Powerhouse 6 / TD Backus and The Powerhouse

Info courtesy John Firth

Line Ups

  • Roy (Tiddy) Gibbs aka TD BACKUS - Vocals
  • Kelvin (Spud) Hudson - Lead Guitar
  • Jack (Ripper) Unell (replaced by Barry (Baz) Townsend) - Bass Guitar
  • Alan (Alby) Greenhalgh - Tenor Saxophone
  • Mike (Belt) Belton (replaced by Stuart Murray (Olsberg)) - Baritone Saxophone
  • John (Feef) Firth - Drums
  • Darrell Ogden - Hammond Organ 

For a very short period prior to the break up, Stuart was replaced by Bernie Hetherington and Dave Cakebread replaced Baz Townsend.

See also The Backbeats


UK 45's 

"Chain Gang" (S. & C. Cooke)/"Can You Hear Me?" (Toussaint)  - Decca F.12471 8/1966 

"Raindrops"(Clark)/"La Bamba" (Arr. Pell, Abraham) - Decca F.12507 10/1966

Powerhouse memories by John Firth

The 121 all night bus from Manchester to Middleton wound it's way up Rochdale Road through Collyhurst and Harpurhey. On the top deck Kelvin "Spud" Hudson, John "Feef" Firth and Alan "Alby" Greenhalgh, among others, were enthusing about the Saturday night out they'd just enjoyed.

"Why don't we form a group?"

The words came like a bolt out of the blue. Don't recall who uttered them, but I do remember it feeling like it was the most natural thing in the world for us to start making our own music. We'd only been out of school a couple of years, were all in reasonably steady jobs or apprenticeships, but the highlight of every week was when were able to go into town to watch a band or group in one of the many venues that had sprung up in Manchester. 

Spud, a big Buddy Holly fan (he even had Holly glasses) was a natural for guitar, I'd always been fascinated with drums and Alby surprised us all by saying;"I'll play tenor sax!"

Although, come to think about it we shouldn't have been surprised. We all had slightly "off the wall" musical tastes for our age, barely 17. Not for us the watered down pop music of Cliff, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde or their ilk. What really lit our candle was the butt kicking rock 'n roll of Little Richard, Jerry Lee, Fats Dominoe, the down home blues of Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, Muddy Waters etc. Even venturing into the world of jazz with John Coltrane, Count Basie, Tubby Hayes, The M J Q.

We talked more about our great plans to conquer the music world during the following week and on Saturday made our first of many pilgrimages to Barrats, Mamelocks and Johhny Roadhouses to check out prices and think of how we could con, sorry, persuade our Dads' to sign as guarantor.

We eventually aquired a Selmer sax, Hofner guitar and an Olympic drum kit oh, and another sax player, Mike Belton another old school friend and through an ad in the Middleton Guardian a bass guitarist called Jack Unell from Collyhurst. We called ourselves The Backbeats and spent months of practising for 6 and 7 nights a week, in between work & night school.

We now felt ready for our first booking which turned out to be at a local youth club as payment for them letting us use the club to practise in. We did this a few times then got offered our first payed booking, the employees'children's party at Middleton Post Office. Big Time here we come.

Because I had access to a phone at work, I got the job of fixing us up with bookings which I did for some months. But we were growing in ability, still practising every spare hour, and confidence so decided we needed an agent.

Our very good friend and ex school mate, Pete Cowap, had formed The Country Gents and was being handled by Alan Arnison. He persuaded Arnison to give us an audition at the Rex ballroom,Wilmslow which went well and he signed us.

One of his bookers, a certain Ian Hamilton, was designated to look after us which, it has to be said, he did admirably. We worked all over the North West and when we could manage it with work commitments, even further afield. And all this before the advent of motorways, the travelling could be horrendous. Before long, however, Hamilton told us what we already knew. 

"None of you can sing. You need a vocalist"

They say that fate has a way of working, Well, it worked for us. Alby's Mum was friendly with a lady in Middleton whose son in law "did a bit of singing". Roy Gibbs was a little older than the rest of us and married, so when he came to Alby's for a jam we were a bit cagey. He saw that with the two saxes we differed from other groups of the day but wasn't at all fazed.

"What sort of stuff do you sing?" said Alby
"I like Jackie Wilson, Brook Benton, Little Richard, that sort of stuff"
"Do you know Little Richard's Lucille?"
"Count it in, Feef"

We'd hardly got through the first 12 bars of his vocal before we were all looking at each other with a mixture of disbelief and awe.

"Well, do you fancy getting together with us?" I said , not wanting to sound too eager. I instinctively knew all the guys wanted this singer. Weeks of intensive rehearsals followed. A set list to die for with numbers by James Brown, Bobby Bland, Little Richard, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Wilson Picket and not one of them a problem for Roy or Tiddy as we found out he'd always been known. 

In the late fifties, early sixties he'd been quite successful with a band called Tiddy & The Teenbeats, even doing an early Six Five Special on T.V., counting a certain James Savile as a fan.

Ian Hamilton was impressed and was certain he'd keep us busy, which he did. He even came up with a name.
"Some years ago, there was an outfit called The Powerhouse 6, there's six of you now and that name fits your sound perfectly"

We'd soon done all the major venues within a 60/70 mile radius of Manchester, building up quite a large following. It didn't take Hamilton long to realise that with the explosion of interest from London A&R men, he'd need to get a grip.

"If, by the end of this month, I can fill your diary for the next 3 months, would you consider turning pro?"

Would we consider it? We'd all sweat blood the last 2 or 3 years to get where we were now, most of us were convinced it was written in the stars. Hamilton was true to his word. In fact, within 2 weeks he'd almost filled the diary for the next three months. This was it.

There were a couple of casualties. Jack Unell decided he coudn't go pro. He lived with his widowed mother and hadn't yet finished his apprenticeship. An old mate of Tiddy's, Barry "Baz" Townsend filled the gap. Michael Belton had left a little time previously and Stuart Murray taken his place on Baritone sax.

Two weeks were taken from gigging to rehearse two brand new 45 minute sets. Most numbers segued from one into the next, leaving no room for chatter in between and giving the audience value for money and making me sweat enough to keep my weight at 8 stone.

We all got on really well and the next months proved to be everything we'd expected. We even enjoyed all the travelling, of which there was a LOT!!! There was the obligatory trip to Germany. We played a place near Dusseldorf called Wuppertal. The club was called the Star Club. Was every club in Germany called the Star Club?

No need to tell anyone about the slave labour that playing Germany involved. We were there for a month doing seven nights a week, 45 minutes on stage 15 minutes off for 6 hours a night weekdays and 8 hours a night at weekends, talk about an apprenticeship!! Our line up had a distinct advantage. We could play a Little Richard number for 25 minutes including a 24 bar tenor solo, a 24 bar baritone solo, guitar solo for 24 bars,
Hammond solo for as long as Darryl could keep it up. You get the picture?

I would play a drum solo for virtually the entire length of a set, provided it was early on in the evening before I got too knackered, drunk, stoned or all three.

On our return to the UK the same pattern of gigging continued but the improvement in our playing meant that the gigs were getting more up-market. We'd already done most of the big venues in Manchester as support band but now we were "headlining".

More importantly, we were working more and more in London. The Marquee, The 100 Club, The Speakeasy and others I can't remember the names of. Then came a phone call from Hamilton about doing a resident spot at The Scotch of St. James club. We'd all heard of it through reading the music papers like The NME, Record Mirror etc. There were always articles about The Scotch. It was, evidently, the place to be seen in London.
We soon found out just how much of an "in" club it was. 

The first night we played there, we were the only people in the place I'd never heard of. The audience was full of people out of bands like The Beatles, Stones, The Who, Pretty Things, Hollies, the list went on. Oh, and their managers were there too and we were set to impress. Unfortunately, Ian Hamilton, who came down occasionally, supposedly to hustle for us, was out of his league and didn't take advantage of the impression we made on people.

But there were many, many memorable nights. Like the night Jose Feliciano was in the audience on one of his first visits to the UK. He sent his manager to talk to us who explained that Jose would love to sit in with us, would we mind. WOULD WE MIND???. Anyway, Jose borrowed Spud's guitar, explaining that electric guitar wasn't his usual instrument so Spud showed him the controls. Jose then said that he'd heard us already do a couple of James Brown numbers, what else did we do? We decided on, I seem to recall, "Outa Sight", Well the result was electrifying. Jose did a guitar part that slotted in with the sax parts and we were all absolutely blown over. Spud was in the audience going bananas. I've always felt sorry that he was the only one of
us who didn't play with Jose. Anyway, we did another couple of numbers, I think, the rest is just a blur. 

John Lennon was in the audience one night. After we'd finished our first set and as we walked past the table where he sat he looked up and said"Great set, lads" If no one ever praises anything I do for the rest of my life at least I can say "Well, John Lennon liked what I did"

Another night, the stage was filled with members of The Pretty Things, The Hollies, Zoot Money and others I can't recall, all jamming with us. Absolutely wild.

Another time Paul McCartney pulled Tiddy to one side and asked had we a deal as The Beatles had just started Apple records and were looking for an act to record a Lennon/ McCartney song (turned out it was "Got to get you in to my life" When Tiddy told Macca that our manager was currently talking to Tony Secunda, Macca turned on his heels and left. We found out later just why.

Our gigs at the Scotch culminated in getting a record deal. In hindsight it was not the best that we might have hoped for or, indeed , the best that was on offer. But, non the less, it was what Ian Hamilton negotiated and at that time we trusted him!!

The deal was signed with independent record producers called Pell and Abrahams for distribution through DECCA. It was, at least, better than the ideas Tony Secunda had for us. The least said, the better. But just to give you a clue, one idea was for us all to go out of the country and when trying to come back, get arrested at customs for carrying drugs. Just for the publicity, of course. I can just imagine what my mother would have done to me.

The stories about the Scotch would fill a book on their own and I might just write it one day.

The other side of the coin were the gigs that destroyed your soul. We went once from playing thE Scotch one night to South Wales, the Tredegar Working Men's Club where nobody gave a shit, they were more interested in the darts match that was being played while we were on stage. The Concert Secretary even said "Tell your drummer to play with his brushes, you're too bloody loud, the darts players can't concentrate"

But all in all it was a wonderful time and there were lots of gigs that made us all feel like stars. Well, we recording artistes now. Hearing our record being played on the radio gave us a big buzz. Mostly it was Caroline and Luxembourg but it got a few plays on BBC. 

In 1966 after Chain Gang got released, we played most of the summer in Devon and Cornwall. It was amazing, the weather was glorious, England were favourites for the World Cup, we had a record out, God was in his Heaven and all was well with the world. People were actually coming to see us as a result of hearing the record.

I don't know how many copies Chain Gang sold, but it must have done reasonably well because we made another single. Raindrops was an old Dee Clark number and I still happen to think it's a brilliant record. To this day, Tiddy's voice sends tingles up my spine when I listen to it.

It was about this time that various other people started getting involved, wanting a slice of the action, which caused splits among band members. All I can recall is there were some bad vibes going around. The second 45 didn't do anything and, although I remember doing a great session at Phillips studio (I think), we didn't do another record.

There were some more memorable moments like when we supported Jimi Hendrix Experience at, I think, Aston University and were support to Cream at Durham University. I might have the venues wrong but I certainly vividly recall the gigs.

We met a lot of fine, talented people during our time on the road. Some fell by the wayside and a few went on to fame and fortune but we all started out the same. We were mostly young lads (and lasses) from working class, very modest backgrounds with a dream.

The end, when it came, wasn't very amicable. Alby and Spud stayed together and teamed up with Stan Dulson (Red Hoffman of The Measles) and Pete Cowap. I recall they gigged in the Bahamas which made me a bit envious. Tiddy and me stayed together as Powerhouse part 2. Dave Barrow played bass and Barry Blood played guitar. It was OK but the magic had gone, so I soon left and even though I tried getting a gig with another band I'd lost heart. The Powerhouse had been my life since I was 18 and it was gone for ever.

I made my Mum's day when I announced I'd had enough of music, I was getting a"proper" job.

John Firth

My brother, Michael Belton was the baritone sax player, originally with the Backbeats and then the Powerhouse Six. I used to travel to some gigs with them in their trusty Bedford Dormobile and they played on some pretty good bills all over the North.

I particularly remember them playing at Bernard Manning's Club at Collyhurst supporting the Springfields with Dusty Springfield and on several occasions as supporting act to Screaming Lord Sutch

Howard Belton

I am Roy "Tiddy" Gibb's brother and remember seeing the group at venues like The Twisted Wheel, Jungfrau, Bredbury Hall, and remember in particular taking a few trips to London with them and playing at Hatchets Club.

The band was special but did not have the best of agents. Unfortunately they were exploited rather than guided to stardom. Our Roy had a great soul voice which the band line-up complimented and would I am sure have done well in the states had they had had the chance. Great to see the web site. Ps write the book!

Alan Gibbs

I worked with John Firth, the drummer and was often called on to drive the Bedford van, when they were short of a driver. I saw them at the Princess Club in Chorlton and still have their two records here with me in Canada.

They were a great group and I enjoyed my time in Manchester at the Twisted Wheel 'all nighters'. I even saw Long John Baldry here in Vancouver before he died and had him sign my Twisted Wheel book for me.

Great times growing up in Eccles, Manchester.

Geoff McCormick

When we, Kim Davis and the Del Five, auditioned in London for two agents we were asked to "do a spot" at the Scotch of St James. Although we were playing cabaret we managed to pull together 20 minutes or so before Kim's voice gave out.

The resident band at the time were the Powerhouse 6 and were very impressive. Lennon, McCartney and Ringo were in the audience and Lennon complimented me on the set. I should have said "gizza song" but it was lost in the moment.

We never got a deal as our manager tried to be smart and spoiled it but we did some great work as a result including the Orbison, Walker Bros and Lulu tour. Check out www.vintagesixtieslive.co.uk

Colin Woodland

I co-produced their two Decca singles. The final session we did was at Pye studios, not Philips, and the main song - signed T.D. was considered too druggy by the label. However the session was totally historic.

This track was the first time split phase was ever recorded in the UK.

We tried to find out how The Big Hurt by Toni Fisher had this amazing sound, and by running 2 Ampexes with the backtrack in sinc linked to a master machine & then using a finger to slow down or speed up the machines we got the right sound.

The next week the Faces recorded Itchyco Park in the same studio, the engineer remembered how we did it & the result was the drum roll!

David Abrahams - 10/4/11
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