed for ten years after I left Barratts (from 1980 to 1990).
When we arrived at the pub Paul was already there and obviously recognized me because of all the stuff he had put on M/Beat about The Harbour Lights.
He introduced me to his lovely wife Sarah and his daughter Hannah and I like wise did the same with my wife Carole and some other friends from the village
We had a really great lunch time but it went so quickly however it was a meeting I won’t forget in a hurry. I know that all you M/Beat people think we know Paul because we seem to be constantly in touch with him by e-mail but until you have met this guy you don’t know what you are missing.
I hope this doesn’t embarrass him but he is a really genuine nice guy with a lovely family and I would like to thank him for all the work that he has done in getting it out there for the entire world to see.
Not all the groups made the big time but for all those who didn’t M/Beat opens up a new world that we can all explore and I should know because I get mail from all over the world from people who have discovered Manchester Beat. Many old friends and colleagues have surfaced as they discover M/Beat and old friendships are revived, it’s just simply the best ever.
On this special day Paul recruited his daughter Hannah to take some pictures of this meeting of old rockers one of which I attach to this letter and which I will always treasure.
Once again thanks Paul for a great time and all the best to you and your family.
Kindest Regards Brian and Carole Higham
And is was a real pleasure meeting you both, Brian. You played such a major part in so many lives - a true Manchester icon!
Thanks for the music.
To be lucky enough to have a job working in Manchester as well as working in the music business in the late '50s & on into the '60s & '70s you were not only lucky but blessed & believe you me I should know.
It’s well documented how it all began for me but not about some of the wonderful people from all walks of life that I was very privileged to meet.
One such person was my great friend & best pal Max Beesley.
Max very very rarely did not have a beaming smile on his face & when ever he came in the shop, you knew that you were in for a good laugh or he was going to try & flog you something that was most definitely hookey believe me he was the original “Del Boy”
One such item for which he charged me £7-10 shillings (old money) was a Black & Decker orange coloured drill which I didn’t really want but he said that he was skint & had his rent to pay (my god did I fall for that one ). I never did use it.
I think it was around 1971 when Max was on a bit of a downer which was not like him at all but I think that finally the band he was in broke up but true to form it wasn’t long before the smile was back.
He had decided to go solo but was still trying to flog me allsorts of weird percussion instruments for the shop (not so weird today).
One day he came bursting into the shop & said “I am goin on’t telly”. I can remember Clive Neale who did the woodwind at the shop said “What as a micky mouse drummer?”
"No" said Max "I passed the audition for Opportunity Knocks doing my godfather impression". To be honest we all thought he was taking the micky (get it ... micky).
Anyway he showed us the letter, so now we had to show him some respect him being a budding T.V. star.
We never did tell him but we used to all rush home from the shop the night that it was going to be on the box. I used to sit there in my flat in Altrincham in my chair with the dog on one knee & me egg & chips on the other just waiting for him to come on. How’s that for being a devoted fan.
The irony of all the laughs & joke’s about this T.V. appearance disappeared when I saw Max do his thing. It really was fabulous & he went on to do I don’t know how many more shows.
Now at the beginning of the week after each show Max would arrive at the shop (by now he was Sir Max) & you could set your watch by it.
Diving through the door he’d say "Hi guys did you see it?".
We usually said something like ”Bloody hell Max the make-up wasn’t good this week you looked as though you’d had a wisdom tooth taken out by a inebriated dentist". I won’t print the reply but he always took it in the spirit it was meant.
I did eventually leave the shop & my beloved Oxford Street in 1979 & lost all contact with Max & all my other friends from those heady days. However I kept his picture on the wall of my office just to know he was not too far away…BUT & IT’ A BIG BUT.
Paul Mlynarz who is affectionately known as the webmaster for Manchesterbeat. informed me that sadly an old friend Peter Bocking had passed away & that the funeral service was to be held the coming Friday at Manchester southern Cemetary.
For me it was a 200 mile round trip but I wanted to pay my last respects to Peter.
I was sat in the chapel with Ray Teret when I felt someone sit beside me & I felt this very firm grip on my arm, I turned slowly & there he was Max …my old mate Maxton.G Beesley.
Words could not describe the conflicting emotions I was feeling, I wanted to jump up and hug the guy but I was at a funeral in a chapel, only Max could have made that entrance.
Well there we both were after all those lost years and all I could say was “Where’ve you been I’ve been trying to find you". He said "I know, I only found out last week, how ya doin?"
After it was what you would expect … just AB-FAB. It was so good to be back in touch with someone I can really call a very good friend indeed.
Special thanks to Peter Bocking without who in such sad circumstances brought so much happiness. Thank you old friend.
PS. I still have the drill that Max sold me so I mailed Max to see if it was still under warranty.
His reply was….only if you have the original packaging.
Max replies with his story ...
It was the Strand Show Band originally from 64 to 68 then we changed to the Strandsmen until we broke up on New Years eve 1971.
That year if you remember I started doing the impressions and stand up comedy and by some fluke appeared on Opportunity Knocks 5 times.
During all this, I did play drums for a lot of people.
In fact one day on one of my regular visits to Barratts to see you, the word was out that Winifred Attwell was looking for a drummer / MD apparently the job was a drag but the bread was great.
I did the job and really enjoyed it and at the end of the short northern tour her husband Lou gave me a pair of gold cufflinks, a very classy guy indeed.
I also toured with Lionel Blair & featured on bongo drums.
I also gigged with the great Maynard Ferguson's northern based band which was a great honour for me personally.
In 1962 I was resident at the Bossa Nova club near Victoria Station in Manchester and a lot of the performers that were appearing at the Free Trade Hall would call in for a blow & would you believe it one night Sonny Boy Williams turned up and was on stage for an hour. He must have been 80 but the energy that came from his music was just truly amazing.
In 1963 I toured with 'Bobby's Girl' Susan Maughn , Dave Lynane saw me play at a late club on George Street called the Atheneum and recommended me to Granada head of music Derek Hilton who was MD for the show.
So there I am 18 years old loving what I am doing & playing with the best studio musicians in the country "no"! The best in the world, well my world anyway.
You can read & rehearse till you are blue in the face but believe you me you just cannot buy experience like that. But the bar was set and it was then I went into my 8 hours a day practice routine, in an effort to catch up fast.
Brian, we have had the best of times , that was living and playing through the sixties, the most amazing and best times ever.
PS, I was once offered the gig with the very talented & popular Harbour Lights - now that was a great honour.
Maxton's picture on Brian's wall at home.
Just going back down memory lane my thoughts turned to Manchester United.
With all this Rooney stuff going on my mind went back to those heady days in the 1967/8 season when Manchester United won the European Cup. I was fortunate enough to have known some of that great team.
Bobby Noble a great full back was in that team though he did not play in the final.
Bobby grew up in a place called Cheadle Village which was where I also grew up; we both went to the same school Broadway Secondary Modern though he was a few years behind me being much younger. I knew the family quite well especially his big sister Jackie as they lived just down the road from my house.
I often saw bobby with his dad on the local footy field across the river being put through his paces which was to stand him in good stead & yes the boy done good & eventually became a Busby Babe & made it into the first team at Manchester United.
Unfortunately his career was cut short by a car accident which damaged one of the muscles in left eye making it difficult to focus.
The club did everything it could for him but the damage was too great & so he very prematurely retired.
After he had left United he became a regular in my local pub in Sale where I was now living. Bobby was also living in sale with his family.
At this time Bob was not working so one night after a few beers I offered him a job at the shop (Barratts) as a salesman & to my surprise he accepted.
And so now I had a famous footballer from Manchester United working for me along side Ex Hollies bass player the legendary Eric Haydock & they became great mates & got on very well.
Sometime later I was lucky enough to find myself in the company of Sir Matt Busby one sports evening at the Golden Garter in Wythenshawe just outside Manchester.
I mentioned to Sir Matt that Bobby had worked for me after United & he told me how sad he had been at losing such a fine player at such a young age & how he was still held in high regard at Old Trafford.
I haven’t seen Bobby for many years but I know he still lives in Sale with his family & works in Altrincham for a printing company.
Another one of that 68 team was one George Best who I recall scored in the 68 final.
I met George through an old friend of mine Malcolm Mooney who had become George’s business partner.
We all used to meet most Thursdays at the Pinewood Hotel in Handforth where there was a regular disco & after we would go back to George’s new house Que Serra in Woodford where we would play snooker till the early hours.
Well now I suppose you are thinking where does Barratts fit into all this because George didn’t play a musical instrument of any kind he was into other kinds of recreation.
On one of those wonderful evenings George asked me about putting a music system in the ceiling throughout the house, so I said that could be done easily enough.
The next day he came to the shop in his E-type Jag & gave me the make of the unit that he wanted.
I got our shop engineer Terry Smith to go to George’s place to check just what was needed & the set installed was fully functioning a couple of weeks later much to George’s delight. I went up to the house one morning just to have a listen to the finished job & ended up having bacon & eggs for breakfast & a read of the daily mirror with George Best, now there aren’t many can say that.
Some weeks later I also had a great music system fitted into his E Type Jag.
At the time George & Malcolm had 2 shops called George Best Edwardia & were planning to expand into more shops & it was then that I got a call from George to meet him & Malcolm at the shop in Sale which I did & they offered me a job running the shops for them as they opened, well after much soul searching I reluctantly declined the offer & stayed on Oxford Street. Though it was very tempting turning down such a glamorous position working for the great George Best but they both fully understood & I’m pleased to say we remained firm friends.
Sadly sometime later Malcolm died in a car crash & I don’t think George ever got over that as they were really close.
Adrian Barratt & I saw all the 1968 European Cup matches that were played at Old Trafford & we never had to buy a ticket as they came to us by courtesy of the late Great George Best.
It was a great & unforgettable time way back then & I was very privileged to have known George Best as a Friend.
Another Red from the 68 team was Tony Dunne; he was a Harbour Lights fan & used to come to Bredbury Hall Country Club to watch us play.
Whenever he was there he always bought me a drink whether I wanted it or not & he insisted that it was a pint of Guinness with a Baby Cham poured in the top. It blew your bloody head off, no wonder????? .
Oh & some years later I had the pleasure of showing Sir Bobby Charlton & his wife how to use a Phillips video recorder. It only recorded for half an hour, still it was 1974.
So there you have it four Red Connection’s to Barratts of Manchester.
Brian Higham and Hank Marvin in Barratts late 60s and again in Blackpool circa 2005/6.
Hank is smiling because he remembers the great guitar he got from Brian and what a real gent he was to deal with.
Brian is smiling as he remembers the mark-up.
Chris & Paula find a great place to stay in Florida - next door to the Toggery Five Hilton and just round the corner to CountryGents Motel. Easy to find, its on Jim Reno Boulevarde.
||Rick Henshaw - drummer par excellence with the Harbour Lights gets to sit in Brian's chair - a great honour bestowed on so few. Nice to see both Rick & Amanda again after many years..
|and also gets to fondle one of the Higham guitars - bought from Barratts, I suspect
||Webmaster Paul gets to sit in the "chair"
|Paul makes himself comfortable at Chez Highams - relaxing after a great meal.
||As does Mrs Paul, Sarah. In the chair, not on the rug.
We had a great visit, great meal and some wonderful stories. Then, quite late, in the Weslsh drizzle we made their way to the car - only to realise the lights had been left on and the battery was flat. To the rescue Brian, who jump started the car - everyone quite wet by then :-)
We shall be over again Brian - get the port, quitars and jump leads ready!!!
Paul and Sarah
PS How could I ever have been scared of such a nice guy as you in Barrattts - but I bet I wasn't the only one :-)
|An inspiration to us all - 95 years young & still playing at Pat's Coffee house Mooresville North Carolina..2009.
Now its Brian's turn to sit in his own chair. Being an ex-salesman (can you ever be "ex"?) Brian tells me this splendid 1960 original "Rickenbacker Les Paul Stratocaster SG" is up for sale.
Originally owned by Robert Johnson, played at Woodstock by Henrix, used by Harrison on Sgt Pepper and played by Clapton on the first ever Cream gig, its up for sale at 2.5 million (but he will accept trade-ins).
Eric Haydock Bass player & founder member of the Hollies gets the chair treatment on a visit to Chez Higham's on Anglesey.
|Rick Henshaw on a state visit the the Higham estate on Anglesey.
Sir Cliff & Brian Lewis
Having heard some odd story’s about this event, I thought it only right to set the record straight.
The Harbourlights (or Cheshire Plains) Band members were Brian Higham Rhythm Guitar & Vocal, John Lee Bass guitar& Vocals, Brian Lewis (Mr. Lewis) lead guitar & vocals& on drums was Alan Forbes. All of these guy’s (apart from myself) were very talented musiciansin their own right.
I gave the job of lead guitar to Brian Lewis after hearing him play in the shop (Barratts) & what a player he was. To say I was impressed would not be up to the mark he was in fact excellent & confident with it.
It did not matter if he was picking his way through Chet Atkins or playing slide or doing his Badfinger stuff he was always brilliant. He seemed to hear things that I couldn’t…for instance being rhythm guitarist I had to play all the right chords which I did expertly just
not in the right order or the right place but with Mr Lewis’s knowhow he soon put me & that right.
It was early 70s & I had just had lunch with Hank Marvin, John Farrar & Bruce Welch (Marvin Welch & Farrar or the Shadows).
We had been friends for many years on & off.
We were walking down Oxford Street back to the shop when Hank said a very weird thing to me as we walked along.
He asked me how I fancied playing lead guitar on a tour of Japan with Cliff. Well I was absolutely gobsmacked & said you must be kidding but Bruce turned around & said you’ll be ok with me I’m going as rhythm guitar soI’ll look after you. The reason that they wanted a lead player for this tour of Japan was that Terry Britton who had been with Cliff for years did not want to go on this tour because his wife was expecting & he wanted to be there when his wife gave birth.
Terry had written loads of stuff for Cliff & also wrote What’s love got to do with it for Tina Turner. He was a really nice genuine & talented guy.
** You have to remember that I had known Hank & Bruce for years but they had never heard me play & I think they just assumed that I
was capable** which I definitely was not.
So I said to Hank that I just was not good enough to sit behind Cliff & play - I’m just a rhythm player like Bruce & Hank said he understood & thanked me for my honesty. But then I said that I knew someone who in my opinion was more than good enough for a job like this.
So Hank said why you don’t give David Bryce a ring & tell him he is arranging some auditions in London as we speak. (David was Cliff’s personal manager & had been with him for years).
Brian had never met Hank or Bruce but he was a big Shadows fan so when they came to the Golden Garter as Marvin Welch & Farrar, I took Brian down there one afternoon & introduced him to the guys. Again looking back I guess it changed a lot of things for Brian. I know he was very impressed & why would he not be, Hank & Bruce had inspired changed the lives of countless people all over the world. Even Paul McCartney said the Beatles were influenced by Cliff & The Shadows.
** At this point Brian Lewis knew nothing of what I was going to do or what Hank Bruce & I had discussed. I didn’t even ask him I thought I would speak to David Bryce first who I had also known for a lot of years.**
I called David Bryce that same afternoon & I told him what had transpired that day with Hank & Bruce.
He said he knew Hank was going to ask me & that Hank had called him & told him that I said was not up to the job with Cliff but that he would trust my judgment on the person that I recommended we both laughed. He also said that he to trusted my judgment & said just that. If I said he was good enough for this gig it was ok by David & I said to David I wish I was good enough to play for Cliff but I’m more in the Bruce Welch mould Rhythm guitar only& not too good at that.
I then said but I know someone who is very capable of doing this job. & he asked me who that was. So I explained that Brian Lewis was the lead guitarist in my group The Harbourlights & that he was one of the best players I had ever come across & was also a nice guy & that’s why he was playing with us & I had known him for a few years by this time.
David seemed most impressed but then explained that he had already arranged some auditions in London for this job. He then went on to say that if Brian was prepared to attend the
auditions in London & if he was as good as I had said then he would give him the job. David thanked me for my honesty in saying I could not do it.
When I finally told Brian what had gone on he really could not believe it. When I think back I must have been a hell of a shock to learn that you had a chance to play for one of if not the biggest Artiste this country had ever produced. Well Brian said that he would love the opportunity to play for Cliff.
And so I called David Bryce & told him that Brian would attend the audition’s in London.
So now it was up to Brian to nail this job. I remember he put his Fender deluxe amp & my black Les Paul Custom In the back of his blue Triumph GT-6 & off he went to London.
After the auditions were over David Bryce called me to say that he would give Brian the gig & did I want to tell him& I said “no David you call & tell him I’m sure he will be thrilled if it comes from you”
Well that night I was in my local The Wheat sheaf in Altringham when Brian came rushing in & said I got the job with Cliff……
I said I know David Bryce called me today with the news.
I must say at the time at the time I thought it was great for Brian but I must admit I was a little envious …. but then reality kicked in and I realized I would no longer have a lead guitar in the group.
Now I no longer had Brian Mr Lewis in my group & needed another lead guitar for the Harbourlights. Well that’s another story.
But that is how Brian Lewis got the job with Sir Cliff Richard & don’t let anyone tell you different. All the above is factual I know I was there & that’s what friends are for.
Some years later after the Cliff gig in 1977 we Brian & I went to L.A together where I stayed at John Farrar’s house in Beverly Hills (You’re the one that I want Oliva Newton John’s producer) & Brian & I had a week in Hawaii which was a load of fun.
Must be nice to have friends.
Nice pic of my friend Jim-De-Stafney who is on the NAMM board & also owns a great music store in Pensacola, Florida.
The guy stood with Jim is Paul McCartney's drummer.
The Lennon Letters & Hunter Davies
Sometime in the summer of 2011 I received an email from the very famous author Hunter Davies who was the only official Biographer
of The Beatles. He had been given my name by Martin Creasy who also wrote a book on the Beatles early days called The Beatles UK tours 1963-1965.
I had helped Martin with a passage about the Maton guitar that I had loaned to George Harrison in 1964 when they appeared at the ABC
In Manchester (now the Apollo Ardwick Green).
Hunter told me that he had written in 2010 to Yoko Ono Lennon asking for her permission about writing a book all about letters that had been written by John Lennon to people all over the world over the years.
I don’t think it was well known at the time but John Lennon was a compulsive writer of letters & notes.
Anyway you can see in the attached letter that Yoko Ono Lennon gave Hunter Davies permission to write the book as long as the
copyright of the letters stayed with the Lennon estate.
I had obtained several scans of letters that John Lennon had written & Martin Creasy had told Hunter I might be able to help. And so I set to work scanning & sending Hunter every thing I could get my hands for this very exciting project. At this point I would like to say it was an absolute pleasure communicating with Hunter on a
fairly regular basis.
By October 9/10/2012 the Lennon Letters book was ready to be published.
I received a letter from Hunter bringing me up to date with the proceedings & I was very very flattered indeed that he had invited me to the actual book launch at The British Library in London on the 11/10/2012.
And so I received an official invitation in the post which was R.S.V.P.
Well I started planning my trip straight away, I booked my“Ticket to Ride” from Anglesey via Chester to Euston. I also managed to get a hotel just across the road from The British Library so I was all set for my trip to the big city for what was to be a once in a lifetime event for me.
It was a Thursday & I left home very early in the morning to get my train from Llanfair P.G.(no I can’t say it) on Anglesey. The train was
on time but wouldn’t you know it that after all my careful planning when I got to Chester the 11-35 to Euston had been cancelled. I did
ask the station attendant why it had been cancelled and what an answer it was that he gave me. He said “they couldn’t find the driver”…
Priceless you couldn’t make this up.
So I had to get a train to Crewe and then get the Manchester to London Euston train. It was a pleasant enough Journey down to the big city & the hotel was just a short walk from the Station. After checking into the hotel I was going to go for a walk but the rain got worse & worse so I went for something to eat& then got myself ready to go to The British Library for the book launch.
It was still raining when I finally set off to the book launch & I was like a little kid I was so excited. I had been so looking forward to this
night ever since I got the invite from Hunter.
On arriving at the British Library other guests were also arriving & I did recognise one or to faces i.e. Melvyn Bragg, Kelvin McKenzie & Nina Mishkov. Hunter was due to give a forty five minute talk on the book & his experiences with the Beatles so all the guests filed into the lecture room. The seats came down to a small stage where Hunter would sit & give his talk.
I sat on the end seat in the third row & had a great view. It was then that a young lady came into the room which was rapidly filling up. I stood up to let her into the row of seats & lucky for me she sat next to me. Naturally a conversation followed & she asked me if I was a contributor to the book & I said yes I was.
The name of this young lady was Toli Ono & she had written to John Lennon in 1980 when she was just 14 years old & just before his tragic death & John had replied to her with a post card that poignantly said Hi- Bye-Love John 80. She was possibly the last fan that John wrote to.
She asked me where I was from originally & I replied Stockport. She looked at me in amazement & said so am I. What are the chances that two people from the same town would end up sat next to each other at an event like this. Truly amazing. Toli & I spent the rest of the evening together talking to lots of different people & then there was a very special treat in store for everyone - Yoko Ono Lennon John’s widow appeared & she was very patient with everyone & Toli & I were lucky to be introduced to Yoko & she let me take a picture of her & Toli.
Yoko also signed my copy of the Lennon Letters which was very kind of her. Yoko was nothing like what you had read about her she very engaging & extremely gracious with everyone. She even gave an impromptu speech which was nice. For her to turn up to support Hunter at this book launch was in my opinion a very wonderful enthusiastic gesture.
The Quarry Men which was John’s very first skiffle group were there to play for the guests at the private party afterwards & two of the original band members who also went to school with John were in the group which was amazing. But the best thing for me is that they played all the old skiffle stuff just as they did back in the day when John Lennon was with them.
I met some really wonderful people that night & it was a night I will never forget.
Toli & I said good night to Hunter at the end of the evening & he thanked us both for our input into the book albeit small & for turning up.
Toli & I were staying at the same hotel so we walked back together.
What a fabulous evening it was & it will live long in the memory.
Yoko and Toli Ono the Mongolian girl,who wrote to John in 1980
The TICKET to Ride
Hi, Brian, and congrats upon such a wonderful story. I was fascinated to note that you mentioned those stockbrokers, Bell White & Hardy. My very first job interview was with that firm: I well remember the interviewer moaning that young people wanted as much money as possible for very little effort. I knew I could never be happy there so I walked out! The shortest job interview I ever had.
Hi Brian - just to say what a truly fantastic story. I thought mine was reasonable but after reading yours not so sure. I have bought many guitars and amps from Bbarratts M/c.
Good luck to you and thanks again for your great story.
Brian sold me my first electric guitar and my first 12-string guitar. I only recently disposed of them! I also bought from him a Fender Rhodes and a strange very early portable keyboard. (name forgotten) Brian and Brian Lewis and their group also played with me in Wilsmlow for Sammy Cooper's annual fashion show, introduced by the now disgraced Stuart Hall.
My group was called Gentle Pulse and still I make music. I'd love to contact him and Brian Lewis if they are still going strong.
Dr John Pollard