I suppose my story begins at age 12, by following my older brother into the Sea Cadets, where I was given a snare drum and told that I was to be in the units drum and bugle band. All went well for a couple of years, the band was good, and was invited to appear all over the North West.
Then it happened, Hills Stores Ballroom, my first taste of a live gig. Along with my friend Dennis I walked three miles to see Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. The place was amazing, wall to wall teddy boys out numbering the girls by at least ten to one, and all of them at least three years older than me. After the show on the way home it felt like I'd just had a glimpse of heaven, I was fourteen and hooked. Over the next year or so my brother Dave got me into clubs which I was too young to go to, in particular Flintstones Cave in Oldham. The groups I saw there certainly made a impact on me. For instance The Undertakers, Sonny Kaye and The Reds, Witchdoctors and Mike Cadillac's Playboys amongst many others convinced me that this was what I wanted to do. But where to start, and who with?
At that time I didn't even have a drum kit and the only other person I knew who was in any way interested in music was a lad I was at school with namely Stuart 'Wooly' Wolstenholme, who later went on to front Barclay James Harvest.
After months of saving money from my wage as an apprentice at Ferranti's I had enough to put a down payment on a four piece Premier kit. The day came to go and collect my beautiful blue pearl kit. Off we went to Stock and Chapman's in my brothers van, my mum had to come along to sign as guarantor, I was only 16. So, now, got the kit learn to play.
Like many other aspiring drummers the problem of where to practice arose. At first my folks allowed me to set up in the front room, without realising the noise level, in a few days the complaints from the neighbours started followed swiftly by visits from the local police who threatened to prosecute my mum and dad if this "unholy racket" didn't stop. Well, that was the end of that. What do I do now!
My dad saw an advert in the Oldham Chronicle a couple of weeks later, which read ' Drummer urgently wanted by local group with bookings'. I replied and was asked to go along to their practice room the following night. When I arrived I discovered two guys who seemed to be old time rock n rollers and both at least 10 years older than me. The bass player asked me how long I'd been playing for “about 4 years” I said. Who with he asked? The Cadets I replied, from Chadderton, never heard of that group he said. I forgot to mention the Sea Cadets bit. Result, I was in. Now came the tricky bit of actually being able to play with other musicians. The name of this group should remain anonymous, to avoid embarrassment, I know that they are still alive and living in Oldham. Luckily for me the stuff they were playing was made up of rock n roll songs which I'd been listening to for years from my brothers’ records of Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Little Richard etc. I managed to get through the rehearsal, just.
This first venture into the world of groups only lasted a matter of a few weeks and maybe half a dozen gigs when another ad appeared in the local paper for “Drummer Wanted”. This time I knew the group, they were Four for Blues, all guys my own age and with an obvious desire to get out there and do the business. My audition with the group took place in what was the groups permanent practice room in the local church institute. A few days later and after much debate I became their new drummer. At last, I thought, my first real group. The groups’ line up at that time was Dave Lambert lead vocals, Dave Gleave lead guitar, Rob Marland bass, Eddie Jaworski rhythm guitar and me on drums. After only a few weeks Eddie left the group. He wasn’t replaced and we carried on as a four piece with a new name. ‘National Grid ‘.
At first our gigs were around the local area, youth clubs mostly, but before long we were playing venues in and around Manchester, Rochdale and Bolton etc. Our repertoire in the early days was made up of Tamla, Soul and a few Blues standards left over from the previous group. However after a few months the sound and image began to change. New material which suited the bands changing style was brought in to replace the soul and blues stuff, a few of the Tamla things were kept.
As the months passed the band got louder and raunchier, the gigs more frequent and the distances far greater. Within a year, even though semi pro, we would be doing four or five gigs per week in places like North Yorkshire, Cumbria and the Midlands as well as the clubs and dance halls in Greater Manchester.
National Grid weren’t exactly known for their finesse. A typical set would be kicked off with a version of The Creations’ ‘Makin’ Time’, but delivered with a much harder edge, and that would set the tone for the whole set. We weren’t particularly ‘user friendly’ to the Tamla fans, due to the Who style treatments of songs like Heatwave and several other Motown classics which we shredded on a nightly basis. I had the distinct impression that The Grid were either loved or loathed depending which side of the fence people were on. What the band lacked in musical ability was made up for with enthusiasm and raw power. We also had the benefit of an outstanding front man in Dave Lambert. This guy had a great voice and brilliant stage presence, and performed like his life depended on it. Another big plus for us was our bass player Rob Marland who could tear a stage up like nobody I’d ever known. His antics on stage could best be described as being on the verge of insanity; he left many a stage looking like a battlefield. He was an enormous asset to the group. Dave Gleave was the quiet man of the group, doing his job in a calm collected way regardless of the mayhem going on around him. I well remember doing a gig with the Rockin’ Vicars when, after our set, one of the Vicars came up to us and the first words out of his mouth were “F**k me lads that was different”, didn’t say whether he liked it though. Fact is we were young and didn’t care, we were what we were and did what we did and we were havin’ a great time doin’ it.
Things carried on in much the same way until an incident at the Tow Bar Inn in Egremont. We were staying overnight as usual and Lammy had placed a notice on his bed which said simply, in capital letters, ‘NO SH**GING ON MY BED’. Fair enough, nobody did. Next day we all packed up to leave but the notice, somehow, found its way into Lammy’ bag, only to be found the day after by his mum when she came to do his washing, Embarrassing. Lammy was banned from the band so to speak. From then on it became difficult to get him to gigs, his folks seemed determined to stop him. On more than one occasion after this episode it was necessary to almost kidnap the guy from his house. I recall our two roadies using a ladder to get him out of his bedroom window more than once. Hell of a way to run a band. Within a few weeks Lammy was getting fed up and decided he was leaving the group to go off to university. This was the end, well, almost; we still had gigs to fulfil. It was at one of these final National Grid gigs that we met Mike Lynch. The venue was The Bee Hive in Swinton, one of our regular gigs and Mike’ local. Dave and I got talking to Mike and he asked if we would be interested in joining him and Ady Eddleston in a new band when The Grid finally called it a day. We said we’d come back and talk some more after our final gig. Two weeks later, last gig completed, National Grid was no more. A great shame but inevitable.
Dave Gleave and I went to meet Mike Lynch, as promised, in Swinton. Within minutes Mike dropped the bombshell. The new band he was putting together was to be full time professional and he wanted Dave and me to be part of it. The question was, were we prepared to sell our souls to turn pro and go charging off around the American bases in Europe. All of a sudden it seemed to be more about the money than the music. After much careful thought and deliberation (for about 5 seconds!), we said “Yeah ok”. That was that, rehearsals were to start that same week.
The day after it was back to the day job. I arrived for work, late as usual, to be met at the door by the foreman and told that the works manager wanted to see me. This guy was a large overbearing pompous twat whose brain was still lodged in the 1930s. His idea of male teenage development was that upon reaching twenty one all lads should automatically turn into their own dads complete with a pair of brogues and a trilby hat. Wrong, this was 1968. So, here I was in the works manager’s office being subjected to a tirade of abuse which I tolerated for about two minutes before turning round and heading for the door. “Don’t turn your back on Mr Hickson” the foreman said. “You can shove your job up your arse” I said. It was in my mind to tell him to go f**k himself but I had the feeling he’d probably give it a go. That was the end of that, I left, didn’t clock out and didn’t even go back to pick up my wages. Six weeks later I was off to Germany with my first pro band....Seduction.
I don’t intend to go into great detail here about my time with Seduction, that’s already been covered on the Manchester Beat site. I’d just be repeating myself. Having said that, I have to say that I considered myself to be most fortunate to have two of Manchester's best known and well respected musicians to work with and learn from. Mike Lynch whose previous groups had been The Chapters, Cymerons and more recently Bind Dog Blues Band, and Ady Eddelston from The Chapters and The Everglades. It was a very steep learning curve with Seduction but well worth it.
Seduction came to an end when Ady left and we couldn’t find a replacement. So, on returning to England Mike Dave and I set about forming a new band which, eventually, turned out to be the first version of Money.
For the first few months’ things seemed to be fine with Money. The gigs were good and varied, we had a record deal with Major Minor and the future looked fairly bright. However shortly after recording our first single I began to realise that my heart wasn’t really in it. Although I loved working with Dave and Mike I knew that I was off my game. It may have been due to my private life being in turmoil at the time, I don’t really know. Gradually matters went from bad to worse with the inevitable result of me leaving the band. This turned out, surprisingly, to be one of the best moves I was ever to make. In a strange twist of fate I came across a band called Hemlock who were looking to replace their drummer who, the bass player told me, had left to join a band called Money. Weird or what! It appeared that Paul Murray and I had effectively swapped bands.
I was happy to team up with Hemlock, for me it was a fresh start with great new people. Within a week a new keyboard player, John Hajok, joined to replace Darryl Ogden and JC Heavy was born.
Once again I’m not going into detail of my years with JC Heavy; they are already well documented on the bands web page. What I will say is that they were some of the best and most memorable of my life in the music business. I’d much rather deal with the kind of prejudice, and sometimes downright hostility, experienced not just by me but by a good many other guys in bands during the sixties and seventies. These issues usually and perhaps surprisingly arose in the places that the guys came from. That was certainly true for me.
I was originally from Chadderton, a small district between Oldham and Manchester which wasn’t, and probably still isn’t, exactly a hotbed of musical activity, although there were one or two groups that started in the area. In my case, once it became known that I was involved with a ‘rock band’, the attitudes of people I’d known all my life changed. On my rare visits back home I noticed these changes quite quickly. It seemed folks would go out of their way to avoid contact with me in the street, and on some occasions would be openly offensive. Why was this? I wondered. Was it perhaps that people generally had the impression that all rock musicians were drug fuelled psychopathic sex maniacs? Not true!, well, not really, we weren’t all psychopathic. Okay, at the time my appearance was, maybe, a bit strange, hair down to my waist, three quarter length tassled suede jacket, velvet flared pants and a four inch long silver cross around my neck. Didn’t go down well with everyone I suppose. To illustrate the point. One day I was walking back to my parents house when, walking towards me was a girl called Pauline. I’d known this girl since infant school and hadn’t seen her for years. I hadn’t even finished saying “Hello, how you doin’” when her mother came tear arseing across the road, narrowly avoiding being hit by a number 59 bus, and grabbed her by the arm. “I don’t want you talking to the likes of him” she said, as she dragged the poor girl away. This from a woman who was one of my mum’s best friends and had known me almost from the day I was born. The woman obviously thought I was going to ravish the girl right there on the road. That had never entered my head, honest. Although, come to think about it.......?
1972 saw the demise of JC Heavy and the end of my direct involvement with bands in Manchester for a while. During this period I spent much of my time in London picking up gigs here and there as well as quite a bit of studio work. I returned to Manchester and after a couple of weeks I was asked to go to Strawberry Studios in Stockport where I was to meet up with Aussie based band Chalice and play on their first couple of singles. What I didn’t know was that they were actually all Manchester guys and the band’s drummer was my old mate John Rimmer who I hadn’t seen since he was with a group from Oldham called Treacle. Why they weren’t using John on the session I never really knew.
In 1974, just as I was about to go back to London, I got a call from a group in Oldham who had lost their drummer, due to an accident if I remember correctly. Problem was they had a gig that same night. I agreed to fill in and off we went. My rehearsal with the group consisted of listening to a cassette tape on the way to the venue. This one gig turned into several more over the next couple of months and I decided not to go back down south. To my shame I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the group, but events were set in motion that, a couple of years later, led to Pennine Sound Studios being created.
Pennine Studio, which I later became co-owner of, was originally a small four track set up and used pretty much as a writers studio privately by ourselves.
Only later, following receipt of a substantial royalty advance, were we able to expand to eight track and open up Pennine commercially.
From then on the business started to get really serious. Bands and artistes from all around Manchester started to arrive and before long it became obvious that another much larger expansion of the studio was needed.
A large church property was bought and over a period of about six months converted and equipped to become one of the biggest twenty four track studios in the north of England.
Over the following years and into the late 1980s some of the best known record producers in the country made the trek up north to work alongside my co-owner Paul Adshead who had become one of the top sound engineers in Greater Manchester.
For example John Wood (Squeeze), Ben Findon (Dooleys, Nolans etc.) Pete Watts (Mott the Hoople) and many more.
It must be said that Paul deserves the lion’s share of credit for the success of the studio during these years. Martin Hannett was also present a number of times with his various Punk and New Wave projects and Joy Divisions’ “ Love will Tear us Apart “, which, over the years, has become a Manchester anthem, was recorded at Pennine.
In terms of artistes who we welcomed through our doors were people as diverse as Cannon and Ball, Lisa Stansfield and pioneer of rock music Jack Bruce to name but a few.
What came as a surprise to me during the Pennine studio years was the amount of players who had been active on the Manchester scene in the 1960s who turned up with various bands.
There were dozens of them over the years, for instance, guys from The Chapters, St Louis Union, Toggery Five I could go on and on. The point is that these guys weren’t just still doing it; they were still doing it with same enthusiasm regardless of their level of success.
L to R Paul Adshead, John Needham, Nina Carter (Page 3 girl),
Songwriter Barry Mason( Delilah, Last Waltz etc.)
L to R Paul Adshead, John Needham, Malcolm Johnson,
My romance with the music business came to a crashing end when, in the late 80s, I was diagnosed with a nasty little heart condition which was only corrected by surgery in 1992. I did get back in the game for while in the 90s before illness struck again. This time it was the big C. Nice eh!
I’ve left the best ‘til last. The music business took me to over thirty countries across four continents and I enjoyed some amazing times with fantastic people. But the top billing is reserved for my family. My wife Kath, my rock, who’s seen me through two periods of prolonged illness in recent years without missing a beat. The births of my three children, all of whom have developed into creative young people. My daughter Katie is a fine artist and photographer whilst the two boys, John jnr. And Wesley, are both becoming accomplished guitarists. I love them all dearly.
Well that’s just about the end of my story, except to say, it was a great ride and, given the chance, I’d do it all over again.
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I was a fellow drummer with John at the Cadets and later also went into a loca group, the Vagrants with another cadet, Granville Williamson. We had fun but didn't have the success you seem to have John. In my case Ar College and a career in ... Read More
I was a fellow drummer with John at the Cadets and later also went into a loca group, the Vagrants with another cadet, Granville Williamson. We had fun but didn't have the success you seem to have John. In my case Ar College and a career in advertising sort of took over. It was Granville who gave me the heads up on this column, so he's still fine and we are still in touch with Charlie North. Our lead guitarist Alan Chadwick dies recently of the big C which has also got me but I'm OK. John you were the best and I loved all those sessions playing together, remember coming to my house in Royton just after I got married. Perhaps youv've seen my sons name on the credits of various TV dramas, Tom Sherry, he's a producer. Great to hear about you, keep on rockin!
I've been trying to pin point the location of Pennine Studios, I obviously know it was on Rippenden Road and I believe it was on the left as it climbed out of Oldham. Not much has changed on that road with the exception of a few sites of newer ... Read More
I've been trying to pin point the location of Pennine Studios, I obviously know it was on Rippenden Road and I believe it was on the left as it climbed out of Oldham. Not much has changed on that road with the exception of a few sites of newer builds but which one? Was there any other landmarks to narrow it down, pubs etc
Hello John, I suppose that we must have met at some time in the past, but unfortunately I don't remember it. I knew some of the people in your blog, in particular Eddie Jaworski, who I went to school with, and Daryl Ogden. I know that Daryl has ... Read More
Hello John, I suppose that we must have met at some time in the past, but unfortunately I don't remember it. I knew some of the people in your blog, in particular Eddie Jaworski, who I went to school with, and Daryl Ogden. I know that Daryl has sadly passed away, but do you know anything of Eddie. Also, I've got to disagree with your comments about Chadderton - there were some good musos about when I was there. Tony Gardner (Missing Links and The Go Go.)